The Hells We Glimpse

16"x20" mixed media on canvas
Another week. Another mass shooting.

Unlike everybody else, I find the motivations of the shooter to be unimportant. That our society regularly causes people to explode via mass death or suicide is no surprise to anyone. Our penchant for providing lunacy a platform to be worshiped and dissected is also part of the problem. Instead, I would like to focus on the new reality for those affected by the Las Vegas attack.

As a non-denominational counselor to those in crisis, I've created a Survivor's Checklist. This list is also based on my own experience. I am a former employee of the World Trade Center. So I know better than most what it's like to have a horrific day in your life splashed across the media for the world to see.

Here is what I've learned:

1) Limit your screen time. Although this is an event in your actual life, it's just news to everyone else. It is imperative for your own mental health to limit your exposure to media of all kinds, especially if you are being sought for interviews in the aftermath. The images, in particular, can and will cause repeated triggers in your psyche that will result in a continuation of the adrenaline panic you had when the event occurred.

2) Be gentle with yourself. Nightmares, insomnia, mood swings, panic attacks and numbness are normal in the wake of a tragedy of this scale. Dissociative episodes, "losing time," blackouts, emotional numbness, panic attacks that cannot be controlled with relaxation techniques, and substance abuse can also arise. Therefore, seek therapy and don't be ashamed to do so. If you require hospitalization, there is nothing shameful about that either. You are dealing with an issue beyond the scope of anything most people will ever experience. Give yourself some credit for trying to get your life back.

3) Practice the Rule of 3. I am not like most counselors, likely because I've actually been through one of these types of things. That's why I'm a Jagged Lotus and not a Jolly one. So this is real talk with no bullshit: I schedule three evenings after a trauma to allow myself room to emotionally deal with it in private. This includes being shitfaced, if necessary. So I have three days to get back to some semblance of routine.

If you are still reaching for something on that fourth day, seek intervention. Don't end up inebriated behind the wheel or waking up in your bathtub with your clothes on before this lightbulb goes off. I also don't recommend using anything stronger than a drink or marijuana for your own safety. Alcohol and substance abuse can and will mess your life up even worse than the tragedy itself.

4) Put people on a "need to know" basis. You will discover very quickly certain types of folks flock to survivors of things like this to feed off your misery. It's a story to them, popcorn fodder. It's not your job to entertain the curiosity of others. Nor is it your place to become a pet project for any of them to save or redeem. Discuss this issue with those you trust.

5) Silence is your friend. In this age of social media, conspiracy theorists have a larger audience than ever before. You might cross paths with individuals who may suggest your tragedy is a hoax for some hidden agenda, demand proof that you were actually there, ask for death certificates of those you've lost, or claim expertise on the issue after watching a Youtube video on the subject. People are titillated by the hells we've glimpsed. Ignoring an armchair warrior is better than having a PTSD episode arguing with someone who isn't even affected by what you've gone through.

6) People won't understand and you'll have to forgive them for that. Honestly, you'll probably have to find other survivors of horrific things to get to the nitty-gritty of your issues if you have trouble coping. Most people only interact with death on a small scale. Those who are impacted by tragedies with higher body counts are in a special category of their own. Personally, I ended up spending time with active/retired military personnel and refugees. They were the only ones who truly understood my kind of pain.

7) If you don't have your shit together in six months, that's okay. In fact, if you don't have it together for a long while after that, that's okay too. Healing is on your timetable, not anyone else's. Also, don't let anybody tell you to just "get over it." This experience is more like a scar throbbing with arthritis when a stormy reminder blows through. And like arthritis, you must learn to act accordingly with a proactive mental strategy to ensure you are able to handle these types of flares.

8) Have a plan for the anniversaries. Each year, the all-seeing eye of media will return to this moment of your life. The footage they replay will likely be full of automatic triggers for quite some time. It will bring back the sights and sounds of that day. The fear and horror. Personally, I put myself on a media blackout on the anniversaries. I make plans to have low key days or meet with other survivors. Again, healing is on your own timetable. Normal might take a while. September has only started becoming normal to me in the last few years, for example.

9) Absolutely none of this is your fault. You will want to rehash all your actions with "I should have, could have, would have." None of this is going to help you. All it will do is delay your acceptance of the fact that you accidentally stepped into hell without warning. Survivor's guilt is very real. I know because I had it. You'll look for a "why." Your mind can fill infinite hours on this three-letter word, yet have no answer. And that's okay. There is no why. It just is.

10) Choose positivity. You can certainly choose to handle what happened to you with hatred. In fact, this option will be given to you so quickly you'll be amazed they aren't offering an I.V. drip of the stuff. Trust me on this - you will crash and burn if you take this route. The road of this kind of hatred leads to a reckoning where you will come face to face with the target of your hate. When you do, you'll find that what you actually hate is the void you feel. I filled mine by helping others learn to survive tragedies of their own and finding happiness despite what happened. So can you.

11) Your path is your path. There will be a multitude of people asking you to join a faith or a congregation after this. If religion works for you, pursue it. If it doesn't, then don't. The key is not feeling guilty about either choice. My group of survivors is comprised of atheists and theists. We all bleed red. We all came through horrific circumstances. But most all, we all support each other. Your goal is healing. It's easier if you don't start off with any ideology of division right out the gate.

In closing: 
You've survived hell. 
Now it's time to start walking through Purgatory 
until you find your Heaven again. 

Light and Love to you always. 


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