Dear Recent Mass Shooting Survivors — Love, A Fellow Survivor

Numb. Dead. Unable to feel. Feeling EVERYTHING. Feeling weird grief that comes in waves then goes and you feel numb again. Can’t sleep. Can’t eat. Replaying scenes. Nothing feels real. Scared at loud noises. Scared at people acting shady. Freaked out in crowds. Songs make you cry til 4am. Wandering in a fog. What is a body, even? I don’t feel mine.

They will tell you over and over again to let you know if there is “anything I can do, let me know.” But you have no idea what they can do, or what you need, because you can’t feel much of anything.

You are grateful when a friend doesn’t ask — he just brings over movies and puts them on and sits there and watches them with you, quietly. Finally, one person who doesn’t have to ask. One less thing to take care of.

They will ask you how you are, and they will cry in your arms while you stand woodenly, and when you ask how they are, they will react in shock that you could even ask such a question “when you’ve survived such a tragedy.”

They will tell you that your peace means “you’re so strong.” You will think that you are not strong and you don’t know why people keep telling you this.

Mainly, you are shocked that your sisters (or friends, teachers, loved ones) are dead.

The media will get in your face. They’ll hound you for interviews. They want to know what it was like to survive a shooting. They want to broadcast the horror; you want to tell them that no one should ever know how that horror feels. Good Morning America will send a basket to the hospital where your father is. You’ll have to come in a back entrance to avoid them. They will call your phones.

Your phone. You’ll be trying to field a million text messages. You’ll talk to relatives you haven’t heard from in years. Everyone is so sorry. Everyone is horrified. You say thank you a million times but the words almost lose their meaning. They ask you what happened and you repeat it, for the thousandth time, the words feeling unreal when they come out of your mouth.

You are numb. Or bawling. Or feeling heavy. So heavy. Unbearably heavy. How could you ever feel un-heavy again? Or normal again? You wake up the next day wondering if other friends have died overnight. Part of you doesn’t want to live anymore. It’s too hard.

The images are constantly replaying and you almost want to put a hand over your eyes to block them. You feel cold, so cold. You want a blanket just to wrap around you for a moment. You want someone else to do your life.

No one will understand how you are feeling, unless they were there (or unless they were somewhere similar). So many people will say things that sound incredibly stupid.


For 5 years, I wished to find a community of survivors who knew what I went through. Finally, after Newtown, I saw a news article talking about The Rebels Project. 5 years I carried all of the above around, and more. Experiences that no one else could understand. Things I could not talk to my immediate family about, even though they were also there. Finally I had a place to lay it down.

I’m just letting you know, for a second, that you’re not alone. There’s more of us out here who get it (Search The Rebels Project on Facebook and you’ll find us). And when you have a second to breathe by yourself again, come find us. We’ll be waiting for you with open arms. We’ll walk you through.

I’ll walk you through myself. I’ve been there. I’m still here. And you will be, too.

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How to Respect Gun Violence Survivors on Social Media

A friend of mine requested that I write about this topic, and after seeing a video that’s been circulating my social media lately, I decided it was time.

When you are a shooting survivor, there are certain things that are hard to see in your feed. At least, there are for me, and I’ve heard the same from other survivors.

I’m not asking people to tiptoe around, always trying to figure out what to share in their feed without upsetting someone. Sometimes, things need to be shared that I personally can’t watch, because they’re important for other people to see.

But, here’s the best, BEST thing you can do. If you know that you know a shooting survivor, and you want to share something in your feed that:

  • Directly mentions a shooting
  • Depicts/discusses gun violence themes
  • Depicts/discusses graphic violence (bombings in Syria, for example)

Then I encourage you to send that person a private message, and ask – “should I share this? How can I share this?”

The messages I have appreciated most from friends are when friends have messaged me to alert me that a shooting has happened, so to be careful on my feed. Or to alert me of a particular video I should be careful watching. Or they message me to ask what kind of trigger warning they should put on something before sharing.

These all mean a lot to me and are extremely helpful, because then I can:

  • Make a decision about whether to be on social media that day
  • Make a decision about whether I am okay to view a certain video/read a post
  • Makes me feel considered and protected on my social media account because I know they are thinking about how to label things

On top of all that, I of course do a lot of my own screening for self care. I almost never watch videos out of Syria, for instance, because one of my biggest triggers is children screaming/people in distress. I can’t deal with it, so I choose not to watch it.

Even with doing my own screening, however, I can’t even explain my level of gratitude when I know that people are watching out for me on social media. I so appreciate when they send me a message to ask about how to share or whether to share something. Because one of the shittiest things for me is to be surprised by something in my feed. Getting blindsided by something is a part of a trigger for me, too… there’s a huge element of surprise and sneak attack involved in a shooting, and that’s hard to deal with. So it honestly feels PROTECTIVE for me when people are looking out for my wellbeing.

I also want to address the current video circulating. I’ve seen it mainly from Buzzfeed. It depicts a cute relationship beginning between a boy and girl scratching words into a desk. I (THANKFULLY) knew that the content required a trigger warning before watching it (Thank you, Lauren), or I would have freaked out. At the end, out of nowhere it is revealed that in the background, a student has been planning a shooting all along.

The problematic part of this video for me is the -out of nowhere- piece. There is a significant part of a shooting that is the unexpected factor; someone just starts shooting “out of nowhere.” You get blindsided. In my event, I never even saw the shooter and so there’s an aspect of “out of my field of vision” that’s really triggering for me personally, also.

If I had watched this video without a trigger warning, I would have had a breakdown. It just so happens this video is also circulating this week, and on Friday this week I have the 9th anniversary of my shooting. I don’t always know where I’m going to be emotionally during what I call “anniversary/hell week”, and so it was particularly helpful to have a trigger warning this week. Furthermore – the Sandy Hook shooting anniversary is on December 14th. There are lots of survivors out there right now.

So, with that in mind, I’m asking/imploring you to share this video with a content or trigger warning. Wording like “Trigger Warning: Gun violence/mass shooting” is helpful. Or even “themes of mass shooting.” Something to let us survivors know whether we should choose to watch it or not.  It helps us to feel more protected out in the world, which is sometimes a daily struggle. I think I can speak for more than just me when I say that we would all appreciate your thoughtfulness.

 

Terror Attack or Shooting? – A Poem

Trigger Warning: Mass shootings, gun violence, graphic depictions of violence.
I wrote this poem in response to the talk about the Pulse Orlando shooting being a terror attack because it was perpetrated by “possibly a Muslim”. As a shooting survivor, I have a lot of feelings about that.

Do not tell me what is a terror attack or what isn’t.
You do not know the ice of hearing windows shatter
You do not know the terror of hearing sister is shot
You know nothing of what bullets sound like hitting human flesh
or the screaming of your sisters
or the desperation of being on a phone to a 911 operative
begging them to come because my sisters have been shot
because my twin is lying in front of me on the floor of a minivan
with blood streaming out her nose
and she looks like she’s asleep but she won’t wake up
Do not tell me it is not terror
to try to hide behind a leather seat
to see bullets hitting windshield
to not see where they are coming from
to watch father fall to ground from one piercing him
to want it all to stop, stop, stop
but the bullets are ringing over and over and over
there is so much noise
time is so slow but it keeps going
do not tell me it is not terror
to rip a scarf from your body to try to stop twin sister’s bleeding
to have to look your twin over for an exit wound
do not tell me it is not terror to not have her answer you
to hear your mother saying “I can’t find a bullet hole
I can’t find one, oh God I can’t find one”
do not tell me it is no terror to stumble out of the car
to see other sister on the ground
with face blue from lack of oxygen
to feel your heart fall apart into your stomach as you know she is dying
to have to run from her because the shooter could be returning
to feel your soul is being ripped from your body
because your sisters’ souls are leaving you
do not tell me it is not terror
to wait for news of which hospitals they went to
to know on the way there that twin sister is gone
because you don’t feel her soul next to yours anymore
to watch a policeman speak what you already know while he is trying not to cry
do not tell me it is not terror
when father comes out of surgery, silently looks at you all
looking for the people missing
looks at you and asks where your twin is
and mother is quiet and says nothing so your mouth has to open
you say the worst words you have ever said
“Dad, Stephanie is gone.”
Do not tell me it is not terror
to stand by other sister’s bedside begging for her to come back to you
to sing all of her favorite songs in a desperate attempt for the bullet not to win
to try to cry it out of her heart and take the bullet into your own heart instead
to ask her to please not leave you alone here
do not tell me it is not terror to have the doctors
come out to waiting room to tell you that other sister is gone
that she has left you here alone despite all your begging

you say that a mass shooting is not a terror attack
unless it happens to have a Muslim face behind it
I want to tell you to fuck yourself and wait until you live one.

Doing Something With My Heartbreak

I’ve been away for awhile, but it’s not because I’m sittin’ around, feet up, with a nice cold one in my hand.

I have never been one to do nothing with my heartbreak.

I believe in doing something with what I say. The people closest to me will tell you that my biggest pet peeve is that when someone says something, and then doesn’t follow through on what they say. I refuse to be one of those people.

Remember how I wrote at the end of last year on how to support victims after a mass shooting? And how I also wrote at the end of last year about creating dialogue around gun violence?

Well, I’ve been working very, very hard on things to follow up on both of those. I’ve been a busy little bee, community organizing and meeting amazing people throughout the community.

One of the things that I am helping to head up around creating dialogue is happening this month. On April 17th at 2pm, in my neighborhood, we will be having a silent walk to commemorate victims of gun violence.

Why my neighborhood? Because I live in the Shooks Run Neighborhood, where on October 31, 2015, a man open carried an AR-15, opened fire, and killed 3 people before being killed by police.

It struck close to my heart, in some ways literally and in some ways figuratively. I had to take a month to feel it all.

Needless to say, it’s definitely a part of why I haven’t written. Heartbreak comes in waves. I had to wait out the tide. And the timing was really hard, too, because only weeks before, I’d written my letter to Congress.

Then 27 days later, impossibly, there was another shooting, this time at Planned Parenthood about 2 miles away from me. For the 2nd time in 27 days, my city was on national news. My heart broke.

But with my heartbreak, I did something. I started a GoFundMe and was amazed as the community stepped forward. We raised $1000 in 4 hours over social media to take catered Panera Bread to staff at both hospitals where victims were taken.

I needed my time to grieve… but I have never been one to do nothing with heart break.

Then an opportunity came in early December for me to join a group of artists and community organizers in Colorado Springs. They were all interested in reclaiming safe space, and I jumped at it. The overall heartfelt response from the group was an interest creating de-politicized, safe space around the common heartache that everyone shares around gun violence.

This, honestly, was the only reason I even joined the group. Since the Planned Parenthood shooting, I’ve been very careful not to have much of any political conversation around gun violence. There was so much infighting after that shooting. I wasn’t ready to speak until I had a safe place to speak in. I wanted to be part of a group that brought a safe place to explore the heartache beneath the positions.

The amazing organizers at Common Space Collective that I’m working with are creating that safe space.

And we want to reclaim our common space, so we’re going to have a silent walk.

April 17, 2pm. Corner of Kiowa and El Paso. Walking through the neighborhood taking the same route that the shooter took. Ending at First Congregational Church for a short workshop on how to listen.

This is my town. These are my people. My neighborhood. And I’m doing something like this because I believe in it. I have never been a person to just believe in something without putting action to my beliefs. This is my way to say, to myself and my community – “You are safe here. We’re here with you.”

Join me?


 

RSVP to the Facebook Event here: Silent Walk Honoring Victims of Gun Violence
For more information on Common Space Collective, go here: Common Space Collective

And stay tuned here at my site, more announcements to come!