5 Tools to Help Build Hope and Healing After Pulse
When I got in the car last Sunday morning, I heard Johnny Magic on XL106.7 speaking about a shooting that had occurred at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando overnight. I do not usually listen to much news, but this seemed way beyond a typical news blip, so I listened. The story was in its infancy and still unfolding as to what exactly had happened, how many people had been killed and how many injured and who the shooter was. I listened to the press conferences given by the Mayor and the Police and other first responders who had been on the scene. The more I heard, the heavier my heart felt.
When I heard it was a gay nightclub, a mass shooting, and that most of the people were quite young, my heart just broke. When I heard a mother who had not yet heard from her son that morning crying out to find him and then later crying out for understanding of such senseless killing, I imagined what it would be like if my son had gone out with friends the night before and I had not been able to make contact with him.
I texted my friend in Fort Lauderdale to see if any of his friends had been at Pulse the night before and to just send love to him and his partner. My brother called me to check in on me, just because I live here. I called my mother. I prayed that my 12-year-old son, who was travelling with his Dad that day, would be able to take in this news that was unavoidable and not be too overwhelmed or traumatized. I talked with him in depth and answered all of his questions when he returned home later that afternoon. I reached out to my best friend who is in the news business, whom I had been catching up with on Saturday evening, wondering if she had gotten any sleep or had she been up since 2am on the front lines of this horror.
I prayed and sat in suspense as the names were posted of those lost that I wouldn’t see someone I knew personally or professionally. As the week went on, my clients were teary, but could not clearly connect why their hearts felt so full and heavy.
On Friday, as I stood in line at Starbucks, I had a flash of what would happen if a shooter came in at that moment and opened fire into this tiny box so many of us were standing in trying to get our coffee. My heart began to race for a moment with just this mindful consideration and I even found myself scoping out where I would hide. This is not a thought that would have crossed my mind two weeks ago.
Many of us have been in shock all week and are still there. It’s very difficult to feel anything when we are in shock. This is a helpful coping mechanism in the immediate face of trauma, but we cannot stay there forever. In the coming weeks, we will begin to thaw out and/or slow down and that is when the emotions may begin to surface. That is one of the reasons why I am writing this blog now, one week after these horrendous shootings occurred. Because as the media onslaught begins to fade back to its normal flow, you may have a chance to catch your breath and your feelings may just be starting to surface and the need for hope and healing becomes even greater.
Below I have outlined 5 tools for you to utilize as you process your own experience of the Pulse shootings and all the layers that this tragedy encompasses. I hope that these tools help you to see a bit more clearly as you navigate feelings of fear, grief, confusion, vulnerability, anger, rage, sadness, hurt, loneliness, isolation, hypervigilance, and worries.
1) Tell Your Story: One of the ways you may process trauma is by telling your story, as I did above. It is important to put words to your experience and to have the telling of your story be witnessed by another. How you tell your story and who you tell it to are important factors in whether or not the retelling is retraumatizing or healing. When you tell your story, always speak from the perspective of “I.” If you listen to witnesses or other people interviewed by the media, they often use “you.” For example, “When you see such a horrific tragedy, you feel so sad and scared.” This depersonalizes the experience and also prevents you from fully owning and connecting to your feelings. Instead say, “When I witness such a horrific tragedy, I feel so sad and scared.” Do you see and feel the difference in these two statements? Also, it is best to talk to someone who is able to really listen to you and not discount or minimize your feelings or experience. Choose your witness carefully and seek out professional support as necessary. The safety and security of a counseling session can give you the support that you need to tell your story uncensored and to process the full scope of your feelings.
2) Acknowledge and Feel Your Feelings: As you take in the scope of this story, talk with friends and family, listen to the news, and see pictures and images online, be sure to check in with yourself frequently about what you are feeling. Don’t try to do this with your mind and try to “figure out” what you are feeling. Let your body tell you. Tune into your breath and scan your body for any sensations or any awareness. Once you connect internally with your physical body, what you are feeling emotionally may become more clear. Give yourself permission to feel a broad gamut of emotions, there are no right or wrong emotions. Just allow yourself to acknowledge whatever is there, without judgement. Just notice. And then allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling and to release it. If there is anger or sadness allow yourself a safe place to yell into a pillow, hit down on a couch cushion, or let the tears flow.
3) Make Connections and Enlist Support: Trauma can make you feel isolated. It’s hard to imagine that anyone else is having the same reaction that you are. In the case of Orlando, it is widely known that the Pulse shootings affected the entire community, our country, the world, and the entire worldwide LGBTQ+ community. The way to remind yourself that you are never alone, is to reach out. Go to a vigil, attend a service or ceremony, gather with friends, reach out and make phone calls, send texts, communicate with those whom you love, call your therapist, call someone who you know is hurting or volunteer with one of the many service organizations who are mobilizing resources. We all saw the line wrapped around the blood bank last Sunday. That was a way to come together and share in a common goal. Ask for help, ask for a hug, hug another person, share a kind word, look people in the eyes, share your heart. When you connect, you remember that you are not alone, and that there is a lot of power in groups.
4) Help Someone Else: Similarly, help someone else. When you reach out to help someone else, it helps put your feelings and experiences into perspective. It helps you to expand your heart beyond yourself to touch the heart of another, which in turn opens a space within you to receive love back. To help is to heal. It is in the helping that you actually receive. I have heard over and over this week as people share their stories of kindness, “Wow, you had no idea how much that means to me.” You won’t know until you follow your heart and just offer love to another. Listen to your heart’s calling. Follow it. You heart knows what you need to heal and in the process you will help to heal someone else as well.
5) Empower Yourself: Giving must come from a place of fullness within yourself. If you are completely depleted, you will not have much to give and may end up feeling resentment or obligation. Remember, always give free gifts. But also remember, it is your responsibility to fill your cup back up. Do this by keeping your self-care practice and routine going. Exercise (this also helps to release emotions), eat regularly and well, get plenty of sleep, minimize and put a cap on news exposure through TV and social media, maintain your boundaries around helping and make sure that you are not draining your own energy and health. Also, keep your life in perspective and focus on the here and now and the present moment. Employ prayer, meditation, and yoga practices regularly and lean into your spiritual connection for support. Approach each day from a place of truth, self-love, and compassion for yourself and others, and you will maintain your own personal power. Stay away from the roles of victim, rescuer, or persecutor. Just stay rooted in your truth and in love and keep breathing… one breath at a time.
Just like in the airplane speech, you must first put on your own oxygen mask before you can help another. So I hope that you first read this blog to help yourself. Then, think of anyone else who you feel might benefit or who could use some encouragement right now. Please forward this blog or my newsletter or send them to my facebook page to access the information. The more hope and healing we can spread, the more love we can create. Just remember, you are not alone, you are loved, and you make a difference.