I have watched the rising number of mass shootings over the past years and have reacted as most of us would, with horror, shock, sadness and many questions, most of which have gone unanswered. I have had conversations with colleagues about the PTSD that survivors must experience in the aftermath of these events. It was all from an outsider’s point of view, but now it has hit home — literally.
My best friend’s 20-year-old daughter was in the front row at the shooting in Las Vegas. She and her buddies made it out alive, but she was covered in the blood of those who didn’t, which in itself is horrifying. This young woman now has emotional scars that may never go away, and she knows it.
We didn’t know about the shooting until Monday morning. Her mother had turned off her phone before going to bed the night before. She called her daughter as soon as she opened her phone on Monday morning. I found her in the hallway crying, still talking to her daughter as she tried to relay to me what had happened.
Her daughter and her friend were at that point trapped in their hotel room; the Mandalay Bay was on lockdown due to the massacre, and the police had to inspect all the cars and people. Mother and daughter were in communication the entire time. The two kids finally got their car back on Tuesday, and while Las Vegas was giving away perks (shows, meals and rooms) to try to help people calm down and relax, she came home to her mother.
We were all in shock and terrified of what could have happened. My fiancée had almost gone to this concert with my friend’s daughter, and my best friend was thinking of going too — the thoughts of what did occur and what might have occurred are still making us all a little shaky, to say the least.
My young friend who was there was trying to be brave and to make the best of it, but she was also talking about joining the military and never going to another concert, signs of how devastated she is. This hateful event hit us all very hard, but she had been in the line of fire and had lived through it. She had heard the gunfire and had seen people being hit and falling around her, and her main thought during the attack was what it was going to feel like when she got shot.
She shared that, when she was running, hearing the bullets flying by her head, she thought that she would not get out alive. Thankfully, her friend made it out with her, but they both saw people getting shot, and they couldn’t stop to help because they would have been trampled by the crowd. She doesn’t really know how she got out of it in one piece.
Now that she’s finally home, she has to do some medical tests to find out if she received any infections, which only adds to the stress, but it has to happen. She also has to heal her heart and mind. Several other of her friends were there, and we are having these kids over for a dinner and to talk. They are all are dealing with PTSD, while their parents are suffering from a secondary level of trauma, because as a parent you can’t help but absorb the emotions of your child.
What these kids are feeling is the same, but it manifests differently in each one of them. Our own young heroine can’t be in a crowd right now, which is normal for someone who has been through what she has. So are the nightmares and the flashbacks. There are so many ways a trauma can affect you, and you can’t know how until you uncover your own personal pain.
Some will try to shrug it off or remain silent about it, but if it’s someone you love, don’t let that happen. If you just hug them as much as they can stand and get them up and out, then they will start to share their feelings. If that doesn’t work, you need to seek counseling, because the pain has to be released or it will never leave their minds. This applies to kids and adults. Those who witnessed the horror firsthand will all have scars that they will have to heal and work on, perhaps for the rest of their lives.
I think it’s important to say again that if a child of yours is traumatized, you are going to feel it too. Now this part is very important: You can’t let your own feelings prevent you from totally being there for your kid, no matter how big of a pain in the ass they may have been. Period.
No matter what you call it — domestic terrorism, the last act of a mad man, or a conspiracy — this tragedy has forever altered our lives, and I can’t exactly tell you what that looks like.
A number of other people from my area were also at the concert. Several were tragically killed and several other were wounded, including some police officers and firefighters.
The whole community has been hit hard, and a few counseling centers and therapists in Ventura and the Conejo Valley have opened their doors for free trauma support. A number of venues in Ventura are hosting fundraisers for the victims and their families.
All it takes is knowing one person who went through it to make you look at life from a new perspective. Now we truly know how it feels to live in a place where a terrorist act can occur in any place at any time, and it’s damn scary. It is not possible to ignore what is going on around us any longer.
The best thing for anyone who has been touched by this unconscionable event is to find someone to talk to who is experienced with trauma. This kind of pain will not go away on its own. So muster all the family and friend support you can, because knowing that you are loved will make you feel safer in a world that day by day is becoming much less so.
Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., LMFT is a resident of Westlake Village. This letter was received on Oct. 21 but due to space constraints was held.