February 14, 2019 is the one-year anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. It marks one year since 14 innocent students and 3 innocent teachers lost their lives to gun violence. It marks one year of nightmares and flashbacks for the surviving students, teachers, the MSD families, and the larger Parkland community. It marks one year since a tragic Valentine’s day, where many started the school day like any other, and left traumatized by mass violence.
The anniversary and the time leading up to the anniversary is a time to pause and process your emotions. It is sometimes anticipation of the anniversary that is worse than the actual day. This is not meant to say that the anniversary is an easy day, by any means. However, anticipation of the anniversary builds over time, so it lasts longer than the actual anniversary day. Anticipation of the anniversary holds a lot of unknown. How will the day go? Will I be able to get out of bed? Will I be able to keep it together?
Recovery from trauma is a process. It takes time to move through the stages the grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Not everyone will experience all stages, and the order you go through them varies. Recovery usually requires painful emotions be thoroughly processed. Journeys after trauma and loss will be different for everyone.
The purpose of recovery is to live in the present without being overwhelmed by the past. It is going out in public, like one used to, and feeling safe. It is repairing self-esteem and re-discovering the feeling of joy. It is not something that will be obtained immediately, but rather a long-term goal.
To those impacted by the shooting, you may feel a rush of overwhelming feelings as you reflect on the past year and look ahead to next. Tragic flashbacks running through your head and you can’t seem to get away from your emotions. Outside pressure for what you will do or how you will mark the day may be overwhelming. Pause. Breathe, and breathe again. These feelings are normal. If you wait a little longer and focus on your breathing, the uncomfortable emotions will eventually pass. When the sun rises on February 15, 2019, the first anniversary of the worst day of your life will pass too. It may feel like a weight has been lifted from your chest.
As you continue your recovery journeys, I send my thoughts, prayers and a few words of advice from a fellow survivor: Don’t compare your experiences. Make self-care a priority. Be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself. And remember, breathe.