About a month ago, Captain Mommy (my wife) and KD (our 13-year-old) visited my parents in Washington D.C. It was the trip of a lifetime: all the monuments, great food and a Washington Nationals baseball game. There’s not much better than heading to a baseball game with grandma and grandpa. And it was a blast, until trauma showed up between innings. I went for a food run, and as I reached the concession stands I heard a loud noise. Then hundreds of people sprinted toward me. I figured it was lightning (it was forecast), and people were clearing out of their seats.
But then I noticed facial expressions, and the terror told me it was something much worse than lightning. I thought, “This is what people looked like on 9-11.” When I saw a police officer sprinting toward home plate, I realized that the noise was gunshots. As this sunk in, I heard more shots. They sounded about 50 feet away. Since the aisle was blocked and I couldn’t get down to my family, I texted, “shooter” to them, and I dove behind a bar. I thought about how it was D.C., and terrorists at a game made sense.
After a couple of minutes, the aisle cleared out and I went back to my family. My mother was lying face down in the leg area between the seats. She told me that a man lifted her up from the aisle where she was getting trampled and put her on the ground in front of seats. KD told me that a man we’d chatted with earlier grabbed him and laid on top of him. Captain Mommy was scouting the stands trying to figure things out and then took cover. So did my dad.
The loudspeaker told us to remain calm and stay in our seats. He tried to reassure us that the shootings were right outside the stadium. “Hell no, I thought!” There was no way that the shooters were outside the stadium. Others clearly thought the same way and a growing stampede of people cleared out through the exits. Others went on the field and headed into the dugouts. I learned afterwards that the players let people into their locker room and locked the doors. The Nationals manager said, “There was a bunch of fans, they were in our dugout, and I wanted to get them safe as well.” Others of us stayed in our seats, not knowing what to do. Frantically, I texted one of my baseball loving friends to see if he could see anything. He sent me back snippets that confirmed that the shootings were outside.
Eventually things calmed down and the loudspeaker told us we could exit by center or right field seats. Captain Mommy suggested we hold hands to stay together, which we did until we got clear of the crowds and walked to my parents’ building. Once safe, we processed it as a family. My mother, who had a solid cut on her kneecap, shared that getting picked-up and taken out of the aisle felt like a dream. She added that she had prepared to get shot in the back and killed, and she was oddly ok with it. It was that bad. Stories told, we went to bed.
Over time, I’ve processed the events and had a few realizations. Obviously, seriously thinking you are going to be shot and killed by a terrorist is beyond traumatic. I was jumpy for a couple of days. An ambulance speeding by with its siren on triggered me. Loud noises triggered me. You can see the stadium from the window in my parents’ apartment. This triggered me. The sight of fans walking into the stadium the day after the shooting triggered me. And the thought of ever going again to a baseball game triggered me.
And these are all natural reactions to trauma. As my baseball loving buddy Kieta reminded me, “You were in a shooting. Even though it was right outside the stadium, you had no idea, and your reaction was as if there was one inside the stadium.” Good points.
Part of what amplifies our reaction to trauma is that each horrific event stacks on top of previous debilitating events. The fact that I immediately thought of 9-11 speaks to trauma. My son spent 20 days in the NICU and almost died a few times over when he was an infant and toddler. And the trauma is still there. When I was 17, I was almost killed in a car accident. I was in a coma and am epileptic as a result. And that trauma still resides inside. Two kids were murdered two houses away when I was 9 or so. My siblings and I were all home sick. That trauma still impacts me. And then there are the normal hard things that people go through. My friend Todd reminded me that I’ve had more trauma than the average person and having such strong reactions makes sense.
I’m all about self-care. The reason I know what my friends think is due to me reaching out. Kieta needed to go somewhere, but he dropped it so we could talk for a bit. Todd changed his schedule and we had coffee. The next day, my buddy Rich delayed his day for another coffee/talk. Talking about the event wasn’t easy, but after each of those talks, I felt progressively more settled. I’ve dragged myself to the gym regularly since the event, and this has helped. I had my therapist more frequently than usual, and this has helped. Writing this has helped. I’m still kind of jumpy and more irritable than usual, but I’m better. As a sign of my healing, I challenged myself and went to another baseball game. I was a tiny bit anxious at first, but eventually I just hung out and enjoyed the game.
- First, trauma happens. And we need to acknowledge that we’ve experienced a traumatic experience. Rather than pushing the feelings and memories away, we need to sit with them and tell ourselves it’s ok to feel this way and be off our games.
- Second, our previous traumas still reside in our brain and body and impact us. Each new trauma is layered on top of previous traumas and affects us negatively. And trauma has no timeline. We need to expect these reactions and be gentle with ourselves.
- Third, self-care is a crucial part of chewing through it and rebalancing ourselves. Each of you knows the best ways to take care of yourself. You should do these things all the time, particularly when you’ve experienced hard things. As my therapist/buddy Steve says, we need to, “keep moving forward.”
About The Author
My counseling practice is located in Midtown Sacramento and I focus of working with middle and high school students and adults. To learn more about me and how I work, feel free to contact me at 916-919-0218. Or at Steve@rivercitycounseling.com
I also write my blog on a regular basis. It focuses on parenting, relationship, and random stuff. It can be found on my website. Other counseling material can be found on Facebook @River City Counseling and on Twitter @rivercitysteve. My Twitter page also includes ongoing conversations about coffee, growing succulents, and whatever else seems interesting. I hope you check it all out.