On October 1, 2017, while off duty, I became a survivor of the deadliest mass shooting in
modern American history. I was attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, as I had annually for three years prior. My life changed in an instant, along with 22,000 others and 58 who never made it home.
When I returned home, I was numb. Detached. I couldn’t talk to my family or friends about what I had seen, what I had experienced. They couldn’t understand and I didn’t want them to have the nightmares too. I felt I had no one to turn to, nowhere to go. I couldn’t sleep through the night, I would wake up hearing screams and gunshots that weren’t there. Television wasn’t an option, I couldn’t hear anything resembling gunfire, it would send meinto a panic. I loved to read, but I couldn’t focus on a book, having to reread the same page multiple times. I loved to shoot, my husband being a competitive shooter, but the thought of holding a gun in hand and having to experience the vibration, the sound of a bullet leaving the chamber, brought me to tears. I started to become more and more angry, at the world, the monster who did this to me and at myself, for surviving and not doing more to help others. My coworkers told me that I was becoming more on edge and my family began avoiding me to stave off an explosion. When someone would ask if I thought I should talk to a professional, or how I was feeling, I was fine. I was strong, independent, stubborn and I would absolutely make it through this alone. I finally made an appointment several months later with my primary care doctor for sleeping medication and a mood stabilizer. I could just take a few pills and the world would be right again. After being honest with him about my situation, at home, work and with friends, he made me promise I would meet with Dan Anderson. Even then, it was a somewhat empty promise. I didn’t need talk therapy, I didn’t need someone to say “tell me what you’re feeling”, how could that help?
I met with Dan Anderson several months after the shooting. We talked about why I was there, what I wanted, what my goals were. Not what he thought I needed. Some days I would leave my sessions feeling like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders, some days it was like I’d lived the worst day of my life over again. Dan really listened to what I needed. What I had experienced and how my brain and body had processed the trauma. He worked at my pace, pushing gently when he saw was ready, and pulling back when I knew I’d reached my limit. Through over a year of consistent therapy, including EMDR, I was able to start enjoying the things I loved again. I was attending live concerts, granted I took new precautions and positioned myself differently. I could walk in a parking lot or down a street without obsessively scanning the windows or rooftops for the threat. I could watch television again without my gunfire causing my heart to race or bringing tears to my eyes. I was sleeping through the night without screaming in my head.
In August 2020, almost three years after the shooting, I loaded up my vehicle and headed to the firing range. My hands shook so badly holding my pistol, I almost threw in the towel. I thought back to Dan’s words to me, his encouragement and tools to overcome my fear and I pulled the trigger. Nothing. No tears, no racing heart, no screams in my head. Just the same exhilarating feeling that I’d always had prior to October 1, 2017. Dan helped me save myself. He helped me save my family; he helped me save, then advance my career. Dan and The Shield are a necessity for those in our chosen line of work. We fulfill our calling and when trauma occurs, on or off duty, we may need someone to turn to. Someone to help us lift ourselves out of that dark place, The Shield is where you can find that someone.
Central Oregon Peace Officer