Shortly after waking up today, news reached me of the horrific shooting in Orlando, Florida.
This event hits hard for me on a personal level as I identify as a gender queer lesbian and I acutely know that my LGBT family across the world is absolutely reeling right now. Frankly, I’m reeling as well. I wanted to write down a few things I’ve learned from my experience in the months and years after being present at Columbine High School when tragedy struck in 1999.
No matter how dark things are, the dark won’t stay indefinitely. You have hope and a future.
My classmates and I went on a long journey together to try our best to heal and make sense of a world where we experienced more emotional, and some physical pain and anguish than we thought was possible. We’ve now been on this journey for 17 years. Some of us are therapists. Some are artists. Some are trying our best to put one foot in front of the other. On days like today, we know that a fresh group of people have been pushed into their own journeys of making sense of a pain-filled world and we are reminded of what we’ve experienced. But as I lay here with my wife, having had dreams I had never thought were possible come true, what I want most is to assure anyone this reaches that there is hope and you have a future.
Let’s use the time we’ve been given to work together towards healing our friends and family who are in pain.
Sticking together and finding safe people to talk to helps in deeply sustaining ways.
In the days and weeks after Columbine, I had many, many friends and family reach out to me in person and via phone. If you know someone who was affected by this or other traumatic events, I encourage you to reach out. What helped me most were people in my life who provided a listening ear, who sat with me in my pain and helped me process (if and when I was ready). I deeply appreciated people who listened, loved and cared. It was also pricelessly helpful when folks respected my boundaries – if I wasn’t up to talk, it profoundly helped for people to honor that. People who asked me what I needed and then listened to and acted according to my honest answers were, and still are my go-to people.
Also, finding people to talk to who were also present at Columbine or who knew a similar pain was life giving for me. There are some aspects of trauma that are exhausting to explain and, for me, it was helpful to spend time with people who innately understood. Therapists and other mental health professionals were also extremely healing to talk to, but again, only when I was ready to see them.
You are going to be okay. Healing is a difficult journey, but eventually you will be alright and stronger for your efforts.
Ultimately, we are all on our own journeys, some on our own and some together. One thing that’s been vital for me to remember is that we’re each in different places along our way. A goal of mine that I’ve seen do a lot of good has been to do my best to understand, accept, and support myself and people around me wherever they or I may be on any given day. Having people in my life who have tried to walk with me, and love me through the things that I’ve been through has changed and saved my life.
When you’re ready, do your best to be a safe space
As I write this, there are hundreds of thousands of people, LGBT+, their parents, and their friends who are in desperate need of safe spaces. We need safe spaces to discuss and work through the pain that has just been inflicted upon our fellow humans. I feel strongly that everyone reading this article knows someone who fears for their safety and emotional well-being. If we do everything that’s within our power to create communities of safety and refuge, soon those havens will become more healthy, robust and ultimately more life-giving for everyone involved. Now is the time to stand together. It’s always the time to offer our love and care to those in pain.
If you are in pain, I send my love. And for what it’s worth, I send my assurance that you will be able to make it through this. You will be able to grow and help others in your future.
If you are supporting someone you love who is in pain, I send my deepest gratitude. You have an impact. You make a difference. Your love can change lives.
~ Kathy Carlston