The Aftermath of Experiencing Tragedy

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A couple of weeks ago, I watched an interview with survivors of mass shootings. The massacre in Las Vegas had just happened, and these brave individuals spoke about how their lives were changed forever by that one scarring event.

The longer I listened, the more I identified with them. Tragedy had altered the course of their lives just like it had mine. Even though our situations were completely different, the underlying theme wasn’t: We’d both experienced and survived a traumatic situation. Mine hadn’t involved a gunman, but it had involved serious injury and a tremendous amount of pain to multiple families.

In an Instant

One night, after drinking heavily, I crashed into a car waiting at a stoplight, gravely wounding two of its passengers. I was arrested and later sentenced to four years in the Florida state penitentiary, followed by six years of probation.

Even to this day, over eight years later, I can still remember everything in perfect detail about that horrific night: The blinding lights above me as I laid on the hospital bed, the squeeze of the handcuffs around my wrists, and the moment the police officer told me two innocent people had been hurt by my reckless actions.

At the time, I didn’t know if I had the strength to get through what awaited me or if I would ever be able forgive myself and move forward. But, eventually I did, and here’s what helped me to do so:

  • Leave it in the Rearview Mirror
    As much as I wanted to, I knew I’d never be able to change what happened in the past. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent pondering the “what if’s,” but at the end of the day, it did nothing but waste time and make me feel worse. So, ultimately, I came to a place of acceptance and decided to make each day worthwhile and full of purpose moving forward.
  • Things Could Be Worse
    I’m not going to lie: when you’re spending years behind bars, it’s easy to get depressed and slip into the “life couldn’t be worse” frame of mind. But the second I put things into perspective – that everyone in the car I’d hit could’ve been killed – I immediately felt grateful for my current reality. And sometimes, that little bit of gratitude was what got me through each day.
  • Get Support
    This one might seem like a no-brainer for anyone who has experienced trauma, but I believe there’s nothing more crucial to a person’s emotional well-being. I immediately went into counseling after my release from prison – and have continued to do so to this day, nearly four and a half years later. I also found it really helpful to get involved in a support group, since initially I felt no one could relate to or understand my struggles.

The road to recovery has been a long and difficult journey. I had to work hard to pick up the pieces and find the strength to forgive myself. Even though I still have scars that will never be erased, I’ve grown more than I could’ve ever imagined and became the person I always wanted to be.

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