I know for many of us, it is hard to believe that we are almost upon the fifth anniversary of the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. I was not at the concert; however, I have been a crisis responder, mental health provider, and now program consultant, helping others to heal, grow, and thrive following this tragic event.
October 1, 2022, marks five years since the event, what we call a “milestone” anniversary. Typically, anniversaries are a time of celebration, a way of marking the times of our lives and looking forward to the future. It is difficult to recognize such an anniversary and yet very important to honor those we lost and what we have survived.
It’s Okay Not to Be Okay
Reactions to the anniversary of a traumatic event can be varied and can occur days, weeks, or even months before the date arrives. You may feel that you have healed from the trauma and that the anniversary will not impact you, however, you may still experience the following reactions:
Isolation – You may become more withdrawn and want to avoid anything associated with the trauma.
Heightened Anxiety – It might be difficult to focus on work, family, or other areas of your life as the anniversary approaches, and you could feel anxious and edgy. You may experience more anger or aggression than is typical and you may not recognize why.
Flashbacks – Memories of the event may intensify and become more vivid. It may feel as if you are reliving the event. It is possible that you may feel physical responses to the flashbacks as well.
Negative Thoughts – You may feel very negative about the future or there may be feelings of guilt or shame.
All of the above symptoms are very normal and expected on the anniversary of a traumatic event.
Communication Is Essential
Family, friends, and loved ones can be a wonderful support during this time. If your support system was not at the event with you or they are responding in a different way, there are some things they can do to be there for you. First and foremost, it is important for them to know that there is no timeline on healing. One of the things I hear the most in counseling is loved ones asking, “When are you going to be ‘over’ this?” Trauma is not something that we get over—the goal is to learn to live a full and rich life even though this happened in your life!
It is also important for us to tell our loved ones what we need. Do we want to talk about our experience or not talk about it? Do we want to be surrounded by them or grieve/think/be alone? Do we want to be touched/hugged/etc. or is touch difficult?
Tell them if you want them to participate in any remembrance events with you or if you need a different support system (i.e., others who were at the event with you). Remember that even if your family and loved ones were not at the event with you, they may be impacted. Communication and coming together on an anniversary like this one is essential for all of us.
Many of our Routers will be participating in remembrance activities. For a full list of events, please visit VegasStrongRC.org/remembrance. As this is a milestone anniversary, many people will be traveling back to Las Vegas—some for the first time since the event. Whether you live in Las Vegas or are coming from far away, there are certain things that you can do to help with coping:
Replace Bad Memories – We actually call this having a “corrective experience.” This includes visiting memorials, attending remembrance events, and reconnecting with other survivors. This can be very healing and helpful.
Talk to Family, Friends, Loved Ones, and Fellow Survivors – We know that talking about your traumatic experience can help with healing. It can help us to look at the event in a new light and allow us to see how far we have come. Speaking with fellow survivors can be one of the most helpful activities that we can do. There are wonderful support programs, including HEART Peer Support, through the VSRC.
Care for Yourself – It may sound basic, but one of the first things that we learn in disaster mental health is making sure that basic needs are met. That includes hydration (lots of water), rest (if not sleep), and eating. It is also important to balance time at remembrance activities with quiet, reflective time.
Talk to a Professional – There are many professionals who are ready, willing, and well trained to help during this time. The Vegas Strong Resiliency Center can assist in finding a provider in your community if you do not reside in Las Vegas. There are also virtual support groups that are available free of charge. Please reach out to the VSRC and you can be connected to help.
Empowerment Through Rituals
Coping rituals are another way to manage the anniversary of a traumatic event. A ritual can be something that you can do to mark an anniversary or something to distract you from it. Some ideas may include:
- Visiting the site of the trauma
- Listening to a certain song or music
- Preparing a special meal that celebrates your healing
- Reaching out to someone who was a part of your recovery
- Spending time with others who were part of the trauma
- Planting flowers or a tree in memory of the event
- Participating in events (in person or online) for the anniversary
- Spending time doing things that you enjoy—particularly activities that bring us close with nature
The point of creating a ritual is to gain some control over your memories and the event that you endured. You get to decide what you want to remember and how to honor the experience.
Please remember that the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center is here for you. You can reach out to us at email@example.com or at 702-455-2433. There is also the new 988 lifeline, which you can reach by simply dialing or texting 988 or chatting through 988lifeline.org.