For those impacted by the Route 91 Harvest Festival, October 1, 2017, is a day that forever holds special meaning. Routers tell me that they were having the time of their lives during the weekend of the festival, right up until it turned into running for their lives.
It’s coming up on four years since the weekend of fun and friendship became a night of lives lost, physical injuries, and people forever changed. However, the violence that happened that night does not have to deprive anyone of the right to pursue and enjoy a fulfilling life.
The “Anniversary Effect” and How to Continue Healing
As the date of October 1 approaches, those impacted by the violence at the Harvest Festival may experience a variety of physical and emotional symptoms as well as restlessness and fear. These painful emotions can begin weeks before the annual date.
If you or someone you know was impacted by the mass violence at Route 91, keep in mind that for many, the approaching Remembrance will evoke painful memories. The annual date of the traumatic event can reactivate thoughts and feelings from the actual incident. Many may feel a sense of anxiety, increased stress, grief, sadness, nightmares, frustration, and anger. Others experience insomnia or sleep excessively. Some may know they just feel out of sorts but don’t necessarily make the connection to the date of the trauma.
If you are feeling these things, please know you aren’t alone. Some therapists refer to the automatic reactivation of feelings of a trauma anniversary as the “Anniversary Effect.”
Although the Anniversary Effect is a completely normal automatic response, many aren’t aware that these emotions are activated by the approaching remembrance date and may become discouraged, as if they’re going backward with their healing. However, experiencing the emotions that come up at this time can actually be a part of the normal course of healing and an indication of remaining remnants of the trauma that a professional can help you process.
A Day of Remembrance
Everyone experiences the anniversary of the trauma in their own way. That’s normal. What’s important is to find a way to process the trauma that helps you heal. If you find that you have a difficult time doing things you enjoy, this may be an indication of feeling feel guilt that you survived when someone else did not. This is a type of grief that a counselor can help you process.
Whether you’re at the point of your journey where you want to commemorate October 1, need to re-engage in some healthy coping strategies, or both, there are activities that you can do in the weeks prior to and on October 1 to further your healing.
Be kind to yourself. Schedule time for yourself where you can reflect without being rushed. Journaling or a creative form of expression may be beneficial. Your feelings are valid and it’s good for you to process them in a safe way.
Take care of your mental health. Make an extra therapy appointment or two. If it’s been some time since your last counseling appointment, consider making an appointment and following through with it. It’s never too late to join a support group, connect with a trained peer support mentor, or begin therapy with a qualified provider. If you find yourself relying on addictive behavior, you’re also not alone and can find help at 12 Step Recovery meetings online or in person.
Participate in enjoyable activities. If it’s solitude that you find enjoyable, plan time for being alone. Some people find being out in nature very healing. Spending time walking, praying, meditating, and just being outside can sometimes give your brain a safe place to process emotions. If you enjoy the company of others, make a plan for that. Spending time with family and friends can be healing even if you don’t speak about the trauma during that time. Do you enjoy singing? Dancing? Laughing? Plan activities to do those things.
Pay it forward. Some people practice deliberate random acts of kindness as a way to process their grief and honor those who passed that night. You can do acts of kindness anonymously, or in the name of someone who passed. Whether it’s paying for a stranger’s meal or donating to a meaningful non-profit, the act of giving to someone else helps us to remember that there is kindness and goodness in the world. If you’ve been growing in your healing and want to help others with theirs, becoming a HEART Peer Mentor may be something you want to consider.
Get creative. Some survivors find it therapeutic to paint rocks with words that are meaningful to them and then leave them at the Las Vegas Healing Garden or leave them at other locations as a symbol of encouragement to others. Some find it helpful to write words that represent the feelings they are struggling with and then dispose of them in a meaningful way.
Tap into your faith. Pray, attend a service, light a candle, meditate. Do those things that help you nourish your soul and spirit.
Remember others. Check-in on others you know who were impacted by Route 91. Offer to meet them at an online support group or, if possible, in person at one of the many remembrance events. Knowing you’re not alone in your healing journey is healing in and of itself.
Remember that the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center is available to listen and offer supportive resources. The VSRC can help you find a trauma-informed therapist, get involved with peer support, or connect with other healing activities and events. Feel free to reach out to them at 702-455-2433. After-hours and on weekends or holidays, you can call the national Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746.
This website has videos and information that you may also find useful. Be sure to visit the Remembrance Events page for information about various in-person and online initiatives meant to heal and honor during this time.