Finding Hope to Survive, Recover, and Thrive Beyond Tragedy – A Message From Someone Who Has.

Just days before the Las Vegas tragedy, I received a note from a former client who had been shot in a terrorist attack in 2013, as it was the 4-year anniversary. Having survived that tragic day, she would never be the same. Each year she honors those who were lost, along with being grateful for her life and recovery. In light of what has just happened in Las Vegas, and other places around the world recently, she asked that I share this with you, so that you might pass it on, just in case it might be of some comfort to anyone, and to perhaps bring hope to those who are suffering.

I share this with permission from this courageous woman who survived the Westgate Mall, Nairobi, terrorists attack, 4 years ago. Thank you Elaine, for always wanting to remember, and for wanting to share your ongoing experience with others.

“Yesterday marked 4 years since the world lost 67+ lives at the Westgate Mall, on the International Day of Peace. Leading up to that day, I had experiences in life that showed me how living life truly meant meeting at the intersection of tragedy/love, darkness/light, crazy/beautiful –> and why I had “This Is Beautiful” tattooed on my wrist about 3 weeks before. When I was lying on the ground, after being hit by shrapnel, my wrist was thankfully in my line of sight. Blood was filling one ear, and in the other I heard cries, people consoling one another, and explosions all around – I knew many have already died, and that I may be next, and that it had already become a horrific tragedy. Looking at my tattoo gave me some peace that there will be lessons learned from this day, that there will be ‘beautiful’ to become of it. And 4 years later, some of my closest people and loved ones gathered near and far to make origami cranes – one for each recorded person who passed, and to help ensure that we will make 67 beautiful moments in honor of each of them.”

We will all find meaningful ways to move into the future following such tragedy. There are some important keys to help yourself go from experiencing posttraumatic stress, and transform it into posttraumatic growth. Survivors like Elaine have gotten there by including Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) as a consistent part of their recovery. In her note to me, Elaine reflected upon how soon after the tragedy EMDR treatment helped her sleep, find a calmness in her mind and body, and reduced the vividness of the flashbacks that were occurring in images and sounds in her mind. She said as time went on her EMDR treatment was a critical component in helping her heal and grow. She was able to address the triggering events in life that brought her back to the incident as well as the survivor guilt that emerged when she painfully wondered why she survived and others did not. This relief and healing enabled her to build inner resilience while she continued to find her own personal meaning of having lived through such a tragic experience. Current research in Neuroscience and Psychology shows us that it is important to begin this healing process sooner than later, so as not to experience a diminished quality of life, or end up with debilitating PTSD symptoms in the future.

Before Westgate Mall and since then, I have treated numerous victim-survivors of sudden life-threatening traumatic events, and family members of those who did not survive, as have many of my EMDR colleagues from around the world. While I can only speak for myself, I am sure my heartfelt message is shared by EMDR clinicians everywhere; if you are a victim-survivor of a tragic incident – you can heal and grow through the tragedy to become a stronger and even more resilient person. We can’t change what has happened, but we can influence how we emerge from it. EMDR can play a significant role in restoring and building this deep inner strength.

Together, Elaine and I remember those who were lost in these tragic incidents, their family and friends, and those who have survived, and must live on.


Resources: – Find-A-Therapist

Dr. Sara Gilman, LMFT.
President, CEO, Founder
Coherence Associates Inc.

Finding Hope to Survive, Recover, and Thrive Beyond Tragedy – A Message From Someone Who Has.

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