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Turn Off Traumatic Events!

I received the call about 2pm in the afternoon on a warm autumn day. It was October 1, 2015 and the caller asked, ‘have you been news-ing it?” ‘Pardon,’ I asked? “Have you been watching the news?” the caller asked again. ‘No, why? Has something happened?’ I responded. “There’s been another school shooting! It in Roseburg… at UCC!!!”

I felt my heartbeat ramp up and my breath quicken, neither was my typical response to news I might hear in a phone conversation, but the concern and tension in the caller’s voice had me flashing back in my memories, back to 1998… and back to 1978! Memories that had laid dormant for years were flooding into my of the conscious mind, awakened so abruptly that they came crashing into now!

The caller knew I had grown up in Roseburg and had attended Umpqua Community College. In fact, I graduated for UCC in 1978 as the Harry Jacoby Outstanding Student honoree. I did a quick Google search and found mixed media reports of 10-13 people killed and 20 people injured by a gunman in a campus classroom in Snyder Hall. My mind scanned my memory banks. Yes, I knew Snyder Hall. I had taken classes there. There was a familiarity that was haunting me.

I started to watch one report after another, looking for familiar people, buildings, places that would reinforce the memories cascading into place. And the horrific tales rang a familiar melody… oh, the Thurston High School shootings. Those memories had come flooding forward too! I knew students who were in the cafeteria at Thurston High in 1998 during that tragic shooting. I knew their families and the panic they had felt as that shooting had unfolded and the devastation left in the wake of one of the first school shootings was detailed and immortalized in the media constantly for the first few hours and lingered for days and weeks with ongoing reports on the injured and the assailant.

I instinctively picked up my phone to call my brother. Surely he would know more information… and if not, he would want to know what was happening. He answered on the second ring and reported that yes, he had heard. In fact, he had been on the phone with our step-mother for off and on for the past 3 hours. She had worked in the local media scene for many years. She had the ‘inside scoop’ and he could share that with me. I listened attentively as his story was recounted.

But the accounts of what he shared and what was being reported online didn’t line up. I took a deep breath… and then another deep breath… and another. I had slowed down time and allowed oxygen to flow to my conscious mind long enough that I began to critically analyze what had just happened. I had just experienced an induced trauma… not something that had physically happened to me. In fact, I don’t believe I know any of the victims directly. It was another one of those moments that the unconscious mind had taken over and the fight or flight response had sprung into action! Fear was the initial response, followed by deep sadness and then anger. They swirled around collecting bits and pieces of memories, creating their own collage of chaos.

In the 36 hours that have passed since I first learned about the shooting, I have remembered why I no longer read the newspaper headlines, nor watch the nightly news or listen to the ‘top of the hour’ radio reports. They are typically reports of bad news… news of disasters, calamity, and misfortune. They are reports of half-truths and stories of people I don’t know and with whom I have no relationship. They are stories of events of which I have no direct knowledge nor any way to impact the outcome. They are stories that focus on the differences between people and countries and highlight the worst of mankind.

Have I gone callus? I don’t think so! It’s just that I recognize now that there is literally nothing I could have done to stop a shooter that I did not know from taking action at the UCC campus on Thursday morning. I was not present to offer aide nor comfort. I do not know the players nor the circumstances that led to this event. And, to continue to dialogue or listen to recounts about the horrific events, with people who had no direct involvement (including all of the reporters from around the globe) only creates an atmosphere of gossip and mistrust, mixed with growing anger and resentment for actions we could not control.

Conversations in the lunch room and blaring 60” televisions strewn in restaurants across town could all be tuned out or turned off!!!! None of this activity was going to have an impact on the events of the past 36 hours. They were only fueling the amassing agitation amongst people who held a common thread from their past… they were all from Roseburg, or knew someone who was from the area, or had been involved in a previous school or public shooting, or knew someone who was, or you fill in the blank. The reality is that we cling to bits and pieces of mis-information and fill in the blanks with the imagination of our minds to form common bonds from events that are incongruent with our goals and desires.

I find that so often we allow the media (the press) and social media to guide, as well as bosses and co-workers, and well-intentioned family and friend to direct the paths of our thoughts, and thus our reactions! Our thoughts are precious commodities because the thoughts we think become the basis for our beliefs and our actions! As Mike Dooley has said, “Thoughts become things… Choose them wisely!” Our thoughts are just a predecessor of the actions we take and the results we attain.

The snapshot in time captured by the press is only a picture they have created in their mind and with the words they use to describe the circumstances on which they are reporting. Often, the reporter has not actually witnessed the events, but is flying by the seat of their pants, or perhaps their experiences, to create a report, a compelling image that will draw the listener in and capture the listener’s attention. It about ratings, and power and being in the know! Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “Conflict cannot survive without your participation.” Perhaps this is a lesson that should be added to the curriculum for every student beginning with kindergarten!  It’s time to turn off traumatic events and tune into what you want for your future!

When tragic events are reported, the key for me is to learn enough about what has happened from reliable sources and then make a conscious determination if I need to take immediate action to safegard my life, health, wealth or happiness.   This decision making process can take as little as 5-10 minutes. In my experience, my assessments lead me quickly to a realization that there is nothing I could have done to prevent the event, nor is there anything I can do that will directly impact the circumstance now. It is time for me to turn off the tragedy!   Yep, that’s right! I turn off the newscasts and focus my attention on something positive that will keep me focused, moving in the direction of my goals and with the intention of benefitting others as well.

For me, time spent watching repeated stories of terrible events is just a bludgeoning of my unconscious mind. It typically pulls on my heartstrings and leaves me feeling helpless and un-empowered. It is a walk down memory lane that ties my past to the present (usually as experienced by someone else) in a way that is unhealthy and unproductive. It engages my conscious mind in futile exercises to sort what the media has doled out as fact and then requires me to sift though half-truths and partial observations to find a piece of information that lines up, that I can hold onto and apply my past experiences into today’s world to build congruency. It engages me at the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual levels, leaving me exhausted and confused.

The problem with this model is that I don’t want more of this bad experience to play out in my life! I don’t want to give others the opportunity to study how someone randomly walks into a school, a movie theater, or other public place and begins firing an assault weapon with large clips of ammunition. This should not be a teaching opportunity for how to handle a weapon or on the topic of mental illness.

What I do want is to focus on how my actions can have a positive impact on the world, specifically my family, friends, and clients I help and care about. I want to be informed about current events in a way that is balanced and allows for me to have input on how I can shift the course and move in a more positive direction. I want to focus my attention and energies on the here and now and into the future with positive intent. For you see, focusing on what I want takes me into the future. It does not leave me frustrated in the past.

And so tonight, as the late night news came on and the shooting at Umpqua Community College was again the top news story, I listened briefly to see if there was any new or important information that would influence the direction of my future and after about 3 minutes, with growing sadness and tears in my eyes, I decided it was time to just turn off the trauma. It was time to walk away, to find something different to do. It was time to focus on the direction of my dreams and the future I want so that I can continue to move forward toward those goals and aspirations.

As a final note, I want to share my heartfelt prayers of love and hope, light and healing for my hometown community of Roseburg, Oregon, most especially those students, staff, law enforcements officers, first responders, and all the families who have been impacted by the recent events. I want to also share my prayers and love for healing to the extended community family of Roseburg (anyone who has ever lived there, attended school there, worked there or has/has had family and friends there). You see, just as in any small town either here in the USA or another country, there is a sense of community and family that stays with you throughout your life.

The events of this week have reached out and grabbed all of us by the jugular and taken us down an unwanted rabbit hole. As I did a quick calculation, I believe RHS has graduated around 20,000 students in the past 40 years and they are spread around the globe, yet connected easily through social media venues.   I want my family, friends and community to know that I care deeply and that if there is something I can do to help, I am but a phone call away; ready to offer my assistance, my time, talents and treasurers to move them forward, to help them through their grief and pain, their fear and suffering, their sadness and anger. For if there is one truth I hold sacred, it is we are all part of the family of humanity and we share this earth for the benefit of all. We are family, we are connected through our experiences and our desires and it is time for us to continue to focus in the direction of our dreams!

Be well. Kris