Handing Out Hearts

A couple weeks ago while we were preparing for Valentine’s Day at our house I came across a stack of pink and red doily hearts. As I began writing little love notes on them to my treasures and hanging them on their doors to surprise them when they woke up I was reminded of a session I had with my hypnotherapist not long after my hospitalization.

I think it’s funny sometimes how our memories are attached to events and experiences we have in the present. I love that I have the ability to recognize it when it happens because not only is it a gift but it’s tremendously healing for me.

Even though it will be two years this coming August, I hold the lessons I took from that session dear to my heart still today and I want to share them with you.

I was still very sick on this particular day. I had just been released from a psychiatric hospital the week before and I was living with some terrible issues. Insomnia, side effects from medications, unending anxiety, complete appetite loss (I had lost 15 pounds within two weeks), and my mind wouldn’t stop racing. The only peace I had was when Natalie, my hypnotherapist, had me under hypnosis. This day she offered subconscious intervention, a technique used during hypnosis, as a way to go back to the day of the bombing again (we’d worked on this before) and clear out any remaining attachments and feelings I had towards that day.

As hypnosis took over my mind it was as if my body was transplanted back to the finish line. I could see it all moving around me. I could hear the bombs going off, the smoke and air being pushed towards me, and I could see the faces of everyone around me too – those lost, injured, and those forever changed. We were all frozen together in time in my mind.  I was then very aware of the feelings I had carried home with me; survivor’s guilt and fear.  I could see that everyone around me took those same feelings or worse with them too and so I did what I thought I could do to help – I began handing out hearts to everyone.  They were simple red paper hearts with no writing on them, but to me they symbolized the help that I couldn’t offer to those around me on that day. I had struggled for so long with feeling like I could have done more to help and this was finally my way. And I just kept handing them out – to the first responders, to the victims who left their lives behind there, to the injured laying in the street, to the stunned runners, to my brother-in-law standing next to me – I handed hundreds out and soon everyone had a heart and I looked down and there was one left in my hand.

That heart was for me.

I held it with the knowledge that I didn’t have to carry the guilt that surviving that day had given me anymore. I embraced it with the understanding that I needed to go on and grow from what I had witnessed. I carried it with the grace of accepting that I couldn’t have changed what happened that day or how I reacted. I grasped it with peace and hope for the families whose lives would forever be changed by the loss of their loved ones. I held it with hope – hope that I would go on and live a beautiful life that wasn’t filled with fear.

I am sharing this today as terror has struck in our country again at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with yet another violent school shooting.

I found a resource for these young people and anyone else who has forever been changed by what they experienced and saw at school that day. The Rebels Project was founded by Columbine High School shooting survivors. Their mission is to embrace, support, and connect survivors of mass tragedy and trauma by creating a safe environment to share unique resources, experiences, and provide education surrounding the varying effects of mass trauma. 

As I process the events in Florida and Las Vegas and too many other tragedies to name, I feel called to reach out because I know what is in store for some of these victims. I am afraid for them. I am concerned they won’t get the help they will need. My heart breaks for them.

Tonight when I pray and meditate I will start by handing out more hearts to the families whose loved ones were lost, to those who were injured physically, and to those who will find themselves months and years from now struggling with PTSD.

I hope one day I won’t have to hand out these hearts anymore.