Healing After Trauma with Pride and Community

This past Saturday, our DC Capital Pride Parade was suddenly disrupted by what appeared to be a potential active shooter. Just saying those words causes most of us to cringe with fear and apprehension. But for many of our community who were within range of this event, it was real, with all the unpredictability of a real active shooter. Persons pushed down barricades, ran in all directions trying to hide and find safety.

Whitman-Walker Health’s contingent had made it to the corner of 17th and P Street when the Parade stopped. In time the news started to drift our way that something had happened, a possible gun fire and that persons there to watch the parade had to run for shelter. I recall thinking. “Am I safe? What is happening? What should we do now?”

Colleagues described the physical and emotional reactions of the bystanders as they began to leave the parade route as showing signs of an intense trauma response. Some were shaking and dissociating being assisted by friends, while others looked un-phased and or unaware that something threatening had occurred.

It’s common to have a whole array of reactions to a traumatic event. If you were within range of this event, you found yourself swept up by the fear of an active shooter, it’s normal to feel unsettled and even possibly emotionally activated.

Some common experiences after a traumatic event are intrusive thoughts or memories about the event, hypervigilance or being more on guard and aware of what is going on around you, hyperarousal or wound up and on edge, and a general feeling of being unsafe or not secure.

It’s important to watch these reactions. Most of these reactions will calm down as there is time and distance from the event. Be mindful if these begin to turn to a loss of interest in activities, finding that you are avoiding certain situations, activities or people, or unhealthy coping behaviors like increased substance and or alcohol use. These may be signs that you need help and it’s important that you reach out to a professional for that help.

After a traumatic event look for social support, talk with friends and minimize unhealthy coping strategies like avoiding your thoughts and feelings through alcohol and drugs. Validate your feelings, but also recognize what you are thinking and how these thoughts are influencing the way you feel. And move into self-care activities like exercise, yoga, meditation and connecting to others.

Our PRIDE celebrations are important for us because they affirm our connection to each other, to our City and to our rights as LGBTQ persons. I was impressed at the crowd at Sunday’s Pride Festival. Despite the rain, thousands from our community gathered, showing our resilience and strength even after the events of Saturday night. But I also know that some stayed away, fearful that something like what happened Saturday night could happen again. I hope that your fear will diminish and that you will find your place again within the beautiful tapestry which is the LGBTQ community.

Randy Pumphrey, LPC / Senior Director of Behavioral Health