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To Hell and Back: A Survivor’s Story

This was it. The time had come. I was facing my past head- on. It had been almost  11 years and times had changed.

They told me I didn’t have to do this if I wasn’t ready, but I was determined. We had set the plan in motion, and I was determined to see it through. When we left the house I was calm, yet on edge at the same time. I sat in the back seat, imagining what it would be like. For so long I had said, “Never again!” How quickly I learned the truth of an old adage my mom’s taught me for years… “Never say never!”

We arrived at our destination. I sat silent in the back seat, my heart beginning to race. As the car came to a stop, I drew in a deep breath and closed my eyes. This was it. No turning back now!

They all knew the journey I was on. No one pressured me. No one coddled me. They left me to deal with this in my own way, knowing the hell I had walked through to get to this point. I couldn’t think about the moment my life as I knew it ceased to exist. That wasn’t the purpose of this. Right now it was about preparing myself for whatever the future holds.

I let out a deep breath as I reached the stall, steadying myself. It wasn’t but just a moment before my calm resolve gave way to panic. I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of flashbacks with the first gunfire. I had tried to tell myself that this was different, yet the sound was all too familiar. The smell brought on another wave of gut-wrenching memories.

In an instant I was back in that moment. I buried my head into the carpeted platform of the stall I stood in, trying to catch my breath. The cold, deliberate rain beat a rhythm on the tin roof, intensifying the memories that haunted the shadowed crevices of my mind. The wind cut through my body, just as the tragic flashbacks sliced through my mind’s eye, taunting me. I tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle the groan that ripped from my throat. It was drowned out by the gunfire coming from the next set of stalls.

My husband came over and rubbed my back, reminding me that I didn’t have to do this. I simply shook my head no, refusing to let the memories stop me from facing this head on. I would get through this, come hell or high water!

He set about preparing my gun. With every movement and sound my anxiety intensified. It had been so long since I had flashbacks, and now the onslaught was almost more than I could handle. I teetered on the edge of hysteria at times, reminding myself that this was something I had to do, that the memories were simply that… memories from the past, not reality.

All around me other shooters were shooting, and with every gunshot my body jerked with alarm.

It wasn’t long before my husband placed a gun on the carpeted platform of my stall. I sat staring at it as he coached me, telling me to take my time.  I kept thinking to myself, “This is absolutely ridiculous! Less than twelve years ago it was nothing for me to pick up a gun and go target practicing! Yet, here I am now, petrified!” The self-badgering did no good, the haunted memories from that night rushing in like the wind that whipped around us.

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I picked the gun up, turning it over in my hands. I gripped the cold steel tightly, silently willing my mind to be reasonable. I slowly aimed at the target, but could not pull the trigger. I tried to steady my breath and focus on the target rather than the flashbacks firing away in my head, but I couldn’t see anything through the tears.

After a couple of minutes I told myself, “This is it!” and I pulled the trigger.

I could feel their eyes on me, knowing what had been accomplished in one shot. My brother kept a watchful eye on me, and I knew he couldn’t have been more proud of me than he was at that moment. All he said was, “You ok?”, but his eyes said so much more. All I could do was shake my head no as the tears threatened another attack.

I put the gun down again, steadying myself. It was as if time stood still with that one shot. Pulling the trigger had taken me from that moment in time to the present. No, I wasn’t ok… yet. But I would be. Just give me a minute.

My husband asked if I wanted to shoot another gun and I shook my head yes. Another gun was put in front of me, with the same instructions to take my time. This time it was easier. It still took me a minute, but again I gripped the cold steel tightly in my hands, pointing the gun at the target. I sat silent for a minute, focusing on the target- this time without the tears- and then I squeezed the trigger.

We didn’t stay long at the gun range that day, and I only shot 3 guns, but I accomplished more in those two hours than I could have ever imagined I could have. That night seems like a lifetime ago, and in fact, in many ways, it is.

While it was unexpectedly cold, windy and rainy, the weather was truly a blessing in disguise that day. There were very few people at the range that Saturday, which is a rarity. If the weather had been beautiful, the range would have been packed, making it that much more difficult for me to accomplish my goal and face my past.

My world as I knew it ceased to exist on April 28, 2001. Any little bit of innocence that existed for me in the world ended the moment my first husband put a gun in his mouth and shot himself, as I ran helplessly to him, trying to stop him. When he died I swore I would never have anything to do with another gun again.

Over the last eleven years I have healed beyond my wildest imagination. Yes, that night changed my life forever, but March 10, 2012 is the day I changed my life forever. The tragedy that happened does not define me. The memories do not control me. I have walked through the very pits of hell and made it back. I am not a victim. I am a survivor!

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