A New Rebel

Sherrie Lawson

Washington Navy Yard 

It was 2am and I was distraught and exhausted. I had not been able to sleep for more than three hours at night. Anxiety made it extremely difficult to fall asleep and once I hit the REM stage of sleep nightmares played on repeat. I was constantly running from shadows, ducking behind walls, hearing rapid gunfire, tripping over other people and trying to get to get to safety. It had been two months since the Navy Yard shooting and I couldn’t seem to go back to ‘normal’.

I was seeing a therapist who had just informed me that she didn’t know how to help me. I was being referred to a psychiatrist. I was scared. Friends and family were ready for me to ‘get over it’. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to talk to about the emotions, panic attacks, anxiety, and this overall new way of life. I’ve always been a social person, very outgoing and fun. I now rarely left my condo for anything other than work. For some reason I couldn’t seem to make it to the Bikram yoga classes I loved and had attended for six years. I no longer met friends for happy hour or live Jazz. I sat at home staring into space, listening for noises, and scared of my own shadow. I desperately needed a safe space.

I took to Google and began searching for support groups. There were support groups for cancer survivors, domestic violence victims, etc. Surely, there was a support group for those who had survived mass shootings. It took a few different keywords in the search box, but finally The Rebels Project  website stared back at me from my laptop. I explored the website, already feeling some renewed hope as I realized it was founded by former Columbine students. They would get it. They would understand. But would they accept me? I hadn’t been shot or physically injured. ‘My’ shooting had not happened in a school. Was I even considered a ‘real’ survivor? I asked myself these questions as I typed an email to Jennifer Hammer and Heather Egeland requesting to be added to the closed Facebook group.

The next day I received a response and for the first time since climbing the 10ft brick wall to safety, I breathed a sigh of relief. They welcomed me with open arms. I was introduced to the Facebook group full of survivors from various mass shootings. I immediately felt loved, supported, and a part of something positive. Here I could ask questions, describe what I was experiencing and receive feedback from those who had been through something similar. I no longer felt so alone or like I had to hide my true emotions and pretend like I was alright.

Seven months later an Uber driver dropped me off in front of Aurora Central High School where I met Heather Egeland for the first time. We rode together to the Columbine Memorial to meet up with teens from Newton, Connecticut. It was pouring rain but nothing could dampen my mood. After viewing the memorial, we all went to dinner. I remember standing in the midst of my new ‘family’ who embraced me and more importantly understood where I was in my recovery process. I made connections that day that have literally saved my life. The Rebels Project is an amazing organization full of strength and resilience. I am forever grateful and honored to be a part of this family.

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