COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — It can be hard to watch the news, especially when traumatic and negative events keep happening across the country. These traumas can weigh us all down, but there are ways we can learn to carry that weight.
Ed Sanders, who survived the Club Q mass shooting in Colorado Springs, is living proof of that notion. The 63-year-old has bullet wounds in his back and leg, but still, he finds the energy to smile.
The LGBTQ advocate is known in the community as Prince Royal 47 for his work with The United Court of the Pikes Peak Empire. Sanders was standing at the bar, right next to Kelly Loving and Derrick Rump, when the shooting began. Both Loving and Rump did not survive.
“We just kind of tried to help Kelly breathe and encourage her to hang on and stay with us,” recounted Sanders. “But she passed. It was only two minutes before they got there, and she passed pretty much in front of me. And that was hard. I'd never had that happen before.”
The impact of that moment and the entire experience has scarred him.
“I couldn't sleep for three days, and then I decided, I made up my mind that I would put that off to the side until I got healed. And once I'm healed, then I would deal with all that,” said Sanders on addressing his mental health.
Sanders said he is planning to start trauma therapy as soon as he’s out of the hospital. He knows healing his body and his mind is the only path to living the life he loves once again.
“I made it through this awful experience, and it's for a reason. I've got work to do here,” he said.
Doing that work may take time, and it’s time we normalize the trauma healing process, said Justin Ross, a licensed clinical psychologist with UCHealth in Denver, Colorado.
“Well, I think the hard truth is the idea of going back to the pre-traumatic event, ‘normal,’ maybe difficult. That's a long road,” said Ross.
We asked Ross about how to start the path to healing. He said survivors like Sanders may experience things like bad dreams or intrusive thoughts, feeling jumpy or on high alert, heightened emotions, and wanting to avoid the scene or talking about the trauma.
“They really can create a lot of distress for people for weeks and sometimes for months to come,” said Ross.
Ross hopes people understand these are all normal reactions, and even people who saw this happen on television or online can feel that trauma too.
“It can be retraumatizing for any and all of us to see this happen, especially if we have a prior history of trauma,” said Ross.
He said we should normalize that it’s okay to be upset and it’s okay to reach out for support.
“By normalizing that, it gives us a chance to talk about it, and it can also help us seek out the help and the treatment that we need for our own healing and recovery,” said Ross.
Sanders said he’s normalizing his pain by talking about it and leaning on the fighting spirit he’s had his entire life.
“I've always been a fighter. When I came out at 23, there was no gay movement or anything. It has enabled me to be that strong person,” he said.
Sanders said incredible community support has also made him strong, and he hopes we can all find some strength, no matter how fleeting it may be, in talking about trauma. Most importantly, he hopes we can all find empathy and love for one another and seek support to heal the mental pain so many suffer from in silence.
“It's not hopeless,” said Sanders. “I will never be defined by hate in my life. I strive to be a light to people and love. And it will never define me other than make me stronger and more empowered.”
For more information on the advocacy work Sanders is involved with, click HERE.