PTSD & How Shooting Can Help

Hey everyone! 

So in this post we want to share a personally story written from one of our customers and firearm enthusiast Alyssa, and her struggle with PTSD & how getting into shooting has helped her!  Shooting can be fun but more importantly can be extremely therapeutic and help many individuals overcome obstacles and fears they have built.

    

Hi, my name is Alys and I suffer from PTSD which is post-traumatic stress disorder. I want to explain how I turned my fear of guns, into my greatest joy. Most people think of PTSD as something only people in the military get. I found this definition of PTSD from www.nimh.nih.gov “PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers. PTSD was first brought to public attention in relation to war veterans, but it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as mugging, rape, torture, being kidnapped or held captive, child abuse, car accidents, train wrecks, plane crashes, bombings, or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes." This coming November I will be celebrating my 10 year wedding anniversary, also marking 10 years since the traumatic experience which caused my life-long PTSD. My husband and I went to a snowy cabin get away outside of Yellowstone National Park for our honeymoon. On our drive home it had snowed and froze. We came to a hill and lost control of the car on black ice. We spun out onto the other side of the road, and a car coming up the hill hit us head on. It happened so fast, my brain could not comprehend what had just happened. The first thing I thought was "the car is going to explode" and first thing I did was tear my seatbelt off and start running down the highway. I felt no pain at that moment, just the thought that I was going to die. My husband came running after me (with a broken ankle) and finally when my brain caught up I could feel pain. Since we were in the mountains we waited outside in the freezing cold for two hours for an ambulance to come. A police officer came, and let me sit in the back of his car. I could not find a comfortable way to sit. I was bleeding and bruised and had no idea what was broken and what wasn’t. It was all a blur. I had no idea what my husband was doing at that point. The ambulance came, I ended up on the stretcher and do not remember how. The instant PTSD hit. The two hour drive down the mountain to the closest hospital I kept thinking “I am going to die, the ambulance is going to slide off the road and we are going to die.”

            I didn’t die and ever since then I cannot sit in a vehicle without panicking and having flashbacks of the car wreck. I don’t trust others to drive and I try to be the one who drives, so I can be in control of whatever situation I am in. I feel like the PTSD made me lose control of my life. I was scared of everything, I still am, but I am getting better. I had nightmares for a long time. I would dream about car accidents and wake up right when the car hit. I used to be brave. I wasn't scared of anything. Since the car accident EVERYTHING scared me. I have pretty bad anxiety from it. When I would leave the house I would have to check if the stove is on. I would not leave the house if the dryer was on, I had to turn it off. I checked my hair straightener several times to make sure it was turned off before I left in fear of my house catching on fire. I checked my alarm clock nearly 5 times before I went to bed to make sure it was on. Any machinery scared me. I refused to use an electric can opener. If I walked or drove over a bridge, the bridge was going to collapse or I was going to fall off. We took a train in Boston one time, and the train was going to fall of the track and the planes we rode on, they were all going to crash and we were going to die. Surprisingly, coming from the person I am now, I was terrified of guns. Naturally, living in Idaho guns are a big thing. My husband was into shooting and it took everything I had in me to be able to shoot a .22. In my head, the gun was somehow going to turn around and shoot me.

            I went through a couple different counselors and prescriptions before I felt like I found the right remedy for my pain. I found a counselor who specialized in EMDR. According to wikipedia.com it is, "Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy developed by Francine Shapiro that emphasizes disturbing memories as the cause of psychopathology. It is used to help with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to Shapiro, when a traumatic or distressing experience occurs, it may overwhelm normal coping mechanisms. The memory and associated stimuli are inadequately processed and stored in an isolated memory network. EMDR therapy is better than no treatment and similar to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in chronic PTSD.  The goal of EMDR is to reduce the long-lasting effects of distressing memories by developing more adaptive coping mechanisms. The therapy uses an eight-phase approach that includes having the patient recall distressing images while receiving one of several types of bilateral sensory input, such as side to side eye movements.” Basically, EMDR does something to change the brain chemicals. It helps you associate what was bad, with good.  I feel like the EMDR therapy gave me the release I needed from the chains of PTSD that were holding me back. I felt like I could breathe again and I finally learned the coping mechanisms that I didn’t have before.

            During my time in counseling I joined a female gun club. I was so scared and had no idea why I joined. The idea of shooting a gun scared me. But my counselor helped me through it. She made me believe I could do it. I did my first shooting competition with them (ladies only) with a .22 and it wasn’t too bad. I decided I liked the competition and that it was something that I wanted to do. They had a big USPSA match coming up and I decided to sign up. Only 3 days before the match I found out you had to shoot a 9mm or bigger. I had never shot a 9mm before. Right then I decided to back out. I couldn’t do it. The gun was going to explode and I was going to die. But something in me told me I could do it. I went home and told my husband he needed to take me to the range right then and let me shoot his Glock 19. I shot it and I didn’t die. The gun didn’t explode, it didn’t turn around and shoot me, and it didn’t fall out of my hand from the recoil. I did it. I couldn’t believe I shot something bigger than a .22. A couple days later was the match. I only shot the 9mm twice in my life at this point (I went back to the range and shot it again before the match) We pulled into the range and I started crying. What was I thinking? I was just a dumb little girl who knew nothing about guns and I was scared to death. I wiped my face off and started the match. The match was amazing. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever done. I felt empowered and strong. I got very last place, but I did it and I didn’t die. Everyone was so helpful and supportive. I decided then, that this was my thing. I think that match helped me mentally more than anyone could imagine. I haven’t stopped shooting since. I no longer have a fear of the gun exploding or turning around and shooting me. I have gone from being scared of shooting a .22 to shooting a 50 cal. I think shooting saved me. It saved me from myself, from the hurt and the pain I deal with every day. I compete in monthly USPSA matches, and sometimes more than just once a month. The competition aspect of the game gives me a rush and a high, it makes me believe I am a strong confident woman who can do anything, and no one will tare me down while I am doing it. I have improved my shooting skills over the years with classes and lots of practice. I am not the best shooter by any means, in fact, I am far from it. I just enjoy doing it. I have a problem still with “hacking” the trigger which makes my shots go low left. Low left means I am anticipating the shot which makes me “hack” and I miss the center of the target. The anticipation is subconsciously my PTSD because it’s still there and will always be there. I get told time and time again after I shoot a stage by some very well-meaning men that I am “shooting low left” or that I am “hacking the trigger” and all I can do is smile and say “yes, I know” because they really have no idea what it took for me to get out there and shoot a gun in the first place. One day I hope to overcome that “hacking” and improve my accuracy. Which will only come with dry fire and live fire practice, and more importantly, not giving up on myself.

            The PTSD will never go away, and I still have a hard time being in a car. But I turned my fears into a passion and my cants into cans. I am so grateful for the shooting community and the people I have met though my journey. I have received so much support and help with shooting that I am forever grateful. People in the shooting world are some of the nicest people I have met.  Competition shooting has given me more confidence than I ever have had in my life. To the women who are new to the shooting world or who are thinking of getting into shooting:  Girl, you can do anything. Don’t be scared, just do it! There will always be someone to help you if you ask.  Don’t let fear take over your life. Don’t let anyone think you can’t do anything.  Don’t let your mind and self-doubt get to you. Don’t feed the fear, overcome it. Find a class, educate yourself, find a group of ladies to shoot with and learn as much as you can. You don’t have to shoot competitions, but you should at least have the knowledge of what to do if you ever are in a situation where you need to use your firearm.  I feel every woman should know how to handle and use a firearm. I am all about empowering women and making them feel strong, because there was a time when I did not feel strong and I don’t want any woman to ever feel like that. You are strong. You can do it. I believe in you.

 

 

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