Tori Hoffman, 27, PTSD/School Shooting Survivor
How would you describe your experience and its impact on your life?
I would say that surviving a school shooting put into perspective for me just how short and precious life is. I am no longer afraid of death because I know it could happen anywhere or anytime. Rather than focusing on the fear of death, I focus on the joys of life and how to get the most out of life with each and every day I live. This experience made me hyper-aware of my surroundings and safety, especially in the immediate aftermath. I would be sure I knew where the emergency exit was at public events before being able to enjoy myself. Now, almost 10 years after the shooting at Arapahoe High School that I lived through with my community, I live in New York City and I am able to take on what comes my way. I prioritize my safety, but I also allow myself to have fun.
What would you want the world to know about being a school shooting survivor?
I have not made it my identity. Any trauma you experience does not have to define you. Having PTSD from multiple different experiences does not have to define you and does not make you incapable of healing. Even when there are tough times, or triggers that bring you to a headspace you do not want to be in, you should always remember to take deep breaths and remember where you are, find those affirmations for yourself that help you feel safe and grounded. Your body remembers trauma even when you think you are "over it." Be gentle with yourself and remember there is no schedule to healing or grieving. Feel what you feel when you feel it, because working through your feelings and understanding your survival instincts and how they may or may not serve you all the time, is the key to healing and living a fulfilling life.
What does it feel like to live with PTSD?
To live with PTSD is to give yourself grace for all the feelings you may experience. I am happy to say that I have healed a lot from the trauma I have experienced, and even still, I am aware of potential triggers that may come up for me and I feel confident in the ways I can ground myself if they come up. The key is to never try to "get over it." The key is to acknowledge that even traumatic experiences are a part of your story and you are capable of making sense of them and growing beyond them. You control the full picture of your story and your future - always.
What brings you joy?
The really simple things in life bring me the most joy. Waking up and being grateful to be alive, enjoying a coffee or smoothie with a good book, or just looking up and taking in the beauty on my daily walk. I highly recommend a daily walk to get you off of your phone and in a place where you process your day and your feelings. Sometimes my walks are where I release some feelings with tears or think through an important decision I want to make. Carving out the space and time for me to feel what I need to is so grounding to me, and I feel joy when I take advantage of that space and time. My community of peers brings me joy. I have wonderful friends who respect me and my experiences, who genuinely listen and who I can relate to through shared experiences. I wish everyone could have such supportive friends. They are out there!