Like the rest of the country, I have been deeply affected by the horrific events in Newtown, Conn. My heart is so very heavy, yet I am certain I’m shouldering only a tiny portion of what must be the excruciating grief the victims’ families -- and the entire community -- are enduring right now.
Tragedies are agonizing to bear at any time of the year, but these events are especially painful because they occurred so close to Christmas. For the people directly affected, the holidays will forever be associated with horror. And that breaks my heart all over again.
I could use this space to explore my feelings about the Sandy Hook shootings, the mental state of the shooter and how Friday’s events came to pass. How could this happen? Could it have been prevented? I don’t have any answers, but like most people, I have a desperate need to make sense of it all.
In this case, I have to fall back on the simple concepts I’ve been taught in 12-step recovery, as a result of my direct experiences with drug and alcohol addiction: people who hurt others are sick – their minds are diseased – and while this is not an excuse for appalling behavior, it offers a reason for it.
For me, separating the disease from the person helps bring me to a place of compassion instead of rage. If I get stuck in resentment and anger toward the sick person who ravaged the city of Newtown, I am only punishing myself. (This is what I choose to believe – it’s what helps me cope, so take it for what it’s worth.)
Another tactic that helps me survive acute feelings of loss is concentrating on all the reasons I have to be grateful. To me, if there is any blessing in tragedy, it’s that those who are left behind are reminded how lucky we are to be alive.
I have a nice home, a boundless career, a healthy son, a loving family and wide circle of friends, as well as all of life’s necessities. My own family drama earlier this year pales in comparison to having a child or other loved one torn from me because of an act of violence. I am so thankful that I’ve never had to experience that kind of loss.
And with very few exceptions, my holidays have always been filled with joy. I know how lucky I am to be able to say that. My parents worked hard to make sure our Christmases were special -- filled with tradition, love and laughter. I’ve spent my years as a parent trying to give the same intangible gifts to be my son. At 17, he still loves Christmas, so I think I’ve succeeded.
For me, the best way to combat evil and ugliness is to give it the middle finger by celebrating life. That might be a naïve attitude, but I just know that I can’t sit around mired in hurt or anger... I will go crazy.
It’s often said in 12-step recovery that “changed attitudes can aid recovery.” When it comes down to it, all I can control are my attitudes and actions.
So during the next two weeks, I’m going to direct my energy toward showing all of the people who are important to me how much I love them, rather than dwelling on pain. (Truth be told, the Connecticut tragedy should serve as a reminder that I should do this all year, not just at Christmas. But hey, it’s a start.)
I can’t make things right with the world, but I can try to make my own corner of it a little brighter during this dark time.
My prayers are with the people of Newtown.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After 10 years, she's still just saying.