It’s been 12 years since I was shot in the face.
I was a freshman in college living in the dorms delighting in way too much stir fry and frozen yogurt at the cafeteria. I was suffering a very recent heart break from my high school and into college boyfriend. I didn't know what I wanted to major in. I was making new best friends in my sorority. I was trying way too hard to impress "friends" I didn't even like. I thought I was cool drinking framboise and hefeweizen with my fake ID. I remember deep feelings of insecurity and rejection. I had a pet fish in which I had a PANIC attack every time I had to clean his bowl. I drove a 98 blue VW beetle and it was always a mess, but I loved it. I was having the time of my life going to sorority events and feeling like I was “so old” because I could make my own rules. Silly me! I like to believe I was your average 19-year-old who didn't have a clue where my life was headed. Aren't most freshmen college students that way? So I thought…
You see, some not-so-friendly, non-college kids, crashed a house party I was at. Not in a wedding crashers type way, rather, literally crashing, fighting, and well, shooting the party (me) down.
“Katie, get off the couch!”, was the last thing I heard before I turned at the sound of my name while simultaneously witnessing the shattering sound of the gun. I’ll never forget looking down at my trembling hands as if I was a character in a war-movie. Except, this wasn’t fictional. This was not a dress rehearsal nor was it invented emotions or phony fears. This was real and raw and urgent; no life experience could have prepared me for the intensity of what I was to see, hear, feel, and ache over. The shooting is and was that pivotal moment that created a timestamp of life before, and life after.
The blood was as red as a firetruck. It was warm like bath water as it flooded my fingers, wrists, and body; its velocity out of my face was as fast and fierce resembling an angry fire hose. I remember quivering, uncontrollably, as the side of my head felt like it might be lying on the floor next to me.
The moments following were complete chaos. I remember fellow classmates running, screaming, and ducking. The room was dark and musty and energy was consumed by panicked college aged kids. I don’t have memory of how I got from the couch to the other side of the room, but I remember my legs marching in fear as I pressed my clammy back against a wall holding my face as tight as I would be holding a million dollars. If I was only that lucky…
While pain was the initial sensation, in these moments to follow, it was complete survival as I pleaded with God that it wasn’t my time. I could faintly hear my friends repeating “stay with us Katie, stay with us” as my vision blurred to a pinhole size.
It was February. The bitter cold weather seemed to match the hearts of those who shot me. I was confused and terrified laying in the grass waiting for the ambulance to rescue me. My friends were incredible first responders; shirts were removed to create a tourniquet, they carried me and held my head and stroked my face to calm me. Somehow, their emotions were kept calm until I was rushed away. They saved me and I’m forever indebted to their bravery and the hope they instilled during those tragic moments.
It was my mama’s 50th birthday. Unfortunately, she received a police phone call sharing the worst news, not a phone call to celebrate her 5 decades. This story isn’t worth sharing without my mama in it. You see, she’s always been the spiritual rock of our family. I swear she has a direct line straight to the heaven’s gate and God on frickin’ speed dial. This part of the story from my mom was revealed years later and it was crucial to my healing process.
“The same day that Katie was shot, I was on my daily walk when I was taken by an overwhelming need to pray for her. I remember asking God to give Katie a wake-up call. My hope was that she would begin to listen to reason, and develop a deep, abiding love for HIM. I recall pleading, "do whatever it takes to give Katie a heart for You". I reasoned with God that if she understood His love for her, she would grow the strength and wisdom to conquer whatever life may bring.
Little did I know that she would receive a gunshot wound to the face less than 24 hours later...not quite the wake-up call I had in mind. The events that followed my prayer were clearly and creatively scripted, and carried with them a message of love more powerful than I could have ever imagined.
I believe there are a multitude of reasons why God allows painful things to happen. I choose to believe that my need to pray on that particular day for a "wake-up call", was a type of preparation or warning for the sudden impact that was about to take place. I remember when I heard the words "there's been an accident, and Katie...", my heart dropped and my eyes began to well with tears. Then, I recalled my prayer and all I can say is that I was overcome with a profound sense of peace and knowing that my prayers for Katie were being answered. I had the peace that passes understanding, and I know it was from HIM.”
For months my own mama new this was coming. It was like she gave God permission, on that very day, knowing and trusting him to teach me what I needed to be taught. Talk about a mother’s love! That’s powerful, (and scary!), yet, it profoundly helped guide my understanding of faith and trust.
The morphine raced through my bloodstream resulting in calmness, actually joking, and cooperating with the detectives. Thank god for medical professionals and those drugs! Lying on the operating table the doctors told me I was a miracle. The doctors were in awe of this case. "This is the best gun shot wound to the face I've ever seen. It's a miracle you're still standing, let alone breathing.” Family flew long distances to console me and friends gathered to spend long nights in the hospital. I was overwhelmed with cards, flowers, emails, text messages, and love.
The large completely in-tact bullet was surgically removed that morning, just in time for my parents to see me, bullet-free. I was woozy and accidentally flashed my own dad. SORRY DAD!
Transitioning back to normal life was near impossible for me. While it was a miracle that I was alive with little damage to my head, it was difficult to accept the stroke-like face I was left with. At 19-years-old, I longed to be accepted and beautiful and a one-sided smile and mountainous scars wasn’t exactly my kind of external beauty.
Six months after the initial impact of the bullet, I received reconstructive surgery to fix the keloidal scars and break up the scar tissue. Physically I healed, yet mentally and emotionally, I was lost. The following days, months, and years were difficult…
Ever heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? How about grief? Rapidly the meaningless phrases of handling trauma became my reality. Very quickly I felt very alone in my world. Relationships were all failing, insecurities were growing, and confusion and chaos clouded my vision. I remember my counselors words, "You have been through a serious traumatic event. It's okay to not be okay.” I was lost, oh so lost. I spun into years of survival mode which turned into long seasons of depression, fear, shame, anger, broken relationships, and extreme feelings of panic. "have you ever felt alone in a crowded room?", those Jacks Mannequin band lyrics were on repeat.
I went from straight A student to losing my academic scholarship due to failing my classes that semester. My immune system tanked resulting in lifelong illnesses; eventually I was diagnosed with celiac disease, Hashimoto’s disease, and anything else the wind brought. This brought on an entire different responsibility, extreme confusion and anger, and absolute hate for trauama. I felt responsible for my life was spiraled out of control yet had no direction of how to fix it.
You guys, I was angry. I was angry at the shooter. I was angry at everyone around me who didn’t have to deal with this. I was desperate to be understood, yet, I didn’t even understand myself. I was fine on the outside, yet inside I was screaming for an escape of emotional pain. To this day, I would take the physical pain over the emotional healing pain any day. It was exhausting, confusing, and trickled into every element of my existence.
After a year of trying to get back on track in school and be “normal” my parents demanded I come home. I was angry at them which jolted me into action to take a different look at my life. I was tired of feeling sorry for myself. So much so, that I packed my bags and took off to live in Africa in an orphanage, solo.
My three months on Africa soil was an experience that completely shifted my perspective. It made me realize the shooting was FOR me, not AGAINST me. The mindset shift was more powerful than the weapon that tried to kill me or the emotional baggage I was tightly gripping. The lessons I learned in Africa were necessary. I also returned with malaria but that was nothing in comparison to being shot! I was a new woman full of empowerment, intense GRATITUDE, and boundaries. Can I get an AMEN?! This was another turning point, growing more confident and more open to using pain as my teacher, and forgiveness as my power.
I fell in love after Africa. Not just with travel but with a man who became my husband and the father of our BEAUTIFUL little girl, Ireland. He was dreamy and we traveled the world together! We were determined to have an incredible marriage full of honesty, love, sex, secrets, and most of all—travel. We sat at the edge of infinity pool, viewing a dazzling sunset in Thailand when we decided to start trying for a baby. I was pregnant immediately! I gave birth to a little girl that I sobbed over just the sight of her. While her birth was intense to say the least, the love for her and my husband that day was indescribable. She was my purpose, my joy, and she and my husband owned my entire heart.
I decided to quit my job so I could stay home with my angel. This only led to a greater financial stress for our family. We were young and our marriage began to distance as we tried to navigate how to be parents and growing kids ourselves. Our marriage began to unravel quickly. By unraveling I mean complete and utter shattering of our hearts. Neither of us were equipped to now how to support each other in our struggles, which, were completely separate from being parents. He relied on work to cope and I relied on nagging and smothering to cope. Without knowing how to protect ourselves, we both began to flirt with the idea of lust. We discussed this struggle together, but, didn’t know how to use the tools to protect ourselves. It was painful, scary, and stressful on our love.
Our love became faint, and my husband began to fall in love with someone else.
The day I found out about the affair, my husband and I cried together while we held each other. I felt his pain and it makes me ache remembering it. Deep in my heart I wanted to stay, fight for our love; divorce wasn’t an option because I knew it took two people for him to get to that point. Most people confuse affairs and I wanted to understand it, support him in his shame, and move forward stronger and even more in love.
It would be normal to want to curse your spouse. While I did, I knew his hurting heart. He wasn’t THAT guy. He was an amazing guy who struggled and made a terribly confused choice. I loved him, seeing him at this core, not at his decisions.
A blur of four months later...I was sitting in a law office, puffy eyes, pit in my empty stomach, absolutely drained and exhausted, listening to the kind yet cold and dark haired attorney explain my rights and the process of divorce with such ease.
It was absolutely heartbreaking; a torturing feeling, to be exact.
How and when did this all happen? I imagine my once best friend, travel companion, kitchen dancing soon-to-be-ex husband was asking the exact same questions.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, there was a lack of intention, understanding, love, patience, trust, partnership and...attraction.
How? How did two good people, who were once a great match, end up saying yes to selling their home, giving away their dog, sharing custody, and literally saying goodbye to a life they dreamed would last forever?
The heartbreak that followed the decision to divorce was almost unbearable. We loved each other and giving up just wan’t a part of my genetics, or his. Little did I know that it’s never giving up, it’s giving in to the greater path for each of us. The heartache that came with being a single-mama and mending a broken life (I thought) brought me straight back to the grief and trauma emotions of the shooting. They were parallel, yet such vastly different circumstances. So much of my patterns bubbled up that I hadn’t yet let go of. While it was easy to continually blame my former husband for the pain, it was years of pain I knew I had to dissect. Blaming him held me captive as a victim, and a victim I was not. We co-created this and the more cozied up to owning my sh** and only my sh** the deeper into acceptance I became.
The nights and days were excruciating. I dated to dilute the loneliness. I was reading, journaling, traveling on several self-discovery retreats, and diving head first into finding myself. I wished life were different. I cried. I was super lonely. I’d watch families through the windows. I’d curl up on the couch and listen to the one depressing song on repeat. I’d scroll through Facebook and compare the shit out of myself. I’d check my phone 50 times in hopes of something exciting or someone to share life with. I’d question everything. I’d move the stupid Elf on the Shelf even when there is no kid to surprise. I was human, through and through.
Yet, I committed fiercely to the work. I vowed to not give up on myself! I was a girl who once viewed herself as the victim who transitioned proudly into a (confidently flawed!) viking. I was a proud single mama who had and still has the honor of teaching her little girl the power in owning your own story, the power of vulnerability, the freedom in forgiveness and grace, and the power behind seeing and loving our flaws. And mostly, that we are all capable of destruction. I began sharing my story, and witnessing the healing that occurred in others though my vulnerability. It gave purpose to my story, to our story, and to everyone else is struggles with being human.
You see, divorce isn't a curse for a miserable life. Neither are affairs, or shootings, or malaria, or any or all evil. I can only speak for myself but divorce has been a catalyst for me to see all my flaws so clearly, and fu**ing love them.
Seems like an odd thing to say, right?
My dear ones, I'm a flawed human. They. Aren't. Going. Away. No matter how many prayers, genie lamp rubs, or shooting star wishes I plead for...my ugly is not disappearing. I've spent majority of my adult life fearing my flaws, feeling not good enough, confused, insecure, uncertain, and ironically...unaware of them.
It wasn't the flaws that got me here... it was the ignorance about them that did.
The truth is, divorce, breakups, heartaches don't just happen over night. Ever.
It's never just one person. Ever. Two people create the situation. Always.
No matter the story, the drama, the hurt, the downfall is always created by two, with two. It takes two to say "I do" and two so say "I quit".
I stand by my former husband in respect, forgiveness on both sides, and love as friends and co-parents. The BEAUTY in the mess of divorce is simply the capability to heal, gracefully. I’ve never learned grace so intimately until I traveled the ebbs and flows of the scary space of divorce.
AND! I’m TRULY happy to announce that the women he fell in love with is his new wife, my dear friend, and a bonus mama to Ireland.
Can I get another amen?!
I’m literally smiling on the other side of the computer screen. GRACE is INCREDIBLE. I truly can’t wait to teach my daughter these lessons. Being bitter is a waste of time. Rather, I get to plan parties, share wine, laugh, cry, and HEAL with the two people that never intended to damage me. They shaped me, into a better version of Katie. The best part? They also dove into the work. They are wildly worthy of love and everyone’s love and respect. They are willing and allowing me to speak of this because they believe in the greater good of their flaws. They have done the same work I have in owning their mess, extracting the lessons, making it right, and co-creating an incredible life for our daughter. While we may be scared for Ireland’s understanding of all of this I just know she’s seen absolute love, forgiveness, grace, and respect grow out of something that could have shamed us all. She has the opportunity to see freedom instead of hiding and THAT is the parent we all choose to be. Her middle name is ironically Grace. Little did we know HOW meaningful that would be for her…
I’m also giddy to announce I found love again! Get this…after I swore off men for awhile (after kissing a lot of frogs), suddenly a steamy, hottttttt single-dad appeared with an adorable little kindergarten girl ready to meet her teacher. That teacher was me. I don’t know how to describe what I felt when I stared at him (and his sexy tattoos), but there was a knowing. A knowing that this would be deep, intimate, and the epic love I had done all the work for.
Months into the school year we were both single and bonded through deep conscious discussions about life, his sobriety, my trauma, single-parenting, and our shared passion for helping people. He was different then any other man, he was the one for me, this I knew. Nine months later, we were married! Yup, you heard right. Next month we will be celebrating our one-year wedding anniversary! TADA! Watching our two little girls become best friends and sisters has been such a blessing and an answered prayer.
Our whole lives were preparing us for this marriage. This commitment is one of intimacy and vulnerability. It’s rich with honesty and a daily choosing of love. It is wildly graceful, imperfect, and a constant reminder to release fear. It’s granted me the uncomfortable space of healing. It’s authentic and supportive and often challenging and THAT’S the miracle. It’s the work to not hide my daily struggle with doubt, anxiety, and depression. It’s the reminders of choosing ourselves, first. It’s setting new goals, discussing dreams, and paying off debt. It’s adapting to being step-parents and balancing the constant transitions a blended family brings. It’s not ignoring the aches, it’s leaning into them, together. I’m just as emotional and chaotic as I always have been, but, I feel seen and still loved. By my husband, by my children, by my former husband and his wife. THAT’s the essence.
THIS is my story of pain turned power.
You’re reading this, because, you DO love what matters. You may need to take the leap to transition from victim to viking. If so, I gracefully and lovingly encourage you to trust the process and lean in.
I forgive the shooter. I forgive the pains of the divorce. I lean into the teachings of what aches in order to find the love, the grace, and the freedom that comes with that.
The happily ever after isn’t running off into the sunset, at least that’s not how my story ends. The happily ever after is standing firmly in love, in your truth, no matter the tornado around you. It’s the nudge to become deeply rooted in the desire to allow pain to be our guides and our teachers. To listen more. To invite gratitude into our deepest secrets. To devoid ourselves of guarantees. To dive confidently into committing to do the work on YOU. And ultimately, to remember you are a magical human being full of untapped potential, should you allow it.
Thank you for the space to share my story of learning to love the journey, even when I still have days that I want to give up. Connection and graceful love; It’s truly, all that matters.