‘What’s going on, dear?’ Weeping, I shamefully got in the front seat. The veins in my neck bulging like a hose.’: Woman living in ‘epic bliss’ after overcoming extreme PTSD, ‘I transformed from victim to viking’

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“The airport passenger pickup lane was eerily still. Stale air and no head lights to illuminate the normally chaotic tunnel. Even the traffic guy with that annoying whistle was stationary and took the opportunity to take a quick break. The anxious tapping of my shoe was in unison with my heart beating out of my sunken chest. The obsessive biting of my raw and chapped lip while tears flooded down my unwashed face didn’t seem to alert him or burden him whatsoever.

I had no one to call. That’s untrue. I had everyone to call, yet no one I wanted to see me in such despair. This was before Uber, and my bank account certainly couldn’t spare a $75 cab ride. I sat, I paced, and I grieved in solitary on that glacial bench. The bickering in my brain was tormenting my existence. This was a pain even greater than getting shot. Yes, you read right. Right in the in the head with a .45 bullet. WORSE THAN THAT.

Close up of woman with tears in her eye and mascara running
Courtesy of Katie Rae Rios

I had one. One acquaintance who I knew I had to ring. Seeing her headlights in sight was like an angel sent from the good Lord himself to rescue me. Or, so I thought. I shamefully got in her front seat; tired, cold, dried snot on my sleeve, unkept and aching. ‘What’s going on dear?,’ she so tranquilly asked. I wept through my words of confusion and pain; that weeping in which the veins in my neck were bulging like a hose with a knot in it. ‘Please tell me how you navigated your pain. How did you heal? How did you find answers? Where is the hope?’ Her only response was this. ‘You stay still. You stay still long enough to listen. You stay curious, and you lead with your heart. The answer is already inside you. And Katie love, you are full of light and you will be okay.’

That was it. She smiled, she hugged me ever so tightly, and she drove away, knowing my journey was unfixable by anyone but myself. This was years of PTSD, heartbroken over my marriage nearing divorce, navigating single-parenting, and years of insecurity that she couldn’t remove for me.

I was outraged. Discouragement consumed me like a tidal wave; I wanted and needed answers. The idea of allowing this pain to last any longer was not an option. Her idea of sitting still set panic deep within my bones. I had no answers that she spoke of, and time couldn’t continue, so fractured.

Yet, the bold and bright Las Vegas sun still rose and set daily.

I either had the option of being victim to my trauma and emotional discomfort, or, I had to stare at it head on, whatever that meant. I trusted her and knew silence was foreign to my soul. I had to put my big girl panties on and fiercely bring light to my inside compass, this I knew.

Unpredictably, the pursuit began.

Woman who wants to fight to overcome PTSD smiles in selfie while sitting in bed
Courtesy of Katie Rae Rios

I felt like I was standing at the bottom of a massive mountain of baggage I needed to unpack; unsure of how I was going to start finding comfort when all I wanted to do was run away. I knew I had people to forgive, but patterns of my own to own. It didn’t take long to realize that the pursuit was not over in one answer, unfortunately. It didn’t pass like the seasons or disappear with a glass of wine. In fact, this pursuit had absolutely nothing to do absolutely anyone besides myself. Time and time again I came right back to me. Only I can be in charge of how I want to feel. Obsessively I asked, ‘how do I want to feel? And what do I need to do to feel that way?’ This had everything to do with me and only me. GULP.

Blaming everyone came naturally. It’s really easy to be a victim with a boiling hot wound in my face from a weapon that should have killed me. Nearing death was laborious and powerless; forgiving the shooter, was opportunity and empowerment. The impact of the bullet was life-saving, once I allowed myself the sweet, sweet taste of genuine grace mixed with gratitude.

Chin of woman that is bruised and bloody
Courtesy of Katie Rae Rios

Owning my own patterns that suck? Ouch. That one was as barbaric as they get. I remember reading a quote that discussed being able to stand calmly even if a tornado is surrounding you. That was my goal. To be so strong, to be so grounded, to be so vulnerable to growth that I could stand still in chaos. You couldn’t have paid me to believe it would be real.

I mean, was there really hope for my nearly-a-decade of PTSD, a failing marriage, and insecurities deeper than the sea?

Yes. Yes, there was hope. This was the beginning of my never end…

I cancelled my cable. I sat at the bookstores and coffee shops on the days I didn’t have my daughter to read personal development books. Podcasts were my best friend and working out became a necessity. I set boundaries. I let go of friendships that didn’t serve me; quality over quantity was invaluable. I went to church, had God on my speed dial, and invested in conscious retreats. Meditation was medicine for me. I saged my house, studied my chakras, and even did a wonderfully weird and woo woo meditation called dynamic meditation (which was amazing, by the way). I studied random things like investment trading and geography on my Friday nights. I allowed my walls to come down, so all my previous judgements and patterns could be processed and released. Alone time hiking and journaling was therapeutic.

Book resting on woman's legs with cliffs in background
Courtesy of Katie Rae Rios

I cried myself to sleep, often. I listened to a lot of comedy. I traveled all the way to Peru to do ayahuasca, a plant medicine used for healing. I ripped up pictures and sobbed while holding my baby girl in the kitchen. I disconnected from the outside world, because I HAD to come back home. I hired life coaches and therapists. Routine was pivotal in my healing. I began to CREATE. I took personality tests, learned my love language, and dived into enneagrams. I danced to music and did makeup with my baby girl. I journaled all my fears, daily. I started my day with gratitude and ended it with 5 personal wins for the day. I connected deeper with friends, chose a word to guide my whole day and I spent quality time visualizing my dreams. Oh man, I am a dreamer. I studied how my ego-controlled things, how unattractive my co-dependence was, how my expectations of others were the root of my disappointment, and I literally wrote pages full of every single time I had felt rejected throughout my life… and retold the stories I had around them. I wasn’t rejected… I had rejected myself long before to allow myself to even be rejected. I completed worksheets to find my core wounds; wounds that began as a child and manifested themselves into my adult life. I apologized, and I blossomed in grace.

Mother holds and kisses daughter on cheek with beach in background
Courtesy of Katie Rae Rios

I failed at consistency quite often, but, once you know, you can’t unknow. Ignorance is not bliss, my friends. I knew my power was being birthed. I felt it so deeply that I had to stick with it. This wasn’t a path I had chosen, this was already chosen for me. I just finally got too tired to resist it. I stayed open to adventures, and I took any pain and made it purposeful. I said no to behaviors that didn’t serve me and I when I didn’t have the answers, I remained still and clutched to curiosity.

I allowed myself to be fully seen, and fully loved.

Mother cries in drivers seat of car while young daughter sits in backseat in carseat
Courtesy of Katie Rae Rios

About that shooting and about my marriage….

It’s been almost 13 years since my shooting. I remember the blood, the tears, the fear at that college party. At a ripe 19-years-old, I wasn’t expecting to be fighting for my life, especially at a random house party.

Some aggressive and random characters crashed a house party I was attending.

‘Katie, get off the couch!,’ was the last thing I heard before witnessing the shattering sound of the gun. I’ll never forget looking down at my trembling hands. The blood was as red as a firetruck. It was warm like bath water as it flooded my fingers. I remember quivering, uncontrollably, as the side of my head felt like it might be lying on the floor next to me. The 45-caliber bullet tore through the right side of my face. Gliding along my jaw line, the smoldering hot metal came to rest in the fatty tissue in my cheek. No exit, only an entry wound.

The moments following were complete chaos. I remember fellow classmates running, screaming, and ducking. I could faintly hear my friends repeating, ‘Stay with us Katie, stay with us.’

And I did. I survived.

Woman lays in hospital bed with bloody chin and bloody white shirt
Courtesy of Katie Rae Rios

There is now a time stamp of my life before, and life after. Life after has been much more confronting, but life before lacked purpose and power. I have managed to transform myself from a victim into a Viking. I’ve turned my pain into power.

My previous marriage turned into a beautiful co-parenting friendship. We both have happily remarried, and I continue to use any pain and icky patterns as lessons to my life. We continue building with love for our daughter and none of us would change a thing.

Mother smiles in selfie as she holds daughter
Courtesy of Katie Rae Rios

I must leave you with this. I am still on this pursuit. Forgiveness, grace, my purpose doesn’t make my humanness vanish now. I’m stronger and living my idea of epic bliss, but, it’s always a choice. Once you know freedom, you just can’t return to pain. Consistency is still a necessity.

With so much love, blessings on your pursuit of happiness.”

Mother with PTSD smiles in selfie outside
Courtesy of Katie Rae Rios

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Katie Rae Rios of Las Vegas, Nevada. You can follow her journey in Instagram, and on her website. Katie will be sharing more of her story on the TODAY Show Wednesday, January 16thSubmit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read Katie’s compelling backstory:

‘Katie, get off the couch!’ was the last thing I heard before witnessing the shattering sound of the gun.’

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