December 2020 Newsletter

Happy Holidays from Sandy and Lonnie!

December. A festive month of celebrations, with lights lit to battle the darkness. We know, however, that many of the joys of the season can intensify the sense of loss and grief felt by survivors, and we feel for anyone burdened with extra pain during the holidays.

Nevertheless, we know full well that life can get better despite the most enormous challenges.

After we lost Jessi, for years we abandoned our tradition of decorating a beautiful evergreen with the ornaments we had been collecting for each of our children since they were born. We did not have a Christmas tree for six years. But in 2018, we were able to start a new tradition: We put up a white-and-silver tree that looks nothing like the ones we used to adorn. 

It represents a different time, a different place and a different life. While it is not the life we had anticipated — the one in which we planned to watch Jessi build a career and then a family — it is the one we have, and we are still grateful.  

In December, the tide of growing darkness turns, and every day after the 21st promises more daylight. Soon there will be a new year that leaves 2020 behind. We are thankful for the coming vaccines that may change all of our lives, and allow us to get out on the road again and be with you not only via Zoom, but face-to-face. We are also so very thankful for the work and alliances we’ve seen bear fruit this year. 

On. Dec. 13, we watched CNN’s Lisa Ling profile us and friends in a powerful, beautifully done hour-long show that underlined the out-out-of-control madness of gun violence, our country’s collective failure to adequately regulate guns and ammunition, and the fellowship of survivors so important to us. We were honored, touched and fortified. Please watch it if you haven’t already.

We are also thrilled by the upcoming mindfulness program that is launching on January 7. The response from survivors has been overwhelming, and the program now has a waiting list. We are excited!

Read a little bit more in this issue about Angela Schellenberg,  a counselor and long-time friend who is supporting survivors in the state of Washington, and who will embark on the new mindfulness training program. She explains the specificity of trauma-informed therapy, and how she herself, a survivor, has benefitted from it. Read as well about Brenda Mitchell, also enrolled in the UCSD program, who we’ll be following over time.

And finally, we thank YOU. It’s true that none of us would choose to be part of the club of people devastated by gun violence, but we care about you with all our hearts, and we draw strength from you.

Wishing you a peaceful holiday and all the best in the New Year.

Love, Sandy and Lonnie

P.S. -  If you are able to add to our annual appeal, please donate here!

New Mindfulness Class Empowers Survivors

Brenda Mitchell and other gun-violence survivors have responded with tremendous enthusiasm to a new mindfulness-based stress reduction program born of a collaboration among Survivors Empowered; Shelly Tygielski, an author, mindfulness teacher and activist; and the University of California at San Diego.  Participants will learn how to teach trauma-informed mindfulness, and then use their training to help survivors in their communities heal from the pain of having their loved ones' lives taken. Sandy Phillips has been “absolutely shocked” at the high interest among survivors and sees the program “as really making a difference in communities across the country.” 

“I cannot believe how many people realize they need this and are willing to not only go through it for themselves, but pay it forward to give back to their communities and other survivors,” she said.  Read more here.

A Therapist Uses Her Experience With Trauma to Heal Others
When she was 16 years old, Angela Schellenberg’s father was gunned down. Angela found out about his death on the nightly news, and the trauma still reverberates today, more than 30 years later. Now she knows how to manage it, and is committed to helping others heal. “Gun violence completely changed my life,” she said. "There was nothing like Survivors Empowered then. Nobody talked about gun violence, but it’s always been a part of my life since coming of age.” Read more here
Trauma-Informed Therapy Explained

Angela Schellenberg’s practice is broad-based and eclectic. Here are some of the techniques she uses and blends together with gun violence survivors: 

EMDR: Rapid eye movement therapy has been used with PTSD survivors, including Vietnam veterans. “It has been life-changing for most of my clients,” Angela says. “It’s specifically for trauma.” Angela explains that trauma gets stored in the body, and the rapid eye movement practice can dispel it. “It reduces the intensity of the disturbing thoughts,” she said. The protocol for EMDR includes dialogue and a gradual exploration of the client’s stories and traumatic memories, with  the eventual introduction of taps or rapid eye movements when painful memories surface, followed up with treatment of remaining negative thoughts and feelings. 

DBT: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a subset of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is a talk-based approach to healing that challenges hurtful assumptions and thoughts, and focuses upon improving emotional dysregulation. Among the skills that therapists help clients master are those of mindfulness meditation, emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness and tolerance of distressing feelings. 

Narrative Therapy: Retelling one’s story, after first exploring it, can help put to rest the most intrusive thoughts and feelings. People receive narratives about themselves that were decided for them, but they can change them. Narrative therapy helps clients reframe their feelings, thoughts and memories in a positive, strength-based way that honors their own values and beliefs, and leads to growth. No matter the past, they get to say, "Now what?"

Mindfulness Meditation: This tool helps people experience their feelings through a heightened attention to them, and helps them dispel the negative. It is a stress-reduction technique that has been of great use to trauma survivors. It is the core of the UCSD program that Angela will be pursuing in January. And in her practice, Angela believes “meditation is key.” It is especially helpful for the hypervigilant, “who need to get to calm.”

News Roundup
Published in October 2019, Tragedy in Aurora: The Culture of Mass Shootings in America, is Tom Diaz's account of the death of Lonnie and Sandy Phillips' daughter, Jessi, and the political polarization and stagnation behind the country's failure to enact common-sense policies to stem gun violence. 

The book can be found on Amazon here.    

Help For Survivors
  • Survivors Empowered has a roster of dedicated trauma therapists who help survivors of gun violence heal from the aftermath. Visit our website for more information. 
  • We continue to look for volunteers across the country who want to help build coalitions and work with survivors of gun violence in their states. If interested in supporting our efforts, please contact us here.

Contact Me