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LiShey Johnson: Why Not Me?

By Alison Chambers

Two years ago LiShey Johnson was employed by a local casino as their Director of Events.  She was working the VIP tent at the Route 91 Country Music Festival, a 3 day event, on October 1, 2017.  People were having a great time. “Over 72 hours you get to know each other and you look forward to seeing the guests the next day.”  At about 10:15pm in the middle of Jason Aldean’s show – in the middle of a song – she saw sparks and also what looked like fireworks. She said to the guests near her that they must be testing the fireworks for after the concert.  She mentioned to a guest, “Wow, that’s kind of rude in the middle of his show.”  

Some minutes later, there were rapid fire shots.  People started yelling, screaming, and crying – “Get down, someone is shooting!”  She froze.  She was barricaded in so she had no idea which way to go.  People were running towards her from all directions.  She remembers seeing people who had been shot, covered in blood; it didn’t seem real even though she was looking at it.  She remembers falling and crawling on her knees to get under the bleachers where she hid in silence with other concertgoers.  Lying under the bleachers, her leg felt numb – she didn’t realize it had had been injured.  She rolled over and started praying.  

She remembers thinking she wasn’t going to make it out.  She had lost her glasses and phone. She asked if she could use a lady’s phone.  She called her mom; her mom hung up because she didn’t recognize the number.  She called back and whispered, “It’s me, it’s me, I’m not going to make it out of here, somebody is shooting.”  Her mom asked where she was.  She told her she was under the bleachers and to call 911 and tell them they were hiding under the bleachers.  Then the phone went dead.

Eventually a SWAT officer shined a bright flashlight under the bleachers looking for survivors and instructed everyone to run towards MGM and Hooters. In spite of being injured, she managed to get up and started to run, fell, got up again.   She feared she was going to get shot in the back as officers with guns drawn aimed in her direction made her think the shooter was behind her – she doubted she would make it across the field.

There were bodies lying everywhere, people carrying bodies, people getting in strangers’ cars to just get away, people in pickup trucks with IV poles.  LiShey had blood all over her but she didn’t know if it was hers – she didn’t know if she’d been shot – her right leg and left arm were hurting –  but tripping and falling the entire way, she finally got to the employee parking lot.  

She drove to her mom’s house. After calling 911, they were directed to call her personal doctor because the hospitals were all on lockdown. Fortunately LiShey had worked a health fair just 5 days prior where her doctor was a speaker so she had his cell number.  The doctor gave instructions to give her something to calm down.  After a shower, she cried all night, she couldn’t sleep at all. The next day the doctor gave her a prescription to sleep – she slept for 48 hours and then went to the doctor.  X-rays revealed ligaments in her ankle were torn, and the rotator cuff in her shoulder was torn.  To this day, she has no recollection of seeing that doctor.  

Some weeks afterwards she went to the crisis center and got a referral for physical therapy.  During the past 2 years she has worked with 7 therapists in over 100 sessions, is still in therapy, but as of today she still can’t walk without a cane or walker.  

Victims of Crime, a nationwide nonprofit organization, purchased a recliner for her since she can’t lie flat, as well as an ice machine for her arm, a TENS unit, and a small check to compensate for lost wages.   She says of the organization, “They have been awesome.”

She was eventually taking up to 18 different medications a day, prescribed by her physicians for nightmares, pain, insomnia and depression.  All she wanted to do was sleep and forget the horror she had experienced; however, when she did manage to sleep, she was plagued by nightmares.  She wanted only to find peace.  Peace eventually came when she met Joyce Bosen, founder of Trauma Recovery Yoga (TRY).  Because LiShey was unable to leave her house for both physical and emotional reasons, Joyce went to her house and did a mini TRY session with her.  LiShey had never done yoga and she was understandably nervous and uncertain about trying this.  Closing her eyes was the last thing that she wanted to do, but Joyce made LiShey feel safe and had her focus on simply breathing.  She told me she thought, “This is it?  I cando this.  Breathing and saying I am safe, this is my mat, my space, my house, etc. – it finally made me relax.”

For six months, Joyce went to LiShey’s house twice a week and did private TRY sessions with her.  As LiShey improved, she was visited by a different TRY teacher once a week for an additional six months.   She was also provided with instructional videos she could access at any time she felt the need.

She told me this has been a humiliating but very humbling experience.  For a long time she couldn’t bathe herself, she was unable to drive and needed someone to drive her to the store, medical appointments, etc., and has been unable to go up to the second floor of her house.  She is slowly regaining her independence as her body heals, which in turn is helping her heal emotionally and mentally.

LiShey continues to utilitize TRY chair exercises (a modified form of the method for those unable to get down on the floor) at least twice a week on her own.  With the tools provided by Joyce, LiShey is able to center herself (find a focal point), know that she is safe, calm herself down, and utilize the breathing techniques.  When LiShey experiences a panic attack, she grabs her essential oils, starts the routine, and is able to calm herself.  Joyce’s custom blend of oils, aptly named “Breathe”, includes ylang ylang, lavender, patchouli, and bergamot.   As she returns to driving, she keeps the oils nearby for use at stop lights.  As a trauma survivor myself, I understand her inability to freely venture back out into the world.  Trauma survivors are in a constant stage of hypervigilance, and oftentimes loud noises or unexpected commotion can be triggering.   The interview itself was triggering for her as she recounted the horrific experience.  She told me afterwards that she used her oils while we talked.

She has a deep appreciation for TRY in her life.  The method has helped her immensely in the recovery process, knowing that when she’s in a dark space, she has tools to bring herself out of it, without medication.  “TRY is amazing because I can take myself out of a panic attack.”  During this healing time, she’s learned to just let time be time.  No one can say when she will heal – she just takes it one day at a time.  We know that healing from trauma is not a linear process.  

I am forever grateful for this day; I shall never forget it. I am NOW breathing in my own space and my own time to help me. I said good bye to the pain killers and I want to live to make a

difference in someone else’s life! ~LJ

Joyce commends LiShey’s vulnerability and courage to speak out for others who may not be able to as they traverse the journey to recovery. She shares resources, Facebook groups, 91 Survivors information, help with paperwork at Resiliency center, and our TRY classes. She’s an advocate for everyone affected by 1 October. She also has a YouTube channel in which she talks about her healing journey and gives self-help tips and breathing exercises. Of these YouTube videos she says, “It’s ok to let people know that you’re not ok and what you’re doing about it. ”

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