Victims of trauma give helpful hints for family members and friends

by Kelly Kennedy
The Salt Lake Tribune

   Two-and-a-half years ago, Yvette Rodier Evans watched as a gunman shot and killed her best
friend, Zachary Snarr, and then shot her in the leg, torso and head.
   The pair had gone to Little Dell Reservoir to take pictures of the full moon reflected in the
water.
   As the killer, Jorge Martin Benvenuto, dug through her pockets, she played dead, then crawled
up a steep, rocky hill to get help.
   She still struggles to survive.
   ``I get scared so easily,'' she said. ``Nervous. I can't stand the dark -- the full moon. I get
really depressed. I have nightmares, and somebody always dies or gets shot in them. My life is
just totally different.''
   Evans, 20, said she used to tell her husband, Jeremy, her story at least once a week, and she
would talk until she felt better. He would listen.
   ``I enjoy talking about it,'' she said. ``It's a huge part of me. I don't have to tell it so often now.''
   Author Rebecca Coffey listened to stories similar to Evans', as well as to those of rape victims,
combat veterans, Holocaust survivors and rescue workers who had seen the aftermath of
disaster, then worked them together into a story about how to overcome trauma.
   Her book, Unspeakable Truths and Happy Endings: Human Cruelty and the New Trauma
Therapy, has received good reviews, and Coffey has had almost 100 radio interviews.
   ``I think people need this,'' she said. ``Survivors are often very, very disappointed about the
way their friends and family react. They face polite smiles. People try to treat them like they're at
fault. And they'll try to rush them on: `You'll be better next year.'
   ``Those things have nothing to do with the essence of their stories. The essence is, `I am
damaged.' ''
   The book helps victims understand the reactions of others, and it helps friends understand why
it's so important that victims tell their stories.
   Evans' mother is a social worker, her family is supportive, and Snarr's mom is a dear friend.
   ``If I didn't have my family, I wouldn't be here,'' Evans said. ``My mom understood the feelings
I had even if I couldn't express them. If I'm scared, I just call my family and talk, and they listen
until I don't need to talk anymore.''
   Evans speaks calmly about the shooting, going so far as to brush it off as ``not as big of a deal
as everybody thinks it is.'' Yet, she knows it's important enough to work through, and tears well
up in her eyes when she talks about it.
   ``He reloaded just for me because I was still screaming, and I didn't die,'' she said. ``Why did
Zach die? Sometimes I think I should have held him. I think about climbing up that hill and all the
blood. The blood isn't gory; it's just part of it.
   ``Zach's mom always says, `I'm so glad you lived.' That's so precious to me. I have a lot of
survivor's guilt.
    Sometimes I think it would be better to be shot again than to live through this.'' (The killer later
said he randomly shot the two to see how it feels to kill someone.)
   At first, Evans said she was so busy helping other people get through the tragedy that she didn't
worry about herself.
   ``People just needed to know that I was OK, so I told them I was,'' she said. ``Some people
still say, ``You're fine now, right? You don't remember any of that, right?' It almost offends me,
but it's not their fault. It's comforting for them.''
   But she wasn't OK -- isn't OK.
   ``It's still really alive in my mind, but that's OK,'' she said. ``I do a lot better when I think about
it now. I still cry. I think, `Yvette, even before you got shot, you were a neat girl, but now there's
a new Yvette, and she's a pretty neat girl, too.' ''
   Since the shooting, Evans has gotten married, built a new house and gone to college for a
communications degree.
   She spends much of her free time speaking to youth groups. She said she tries not to spare any
details so people understand exactly what happened. People look for her bullet wounds, look
everywhere but her face, cry openly and hug her when she has finished her story.
   ``There are a lot of lessons to be learned from Zach,'' she said. ``I want him to be proud of my
life because he didn't get to live his.''    
   Larry Beall, director of the Trauma and Abuse Recovery Center in Salt Lake City, said there
are many people who go to counselors to treat the symptoms of their trauma, but who don't
address the event itself. He began his work as a trauma therapist 10 years ago.
   ``I have to do a lot of work with the spouses of trauma victims,'' he said. ``The spouses are
living with the aftermath of trauma and just want to get on with their lives. They think, `I want you
to be fixed, and then we'll get on with our marriage.' ''
    He said it's often difficult for people to listen to trauma victims' stories because they may have
their own emotional pain, they have heard the story before and don't want to hear it again, and
because it's difficult to listen.
   ``A lot of it is character orientation,'' he said. ``You have to be really unselfish. Not a lot of
people are really willing and able to do that; it's an act of kindness.''
   Both Beall and Coffey recommend that family members make victims feel safe by not making
any inappropriate comments, being supportive and understanding one's own limits.
Coffey said one of the most-important things she learned is that it's OK to say, ``I can't listen
anymore. I'm overwhelmed.'' Then the victims understood that she was actively listening and
understanding the horror of it.
    Beall said it is also important for victims to understand that they do need support. He said
symptoms such as confusion, difficulty sleeping, headaches, depression and emotional outbursts
can lead to emotional numbing, social alienation and health problems.
   ``People need to know you can do something about it,'' he said. ``You don't have to live like a
rat for the rest of your life.''
   Evans said she believes she is proof of that.
   ``I used to resent that I had to make that sentence and form it and voice it: `I was shot,' '' she
said. ``Every now and then, I feel sorry for myself because of the steel plate in my head and the
scars. But there are so many people who care. Sometimes it's hard to find them, but you will.''
   The number for the Trauma Awareness and Treatment Center is (801)263-6367.


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