November 7, 2018, marked a dark day in the history of Thousand Oaks, California. The Borderline Bar and Grill, a place where friends & families gathered, laughter filled the air, and memories were created, became the scene of a tragedy that shattered a community and left the nation in disbelief.
On the fifth anniversary of that fateful night, we take a moment to remember those we lost and to celebrate the resilience of a community that has endured pain beyond words. We do this not to dwell on the tragedy, but to honor the resolute spirit that has allowed us to rebuild and find hope in the face of despair.
Amid the noise of media coverage and the outpouring of support, there’s a voice that speaks volumes – Michael Morisette, the voice of a father who lost his child in the Borderline Mass Shooting. His heartfelt Op-Ed, titled “After 5 Years, Is the Struggle Going Away, or Not?” offers a unique perspective on the journey of grief and resilience. In his words, we find the raw, unfiltered emotions of a parent trying to come to terms with the unimaginable and the journey forward.
AFTER 5 YEARS, IS THE STRUGGLE GOING AWAY, OR NOT?
In the first days after the shooting, I seemed to be pretty messed up. Everyone I met expected me to be devastated, and I expected the same of them. After all, what happened to us was unbelievable, unexplainable, unforgettable, and unforgiveable.
At first… speechlessness, sobbing, and a total lack of coherence were agreeably what the circumstances prescribed for the moment. To act otherwise and to try to appear to have not been impacted severely and deeply would have in fact been wrong, unloving, and unnatural. So, it’s okay, “Go ahead, let it all out. It’s what we do.”
But I felt that somewhere between how I really was (disoriented, violated, and weak) … somewhere between there and what I remembered my role to be, (it was to be strong, dependable, and productive)… somewhere in there is where I should be.
When it became the right time for me, acting on the need to move myself on that scale did seem attainable.
Originally, a thought of mine seemed to be that others may not understand and relate to my perspective or approve of my behavior. I assumed that unless similarly burdened, others may not appreciate my situation. But it eventually became clear that others may have struggles of their own which would surprise even me. Being judged seemed to be less of a concern all the time.
At one point, I decided that avoiding the truth and not exposing others to how I really felt, would be the easiest, and safest way to handle it. I think now that it was a combination of protecting myself from risk of exposure, and of protecting others from possibly activating any struggles that they may have themselves. And sometimes it seemed the easiest way to reduce the risk was to eliminate the potential. But this method also reduced the chances for possible beneficial encounters, so I preferred to leave it as a last resort.
So, in the months and years to come, somehow, the utterance of the words, “I’m okay, thanks” became the preferred response to that inevitable and all too habitual greeting, “How are you?” I did believe that others truly cared… (well, most of them) … and that they felt somehow if I were to say those words that I would be ‘okay’ and that we could all just not talk about it.
The problem I have seen with not talking about it is there is less opportunity for sharing, learning, stretching, and growing. In this case, I feel like safety and comfort are on a spectrum with pain and growth. If I run towards one end, I’m running away from the other. Again, somewhere in between what is safe and what is risky is the ‘sweet spot’ of my emotional wellness.
I needed the comfort of safety, but I could find purpose in struggle too.
And then there’s that thing about delaying what’s probably inevitable anyway… how long can I pretend that it will subside over time, when it doesn’t? I totally get it, I was raised like my parents, and theirs before them, that vulnerabilities and weaknesses are not to be shared with others, even within the family. We are taught to show our good side, our strong side. I can see how this was passed down through the ages; turning your back on a threat in some cases could be your downfall, for sure.
So, I understood the reflex to cover, conceal, withhold, and ‘stand tall.’ To be honest, isn’t part of this just human kindness and consideration? I thought, how does it help to concern others? I too have been known to ‘mask up’ at times and close off from others, but it feels like I’m just holding my breath, and I can’t wait to exhale when no one’s around.
Most of the time, I am not comfortable with the term, ‘Healing,’ as it seems to imply there is a point of completion and an end to the role that pain plays in my life. I tend to want to find a word that has no ‘past tense form,’ just to be clear.
I can tell you that in this process which we call ’moving forward,’ or ‘grow through what you go through,’ there have been productive times when I let myself be a little vulnerable and a little transparent about exactly what I am experiencing. It’s a little risky, it’s a little uncomfortable and it’s a bit scary to be honest… but under the right conditions some stretching, and some pain can indeed encourage growth. The key for me has been to become informed, to make myself available, to be sincerely willing, and to realize that I may gain when I give of myself to others.
I believe we can find help when we are ready for it, and we can find hope when we look for it. I think we can learn to find peace in the unacceptable and seek purpose in going forward in it.
I believe that this struggle, even over time, may never fully go away for many of us, we all have different stories to tell. But what I think can really change is how we look at it, what we may learn about ourselves, and how we may let it impact the rest of our lives.
I believe it’s the ability to incapacitate me which I had given to the struggle that can go away.
-Written by Michael Morisette, 2023
Michael Morisette describes the initial days of shock, when speechlessness, sobbing, and incoherence were the only responses. In those moments, there was a shared understanding that it was okay to grieve openly, that it was natural to be disoriented, violated, and weak.
But what happens when time moves forward, and the world expects you to move with it? When the initial waves of sympathy give way to the mundanity of daily life, and you’re left standing in the wreckage of your world. The author, like so many survivors of loss, grapples with the expectations of strength and resilience. In his own words, “somewhere between how I really was and what I remembered my role to be… somewhere in there is where I should be.”
He shares the inner conflict of wanting to protect oneself from the risk of exposure and, simultaneously, protect others from potentially reawakening their own struggles. This is a delicate dance that survivors often perform – the balance between self-preservation and maintaining connections with others. Sometimes, it’s easier to say, “I’m okay, thanks” when asked, “How are you?” than to let others see the pain.
He acknowledges the inherent flaw in this approach – that avoiding discussions about our pain can limit the opportunities for sharing, learning, and growing. The emotional sweet spot between safety and risk, where true healing occurs, is found somewhere in the middle.
He also explores the reflex to conceal vulnerabilities, which resonates not only with survivors of mass shootings but with all of humanity. We’re taught to show our strong side, to mask our vulnerabilities, and to “stand tall.” To a certain extent, this is an act of kindness and consideration for others, sparing them from our pain.
However, as he acknowledges, this reflex can lead to isolation and a feeling of holding one’s breath until no one is around. It’s a solitary journey that often impedes the healing process.
The term “healing” itself is scrutinized. It implies an end, a past tense form, a completion. For many survivors, the struggle never truly goes away. Instead of healing, the journey is better described as “moving forward” or “growing through what you go through.”
In his words, he reflects on the times he allowed himself to be vulnerable and transparent, a little risky, uncomfortable, and scary. But under the right conditions, it was also a source of growth. It’s a testament to the power of sharing and learning, of giving and receiving. It’s a reminder that strength isn’t always in concealing our pain but in the courage to show it to the world.
He believes that help can be found when we’re ready for it, and hope can be discovered when we seek it. Peace can be found even in the unacceptable, and purpose can be sought in moving forward. The struggle, he acknowledges, may never fully go away for many of us, but it’s our ability to incapacitate ourselves that can fade.
As we remember the Borderline Mass Shooting on this solemn anniversary, we celebrate not only the resilience of survivors but the resilience of the entire community. It’s a testament to the strength of the human spirit, the power of unity, and the importance of shared humanity. We remember the victims not as symbols of tragedy but as individuals with lives, dreams, and stories to tell. In their memory, we find the inspiration to continue forward, to grow through what we’ve gone through, and to stand together as a community that is unbroken, undeterred, and resilient in the face of adversity.
Marketing and Social Media Manager
(Op-ed by Michael Morisette – Outreach Coordinator and Borderline Survivor)