I Was at the Vegas Shooting, and It Changed Me Forever

What does it really mean to let go? When we turned this question over to our editors and readers, their responses proved that grief, catharsis, and rebirth come in all forms—whether it's finally moving on from a failed relationship, rebuilding oneself after a painful trauma, or quietly saying goodbye to the person you once were. Our series Letting Go highlights these compelling and complicated stories. Below, reader Alex Tumbleson shares her harrowing firsthand account of the Las Vegas shooting last fall—and how it completely transformed her outlook on life.

I Was at the Vegas Shooting, and It Changed Me Forever
Photo: Stocksy

I've been insecure my whole life. Whether it was the language barrier my parents had with my teachers when I was in kindergarten, the white legs and unkempt hair I had in elementary school through high school, the inability to do my own makeup or hair in college—you name it, I was insecure about it.

Most recently, I was obsessed with losing weight. Working out five to seven times a week and obsessing over food were my life. Two years ago for my wedding, I lost 20 pounds but then gained it all back. Out of my group of friends, I'm definitely the biggest and the one who works the hardest at staying fit. To say that weight loss consumed my life was an understatement. I was so unhappy that this mindset would manifest in truly negative ways, especially when I drank alcohol. I would just become this raging bitch and say hurtful things to people to cover up how I was truly feeling.

Last spring, three girlfriends and I made plans to go to Vegas the following autumn for a country festival. I knew they'd want to go to the pool and, given the weather, would probably be in the smallest of clothes. I worked my butt off at the gym, got my eating straight, and lost some more weight and inches. While shopping for clothes, I was happier with what I saw in the mirror and how far I'd come but knew I couldn't let myself slack off.

The time came for the weekend of the festival. We were having the best time, but I was still focusing on how I looked in the photos we were all posting: Did my face look fat? Could you see the stretch marks on my hips? Did my breasts look saggy? I kept thinking about how hard I'd have to work out again when we got home.

Sunday, October 1, my whole life changed.

It was the last day of the festival. One friend flew home early, and the three of us left walked from the MGM to enjoy the last few performances. At 10:04, we were listening to Jason Aldean, singing along, and dancing. At 10:05, I heard what I thought was a helicopter but didn't see anything when I looked up. "Those are gunshots," my friend yelled out.

We got low, then starting running. When we went toward an exit, there was a gate, and we couldn't get out. Everyone started climbing a fence, and I just kept thinking I couldn't do it. I was scared out of my mind. A few people helped boost me over, and we ran to hide in an escape room until about 2 a.m.

So many thoughts and emotions went through me when we got back to the hotel, when we flew home the next day, every time someone asked me about it or shared what their cousin's neighbor's boyfriend went through. But what I realized when the bruises started to fade and the tears started to dry was how lucky I truly was. I came home. Back to my amazing husband, family, and friends. I was given another opportunity to live, to love, to be! Why would I waste it being insecure about myself or being negative about my life? This person didn't care if we were fat, skinny, white, black, brown, had frizzy hair, blonde, brunette… None of that mattered. So why would I let that consume my life?

I also spent so much time thinking about the things I could have done in that moment. The way I "should have reacted." That I couldn't take care of myself or others. Reading comments on the Facebook groups, consumed in articles or news stories, just trying to find the "why" to plan ahead and avoid it happening to me again. None of this was helpful to my well-being or my relationships with others. Since then, I've refocused my life on staying positive, practicing self-care, and embracing how I look—truly letting go of these insecurities that do not matter, and fostering the positive relationships I have with others.

Now, I wake up in the morning feeling thankful. I go about my day with a smile on my face ready to help anyone who needs it, prioritizing my time with the people who matter. Along the way, I also had to make some tough decisions and cut out people and relationships that were toxic. As cliché as it sounds, life is too short to sweat the small stuff. It made me realize that no one was going to remember my waist size, but they would remember how I made them feel, the type of person I was to them. While I know I will always struggle to let go of the memories of that experience, I also know this journey of positivity will take time, but I'm so ready to put in the hard work. And now, while I still watch what I eat to be healthy, I don't go to the gym to get skinny. I go to get better at jumping over fences.