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I Was There – Reflections of a 9/11 Survivor

“Everything was overload on 9/11. It’s like your brain being a camera where the shutter just keeps going. You never expect it to happen to you.” ~ Samantha (Sam) Horwitz

Each year when the anniversary of 9/11 occurs, the question “where were you” comes up. Most of us can recall exactly where we were and what we were doing. For Heroes on the Water board member, Samantha (Sam) Horwitz, she remembers exactly where she was – in Tower 1 when American Airlines Flight 11 hit. Sam is a former U.S. Secret Service Agent who was just going to work like any other day, not realizing that day would change her life forever.

Surviving PTS

As a Secret Service Agent, Sam had acquired mental tools that allowed her to investigate crimes and to perform her job. Unfortunately, after experiencing the attacks on 9/11, she says her brain no longer functioned the same and she could not effectively perform her duties. From the events that she experienced that day, Sam developed post-traumatic stress (PTS) that eventually led to two suicide attempts.

“All of the tools I used as an investigator didn’t work anymore,” says Sam. “At that time, Post Traumatic Stress was not a major part of our training, we may be spent 30-minutes on it. Doctors now liken it to a brain injury because the neural connections change. ”

Living with PTS became difficult for Sam and her family. Sam recalls that without the help of her devoted husband and mother, she would not have made it through that point in her life. Luckily, her family pushed for her to seek help and she was able to find a professional who engaged her in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, also known as EMDR. EMDR is a psychotherapeutic treatment that applies a structured, focused approach to resolving unprocessed traumatic memories so that the brain can resume its natural healing process.

The Wellness Journey

Sam credits her family’s support along with EMDR therapy for her ability to begin recovering. She has better coping mechanisms now and can share her healing journey with others. She is a published author and speaker who spends time educating others on the impacts of PTS on mental and physical health and advocating for the law enforcement and first responder community.

“Having the family involved is a critical piece of healing. The more the family understands what their loved one is experiencing, the better questions they can ask and the more support they can give,” says Sam. “To have family involved in a healing process no matter what it looks like, is critical.”

Sam became aware of Heroes on the Water (HOW) through mutual friends and was pleased to accept a recent board nomination. She believes in recreational therapy as a foundational element to anyone’s healing journey and understands that everyone needs to find their own place. With HOW, Sam recognized quickly the calming effect of kayak fishing, and how it creates an environment of healing and support.

“I really did not know what I was doing, but my HOW experience was amazing. The volunteers know exactly what they are doing, and made it easy for me,” says Sam. “I even caught two fish. It was a great event.”

Many people build new friendships and lifelong bonds within the organization. As a board member for HOW, Sam believes that the combination of community-building and recreational therapy is what sets the organization apart. She feels that the kayaking events provided by HOW allow members to connect with themselves and others in a way that brings healing and peace into their lives

“When you are close to nature, you are in a space that has been created for you by something so much bigger than we are, and it’s almost like a gift. But when we’re in our cage we can’t see, and we can’t feel it,” says Sam.

Many family members and friends of people who are experiencing PTS want nothing more than for their loved one to return to who they were before the trauma; however, Sam admits that that will never be the case and says that with EMDR and recreational therapy, she can now manage her stress response. She feels that the best thing about HOW is being able to be 100% authentic and meeting others who she can laugh and joke with about this new version of herself who lives with PTS.

“We don’t want our families to try and fix us. We want our family here to support.  One of the things I love about HOW is we bring veterans and first responders together in a way that supports camaraderie.  We have a bond because of similar encounters and can just talk,” says Sam. “We leave with new experiences and smiles on our faces and laugh about the crazy stuff we do with our PTS brains. And what I find fantastic, what I experienced, is you can see the family members just be on the periphery and listening and watching and engaging.”

Heroes on the Water is dedicated to supporting the many veterans, first responders, and their families who bravely support our communities by holding kayaking fishing events that provide spaces for our warriors to relax and reconnect, enhance inner peace, and build camaraderie with other individuals who have similar experiences. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Please take a moment to reflect on how our lives have changed, honor the valiant people who rushed to serve us, and recognize how powerful we can be when we come together.

Your donation, no matter how small, supports our brave men and women who run toward danger when the rest of us run away. Give the gift of peace and donate today.

PADDLE. FISH. HEAL.

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