“I did not choose this path; it has chosen me”
By Brittney Lamb
It was December 14th, 1997. I was going on a special outing with my Aunt Julie – to see a performance of the Nutcracker in Denver. I was a ballet dancer and had not seen the show live before. It was everything I thought it would be and more. After the show, we were listening to Spice Girls and singing at the top of our lungs. I commented that we were hitting every green light on the way home – how lucky!
We were just about a mile from my parents’ house when a driver, whose blood alcohol level was determined to be .087, crossed the median and struck my aunt’s car head on, in excess of 50 mph.
The sound of crunching metal is more disgusting than you imagine it to be. It sounds like the organs of a robot being ripped out. After the hit, it was silent. We were still moving, though, in what felt like a slow-motion action scene in a movie. When the car came to a stop, I was looking out through the empty spot where the windshield used to be. I looked over and saw my aunt’s curly brown hair covered in blood. Her head was on the steering wheel, and I started screaming for her to wake up. I was later told Aunt Julie died on impact.
I remember the sound of metal-on-metal, again, which I later learned were the jaws of life trying to cut me out of the car. The firefighters could not get me out, and into the flight for life – because my door was stuck. The decision was made to put the driver who hit us into the flight for life. Upon liftoff, something went wrong. The helicopter’s blades hit power lines, fell to the ground, and everyone on board died – the pilot, two nurses, and the drunk driver.
I truly believe that my aunt did not leave right away, but was looking out for me, making sure I was going to make it. I know, by some divine intervention, that I was not supposed to be in that helicopter.
I remember waking up once in the ICU. A nurse was in the room. It was dark except for the lights from the machines surrounding me. There were tubes going in my arms and down my throat. The nurse told me that I was okay, and I was going into a surgery. This surgery, I would later learn, would be to repair the extensive damage done to my face. I was put into an induced coma due to the severe swelling in my brain.
When I woke up from my induced coma, seven days later, I learned that much of my face had been fractured – cheekbones crushed, nose broken, top of the mouth broken, forehead bone exposed. My collarbone was broken. Fingers broken. Foot and toes broken. Two plates were placed in my cheekbones, and one on top of my mouth – and they are still there today. I asked for a mirror in the hospital and did not recognize myself. I was devastated, broken, hurt, and did not know what to do or feel. I was lost. My parents broke the news about my aunt to me, and I didn’t believe them. I refused to believe them. The physical injuries healed over time. I still have pain in my foot, where a screw was placed, and have unexplained headaches. The mental injuries, however, will never fully heal.
I was in denial for a very long time about what had happened, and I fully blamed myself for my aunt’s death. I was taken to see a therapist, but after several sessions with me not talking, I stopped going. I was bullied in middle school for my scars – Scarface was among the names they called me. I went from being an outgoing, happy girl to depressed, quiet, and lonely. I refused to talk to anyone about anything crash related – I just wanted to go back to the day it happened and tell my Aunt Julie to forget about the Nutcracker.
The crash was a source of mental anguish. I had not processed it and allowed the feelings I had surrounding it to creep into my life in every possible way. Not only did I blame myself for my aunt’s death, I had the thought that other people blamed me. I had a hard time making friends because I always feared I would be judged (like I was in middle school). I thought I always took the easy route, and not necessarily the one that was best for me, because I didn’t want to run into conflict or be a source of pain for anyone else. I tiptoed around in life – until I met a therapist that would change my life.
It wasn’t until 20 years after the crash that I saw the therapist. I wasn’t even there to talk about the crash, but once she learned of it, we decided to tackle it. My therapist and I did EMDR therapy – eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. EMDR is intended to process repressed memories by bringing them to the surface and rewiring your thoughts surrounding those memories. It helped me come to terms with the crash and how my life had been after it happened.
No, I was not to blame for the crash. Yes, my life was changed due to another’s decision. No, people do not look at me and instantly see my scars. No, I haven’t been on the easy route my whole life – someone chose the route I was to take when I was 12 years old – and it was anything but easy!
It was around this time that I started speaking at MADD Victim Impact Panels, which was immensely healing for me. Now, as well as MADD Victim Impact Panels, I speak in high school classrooms about drinking and driving, and at middle schools on anti-bullying. I am using what happened to me to guide others to make better decisions.
I did not choose this path; it was chosen for me. One decision can change a life forever, in ways you never thought possible. My life was changed on December 14, 1997, when a man decided to drink and drive without thinking of the consequences.
Editor’s note: Brittney has published a book of her experience of being a victim/survivor of an impaired driver’s decision to drink and then drive. You can find and order her book, “Stuck at Twelve, How One Man’s Decision to Drink and Drive Changed My Life” at this Amazon link: https://amzn.to/36HWvKJ