Trauma and Recovery

16 Jun


The amount of trauma in this world is overwhelming. Our reactions to it vary depending on the hour. Sometimes we’re raw in the moment, flooded with affect; other times we’re completely numb. That is the nature of trauma.

Two weeks ago on my drive to San Diego to see clients UCLA was on lockdown because of an active shooter on campus. I listened to news of the murder/suicide on NPR while thinking of people I know who work on campus there. A week ago I was thinking about a high news profile rape case. This week on my last drive to San Diego to see clients, I thought about Orlando.

I changed my backdrop on FB this evening to one of myself walking into the ocean with my board not out of sensitivity in regards to this week’s tragedy but because in the light of the unspeakable, the only peace I feel comes when I think of the ocean’s foam and salt that attempts to purify the chaos of human plight.

Judith Herman’s classic, Trauma & Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, although written in 1992, is still a great introduction to how the soul can be ravaged by trauma. For all of us impacted by trauma and who care about the recovery of the human condition, it is an important read. She writes, “The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable. Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried. Equally as powerful as the desire to deny atrocities is the conviction that denial does not work. Folk wisdom is filled with ghosts who refuse to rest in their graves until stories are told…. The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma” (p.1).

“Psychological trauma is an affliction of the powerless. At the moment of trauma, the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming force… Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection, and meaning” (p.33).

Because of this rupture we must all find a modicum of control, connection and meaning. Because of the unspeakable, we must learn to be silent and to listen when others need to speak. We must also learn to tell our stories and to have the courage to eventually disrupt the narrative and create new stories.

As Gloria Steinhem once said, “The personal is political.” Likewise, the political is personal.

When the UCLA story broke, I wrote a blog post that I then deleted. I was too struck by how many shootings have intersected with my teaching work during the last few years: I’ve been involved with communities impacted by the Gabby Gifford shooting, Sandy Hook, the Boston marathon bombing, the Aurora incident, and the list goes on and on.

So I think of the sea. And beauty. And people’s longing to connect and heal. And the power of the human spirit to endure in the wake of the unbearable. In the wake of what not should be.




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