This is the first installation of a 3 part series surrounding the impact of trauma on the lives of victims, loved ones, and society as a whole. Part 1 is a personal account of the ravages that trauma can have on the mind, body and spirit of victims/survivors themselves.
“No trauma has discrete edges. Trauma bleeds. Out of wounds and across boundaries.”- Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams: Essays
“Speechless terror” is the description that I think most accurately describes the feeling that trauma brings into the body and mind. It is the constant feeling that SOMETHING is looming, nothing is quite right and there is no place where one is truly “safe.” The actual event(s) that caused the initial trauma can be so far from the present that the trauma becomes part of us, manifesting itself in our body, mind and resulting actions or reactions. We often choose or are forced to ignore or cover up our trauma, leaving the remnants of hurt and pain behind for days, months, years or even lifetimes.
We deny or question our own truth because trauma is often minimized, misunderstood or even caused by those whom we love dearly. Because sometimes the trauma is so difficult or complex that it is easier to block out. Because often those who attempt to help, including the very professionals, friends or family whom we trust the most, can often make it worse or even re-traumatize us. Because those of us brave enough to show or tell our truth are often forced to be muffled or condemned instead of empowered to trust our own reality or instincts. And the result is pain, isolation, confusion, anger and pure terror.
“Like cold blue ice in her heart…” The physical sensations of unresolved trauma can feel like shards of glass, getting punched in the gut, or an aching pain deep in your bones. The psychological boundaries of trauma feel as severe as a suffocation, cold metal shackles or the bars of a small jail cell putting us in a constant state of indecision or paralyzation. In the words of trauma expert Susan Pease Banitt unresolved trauma and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can become “…a whole-body tragedy, an integral human event of enormous proportions with massive repercussions.”
It keeps us frightened to put ourselves in unknown situations for fear of entering into a dangerous space. It causes us to put up defenses and no longer know who to trust or be able to decipher who or what is a threat. We may even submit to or keep ourselves in the very place of entrapment, believing that we don’t deserve anything better. Perhaps we do so as a result of being told too many times that we need to be “fixed” or because we have become so accustomed to the suffering that we don’t know anything else. It is feeling condemned to a life of imprisonment. It is succumbing to the thought that we are never going to escape these real or now lingering threats. It is forgetting the feeling of freedom.
Freedom. The feeling of the sun’s warmth on the tops of our heads, the refreshing splash of sea salt on our arms and legs, or the nutritious food that we should be allowed to genuinely appreciate and enjoy. It is a vast grassy field that goes on for miles and miles without end. It is the bright blue sky that envelopes our body with its expanse. It is the myriad of stars that give us hope and the sense that we are not alone. It is the silence of a sparsely populated cathedral that echoes both our joy and our sorrow, allowing us time and space to heal on our own time, without judgment. It is internalizing the ideology that we have the “power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint,” no matter what messages we have received. It is remembering our own strength, potential and sense of self before we were made to feel inherently broken, damaged or dependent. It is allowing the shackles that have been holding us back to fall away. It is opening the doors to a world of hope and happiness again.
While trauma itself feels like a prison or a cage, the hope is that recovery will lead to wings in flight, cruising high above the sky with a renewed perspective on life. It is the faith that memories of the past hurt caused by the ignorance and limitations of others and/or months or years of misunderstanding and subjection will melt away. It is the desire for these ghosts to become part of a narrative that no longer haunts but informs. If unresolved trauma is a whole-body tragedy, then recovery and healing could be considered a whole-body breakthrough. Quoting Dr. Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma, “Trauma is hell on earth. Trauma resolved is a gift from the gods.”
Here’s to a world of full hearts and open minds…
Note: This is also a submission for the WordPress Blogging 101/Writing 101 Course.