“The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma. People who have survived atrocities often tell their stories in a highly emotional, contradictory, and fragmented manner that undermines their credibility and thereby serves the twin imperatives of truth-telling and secrecy. When the truth is finally recognized, survivors can begin their recovery. But far too often secrecy prevails, and the story of the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative but as a symptom.”― Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery
When I was in graduate school, I ran a project “Listen to a Veteran” under the direction of Paula J. Caplan, a clinical and research psychologist. The idea was that the impact of allowing someone who had been through the intense trauma of war to tell their story to a stranger would be incredibly healing. More often than not, traditional treatments alone can often cause trauma survivors to feel more isolated and less likely to be able to integrate effectively back into society. But, the act of telling their story to an active listener has exponentially positive effects. The reason is simple: human connection and universal feelings shared on a deep level. While the experience of civilians and veterans may not be matched, everyone can understand the impact of loss, death, or violence on some level.
In an article written for the Washington Post, it is made clear in this statement, “At some point in the sessions, the listeners would say, ‘If I had been through what you just described, I am sure that I would be feeling what you are feeling, and that is not a mental illness but a deeply human response to war.’ In that single sentence, weight was lifted from the emotional rucksacks they had brought back from war. More veterans than I can count have treasured that statement and held it close.”
At the time I remember thinking that this project could be extended to other survivors of trauma, especially those who had been subject to the horrors of sexual violence. What I had yet to find out is that my own personal story and recent trauma would lead to undetected and then egregiously mistreated PTSD (which was traumatic in itself).
Back in January, a student from Hampshire College asked me if I would participate in a project for a Storytelling class. The class had to interview someone around the topic of fear. The student had no idea of my history, but it turned out that I was the perfect candidate. We talked for about 30 minutes, and it was really nice for me to be able to tell my story to someone who wanted to listen and they were really appreciative in return.
This 30 minutes worth of material was cut down to around 2 minutes (the clip below). It was really interesting to see how it was put together, and I’m happy with it overall.
So this post is in honor of all those whose voices are still lost, those who still struggle to regain them, and those brave enough to speak their truth. In addition, it is also a thanks to the understanding and compassionate souls who have the capacity and strength to ask questions and truly and deeply listen.