Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Word on Trauma

Over the past few weeks, my conversations with my girlfriends have gone something like this:

"There we so many cops in the room- I started shaking, I couldn't breathe, and I had to leave the room" 

"That could have easily been me- I'm a smart, educated woman and I know my rights'' 

'I'm not sure how I can be at work and pretend like this doesn't affect me, and go on like 'business as usual',  as if I'm not hurting."

Now, I am lucky to travel many spiritual circles, where love is love.  In fact, when the Sandra Bland story broke, I was in a yoga training in Costa Rica with 30 goddesses of every hue under the sun. But I don't live in a colorless world.  Yes, all lives matter. But the fact that we live in a climate where we have to specify that "black lives matter"...
well, that also matters.

In activist communities, we've known the assault on young black girls to be psycho-spiritual (insert Nikki Minaj, the politics of image, and the doll test).  The question of survival has often been focused on black men, from Emitt Till, to Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown.  Such much so that when I go running in my neighborhood, I always raise my hands into plain site when I pass cops so I won't be mistaken for a black man running in the streets.  These are strange times, indeed.  

But the Sandra Bland murder raises a new fear for mamas of girls- especially sassy, fearless puffy haired brown girls.  As Lois Frankel points out in her book
Nice Girls Still Don't Get the Corner Office, "When women of color, particularly African American women, are assertive, they are wrongly accused of being 'angry'...   and they are categorized in a way that disinclines them from speaking their mind in the future- which just might be the purpose of the accusation to begin with." 

I wonder how many of us have pursed our lips and narrowed our eyes instead of speaking up over the last few weeks.   In our offices.  In check-out lines.  In our homes. Yesterday, my daughter ran to see where the sirens were coming from- out of innocent, child-like curiosity. I screamed so loudly that that it jolted her, followed by a not-so-age appropriate rant about how dangerous that was.   In that moment, I saw how trauma is intergenerational . And how our fear will always limit our freedom.

Like many of my friends and colleagues, I have watched the videos over and over again.   They are everywhere on social media, and in true Fire Element fashion, bringing consciousness and awareness to that which has previously been hidden and secret.   The world is watching, and it keeps us from forgetting.  But the flip side is that the constant borage of images and news stories also contributes to a form of secondary trauma- which is the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about or witnesses the firsthand trauma experiences of another. My film students and I experienced this back in 2006, when we traveled to New Orleans 6 months after Hurricane Katrina and witnessed the devastation and political neglect of the ninth ward. 

The symptoms of secondary trauma mimic those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including symptoms such as:
  • intrusive thoughts or images
  • chronic fatigue
  • disturbed sleep
  • unexplained sadness or weepiness
  • poor concentration
  • second guessing or indecisiveness 
  • hypervigilance
  • shame 
  • fear  

Secondary trauma is often experienced by therapists and trauma workers, but I argue that it is equally applicable to activists and those of who bear witness to community trauma. I know that I'm seeing a lot of it in my office, with many of us not so sure why we 'just can't focus and move forward."

And while there is no magic pill,  I lean on the ancient wisdom of the elements for insight into how we can move forward....  together:

 Learn how to recognize the signs of trauma and secondary trauma, in yourself and in those you love.  Check out books like Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr. Joy Degruy to help identify- and begin to shift- the patterns of intergenerational trauma.

The Gulabi Gang in India- Trumping Fear with Action
In 1976, 26 children we abducted in Chowchilla, California and imprisoned underground for 30 hours.  They were ultimately rescued, but a study 8 months later found that all children were experiencing severe PTSD.  All of the of the children, except for one.  And that one child, Bob Barklay, was the child that enlisted the support of another child to help him literally dig their way out of the grave.

What do we learn from this real-life horror story?  That taking positive action significantly reduces the long term impact of trauma.According to Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, active mobilization in the face of fear cuts through the paralysis that freezes trauma in our bodies.  So, whether that means taking a self-defense course or creating an emergency action plan for your family,  get to moving.  Besides, 

While treating trauma often requires the support of a licensed health-care professional, there are many flower essences that help us ground our spirit into the here and now.   Consider Mountain Pride Flower Essence, my personal favorite for activists.  Star of Bethlehem flower essence soothes the soul during times of confusion and disorientation, while Scotch Broom flower essence inspires hope and vision when we're feeling discouraged about the state of the world. Schedule a flower essence consultation or acupuncture appointment with myself, or other trusted practitioner, to get additional support if you need it.

Healing is not an individuated process-- to heal any part of our body thousands of cells, organs, and tissues must join forces.  Our emotional scars are no different.   Gather with friends to talk about what you're feeling.   Or join forces with other organizations, offering to volunteer time or donate money to make a positive impact. 

Grief is real- whether personal, communal, or ancestral.  When I was in Costa Rica, a deep ancestral grief for all of the ancient wisdom that has been destroyed overwhelmed me.  By pouring libation at the sacred Goddess Tree, my grief was transmuted into new insight and wisdom.  

Light a candle, say a prayer, create a memorial, pour libation, and allow the lives of those we've lost to be honored and sacred.

No one is free when others are oppressed.

1 comment:

  1. Lindsay - thank you for writing this piece, for bringing yourself forward with so much realness, vulnerability, and wisdom. This conversation is vitally important, of course, and I'm really grateful to you for taking a lead in engaging our community. I'm going to post this same comment to the A New Possibility FB page (thanks for sharing your blog there), with some further thoughts I have.