Aftermath Of Violence: Trauma Marks a Soul

The recent spate of apparent suicides connected to school shootings should be a wake up call.  

Not that everyone who survives trauma may follow suit.  

But every soul who survives trauma struggles-no matter what it looks like from the outside.  

I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975…That was a long time ago but it’s wrong what they say about the past….Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.  ~ Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Witnessing or experiencing horror scars a heart.  And society rarely does a good job making room for the kind of work it takes for that heart to even begin to heal.

Feel-good news stories about activism, heroism and turning tragedy into triumph send a signal that if you can’t “get over it“, “overcome” or “become stronger” in the wake of the most awful day of your life, you aren’t trying hard enough.

But the truth is that most people DO try. 

They try and try and try but trying isn’t enough.  Tragedy and trauma change a person and no matter how much they may want to go back to the “old” them, they just can’t. 

And that is OK. 

trauma image

We must allow survivors to take as long as they take and to adjust their lives however they can.  We need to stop insisting that there’s a time limit on grief or that there is an absolute upward trajectory in recovery.

I don’t know what drove these individuals to die by suicide.  

But I do know that as a society we are not tolerant of people who don’t “deal” with their “issues” and live a life accepted as “normal”.

And that is not only unhelpful, it’s despicable.  

No one has the right to shut down another person’s voice or circumscribe another heart’s journey.  

We need to do better.  

We have to create safe spaces for people to admit they are fundamentally and permanently changed by a traumatic experience.  

We have got to make room for messy and unfinished stories.  

loving people with ptsd

 

Feedback Loops and Grief

I wasn’t there when Dominic left the road but I’ve imagined it in detail hundreds of times since that night nearly five years ago.

I can’t help it.

I wonder what he thought, what he felt, whether he knew…

It’s not the only tape that plays over and over in my head.

I think about his childhood and the times I probably overlooked my third of four children as I hurried to get this or that done.  I think about the arguments we had, the laughter we shared, the disappointments and challenges we faced together.

I replay birthdays and holidays and ordinary days.

Sometimes I get in a cycle that makes me smile:  Dominic playing drums in church and subtly shaking his head and sharing an eye roll with me as the congregation claps in awkward rhythm to a song-dozens of different beats, none of which were the right one.

dominic at gray haven

Sometimes I get in a cycle that draws sobs from a place I thought I had sealed off after the first two years of his absence. 

My thoughts fall into an emotional feedback loop that, like the sound wave counterpart, is all screeching, mind-numbing and painful noise.

Like a microphone too close to a speaker, the only way out of the loop is to back away and keep backing away until the cycle is broken.

Most days I can shepherd my thoughts down safe paths.  Those are the ones I share with others when they ask me to tell them about my son.

But when I’m alone and everything is quiet and my mind is left to its own devices or cued up by a random sight, sound or smell I can find my thoughts running places I’d rather they not go.

And the loop begins again.