Yesterday I had the distinct privilege of talking with domestic violence advocates about a cross-cultural approach to research. It turned into this incredible brainstorm session complete with tons of energy and passion and grit. I was blown away in the best of ways! And when the session starting winding down an advocate looked at me and said, “Uggghhh this is so hard. There are so many hurting. Please tell me there is good news”. I sat there for a moment I looked her straight in the eyes and I said, “Yes indeed there is good news—that good news is you—all of you and these women and the communities being built despite limited resources and broken systems—The good news is you”. And then I said, “here’s the context”:
A few weeks prior I met with a survivor to interview her for a study. This woman shared the barriers she faced with unwavering integrity. Her husband had stolen her children and taken them to another country. He left her destitute—not knowing the language or the housing system—she was evicted in a few weeks’ time. Every-single-aspect of life was stacked against her but she persevered. She, with the help of friends and advocates, got her children back, learned English and secured a three-bedroom permanent housing apartment. When I looked at her I said, “if you hadn’t met your advocate where would you be or what do you think would have happened”? And without hesitation she said, “I’d be dead”.
“I’d be dead”.
So you see, this is the good news—the good news is women showing up to do the gritty work; to stand in the gap with one another; to build cities out of dust; to shout at the top of their lungs that anything less than human rights will not be accepted; to demand justice and fairness and equitable communities for all; to sweat and toil on hands and knees; to cry, to laugh, to dance and to weep in all that life serves; to be alive for and in all of it. On International Day of Women we celebrate the literal blood, sweat and tears of women who have been doing this throughout history to ensure a better future for our daughters and our sons.
A few weeks ago I had an individual comment to the previous post entitled: Supporting a Partner who has Experienced Trauma. This individual’s comments addressed an important issue that occurs when family members are not supportive to their partners because they: do not have a desire to do so or they are insensitive to the needs of loved ones traumatized or they do not see the unique needs of those traumatized to be legitimate or warranting attention. Some may have difficulty facing the reality that there are folks like this that do exist– well they do and I think that deserves attention, especially as we as a larger community figure out ways of being supportive and compassionate to people who face challenges like these in their family of origin.
Let me start by saying that the first post on this subject was addressed to those partners and family members who do desire to support their loved ones, but either do not know where to start or who want effective/compassionate/appropriate communication strategies to communicate their support. I have met countless families who are well-intentioned and desire healing and wholeness for their suffering family member but do not have the tools or resources. That said, as a member of the therapeutic community I think I have a responsibility to educate and provide these resources to the broader community and develop compassion for those who may be failing in their efforts, but want to learn and want to grow in order to provide care to their loved one. There are classes and resources available for families who face a cancer diagnosis to teach each member the process of treatment, what to expect, how to support the loved one who has cancer, what their loved one can eat, etc. Why don’t we provide more of these educational & empowering experiences to families who are dealing with trauma and mental health?
The second part to this series has to do with partners and families who do not see the necessity of their support toward the healing process in trauma. These are folks who might ask questions like, “why is this still bothering you when that happened decades ago”. Unsupportive and insensitive people may question the accuracy of memory, the survivor’s choices– they may even go as far as defending or justifying the perpetrator’s abuse.
What most people do not know is that trauma response has neurobiological consequences that impact the individual’s lives daily for a long time. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects a person’s sleep, work, relationships and health daily. PTSD symptoms include: nightmares, flashbacks, depression, anxiety and memory issues. Our human brains are wired to process threatening information and to develop a response quickly. We all know this as the fight-flight-freeze response in the limbic system of the brain. In this state, our brains’ role is to quickly respond– evolutionarily this is helpful if you’re being chased by a lion. However, in prolonged states of abuse like sexual assault in childhood or domestic violence the threat is consistently there and the brain is conditioned to maintain in the fight-flight response position, which means the frontal cortex (where much of the linear thinking occurs) goes offline and cannot process information when the threat is no longer there. For traumatized people the consequences of trauma in the brain can mean that the process never reaches completion. The trauma narrative has a beginning, a middle, but there is no ending so the brain keeps processing the event as though it is still occurring. In other words, people suffering with trauma reprocess the trauma event as though it is still occurring in the here-and-now– even if the danger or threat has passed weeks, months or years prior. This is stressful and anxiety producing for the individual and it is no wonder why people feel depressed and isolated in the process.
What can be additionally traumatic and isolating are the responses that survivors receive from people. We all know about this too… the victim blaming and shaming is outrageous and all over the media and in our culture. The survivors who came forward to share their stories of victimization at the hands of Bill Cosby is one example of the silencing and shaming that goes on in society. Unfortunately, we have seen this at every layer of society from the legal system to the family to the church community. There are few spaces of safety for survivors. As sad as it is to see this in the larger society, what brings me to tears is the lack of compassion, understanding and protection from survivor’s families.
There are countless stories of survivors turning to their partners or parents or pastors or friends to share their stories and who have been met with denial and rejection.
That said, this post is to & for the survivors.
- You are brave and strong and courageous. You are a survivor. You are resilient and have endured the horror of trauma with dignity, integrity and grit. We honor you.
- I mourn that you mourn the loss of many things including a partner or loved one to support you, to understand you, to listen. I grieve that in your family you have felt voiceless and invisible. Even in your grief, I see your courage to remain and to be true to yourself and your story.
- There are people that do understand. I’ve found that although many survivors experience a loss of relationship with families they are born into they are able to build their own families and communities who may not be genetically related, but who get them, accept them and join them. These families are deep and real… It’s a family by adoption, but it is so meaningful because of the freedom each one feels to choose each other. Think of a friend or two that you trust, that you connect to and that will get your back in your darkest moments– these are your real people– your village.
- Join a support group. Support groups are important for a number of reasons: 1) it establishes a space where you are not alone, 2) support group members and facilitators understand the challenges you have faced with the trauma and in your relationships, 3) these are confidential groups so you can share your experiences without fear of reprisal, 4) support groups can be a place to develop friendships and 5) you learn from others by listening to their process and folks learn from you by hearing yours– it’s communal, collaborative and respectful in this way.
- The symptoms and challenges you experience doesn’t have to be it forever. There are empirically tested therapeutic interventions that can assist you in the symptoms you experience post-trauma. These interventions can help you develop different responses to yourself in distress. EMDR is an intervention that has been studied rigorously and has had positive outcomes for trauma symptoms. Check out the link to learn more. But a short version to EMDR is it facilitates a reconnection to the frontal cortex in the brain. Post-trauma the memory can get stuck in the amygdala and continue to reprocess the trauma. EMDR assists the brain in completing the process of information by bringing the frontal cortex back online. Emotional regulation through mindfulness is a skill that can be effective. I am happy to give some ideas of different therapies that are available and may be a good fit for specific situations. All this to say, it is possible to learn new skills, gain insight into how you’re effected by trauma and make meaning in your life.
I took down this post a day after posting it. I thought I’d make some edits and look it over. And deep down inside I thought, “maybe this is a little much”. See, even now, I am figuring out what authentic living is for me. Several days after taking the post down I had several people contact me and say that the post was a breath of fresh air. Unbeknownst to me others have been struggling with similar things related to suffering and the church. I decided after hearing that this was a source of hope to others I would go ahead and repost it. After all, that has always been my hope that my story and sharing would be a source of something for others… If this post or other stuff I share is a source of helping you know that you are not alone well then I think it’s freaking worth putting my stuff out there.
I’ve been feeling like an orphan lately. A spiritual orphan of sorts. After 37 (ish) years in church and ministry I left. It was a culmination of things that led to isolation, depletion and burn-out, which eventually made me realize I needed to go for my own heart’s sake and health.
And now I find myself frequently asking myself questions of belonging:
to whom do I belong?
how do I belong?
is belonging possible?
It seems since leaving the church I have been left with all kinds of yearnings to continue some connection with faith, but how?– when most of what I was taught was that faith is connected to church community. And how could I possibly go back to church community when I am still recovering from so many wounds from the previous community I was a part of? And sometimes when I’m at this crisis juncture I resign myself to never finding another spiritual community again.
And then I came across this today by the dearest Anne Lamott:
My brand new sister-in-law died yesterday, as has been expected for weeks. We are heartbroken, relieved, amazed by Grace. My brothers and I are all accidentally devout believers, so we feel that death is a major change of address: that death is the end of dying, but not of life.
Or Life. Whatever you want to call it.
Life or life: This strange situation we find ourselves in, with no clear answers or meaning–well, you know, I mean besides love, or Love; taking care of the poor; and being amazed by beauty.
With Connie, who entered our lives eighteen months ago, with stage 4 cancer, we all just surrendered to the reality that my older brother John had fallen truly, madly, deeply in love.
I would not have picked a wife for him who had aggressive cancer in her liver and lungs, but that’s just me. She was everything he had ever hoped and dreamed of, as he was for her. We fell in love with her, too. This didn’t work for me at all, as Jax’s baby heart–and, who am I kidding, mine–were now guaranteed to break, big time, in the very foreseeable future.
I read this and I began to feel those yearnings hit the surface, again. She always has a way of writing with sheer, raw, heartbreakingly, open, truth-telling that I can’t help but not want to give up on the idea that on this earth– community just might exist where we are accepted just as we are: broken, imperfect, awkward, real, authentic
Maybe, just maybe there is a spiritual community that exists with a bunch of scarred-up and flawed-up people seeking to seek together and love together and suffer with and for one another…
As much as all the various things that built up over time (endless budget meetings, being the first one in and the last one out, full-time work for part-time pay) left me feeling depleted and used up– what slowly began to eat away at my heart was the reality that I couldn’t be authentic or real about the suffering that I was experiencing.
I learned this lesson early on when my husband’s bipolar was brought to the attention of the lead pastor, our friend and he responded by stating that in this country we over diagnose and we over medicate. He was clearly uncomfortable and didn’t understand the disorder so he went on to say we needed to get help and then shortly thereafter began distancing himself.
Later I shared with the pastor’s wife my struggles with the bipolar and the depression I was experiencing as a result and she stopped talking to me and soon there-after we were no longer invited to family gatherings or events.
We continued to feel this distancing from community and staff, which led me to internalize that this must be our problem and ours alone.
I learned early on that these were not topics that were supposed to be discussed and I stopped sharing. I kept showing up for all the strategic meetings and all the work parties and to minister to others. Meanwhile, in my own life I continued to melt away.
When things would escalate to the point of violence– like the time my husband went into a rage and I needed to grab my daughter and physically run without shoes to a friend’s house– I knew that I would need to keep this to myself. A few days later I showed up to work… engaged in ministry… put on a smile… didn’t let on that anything was wrong at home…
For ten years I kept all these secrets.
I fulfilled my duties as pastor, but could not disclose my sufferings even within the circle of staff and leadership.
Yet, this church preached boldly and passionately about the need to be authentic in community. And it took some time to learn that authentic in this community meant: real minus the icky, awful, uncomfortable stuff like mental illness.
As all communities, this community had exceptions to what would be accepted as authentic. There were all these rules and guidelines and norms about what could be shared, who could share and what was socially acceptable to publicly grieve. This was a culture that cultivated an environment of silence.
After my grandfather collapsed at his home he was rushed to a hospital ER and later that day he was diagnosed with leukemia. The shock of these events rattled me and when I shared this with my pastor he expressed no condolences or words– he just simply walked away toward his office. My grandfather died two days later and no one said a word to me about it. At my place of worship, my place of spiritual community I silently grieved alone.
You can imagine my confusion.
For a long time I thought it was me.
The past three years I’ve been in recovery. In terms of spiritual community, I often feel confused more than ever.
But I know now that this wasn’t right. I know that it wasn’t all me. I’m not perfect– I don’t claim to have my shit together, but authentic community doesn’t require polished, perfected, shit-don’t- stink, kinds of people.
I learned this, too.
I learned this when on several occasions when I was especially down and out, feeling a specialized kind of crazy in this recovery process I called out to a bunch of ladies– this ragamuffin, hard core group of women friends and they got it. I was a blubbering, sobbing, mascara-stained mess and the leader of our army said, “You’re not alone, DeAnza– we got you”.
“No requirements– we got you”.
“You don’t have to be perfect– we got you”.
“You are lovely as you are– we got you”.
I’m still confused about formal church and community. At some point, I imagine I’ll find a spiritual community or at least hope to…
Silence is no way to live. Silence breeds shame and it is a disservice to people– it compounds suffering.
This is also what I know: this example is what community should be like– however you define it– whoever is in your community– wherever your community resides– it should be like this: a refuge place where you can bare your soul and know that you won’t be respected any less for doing so.
I’ve never been a big one for Valentines day or all the mumbo jumbo around this consumeristic celebration of love. Like I tell my girls, love is about everyday. It matters how you love the people in your life every day. And that love takes all shapes and sizes– as much as love is about romance it is also about the love we share together as ma ma and daughter, brother and sister, friends and so on… I have always been a big supporter of Eve Ensler and all the activist work she does to bring awareness to violence against women. I believe wholeheartedly in female empowerment. So today I celebrate V day in recognition of women all over the world. I hope for a safer– more compassionate and inclusive world for all women. I am just one woman, who desires to raise my girls to know their capacity, strength and passion in the world so that they may follow their heart courageously and unapologetically. This is hope for my daughters and all the daughters of our earth.
Your heart won’t steer you wrong.)
Congratulations to our Seahawks!! Today our town is hosting a Seahawks parade right down the middle of downtown. I won’t be able to make it, but hear that the city is expecting 300,000+ people to be there.
Now before you get too far into this blog entry thinking this is some kind of commentary on the Seahawks or their win or the Superbowl or anything football related I don’t want to waste your time. This post won’t be covering any of those topics. In large part, because I know nothing about any of those things, but I do want to take a pause and celebrate this exciting time!
My reflections from Sunday’s win have more to do with thoughts on community. You see, I’m not really a football fan and in all honesty, I’m kind of a fair weather Seattle sport’s fan. Forgive me, Seattle. Despite all that, I found myself getting into the hype and festivities just like everyone else here in Seattle. What was that about?
I was driving through Seattle after the game and in every neighborhood I drove through I saw people running through the streets– from Capital hill right down to Greenwood– there were people flooding the streets. This energy alone is enough to get even the lukewarmest person into the festivities. Obviously, the opportunity to be in the Superbowl is incredible and anyone who knows Seattle’s history knows this was a long time coming, but my reflections took me to thoughts on community.
Here they are:
This time was confirmation of how good it is to be in community. It was confirmation that community where we are coalesced around a common cause energizes and invigorates us. I am reminded that these times are rare. so when community like this presents itself I celebrate it and join in with enthusiasm.
I think that others feel that, too. In fact, I would argue that sharing community in these ways is healthy for our body, heart and mind. There have been various research studies that show how community benefits our health:
– Reduces stress
– Encourages human connection
– Reduces the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease
– Increases a sense of safety
– Elevates morale and makes our city more enjoyable
Additionally, the good vibes of community in times like these increases the likelihood that our brain synapses let off chemical reactions in our brain that elevate our mood. This allows us to generate good will toward our neighbor and humanity. In states like this we are kinder, more patient, understanding and generous.
So kudos to us, Seattle! Not only did we do a hell of a job at the Superbowl, 12th man, but we also can bask in the health benefits that community connection has to offer!
Congratulations Seahawks!! Congratulations Seattle!! I’m grateful to be a member of this community in beautiful Seattle!!