Things are not okay. In fact things are far from okay. I am seeing more and more of my clients struggling with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and many have nervous systems that continue to stay offline. I know we are tired. I know I am tired. We are all experiencing fatigue, feeling it in our bones, yet we are not done yet. We have more to do, further to go, and rest does not yet seem plausible, or even possible. Life has changed, and it may not go back to the way it was for quite some time. All of this creates fear, grief, and a deeper sense of despair than most of us have not experienced previously at any other point in our lives. But no matter how isolated we feel, we are not alone. WE are in it together. In fact, we are more connected than at any other point IN our lives. There is rich soil here.
As a therapist I believe what many other therapists believe. We are wired to experience trauma, and are therefore wired to endure it. This powerful truth holds up in the wake of current events and the countless stories of hope, resilience, and determination that are revealed to us every day. The human condition dictates movement. And planetary trauma reveals not only the strength of the human spirit, but also the power of human connection.
Trauma experts report how most clients experiencing symptoms related to Post Traumatic Disorder (PTSD) do not get better through a specific type of therapy, but rather report that having a good relationship with their therapist is what matters most in counseling. Military veterans report that they heal by connecting with other military veterans. Recovering alcoholics attend meetings with other recovering alcoholics, and sexual trauma survivors feel safety in the room with others who have similar stories of abuse. The list goes on and on. We recover best when we feel understood by those around us. We feel understood through our shared experience. No one is immune to trauma, and it is this lack of immunity that gives us an opportunity to deepen with each other, and with ourselves.
Connection is the first thing to go through our exposure to traumatic events. I feel overwhelmed and therefore may not be able to stay present in the room, or even in my body. To stay present could become so psychologically painful that to do so may feel like a fracture that threatens to split me in half. In the wake of this, I have no choice but to disconnect from myself, and from the world around me. The pull to step away (and to possibly numb the pain through unhealthy distraction) makes sense. But trauma, through the disconnect, can leave us feeling alone even in a room with other people. It is this falling out of relationship with myself, and with those around me, that ultimately stops me cold.
Since connection is the first thing to go, it is the first thing I have to tend to if I am going to heal the split within myself. Connection is the way back. When I feel understood I feel safe, and that can only happen through connection. But it requires effort to reach out, and to land back in my body. The effort feels big because connecting means I have to ultimately feel my way back. This part of the journey is never easy. It is not only the way back, but also the way through it. We know this truth as individuals, but as a nation we are struggling to understand the value of connection.
Why is it that we can’t seem to get it right? We watch the country spin in constant discord, the ongoing slurry of pointed fingers across the aisle, and across podiums. Why is it at a time where we need to embrace the healing power of connection, we choose to go in the other direction? I think the answer lies in not only looking at how trauma impacts us as individuals, but also in how trauma can impact a nation. It is normal to play the blame game through traumatic experience, whether we participate in this as individuals or as larger communities. We are trying to make sense of what has happened, and therefore we feel the need to assign blame to the responsible person or party. But don't stop short. The problem doesn’t lie in what is in the realm of normal grief, but rather in our inability to move through it. Blame does nothing to move us forward.
We cannot, as individuals (or as a nation) stay stuck pointing fingers. To do so robs us of an opportunity to grow. We have to look at our part, take responsibility for what is ours, and work to change our attitudes, and our behaviors. If others have wronged us, created trauma in our lives, or the lives of those around us, then we have to work to create change. We need to stand up for what is right, and work to help others who are at risk of incurring similar injuries.
Connection to ourselves, and to others, is a call to take action. And taking action is the cure because trauma lands not only through the disconnect, but also through inaction. The opportunity to heal as a country, and as individuals, starts by understanding the story trauma tells all of us. You do not have agree with the person standing next to you, you simply have to make an effort to see them. Connect with yourself so that you can connect with others. Work to understand yourself so that you can understand others. Take action so that you help others take action. This is how a nation heals.