My heart sinks heavy, like through my center, through every chakra in my body when I hear people’s stories of trauma and abuse. Having a background in social work, I listened to stories of client’s trauma for 14 years. Like watching a television show, but sitting right in front of me. The script for the story plot being told to me first person. I know trauma in my personal life, as most of us do. Now I co-facilitate a group of women who have experienced significant trauma as well as teach yoga to female inmates at the county jail, also survivors of this thing we call trauma.
Trauma. What is it? Simply put, it is anything that happens to us that we don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with. It’s different for everyone. Just because something was traumatic for one person, doesn’t mean it will be to the next. It can be self-inflicted, usually as a way of coping with previous trauma, we may inflict or subject ourselves to more trauma. I think we can also experience what I call second-hand trauma by hearing other people’s stories of trauma, if we don’t know how to deal with it. The key lies in knowing how to deal and move through difficult and sometimes horrific events in life.
There will always be traumatic things happening in life, around us and in the world. It is part of our history and as humans, the all encompassing part of our creation is having the capacity to kill and cause harm when it is beyond need for survival. Most things, as I understand it, don’t do this.
When I worked as a social worker, I would hear many stories of women who had been or were being stalked, had assassination attempts made on them, were running from their abuser, had been raped and trafficked – mostly in their relationships. They weren’t being beaten and hunted down by crazy strangers. They were being abused, held in slavery and trafficked by their partners. Yep, by their partners. Boyfriends, husbands, friends. The very people we are supposed to be able to trust and open our hearts and safely share our sexuality and intimate life with.
As a social worker, I learned to play my poker face. That is what we are trained to do. If you know me, I don’t have a good one, but I learned over the years to sit and listen with undivided attention as these stories were unfolded in my office as though I was watching an episode of CSI. How could it be that women are literally running for their lives from the people who they are supposed to be able to trust? It became difficult to endure these stories and as a result I no longer watch shows like CSI or television that shows violence, especially against women. I used to watch those shows while eating dinner until I realized that this isn’t entertainment. It’s not fictional and I had a front row seat to it every day. It’s also not something that is only happening to women in other countries who I could distance myself from. It is real and happens here, where I live, every day.
At times, I find it difficult to unload and deal with the 2nd hand trauma I experience from these stories because it happens that often. Being a really sensitive person anyways, I tend to take in people’s stories and feelings more than I’d like. I wouldn’t say it’s in an unhealthy way. I mean, with all the things I’ve heard and seen over the years between my personal life and being a social worker, I would say that most of the time I offload things appropriately, but this thing of women being so commonly abused really sits deep.
It is deep in the sense that it goes to the roots of being a woman, being born of this earth, the primal part of being human, the roles of women in different ages in history and in other countries. It’s not just the women in my community, the many stories I hear in-person…it’s as old as the earth that supports our bodies to walk on each day. It’s old and it sits so deep sinking right into my root chakra where I’m plugged into the earth.
Last year, I read the book Half the Sky. It talks about the experiences of women all over the world who are held in slavery and prostituted from a young age; about women who are raped for not being virgins (because they were prostituted and raped), who are no longer suitable for marriage; about women who are left for dead when they experience postpartum complications; women who are publicly beaten and raped, who cannot go out by themselves, who are sold because their family cannot afford to keep them…on and on. The violent oppression is institutionalized. It is systemic. Worldwide. Today. Still.
The problem is, it’s not just a small number of stories from around the world who I cannot see, who’s lives shouldn’t matter to me, who’s culture, traditions and ways are unfamiliar, women who I can disassociate from by distance. It’s not just a small number of women in my community who experience this either. Those who I cannot disassociate with, who look like me and are my neighbors. It is troubling that near and far…the stories of women who experience these things, is common.
It is far too common. So common that I sadly have at times in my life wondered if there are any good men out there. I know that is not logical and it has to be unreasonable to think this, but it’s so fucking sobering to me that I have to really harness in all the love in my heart to kick that thought from my brain. My sorrow runs so deep and now that I know, I cannot turn it off.
One thing that really hit so close to home with me when I was reading Half the Sky is that if I lived in a different country, I would be one of those women who would be subject to public rape and beating, probably until I was dead. Likely shunned by my family and community for being a woman who is not married, doesn’t have children, speaks up for herself… and who would write something like I am writing . Those are all things that women give their lives for even today. Not in previous times, but still…TODAY. Women are still violently oppressed today.
It was when I was reading this book, I realized how personally privileged I am at this time in my life. I have certainly endured my share of traumatic experiences in my life, but not like the stories of my clients and not like the stories I was reading in Half the Sky. This realization really fueled my fire and made me realize that I have a responsibility, the ability to respond, to do things differently because women are women and I am part of not only my local community of girls and women, but also part of the larger worldwide community of girls and women and the larger community of humans.
That I’m not shunned for being unwed, divorced and without children is something that women in many places don’t have the benefit of. I choose these things and my family hasn’t abandoned me for the decisions that I have made in life or for things I’ve done in my past. The fact that I’m not considered less valuable in my community because of these things is also a blessing.
On a personal level, I have come to realize that my responsibility (ability to respond differently) is to consider the relationships I choose to be in and to really value my body and my heart as the most valuable things I own. These are not things to be taken lightly or given away on a whim, but to be loved and cared for. I am extremely grateful to do the work I do, to hear stories of women who have survived the unimaginable and who are finding a voice and a place of comfort to speak up and share their stories. When we share stories, we feel more connected, less alone in our experiences and also start to break cycles of violence and oppression. Imagine if everyone out there felt like they were the only one experiencing the things they’re going through.
On a larger level, I know that I am being called to do the work I’m doing in partnership with area organizations and feel that my work will unfold further and I’m not sure what that looks like yet. I trust in knowing that my sorrow is also my power. The greater our sorrow the more fuel, love and power rises up.