A few Saturday's ago I attended a vigil as a peacekeeper. Victims and survivors of sexual violence spoke of their experiences and struggles to be heard, recognized and helped As I scanned the crowd in my orange safety vest looking for people who might need a mask or assistance of some kind, I started to feel my body reacting in a very uncomfortable way. My diaphram began to flutter rapidly and violent sobs threatened to escape. Of course no one would have been able to listen to these young people sharing their horrific stories without feeling something, but I was very surprised at the visceral reaction I was having. Even more surprising was that it stayed with me for days after. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. I have not considered myself to be that 1 in 5, but here I was, very triggered by something. I have worked with many people over the years who have experienced sexual assault, and I have grieved their experiences, but their stories never hit me like this. What was it in my own experience that was causing this level of anxiety, fear and despair? What I was able to trace it back to was a time when I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade. A smaller, younger girl was in a room with me waiting for a teacher. She started telling me repeatedly and graphically, how her father was assaulting her. I remember that I just wanted her to stop talking and leave me alone. Her voice and her face have never left me even though I am fuzzy on most of the details (for example I will always remember her last name, but I can't recall her first name).
The point of this sharing is to, once again, point out that our bodies hold so much, and that what is being held can spring out at any moment. Also what we may think was a small, insignificant incident may actually have imprinted itself in us quite strongly. During my few days of this unfamiliar anxiety, even with all my yoga and TRE training, I just wanted to drink some wine and watching TV to take the edge off. And I did do a bit of that. But, also because of my training, and my obligation to the people who tell me their stories, I knew I also needed to look at what was rising around in me, unbidden and unwelcome. So after some wine and TV, I sat and practiced. I meditated, I tremored, and I walked a lot out in nature, and I kept that girl’s face in my heart. And here I am telling my story. Some of the anxiety is still here- even as I type this, I feel the tears seeking release. And so there is more work to be done.
This experience allowed me, on a visceral level, to really understand that there is not a hierarchy to trauma. This is what I had been taught, but now I know it in my gut. I do not mean to imply that my experience encountering the little girl is the same as her horrific experience was with her abuser . However, my experience is still clearly living in me and clearly has the possibility of being somewhat debilitating, even if the story might seem minor or insignificant. As much as i would like to believe I can "just get over it", I know it isn't as easy as that. I know that my work is to continue to acknowledge what's in my body, increase my resillency, dishcarge the charge, and seek resolution in my own self.
There is another important thing about recognizing our trauma; once we feel the strength of reactivity from a trigger, we have little choice but to open our hearts to other people as they struggle with their own reactions and triggers. Until we experience the power of the pull of unresolved trauma we can easily wonder why people can't "just get over it". Post-traumatic growth has been pointed to as the way for our society to become more humane and compassionate, but before we get there, we all have some work to do. "Post" in the important word here.