With many of you, I have been puzzling through the effects of the past three years. What has emerged from my reading has resonated with my own experience and with conversations we have been having?
It was traumatic.
The most helpful book I’ve found for understanding the effects of trauma is Bessel A. Vander Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score (New York: Penguin Random House, 2015). Vander Kolk says,
Being traumatized means continuing to organize your life as if the trauma were still ongoing–unchanged and immutable–as every new encounter or event is contaminated by the past. 53
Vander Kolk describes the science of how trauma alters brain functioning in ways that register in the body–the body keeps score:
After trauma, the world is experienced with a different nervous system. The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on the inner chaos, at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their life. 53
In Chapter 13, “Healing from Trauma: Owning Yourself,” Vander Kolk says:
Trauma robs you of the feeling you are in charge of yourself…. The challenge of recovery is to reestablish ownership of your body and mind–of yourself. This means feeling free to know what you know and feel what you feel without being overwhelmed, enraged, ashamed, or collapsed. For most people this involves (1) finding a way to become calm and focused, (2) learning to maintain that calm in response to images, thoughts, sounds or physical sensations that remind you of the past, (3) finding ways to be fully alive in the present and engage with people around you, (4) not having to keep secrets from yourself, including secrets about ways you have managed
to survive. 205-06
A recent article written by Rev. Libby Howe for the Wisconsin Council of Churches focuses on another piece of the puzzle. How does the body of Christ respond to trauma? This article is important for us to consider as a church body made up of people like you and me.
We find healing as a body of believers when we work through our own, individual traumas. The hard part is that healing is not easy; faith offers no magic solution. Our faith holds together for the work we are called to do, assuring us we are safe even when fear courses through our bodies, especially even then.
I recently discovered this book and started reading it just two weeks ago. I did not know that this book is so revered — and in such common use — by mental health professionals (as well as victims of trauma), but reading a few hundred rave reviews soon set me straight! I keep reading that more young people and adults than we can possibly imagine are actually suffering from untreated trauma, often resulting in incarcerations, abusive or damaged relationships, disruptive behavior in schools, personality disorders, mental health crises, difficulties in living healthy and meaningful lives, etc., etc.
The book is not a “quick read” and needs to be read attentively, but already my understanding of trauma and its far-reaching effects is increasing exponentially. My son-in-law is an urban high school teacher, and witnesses the effects of untended trauma on a daily basis. I was just about to email you about this “wonderful book I just discovered”, but you are already way ahead of me! I would love to be part of a study group sometime if there were a few other people who were interested in this book, but it would probably take a year to unpack all its treasures. But if we all read a book like this, imagine how our empathy for the suffering of others — as well as a better understanding of our own — would increase!
Thank you Diane.
I am rereading the book again, studying parts of it, wondering what it means. It is a worthy challenge to ask what healing means given the scientific fact that our brains are shaped by trauma. It is on my mind for Easter Sunday this year.