REACHING OUT A HAND: Being a supporter to those who lived through extreme violence
It’s 7 am, and my cat is helping provide comfort. A difficult thing happened to me last night at a small meeting in my community.
I want to share how I worked with it, and then jump off from this particular event to look at how we can support each other in these times.
At the potluck before the business meeting, a person who is a mesmerizing storyteller out of the blue started relaying a very violent dream in casual conversation. She went on talking for a long time. It was like I could see and feel the violence in the dream happening.
I knew it was unusual to step in, but I did. At first, I froze. Then as it went longer and became more immediate, I realized it was about to become worse.
I asked her to stop. It was a socially unusual thing to do, but I heard a few people murmur in a way that indicated that they, too, didn’t want it to keep going. What I picked up from the others listening was that it felt unpleasant to them to hear the dream, and they also wondered why she shared it, but they could let it roll off.
I was so scared, I was no longer energetically in my body. I’d have to give a report at the business meeting in an hour. I worked to get myself back. It was like harp-strings had been stuck and they were still going. I rubbed my fingers and tapped my feet, but it didn’t help.
When I got home, the fear was still moving. I thought -- I wonder if I deserve to call somebody on the phone for help. I couldn’t, but then a friend happened to call five minutes later. Still, I had trouble reaching through the wall and expressing myself. Gradually, I was able to speak, and she comprehended. She said she also has moments when something jangles her, and she stays jangled.
Now twelve hours later, energetically I’m still trying to shake it off. It took me back neurologically to the precise kind of violence I suffered as a child. I hold my cat because I still actively feel fear inside me. But I have an idea how to help myself and antidote this.
Healing at this moment involves encircling myself with loving thoughts. I want to figure out what are the things I wish I could hear and say them to myself. This is what I’ve come up with, and there are many layers.
“That scary moment of feeling again the kinds of things that happened to you came your way accidentally. No one is trying to scare you or hurt you anymore. You’re not in danger right now. It’s not about to get worse. It wasn’t the beginning of a sequence of violent events about to happen.
“We’re so sorry it felt like those times from before when a potentially violent person casually made comments that were meant to warn you never to talk. What happened last night wasn’t a threat. The old world wasn’t suddenly returning. You’re in a new place now. But it’s true that you used to hear threats about what would happen if you told. I can see why it felt that way.
“It’s okay to talk about this now. We want you to feel safe and wanted. You belong with us, and we want to help you over this hurdle.
“We want you here in the world. We see how hard you are working at staying with us in this shared world.
That’s the crux of it.
By writing down these wanted words, I’ve understood myself. I can take a deep breath and relax. Healing has happened.
This is a time when violence is talking to us loud and clear. Sudden media stories and sudden conversations bombard us. It feels like all of us are feeling the ground shift.
Here are three thoughts that spin-off.
First off, how do we heal from violence in such an atmosphere as today’s culture? Perhaps this event of the random violent story at the potluck can help explain what it’s like to be a survivor of extreme events. I feel like a canary in the coal mine. My healing journey reveals the dynamics anyone impacted by violence probably goes through.
When an unexpected flashback happens, there is a neurological impact. The old gets evoked.
I grew up in a hate group. The Southern Poverty Law Center says there at least 900 types. They gnaw at the fabric of society. I think this explains why it’s so hard in our country to address the engines of hatred. Some of the people who keep these hate groups going probably also are part of get-rich actions that harm the earth. So a severe thing is happening beneath the surface of our society.
When people hear about things like this, the reaction is often-- I can’t believe this happens. Why do they do that?
I don’t know. Even though I was trapped inside it, I don’t understand. The key thing for me, the sufferer, is to be believed and joined and helped back up out of the chasm. For when you’re violated, it’s like you have fallen out of sight of the normal shared reality into an abyss.
There is a gulf we can cross between members of the broadly caring community and those entrapped and harmed by violence. When we cross that gulf through understanding, we help restore basic interconnections that are fundamental to life.
Healing means being able to be in the shared world. I don’t want to let social events that are flashbacks deter me in my efforts to heal. I don’t want to go backward to the time it was hard to leave my house and go out in the world, even to buy food, because the flashbacks were exploding.
I’m proud of those days when I’m able to stay balanced. It’s like always having to keep a bicycle moving so that I don’t fall off of. It’s active work to keep myself steadily meeting the challenges of daily life.
My work each day is to concentrate on staying in balance -- eat good food, get enough sleep, go out and be part of community activities. Another part of this is to keep a steady flow of positive words to myself. It helps to be understood.
Secondly, I invite us to think of violence not as something we have to get used to, but as an aberration. There’s a need to talk about its impact, and my wish is that we can steer into conscious dialogue. Sudden moments like the hearing of that woman’s dream can become opportunities to look under the surface of what is happening.
Us listeners might have said to the woman relaying her dream, “Your dream brings up a lot of things people are thinking about. It’s hard to take it in. Can we pause together and speak about how violence is impacting all of us.”
Lastly, I can’t undo the fact of the past, but I can undo the dynamics of the past. Here’s what I come up with as advice. If I’m wanting to support a friend or they are wanting to support me, it would help to hear things like this:
I want to be with you. Would you tell me what just happened?
What ways does it feel like the past has returned?
How can I help you feel back in balance?
I understand, and you aren’t alone.
You deserve to be heard and supported.
We want you here in this world.