Healing After Trauma Doesn't Mean Making the Pain Disappear
So far this year I've served as a "rape elder," for lack of a better term, for two very different victims. One is an elderly woman, the other a young man. Each was assaulted more than two decades ago, and each is still struggling. I think a very real part of what dogs them is their belief that because these experiences still affect them, they are broken or doomed.
"I don't understand why I can't get over it," the woman says.
The young man says, "‘Live in the present, try hot yoga'—all the shit my girlfriend tells me doesn't work."
The problem is, many of us interpret such forms of advice— try juicing, try transcendental meditation, try pharmaceuticals—as a tacit promise that if we do follow these "rules" of healing, we will reach a point where we can say, "I'm healed!"
Not so. And that's okay. Not only is it okay, but it also reflects life as it is. I like the name of Dan Savage's project for struggling LGBTQ youth: It Gets Better. That's the only level of promise I'd be comfortable endorsing, with the added bit that for periods of time, it can seem worse.
Sexual violence is a life- altering experience, and the only responsibility you have afterward is to take care of yourself. This means, for instance, that when heavy sandbags were placed on my arms and legs in a yoga workshop—as the teacher explained how they help in relaxing our muscles and that most people find them very soothing— I listened to my mind going ding-ding-ding being held down no don't like this! and interrupted her so she'd come get those mothers off me. Learning to listen to that caretaking voice is not easy, particularly when you begin to understand you'll need to do so for the rest of your life.
There is no great catharsis out there for those who have been traumatized. Writing a book, or traveling to South America for a 48-hour drug trip that promises to cure you (if it doesn't kill you), or taking a pill to ward off the black dog: None of these heal you, if you think healing means you're led to a final state where the pain is gone and you are as you were before. That's a bill of goods unfairly sold to those who are most desperate. To heal from trauma means to face your pain and loss while simultaneously seeking solace and, at moments, finding joy. Doing this on a day-to-day basis is how you survive. Healing is an active state, not a destination. In that light, and no other, it's a beautiful thing.