I have a lot of reading to do, following up on my time at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute, but I’ve just got stuck into a new novel, and I know I’m going to find it hard to put that down to read the textbooks that I have brought back with me. I had ordered it just before I left for the States, and as I start to read it, I’m struck by how much it fits with what I have been learning, centred as it is around one of the most traumatic events in recent years in the US.
The book is the latest by American author, Wally Lamb, and tells the story of a married couple who both work at Columbine High School in Colorado. The book deals with the aftermath of the shooting at Columbine, and the various traumas that the characters experience as a direct result of the shooting, and the more hidden traumas from the past that are triggered by the incident.
Early on in the book, we meet a young girl who really struggles with school, and with life. Her early life is a story of rejection and abuse, and the school system seems unlikely to help her. It reminds me of Gary Brown (see post ‘Hurt People Hurt People’).
It also reminds me of the work of psychologist Martha Cabrera in Nicaragua. She describes how so many schemes for development have failed in that country, because inadequate attention has been paid to the results of trauma from years of violence and political instability. When working with survivors of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, she found that people had an even greater need to talk about other losses that they had never voiced, including wounds related to the country’s political history.
We have not experienced anything like the problems of Nicaragua, but I am sure that even in our community there are people who have not had the opportunity to work through experiences that have devastated their lives, whether it is the floods of 2007, or the loss of a child, or sudden bereavement, or living with abuse ….
In addition, we in Britain still suffer from the ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘grin and bear it’ attitudes. Many of us are unwilling to face the difficult issues in our lives. Many of us deal with trauma by pretending it hasn’t happened. When faced with others who are traumatised, I have often come across the attitude – ‘Isn’t it time you moved on?’ What we need is an approach that is not afraid to listen to another’s story, however many times they need to tell it. A willingness to walk with people down the road of recovery, even if it takes years. (Some research indicates that the length of time for recovery is directly related to how long ago the trauma took place).
How can we create an approach to working with trauma that provides good results ? Only by understanding a unity of body, mind and spirit. By understanding that as human beings, we are a single reality, that finds expression in different ways. Trauma affects us physically, mentally, and spiritually, and recovery will also involve all aspects of who we are.