• CLEVELAND — WHAT DO THE SURVIVORS NEED?

    If you are one of the “curious” or “concerned” about what the survivors of the Cleveland trauma will need, or what will happen to them, or where they will go from this point forward, consider yourself experiencing a likely “mix” between empathic concern for the women and the six-year-old girl and your own “wondering” about yourself — your life — your ability to survive trauma — to handle even the day to day challenges in your life.

    It is natural for each of us to reflect back on the losses, the pain and suffering of our own lives — to wonder if we “have it in us” to get through the rough times.  There is one pitfall to watch for.  Sometimes we are drawn to self criticism when it’s not appropriate.  It goes something like this:  “_______ got through a horrible and painful experience, so what’s wrong with me?  Why can’t I cope if _____ is able to do it?”  Comparing ourselves typically results in getting the short end of the stick — giving yourself an unnecessarily hard time. There’s a twelve step saying for this: Don’t compare someone else’s outsides to your insides……people are capable of looking good even when secretly falling apart.

    Look only at yourself — identify your strengths and weaknesses and think about what you can do to heal, to move forward, to change whatever needs changing.  And if you are asking what do these Cleveland survivors need, try this for perspective.

    Reflect on the biggest loss in your life — a trauma you or a loved one or friend have experienced; a loss — death, divorce, being fired, suffering some challenging physical illness or injury.  See if you can remember how long it took you to feel healed — to feel grounded, focused, functioning appropriately.  Then imagine multiplying that trauma/loss by weekly, perhaps daily repetition of the trauma for ten years….the body, the brain/mind, the spirit is constantly hit again and again.  With no time to heal from the “first” assault, the trauma multiplies in the over all system.  Thinking is changed.  Emotional responses become programmed.  Physical responses become vigilant and protective.  Survival is the primary focus — and figuring out HOW to survive.

    When I first began working with survivors of rape and sexual assault, I often remembered an experience in graduate school.  I was followed, then chased when walking home from class at night. My life as an athlete clicked in — I ran like hell, yelling at the guy the entire time.  I shocked him long enough to make him stop dead in his tracks — then to run the other way when he saw I was close to my destination.  I was terrified.  Since I was not touched physically I minimized the incident for a while.  Then I realized it was a trauma when someone walked up behind me in broad daylight and put a hand on my shoulder to get my attention.  I trembled all over. I had that experience — of reacting with physical fear and shaking — periodically for over two years!  I talked to another therapist, but at the time we did not understand as much about trauma as we do now. As a result, it took me a long time to release the fear — and remember I was not even physically touched or hurt.

    The point is we have to slowly unfold our losses — to think, to FEEL the pain, to allow the tears and anger, to move into and through and “out the other side” of the experience.  And it’s safer when we have help.  Let’s hope these women and little girl are surrounded by loving, permission giving and highly skilled therapists to go through the healing and recovery process.  They are currently PLEADING to be left alone.  The curious side of individuals in our culture presses for information — the opposite of what the survivors need.  Each survivor will likely need her own individual process.  Patience and time and a deep understanding of the impact of physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual trauma is essential.  Do we know if they can recover and have a “normal” life?  We can only hope and pray that is possible.  We know it is deserved.

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