Trauma Stewardship and Responsibility

TS Book Cover

I recently read Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky with Connie Burk for my Clinical Pastoral Education course. This book was initially suggested to me as a good reading by my therapist, they found that it would be useful for my work as a (then) hospice chaplain and (now) hospital chaplain because of the trauma we see and can unknowingly take on.  I appreciate this book for several reasons, but for today’s purpose, I appreciate it because of the way it has made me recognize how I handle second-hand trauma as well as how I manage my history of trauma.

That’s right, my history of trauma. As a 27 year old woman it probably comes to no surprise that I have been emotionally abused and sexually assaulted. It’s taken me years to be able to acknowledge what has happened to me. Recently I heard my neighbors fighting, it sounds like a situation of intimate partner violence…and it sounded really familiar. I was home alone when my walls and doors started shaking because my neighbor was yelling at his partner and hitting/kicking walls and their front door. I could hear them both yelling and I could hear her crying. This triggered my fight/flight/freeze (I think there might be more options these days that I can’t remember), I immediately locked my own door, silenced the tv, and slowed my breath.

Later as I was reflecting on this incident to my spouse and then some of my closest friends, I realized that I had come face-to-face with my own trauma. A trauma that I have claimed to have dealt with or to be dealing with but am really actually avoiding (Trauma Stewardship recognizes avoidance as one of the responses to trauma). My ex-partner would be seemingly fine then would erupt with anger in a way that would catch me off guard every time. When he would come home from work I would silence the tv, hold my breath, and try to make it look like I was doing something productive. I could go on and on about those experiences but truthfully I don’t want to right now, that’s something I need to talk about with my therapist still.

I bring all of this up because in the midst of remembering my trauma I was journaling and wrote, “I hate that he still has control over me”. I hate even more that I wrote that. I hate that I’m in a loving relationship with my spouse, and am beginning a loving relationship with my body, and yet I still think he has control over me. He does not. I am in control of me. That’s a hard thing to realize post-trauma exposure. We are not always in control of the situations that happen to us, but we are in control of how we later deal with our trauma responses.

That relationship caused me to lose a lot of friends, trust in myself, and to not be able to listen to certain songs or see certain things that remind me of him (I can finally manage seeing the vehicle he drove without panicking). But now I am responsible for how I deal with me now. I reached out to a friend after a couple years of not talking because of my actions as influenced by him. I wanted to desperately blame all of what went wrong on him, but I have to take some responsibility. When I was walking into my office space the other day, my office mate was coming out and I flinched because I didn’t see him. Later he brought it up with me because he felt hurt by my reaction, he said, “it seemed like you thought I was going to hit you” with so much concern in his voice. I hated that he felt that way. I told him that it wasn’t his responsibility for my reaction, I told him that it was a response that I have from past trauma and that it’s something I need to work on.

This is such a hard thing to talk about and for me to get the right words out of my brain into typed words. I don’t want anyone to thing that it’s their fault that they were traumatized, abused, hurt, neglected, made to feel less than. But it is our responsibility to deal with how that affects us now. If we don’t deal with our trauma it will continue to affect our own lives, those that we love, those that love us, and our children. Trauma can definitely be generational, we can even try to prevent it, but sometimes the best prevention is dealing with our own stuff.

I hope that none of you ever experience fear from the sound of doors slamming, the shame of knowing that your neighbors can hear your yelling and your tears, the fear of not being able to tell someone because you think it might be all in your head, and the shame of being afraid years later when you’re long separated from them.

I hope that if you do know those feelings that you’re getting help. That you’re talking about it with someone you trust. I hope that you’re actually dealing with those fears and feelings and not just avoiding them because that seems easier.

I hope that you know that he is not still in control of your life.

Chelsea May, he is not still in control of your life. YOU ARE.

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