The Toll & Undertow of Trauma

When rains of ruin soak me to the skin once again, I get searing shingles pain in my head. It affects the second cranial nerve that splits into three segments (trigeminal nerve) which innervates the right or left side of your whole face. Untreated, it can cause all manner of unpleasant side effects like hearing or sight loss and a small risk of brain infection. It is an autoimmune issue, of which I have a few, based on dormant chicken pox virus that resides on my nerve endings. Everyone who has ever had the chicken pox has it. Years ago, when I was 24 and trampled by trauma, I had the most outrageous case of chicken pox.

These past two weeks have included more than double the academic work normally required and an icy blast of brutality from the past. One evening of the second week, I┬áspoke in an online class to a group of seminary students. It was the first time I shared the schematics of my sorrow in one sitting to a non-therapist, in a group setting and out loud. I was armed with evidence but unprepared for the emotion. I have declined invitations to speak about abuse in general, clergy sexual abuse in specific; the scene of my own victimization to fresh; the blood still coagulating; the wound still tender. However, in a strong moment, I agreed to speak… the moment faded with the unexpected rise of the trauma tide. It takes time to tell yourself the truth, much less someone else.

It will come as no surprise that to anyone the virus reactivated. All this to say, trauma is a perpetual gift – one that pays compound interest to not just the soul and spirit – but also the body. I am having to put significant space for non-trauma related treasures into my evenings and weekends.

Trauma, speaking about it, even reading about it, tweeting about it, combing through research on it, and formulating evidence-based opinions on it, is an intellectual process but it is also a neurophysiological one. There is a cost to being on this trauma toll road – be careful to calculate that you have enough emotional and physical pocket change. Do not underestimate how strong the undertow of trauma is and how much work you need to do to keep your physical, mental, and emotional health in check.

Being polyvictimized myself makes this not only a professional pursuit but a highly personal one. It makes me empathic and effective, but it also makes me vulnerable to disease. To be effective in the long haul, indeed to be alive in the long haul, each one of us MUST find and make trauma-free safe spaces. What that looks like for me and what that looks like for you may differ. I will not present my plan to you – but I urge you to make one.

These past weeks have been a gauntlet personally and professionally. My body has said simply and soundly said, “NO” for the rest of me. How finite these bodies are, how demanding they are to be carefully kept. I urge you to listen to what your frame whispers before it screams.

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