Holding a Collective Trauma

Anne McCaw
Posted March 6, 2021 from United States
a model of the trauma experience
This is one model that illustrates how trauma shows up in our mind, body, and experience of the world. What if we—as a community of leaders—created space to recognize and treat trauma in all its forms?

Let me first confess: I have it good...but I donʻt feel it.

I grew up with a stable family in a safe, comfortable suburb in the U.S. I now live in a comfortable apartment in another safe, comfortable suburb in the U.S. I have a challenging work life and a sweet cat to cuddle as I stay in place.

And yet Iʻm fearful. Iʻm anxious. Iʻm discouraged. And I know I must make space for this expression of trauma.

In this part of my life, as I reach middle age, Iʻve learned about trauma... from personal experience and from working with a trauma therapist. The American Psychological Association reports that 50 percent of all people will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Well, now all of us—every single one of us on this planet—are experiencing a collective traumatic event.

What does that mean? What Iʻve learned is that trauma is more than "a state of mind" or a "psychological condition." Itʻs a full body experience, and you canʻt ignore it. You canʻt talk yourself out of it. It reshapes your brain and your body. It inevitably changes the direction of your life, in good and dangerous ways.

With all my comforts, Iʻve experienced a series of traumatic events. My mother died from aggressive lymphoma just after I turned 30. I was lucky to be loved by her and to appreciate her as a person in early adulthood. I was by her side for the final week of her life, because I wanted to be as close to her as possible up until her last breath. Itʻs a choice I donʻt regret for one second, but there are memories of that time that haunt me. Some I have never shared with anyone.

I also navigated progressively painful endometriosis, an illness that is misdiagnosed or ignored by the medical community around the world. I was lucky to have access to a compassionate expert who could explain that my pelvis had frozen in place as scar tissue built up, which explained the worsening pain, my inability to enjoy sex, and the fact that I could not get pregnant. The solution was a total hysterectomy. I received the best care in the world, and I was also left bereft without children while struggling with the wild change in hormones that is surgical menopause.

Until I began to understand what trauma is, I assumed I was wallowing. I was taking for granted my privileged position. I needed to suck it up and get over it. I needed to move on.

But the truth is that my whole being changed, and not just because of a surgery that fundamentally transformed my body. The series of traumas rewired my brain. They triggered painful physical reactions and joined menopause in reshaping by body. As a result of trauma, I had no idea who I was. My identity was a mystery to me and I was adrift.

Which brings me to the present day. With trauma-focused therapy, Iʻm transforming again, but in a way in which I can center myself and find clarity, especially in accepting that parts of my identity are still a mystery.

As I look forward, from the vantage point of experiencing this worldwide trauma, my vision for the future is one where we as a community of women create the space to recover from trauma, no matter what it stems from. That space is global. It is safe. It is a place where we acknowledge each otherʻs pain, loss, and expressions of trauma. Hopelessness. Generalized anxiety. Chronic pain. Distrust. Discouragement. Hyper-vigilance. Exhaustion. An ever-present sense of danger. A constant sense of failure because we canʻt "suck it up" and "get over it."

If we can create a space where trauma for all is recognized and cared for, then we will all be stronger for it. We will all be closer, bonded by empathy. We can carry the collective weight of brutality, discrimination, disenfranchisement. We can help each other navigate hurdles of all sizes and fully embrace achievement of all sizes.

Iʻm calling for a cadre of trauma-informed leaders. We know women are powerful and resilient. We know we can push ourselves to the brink to make change happen. We know we can endure any horror while fighting for others. But do we really have to lead that way? What if we as leaders gave ourselves and our communities the tools to recognize trauma and made it a top priority of leadership to treat it first?

I think we would be more resilient, more creative, more supportive, more forgiving, more hopeful, more persistent.

However we approach leadership in the wake of 2020 and the pandemic, we will need to face trauma head on. Maybe this is the moment when we can prepare rather than react.

So take a moment with me. Where is trauma living in your body? Can you imagine its shape, its color? If you read this, leave a comment sharing what trauma feels like to you...and letʻs hold it together.

This story was submitted in response to #HerStoryMakesHistory.

Comments 15

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jomarieb.earth
Mar 06
Mar 06

Dear Anne,
Your transparency regarding your life condition is bravery at its best. This post will lead women into supporting each other regarding an all too familiar enigma. I have to share with you an example of a woman who did the same, but her plight was different. She is a Covid 19 Long Hauler.
Here is her site Survivor Corps https://www.survivorcorps.com
Here is my post that posted her site https://www.worldpulse.com/community/users/jomariebearth/posts/98270
My point is that women are overlooked and ignored medically, and all the etcs. Survivor Corps was a site created for women to turn to for information.
Conditions healthwise are beyond the ability of the medical field, and the outreach is almost non existent. Perhaps you can set up a post with lots of links for women to turn to for help right here on World Pulse. And link it as much as possible. It's a baby step, a free step and a major one as well. Be the change that you want to see.
Meanwhile sister, please close your eyes, kick off your sneakers, and feel cradled in the spirit of sisterhood. Your spirit and the Universe are one. And the only thing that is constant in the physical, earthly world is change. Stay in tune with your spirit. Because as soon as you get earthly clarity, there will be another change.
Welcome back to World Pulse. Express yourself as much as you need to, because we need you to. Please make a cup of your favorite bev and explore other stories. Encourage others. Recreate your community.
Massive hugs...JoMarie

Tamarack Verrall
Mar 06
Mar 06

Dear Anne,
Thank you so much for writing about trauma, and the importance of us all to make sure that we take time to heal as we continue our lives and our work. Your graphic is a good reminder, and your story tells just how strong women are, to have survived even some of what you have been through. For years the taking time to listen to each other as women, to hear each others' stories, to replace all of the pain with love, has been and is the beautiful grounding that is our women's movement. Your story shows how strong we can be, and the importance of allowing ourselves time to heal from all of this violence, and is such a strong reminder of how important it is to make sure we are all healing as we continue on.
Sisterhood love,
Tam

Anne McCaw
Mar 08
Mar 08

Tam, you are such a hero for me. Iʻm so honored that you responded to my post. And thank you for reminding that love and healing go hand in hand. It is sometimes hard to let love in. For me, I need to feel grounded, to love the uncomfortable parts of myself, before I can absorb it. What amazes me about you is how your powerful healing presence amplifies love.

Tamarack Verrall
Mar 08
Mar 08

Dear Anne, Your response touches me deeply. The support and connections that we are able to share thanks to World Pulse are so precious. And I do believe that we are a cadre of trauma informed leaders. Self care is critically important as we know we have much still that we will be absorbing, healing from, and creating healing environments as we continue. on. All the best, dear sister.

Dawn Arteaga
Mar 06
Mar 06

Oh Anne, what a beautiful, uplifting, courageous and kind post! So grateful you shared it. I share so many of your feelings. I most feel it in my shoulders. I feel knots forming and I struggle to let them go. I also feel it in my belly. I felt it hard in my belly during the 2016 election -- a literal gut punch -- and I haven't fully released it. I share your vision of a world where trauma-informed leaders pave a new path forward. Where we don't have to pretend to be professional robots on calls, but can pause to answer our child's question amidst the presentation and not apologize for it. Where we can put humanity above productivity. I see glimpses of this future and trust we will bring it about together.

Anne McCaw
Mar 08
Mar 08

Dawn! Thank you for joining me in sharing your trauma and in encouraging me. I would not have written this story without you.

Iʻd like to share an exercise that I have learned in my trauma therapy that may help you.

Now that you have identified where trauma is living in your body, close your eyes. Imagine what shape and color the trauma is. Imagine it is a living thing.... an animal, a person, something fantastical. Give your trauma a name.

Now explore what this creature/thing/person needs. Not what you have to do about it... just identify the need. Finally, imagine how you talk to your trauma about what it needs. You donʻt have to give it anything. You donʻt have to feed it or comfort it. Just talk to it and recognize that your trauma is vulnerable and itʻs poking at you because it doesnʻt know what to do with its vulnerability.

If it feels very powerful, overpowering, imagine how you would contain it. Does it need to be put in a box or in the other room? Do you need to talk to it through a door? Thatʻs okay.

My trauma is a red pulsing blob named Dervish. It rapidly changes shape and spits. When I speak to Dervish, I tell him itʻs okay to be upset. I let it spit and squirm until it wears itself out. And then I feel that tightness in my body dissipate.

Let me know if you try this and if it helped (or didnʻt).

Dawn Arteaga
Mar 10
Mar 10

What a powerful and thoughtful exercise. I will practice! Thank you for sharing!

Nini Mappo
Mar 07
Mar 07

Dear Anne,
Thank you for enriching us with your candid, vulnerable travel with trauma in its various forms. What strikes me, is the urge to bury your trauma under your privilege, as if if you have your external needs met, the the internal and interpersonal needs are to be dismissed as if they did not matter, affect your quality of live, your output and your impact. It strikes me because I think of it as inverse racism that is just as damaging as the racism that spells your privilege.

Yours is an example of a story that invites us to investigate our interaction with trauma in light of racial, socio-economic, environmental and personal/historical variables that can inform us of healing ways we can name and respond to our traumas, and I thank you for sharing it.

I am sorry for all your losses- the loss of your mother, the loss of your children, the loss of a culture that could support you to name your trauma, identify its cause and chart a pathway to healing, the loss of yourself. I am thankful to read of the trauma-focused therapy that is helping you heal and find yourself again. I cannot imagine the feeling or reconnecting with oneself....this beautiful healing process so complex as to be beyond description!
Sending you hugs and sparkles to splash onto your healing journey :)

Kiran Fatima Zaidi
Mar 07
Mar 07

I loved reading your article, thank you for sharing this Anne! Your idea is beautiful, trauma leaves us with being on guard against everyone and everything. How we judge those around without knowing them, all of that changes. We really need something to face these issues and learn from them. Because well- at times even if we recover from it its because we just forget it and not learn.

Yes Anne yes! So excited to have you with us, you are in the right place, and this trauma informed post and deep sharing resonates so deeply, with me, and I see so many others. We share collective traumas, yes, and individual ones manifest like yours, and I am with you right now, sending you a hug and comfort for the pain you have experienced. I share your vision - and bringing survivor-centred trauama informed relationships in organizations and relationships I believe is key to us moving forward collectively. Thank you for demystifying and sharing concrete information about trauma, which without it, we often move to self-blame and criticism, so thank you for sharing, for being who you are and your vision to heal!! I love that you bring in the body, I have learned so much - through the book the "Body Keeps the Score" and my experience that dancing it out has been a great release, I hope you have a few go tos you are finding that help with release.

Sending a huge hug from Montreal!
Adriana

Thelma obani 2020
Mar 08
Mar 08

Thanks for sharing the importance of healing.
You are loved always.
Welcome to world pulse

Anne McCaw
Mar 08
Mar 08

Hi everyone! I am overwhelmed by the love and thoughtfulness of your responses. Please know I will respond to each of you. It make take me a little time. But know I am holding all of your love and empathy close to my heart... and itʻs driving me forward.

Anne Dupont
Mar 08
Mar 08

Hi Anne,
Your post and story touched me deeply. Thank you for having the courage and vulnerability to share your personal experiences with trauma. It caused me to think about the experiences I've had over the last several years and reflect on them. I am always forward moving and don't want to be seen as a person who wallows, but realize that these experiences have created trauma, often felt in my stiff neck and how I move about. I may also not have given enough "time" to fully process these experiences, some of which are ongoing. Thank you for writing about this important topic and shedding a light to begin/continue a dialogue on this important topic. I hope you continue to write and wish you the best. I miss you!
Love,
Anne

Beth Lacey
Mar 12
Mar 12

Anne so good to hear from you, even though this is a challenging subject. It is a great call to action for all of us. You are so brave for sharing your own experiences. Much love.