The Real Disaster is When We Abandon Each Other

Climate Trauma & Resilience
October 2, 2019
How I Work Somatically With Climate Trauma
February 21, 2020

A Minor Disaster

On my way to get cash for my brilliant bodyworker, I was blocked by a stranger with desperate eyes, violence in her energy field.

I found myself inside her chaotic orbit, where I sensed multiple betrayals and years of rage that shaped her and led to this moment. 

I cared. 

I was scared. 

I stepped around her but she barred my path again. She held a bag full of bread. Her energy was sticky; I could not shake her.

My body remembered bewildering grade school bullies. I reverted to the bullied. I asked, ‘What do you want?’  ‘Money,’ she muttered.

I fled, tossing over my shoulder: ‘I am going to the bank to get cash.’ 

She followed me, yelling. 

As I opened the door to the bank; something struck the back of my skull.

I hurtled into the bank, narrating non-stop, searching for a back door. Despite my raving, people in the bank were kind. 

Someone asked me about calling the police. I said ‘No. It would only make her life harder.’ 

I did not want another disaster.*

The people around me affirmed this decision; I immediately felt safer to be co-creating a more compassionate world.

The real disaster is when we abandon each other.

Coming down from my adrenalized state, I knew that I had been hit with something harder than a bag of bread. I looked out the front door and there she was on the sidewalk, holding her bread and a bottle. 

Incredulous, I called out, ‘Hey, did you hit me with a bottle?’  She nodded vigorously (gleeful, defiant?) and I heard myself say, earnestly, ‘You shouldn’t do that! You could really hurt someone!’
Back inside, the man ahead of me in line asked to look at my head. I do not like being touched by strangers, but his concern convinced me.
His verdict, ‘No blood.’

I realized I was weeping.

The teller was patient as I fumbled with my wallet and bank card, repeating her instructions three times, waving away my apology.

A woman who saw the assault insisted on walking me to my bodywork appointment. The security guard told us my assailant was just around the corner, so I was glad for my escort.

She let me babble for twenty blocks. From some place way outside my flesh I commented on how it was a good sign that I was crying; likely the trauma would not lodge deep inside me. 

My companion was an immigration lawyer and advocate for torture survivors who had just returned from a vipassana retreat.

We chatted about Buddhism and vicarious trauma and chuckled at how much we had in common.

At my corner we shared a quiet farewell. Her kind eyes and weary face.
I hugged her hard.

My resilience is communal.

The real disaster is when we abandon each other.


When Suffering Met Compassion  

It was a relief to arrive at my craniosacral practitioner’s (I will call her S) space, where I’ve done a lot of healing. I continued to cry as I told her my story. 

S has been my bodyworker for over twelve years. My trust in her work and our collaboration was key to what unfolded next.

I am a trauma-healer geek–eager to identify the nuts and bolts of healing–who is keenly aware of my physical and unconscious processes. When it’s safe to turn inward, I can perceive subtle energy currents and somatic shifts. 

That day I observed my shock transmute into agency when my tissues received tangible reassurance. 

S assessed me and began her work, giving me permission to weep and talk as needed. I was too wired to shut up.
My body seemed distant, tight and numb.
I thanked it for protecting itself. 

When S said she detected markers of shock and retreat in my tissues and fluids, on my end I felt spikes stab between my neck vertebrae and leaden despair compressing my shoulder blade, armpit and arm.

After long minutes of sustained touch, these areas thawed some, offering up dread, fury, and ‘why me’? confusion. 

With S anchoring me I was able to greet these energies and participate in their movements.

New trauma is a portal to other Traumas.

As S listened to my cringing tissues, my chest opened to an eco-grief I had been avoiding.
My bones broadcast a song; my marrow 

But this, this is something other
Busy monster eats dark holes in the spirit world
Where wild things have to go
To disappear

Sorrow avalanched through me. I sobbed for homeless koalas, for beaches covered with puffin corpses and plastic-choked whales.  

Kind hands held me steady.
My spine expanded to encompass the micro and macro disasters engulfing us all.

I wept and widened, widened and wept until a soft, steely love extended its wingspan.

A declaration emerged from vertebrae and breastbone, from jaw and skull: a refusal to reproduce the cruelty that had struck them: ‘that is not the world we want to live in; we do not wish that world on her or anyone.’

Cellular recoil melted into a neutral intelligence that gathered itself into trust and new meanings.

I truly wished my attacker well. 

Nuts and bolts:

This was a process.

When I arrived at S’s office I had no sense of kinship with my assailant beyond not wanting to cause her harm.
My animal body needed refuge.

It took over an hour of bodywork for my tissues to disavow revulsion and resentment. 

This was not some saint-like, ‘turn the other cheek’ event.
This was basic trauma biology.
First, my animal nature was met and held, allowed to sob and clench and feel all the feelings.
Then, love arose. Spontaneous.

Spontaneous, and long in the making.

I have slogged a good distance from the trauma I was born into, so my swift recovery was miraculous and hard-won.

After decades of self-healing supported by skilled practitioners, my bounce-back is supple.

My resilience is 
plump and reliable, like sleek-seal flesh that contains and anchors; like robust fat stores that sustain me in cold, lean times. 

I got up from S’s table feeling grateful. Marveling. 

In just three hours, I traveled through bullying, shock trauma, imploding, cowering and aggression, protection, nurturing, and eco-heartbreak to soft wonder.

What a journey. Interesting timing, Universe!

And I remembered, 

Without compassion suffering is just suffering, and can snowball into more suffering.
With compassion, suffering can transform into redemption and new paradigms.

Proliferating Disasters

That morning, the bank teller and security guard told me that the woman who struck me had assaulted others. I doubt that she has had the opportunities for healing that I have had. 

The teller spoke of ever-increasing numbers of folks with mental illness arriving in the neighborhood. She had no idea what could be done for them.

Another local disaster, part of the burgeoning disaster of this country’s mental health crisis.

Without compassion, suffering is just suffering, snowballing into more suffering.

Disasters proliferate when people who deserve dignity are treated as disposable. 

Do policymakers believe humans disappear when they are disposed of?
[Do we still believe that landfills work?]

Reckoning will inevitably boomerang and bring more disasters. 

Must we be hit on the head with a bottle to wake up?

Without compassion suffering is just suffering, and can snowball into more suffering.

With compassion, suffering can transform into redemption and new possibilities.

The real disaster is when we abandon each other.

*”The risk of being killed while being approached or stopped by law enforcement…is 16 times higher for individuals with untreated serious mental illness than for other civilians…at least 1 in 4 fatal law enforcement encounters involves an individual with serious mental illness.”

**If A Tree Falls in the Forest by Bruce Cockburn

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