Even before COVID-19, even before DT, a great number of us were carrying the pain of a trauma. But since the onset of this pandemic in February and March, the pain and suffering has become ubiquitous. Sure, many of us can be relatively safe in our homes, quite content and even happy, and we need such a refuge. But what does it do to us when we can’t stand to hear the news? Or fear leaving our homes? We often think of trauma in terms of individuals. But a whole nation can be traumatized, as we have been at different times in our history, including 9/11 and, for multiple reasons, now.
I’m reading a book that has been extremely helpful for me, called Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing by David A. Treleaven. The book has expanded my understanding of my own practice of mindfulness, how to help others, as well as how to better understand this time we are all experiencing.
A trauma is an incapacitating form of stress. Stress by itself can be helpful or harmful. But when it is deep and we can’t integrate or face it, it can become traumatic. The DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines a traumatic event as exposure to “actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.”
Treleaven makes clear that this exposure can come in many ways, from directly experiencing or witnessing a trauma or from learning about what happened to a relative, loved one or close friend. Children are especially vulnerable. One in four children in the U. S. have experienced physical abuse, one in five sexual. Then you add war and oppression, whether it be sexism or violence directed at one’s gender identity, race or religion, etc. and you have a huge number of people who have suffered from trauma.
There is a spectrum of trauma, of course, a difference in intensity and symptoms. We can feel stressed out or suffer from PTSD. Symptoms can vary from repeating thoughts and memories, to images flooding consciousness, to being cut off or alienated from our own feelings. We can have trouble sleeping or feel our own bodies are booby-trapped.
And what happens when we come to fear a person’s maskless face or touching a surface in a public place? Or we don’t know how we can feed our family or if we will be thrown out of our homes? What happens when our social-economic-political worlds are being destroyed, our rights ripped away, and people who look like us are killed by police without being held accountable? All while the water we drink and the air we breathe is poisoned?
One way to begin is with mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is both a present centered awareness of whatever is going on with us as well as a practice that develops self-regulation. Traditional mindfulness and meditation is based on a deep understanding of the causes of, and ways to relieve, human suffering. It teaches us how to study our conditioned responses to stimuli as well as our own sensations, thoughts and feelings so we can interrupt ones that lead to suffering.
Mindfulness usually helps me with any problem I face, even when I am ill or frightened. In fact, for the first few years after I learned how to meditate, I would only do it when I had a headache or felt sick or stressed. I had headaches frequently. Then I realized if I did it every day, maybe the headaches would stop. And they did….
**To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.