Trauma

Poetry for Healing

I talked about how I stumbled into leading arts-based groups here. I still love poetry as an avenue into healing. Often survivors of trauma or loss are not quite sure how to make sense of what happened. Trauma memories are stored on the right side of the brain as fragments of image, sound or smell. Playing with imagery blurs the walls between our compartmentalization of senses and meaning, allowing us to experience a more holistic way of knowing. It allows us to access our imaginations through our senses and connect them to meaning or verbal expression, which is housed on the left side of the brain, in a non-threatening way.

Trauma and loss explode us into fragments, separate and divide us from ourselves and others. God invites us to bring our bits to Him and He will make something beautiful from them. Art is one of His gifts to us. Art collects the pieces and helps us to hold the shrapnel in God's Presence.

When we read poems that resonate with our experience, we feel less isolated. Those poems can help us to name what was unnamed. They can help us find our voice. We when speak words we know deep in our bones, but didn't write, we join ourselves to others who have experienced something similar--and survived. Those words can become a catalyst for releasing our own writing.

When we write poems we have to examine our experience from many angles. We make meaning where there was none, or worse, where there was wrong meaning. We enter into shared humanity with our own stories told in our own voices and in our own ways.

These are two of my favorite resources for poetry and healing:

Finding What You Didn't Lose by John Fox

Poetic Medicine by John Fox

Noticing the Way Marks

Before I left for the pilgrimage in Spain I had heard that the way would be clearly marked. No one said exactly what those marks would look like, just that they would be obvious. It turns out that every district along The Way keeps its own way marks, so they all look different. And yet they were similar enough to easily recognize and follow.

After the resurrection, Mary Magdalene went back and looked into the tomb. Just as trauma survivors do, she had to look again at the place of intense trauma. And the tomb was empty.

But, wait.

No, it wasn't empty. It was filled with memories of the horror and grief of the past few days, but it also housed the sacred. What she found there were way markers pointing to evidence of God's presence, Christ Himself.

Today I hold my tender places in God's gaze and ask Him to reveal for me the way marks hidden in my memories. Lord, where were you in those times of trial? Show me where the tomb of grief houses what is sacred.

Today I add to my Sacred List: The hospice room where my father died two years ago. It was truly a place of grief touching the sacred.

Poetry For Saying Stuff

What is a poem? When I was in college I had an entire textbook dedicated to answering that question. Honestly, I still can't answer it. Not reliably. My answer changes with the weather . . . or the tides.

But ultimately, one of the reasons poetry is relevant in every age is because it is a curated voice. We are respectful of the form, careful with the genre. We want to use it to say stuff, but after we have placed our guts neatly onto the page we always ask each other timidly, "Did I write a good poem?" Which means that we are curating the way we shape the invisible. We want to speak the underlying Truth of Things.

Here Andrea Gibson has given voice to a girl bullied on the playground. This voice is graceful and strong, not the voice of a victim. The poet reads her poem in the clip below and the sound gives shape to courage. The video is of 13 year old dancer, Nataly Santiago, who embodies the poem. The words, sound and movement speak the underlying Truth of Things. From the outside it might look like we are in opposition on the playground, but actually, we are two persons. Write back soon.

Here is the transcript from the clip:

A LETTER TO THE PLAYGROUND BULLY, FROM ANDREA, AGE 8 ½
maybe there are cartwheels in your mouth
maybe your words will grow up to be gymnasts
maybe you have been kicking people with them by accident
I know some people get a whole lot of rocking in the rocking chair
and the ones who don't sometimes get rocks in their voice boxes,
and their voice boxes become slingshots.
maybe you think my heart looks like a baby squirrel.
but guess what? you absolutely missed when you told the class I have head lice
because guess what? I one hundred percent absolutely do not have head lice
and even if I do
it is a fact that head lice prefer clean heads over dirty ones
so I am clean as a whistle on a tea pot.
my mother says it is totally fine if I blow off steam
as long as i speak in an octave my kindness can still reach.
my kindness knows mermaids never ever miss their legs in the water
cause there are better ways to move through an ocean than kicking.
so guess what,
if I ever have my own team
I am picking everyone first
even the worst kid
and the kid with the stutter like a skipping record
cause I know all of us are scratched,
even if you can't hear it when we speak.
my mother says most people have heartbeats
that are knocking on doors that will never ever open,
and I know my heart is a broken freezer chest
that's why I can't keep anything frozen.
so no, I am not always crying.
I am just thawing outside of the lines.
and even if I am always crying
it is a fact
that salt is the only reason
everything floats so good in the dead sea.
and just cause no one ever passes notes to me
doesn't mean I am not super duper.
in fact, my super duper might be a buoy or a paper boat
the next time your nose is stuck up the river
'cause it is a fact
that our hearts stop for a mili-second every time we sneeze
and some people's houses have too much dust.
so maybe sometime if somebody would sit beside me on the bus
and I could say,
guess what, it is a fact that manatees have vocal chords
but do not have ears.
just like Beethoven made music
even when he could no longer hear.
and I know every belt that has hit someone's back
is still a belt that was built to hold something up.
and it is fact that Egyptians slept on pillows made of stone
but it's not hard for me to dream
that maybe one day you'll write me back
like the day I wrote the lightening bug to say,
I smashed my mason jar and I threw away the lid.
I didn't want to take a chance that I'd grow up to be a war.
I want to be a belly dance or an accordion or a pogo stick
or the fingerprints the mason left
in the mortar between the bricks
to prove that he was here,
that he built a roof over someone's head
to keep the storm from their faith,
my mother says that's why we all were born.
and I think she's right.
so write back soon.
sincerely yours.
~Andrea Gibson, 2010

Playing With Dolls, India Part 8

I have spent a lot of time studying trauma this year. Enough to know that I don't know hardly anything. This is a complex field of study and the science has started to move quickly. Part of the reason for the complexity is that there are so many varied factors in creating trauma. Why do two people experience the same event and yet one is traumatized and the other seems to take it in stride? Trauma is not just something that happens to someone, it is very much more than that.

We do know that one factor in the level of trauma sustained by a victim of sexual violence, is the reaction of people who receive her afterwards. If her people overreact the trauma is deeper--this includes overreactions on both sides of the spectrum. We would expect that rejection by her people would be traumatic, but so is excessive sympathy. And what would excessive sympathy even look like? Well, that's another thing that varies from person to person.

Enter entrainment. Here is a short video to illustrate the concept:

In physics, entrainment is associated with conservation of energy. When two objects of like vibration are in close proximity, they will begin to move together in synchronicity. Two objects moving together use less energy than two objects moving in opposite directions.  

When we dance or sing to music we use entrainment to play together. Music therapists have used this concept for decades to teach muscles to work again, to help brains of stroke victims to make connections again.

We see this in nature as well. Biorhythms synchronize. Fireflies blink on and off together. And, when we sit next to one another and do art or craft, we breathe together. And you know what happens when we breathe together? We don't feel alone anymore. We feel accepted without feeling smothered. We just exist together, breathing together. 

Another thing we know is that having permission and space to tell our stories in our own way, rewires us. It gives us power over the story instead of the story dominating us. Before I left for India, my daughter and I talked about the many ways that dolls had given her personal stories voice throughout her childhood. She put together a doll-making kit for me to take to India. There in the House of Light, a truly safe space, our team sat with the girls and care-givers and crafted dolls together. Breathed together. Relaxed into rhythm together.

And girls who had missed out on childhood played with dolls. By the next day breathing became laughter and they were creating bouquets of pipe cleaner flowers and gifting them to one another.

Synchronicity. Moving together. It's good for healing.

And it's less lonely that way too.