"Everybody is NOT running background checks on their dates!", proclaimed the speaker at my Trauma Stewardship workshop this past Monday. I spent much of the day laughing as I saw aspects of my life and myself rolled out in a series of New Yorker cartoons and character sketches shared by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky.
The Trauma Stewardship Institute, www.traumastewardship.com has a mission of "raising awareness and responding to the cumulative toll on those who are exposed to the suffering, hardship, crisis, or trauma of humans, living beings, or the planet itself".
I do not believe at this moment that I can do justice to the lessons that Laura shared with 400+ attendees. What I can do is simply mention it, piece by piece, as I grapple with the realization that I have allowed the 'traumas' of my profession to change and affect me in ways I was not aware of. Not the obvious moments where I am unable to sleep, thinking about a particularly sad scenario from the workday. But the slow, pervasive numbing that has happened. The negativity and unfortunate encouragement of my natural 'Glum' side. The fact that, like Laura, I too could stand at the top of a beautiful scenic vista and wonder how many people have jumped...and where would the helicopter land and where is the nearest trauma center? A co-worker that also attended said that particular story reminded her of me. Excellent.
Yes, I laughed a lot on Monday. Then for the next 5 days found myself crying at the slightest thing. Reflecting on my childhood, adolescence and the personal 'traumas' of my adulthood and how they set the stage for my ability to incorporate work related traumas. How my passion for the health of the environment has made me keenly aware of the pain and damage that is inflicted on our planet. My desire to connect environmental health to human health has been lessened by my self-preserving need to 'numb out' or become cynical.
I have many friends and family that work in healthcare, social work, animal welfare, human rights, military or veterans, teachers and others who have experienced the same thing. There are a unique few who have been able to somehow remain fully present for their work; to be good stewards of the trauma that they witness. I have not. And don't even get me started on her notion of 'tertiary trauma exposure'. In other words, how I have allowed my trauma exposure to affect those around me. Just ask my kids if their mom is paranoid...or a worrier...or neurotic....or "not a lot of fun at parties" as my oldest once suggested.
After a few days of thinking that this may be 'too little, too late', I decided to take a stab at managing my own little piece of the web, as Laura advises, so that I may then provide assistance to the larger web.
I realized that there is a part of me that has been trying to do this for a while. With my blog. With my 50 by 50 list. Last week's "Boats" post was a start at working through this. I need to make my immediate boat smaller, physically, emotionally and metaphorically. I need to pay attention to who and what is in my boat. I can allow people in my boat or I can toss out a life preserver or send up a flare on their behalf. I can keep my eyes on the souls that are treading water and be a witness, even when I cannot put them all into my boat.
As for this big round vessel called Earth, I can do the same. Over the last few years, as my exposure to suffering increased and environmental causes were left buried under the rubble of a struggling economy, I sort of gave up in some ways...though not entirely. I stopped taking my own travel cup into the coffee shop, yet became defiant about my insistence on using cloth napkins. I steadfastly refuse to take a bus or carpool, yet I am adamant that I not spill a drop of gasoline when refueling my car. I take to-go food in Styrofoam containers, but make cupcakes from scratch. I cannot do the grocery shopping myself, partly because I am tired, but mostly because each item is an ethical dilemma of organic vs. local vs. what the hell can I afford?!
But worse is when I drive across the street to our other office, rather than walk, so that I don't have to possibly make eye contact with the homeless or mentally ill. I let the phone go to voicemail rather than hear one more sad story. I find myself hoping that clients will cancel. I don't read the letter from the City regarding development in the 20 acres behind my home. It's not because I do not care about any of this. It is because I do. And because I no longer trust that my caring makes a difference.
That's the messy place my mind is this weekend. A weekend spent learning about potable water, surface water protection and ground water as I continue studying for my exam. For now I have to sort out the dilemma of using hot water and washing bedding weekly to kill the dustmites, versus conserving energy and water. And I have to give myself an injection, the cost of which is extravagant when there are people without basic healthcare. I have to consider the excessive medical packaging and the landfill that holds my previous 1,000+ syringes in their pretty red hazardous waste containers. But while I am thinking about those things, you can rest assured that I will be applying glycolic acid and Frownies to keep the wrinkles at bay and if someone buys me ice cream I will eat it...and I won't even look to see if it's organic! Until next week, keep running those background checks people...she did not quite convince me on that one!!