Today’s post is directed to the women and men who are freaking out right now. If you are walking around in a state of perpetual high alert, with a heavy under-layer of gloom, this one’s for you. A dear friend who is having trouble functioning in the aftermath of the collective trauma that was the American election and its results brought it to my awareness that some of us are not having an easy time right now. I wanted to address that with what I know about healing and the tools I offer to my clients.
Part of the emerging consciousness of 2017 is to be aware of and practice respect for the realities other people are living. This is why I’m grateful to my friend for sounding the alarm that she needed help. It happens that I am not having trouble functioning right now. I’m now measuring my exposure to social media, taking extra care to get sleep, have cleaned up my diet, and am reaching out and connecting with people I care about. This seems to be what I need right now. I have some personal situations that are causing me anxiety, but I’d say they are no more stressful than what most people deal with who are living and breathing. (This will all change in an instant, which is why I post twice a week instead of once.)
But others aren’t doing so well, and it’s these people whom I want to reach with this post. So if you are one, I thank you for trusting me enough to keep reading. And if, at the end of this, you feel it has valid and helpful information, please share it with others who might also benefit.
I say that my dear friend’s difficulty functioning was the impetus for the ideas I’m about to share, but actually they started coalescing a couple of days earlier, when my partner shared some Youtube videos of Byron Katie doing The Work with two different people around the ideas, “I hate Donald Trump,” and “Donald Trump scares me.” (You can watch them here: https://youtu.be/BqCBLBoL5D4 and https://youtu.be/ulOFJB0AfLo.)
That’s when it struck me that the people who are having the most difficulty right now are the people who are having post-traumatic stress reactions to the man who ended up in the White House. Interestingly, there are so many kinds of stress and trauma one can have experienced that intersect with the kinds of trauma this person represents and, one could argue, supports: sexual violence, economic violence, social violence, all of which threaten to become institutionally sanctioned in today’s political reality.
It is indeed a time for feeling insecure, unhinged and defenseless.
What do I have to offer of relevance here? Well, lately I’ve been working with a personal and professional development tool that involves helping my clients tell their hero’s journey story. Everybody has a hero’s journey story. The hero’s journey, we learned in English lit all those years ago, has certain universal elements, greatly abbreviated here: a lowly or ordinary birth; a challenge or call to action; an initial refusal or denial; meeting a mentor or guide; taking on a set of seemingly insurmountable challenges; meeting enemies, allies and being tested; success or redemption; returning with the elixir, answer, magic key or giving back. (Here’s a synopsis, adapted from Joseph Campbell’s work, often used to help writers write great stories.)
The reason I love the hero’s journey model is that every single healer has gone through some type of initiation ordeal that first involved trauma or wounding. And without exception we are all healers. (Yep, it’s time to own that, too.) That means that you, the PTSD-suffering person reading this, who is not able to function, who is reeling and can’t find a foothold, are still in your hero’s journey. And that once you begin to see all the elements, you can become the hero of your story, instead of the victim in someone else’s.
And your task, and the task of your support network (all of us), is to help you understand and find the other elements of your story: the guides, mentors and angels who appeared, the strengths and special powers you developed or discovered along the way; the insurmountable challenges you have met; your failures and how they didn’t kill you; your successes and how they deepened you; the ways in which you give back and enrich your communities; the indelible wisdom and compassion you carry; the way you and only you can connect with certain other wounded souls and bring them healing.
As a trained psychotherapist, I know it’s possible to stay stuck at a stage in your journey, reliving the trauma and getting re-traumatized without finding your way out. And I also know that unless we have someone standing for our greatness and seeing the hero in us, we tend to not see our own heroic qualities. And that’s the biggest wounding of all, isn’t it, the way unresolved trauma threatens to steal our very sense of worth and power?
So, good news, bad news: You must tell your story. But you must tell all of it. Not just the part where “it” happened, whatever it was, but also the part about how you got through it, the good, the bad, the ugly. You must tell about the times you almost gave up and why you didn’t. You must tell about the times you did give up and were carried. You must tell about the ways it warped you and shaped you and burned you until you couldn’t even touch yourself without fear of bursting into flames.
You must tell, because your voice is so needed right now. In the collective narrative, only certain people are affected, or just a few people are victimized. This amounts to a universal silence about things that nearly everybody knows personally to be true, and that threatens to drive us into crazy, lonely, dysfunctional places where silence feels like the only safe way to be.
You must tell, because most of the world has been traumatized. It’s only in sharing our collective trauma that we can access our collective wisdom and healing and as a people begin to function again.
And to function as a people means to wake up to the realities we’ve created, to take a step back and to decide that it’s possible to have a kind and just world. And to do that takes great solidarity, inner strength, inner kindness and a very open mind. Changing our world is going to mean taking responsibility for the one we have now. And the first place to take responsibility is with our own world, the one inside our heads, the one we live every day.
If you are walking around in fear of being hurt again, I tell you, fear doesn’t have to have such a great foothold in your life.
I believe the times we are in are calling for us to hold collective space for us to tell our stories. There’s a motto I live by, because I’ve seen it working in my own life over and over again: Everything you need, you already have. This begs the question, “What do I already have that I’m not yet aware of?” You must tell your story to find out what you have that you can’t tap into, because you don’t know it’s there.
And I use the word “tell” both literally and figuratively. The important thing is embodiment. That means doing something, but doing it with intention, with full knowledge of what you are responding to, what you intend to create, how you want to use your power, and who you are being in that action. Do something, but do something meaningful to you. Times like this call us to dig and dig and dig for the deeper, truer meaning in everything we do. The place where the roots meet. That deep.
If you don’t know where to begin, I suggest listening to others’ stories and listening with the inner ear, the one that resonates with truth and compassion, the one that listens simultaneously inwardly and outwardly, finding the places where truth rings a steady, dependable, “Yes, yes, yes.”
How To Tell Your Story: An Incomplete List
- The Women’s March (and others to come)
- Come out
- Write and call our elected representatives
- Tolerate zero disrespect
- Reach out to people of different political beliefs and start a dialogue
- Work for economic and social justice
- Write it down
- Form a support group
- Go to or create teach-ins and other information sessions about a justice or healing issue you care about
- Find ways to offer your gifts in either volunteer or professional settings
- Do some under-the-radar volunteering with people in need
- Dance your story
- Paint and draw your story
- Create a play
- Listen to someone else’s story and help them find their hero
- Reach out to refugees
- Reach out to other marginalized people in your community and find common ground
- Listen to an elder tell their story
- Write a song
- Ask someone who loves you to describe the hero they see in you
- Own your dreams and desires
- Be sexual
- Be honest
- Learn Nonviolent Communication
In the great recalibration of reality that is 2017, many have quiety chosen small (and large) acts of power to strengthen their souls and maintain a sense of power. What have you chosen to do, be, have, create or generate in response to the new times we’re in? Would you care to share your story, no matter where you are in your hero’s journey, in the comments below?
With love and gratitude,