THIS POST COVERS TRAUMA  AND SURVIVOR ISSUES, AND MAY BE UPSETTING

I used to annoy my husband by playing this song a lot, too mushy according to him, but it is one of the very few in praise of ‘difficult’ women, (read magnificent survivors). If anyone knows of an equivalent for men, please share in the comments, I’d be really grateful.

Among the many issues facing people with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), one is that there is so little acknowledgement of the ongoing aftershocks of trauma  and no acknowledgement that being sensitized to issues is NOT something  we need to apologise for.

I remember at uni in the 80s, walking down the road on Bonfire Night, with some friends of friends, who I didn’t particularly like and suddenly some fireworks went off. Most of us looked up to see where they were and to enjoy them. One of the girls I found particularly difficult (in that peace/ hippy/ wild grrrl meeting beige/ buttoned up christian discomfort zone) started sobbing and shaking really hard…it turned out she was from the Falls Rd area of Belfast, had never heard fireworks, only guns, bombs and mines. And she kept saying, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…and we did our best to comfort her and chipped in for a cab to get her home with her best friend. It was a real wake up call for me, the classic, never judge someone’s insides by their outside…I didn’t like her, because she seemed so disapproving of me (and I think she probably was) but why was she so disapproving…she thought I had it really easy and was envious of that. (Wrong!) But this thing of saying sorry…I’ve heard myself do it, I’ve heard so many traumatized people say it, because we have not just been injured, we have been insulted for it, been shamed and made fun of, had revolting comments made to and about us…and we fear the reaction of those around us, because they matter to us.

It’s not just that bad things happen to good people or even that bad people do bad things, it’s when good people do bad things to good people…and often don’t even know what they did…and then even when they handle it brilliantly, because we have so little experience of being taken seriously, being treated compassionately, that can de-rail us when it happens. Seeing someone else get the support we should have had can be upsetting too…I remember a friend asking me to help pay for a bunch of flowers for someone who had been verbally sexually harassed  and feeling breathless with anger because this friend had stayed silent, in the same room, as the same thing happened to me, and had not helped me when I chucked the guy out because he moved on to groping… that burnt very deep…her betrayal mattered far more, longterm, than his rubbish behaviour.

And when you are burnt, you heal the best you can, and if you’re lucky, new skin grows back or is grafted on, but it is not the same as skin that never went through that. Jokes about victims and survivors of fires would rightly be seen as sick, but when survivors of attack object to being mocked, things can get very ugly indeed. A peripheral effect of the Savile enquiry, is that some DJs of the 70s and 80s are now being hauled up for sexual harassment of their female colleagues then, and it shows times are changing, but the idea that it’s all a bit of fun, and victims should be grateful for the attention/ put up or shut up/ must be lesbians/ feminists/ weird if they can’t see the funny side is still very widespread. It is this denial of the strength it takes to survive that is the most inflammatory: to be called weak for lacking flexibility, when you have burnt tissue, is heaping insult on the injury.

Best practice when making jokes that reinforce the trauma: DON’T!

I remember after the (80s) bombing of the Tory party conference a peace campaigner asking me “What do you call a man with a hotel on his head?” and when I looked completely blank, he quipped, “Norman Tebbit!”

I was so taken aback…I might hate Thatcher and her hench’s works but…I couldn’t laugh at that…

Best practice when giving support: assume nothing, ask what would help, and try to be as honest and self aware in offering support as the victim will need to be to survive. Know your limitations and acknowledge gently when something is beyond you and explore how else that need could be met, by whom… Find the songs, books, poems, films, comedians that build you up without knocking anyone down unfairly. Find the things that make you happy and sustain you, so you have a rich life, with inner  resources for when bad things happen, to you or those close to you. I think gardening is particularly good for rebuilding yourself and a constant source of small pleasures…as long as you don’t get too attached to beating the slugs or the thug weeds 😉

And finally: it really does pay to know  ‘the sensitive kind’!  We can celebrate all the good times, all the aliveness and happiness that those who have lived through bad times know  to celebrate, even on a rainy day in November, because it’s still a good day to be alive and making art 😉 we smile at small pleasures, breathe deeply and laugh out loud, we accept complex histories as ‘normal’ and share what works for us with those currently in need, we go the distance…because we know to value the positive, we can cope with the negative, it may take less to ‘wobble’ us, but far more to overturn us…like Dylan’s artist, we “got no place to fall”, and whether he means, we don’t need to, we’re ok as we are, or we know we can reach out and hold on to to our supports so we cannot drop through the cracks again, or we do it right because we don’t know if there is a safety net, so our adrenalin carries us through, I’m not sure, because I’ve done all of those, at different points in my life.

This song has the most bizarre title ever! If ever a woman did NOT belong to anyone….but it is one of my favourite build-me-back-up pieces, it tickles my sense of humour… again I would love to hear what works for other people…

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