Want to Heal from Trauma? Go Vote!

This has not been a typical United States election. I come from a family that runs the gamut of political views and typically, as Americans, we disagree on issues, on how big the government will be, how the government will run and who will get what resources. These differences have always been challenging enough. It isn’t always pleasant, and many a Thanksgiving dinner has been awkward when politics gets brought up. But that holiday awkwardness has become an American tradition, right along with the pumpkin pie.

But not this election. This election has been different than most elections in my lifetime. This election has been driven not just by the issues, but also by a powerful narrative of trauma. By the things that were said that are making people feel unsafe and afraid—for themselves, for their families. Mothers and fathers fearing for their disabled children, or for their gay and lesbian children, or their African-American children, or Latino children or Muslim children. Children fearing for themselves and their friends. And thousands and thousands of women who began to relive their sexual traumas. The numbers are staggering. When Kelly Oxford tweeted in response to the Trump tapes, “Tweet me your first assault,”  27 million women responded. 27 million! It is simply staggering. It seems that anyone with a trauma history was triggered during this election. And trauma survivors have begun to speak up in droves. 

In this election the political and the personal have collided with trauma. There have been so many women telling friends, FaceBook pages, and their husbands, boyfriends, wives and significant others the stories that had remained hidden for years. And while each individual will be on a different journey of healing for her or his story, this much is true: action heals. The very nature of trauma is helplessness. At the moment of trauma, a victim is rendered helpless—and this inability to act on your own behalf becomes part of the trauma. But this reawakening of trauma on such a large scale, and as a community brings with it a possibility that may have eluded most of us. While trauma can make us feel helpless and alone: that situation is no longer true. It all already happened: you are here now, and can heal, act and impact your world. You are not alone---you are a part of a community of survivors and warriors. And you can take action, you can vote.

Citizenship, it turns out, may be one of the greatest healing interventions. As a consultant, I have worked in communities from Cambodia to Alaska with leaders who confront social issues through engaging their own leadership and using this leadership in their communities. They have confronted the trauma in their communities by doing action projects that get at the root cause of the social problems they most struggle with—whether that is HIV/AIDS or domestic violence and sexual assault. I have watched leaders and communities begin to heal their trauma through action—through the experience of using their own agency and power to take on the problem. They heal by taking action, and they heal by being part of a community who supports each other through the work of healing through action. They are not helpless, because they can take action. And they are not alone, because they can do it together. 

And this is what available to us now. Vote. Volunteer. Help. Support. Canvass. Call. Donate. Drive. Act. Lead. Healing is possible because you can take action. And no one heals alone.  We can do this together. 

© 2016 Gretchen L. Schmelzer, Ph

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