These words haunt me, and I find myself saying them in relation to the girls I work with… One girl had a crisis and it triggered a few of the other girls. At first I agreed with the staff that said she was doing it for the attention, but I hesitate to keep agreeing. Having been in a congregate care situation myself, I know that even the littlest thing that hits home can spark a tidal wave of emotions that wash over and bring to the surface so much other shit. So no, I don’t agree anymore that she cried because she wanted attention. I was not the one to talk to her, so I do not yet know what it was about, but it was not about attention. Some of the other girls pestering staff, yes, that was for attention. But not the girl that cried. Something stirred in her. They are not here just for shits and giggles. They are here because they are forced to be; because something has gone horribly awry in their lives and it is no longer safe to be at home with their families.
Why is it that we jump to the conclusion that everything is done for attention? Is it so unfathomable to think that something can just be that wrong? How is it still acceptable to think, by any professional, that our drastic actions are always to get someone to notice. We are supposed to work from a trauma-informed foundation – one that ascribes all behaviors to a very real contributing factor… How is it then that we can get away with saying the girls are negative attention seeking when they act out, and attribute it only to that. Is it not more in line with our theories that these actions are in response to a stimuli or trigger? Triggers are just that: they bring up a reaction that is primal. It’s for survival, especially with trauma survivors. Whether we think them manipulative or not, they are trying to get what they need. We are trying to get what we need. We act on instinct to alleviate some immeasurable hurt. I know why she ran. I know the anxiety she faces; the actions she is forced to take. I can’t say I would do it much differently in terms of doing something I know will ultimately make things worse, but they alleviate shit for the moment. In that instant, that is all that matters. While I know for myself, in this state of rational thought, I could talk myself out of something stupid. But what if I were suddenly faced with what I saw as a terrible future? I can’t guarantee I would make a rational choice. Yes, I am miles from last year, but if the same triggers came up, with the same intensity and desperation, I cannot be 100% sure I could handle it with more poise then last year…
So again I ask: why do we ascribe it to attention-seeing… Or more accurately, why do we make it such a crime? What is wrong with looking for attention, for care, when we are in distress? The methods may be unhealthy, but we are simply trying to ensure survival… Or an escape from that to which we can’t accurately give voice… It brings me back to thinking about that day last week when I so desperately felt the need to share my trauma in vivid detail… In reality, no words could describe what it was that I went through. I could tell you the events. I could put vague words to the emotions, but nothing could truly describe what it was like… And on many levels I hope no one would ever know that for themselves… But the truth is that it happens to more than just me. It happens. Other things happen. Others know the intense weight of it. But the one thing we all share is the knowledge that words and actions are not enough to fully convey the experience. Pictures and sound cannot fully evoke the level of violation, terror, hopelessness… I can’t even find the right words to describe everything that is impacted. Thought patterns change. Reactions change. Your brain changes. I may not remember every detail in my conscious mind, but it’s there. It’s buried deep down so that I can function on a daily level. I can wake up in the morning and not implode or explode from it.
Another thing I think all trauma survivors have is an ability to dissociate in some way. Be it getting lost in what we do every day, or actual dissociation, we all must leave parts (if not all) of it behind. During the dark times, it’s closer to the surface, but I can’t imagine anyone knowing the full impact of the hurt (whatever it may be) and not dying, literally. I feel that to know the full impact at all times would lead to destruction. I think moving on has an element of disconnect. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but a needed thing. To be able to leave a hurt behind, we have to step back and not sit in whatever it brings up; we have to break from it and move away from it. Other professionals will not accept it as dissociation, because that is seen as a negative, but that is what it is. We disconnect from the full impact and start to heal the wound. We pull out that which caused the hole and encourage ourselves to step away to allow healing to happen. This is a necessity. Call it what you will, but we all do it… When we stop doing it, we start to have problems. When we unlock that closet, we take the risk of being bowled over by the messes we stuffed in there… Packing it away requires distance. Distance requires a disconnect, a dis-association with it. If we don’t dis-associate with it, we are mired in it. My dissociation is different then yours or your neighbors, but it all accomplishes the same thing. Ok, so maybe mine is not packed away as effectively as the next person’s, but it’s away. I can breathe in the mornings. I can sleep at night. If it comes crashing back again, I will deal with it again. But for now, my closet door is closed (remind me to keep the cat away from the door so she doesn’t accidentally open it on me). I have dis-associated from it to be able to live my life. I deal with it from a safe distance and with those who can help me stuff it back away again.