Volcanic Triggers: The 3 Realities of Trauma


Volcano_1There are moments in a survivor’s life that come in as if they are part of a volcanic eruption – but it’s a complicated and inward experience – an emotional implosion of hot lava and broken rock, filling our insides with ash and dense, unbreathable air.

All that can be done, in those moments is for someone to come alongside and see that a past life or an archived moment has suddenly and most likely without welcome, become all that the survivor can feel.

When you are witnessing this (and it helps if the survivor can throw out a flag that says, “I am triggered right now”), you have only a few options and mental dispositions that will be useful to you and the survivor at that time. Do you touch them? Do you give them space? Do you offer to listen? Do you ask them if they want to call a different person? None of this matters until you resolve your own angst over the following 3 realities:

volcano_2Reality 1: There isn’t anything you can say – the trauma happened.

You can try to remind us that we are better off now, or grass is greener in real time, but that is like offering a distraction, not a solution. The intensity of a trigger REQUIRES no distractions. It has come up because the survivor is ready. If you aren’t, that’s on you – so get ready. Release the expectation that you are going to heal this, stop this, or have magic words. You don’t. This is a moment for a genuine, “Shit, this is ugly. This happened and I’m here with you right now in it.” Those are the closest you will get to magic words, if you feel like you must speak.
 
Reality 2: There isn’t anything you can do – the past cannot be erased.
 
It’s awkward. Your loved one is transported to another place, another life, another hour of suffering that is unrecognizable to you. But you cannot undo this – you truly weren’t able to save them then and you won’t be able to save them now. You can’t minimize it by reminding them how long ago it was – yes it is past. But this is a trigger and trauma, for all of its complications, is incredibly astute at avoiding all sense of time. In that volcanic hour, the trauma could have happened an hour ago. Remember, that feeling is not insanity – that’s just trauma.
 
Reality 3: There isn’t anything that feels right – the wrong committed is unforgettable.
 

Finally, you aren’t going to be able to “make this feeling go away.” Nothing feels good… the survivor may actually only have words like, “I don’t feel good.” Literally, as a statement of value, he or she probably feels un-good. You can’t argue with this feeling and you can’t bring a pro’s and con’s lists to the table and expect to make a difference. The survivor is reprocessing their memories of trauma in real time – you are witnessing a sacred and brave act of self-care and genuine badassery. Time to stand in awe as we reconcile that what was past is unforgettable not because we aren’t forgiving or moving on, but because again… that’s just trauma. Trauma doesn’t “Live and let live.” Trauma… lets you learn not to die as you try to live sometimes!

So in those moments – it may feel like an awkward scene at a grave site or worse, a scene from a genocide or battle ground… But that is all it is – it is a scene.

If you are ever there for that implosion within, I ask you with all my heart, as a survivor and survivor advocate… Just show up for reality. 

Expect nothing but for the scene to change when the flow has slowed… the air has cleared… and coolness of your presence empowers us to move through the past and return to our current time and place.

Speaking for survivors, as messy as this experience is, we do come through most of our triggers with more wisdom and more acceptance – we come through better prepared for the life we are choosing because of the patience we have learned to have with reminders of the trauma we did not choose.

I share this post as a woman who is a two-time survivor of sexual assault and a survivor of a over a decade of conversion therapy… and as a woman who  advocates for other survivors as a volunteer for organizations like Beyond Ex Gay and RAINN. Some of us find the words for our experiences and some of us do not – but most of all, ALL of us define for ourselves the paths we must take to endure the intrusive guilt, shame, and fear that can erupt within our memories without warning. If you choose to love us, you choose a reality that is not always pleasant, but is always honest…

And as a survivor now  25 years removed from the first trauma, I simply know no other way to say it – surviving trauma is not something I wish on anyone, but I do not wish it away from me because I am a softer, gentler and more open-hearted person to all I meet because I have seen a darkness in the human condition that most are spared. It makes me stronger… even when there are volcanic moments when I remember, it did almost kill me.

Namaste, survivors… and namaste to our loved ones who are learning of our brave and tenacious paths to wholeness.

And oddly enough – namaste, to the Criminal Minds writing team who wrote an episode on the topic of a survivor of conversion therapy. It sparked a complete meltdown in me when I watched it… but it brought me to write this post…
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RAY_7318Gail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose new book, Enlightened-ish chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Her first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. Gail has appeared in FOX DC News,SkyNews and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. Her freelance work has appeared in God Allows U-Turns, Encounter Magazine and Outlook Weekly. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area and serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.

When She Says She Loves Me… Why Equality Matters

1621773_510262802411101_8063516498862622385_nThe other day, my fiancee and I had a brief, yet looming encounter with a man who felt it necessary to speak loudly about his disapproval of what he called “gay marriage.” As we tried to disengage and stay focused on our own coffee and conversation, it was apparent that unless she said otherwise, I was going to address this man, for aggressively stating his unsolicited opinion over us, from 7 feet away. “If they can marry, it will be a disaster. God made man and woman…” he continued.

I asked my fiancee if she would mind giving me a kiss, as we got up to walk away. She agreed and after we shared an affectionate peck, I turned to him and said, “We are not a disaster,” and we walked away. Before walking away, we both heard him say in a slimy perverted tone, “Well I like that.”

Of course you do, you double-minded, broken old man,” I wanted to say.

Instead, we walked away and I felt this piece welling up in my heart… some words I have never said about marriage equality… some words I’ve never said about the woman who wants to marry me… some words that I hope will mirror what many of us are saying, when we say that equality matters.

Equality matters because when she says she loves me…

She is saying that of all the people who have crossed her path, the day she met me, something changed for the better.

She is saying that of all the outcomes she could have for her life, none of them would be as meaningful without me in the picture.

She is saying that when she seeks comfort, wisdom, rest, joy, or a sense of hope, she considers me a source.

She is saying that if there is a God, this love is the kind upon which God smiles. 

She is saying that feeling safe and loved now includes knowing if I am feeling safe and loved.

She is saying her future and my future now interconnect in ways that make the past a story to cherish and an influence to honor.

Equality matters because love matters… because her words matter more to me than any other woman who whispered, “I love you,” into my ear.

Equality matters… because eventually for some of us, there is one person who comes along and says these things in a way that changes everything for the better…

And what reasonable society would call this a disaster or a departure from what is good about humanity?

This is all we are saying, when we say equality matters. This… nothing more and nothing less.

This post is dedicated to all who have been on the receiving end of an “I love you,” that put an end to all your doubts about why those words matter… and to my fiancee, for being brave enough to say them until I could believe in them again.

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DSC_0354Gail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose new book, Enlightened-ish chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Her first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. Gail has appeared in FOX DC News,SkyNews and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. Her freelance work has appeared in God Allows U-Turns, Encounter Magazine and Outlook Weekly. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area and serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.

Exodus International: 2 Years Later… Can Survivors Rest in Peace?

bxg_Losing_Religion* Re-sharing June 2015 as TWO years later… same sentiment from last year still holds true*

If you are familiar with my writing or my blog in general, you know that I am a survivor. If you’ve read Enlightened-ish, then you know that my status as “survivor” extends beyond surviving religious fundamentalism and damage from conversion therapy efforts which organizations like Exodus International lied to the public about for decades. I am also a survivor of… life’s darker components such as bullying and sexual abuse. I speak about these things openly not because it is comfortable or even preferred, but because I believe that there is entirely too much fear of authenticity in our cultures of hashtags and half-assed spirituality. Thus, this post, 2 year laters reflects not only on the 2-year anniversary of Exodus International’s closing, but on the collective survivor movement that most of humanity is in, as we all go through an injustice, inequity, abuse, grief, or obstacle that lands us in the awareness of what it takes to thrive in a world that is often not always fair.

When I participated in the Our America piece in 2013, I had a feeling it would transform my understanding of activism and abuse. Recruiting survivors to be taped in front of their accuser: That’s “good TV” and appears at first, to be a motion of activism, but was it abusive as well? A group of survivors is invited to witness a respected journalist (with a net worth of $8.5 million) as she tries to remain neutral in the face of a man claiming to be apologetic about making a living selling lies about homosexuality’s “cure” through prayer and specialized suppression techniques. Are you familiar with the piece which aired a year ago? Here you go: Watch it again. Is it activism? Or is it abuse?

I personally can’t watch it anymore. Why? Because even in her “review” of her time with Our America, Lisa Ling continued to exalt Alan as a man who she believes was truly trying to attempt something good out of his efforts to apologize – Efforts which led to inequality, genocide, depression, death, and a mental health crisis among gay people, in addition to a spiritually divisive movement within Christianity. (See her respect for him in minute 4:25 of the link) This is tragic when I know from more than one source that Alan pitched yet another publicity stunt to Lisa, after the Our America piece aired. He continued to attempt to latch on the teat of her innocent assumption that behind it all, he was a good guy trying to do good things…

I don’t believe there are any segments at CNN planned, for her to take him on a trip to Africa where she can cover the story of his apology to the people of Uganda, but like I said… I know from more than one source, this guy has an ego the size of Africa – Or a guilt complex equally as large. Either way, any publicity on his face, or those like him, remains to their benefit because it actually reinforces the belief that ex-gay therapy does work. As long as anyone is still asking if the world is flat, there will be yahoos who believe it. Thus, to truly debunk a myth, perhaps we have to let the ignorant move down their paths of baseless beliefs and hopefully they die off like the plague that they are to the collective awakening to science, spirituality and common good.

But we can’t do that, can we?

I couldn’t.

In January of this 2014, when asked to participate in a hearing in Virginia, where lawmakers were given the power to prevent abuses to minors, they tabled the decision… but I went, I testified and I thought I was doing the “activist” thing. Here is the link to that drama/trauma and the consequent interview that I participated in for SkyNews.

Do I look like an activist?” I ask myself.

Or do I look like I am being abused by a system of journalism that continues to cater to the aggressor, rather than the survivor?

Honestly, I wasn’t sure I could stay involved with the survivor movement several times before in my experience… but after these incidents, I did step back a bit and begin to ask important questions about who “wins” when survivors speak up.

Ratings for the TV networks.

Listeners on the radio shows.

Blog hits for those who discuss us.

Opportunities to spread the lies, for those who actually still believe this stuff.

As I continued to evaluate my role, what I saw from all of this attention was how it perpetuated itself in online survivor communities. Suddenly I was being re-traumatized on a daily basis through my Facebook notifications and emails. Survivors have accused one another of not being “real” activists. Those who continue to teach/preach suppression accused fellow Christians of not being “real” Christians. Allies who are compassionate to the cause of equality are accused of not being “real” advocates. Trust levels were lowered and meanwhile, the actual story of surviving these injustices is lost in debate and stats like the following, ignored:

Q10Chart_Harm_Info

And so, for me… I have had to redefine what activism really is in my world. I can’t judge those who are making a career of chasing after evil and simultaneously trying to convince themselves it is not evil. I cannot discern the motives of anyone but me…

My motive has always been to make sure survivor stories are told… in all areas of our survival. In fact, that is why my career shift, towards early childhood education made so much sense in 2010… because if you truly want to stop victims from being victims, we have to empower our children not to become aggressors and to stand up for themselves when there are so many words and beliefs that can offend the soul.

An ounce of prevention, is all I can offer.

That is my activism now.

I look back at Christianity and how it is arguing with itself and it is sad to watch. I hear stories of progressives who don’t feel “progressive enough” and I see how the image of Jesus is crucified in blog posts and newsfeeds… I hear survivors who don’t feel “active enough” and pastors who can’t find churches that are “involved enough” in actual justice-seeking, mercy-leading communities and lives…

But I have to wonder about this meme that passed across my eyes not too long ago: exodus_year_later_1When I wrote my coming out memoir years ago, I recognize that there is “A Time to Yell…”

But what if there are activists who move within a very different world of advocacy?

What if we are quietly making a difference by creating positive change in the future, by investing in young lives today?

I’m not saying that the adult survivors don’t matter because, of course, I am one! We need community, compassion and environments where we can freely discuss our healing process. And the world needs justice-seekers, but doesn’t it also need peacemakers?

Do we need to continually share our stories in places that are designed to inflate egos or publicity?

Do we need to make ourselves vulnerable in order to increase ratings and if we do, how does that affect our own quality of life?

For me… I cannot engage in what former leaders are doing now, like it’s some VH-1 pop-up video of apologies, stats and E-True Hollywood banter. I’m over it.

Not over what they did and not over how much attention they still get for doing it…

But for me, being an activist now means being whole in my home, my heart, my health, and in my work.

My fiancee (2015 update: wife 😉 )  dreads this post because she knows that most of the time, when I post about this topic, the attention it brings literally causes me physical pain. But I have assured her, this “years later” post represents the highest intentions of doing what we all wish cult leaders and abusers would do after they have disbanded.

Rest. In. Peace.

Can survivors rest in peace too? Can they look at the places where hurtful words and beliefs left wounds and say, “I learned something and I am going to be okay?” Can they remember their trauma without shuddering? Can they learn to rebuild trust?

Can we… be at peace?

The answer is yes.

But the path to “yes” is different for each of us.

So today, on an anniversary of Exodus International’s shutting down, though it began a shit storm of rebuilding efforts by its leader and continues to be discussed in blog posts from people on both sides of the aisle, creating even deeper division within Christianity and families, I can say…

Happy Anniversary, Survivors.

To all survivors… for every year we make it to the next level, OUR next level, we can celebrate.

Let the media culture do what it needs to do to make a living… but let’s not contribute if it interferes with our own desires to make a life for ourselves.

You have survived much, my friends. I am honored to know your stories and be inspired by the tenacity of them… Thank you, for being… you.

Namaste.

~~

DSC_0821Gail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose new book, Enlightened-ish chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Her first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. Gail has appeared in FOX DC News,SkyNews and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. Her freelance work has appeared in God Allows U-Turns, Encounter Magazine and Outlook Weekly. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area and serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.