Present Traumatic Stress Syndrome?
Do you suffer from present traumatic stress syndrome [not a clinical term]? Present because you never got past the trauma for it to be post. Do you feel like you were born sick and tired of being sick and tired – like you impossibly inherited the exhausted condition from Fannie Lou Hamer’s sterilized womb? Are you worn out from the multifactorial, multigenerational, non-denominational trauma?
Multifactorial trauma? Yes. A viral pandemic; viral video executions; voter suppression bills; school to prison pipelines; mass incarceration; sentencing disparities; environmental racism; the growing canyon between the have-lots and have-nots; and The Root’s ever-growing list of what not to do #WhileBlack.
Multigenerational trauma? Yes, over 400 years of it! From chattel slavery to convict leasing to Jim, Jane, and Juan Crow to Red Summers and Red Scares and Redlining to Bloody Sunday to the War on Drugs to the New Jim Crow to Shelby County vs Holder to slaps on the wrist for January 6 – it never ends.
Interdenominational trauma? Amen! Like Malcolm X said, “You don’t catch hell ’cause you’re a Methodist or Baptist. You don’t catch hell because you’re a Democrat or a Republican… You catch hell because you’re a Black man [or woman].”
Of course, everyone experiences trauma and stress at some point. The point above is that when America catches a cold, Black folks catch pneumonia. What happens when America is reeling from coronavirus? Whether we’re in the inner city or not, we catch a case of Marvin Gaye‘s blues that makes us “wanna holler and throw up both” our hands, because “this ain’t livin’, this ain’t livin’.”
Yet, we’re still here. And so is the trauma. What can we do in addition to throwing up our hands? I recently read about 5 proactive ways of taming trauma, recommended by Jennifer Jill Schwirzer (licensed professional counselor).[i] I’m a clergyman, not a clinician. I won’t be counseling, just testifying based on the counselor’s recommendations.
Try these first!
Bibliotherapy – my simplified definition reading through trauma. The basic idea is get outside perspectives on what you’re going through, so you can respond in ways you wouldn’t have thought of before. I read broadly and, by doing so, I find tools I didn’t even know to look for. A few books that stretched me over the past year are A Terrible Thing to Waste by Harriett A. Washington, Vanguard by Martha S. Jones, As Long as Grass Grows Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Jesus Outside the Lines by Scott Sauls, and The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. Then there are some books I return to once in a while, like Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, Todd Duncan’s Killing the Sale, and Epictetus’s The Enchiridion. These probably wouldn’t be on a therapist’s list for you, but that’s how I’m wired.
Expressive writing – Every contributor on Three-Fifths is likely writing their way through some personal trauma, along with the professional trauma of ministering to others in clinical settings, classrooms, congregations, and through community activism. I’ve found writing to be a one of the most effective forms of inner healing. When I wrote Yell at God and Live!, I was applying Tony Morrison’s maxim, “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” The book was based on my need to question God, yell at God, and experience the five-fold comfort of God. However, it also developed through listening to others and learning about some common denominators of grief. One person told me, “You didn’t write that book. God wrote that book through you.” It can be hard to tell who receives the most healing – the reader or the writer. Why not try both?
Narrative therapy – this probably isn’t a do-it-yourself approach. Not everyone is principled and confidential enough to be trusted with the inner workings of your trauma, even though they might otherwise be very good friends and family members. Not everyone is qualified to counsel. You need someone able to help guide your thoughts back from the deep places your conversation might go, so you don’t get stranded there. And please don’t spill it all out in your church’s Bible Study or Prayer Meeting. Unfortunately, many saints find gossip juice sweeter than the gospel and add their own flavor as they pass it around!
Poetry therapy – encourages you to compose poems about your trauma. I’m not a poet and I know it. But I’ll read it when I need it. I’ve already mentioned Gibran and he’s worth mentioning again. To that I would add The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, The Collected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Complete Writings of Phillis Wheatley, The Spirituals and the Blues, Black Song: The Forge and the Flame, and almost anything by Dr. Seuss. More often than any of those, I listen to poetry when set to music and have an eclectic ear.
Prayer – If you don’t know how to pray about and through your trauma, just open up Psalms. Not all of them start and end with praise ye the Lord! Sit still with some of those passages and feel what they felt. Imagine them ranting as they pace back and forth, shaking their heads, wringing their hands, pounding their fists on the table, or curling up in the corner like a baby. The writers were both victims and perpetrators of trauma. They experienced betrayal, disappointment, guilt, shame, death threats, depression, grief, broken hearts and disease, just like the rest of us. Then go to Romans 8 for a reminder that God can make you more than a conqueror over all those things. Then maybe check out the praise and worship scenes in Revelation that kept the saints encouraged throughout centuries of persecution. The last book of the Bible even ends with a short prayer. Amen!
By Carl McRoy
[i] Lindsey Gendke (September/October, 2021) Vibrant Life, 35