Birthdays and anniversaries and stories of survival and hope

Summer readings

Extracts from books and fragments of memories and images

1) The Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver

‘Want is a thing that unfurls unbidden like fungus, opening large upon itself, stopless, filling the sky. But needs, from one day to the next, are few enough to fit in a bucket, with room enough left to rattle like brittlebush in a dry wind. For each of us— furred, feathered, or skinned alive— the whole earth balances on the single precarious point of our own survival. In the best of times, I hold in mind the need to care for things beyond the self: poetry, humanity, grace. In other times, when it seems difficult merely to survive and be happy about it, the condition of my thought tastes as simple as this: let me be a good animal today. I’ve spent months at a stretch, even years, with that taste in my mouth, and have found that it serves. But it seems a wide gulf to cross, from the raw, green passion for survival to the dispassionate, considered state of human grace’.

‘Every one of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job or a limb or a loved one, a graduation, bringing a new baby home: it’s impossible to think at first how this all will be possible. Eventually, what moves it all forward is the subterranean ebb and flow of being alive among the living. In my own worst seasons I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress………. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again. It’s not such a wide gulf to cross, then, from survival to poetry. We hold fast to the old passions of endurance that buckle and creak beneath us, dovetailed, tight as a good wooden boat to carry us onward. And onward full tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another— that is surely the basic instinct’.

 Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to the Present (2007-12-11/ Kindle Edition)

2) Getting Along with Nature by Wendell Berry

In other words, we can be true to nature only by being true to human nature— to our animal nature as well as to cultural patterns and restraints that keep us from acting like animals. When humans act like animals, they become the most dangerous of animals to themselves and other humans, and this is because of another critical difference between humans and animals: Whereas animals are usually restrained by the limits of physical appetites, humans have mental appetites that can be far more gross and capacious than physical ones. Only humans squander and hoard, murder and pillage because of notions.

Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to the Present (2007-12-11/ Kindle Edition)

3) Fight! Rabbit! Fight! by Laurie Matthew

‘Ritual and organized abuse often involves multiple abusers of both genders, extreme violence, mind control, systematic torture and in many cases a systematic belief system, which is sometimes described as religion. It is highly organized and of necessity secretive. It is often associated with other major crimes such as child pornography, child prostitution, the drugs industry and trafficking in women and children to name but a few’ (Laurie Matthew, 2004)

In 2004 Laurie Matthew had already been working with survivors of this type of extreme abuse for over 20 years. Her short stories about ritual abuse resemble Aesop’s tales. Her animal characters facilitate understanding and make the reading of the stories easier, since abuse, and especially, organized extreme abuse is never a palatable subject.

Below are short extracts from one of the stories in Laurie Matthew’s book Fight! Rabbit! Fight!

‘Though she feared Rabbit thought. Though she trembled Rabbit planned. Though she suffered Rabbit organized. She had to escape for good. Or she had to die. There were no other choices. She planned well.’

‘When the time was right. When the plans were laid. When all was organized – and Rabbit could organize well. She had been well taught, but that’s another story, Rabbit struck her own spark.’

‘Rabbit fanned the flames of the fire, encouraged its life. The fire grew into a blaze. Rabbit gloried in the blaze. She fed and nurtured the blaze. The blaze became an inferno. Rabbit felt her power. She could create but they could not take her creations. She could also destroy and cleanse with fire. Rabbit turned from her inferno. She ran to freedom. This time she had a plan.’

(Fight! Rabbit! Fight! Laurie Matthew, 2004)

Νέα εικόνα bitmap (2)

Indignation and knowledge can motivate survivors to move beyond the state of victim

1) Indignation can motivate survivors to move beyond the state of victim

Indignation and anger that are not turned inwards and expressed self- destructively or destructively, but are sublimated and used as a vehicle to fight against injustice and abuse are important resources, which motivate survivors to move beyond the state of being a victim.

Below are short abstracts from Silva Amati Sas’s chapter in Bearing Witness: Psychoanalytic Work with People Traumatized by Torture and State Violence (edited by Andres Gautier and Anna Sabatini Scalmati)

‘Theoretically, indignation can be seen as a ‘working-off mechanism’ (Bibring, quoted by Laplanche, 1993), an emotion, an emotional impulse that helps us move out of the immobility, perplexity, confusion, and fear that overwhelm us when we realize that another human being is motivated by a destructive intent. It signals the fact that we are in contact with an abusive reality. The feeling of indignation necessarily has an aggressive dimension, that of an impulse that helps us to prioritize our values and free up our ability to think critically, as well as, our capacity to choose and to make a judgment of condemnation’

‘It is essential to maintain alive the feeling of indignation within ourselves, because in contemporary society, dominated by mass media, everything, including torture, can be seen both acceptable and justifiable….  Dominated as it is by the media where all is permitted, contemporary society tends to push both indignation and shame into the background. With the excessive and equivocal dissemination of images of torture, for example, we end up by adapting to it; overloaded and indifferent, we may lose all sense of indignation’.

2) Books

Treating Complex Traumatic Stress Disorder: An Evidence Based Guide by Christine A. Courtois PhD and Julian D. Ford

Foreword by Judith Lewis Herman

Afterword by Bessel A. van der Kolk

Short excerpts from the book:

Psychological trauma was originally considered to be an abnormal experience (i.e., “outside the range of normal human experience” in DSM-III (American Psychiatric Association, 1980), but as epidemiological evidence accumulated to demonstrate that a majority of adults (e.g.Kessler, Sonnega, Bromet, Hughes, & Nelson, 1995) and a substantial minority of children (e.g., Costello, Erklani, Fairbank, & Arnold. 2002) are exposed to traumatic events, there has been a shift to defining psychological trauma without any qualifications about its normality or abnormality. Generally, people who have not experienced traumatic events do not expect trauma to occur in their (or their families’ or communities’) 1ives, but once psychological trauma has occurred, he or she is both more likely objectively to experience subsequent traumatic events and more prone subjectively to expect trauma to be a possibility. With the increasing diffusion of virtually instantaneous information through the many forms of electronic and other media–not only in Westernized societies but also in socioeconomically underdeveloped countries–people’s awareness of traumatic events has been greatly heightened, even if these events never happen to them or to anyone they know personally (e.g., the Silver, Holman, McIntosh, Palm, & Gil-Rivas [2002] national U.S. survey on the effects of the September 11, 2001, terrorist incidents).

Another unfortunate reality concerning complex trauma is related to its interpersonal nature. The closer the relationship between perpetrator(s) and victim(s) and their group memberships (e.g., in a family, religion, gender, political party, institution, chain of command, the more likely they are to face conditions of divided loyalty. As a self-protective strategy, the group may coalesce around silencing, secrecy, and denial. As a result, victims do not receive the help they expect and need when the victimization is disclosed or otherwise exposed. This circumstance has been labeled the second injury (Symonds,1975) or betrayal trauma (DePrince & Freyd, 2007). A lack of response or protection–or victim blaming–is betrayal of the victim’s trust and the helper’s responsibility that can severely exacerbate traumatic victimization. In the worst case scenario, a caregiver directly and repeatedly abuses a vulnerable child or does not respond or protect the child from abuse by others. Young children exposed to betrayal trauma by caregivers often develop a disorganized/dissociative attachment style in childhood and an adult attachment style described as fearful/avoidant/ dissociative (Lyons-Ruth, Dutra, Schuder & Bianchi, 2006). Children, more than adults, are prone to use dissociation to cope with such overwhelming circumstances (Putnam, 2003), and it is now hypothesized that this style transforms the personality, preventing the integration of the traumatization across all aspects of the child’s and later the adult’s self. The result is a person who maintains a “front” or an “as if” or “apparently normal” personality that seems functional but is numb to and even unaware of the trauma, and an “emotional” personality that is incapacitated psychosocially by the knowledge of the trauma (see Steele & van der Hart, Chapter 7, in this volume)

One can read articles on trauma topics published by Dr. Christine Courtois at her site