I’ve been trying to form words since last week. I have so many thoughts and feelings in my head and heart. I have insight into the trauma of war, having experienced a bombing myself. I have strong feelings on the way we decide what war torn places we ignore and who we accept as refugees. I have thoughts on how privileged we are and how ungrateful we can be, something I’ve grappled with for almost 30 years, since my trip, ironically, to Russia at 16 years old. I hope to share them here in a way that isn’t quite as jumbled as it was in my head this weekend.
It’s been a long two years. So much has happened, so many are struggling in countless ways and here we are, with this heaviness across the world with the events of this last week. We all need to be taking acer of ourselves and our bodies right now. More rest, more breaks to breathe, more care and support. In this age of social media when we don’t only get information on war (or anything really) from turning on the news but instead, everywhere we turn, it makes it especially hard to not feel overwhelmed with it. I think it’s important to see what’s happening. I also think it’s important to not just sit and consume it constantly, but to be sure we are staying regulated in our own body (I’ll be sharing more on how to do this below) so that we can show up in life and in action to a crisis and aren’t just mindlessly and constantly scrolling. It can mean simply donating what you can even if you feel unable to stay fully in step with what is happening because it’s too much for you, especially considering all that’s been happening for so long.
We also need to be very careful about what information we share or listen to as there is a lot of purposely placed disinformation and fake videos/images. It’s a lot to have to think about. But, being silent and “staying away” from things happening simply because you don’t think they directly impact you or you have the capacity is not an answer. A power hungry man is killing people indiscriminately for his own gain. We’ve seen this before. We should all be outraged, as we should for so many conflicts happening around the entire world, not just those that look like us and live like us.
There are different levels of trauma when war happens. It’s obviously the most intense (and long lasting) for those experiencing it first hand. The people literally fleeing for their lives, the parents traveling hundreds of miles to save their children while fathers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles, and in many cases, mothers, daughters, aunts go back to fight. The soldiers in the fight (on both sides). The citizens who are staying and hiding in subway stations and basements. The journalists covering it all. Like in every war happening and every war before, civilians are not prepared for nor have the tools to even begin to know what to do to face this level of trauma.
Then, you have family and loved ones of those people. There’s those who have experienced war or a war like experience (plus their loved ones) who can have their trauma triggered. (This too, is many levels as some may feel it much less than others). Then, many levels below that which includes simply consuming the constant visual information coming through our screens. Watching the horror that is war unfold, even from afar and feeling for the people you see flashed on the screen can have an impact. Everyone is impacted by war.
It has been almost nine years since the marathon bombing. For new people, I won’t get into my full story here, but some of it can be found here. It’s been about seven years since I felt intense responses to things reminding me (my body) of that experience (namely the trial for those who did it). That changed on Thursday and I didn’t expect it. After all, I’ve been one to pay attention to other wars that have been happening, watching specials covering them or reading on them, though they do not get the type of attention we are seeing now (there’s a lot to unpack there on race/religion). I have talked about my experience from that day many times without anxiety. It always makes me feel emotional but not what I felt this week. I credit that to the intense healing I did immediately after that experience and the wide range of support I had from veterans to therapy to energy healing.
It turns out that what is happening in Ukraine has stirred up an imprint that still lives somewhere deep in my body and mind. That’s the nature of trauma. I wondered why I was feeling a bit of anxiety the first half of the week. It wasn’t intense. It was just there. I have become very attuned to my body and its cues and I acknowledged it and just did the things I usually do to listen, address it and allow it to melt away. I had to do this quite a few times. On Thursday, as I saw videos of shelling and people fleeing, my body reacted. I felt a more intense anxiety than I have in a long time and was overwhelmed with emotion all day, sobbing for those people. Crying is not new. Any time I’ve watched any specials or coverage on wars in other areas that have been going on for years, I cry. But, there was something that hit deeper based on my own experience as well as my experience in Russia as a teen (I’ll get to that below).
I know what it feels like to fear for your life in that way, to hear those sounds, to run, literally, for your life. It’s awful. I wouldn’t wish it on ANYONE. I was brought back to it. I felt it in my body. I had images flash in my mind. As I watched people flee, hide in subways and basements, women carry their children far distances to find safety while saying goodbye to their husbands/brothers/fathers. As I watched and heard the sounds of war, saw that the sick, many of them children, disabled were stuck there, to hope they can survive in bomb shelters with limited medial equipment and supplies. I sobbed. I was (am) angry at what humans can do to other humans.
I know all too well what is in store for them as far as the trauma and the ways it shows up. I know that for many it will be long lasting. For some, it may be too much for them to handle. For others, it may sneak up on them as they try to push it away.
HOWEVER, even what I know from my own experience cannot come close to what others deal with in war. I can never know that level of trauma. What that reminds me of is how lucky I am. I had this awful experience but I didn’t have to flee my home unsure if I’d be able to return. I had a short experience in comparison to bombs and fear that lasts many days, possibly weeks or months or years (let’s not forget, there are countries, innocent people, who have endured war for many many years-that trauma, I can’t even begin to imagine). I was able to work through that experience so that it didn’t impact me for years and years to come. Many are not fortunate enough to have that, the access to help and support nor the ability to feel more free from it. Trauma takes hold. Watching these people flee, watching people who have never held a gun before take up arms to defend their country, their people is a beautiful yet heart wrenching thing to watch. That’s why it takes both self regulation and knowing how to limit your consumption of information without fulling disconnecting.
I think about some of those grandparents that experienced this level of war before, as children, still carrying the weight of that. Their determination to fight and not allow what happened then is remarkable. All while they have to relive it in real time instead of just the imprints it left but also the imprints that were passed down to the younger generations. I think about all of those the people (and people in other countries that experience this day in and day out), especially the children and hope they get the help and support they truly need to address the trauma before it imprints deeper and deeper into their nervous systems.
This is nothing new. I have always felt it’s important to pay attention to where there is conflict in the world. Of course, it’s mostly places with primarily brown/black people, so we could talk a lot about the difference of attention we are seeing now with Ukraine as opposed to those places. I’ve always questioned why we don’t see more of what is going on in those places as the media loves to show us shocking and awful things. Yet, we don’t. There are currently long lasting conflicts going on in many areas of Africa, S America, the Middle East and Asia. How much do we know about them? The answer is not much at all. It still a major problem that we give more support, attention and energy to white wars as opposed to others. We welcome those fleeing the horror who are white and want to turn away those who are not because of (though, we try to reason away the truth of it) race or religion.
I do think it’s easier to tune out what’s happening in places that we don’t think affect us (all war affects us in some way though) and I do feel that for many, people simply don’t have the capacity to pay attention to it all and still stay able to function in the day to day. Which is why it is important to learn tools to self regulate and/or have support in doing so. While I understand it’s hard especially after dealing with a pandemic and all that our own country has dealt with this last two years, when we close our eyes, ears and hearts to innocent people no matter where they are, we lose a piece of our humanity. We create more separation. We elevate our privilege rather than use it for good.
Privilege. I had my first realization of privilege as a teen. In 1996, weeks after I turned 16, I went on a two week trip to Russia with my school. That two weeks changed my life. It made me want to travel, to see and experience other cultures. It also made me realize how lucky I was. Russia was only 5 years out of being the Soviet Union. They were just about to vote in their second ever presidential election and there was a buzz about it. I was surprised how the younger people, who couldn’t even vote yet were so engaged in politics. After all, I barely paid attention to ours. They were excited for their chance to vote, for the future of Russia. They told me stories of the past, what it was like.
Russia was still a much different place than the US. I remember landing in Moscow to a very packed airport with military guys carrying large guns everywhere. The city looked nothing like it does now. I remember going to see Lenin’s perfectly preserved body and how we were told we had to stay against the edges of the room as we walked through and not to make any sudden moves. Again, guys with guns everywhere. The city was still not even close to modern.
By contrast, we visited government places and went to St Petersburg and saw palaces with gold everywhere, extravagant and rich. There is this type of divide in a lot of places, including here, but this was different.
Unfortunately, it was hard to stay in touch with them as the only way to communicate was through hand written mailed letters and it would take months for a letter to get there and months before we’d hear back. I have always been sad that I didn’t still have contact with them. I’ve tried to find them on social media over the years but no such luck. I have often wondered how they have felt about Putin. The people I saw were excited for something different, for more freedom and choice. The energy of it was palpable. And now, I wonder how they feel about what is happening. Have they come to believe the lies over the years or are they some of those people protesting in the streets, risking their lives or perhaps wanting to but afraid? I wonder if any of their children were sent off to a war they were lied to about, if they are now there wondering why they are there and wrestling with what to do as they feel torn between their duty and what to actually believe. Young people are sent off to fight for rich and powerful men’s wars. I have a LOT of thoughts and opinions on war but I won’t go into that now.
These experiences I had and what I learned, this war and others, the way people are oppressed, taken over, trapped all over the world, all make me grateful and see what privilege and freedom truly look like and here people are, refusing to do the smallest things for our fellow humans like wearing a mask. We are extremely privileged and take what we have for granted. We really have no idea how it could be. Most of us haven’t had to experience war or anything close to it. It’s easy to ignore it when it doesn’t happen to you. That phrase, “first world problems” comes to mind. And don’t get me wrong, everyone has their own shit and your own traumas and stressors are valid, but if we allow ourselves to sit with some perspective, we realize that a lot of us (NOT all) have it pretty good even if there are things we are lacking. Many, not all, are spoiled in comparison to other countries, even while we have many that are still lacking in basic needs. And that’s not to say that we shouldn’t have what we do, but that others should as well. Every human deserves to have options, clean water, food, shelter, healthcare, choice and freedom. And as long as there are people without, we should all care about that, both in our own country and across the world.
We are all connected. You can think of that in terms of faith or spirituality but you can also think of it just as humans, created in these bodies. We all basically come from the same origins if you go back to the beginning and then we adapted and moved to create all of these borders and cultures, religions and races based on how close or far we were from the equator. We became who we are now. But the origins, those first people (who were most likely brown, by the way) is where we started. We are all a part of each other. We have forgotten this.
The cost of war is not just monetary or infrastructure. It’s lives. It’s cities, landmarks, history, homes and family relics, family photos, innocence and faith. It’s a loss of humanity and hope for many. What is beautiful is to see the support for those fleeing. I saw that there are people on the Polish border with signs offering shelter, work and other needs to those coming in. I wish we saw this type of love for black/brown people as well, for those of Jewish and Muslim faiths. We need to do better. We can appreciate what is being done for Ukrainians right now and also hold this fact and vow to do better.
There’s a lot of talk these days about individual trauma and we all know that war results in trauma. But, we don’t talk enough about collective trauma. Collective trauma is the mental (and physical) reactions to an event/events that an entire society faces. Many times, we don’t identify this or even realize the impacts they have on us. Some examples: 9/11, impacted our entire country and beyond our own borders. The marathon bombing not only impacted those of us there, it impacted the entire city and beyond. The pandemic has been an ongoing collective trauma for everyone, across the world. War. War impacts everyone, whether we are conscious to it or not. It has ripple effects. All of the wars before and all that have happened in our lifetime have had an impact on us in some way.
So, how do we hold all of this? Well, the answer is we can’t hold it ALL. With the number of conflicts happening at this moment, a pandemic, racism, antisemitism, individual traumas, loss and every day stressors, our nervous systems can’t hold it all, all at once to the same degree. We have to find what works best for us, without fully ignoring the world. We can allow ourselves to at least be aware of what’s happening while also putting ourselves first if that is what it takes to get through our days. After all, we are no help to anyone or any cause if we are depleted.
We also need to face a reality. We have been living under systems that ignore our well being, ignore trauma and stress and the impacts they have on us. We have to push forward, show up fully, no matter what. There’s often no time to really process anything. It’s bullshit. We are not meant to go at that pace. Our bodies cannot handle it. We are seeing change but it is slow.
What CAN we do about all of this?
First and foremost, for anyone, especially if we are finding the every day stressors and our own traumas or experiences are too overwhelming to even face what else is happening in the world) we can do our best to find ways to learn to communicate with and regulate our nervous systems. When we can identify sensations/emotions/etc in our body and mind and use the tools that work best for us, we can give our bodies what they need. Maybe it’s grounding, maybe it’s needing a good cry, maybe it’s movement. Will it remove the stressor? No. Will it allow you to feel more in control and attuned so that you can reduce the impacts in the day to day? In most cases, yes.
Sometimes, we need to ride it out a bit. I have a lot of tools. I am very attuned to my body and it’s responses. But, last Thursday, those tools didn’t fully work. They worked temporarily but I had to allow myself to FEEL the anxiety, the sadness, the anger. I cried, I did some grounding. For me, that day, it was deep breathing and doing a puzzle. Do you have some favorite grounding techniques to pull from?
Because I allowed myself to feel what I needed in addition to using tools I needed, by the next day, it all eased. The anxiety was almost completely gone and the emotion, well, the emotion stays because watching people hurt, especially in ways like they are being hurt right now, always makes me emotional. I cry every single day about it. I'm angry every day about it. and that's okay. It's okay to feel these things when there is injustice and pain in the world. I’ve always said that if I stop having emotion over bad things happening, I’ve lost my humanness and become numb and I never want that.
I will share a list of grounding and coping techniques at the bottom of this.
If we give ourselves what we need, we then have more capacity to face what is happening around us and in the world. We can consume, though not at a constant rate, information on it (make sure it’s valid and not fake). We can take whatever actions we can, personally. Maybe that’s sharing information (again, real information, vetting what you are going to share) and using your voice. Maybe that’s donating. Maybe that’s a protest or rally. Your actions may also be in voting, in community work, in dialogue with others. Find the ways you can handle. Find the ways that work for you to both support your own system and still show up for the hard stuff happening in the world. Let's do what we CAN, no matter how small we think it is, from our corner of the world to try to make it a better place for ourselves, our loved ones and the future humans.
Check on the people you know who have been in war or war like situations, (this includes mass shootings), those families of those impacted by war and anyone else you know may be struggling right now.
Most of all, let's hope for this cycle of war to end that has plagued us for so many generations. War will keep happening because war creates more anger, hate, fear, power and then it just plays out again. But it start with each of us to create a different world, to find more love, peace and connection within and share it.
With hope and gratitude,
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