Sometimes the act of sharing is the starting point to trauma recovery. In “Release” The Lovepost invites citizens from across the globe to submit their trauma experiences. These submissions are being published anonymously across our website and social platforms as they come in. We hope that the act of sharing these experiences can subside shame, dismantle unhelpful beliefs, lessen triggering and help survivors of trauma make sense of a completely senseless event or series of events.
I did not go to war; war came to me. I worked in post-war communities at the moment when war-fighting changed. Since the 1990s, wars have ended less often and they are increasingly waged by sub-state forces. Front lines and civilian protections have dissolved. More people exist in a borderland of perpetual danger and unpredictable urban violence.
I inhabited the suicide bombs, blockade and sustained aerial bombardments of Afghanistan and Gaza for a decade. Now I inhabit an unforgetting post-war body.
I brought a highly qualified brain to my work. My power analyses were shaped by university degrees in politics, philosophy and international development. But the bombs did not strike my well-armoured brain. They thudded into my chest in a wall of sound so solid that it threw my heart against my ribs. A sensory knowledge of exposure took root: vulnerability is our shared human condition. Some of us have what we need today, but none of us is safe until we all learn to place humanity at the centre of our understanding, our policy and our actions.
My body took not philosophy but vulnerability as its organising principle. My body knows perfectly well that I am safe at home, while others suffer from cruelty and brutality. The brain is an insufficient tool to bring to the body's decisions (try reasoning with suffocation or sleeplessness), and my body knows the need of countless people for safety, sufficiency, untroubled sleep and release from terror. My body will not relinquish what I learned of their fear.
A bird—or is it a cat?—is clawing its way out of my chest: blind, writhing, raking, fighting for its life. My skin crawls and my clothes scratch like ill-fitting hessian. Screaming—somewhere, someone is screaming for rescue. Hairs rise along my arms and neck, responding to that primal cry from the edge of human tolerance. I want to scream with them but there would be no end to the screaming so I bite my tongue. The air is soupy with dread and my lungs are made of wide-gauge mesh. This is not panic; it is knowledge. Someone truly is screaming right now, whether you listen to them or not.
And through this knowledge I nod, grind the nails of one hand into the palm of the other, make conversation over the latte, and carry on in the present tense.
I resist problematising this. My embodied sensations are emphatically a problem, but my knowledge is not per se a trauma. Dr Bessel van der Kolk calls trauma the event of which the mind can make no sense—and my body makes a great deal of sense as it struggles to live with its knowledge of this world. It is the deafness of our world that I find senseless. Problematise that.
After the big suicide bombs in Kabul, the ones that turned the windows to spiderwebs behind the blast film and sent doors leaping inward from their hinges, my Afghan friend would go out to find the names of the street cleaners who had been killed. That was our response to the terrifying loss of specificity that happens when all the blood puddles together. That was our power analysis: lacking economic choices, street cleaners died most regularly. We sent food to their families, to hold them at the heart of our understanding of that day. That was the sense we could make.
Human rights asserted itself as another kind of sense in those years: we, all of us equally, have a right to that which we need to live. In 1999, Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen wrote that human rights are a demand, addressed to anyone who can help. Anyone. You. Human rights exist to shake you and me by our lapels and shout into our faces: Look—help, damnit!
My body is shaking me by my lapels.
I resist the notion that a cure would consist of hardening my boundaries to keep the endangered people out. Is it healthy for a child to stand in a burning room, hands over eyes, insisting, you can’t see me! I would rather be permeable than fortified. If integration is health, mine will be a more spiritual, transpersonal, outward-facing integration. I'm working on that.
I may yet learn to keep the endangered people company in less raw ways, but not every discomfort or sadness is an illness to be medicalised and cured.