Sunflower Skins

July 27, 2015

Trauma Recovery vs. Trigger Warnings

TriggerWarnings

Trigger Warnings & Resilience

Resilience is a huge part of my life, throughout trauma and after. As an abused child, I had to rely on myself to survive, and as an adult, I find Trigger Warnings uninformed and harmful. They do disservice (dare I say injustice?) to my own inner resources or to my therapeutic work, as it seems counterproductive to stress reduction and downright cruel to my sense of self to be rendered equally helpless each time I’m confronted by a trauma reminder. In the Real World—whether at home, at school, or at the mall—trauma reminders can be everywhere and in everything; they are common-place, even boring items that I own and must use because they are part of life. Though their threat levels vary emotionally, they do not compromise my immediate safety and need no “warnings.” Because resilience is contextual, I must prepare for vulnerable situations of all kinds but particularly for when I actually find myself in a traumatic situation, like distressful news, an accident, or a crisis. I could hide forever, but then I wouldn’t even trust myself. Therefore, it remains my responsibility to build my capacity skills and nurture my inner safe space.

Case One: Reacting to an object and situation in private directly to trauma: my bed and sleep. Feeling comfortable in my own apartment, even in my own skin, tests me daily. To prepare for one of the most basic aspects of life, I have established a lengthy bedtime routine so that I am relaxed and able to rest. Some of my tools involve stretching to calming music; looking at art; deep breathing; containment exercises; lucid dreaming exercises; watching online animal cameras (including live streams of rhinos, bears, and puppies); taking medication; and taking a few minutes to engage both my tactile and visual senses with my plants, soft plush toys, and light-reflecting objects like crystals, geodes, and tumbled stones.

Case Two: Reacting to an object in public indirectly related to trauma: a stranger wearing the same style clothing as my abuser. I was unnerved and confused the first time I saw someone in an identical jacket as my abuser, but I was also semi-prepared, as being out of my home should always bring with it primitive awareness. Fight, Flight, or Freeze kicked in and I had to address the severity of the threat; turns out, none, as the person walked past without noticing me whatsoever. Suddenly the idea of an inanimate object “hurting” me seemed ludicrous, for the threat was only ever from the person behind the object. Furthermore, the jacket was such a common style at the time—same cut, colour, men’s, women’s—that I still see it on adults in my city, and now consider it regular positive exposure therapy for a more directly vulnerable situations.

Case Three: Reacting to something in public emotionally directly related to trauma: overhearing an argument or encountering disturbing material in class. In other words, I am having flashbacks and dissociating. Therapy and self-discipline comes into play now. First I must ground myself by stating what date it is, what city I’m in, where I am, and who I’m with. Then I must work on breathing exercises while assessing the threat level, that physically I am safe but feeling emotionally exposed. Addressing these feelings and actively attempting to engage more with my environment rather than withdrawing often brings context and relief. Occasionally I learn something in hindsight from the experience, like that I can relate to other people’s problems too instead of feeling all alone, or that I can appreciate a song for being a good song within itself (Formalism, which I will address further below). However, it is still within my agency to remove myself from situation if other methods do not work.

Case Four: Reacting to a crisis: being contacted by or seeing my abuser. This is a much more direct threat and, because I have built up my resilience, I am able to remain present and not dissociate, to not have a panic attack, and to have some measure of independence and control. This is what it means to not be a victim anymore.

Do you want to know what really invalidates my experiences? It isn’t when a university lets someone who disagrees with me speak, or when I read something upsetting that I’m not expecting. My experiences of both trauma and post-traumatic growth are impeded and invalidated by inaccurate mental health application, by censoring voices, and by denying me rational coping mechanisms like critical thinking, threat assessment, conversation and debate, and post-traumatic growth. Micromanaging and assuming you know what’s best for other people feels less like empathy and more like fascism, as all possible growth becomes restricted and stagnant, if not regressive. Furthermore, being reminded of my traumas doesn’t have to be a disturbing or debilitating experience; art has a beautiful quality of moving and empowering the viewer by allowing individual access and assessment on a very intimate level. If already labelled somehow, the viewer engages with the material based not on content but within a biased context and false narrative chosen by others, which is, in a way, quite re-victimizing. Where are trigger warning advocates’ respect for those who have lived through trauma and have the right to feel their own emotions and decisions? Unfortunately, politically-incorrect comedy, overt sexuality in both women and men, and violence of all kinds are censored and demonized rather than regarded as positive coping mechanisms and therapies. I feel extreme comfort when encountering very direct references to my experiences in TV shows like South Park, The Simpsons, Twin Peaks, and The X-Files, or from writers like Kathy Acker, Robert Cormier, Alan Moore, and Virginia Woolf because I can learn things about myself and the world through the frame of the show or book and come to new understandings of my past. Particularly I find ways to laugh and release grotesque tension and fear, or as Thomas Gray and Samuel Beckett might say, “laughing wild amid severest woe.” Part of resilience is integrity, or “the capacity to affirm the value of life in the face of death, to be reconciled with the finite limits of one’s own life and the tragic limitations of the human condition, and to accept these realities without despair” (Judith Herman, M.D., Trauma and Recovery, 1992). With such integrity and awareness, trauma survivors can achieve integration, meaning less dissociation, fragmentation, fear, and instability—healthy progress, I’d say.

Likewise in academia, for the engaged rather than offended student: the material, the professor, the classroom, the time spent studying in the library—indeed all aspects of university life—become a positive way to explore “dangerous” ideas. I myself have had bad encounters with professors, but accusing them across entire faculties of being insensitive to their students’ emotional needs is lazy and narcissistic. If you’re paying attention, professors already do provide context and engaging strategies for difficult material: lectures, classroom discussions, office hours, and the expectation that students at least be open to different modes of learning; rightly so, for after all, for what reason are you at university? One of my favourite topics from class was Formalism, as in, studying and appreciating art in and of itself, objectively, without author or reader context; learning this method was a relief and a pleasure, and I consider W.B. Yeats’ “Leda and the Swan” one of the greatest poems ever written, thanks to the controversial professor who taught it to me word by word. University is about dropping your guard and your former beliefs, even if just for a few moments; the degree should be symbolic of the work, knowledge, effort, and intellectual strife. Exploring different ideas and having your worldview challenged, especially for those who’ve experienced trauma, brings a catharsis social justice could never imagine.

Life is full of a lot more things than just sexual and physical assaults, and I would much rather be able to move freely than seek ways to constantly relive the worst parts of my life. I like that I’m responsible for my own safe spaces, which includes my apartment, my therapist’s office, and my inner resilience. Discovering personal coping mechanisms instead of relying on others to soften the world restores the control and self-worth I was denied as a child. I say this especially to young people struggling with trauma, identity, academics, or even just trying to understand everyday situations: would you rather find ways to be resilient in the face of trauma or find ways to be victimized by it? I will not encourage you to forego general self-care in lieu of a warning; if somebody once denied you the ability to make your own choices, as my parents once did to me, let us not deny ourselves such agency now. Take care of yourselves, as you—only you—have the ability to choose how to act and react in this world, and though it takes work, practice will bring some catharsis and personal empowerment.

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May 26, 2013

Guam’s Bible Promises, Pt. XII: A Crisis of Identity, or quaquaquaquackery

A_Crisis_Of_Identity

“And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:13)

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1:7)

“Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.” (Ps. 50:15)

“I will dwell in the midst of thee.” (Zech. 2:11)

“To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna.” (Rev. 2:17)

Click here for Pt. XI!

May 19, 2013

Guam’s Bible Promises, Pt. XI: A Crisis of Faith, or quaquaquaqua

A_Crisis_of_Faith

“And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:13)

“The desire of the righteous shall be granted.” (Prov. 10:24)

“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for he is faithful that promised.)” (Heb. 10:23)

“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” (Acts 1:8)

“Great is thy faithfulness.” (Lam 3:23)

Click here for Pt. X!

Father Who?

January 8, 2013

Playground Rowdiness

Filed under: art — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Sunflower Skins @ 3:42 pm

Playground_Rowdiness

December 6, 2008

The Watermelon Sky

Filed under: poetry — Tags: , , , , , — Sunflower Skins @ 5:42 pm


The last winter of our youth, you and I
Walked across snowy and forgotten lands
Where in yours you took my tired, small hands
And came upon a Watermelon Sky.
Pure, solid pink until the horizon,
Like inside your mouth, like under your skin,
Like your patience wearing a little thin,
The deep red membrane we set our eyes on.
Then we turned to see the blues of the moon:
Soft aqua and turquoise fading to white
By the single star that’s been out tonite.
The choice to live is ours; morning is soon.


And though our hearts may be black like its seeds,
We will remain true wherever it leads.

October 12, 2008

Hulga’s Gift

Filed under: poetry — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Sunflower Skins @ 11:35 pm


Hulga the Angel descends in the dark.
Her stump leg scrapes the ground. She knows full well
Her presence brings no peace nor chastity.
Not here, not anymore. Because I am
Re-stitching this dress, pulling out the seam.
For each knot I tie, the tighter will be
My new skin, adjusted by the years
To fit over new curves, new bones, break new hearts.
Let down the hem, iron out the creases:
This chocolate silk dress is yours. I made it
For you. Time only makes my blood run cold
And memory gets richer with heat, with want.


Hulga points to a violin player.
She says, “Maybe this was the only man
You ever really loved. And even then
It was only your desire you loved.”
It is more than just her name that is ugly.
It is my shame, my lust, that in itself
Makes my identity, summer after
Summer. Put on my dress, cut by a bow.
Measure my life against the day we met.


There will always be death in this body.
Hold it close, embrace wounded memory.
Truth is embedded in divine flesh. Yours.
I will hear your music for my whole life
And I will remember your tenderness,
Part of me forever, like a stump leg.
If you see me haunting your dreams, or don’t,
Whether you can or cannot forget me;
I will wear this dress with everything
I ever wanted in you or in him.


Hulga points to a reveling sinner.
She says, “Maybe this was the only man
You ever really wanted. Even still
It was only yourself that you needed.”

September 16, 2008

Excerpt from “Paradise Within”

July 29, 2008

Heat

Filed under: prose — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Sunflower Skins @ 5:07 pm

It is the summer of 1890, July. Paris is hot. Relief can be found in the wheat fields.

Lie my head back into the soft ground. Tall golden stalks surround me on either side. Van Gogh loved his absinthe so, his vision was yellow. My colored eyes, huge, flicker up to his face. I’m Sien, drowning myself in the river, I’m Theo, watching over with a brother’s care. I’m Kathy, walking through the beautiful light.

How could I have not known the wound was fatal? I put the revolver to my chest. And yet it took two days to die.

It is a common misconception that “Wheat Field with Crows” was Vincent Van Gogh’s final painting. “Daubigny’s Garden” is more likely, although he spent many of his last days gazing sublimely around Auvers. The painting that survives depicts a foreboding sky with black clouds rolling in and a flock of crows flying over the field. They are held to be the symbol that Van Gogh knew he was about to die and some critics claim that he killed himself while painting it. Three paths of indecision weave their way through the wheat.

The canvas stands before me naked and pale like a beautiful woman. Masturbate in front of me. I began to use oil paints eight years ago. Now I dip the fine hairs of the brush into a glob and paint a long, dark sky threatening the hardest rain to ever hit the fields of Auvers. The yellow and amber wheat is shining like patches in the sun. And the black rooks fly off into the horizon: leave death in their wake, or go forward towards it,

Three paths. Choose.

I take the brush and paint a long, dark line down from my collar bone to the curve of my left hip, stroking, just barely, my pelvic bone. Desire. The oil lies on top of my skin in thin layers and it will not dry for a long time. Not while you’re here. You are not here, Vincent. Desire is a dream with your face, he says, desire was a dream.

“La tristesse durera toujours.”

It is the summer of 1890, July. Paris is hot. Relief can be found in the wheat fields. My eyes, huge, flicker up to my reflection in the glass. This is not my final painting. No one knows but see it in my own face, speak last words but I’m painting, painting. The black crows are flying, flying away–

Choose.

July 28, 2008

Excerpt from “The Briton Self Essays”

Filed under: prose — Tags: , , , , , , , — Sunflower Skins @ 11:02 pm
The Briton Self Essays

By Briton Self

Scandals

It was with great celebration, and soon apparent appropriation, that I declared to the World my Self on that fateful Tuesday in September, 2004. I hadn’t expected such an uproar, but my announcement didn’t go over as well as I’d imagined. By the time I arrived home late that evening, after some congratulatory drinks at the pub, the newspapers were already swooning with my misadventures. It seemed that I’d become the next Kate Bloomfield or Madonna, although not with quite the proper exterior. Too rough and subversive to become a national icon, harbouring my “grand plans for ordained domination” via my new Self, the World only had time to consider when I would strike. Citizens were advised to barricade themselves with bottled water and to have a straight supply of CNN hooked up to their veins. Of course the chaos was all blamed on me; apparently I was the catalyst for a major movement of rebels, all Self-Proclaiming, in the streets of Bangkok and the waters of the Seine, moving along the trade routes of Tibet and through the offices of Wall Street. They were coming, I was their leader, and nothing could stop it, not even the national guard because, demanding peace, UCLA students filled all the guns with daisies. The US Presidents firmly supported the British Prime Minister, saying the future looked bleak for the Beautiful Republican Countries, but, God Willing, we would not achieve our demands.

It appeared that everything had gone wrong.

After a lifetime of insecurities, I have finally found peace with my Self. I did not want to be a leader for anyone but my Self; that was the whole point, as I had seen it, and I expected the option of expressing this pleasure to be readily available. Perhaps, however, I should have simply turned on my reliable computer to explain my Self neatly and comfortably to a small group of web-caming individuals. Perhaps I had overestimated society’s preparedness to accept such an open address. Yet when one is so excited by the appearance of the desired, is one’s mind on the consequences for a supposedly liberal human race? Thirty-six years old with the final recognition of what I really wanted out of life, I could not have resigned my Self to such a target audience. I didn’t quite understand how I became the World’s #1 Enemy through my tiny triumph, but somehow I did. And is that treason? On what accounts, specifically?

This was all a big misunderstanding. I had not meant to cause an uprising nor wanted to be the Head-Honcho Leader of an all-out terrorist gang, whose sole goal rested in freeing the Inner Self. I had hoped to merely “out” my Self and return to my telemarketing job in the small corner of the offices of The Daily Telegraph. Not that it kept me happy, but it didn’t keep me unhappy, and after all, I had enough money to eat and live and buy clothes and occasionally travel to exotic foreign lands, where I’d spend my hard-earned dollars on trinkets for my loved ones. I didn’t exactly enjoy my job, but I had found an ease in it, firmly believed that I was doing good for the country in that, at least, I wasn’t harming anyone or anything. True, I had had my fair share of hang-ups and angry voices during the interruptions of favorite TV shows, but all in all it was a good life. I had my friends. I had my hobbies. I had my Self. That shouldn’t be a scandal, should it?

[Order the full “The Briton Self Essays” chapbook through www.myspace.com/sunflowerskins or sunflowerskins@gmail.com. Visit Briton’s web page at www.myspace.com/britonself.]

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