The helpless person escapes her situation not by action in the real world but rather by altering her state of consciousness. … These perceptual changes combine with a feeling of indifference, emotional detachment, and profound passivity in which the person relinquishes all initiative and struggle. This altered state of consciousness might be regarded as one of nature’s small mercies, a protection against unbearable pain. … In an attempt to create some sense of safety and to control their pervasive fear, traumatized people restrict their lives (Herman 42, 43).
After the Floods, many folks in south LA fumed day and night. We’d been allowed to nearly drown and then it felt like everyone outside the state wanted us and ours to seep out of the city and anyone’s care like receding water. Those outside were perplexed and offended by our individual and collective anger. But that anger was healing, self-protective—when we got angry on our own behalf, individually or collectively, it protected us, somewhat, from the bullshit outside and made our blood run warm again. The anger felt good. And it was good.
Initially after her rape, her trauma, Ladonna did what many of us did, at least for a while—curled up in a real or imagined corner guarded by a blank stare and alcohol. Our loved ones worried, our friends outside stopped calling or stopped hearing from us at all, we drank and drank a bit more and then had a few shots on top of that. We sunk into it, still in disbelief that what had happened was real and really bad.
As she vents her rage in safety, her helpless fury gradually changes into a more powerful and satisfying form of anger: righteous indignation. This transformation allows the survivor to free herself from the prison of the revenge fantasy (Herman 189).
When Ladonna gets angry, righteously so, her healing begins [not ends—the trauma of rape cannot be resolved so easily, just like the trauma of the Floods will not and has not been quickly or neatly resolved; trauma is Hard] and we get to see her smile again, hear her husband say “This is the woman I married,” and not just Ladonna but both return to her rightful place—her bar, her neighborhood, her city, functioning, moving forward, the past not forgotten but the present not swallowed up by it.
And that’s been hard for some of us. Some are still stuck in anger. Others have passed through but to a new round of social withdrawal and/or numbing. Some of us have been lucky enough to find a little peace even if the door is opened with a bottle of Abita. Trauma is not simple. First you must establish some sense of safety. Then it is possible to remember, have someone bear witness to your pain and humanity, and begin reconnecting with the world and its people.
Ladonna gets pissed and we all feel better, at least for a few hours.
Herman, Judith. Trauma and Recovery. New York: Basic, 1992, 1997. Print.