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October 5, 2011

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.

  1. samjasper permalink
    October 5, 2011 12:44 pm

    “A new round of social withdrawal and/or numbing.” Yup. I think it runs in cycles for many of us and might be that way forever. Trauma never just goes away. No one ever just gets over it, no matter how many people say that’s what should be done. We are able to put it aside for a bit, or behind us but we always know it’s there.

    LaDonna’s ferocity was also a cycle. We may go through the withdrawal/numbing, but we also cycle through the ferocity. It’s just a plain old in your face/living well is the best revenge flip off to all of those folks who don’t get it, never will and don’t want to. That coupled with tenacity is what keeps us all on the planet some days.

    Love this piece, Dedra. You covered so much ground so well.

  2. October 5, 2011 3:35 pm

    Packing a trauma on top of other, older, possibly unprocessed trauma, makes it quadruply hard for so many of us, often without us knowing. The violation of personal/bodily integrity, the willful inhumanity [I don’t think you can hurt someone else without some kind of inhumanity in you, however brief; only when we degrade someone in our view or worldview can we violate them], the victim-blaming, the misunderstanding and almost inability to see what we meant, what we survived, what we lost and mourned and have left—it replays the heart of all trauma, being used, blamed, ignored, isolated, told your experience is not real and/or not valid, no one willing to witness your abuse and your survival, the feeling of being beyond human help and care.

    I can still work up a good rant 6 years later off a single syllable of some fucktard comment about the Floods and post-Floods period. I’m ready to pop right now just speculating about it.

    And thanks.

  3. Anita permalink
    October 5, 2011 11:13 pm

    When it happened, I said it will take fifteen years and the thing is, even then, it’s never going to be gone, healed, forgotten. We just layer more living on top of it and, as you say, how well it goes depends on what those years bring. More trauma packed on top really matters. How do we not warp and fail when it keeps on being trauma all the way down, like the turtles the earth rests upon.

    What you’ve written about the anger is right. It’s like a gasp of air to the drowning to be able to feel that anger and get moving again. But it is just one breath of all the breathing we have to do and it isn’t enough by itself. Somebody has to see and care or we become well and truly lost.

    I read this about six-thirty this morning and it has been with me all day. You conceived and wrote this so beautifully, so knowledgeably and so completely that it is healing in itself. This is really good and I thank you.

  4. October 6, 2011 9:28 am

    I would only add that reconnection isn’t usually a conscious choice.

    It’s my belief that it’s very nearly impossible to recover from trauma by ourselves, alone, which is just one thing that makes it deadly, since it isolates us even from people closest to us. Because it affects us at a deep cognitive level.

    Something(s) and/or someone(s) has to push us, pull us, knock into us hard enough, whatever metaphor you choose, to get us off that couch, put the drink or the pill or the pipe down and move. And it’s likely that even this will be against our will at first.

  5. October 6, 2011 10:11 am

    “Packing a trauma on top of other, older, possibly unprocessed trauma, makes it quadruply hard for so many of us, often without us knowing.”

    Tell me about it.

    I just roll it all into a little ball and store it in the pit of my stomach.

  6. samjasper permalink
    October 6, 2011 11:55 am

    Maitri, when I was in my late 30’s, a woman I thought was pretty old (she was about the age I am now) said to me in a very sweet South Texas drawl, “Honey, anger is not a cookie. You’re not supposed to eat it.”

    She was so right, but I still do it. I know that “pit of my stomach” feeling all too well.

  7. October 11, 2011 7:09 am

    One way to not eat the anger is to find an appropriate place for it, to vent it righteously, instead of at random or at those we love and need. And yes, one burst of anger, and the anger itself, is not the totality or the beginning but a step in the journey. The one thing we have and had for sure is that the tragedy and trauma connected individuals and communities to each other, whether we like it or not. We may not want to live next door to ___ but we know how loss, fear, pain, hysteria and despair feel and we are thereby connected.

    That’s why that first Carnival and Mardi Gras post-Floods ware so psychologically important. We needed the counterbalance and to be pressed up against one another, to dance after the funeral, to laugh while crying, wipe ourselves off and get back down to it.

  8. doctorj2u permalink
    November 10, 2011 8:36 pm

    Our anger was righteous in every way in my view. How could it not be righteous? I am often pegged as seeing the world as black or white- right or wrong. Katrina opened a new world of greys to me. But anger??? No, Katrina anger remains, always.

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