Healing in Community

Mikki Morrissette (photo by Sarah Whiting)

Trigger Warning: This entire issue, including this letter, could be triggering to those who have survived trauma, especially sexual violence. 

One of my favorite recent news stories was learning about the Sip of Hope in Chicago. It is a gathering place where coffee drinkers — about 300 per day — talk openly about mental health struggles. Every barista there has been trained to listen. The founding mission is to be proactive about suicide prevention and de-stigmatizing mental health. Sip of Hope is a simple community solution to a widespread issue. 

On the other hand, among my least favorite news: how we are treating the many Central American refugees and their children. According to a Boston Globe commentary, “How ‘Femicide’ Drove the Caravan,” women are fleeing Honduras because they are being murdered at a rate of one woman every 16 hours. In Guatemala, it is estimated that half the victims of femicide had been first forced into sex trafficking. In these patriarchal communities, the author wrote, many men feel emboldened to commit violence against women and girls. 

The U.S. has its own deep history, of course, in inflicting trauma.

Our “Healing in Community” event on January 15 drew together women in conversation about ways that we can communally engage to heal the trauma that impacts all of us. We talked about how many survivors have absorbed trauma as “normal.” Others deny the impact of trauma, partly out of shame and stigma. We talked about the link of trauma to addiction.

On a Personal Note

Guests at the event shared stories of growing up in survival mode, being sexually violated at young ages, and not knowing where to turn. 

I related to several stories shared. At age 7, my solution to fear of the babysitter who masturbated in my bedroom at night was to simply tell my parents I didn’t like him, create a space of isolation in my closet, where I slept for many months, and develop a long-lasting fantasy that my older brother — who died at birth — was alive, fighting in the Vietnam War, and would come back to help me.

After I was raped at age 19, I pretended it did not matter. I dismissed the impact of discovering that people you know can turn into someone else — in my case, a person who was repeating his own trauma of sexual abuse.

It took me a decade before I began the process of healing, and trying to learn how to be vulnerable and trusting. 

Sharing Trauma

In the September “Story” issue, I interviewed choreographer Rosy Simas. We talked about epigenetics — how trauma can trigger genes in our DNA and be passed on to future generations. Simas believes the body movement she creates is partly to heal the trauma of her Native roots. 

In January, I went to see Simas’s “Weave” at the Ordway Theater in St. Paul. The entire experience was moving.

In one particular moment, a lone dancer slowly walked across the stage, with long fabric trailing behind her. After she stepped onto a block, an off.stage fan blew the fabric behind her, sending it aloft like a giant horizontal sail extending across almost all of the stage. The other dancers swept the fabric to the background, where it was lifted into the air, banners of purple and white draping the space.

Unexpectedly, a lone tear slid down my cheek. The rawness of my week was released. I was reminded that we spend so much time dragging things behind us that are, indeed, part of us, but that can also be carried and lifted. 

Sometimes we feel suffocated, or weighed down by loss, pain, and trauma. We feel it is our job to be resilient in a way that precludes allowing ourselves to seek care. Or we feel there is no community to turn to, that the borders are closed. We create a space inside a closet, afraid of sharing our truth because of what others might think — how we might become labeled as a result.

Yet, it is in being able to connect and not remain silenced and afraid, that brings healing and regeneration. That is the power of everyday women.

This is the work of Minnesota Women’s Press.