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Trauma and Recovery by Deb Thomas

At first glance, there was nothing outstanding about the way she looked. I stood behind a woman and her young family in a buffet line—all of us waiting to fill our plates. Nothing caught my eye until the woman turned toward me, making her full face visible, showing half her face unmarked and half seared with burn scars. An additional quick scan took in scars on the exposed parts of her right forearm and hands; she walked with a limp. I also noticed the easy manner the woman and family related to each other. In the seconds viewing the woman’s scars and her family, I imagined a story of trauma and recovery.

It is nearing ten years since I saw the woman in the buffet line, and while I never learned her story, I often think of her scars and how I came to see them: hidden at first, then visible when she turned to full view. For this woman, a piece of her story was available for others to see and I’ve often wondered what people would look like if faces showed the many scars of traumas and pain experienced in daily living. Would scars serve as a reminder that pain from trauma and loss is not quickly or easily healed? Would we feel less isolated and alone in our pain if it were easily seen on the outside?

Three years ago, a friend knocked on my Samaritan Center office door at Bellevue Presbyterian Church’s Upper Campus, interrupting a meeting to find out if I had heard from my daughter, Katie — was she safe? At that moment, Seattle Pacific University, the school my daughter attended, was on lockdown and there was a shooter on campus. Twenty minutes after the knock, Katie called and reported she was safe after hunkering down in a nearby apartment. While I was quickly relieved for the safety of my daughter, I soon learned the story did not have a happy ending—what shooting does? My daughter, and hundreds of other victims, came out without visible scars, but the pain did not stop—has not stopped—for many. Two of the shooter’s victims were wounded, and one young man, who was a dear friend to many, died. Many others—untouched by bullets—have invisible scars on the inside. Two years later, many continue to feel the pain.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist at Samaritan Center, I spend most of my workdays listening to stories of physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual pain. The issues cover a range of topics including recovery and healing from various traumas. Trauma events, like the shooting at SPU, often impact individuals long after the event, and long after friends and families think it should. Perhaps one of the difficulties in healing from trauma is that many wounds are on the inside, invisible to others. Months and years after the event, individuals may experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, panic, and depression. The same is true for emotional and spiritual pain of any cause—we feel the pain, but our faces may not show it, especially when taught to hide the pain from others.

I’m thankful for the Psalmists who wrote about both their joys and laments. I’m also thankful for modern Christian writers who have shared their personal traumas and grief—Gerry Sittser and C.S. Lewis to name two. The stories of grief validate both the feelings of wanting to quickly “get over it” and the experience that grief and pain pay no attention to our desire. In order to heal from traumas, we need to move through the pain, as the way to move forward, weaving the event and impact into our daily life and faith. Individuals often come to counseling when help from family and friends has been exhausted, and when working through the pain on their own is ot enough. 

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