the trauma responder
When I was in the last year or two of high school, my mother began volunteering with an organization called TIP of Southern Nevada. She would wear a pager (yes, those were the days) and would be on-call according to a given schedule. First responders would call TIP when they anticipated their services prior to arrival on a scene, or when they got there. TIP volunteers are truly angels on earth. My mother would arrive to fatal accident scenes and hold the hands of survivors and walk them through the process of 'what now'. She would arrive at domestic violence calls and sit with scared children or put a blanket around a battered woman. Where there is a survivor, there is often a TIP angel there to simply 'be'. I say survivor when I know they are also victims.
My mother would be gone for short calls and for hours at a time. She would get paged in the middle of the night or just as I got home from school. Trauma doesn't wait for a convenient time. Sometimes she wouldn't get paged at all. Sometimes another volunteer would be on a call that was too overwhelming and call for backup. After her shift, my mother would share the experiences she witnessed, but always respecting confidentiality. Sometimes there were no words. What she gave me in those moments of decompressing, was a gift. She gave me a gift that I didn't know I would need countless times over. She taught me about just being with someone. She kept angel pins on her and would give them to those who had just lost a loved one, as a reminder that they were not alone. She taught me the value of a simple gesture. She showed me that sometimes you just sit in someone's presence, or just show up as a safe place. She taught me about trauma response and how to manage a crisis. When she died, you'd better believe I grabbed that big ol handbook of hers and put it to good use. Without it I don't know how we'd have known about navigating Social Security, organ donation, funeral planning, and all those other nitty gritty things you prefer not to know about when you are 17 years old.
I once, before marriage and children, signed up to be a TIP volunteer. I didn't make it past the first training meeting. One discussion about the requirement to visit the coroner's office and tour the morgue sent my heart racing. I just couldn't do it. I did my mother's makeup for her viewing, as well as my grandfather's. I'm not saying those were easy....but they just weren't the same. I've told myself for years now that I'll try again when my children are old enough to drive and be left on their own if needs be, but I've had that thought of the morgue in my mind every time. I don't know that I can do it even still. I've felt a bit guilty about that. That maybe I just am too weak or something.
Then this thought came to me... completely out of the blue....
I already am voluntarily responding to traumatic events to tend to the wounded survivors. I am a trauma responder and that is my calling in life. That is what makes me feel fulfilled and gives me joy and satisfaction. No, I don't feel joy at someone's pain. I do feel joy at using mine to soothe a wounded soul.
I used to think that God gave me hard experiences to teach me lessons and because I must have made some deal up in Heaven to be given all the hard stuff because I was willing. I saw it as He was putting these things upon me to use me as a tool to help others because He just knew that I would because that's the kind of person I am.
I get it now. I've been through many a traumatic event. I am generally good in a crisis. That's not because He made me this way or put me through things to use them for the good of others. He allowed me to suffer the consequences of mortal life, of other's agency, of the human experience. He allowed me these and then I chose to use them to help others. He didn't make me, but He helped me and helps me still.
Sometimes I think about these women I know who seem to have found their calling in life, or their passion. I feel like I have so many things that I really love or that I feel like I'm good at and so I struggle to identify and give words to mine. Sometimes I see these WoPAs who are out running nonprofits to help the survivors of betrayal trauma or the victims of sex-trafficking. I see brave and bold women meeting with Congress, plastering illicit massage parlors to shut them down, and speaking before large audiences on hard but important subjects. I generally don't feel 'mommy guilt' but I sometimes do feel 'survivor guilt'. I should be doing more. I could be doing more. How can I do more?
You know what? Those things may come.... if they are meant to. I had the label suddenly come to my mind that I am a trauma responder. I don't love labels, but sometimes they just help to give us some order to our lives. Having that helps me to make some sense of things... I can help others who've been through trauma because I have. Pain is the qualifier, even if the mechanics of how they got there aren't the same. I can help those who struggle to love themselves or who struggle with their body image or the negative voices in their head...particularly when it's the result of trauma...because I've been there. I can help give healing and teach others to find it themselves by way of art, because I've used it myself. Just as my mother was before me, I am a trauma responder. It's like restoring a link to her again, and I didn't even mean to.