Traumatic Stress Info from Starhawk
Hey all, Miami was definitely a hard action, and many of us will need some loving aftercare and support. Below is something I wrote after Genoa on post traumatic stress, that includes some good resources, including a website where counselors of various sorts can list themselves to offer support for activists. Love to all of youyou are awesome! ~ Starhawk
Trauma Support By Starhawk
Activism is not easy.
In taking strong stands for the earth, for freedom, and for human rights in hard times, we often face
violence and experience trauma. We need to know how to support each other, how to recognize our human
responses to trauma and know the symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome.
Some of the symptoms follow. All of these are part of our normal human response to trauma, itıs their
duration and intensity that can turn them into the life-threatening condition of PTSD. If you are still
having strong symptoms three months after the action, you may need experienced help. Our level of trauma
will vary according to our personal histories and the level of violence we are exposed to: watching someone
else get beaten is different from being beaten oneself, but is still traumatic and may in some cases
be emotionally harder. People who come from violent homes in childhood, who are already survivors of rape, assault or abuse may be especially vulnerable to long lasting impacts of violence.
Changes in eating or sleeping patterns. Some people may be unable to eat or sleep. Others may not be able
to stop. Not being able to put aside the terrible images and memories.
Not being able to feel. Depression, inability to take joy in life.
Rage (well, rage is the sane response to what happened, but crippling or self destructive rage, or
anger directed at the wrong targets, can be a symptom.)
Increased use of drugs or alcohol for self-medication.
Fear, anxiety, panic attacks and phobias. Guilt, regret, and self blame. Witnesses who escaped
suffering the worst may be especially prone to survivorıs guiltı.
Overwhelming grief. Inability to function normally, to plan or make decisions, or to carry out normal life activities.
Shame. Suicidal thoughts and feelings.
What you can do for yourself:
Reach out to your friends and allies for help and contact. Donıt isolate yourself.
Remember what happened is not your fault. You donıt need to feel ashamed or guilty, although you may find
yourself having these normal responses to trauma. The guilt belongs to the men who beat, tortured and
murdered people, and to those who gave the orders, not to you.
You coped the best you could with an utterly brutal situation.
Being an activist is a mark of your courage, commitment and integrity. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.
Friends and family members, in their own distress, may behave in ways that make it worse. You have the
absolute right to stop them, to leave a destructive situation, and to find real help.
Remember that people do survive even these terrible things, and can come back stronger. But you may need
time to focus on your own healing.
Donıt worry right now about whether or not you will go back to an action again.
Know that healing yourself from this one is a political act.
What you can do to support your friends:
Donıt let them disappear into isolation.
Iım especially worried about those who might have come to the action alone, or without friends in their own
home city. They need to have contact with people who have been there, who understand at least something of
what they went through.
Keep in contact.
Call them, ask them how theyıre doing, if theyıre sleeping.
Remember that people may think theyıre fine at first, but later begin to suffer the effects of the trauma.
Commit to remain in contact over a period of months, not just the first few days.
Help them to talk. We need to tell our stories, sometimes over and over and over again: ideally to someone who has been through it and understands, but if thatıs not possible, to someone who can simply listen, accept the
full range of our feelings, without trying to make us feel better.
Feed them, shop, cook and clean for them, take care of some of their creature comforts.
Accompany them. Help them get where they need to go.
Be an advocate for them in medical, legal or mental health measures.
Help them make and get to appointments. Go with them.
Help them fill out forms, write statements.
Find appropriate help and resources for them.
Be an advocate for them with their school or job.
Help support their family and friends who may also be in grief, shock and rage.
Be a advocate, or a buffer, between them and family members, lovers or friends whose own level of stress
and fear may cause them to react in ways that are not helpful.
Be willing to let them get mad at you.
Try to gently explain the reality of what has happened.
Help them bear witness, but take their lead. Some people may find their greatest relief comes from
speaking out and telling their story publicly. You can help interest the media, or set up venues for them to
talk to groups. For others, however, this might be too overwhelming or restimulating. Help them find other
ways to witness: writing their story, writing statements that can be read by others for them, making
tapes or videos at home.
Carry on the struggle. Find ways that they can stay connected and be a part of it even if they are not
able to go to actions.
In all these things, remember that your friend is in charge of her or his own healing.
Donıt patronize or infantilize them, but support them to make their own choices.
Some people may need experienced, trained help to get through this. A group of us have been in the process
of setting up a database of care providers who are committed to working with activists, if necessary on a
no-fee or low cost basis.
then click on Resources: Support for Political Protesters Healing from Trauma
It includes contact information, experience, training and background.
We are unable to provide quality control or monitoring, but the database will include a place
where people can post their own experiences with the care provider.
If you know care providers with an understanding of activism, and experience in dealing with trauma who
might be willing to be listed, please have them contact us. If they need more information, ask them to
email Walter Zeichner Mtnmanvt@sover.net.
Another good resource on trauma, with links to other sites and book recommendations, can be found at:
A few additional resources from a friend with the Red Cross: David Baldwin's Trauma Page has a lot of
This includes the resources that the Red Cross publishes and it's easier to reach than through the
Red Cross web site. It also includes a number of international sites and
provides translations into 5 languages of its pages.
The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder [corrected link]: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/treatment/index.html
The American Psychiatric Association has a trauma page:
Amnesty International - http://www.amnesty.or
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