The Trauma of Healing Trauma

There’s a Patton Oswalt tweet making the rounds: This whole country is about to be Tom Hanks in the last scene of Captain Phillips.

For those who didn’t see it, Hanks plays a ship captain who ably protects his crew and passengers from Somalian pirates only to fall apart when they are finally safe. The movie is meh–even problematic in part–but Hanks’ breakdown is so thoroughly affecting that it validates the film’s overall existence. More than that, it haunts you. It isn’t just Hank’s extraordinary acting. It is the emotional accuracy.

It makes me think of the summer when I was 18. I was managing an ice cream store when my employees and I were held up at gun point by two dudes in ski masks. I handled it–kept everyone calm as they ransacked us, called the police immediately afterward, recalled enough identifying features that they were quickly caught and convicted. (It helped that the dudes were addicts and not covering their tracks.)

At the time everyone remarked on how cool-headed I was, how seemingly unbothered. Then a few weeks later I was watching Point Freaking Break and started screaming when a bank robbery went sideways and people were killed.

When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take the reins on Tuesday, anyone with any sense is going to be profoundly relieved. Sure, we won’t be entirely out of danger–pandemicoup is still a stark reality–but a madman will no longer be in possession of the nuclear codes while mobilizing white supremacists from the highest office of the land.

And know what? It’s okay if that’s when you really fall apart. PTSD ain’t just a river in Egypt.

Intellectually we know this. But we forget that only when we are out of immediate danger can we register its full effects. Sometimes it takes days. Sometimes generations. But eventually we have to feel what we have suffered so it can come up to be healed. Trust me: We’re a much bigger danger to ourselves and others when we don’t. So much of the mess of America results from not granting the space for proper healing–and reckoning–of the legacy of colonialism.

In the weeks and months to come, please be gentle with yourselves and others. Goddess knows the blunt force that is me will try to do the same. Because it’s never been more true: the way forward is with a broken heart.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy