What Happened To You?

“Ever since I was a little kid when the boat driver whipped me around at 30 plus miles an hour on an inner tube I’ve never been interested in tubing, water skiing or anything else where I’m being pulled behind a boat.”

As my friend recently shared this story with me I began to put together the pieces of something I’ve always wondered about him: why he never went tubing or water skiing with us; why when he worked at a camp that he was known for being the most conscientious boat driver, and was the most supportive of kids who did not want to get in the water.

Trauma: emotional or mental distress caused by an experience.

All of us have been impacted both positively and negatively by events in our lives. Those that caused significant distress or trauma can have significant long lasting effects. Death, severe illness, abuse in any form, exposure to horrendous atrocities often top the list for many of us. Yet even experiences of feeling diminished, dismissed or not seen or heard can have long lasting effects both for ourselves and for others. Throughout our lives we often, and many times quite unconsciously, react or respond to a situation that is a trigger from trauma. And trauma unattended will continue to revisit us, often in unexpected and painful ways for us and others.

There is hope however…

In their book, What Happened to you?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, Oprah Winfrey and Bruce Perry focus on understanding both how trauma impacts our behaviors and how we can begin to forge a path to resilience and healing.

“Most people who are in the process of excavating the reasons they do what they do are met at some point with resistance. “You’re blaming the past.” “Your past is not an excuse.” This is true. Your past is not an excuse. But it is an explanation—offering insight into the questions so many of us ask ourselves: Why do I behave the way I behave? Why do I feel the way I do? For me, there is no doubt that our strengths, vulnerabilities, and unique responses are an expression of what happened to us. Very often, ‘what happened’ takes years to reveal itself. It takes courage to confront our actions, peel back the layers of trauma in our lives, and expose the raw truth of our past. But this is where healing begins.”

“Our major finding is that your history of relational health—your connectedness to family, community, and culture—is more predictive of your mental health than your history of adversity. This is similar to the findings of other researchers looking at the power of positive relationships on health. Connectedness has the power to counterbalance adversity.”

Connectedness is key to our capacity to lean into our trauma, and to gain the courage to, as one of my wisest colleagues suggested, “I own my trauma, my trauma does not own me.” That shift towards healing only happens when we do so not alone but surrounded by an encouraging, caring, compassionate community. “We become partners with God in the ministry of healing and offering life when we take actions that give life and freedom to others.” BA Miskowiec

Help us rise again and again

Into the light of possibilities,

Into the light of sacred presence.

Open us to the ways of love,

Generosity and justice,

To the ways of life,

Compassion, kindness and peace.

Help us see with humility

And meet each moment with blessing.

In the face of all that is,

Call us present

To stand together as one.

May our lives be for healing.

May our lives be for peace. Tisha B’Av, adapted from Sim Shalom

7 thoughts on “What Happened To You?”

  1. As someone who manages the triggers and effects of trauma daily, I so appreciate your look into the eyes of this subject. Thank you, my friend.

  2. I stopped allowing trust falls at camp because of poor facilitating by an outside vendor and carried that on to other programs. One bad moment when trust is expected can create long term trauma. Knowing your audience is important for a facilitator.
    Knowing your team or community and their sense of connection commitment is key for risking vulnerability. We need so much connection building right now.

  3. My Dear Bishop Brian,
    I applaud your addressing the pervasive mental health and spiritual issue of our time… TRAUMA. Indeed, community, and in my experience especially spiritual community, is essential to healing this wound. Might Spirit be speaking powerfully to the church to make available this medicine to our people… and beyond?

    I’m aware of your audience, and I appreciate the space limitations imposed on your article. Nonetheless, I must mention a glaring omission… veterans with PTSD. I’m a combat veteran of the Vietnam era. As someone remarked, “There are those sisters and brothers who didn’t make it home alive; and then there are those of us who did make it home alive but have been wounded for life.” Please don’t forget us.

    All blessings and love…


  4. To Rick and Bishop Prior

    In the context of accepting a new client this week, an infrequent event these days, thank you!!!!!!

    Both powerful, worthy of further prayer and meditation.

    Deacon Mary Groff LICSW

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