I decided to take this morning to review my followers and see what they were saying. It’s good blogging etiquette. This morning, I was deeply moved by Finding Purpose, “Steve Rose’s Blog.” I skimmed through the soundbites on the home page and decided to read, “Recovering from Moral Injury.” I liked the title. It’s a subject that often comes up, not in the veteran context of the blog, rather in the context of other kinds of work in which I engage with others.
What I liked on reading it was the author’s use of others who approach the subject on veterans’ moral injury and how the author stresses that recovery cannot be done alone. This morning, talking about why I struggle with vulnerability, I had to admit it is because of the social stigma of surviving childhood sexual assault & abuse. Out of my first childhood memories, the abuse is one of my ‘first ten.’ What I mean by that is, I remember grandmother’s affection, mother’s affection; I remember my first hair cut at 2. I remember some my three-year-old picture day and loving the red dress another girl wore. And I remember the feeling of following directions an older teenage boy gave me, followed by a sense of shame when he told me to wash what I had done in the bathroom.
My moral injury is not one of war like the one this blog discusses, it is one of adjusting to how to trust interdependency and leadership as a result of having one of my first memories of trust be followed by a sense of shame. On rereading the blog to see hwat I wanted to quote from it, I pulled the following passage that follows a quote from another text:
Harms from war are not just part of an individual diagnosis, rather, we need to look at how social processes produce individual and collective problems.
It is important to note that the internal war around the isolation of sexual assault is drastically different than one from war. I am sure others have written on the dangers of comparison. I haven’t had the time this am to find them, though I suggest if you are interested, you do. The similarity, however, superficial, lies in that harms are not just an individual diagnosis. Who knows what the boy was thinking when he treated the children around him the way that he did? Who knows what happened to him? Who knows if he had the moral reasoning to realize the weight of his actions?
The answers are not clear. Not there to seek. Luckily, I had addressed the abuse situation, as in we talked about it, as in we could and we did. It’s a relationship that is an every day process to repair, one that acknowledges that victim/survivor-recovery dominates the conversation. Socially, we are not at the place of reparative justice because of the moral injury present. We have to ask ourselves, much like Rose, later in the paragraph with the aforementioned quote asks, what informs why we go to war–in the abuse/r binary, we need to ask what does repair look like? what does prevention look like? We, socially, do not have those answers. As an individual, I do not, no matter how many times I tried looking for answers in direct advocacy, research and or teaching.
In this blog, I have consistently turned to spirituality, whether traditional or not, to address the issue. As Rose says in this post:
Whether provided by religion or a secular institution, we require a sense of the sacred to regain purpose.
The sacred continues to vary for me. It used to be Christianity until I found a community whose ethos was so intertwined with mine, they set a standard to which I compared all others. In looking elsewhere, delving into non-dominant spiritual practices & institutions, I found a language for dream analysis and foresight I couldn’t harness as a recovering Catholic trying to make peace with institutions that treated the way I loved a sin, no matter how sacred I still find it.
Sacred, here, faith in a higher power and how that higher power works in ways, when we permit it, that are beautifully wondrous. Love, for me, for friends, family, significant others, works in the same way. Love in work, in service, similarly functions. Yet, despite belief in giving loving to function in a high regard, I am reluctant to be vulnerable because of the stigma associated with it. The beauty and wonder of my resilience still feels like the injury. Feels like an injury because of the isolation that emerges through vulnerable disclosure. Feels like an injury because of social responses in different places & times in my life. As someone who has lived through unwanted encounters, I often lose the sacred because of the stigma associated with what happened to my body and, as a result from which my mind-body-spirit daily work to recover.
I remain reluctant to be completely transparent and expository–no name on my blog, debating how to create a brand while still working out what I do here–because of that stigma. Walking this cold morning, I finally allowed myself to say I refuse to embrace my strength because of how it’s been used against me in professional as well as personal encounters. I work as though it doesn’t matter; as though my resilience does not need to be in the room. I work my ass off to hide it, to hide its source out of a greater understanding that the sense of the profane of what I had overcome overshadows in small daily interactions as well as larger institutional/social practices, the grace and integrity with which I daily try to live beyond those temporary thefts of innocence and betrayals of trust.
I work to perform like the triggers don’t happen; like discrimination isn’t there. I perform emotional ability as much as I can, hiding when I can’t, because recovery and repair is still the survivor’s responsibility. Because who is asking the why behind war, behind any kind of violence, are rarely (not never) those who incite it. Because as much as I challenge those tendencies in me, it takes a great deal of trust and a greater deal of another’s investment for me to work with others who have just begun to question it.