“The Politics of Trauma” by Staci K. Haines

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Subtitle: Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice

Recommended to me by: Darryl C.

This book rang true to me from beginning to end. Staci Haines combines embodied trauma work with social justice, and everything she says fits with what I already know and takes it further.

Many healing modalities view trauma and abuse as individual problems. Instead, Haines puts trauma and abuse in the context of our abusive social structures that put individuals in harm’s way. White supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and environmental destruction divide us from one another and keep us from learning the skills we need to treat each other with care. They keep us divided from ourselves as we try to heal.

Safety, belonging, and dignity are core needs that should be met together for everyone. Traumatic and abusive situations put one in conflict with another – we can choose either safety or dignity, either dignity or belonging. Our bodies deeply learn traumatized ways of responding to the world.

We can form declarations and commitments: statements about our core beliefs and goals that guide our healing. For example, “I am a commitment to be in my skin without apology.” (Lisa Thomas-Adeyemo) We can discover what commitments and declarations we have unconsciously adopted or had imposed upon us. Declarations can be personal or community-oriented or both.

We can find what supports us and practice resilience, reminding ourselves to come out of trauma mode. Social justice organizations can also collectively practice resilience. We can rebuild safety and trust at the embodied, physical level. We can relearn boundaries and requests.

To help someone heal, we blend with the patterns that are already true for them, and help them notice what the pattern has been taking care of for them. As the body is supported and honored, the underlying physical and emotional memories and holding patterns can be released. We can help someone feel allied with, exactly as their body needs to feel it.

For example, make a fist with one hand. With the other hand, try to pry it open. How does that feel? Instead, let your other hand support the fist with curiosity and kindness. How does that feel? What happens with your fist? With the rest of your body?

Trauma is held in the body through bands of tension, or absent slackness. A healthy body has relaxed presence. Somatic opening is encouraged by blending with what is there and allowing it to release and transform. While emotions often arise during a release, cathartic emotion is not the goal.

We can discern what shame is ours and what belongs to others. We can blend with shame, hearing its messages, and look underneath to what it is hiding or protecting. Often shame is preferable to feeling powerless, helpless, or abandoned. We can learn to take centered accountability rather than being over- or under-accountable for our actions. We can sit with the complex questions around our responsibilities. We can learn about forgiveness of others and self-forgiveness. “Even if … [shameful act or belief], I am forgivable.”

We can learn to be present with ourselves and with others at the same time. We can learn to hold contradictions and conflict. We can learn how to have generative rather than destructive conflicts.

Personal healing and social justice organizing can support and serve each other.

I loved this quote at the beginning.

The Church says: The body is a sin.
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business.
The body says: I am a fiesta.
—Eduardo Galeano, from “Window on the Body”

Highly recommended for activists and healers!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Victory Over Verbal Abuse” by Patricia Evans

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Subtitle: A Healing Guide to Renewing Your Spirit and Reclaiming Your Life

Recommended to me by: Reading Patricia Evans’ earlier books about verbal abuse many years ago

Patricia Evans named the severity and prevalence of verbal abuse and offers validation and healing for survivors. Her earlier books “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” and “Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out” focus on describing verbal abuse and coping with it. This book focuses on healing from the aftermath once the abuse is over. She recommends no contact with abusers.

She states clearly and repeatedly that verbal abuse is not the survivor’s fault. The abuser has projected their self into their victim and is not recognizing the victim as a separate person. Healing involves recognizing that and rebuilding one’s self.

The book includes a summary of what verbal abuse is, including survivor stories, brief descriptions of trauma healing modalities, and a set of 52 affirmations such as “I am confident even as I confront the unknown,” with a page or two of accompanying text.

The trauma healing modality called “Healing the Spirit” had some victim-blaming quotes, but the rest of the book is wonderfully free of that.

Recommended if you are in the process of healing from verbal abuse and would like an understanding guide.

Patricia Evans’ website.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Catfishing on CatNet” by Naomi Kritzer

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Recommended to me by: Marissa Lingen

This book is based on the short story Cat Pictures Please, which touches on serious issues but is basically lighthearted and positive.

The book, less so. Yes, there’s a benevolent AI (artificial intelligence) who loves cat pictures. There are delightfully depicted internet friendships, and in-person friendships. Some of the characters are non-binary, and (almost) everyone is respectful about pronouns.

There’s also an 11th grader whose mom moves them all the time to keep away from her stalker dad, and some just barely off-screen domestic violence. It all comes right in the end, and I’m glad the book addresses those topics. At the same time, it felt jarring to me to have these deadly serious issues juxtaposed with a lighthearted cat-picture-loving AI who can fix all the problems.

It’s well-written. Recommended if you don’t mind fictionalized, simplified domestic violence. For me it was too realistic to be fun but not realistic enough at the end of the book about how difficult it is to escape.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Turn This World Inside Out” by Nora Samaran

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Subtitle: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture

Recommended to me by: Nora Samaran’s online essay The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture

This book contains three of Nora Samaran’s powerful essays (also available on her blog) and dialogues with other writers that expand on the themes of nurturance, attachment, shame, gaslighting, gendered violence, and repairing harm.

It is a short book that can be read quickly, and at the same time there are a lot of chewy ideas to take in over time. There are also references to more reading on these topics by people who are one or more of trans, Indigenous, and Black who have developed skills of sustainable, relational living. The book holds the question: how do we best move forward from and heal from white supremacy, colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy.

What would it be like to live in a culture where we all could be socially embraced in this way, where we could speak up about harm, could say not to it, without fear, because we know without question that no one in our community will dehumanize another?

I admire Nora Samaran’s insights, and I long for the kinds of communities and relationships she describes. This book brings in more voices to deepen and expand the conversation. Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Newcomers” by Helen Thorpe

book coverSubtitle: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom

Recommended to me by: My friend Linda K.

Helen Thorpe spent a year and a half observing and helping in an ELA (English Language Acquisition) class at South High School in Denver Colorado. Her journalist’s eye is both clear and compassionate as she watches a classroom of newly arrived teen refugees from around the world learn English basics.

I remember when ELA used to be called ESL, English as a Second Language, but it is an apt name change since some of these kids already speak three or four languages, and maybe read and write in three or four alphabets.

Both the school as a whole and the beginning ELA teacher Mr. Williams in particular are dedicated to welcoming kids from around the world and helping them succeed.

I was worried that the book would focus on the tragedy of young refugee lives, or look down on the kids, but the book celebrates them as strong, determined, resilient young people. Difficult circumstances and traumatic stories are described with a light touch, clearly and with compassion.

Helen Thorpe gets to know the kids by interacting with them in class (with the help of Google translate on their phones), interviewing them with hired translators, and visiting a few of them at home to talk with their parents. She also learns about the history of war and oppression that has caused these families (and some unaccompanied minors) to flee their homes, sometimes multiple times.

After the school year, she visits the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is still in crisis, and meets some relatives of one of the families she got to know.

The book was written in 2016. It shows both the dedication of the people who help refugees get oriented and settled in the US, and the worsening effect of Trump’s rhetoric on students who are harassed on city buses for wearing hijab or having dark skin. It ends with Trump’s election and the shock of knowing that refugees need help more than ever, but not having an incoming caseload because of Trump’s Muslim Ban.

Highly recommended! Learn about what refugees’ lives are really like, and how hard the lucky ones who make it into the US work to become established here, while enjoying getting to know this group of teens and the people around them.

Population Mountains – a way to visualize the population and surroundings of some of the cities the immigrants came from (not affiliated with the book).

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Men Explain Things to Me” by Rebecca Solnit

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Recommended to me by: Patricia Anderson

Rebecca Solnit’s title essay is available here. While she didn’t invent the word “mansplaining”, she inspired it with this essay about the trend of men (not all men, she is quick to point out) explaining things to women that women already know. Men treating women as “empty vessels waiting to be filled with their wisdom.” Men deciding whether a woman’s speech is credible or not, even, or perhaps especially, when she says, “He’s trying to kill me.”

The other essays in this book are also about sexism, feminism, and gendered violence. Violence gendered because women are targets in a concerted, ongoing effort to control us and keep us small. Violence also gendered because men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators.

The book is depressing, illuminating, and, in the end, hopeful.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Saber es Poder” by Maxine Harris, Fabiana Wallis, Hortensia Amaro

Subtitle: Modelo de Trauma y Recuperación para Mujeres Latinas

Translation: Knowledge is Power: Model of Trauma and Recovery for Latina Women

Recommended to me by: Fabiana Wallis’ bio at Conexiones

This book is a curriculum for a 25-session trauma recovery support group for Latina women. Since I hope to work with Conexiones Center for Trauma Recovery as a practitioner, my goal was to refresh my Spanish language skills and learn the vocabulary associated with trauma and recovery. It served that goal well.

The book also included specific information about Latino/a culture and issues for immigrants.

I read this book as both a practitioner helping people recover from trauma, and as a daughter of immigrants from Latin America who experienced trauma. I fit the target reader in some ways and not in others, especially since the book assumes a sharp separation between facilitators and group members.

The information was very basic, aimed at group participants who had never thought about trauma and its connection to present behaviors. There was recurring emphasis on the issues of drug use, prostitution, and unprotected sex. There was no discussion of the mechanisms of PTSD in the body.

In the various units, I saw identification of the damage wrought by trauma, but less help in building new skills than I expected. I imagine a woman reaching the end of the support group and thinking, “Now what?!” At the same time, I imagine that the opportunity to speak about past trauma and receive support would be healing in itself.

When used by knowledgeable and compassionate group facilitators, I think this book would form the basis for a useful, culturally aware support group for Latina survivors of abuse.

“Poppies on the Rubbish Heap” by Madge Bray

Subtitle: Sexual Abuse, The Child’s Voice

Madge Bray shares her journey as a child advocate social worker, along with several abused children’s case histories. Woven through the book is the history of recognition and backlash around the sexual abuse of children. Madge Bray pioneered the use of toys and play therapy to elicit children’s stories and help them heal.

The toys include anatomically correct dolls, angry puppets, and a battery-operated rabbit that trembles silently. Madge Bray offers a neutral, welcoming space for the children to interact with the toys and find self-expression. She enters into their world rather than demanding that they communicate in adult ways.

The book is intense and riveting. It tells of catastrophic abuse from the wounded child’s perspective, as the child is heard and helped. It tells of victorious court battles as well as one story about a child whose parents withdrew him from therapy before he could tell his story.

Recommended as a look into social work with children in England, the realities of child sexual abuse, and the healing power of deep listening.

Available at Amazon.com.

“Tender Morsels” by Margo Lanagan

Recommended to me by: Meloukhia

This is a fairy tale, but no child’s story. It starts with incest and pregnancy and abortion, and continues with gang rape. Then Liga is magically placed in a world that matches her heart’s desire, peaceful and safe.

While examining the consequences of assault and the consequences of avoiding trauma, the story sings along, full of prickly, kind characters and vivid details.

Recommended, for a true look at life in fairy tale guise.

An interview with Margo Lanagan.

Jody Hewgill (the cover artist)’s portfolio.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes” by Chris Crutcher

Recommended to me by: Tess Alfonsin

A hard-edged book for teens that takes on multiple tough issues:

  • Children’s cruelty to each other for being fat or disfigured
  • What it’s like to grow up fat or disfigured
  • Surviving parental abuse and abandonment
  • Abortion
  • Hypocrisy
  • Religious intolerance by some Christians

While I applaud the author’s courage in addressing all these important issues, I think the book would have been stronger with at least one fewer sub-plot and more attention to characterization. The major teen characters showed some complexity, but the adults were either all-good or all-bad.

I was caught up in the plot and characters until the book suddenly turned into a thriller with a violent climax. I felt tricked into reading something far more violent than I expected or enjoyed.

I’m glad teens are reading and thinking about all the issues in this book.  I wish the issues weren’t packaged with a violent, all-good/all-bad wrapper.

Available at Powell’s Books.