Dealing with the aftermath of violent truama

Today is going to be a very long day.  I will be traveling to Lodge Grass , a small town in rural south east Montana in Crow Indian country.  When I get there, I’m going to try and explain why a young man related to most of the students, would shoot three of his own close family members.

Crow families are very large and very close.  Because I have been adopted into several families, I will find out today how I was related to this young man.

Violence, aggression, pain, and sadness.  Human beings want to push those words away into a place we do not have to visit or know about.  We all want to pretend that violent outbursts are a bizarre aberration that will not happen anywhere near us.  And then it does.

Here are some things I will be trying to tell the students and adults at Lodge Grass Schools today.

  • No matter how well you knew him, you could not have stopped him.  Saying, “I should have” is a way to pretend you had any control of the situation.  Guilt and shame you feel over situations you had no control in, are a price you’re paying for the control you still won’t have.
  • Humans are the only creatures on this planet that can feel pain from watching another of their own species in pain.  It’s a great learning tool.  It’s also a fast way to get traumatized without anyone having touched you.  Violent, sudden acts will traumatize a wide circle of people.  If you have had family members, neighbors, friends, co-workers, Anyone! you know, involved in an accident, trauma, or violent crime, you will be feeling the effects too.  Most of the children I talk to today will have already visualized what happened and then imagined other bad things that could’ve happened.  My job will be to allow them to say these things out loud and then re-track their imaginations on more helpful images.  If a trauma happened near you geographically or emotionally, you may experience nightmares, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, bursts of anger, tiredness, confusion, and fear.  This is normal, it’s just that normal is a really crappy place to be sometimes.


  • Reach out for help.  I tell people to do this, and they tell me that everyone else’s problems are bigger, “I don’t want to burden anyone”, “I can handle this on my own”, etc.  And I say, “Those are nice lies you tell yourself to avoid looking at your feelings.”  Other people will be glad to know they’re not the only ones upset by this or maybe they’ll get a kick out of hearing your problems are worse.  People who really do have worse problems will at least know they can be helpful to someone else from that position.  Helping you may be the one good thing that someone else can feel proud of today.  Give that chance to someone.  We are built to share pain.  The pain and sadness are not as horrible if we feel we are NOT alone.


  • It won’t always feel this bad and we don’t have to feel guilty about that.  Letting the pain go never means you are forgetting the people or the peace that you lost.  You are not physically and emotionally able to sustain that much emotion over a prolonged period of time.  If you attempt to sustain your level of pain and/or anger, you will burn everything else in your life on that fire.  You’ve already been traumatized, don’t turn it into a lifestyle.


  • Forgiveness is good for you and you don’t have to do it.  When we are hurt, we could really be helped by forgiving and most of the time we don’t want to.  We think that our anger has some power over the other person.  We want to believe that holding on to anger will protect us from being hurt again.  We don’t want to forgive that person, event, ourselves, because that would mean what happened was OK all along.  Every one of the previous three statements, is crap.  Forgiveness is the opposite of saying what happened is alright.  Forgiveness acknowledges your pain and your injury.  It says something so bad happened, you need a formal act to sever your emotional bondage to your memories of that bad thing.  Long term anger turns into bitterness and bitterness is the poison we give ourselves, hoping someone else will die.


  • Your anger has power and it can give your loss meaning, IF you channel it!  Once you are done grieving and picking up random pieces of your life, you can turn this experience into something transformational.  The people who started Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD, lost a child to a drunk driver.  We have whole new laws in this country because of their campaign.  We view driving drunk in a completely different way because they wouldn’t stop until we did.  Horrible events gain meaning and become sources for change because of what people do with their future.  You change the world by pointing a finger towards the bleachers and swinging at the ball, not screaming at the ref about the past two pitches.  Dissect the past if you must, but remember to point your finger and swing.


God Bless you on your path today, where ever it takes you.



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