When I was 14, I cut off two of my fingers. The doctor was able to salvage them, and 35 years later the scars are unnoticeable to anyone who doesn’t know they are there. When it happened, though, it upended my life.
I played basketball, and at that time the sport was a very important part of my identity. I had been fighting my father over it for two years. He was of the opinion that he owned me every other weekend and half of all holidays. That opinion got me benched often for not making practice, but I never quit. Suddenly, the one part of me that belonged to only me was gone.
For a year my life was pain and doctor’s appointments and physio. The ultimate goal, to be able to pinch something open, like a clothes pin, has never been achieved. And if I hit the fingers just right, it’s more painful than hitting your funny bone.
I tell this story and to this day I get the biggest outpouring of sympathy over it. Shock and dismay reflect across the faces of the listeners followed by whatever their version of “you poor thing” might be.
In my first term of school, I took Intro to Sociology. It was the most fascinating class and if I was 30 years younger I would have immediately changed my major and spent the rest of my life trying to figure out why people are the way they are. Sociology showed me that, unlike the church had told me about my observations, I was spot on and that there were even official terms for the behaviors I observed. It was freeing, at the very least.
Now I tell my story of pain for a different reason. It is my own little sociological experiment because I find it fascinating that this little thing, which in the grand scheme of things was practically nothing, is so horrific to people. While real trauma people suffer, such as abuse, or rape, or the death of a child, people try to ignore. People love to hear about my fingers but they tell me to sit down and shut up about the real trauma. Social norms dictate that my tale of accidental violence against my fingers is just fine, while my ongoing saga of violence and abuse at the hands of human beings is offensive.
The truth is people love my story of physical pain because there is no demand on them to do anything, or even change anything. What could they do? It happened over 35 years ago. And what can they do now? Offer me a Motrin?
But the story of the trauma demands action. I’m not directly asking them to do anything, but being made aware of abuse is not what people want to have happen to them. Whether because they are not ready to acknowledge abuse going on in their lives, or they are active enablers of abusers (as I found far too often in the church), or they just don’t want to be bothered with the demands of social ills, I suppose depends on the person hearing the story. I just know that people do not want to know.
Trauma victims, in all societies, face this on a daily basis. We don’t want to only talk about our story, there are other aspects of our lives that are important to us. But this is a part of us that cannot go away. Sure my fingers rarely bother me now, but that took an incredibly painful surgery, a year of physio, and a lot of suffering to get to that point. And there are times I still notice. I can tell the difference between hands when I am typing, or doing anything that requires both hands.
Recovering from trauma is no different. It takes time and effort and support, and there will be times the trauma is still felt. To be honest, far too many “nice” people hinder that effort of recovery by further shaming the victim into silence.