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  • Writer's pictureAutumn Lamb

Week 4: Memory

Tears are a controversial topic in my head, yet they fell frequently this week. We are four weeks into our time in Italy, and this week’s readings and lectures covered refugee camps, trauma, and mental health. Through conversations, the power and need for storytelling was shared by our professors. How it is so important for refugees to share their stories, no matter how difficult they are to tell, or to hear. There is power in reclaiming a bit of life and release from the overwhelming pain carried within the body through sharing an individual story.


One of the readings that stood out this week is from the book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” by Besser van der Kolk. I brought the book with me from home, as it was one of the first ones I read when first beginning personal trauma work. It provides a great foundational understanding of trauma, traumatic memory, body memory, and ways to release. Since originally reading this book, I’ve read several others, which help to deepen and round out understanding, although I am by no means an expert on the topic. In our section, we read about traumatic memory, and how the mind is so powerful in protecting itself from pain that it will repress events that have happened. Sometimes this can happen for years. Then a trigger of some sort happens, and memories come back, but not always in a way that is coherent or linear, or even a full picture of the event or events that happened. This can be extremely startling when experienced in the moment, and depending on the intensity of the memory, can completely disrupt normal life. This section reiterated the importance of sharing stories and letting the body release the trauma that has been stored in the body and mind.


I have been fascinated by and been researching how storytelling is so important in healing from trauma. Last year I wrote a research paper on the topic, from a gut instinct that this is an important topic to study, and that there is validity in my thoughts on the subject. Yet, it is one that is sometimes difficult to engage in. It’s not like asking someone to share their trauma is a casual conversation over cocktails. Imagine grabbing a drink, an aperitive here in Rome, and asking your friend, “so, how does your body feel the pain of trauma?” or “what sort of traumatic flashbacks do you experience when you are triggered?” Yet, the ability to share and release trauma is so critical to moving forward in life, to beginning to heal.


I have never lived in a refugee camp. I have never been a POW or held in a cell. Stories told by those who have are immensely difficult to hear. My mind has the ability to amplify pain I have experienced while listening to another person share their experience and empathize with them. At the very least, I can offer a listening ear, an open space for another to share their story.

Nobody wants to remember trauma. In that regard society is no different from the victims themselves. We all want to live in a world that is safe, ageable, and predictable, and victims remind us that this is not always the case. In order to understand trauma, we have to overcome our relluctance to confront that reality and cultivate the courage to listen to the testimonies of survivors.

The Body Keeps the Score, pp. 196-197

At the end of the day, this work isn’t about me, though I am willingly choosing to move in this direction with studies. This has been a progression over the past decade, from the first time I heard the story of a woman who was attempting to rebuild her life through creating jewelry and I shared her story to women in the United States. Later through traveling to Haiti and meeting metal workers and clay and jewelry makers, and parents and children whose desire was to provide for their family, buy land, and build a house. Their stories wove their way into my heart and my soul, and no matter where I go in the world, I am reminded of the men and women and children there who are beautiful and funny, and caring, and so many so utterly traumatized from decades (centuries really) of generational trauma. Yet, everyone I met there doesn’t want to be known for their collective or individual trauma, they want to be known for who they are as a person, as a mother, as a father, as a student.


As I write today, my dear friend who I worked with for several years, is on her way to Haiti, to continue the amazing work of a school for infants through 6th grade, that is trying their best to financially stay afloat while providing upper class education to children from families of lower financial class. Each and every student and parent have a story – complicated, joyful, challenging, and amazing all wrapped up in one bundle that deserves to be told to the world.


My brief social media posts have covered the joy of a delicious cup of coffee, or a cool door. To me, these are ways to stay grounded. Life is incredibly difficult at times, and the cruelty and unfairness across the globe, especially amongst those who live in the global south and have brown skin. If I sit in my feelings for too long, I will become a puddle and retreat into a hole. So, I believe that it is important to have personal practices that ground me and allow me to come back to a place where I can engage in the work of learning, writing, conversing, and becoming a change agent. Those practices of savoring a delicious cup of coffee, noticing and marveling at interesting doors, walking through the city to explore all the nooks and crannies, they are vital to my mental health. They have been part of my process all along, from rebuilding my life after trauma, to moving forward in working with others who have suffered trauma.


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