I first heard about the book Trauma Stewardship, by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky and Connie Burk, a couple of months ago when a friend shared her experience as she read the book. However, I did not begin to read the book until I heard Laura speak the the recent National Sexual Assault Conference in Alexandria, VA. Although I have not finished reading the book, what I have already read has really spoken to my experiences as an advocate.
The book begins with Laura, and educator, advocate and social worker, sharing a story about her family vacation. During a hike to the top of a cliff, Laura began to think about how many people had, or had not, jumped off that cliff. She also thought about where the closest trauma center was or how long it would take for help to arrive in the event that someone did jump off the cliff. At one point, she blurted out, “I wonder how many people have killed themselves by jumping off these cliffs?” Her step-father in law turned to her and asked, “Has your work gotten to you that much?”How many of us do something like this? How many of us have thoughts about who that man is with a child on his lap. Father? Uncle? Grandfather? Is he hurting that child? Is the child safe? Does the child look happy? Unhappy? Laura explains this experience like this:
I had absorbed and accumulated trauma to the point that it had become part of me, and my view of the world had changed.
After realizing this, Laura understood that she needed to make a change, and to do so there were some key things she needed to begin with:
First, I needed to take responsibility for acknowledging the effects of trauma exposure within myself. Second, I had to learn how to make room for my own internal process – to create the space within to heal and to discover what I would need to continue with clarity on my chosen path. I had to find some way to bear witness to trauma without surrendering my ability to live life fully. I needed a framework of meaning.
This is what she calls “Trauma Stewardship”. The book goes on to talk about our responses to trauma, how we can create change from the inside out, and how to find our way to Trauma Stewardship. I strongly encourage advocates working in the field to end violence against women to explore what Laura and Connie share with us in their book.