By Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
Back in the 80’s when Glasnost was introduced (a wry Russian joke at that time: one person says “Glasnost” and the other one shrugs and asks, “Where?”) my family hosted Svetlana, a visiting Russian English teacher, for a peek at the American lifestyle. Eager to indoctrinate her into Western experiences we took her to Wal-Mart. In the Midwest we firmly believed that quality of life could be directly measured by quantity of Tupperware. My mother hoped to convince Svetlana to get a matching set.
Her eyes round as dinner plates, she broke down into sobs in the toothpaste aisle. Perhaps it was the contrast between her life back home in which she and her neighbors would wait in line for bread, “for maybe an hour,” and being exposed to the variety in dental care alone; the colors and sizes and brands of toothpaste, the rainbow array of toothbrushes, multitudes of floss and mouthwashes, the way the aisles stretched far overhead and in two distant directions that caused her to shake and sob and light a cigarette inside the store, bringing a security guard who strode up, incredulous, and then backed away from the short, sobbing, smoking lady in a babushka.
In my ignorance, back then I thought how lucky she was to travel the world and see what other cultures had to offer. (Crest AND Colgate AND Aquafresh… for instance!)
I now believe we genuinely traumatized her by exposing her to such an overwhelming difference from what she was familiar and comfortable with.
One way to define trauma is by what it does: traumatic experiences shatter one’s frame of reference, one’s capacity to normalize and understand the world around them.
I once read a statement that went something like this: To be poor is one thing. To be poor and living within sight of the rich is tragedy.
I believe that trauma survivors view emotional wellbeing the way the chronically poor view the rich and the way Svetlana viewed Wal-Mart: from a confused and hopeless distance.
Yet I know that healing and help is available. Unlike Svetlana, trauma survivors can defect from PTSD and repatriate to wellbeing. Freedom and choice make the whole world wish to be here, but abundant options only feel good if we are safe and comfortable while exercising them. Wellbeing is necessary. Minty breath is optional.
- A Voice of Post-Traumatic Stress (well.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Researchers identify PTSD measures for use in traumatic brain injury research (rdmag.com)
- Behind the Facade, Post-Traumatic Stress (nytimes.com)
- If Russia wants open source then Russia needs glasnost (zdnet.com)