The Currency of Shared Trauma

Following the overturn of Roe v. Wade on June 24th, 2022, I scrolled through many public tellings of past abortions.

There were stories that weighed heavy with sorrow, others with a nonchalant whiff (“I made my decision, and I don’t regret it”). Others emphasized that their choice could not be tainted by a debate on the act’s morality; it was strictly a medical decision made in the life-or-death interest of the living and breathing person carrying the uterus. 

(I bet these stories were not just shared on social media. They were whispered behind closed office doors, confided through tears on long-distance phone calls, shouted through a megaphone at protests, perhaps explained in the simplest of terms to children after dessert and before bedtime). 

All of the people who shared their stories were bearing the details of their most personal hours to the world at a moment when the right to bodily autonomy is at its most vulnerable. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is a marker in many young people’s lives: there is Before, a time when we had the right to choose, and then there is After (the present), when we no longer do. 

These stories made up a running eulogy, a public mourning for the choices we people with uteruses are no longer deemed competent to make. We must receive permission from the elected officials in our states and cities to make decisions about our bodies. 

While reading these stories, I can’t help but think of how some of the key markers of our society’s tragedies are often individuals’ trauma, digested through social media posts or during shaky on-site TV news interviews.

When there are mass shootings, kids not yet old enough to drive recount playing dead while lying next to their dead classmates. When police violently attack a Black person, people of color share how tired and exhausted they are to live in a country where they are treated as if they are always the villain. When natural disasters strike countries that feel distant from us, we look at pictures of orphaned children, standing among the wreckage of the only home they’ve known. 

In a world riddled with trauma, the value of public displays of personal grief and pain is to keep us sensitized and to remind us of the harm behind the headlines.

In a world riddled with trauma, we are painfully ill-equipped to deal with such tragedies. It is nothing but uncomfortable to share your own story. As someone who has done so, multiple times, I can say it never gets easier. It feels as if you are reaching inside yourself to grab the meat of your insides and cutting it out of you, putting it on a platter and setting it on an endless conveyor belt. You can not control where this conveyor belt goes or who gets a piece of what you’ve carved.

What you get back is charred, torn apart, stomped on, salted and sliced. What was yours is no longer yours anymore. It is what everyone else makes of it.

What an inequitable trade; you will undeniably come face-to-face with trauma, a deep and searing personal experience. But as a whole, we are far too overwhelmed with all of the other trauma in the world to deal with your trauma. We can not digest your specific experience unless the most grotesque of its details are on display.

And we’ve created a social currency, where trauma is shared and liked and retweeted and gasped about on podcasts and “debunked” on other podcasts. We are all inundated with trauma and have absolutely no idea what to do with it. 

Today, I reflect on what a failure our society is since this cycle has been repeated and repeated. It will be repeated and repeated again with whatever unseen horror we will witness in the coming week, if not sooner. 

There is no sweet pill to swallow, or no high note to end this on, as this is our reality. So, I will include a photo of my cat Noodle and hope that we can all live a better day in the future. 

Stay safe, friends.

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