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Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Wrong Lesson

“So the question becomes,” my mentor asked, “what happens to learning, what happens to development, when we experience trauma?”

For some years, now, I’ve had a pretty good idea of what happens to development, so when my new friend and mentor where I am learning to work with survivors of abuse answered, “It stops,” I had to hold myself from nodding a very unprofessional, enthusiastic ‘YES!’

I’ve written about the fact that many years ago, I was on the receiving end of a home invasion that was part of an armed robbery. I was hanging out with people I shouldn’t have been, and I spent years berating myself for ‘allowing’ it to happen in an effort to explain why I was letting my own development stop.

Right after it happened, I went to a friend’s house and, being too ashamed to admit that my own shitty judgement had played a part in my being in the wrong place at the wrong time, decided to camp out in ‘no place’. I hid in their basement for weeks. Knowing my keys had been in my stolen purse, I only went to my apartment to feed my cat – even after changing the locks – and then to move my stuff out when I moved to another apartment.

I moved three or four times in less than two years, trying to outrun anyone else who would point a gun in my face and cause me to wonder if I had put on underwear without holes in it, if it was better to be shot in the back and be paralyzed or in the head and just be dead. I wouldn’t go to restaurants, and I was terrified to be alone. And, in all that running, there wasn’t a scrap of development.

I was thinking of that last week after talking with my mentor, thinking about how we help other people kick start their emotional and social development after a trauma when my news feed started flooding with a story about an active shooter drill at a public school in Indiana. The ‘trainers’ had taken teachers into a separate room, told them to kneel down, and then shot them with soft pellets, performing a ‘mock’ execution that left some of the victims physically injured and even bleeding.

I’ve seen commenters trying to justify terrorizing teachers as way of ‘teaching’ them the value of fighting back (even though it sounds like that wasn’t part of the exercise). Each repeat of that story, however has taken me right back to that dirty carpet with a gun pointed over my head, wondering what – besides not being in the wrong place at the wrong time – I could have done to change the outcome. I am all for teaching people how to survive and, when possible, to fight back, but lessons should build up, not tear down.

After spending years ‘blocked’ by trauma, seeing how it closes down growth in others, I worry that, along with any trauma caused by playing out their potential deaths, the ultimate lesson those teachers will take home is that being in school, growing children, and doing their jobs is simply putting them in the wrong place. That seems like the wrong lesson.