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Friday, March 22, 2013

Special Edition IV: If Our Nation Is Suffering from PTSD, Are Courage & Vulnerability Necessary to Heal?

Thought for the Day: It is taking all my energy to stay focused on relaying my impressions from my trip to Washington DC last week with Moms Demand Action. I am finding myself working double time to keep up with my responsibilities as a psychologist, tweet, post & respond to comments on my facebook page from some people who genuinely believe that more guns are the solution to the problem. However, I think that my experiences may help people understand why it is important to keep the lines of communication open to all sides of this important dilemma. I wanted to go to DC to express my concern that our nation is struggling with post traumatic stress & fears related to multiple traumas since 9/11 which include attacks like Sandy Hook. My observations from Washington combined with my training as a psychologist & specialist dealing with trauma are intertwining in this post as I grapple with ways to help mend the society from PTSD. Bear with me as I share the details from my trip & reach some conclusions that may shed some light on both the problem & some solutions. Winston Churchill a leader who helped the world through traumatic times as well may help with his thoughts on courage.

Last Wednesday morning, bright & early at 6:45 AM,  I joined the other participants of Moms Take the Hill. I checked out of the hotel, but left my belongings there for the day. We were instructed to travel light, since we would be going through security checks multiple times during the day. Food was not allowed through some of the checkpoints, so I had coffee & a light breakfast in the lobby before getting on the bus. I sat next to a 14 year old girl who had come with her mother & sister from Dallas TX. We talked about her fears when she heard about the tragedy in Newtown. I encouraged her to tell her elected officials how she felt & what she wanted to feel safe. I also commended her for spending part of her spring vacation to join this event. We all applauded when the Team of 26 organizer Monte Frank, Newtown resident & his teenage daughter joined us on the bus. They had arrived in DC the day before after biking from Newtown to DC in conjunction with today's event.

After going through two security checks, we were directed to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House for a White House Policy Press briefing. We were greeted by Evan Ryan, Assistant to the Vice President fro Public Engagement, Sarah Bianchi, Director of Economic & Domestic Policy Office of the Vice President & Valerie Jarrett, Senior Adviser to the President among others. They let us know how important our support is even to those who support sensible changes to the gun laws in this country. They told us they had not seen a movement like this before & were hopeful that our support was going to get action quickly. However, they also let us know that the opponents are assuming that the "Newtown effect" will disappear. We learned that the gun lobby is very actively pressuring Congress. The senators & congressmen who are standing up for change are being inundated with threats & intimidation. Although over 90% of Americans want changes to our gun laws, the gun lobby, (despite the fact that many of their members do not support them on this issue) a very vocal well organized minority group, with huge financial resources is fighting relentlessly to block any changes in gun laws. Their efforts & intimidation are making it hard for our officials to vote where their common sense & conscience would lead them. The staffers proudly announced that the Violence Against Women Act passed last week after a year of efforts in congress. Lots of pictures were taken with strings of paper dolls with each string of 8 dolls representing the 8 children who are shot & killed every day in America.

After the briefing, we took shuttle buses to Capitol Hill & went through additional security checks before meeting with our senators & congressmen. There were 6 people in my group, 5 were from CT. Our leader who would be helping us to get from meeting to meeting in a timely fashion was from Virginia. We were scheduled to meet with both of our state senators & three congressmen. A last minute change made it possible to meet with both Senators Blumenthal & Courtney together (see photo on right). Since they & the congressmen from CT are supportive of gun sense, our job was to thank them for their efforts & find out what they need from us. In addition, we would be sharing our stories with them. We would get a chance to voice our concerns about the rise in gun violence & our suggestions. Our senators & congressmen were thoughtful, supportive & listened intently to what we had to say. They appreciated our being there & encouraged us to speak with friends & family across the country about these issues. They asked us to ask everyone we know, gun owners & non-gun owners, to speak up & let their senators & congressmen know that they want stricter gun controls.

Our meeting with Representative Jim Hines had an interesting twist. He shared the fact that he is a sportsman who enjoys hunting but he is also a father who knows the time has come for greater restrictions. He said he always tries to see the issue from both sides. Although he disagrees with the gun advocates, he believes that they are fearful & fighting for safety. By recognizing that they are coming from a place of fear he hopes to keep the dialogue open. He said he thought that gun trafficking laws, mandatory background checks & increased school safety would pass. However, he feared that the ban on semi-automatic weapons & high capacity munitions would not. After we left the meeting, we wondered if we should have been more adamant that the ban on semi-automatic weapons being crucial to any significant change to deter gun violence in America. In light of Harry Reid's announcement this week that he will not include the ban of semi-automatic weapons in the bill, it appears that Representative Hines was trying to warn us.

We were in for a treat on our way to the press conference. Our group was accompanied by a senate staffer through a second level of security & boarded the underground transit reserved for elected officials. It took us directly to the US Capitol Visitor Center. The highlight of the day. for me was standing behind the speakers for the hour long press conference. During Nancy Pelosi's speach, she turned around & read a button I was wearing which said: "Protect Children, Not Guns." After the press conference I was able to go up to her & shake her hand. I thanked her for all she was doing to help keep our children safe. The energy & dedication of these courageous women who spoke was inspiring. To stand directly behind Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Carolyn McCarthy, Elizabeth Esty & Shannon Watts was amazing. They made it clear that they will not falter & will continue the battle for sensible changes no matter how long it takes.

Our female congresswomen's courage to "mend & befriend" as opposed to "fight or flight" (see my Thursday's Psychological Trivia Answer) in the face of danger & confront our vulnerability (See today's FF Friday's Fabulous Finds #3) make it imperative that we have women, and men (Like Winston Churchill accept these parts of themselves), in Washington. These traits will help them stand up to the intense heat of the gun lobby.  Gun advocates response to feeling vulnerable is try to numb their feelings of vulnerability, to fight, assume that they have "the only answer" & close their minds to an array of possible solutions which may not be foolproof, but will help make things better.  Being able to accept vulnerability & imperfection are important steps towards creating a safer environment. To do their job & keep focusing on solutions to the problems, our leaders must see all the shades of grey. As I post here & on facebook, I have felt the angry relentless venom that fear & misinformation can ignite. I will continue to try to keep the dialogue open & hope that you will join me & those who want to make sensible changes to help bridge the gap. The barriers & multiple security checks at the White House & on Capitol Hill reflect the actions that our nation is forced to take in light of the rise in violence & fear since 9/11.  Dr. Brene Brown describes this as symptomatic of PTSD on a national level & suggests that we have a "scarcity culture" of fear & feelings of scarcity since 9/11. We must all work to mend from the impact traumatic violence is taking on our society. I believe women will lead the way in the healing process.

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