Trauma and Witnessing Trauma

The other night I heard a woman screaming. I live in the city so it’s normal to hear screams occasionally, usually people fighting or friends being too loud, but sometimes you hear screaming and you know something is wrong. 

I raced to the window and quickly realized this was a case of the former. It sounded like she was about a block or two away and screaming at the top of the lungs, a couple times it sounded like she shrieked, ‘stop’. As I searched around desperately for my phone to call it in knowing full well others were too, I was also gripped with a threatening flashback. I was starting to not be present anymore and I was watching myself throw blankets around— until sirens snapped me back to. 

I hadn’t realized the screaming had stopped, but though for a while I listened to the wailing siren, I couldn’t stop searching. I had to feel in control, I had to feel like I could do something. Tears were burning but I couldn’t seem to just stop and take a breath. 

Finally I found my phone and then, I was gone. Completely dissociated I don’t remember anything but I found myself some indistinct hour or so later sitting on my couch listening to music. 

I don’t remember when the screaming started, sometime between midnight and one in the morning, but I didn’t start feeling back in touch with reality until after three. With shaking hands I rolled a joint and had a smoke. Practicing grounding techniques, I focused on all the green colours in our room and then focused on my breath. As I smoked, I counted the seconds of my inhales and exhales. 

Others have witnessed in one way or another aspects traumas and been traumatized themselves as a bystander. The guilt I feel I can seem insurmountable sometimes, especially in the cases where the person blamed their trauma by association on me, rather than the situations or people that were traumatizing me. I’ve also been on the other side of this phenomenon and understand how true the pain is, but experiences like this night remind me that we are responsible for our own coping, triggers, traumas. 

It may hurt to feel like we can’t save everyone. We may be traumatized by watching our friend be hit by a car, but we can’t blame our friend and we must take charge of our own healing and stability. I would never blame that woman for my dissociative fugue, and I can’t blame myself for the suffering others have witnessed.

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