How can I say it's tough for me when I didn't see what they saw, didn't hear, smell, watch, feel what they did, but here is the not-so-silver lining of having the imagination I do, it was never hard to conjure a pretty graphic picture of their experiences. And of course, each person could paint a very detailed picture of what happened. My double edged sword aka empathy, which I am grateful still to have (although I see that this developed as a survival skill from very early on in my life, see it was very helpful to be able to read the room as it were, to detect trouble - now I just can't shut it off) could get pretty close to each person as they were reliving, and I tried hard to create a place of safety where a person could release their particular poison. What never occurred to me (and what she, my therapist pointed out) was that not only did I hear of hundreds of others' horror, I also witnessed the relentless impact on them. As a human being (sometimes I think I am human) it is not normal to remain unmoved.
So the cumulative impact of the graphic stories, the cumulative impact of being with people in such evident anguish - this is what I live with. And most days I dismiss my "impact" as less than. It's certainly not the same. I liken it - whereas each person I worked with having had a "s"load of acid thrown at them - to perhaps a few drops spilled on me in my efforts (I tried to help, I really tried, I made many mistakes, times where I was unprofessional, times where I didn't know what I was doing but thought my good heart would be enough, too many times left reeling in the wake of what people are capable of). So I think that after talking with several hundred people, trying so hard to be their ally, to be an authentic witness, to honor the courage of each person's risk in speaking out, that's several hundred drops of acid on me.
Being immersed in the blatant sexism, racism, seeing and living in this world that is so insidiously violent towards woman, assaults things that permeated the everyday, this was my baseline. On top of this, the rampant despair of my "clients" - there needs to be a better word for all of these brave souls. Crisis work EVERYDAY. Suicide intervention, pretty much EVERYDAY. These are not lightweight situations. These are situations where the Chaplains, the Commanding Officers called me and ask what they should do.
This is where I feel like I'm entering into the realm of whining, of wallowing, but I'm trying to understand what happened, without the harsh judgments of my mind that undercuts any "evidence" I bring to the table.
So I often stay at home to avoid jump starting my empathy, I live in a small town, it's not uncommon to see/run into a former client. My immediate reactions is always fear, then guilt: I assume they have only hatred for me. Here are many retired veterans living here. I don't call myself a veteran, I reserve that term for those who served directly in combat. I don't feel that I have earned it.