Thursday, October 1, 2009

Storing Up Trauma

I spent most of the day yesterday researching a domestic violence homicide case. The defendant was/is pretty much a one-man crime spree. He hurt all the people who he supposedly loved - girlfriends, children, step-children, etc. There was so many offense and criminal cases on this guy, I had to separate them out by year. I'm thinking of making a graphic to show all the relationships he had and all the people he hurt - otherwise, it might be too confusing.

My boss asked me to listen to a 911 call on another murder case. The victim is on the phone calling for the police and the last thing she says is that "he has a gun." Chilling.

Then, another prosecutor came by with some crime scene and autopsy photos from another murder case. We looked at the photos and discussed them. It doesn't bother me to see these types of photos per se - I don't get "grossed out" by them, but it makes me sad to think of how that person must have suffered and how much their families and loved ones must suffer.

I handled the usual number of crisis and mundane situations - asked a prosecutor to see about refiling a case that was charged too low (he did - awesome), spoke with a mentally challenged former victim/client who was assaulted again - she told me she let him move back in, he said he'd change, he didn't, etc, requested an emergency protective order from the prosecutor on that one, made an appointment for another client who got back together with her ex (AFTER he'd spent six months in jail for beating her) she was embarrassed, but I told her about 99% of my clients do the same thing - she's coming in next week - also got her hooked up with a police officer. I helped load some donations in the back of a shelter worker's truck. I edited some items for domestic violence awareness month, and I checked on my co-workers to see how they are doing.

This is a typical day - in a job I love. But, man, what a lot of violence/trauma exposure. I tend to think I'm used to it after nearly 15 years. But, it came back on me like heartburn from too much pizza and beer.

I went to yoga after work. During a series of sun salutations, all the trauma hit me. I suddenly felt really sad and thought about all the pain I witnessed that day. Yoga does that sometimes - it gets at all that mid-brain, repressed emotion. And - it really is a good thing. Because it is THERE. Better to acknowledge it and let it go. The most destructive thing in a job like this is to say or feel it "doesn't bother" us.

I know a lot of people in that category. You can usually see them in the bar after work - every day. Or, they are having an affair. Or, engaging in other risky activities. Anything to feel something other than the sometimes overwhelming sadness and hopelessness of our work.


Empty said...

It's great you have an outlet in yoga. I don't do yoga but I am finding out physical activity helps in so many ways.

You mentioned 99% of the women you work with return to their abusive spouses. What do you think is different in that 1%? What most often triggers the woman in the end to leave the relationship? (I do realize each case is different and there's no formula to it, but wondered what your impressions were)

Awake and Dreaming said...

Oh wow, that sounds incredibly intense. I'm glad you have yoga, I love yoga as well.

CJ Social Worker said...

I think you're right that some sort of physical outlet is important.

I think that MOST people do not leave bad relationships (of any type) after the first bad thing. Even if we think about our friends - maybe they do something crummy - and we forgive them, blame it on the circumstances, etc. But, then when it happens again...and again - they we say - hey maybe I don't want to be friends with this person.

I think the same in a DV relationship - except more issues.

What gets people to leave? In my experience it is:

1) When they feel it is safe to do so.

2) When they feel they've done everything they can - like he says he'll go to counseling/church, etc - she gives him all these chances and it still doesn't change.

3) Sometimes when they see their kids being hurt.

4) Sometimes it isn't the violence - it is something else - like he cheats.

5) When they realize it isn't them - many people tell me they tried changing, not making him mad, being a better spouse, etc, but they realize that no matter what they do - HE is STILL violent.

The main thing is the leaving is a process, not an event (I heard Mark Wynn say that). And I could not say it better.

CJ Social Worker said...

To Still Dreaming - it is intense, but I really do LOVE my job. It is so interesting and we are really in a place in which we help people.

Plus, I think like a lot of social work/helping jobs - people don't come to see us when they are happy. They come to see us because they have a problem. :-) So - the problem doesn't define them and they do get better.