Today is the first day of a new year and a new decade. As much as I’ve struggled questioning the value of this site I am officially done wondering. I need this site. If anyone else finds it useful, then more healing will come, and we will find each other. A widening circle of compassionate understanding is a radical and joyous thing.
The circle that seems to be coming around fully, however, is the one that began in 1988. That was the first time a group of us gathered to talk about our lives as women who lived with “self-injury.” The first meetings I organized, and the first issues of the newsletter The Cutting Edge, were for women as I did not yet understand this is not a gender issue but a trauma one. The meeting space, whether the physical one or the one on paper, was critical to create as there were few, if any, safe places to go if you were a person who, in the words of psychiatrists, “self-mutilated.”
Psychiatry, the behavioral health care business, has not been a refuge. I coped with my childhood horrors in many ways, one of them being self-directed violence (another was societal achievement, go figure). But I barely survived the shaming, degrading, and very expensive “treatments” forced upon me that eventually brutalized the coping skills I had retained. I escaped the hospitals and pills and labels as soon as I sorted out how harmful they were but it took years. I left them behind and began this work.
It was a time of unquestionable belief in this “disease” model of what is “mental illness.” Diagnoses were strewn about as if they were real, genetic theories were being promoted as if one’s DNA at birth would dictate a person’s future. And “experts” became very comfortable with making decisions about people from the pages of a book called the “DSM” and then prescribing “treatments” meant to control their patients’ behavior.
If you lived with self-directed violence (SDV) and got caught up in the system you were in for a world of hurt. Not all of us survived the attempts to dominate us, to force us to change behaviors without even understanding why they felt necessary. Of course this is not news. In the late 1980s and early 1990s we needed a way to find each other safely and create our own ways to healing. And in time pockets of support and understanding opened up as more people became aware that those who receive psychiatric labels are people coping with the impact of unhealed trauma. And that the answer was in support and empowerment and collaboration. I had, in the 1990s and up until a few years ago, the incredible privilege of bringing my perspective, my vision to the table in many places. I worked under Republican and Democratic administrations. I was a part of research, policy development and trauma-informed care implementation groups. The system as whole still sucked but there were cracks there and they were widening and many more people had the opportunity to heal.
OK, Ruta, are these the rambling of a geezer reflecting on her work? Yes and no. Yes I am reflecting on the beginning of my journey. But I am not rambling. I am sitting here in cold recognition that the current climate in the US government and the psychiatric industry is back to the place when I first began this work. Understanding trauma and how people adapt and cope, and how healing requires partnership, compassion and empowerment… yes those principles exist in various place but the light is getting dimmer. It is getting cold again. The current governmental and psychiatric industry manipulations are shifting back to the ideas that people labeled with “diagnoses” from the now much heavier version of the DSM need to be controlled. The statistics about us are being skewed to portray us as violent when in truth it is the opposite. There are widening numbers of people encouraging force of “treatment” as if that wasn’t an oxymoron. There is a strong push to build more institutions, those places with locked doors, powerful brain destroying drugs and ropes to tie you down with (they are called restraints and are billable). The idea of force as a solution is back in full force. Pharmaceutical industry power has increased even more than before, hard to believe it could.
And I’m just now starting to piece this together. It feels like it did 30 years ago and it is becoming horrific again. I need a place to come to and vent. I need a place to be present, so if someone wants a safe place to come they will find one. I need to provide a place with the intention of creating a community that can shelter it’s individuals while striving to bring truth to power. Yup, those old slogans are rising back up. Might need to make a few t-shirts. And tie-dye, of course. I don’t want to hear about more people locked away again, drugged, demeaned, disempowered, gutted. Not without having something I can do about it. And that is to write this and keep building this web site for those who need it. So far I know that I do. I’ll sleep better tonight. I am welcoming myself home.