Trauma happens to everyone,
but the way you respond to it
determines its impact
on your brain and body.
—Dr. Bessel van der Kolk
Many human beings suffer some form of trauma in their lives, even in the best of homes, even in the best of situations.
In the more impoverished sectors of our community, racism, poverty, domestic abuse, street violence, addiction, absent fathers, and many other related traumas get dumped on our most vulnerable populations.
Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling
with the mistaken belief that you cannot bear the pain.
But you have already borne the pain.
What you have not done is feel all you are beyond that pain.
As unintegrated experience, trauma is unique for each person who suffers it.
Anguish or despair or grief can’t be compared. There is no comparable measurement tool of whose pain and trauma is worse or more difficult to bear.
As long as you make an identity for yourself out of pain,
you cannot be free of it.
Children are born innocent and uncorrupted but some children are born into environments that are guilty and corrupt. As children age, they are shaped by the values of their birth environment, becoming mirrors of their childhood experiences.
If we do not transform our pain,
we will most assuredly transmit it
— usually to those closest to us:
our family, our neighbors, our co-workers,
the most vulnerable,
Penitentiaries, jails, and detention centers are society’s scrapheaps. They are the dumping ground and epicenter of unresolved trauma, shame, and guilt in our world.
Prisons dispose of the human being,
not the crime.
—Curt L. Tofteland
A high percentage of the prison population has experienced heart-breaking, life-shattering childhood experiences of intentionally inflicted trauma, including willful abuse and conscious neglect.
Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment
and especially on their children than the un-lived life of the parent.
For human beings who find themselves contained within the boundaries of institutional correction, innate goodness lives within them.
Between stimulus and response,
there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response,
lies our growth and freedom.
Space must be created for that human goodness to be called forth.
The Shakespeare Behind Bars Circle of Truth is a place where, as an “injured” human being, I can join in community with other “injured” human beings to explore what it means to be human.
Sometimes the human beings most “injured” from inside
are the ones most willing to help others.
The true heroes are those who,
in the process of bearing their own pain,
can lift up others and offer a reflection.
In seeing myself
— even the shameful part of myself —
I know that I am not alone.
—Curt L. Tofteland
In the Circle of Truth Community, I don’t have to suffer alone. I can sit on the rim of the circle and simply be “broken” until I decide that I am ready to begin my journey into wholeness.
Wholeness does not mean perfection.
It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.
—Parker J. Palmer
Uncovering the source of behavior is different from blaming one’s action on past experiences – the former offers a mirror for why we are who we are and a chance to move toward who we can be; whereas blaming one’s actions on a traumatic past assumes that one’s current identity is at an end point.
The feeling of wholeness is a different feeling than me-ness.
To feel whole,
we must let go of trying to maintain an image of “me.”
The goal of Shakespeare Behind Bars is to establish a state of social engagement within a Circle of Truth rather than recalling past traumatic events.
After a traumatic experience,
the human system of self-preservation seems to go into permanent alert,
as if the danger might return at any moment.
Trauma is mental injury, not mental illness. There’s no drug that will cure trauma. There’s no addiction that will curb trauma. The only way to heal trauma is to be able to find the words to express it, giving it form and shape. Trauma is healed in increments, not all at one time. The trauma memory remains, but not the response to the trauma.
Trauma is a psychic wound that hardens you psychologically
that then interferes with your ability to grow and develop.
Trauma is not what happens to you,
trauma is what happens inside you as a result of what happened to you.
Trauma is that scarring that makes you
and more defended.
When we get trauma-activated,
and the adaptive child
— the things you learned to do as a kid because of emotional neglect or violence —
comes in and takes over.
One of the bitter pills here is that the adaptive child
doesn’t want to reveal itself.
It wants to preserve itself.
It’s about me, me, me.
To suture its wounds and pretend they aren’t there.
The adaptive child sees the world as full of thorns and knives.
Every encounter with “you” is a potential threat to “me.”
You-and-me consciousness is an adversarial world
in which one loses and the other wins.
It’s a big power struggle.
Sometimes in exploring our personal stories, the Circle of Truth participants uncover deeply rooted trauma that they suffered in their childhood or after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event.
Often the trauma is so horrific that a person may not have language to be able to share it. Compounding the challenge, there is deep shame attached to trauma because the sufferer believes they were the cause, or that they somehow deserve the trauma they
suffered. These are deep wounds to the human psyche and they are as difficult to overcome as they are to integrate.
Sometimes at the bottom of the heart,
you just can’t get the words out.
When a human being experiences trauma and shame and they don’t have the language to express it, it lives on and turns to poison. It has a direct connection to what is manifested in their behavior. All efforts to submerge their hidden shame fail. All efforts to ameliorate their hidden shame through numbing addictions fail.
The first step in trauma-informed work is to address the shame attached to the trauma that creates a secret world. In that hidden world, the trauma and attached shame must be kept buried. The sufferer believes that if their trauma and shame are revealed, they will be destroyed. They see trauma as a part of themselves, and yet because by its very nature trauma is “integrated experience,” this part of themselves creates a living alienation that is difficult, even impossible, to bear.
The world is a place of tender beauty and injustices.
— Charles Clyde Bowden
In an attempt to soften the harshness contained in the word, trauma, Shakespeare Behind Bars uses an alternative term: Unbearable Truth.
Shakespeare Behind Bars seeks expression for each participant’s Unbearable Truth within the Circle of Truth.
Sitting in the Circle of Truth, each participant is offered the opportunity to deal with their Unbearable Truth in a healthier way: to stop running from it and numbing it with addictions, or punching it back down through violence leveled at oneself or others.
If you never heal from what hurt you,
you’ll bleed on people who didn’t cut you.
Shakespeare Behind Bars wants to assist the participants in understanding their Unbearable Truth, equipping its participants with the tools they need to find a way to bear the burden, and eventually lay it down. It may not completely disappear, but it loses its immediacy and potency.
The hardest thing for a human being to do is deal with themself,
to introspectively confront their own emotional pain and trauma
so they can stop unjustly inflicting their trauma on others.
Shakespeare Behind Bars seeks to find each participant’s personal language to express their authentic, of hidden, selfhood.
Shakespeare Behind Bars seeks to assist each participant in telling their authentic story filled with clarity, lucidity, transparency, and truth.
There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.
It is only through finding a means of expressing inner wounds within a Circle of Truth that healing can begin.
I may say that I am not responsible for my trauma.
But I am responsible for my healing.
I am the agent of my healing.
I will stop questioning what the meaning of life is
and contemplate what life is offering and asking of me.
It is not about what I expect from life
but rather about what life expects from me;
and whether I am prepared to meet these expectations,
not with fear and shame,
but with curiosity.
I will stop questioning whether I am worthy of society
And contemplate what society holds in revelation for me.
I will look for my answer within the questions.
My answer will not remain the same,
And herein lies my journey.
—Curt L. Tofteland