[image from ”The Body Keeps the Score”. Drawing by Noam Saul]
“On September 11, 2001, five-year old Noam Saul witnessed the first passenger plane slam into the World Trade Center from the windows of his first-grade classroom at PS 234, less than 1,500 feet away. He and his classmates ran with their teacher down the stairs to the lobby, where most of them were reunited with their parents who had dropped them off at school just moments earlier. Noam, his older brother, and their dad were three of the tens of thousands of people who ran for their lives through the rubble, ash, and smoke of lower Manhattan that morning.”
This story is told by Bessel Van der Kolk M.D., in his book, “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma”. He continues..
“Ten days later I visited his family, who are friends of mine” … [and Noam] showed me a picture that he had drawn at 9am on September 12. The drawing depicted what he had seen the day before: an airplane slamming into the tower, a ball of fire, firefighters, and people jumping from the tower’s windows. But at the bottom of the picture he had drawn something else: a black circle at the foot of the buildings. I had no idea what it was so I asked him. “A trampoline,” he replied. What was a trampoline doing there? Noam explained, “So that the next time when people have to jump they will be safe.” I was stunned: This five-year-old boy, witness to unspeakable mayhem and disaster just twenty-four hours before he made that drawing, had used his imagination to process what he had seen and begin to go on with his life.”
Van der Kolk goes on to explain:
“At the time the disaster occurred, [Noam] was able to take an active role by running away from it, thus becoming an agent in his own rescue. And once he had reached the safety of home, the alarm bells in his brain and body quieted. This freed his mind to make some sense of what had happened and even to imagine a creative alternative to what he had seen — a lifesaving trampoline.”
“In contrast to Noam, traumatized people become stuck, stopped in their growth because they can’t integrate new experiences into their lives.”
What Bessel van Der Kolk is championing in his book, is that we need to provide space for “experiences that deeply and viscerally contradict the helplessness, rage, or collapse that result from trauma.”
In the final chapter of his book he explores the transformative potential of various forms of theatre including improv and tells how his own son Nick found freedom from his identity as a ”self-hating and isolated kid” via improv and theatre.
“Unlike his experience with the numerous therapists who had talked with him about how bad he felt, theater gave him a chance to deeply and physically experience what it was like to be someone other than the learning-disabled, oversensitive boy that he had gradually become. Being a valued contributor to a group gave him a visceral experience of power and competence. I believe that this new embodied version of himself set him on the road to becoming the creative, loving adult he is today.”
These stories give me hope, AND I’m aware that there are innumerable children who don’t have grounded, stable parents or caregivers to help them make sense of their difficulties/trauma. What about them?
Stay tuned for Next Post: Improv for Traumatized Youth – Trauma Drama.