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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

Understanding Trauma through the Eyes of a Watertown Resident

04/18/16 02:37 PM | Christina Murphy | Trauma, Resiliency

trauma and resiliency

This week is the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing and the gunfight and manhunt in Watertown that followed a few days later. When I remember this time 3 year ago, I think of the people at the finish line—those who were lost, others who survived the traumas, and the people who risked their lives to help strangers—and most importantly the resiliency shown by so many.

As a Watertown resident, I also think of my experience being on “lock down” in my home. I live close enough to the location of the gunfight that my husband heard the sounds as they occurred. I was awakened by helicopters flying low over my house in the middle of the night.

This winter, I learned that the producers of the movie “Patriots Day” wanted to film recreations of the gun battle scenes where they happened in Watertown. I felt angry, agitated, and anxious. As I read about the plans for five nights of filming within earshot of my home—including loud gunshots until midnight—I felt tearful and sad.

I flashed back to that day and the anxiety I had when wondering how I could possibly contain my almost 2-year old daughter in the hallway of our apartment—the only part of the house without windows that could shatter if a bomb went off outside. I recalled the sense of danger I felt when watching the National Guard troops drive past our house in their tanks and armored trucks to set up a post at the intersection of two roads only three houses away. I remembered how fearful I felt watching the troops—ducked behind shields with large guns drawn and pointed at my house, their fingers on the triggers—as they approached my home.

After that day, it took me awhile to feel safe again. I felt anxious for several weeks when going into my driveway and basement at night. I still sometimes feel that way. I also still get anxious when I hear helicopters overhead. Even as I write this blog, I feel a bit nervous and agitated.

My feelings that day and since—and my reactions to hearing about the plans for filming in my neighborhood—are classic signs of a post-trauma reaction. The filming of these scenes had the potential to re-traumatize me and others in the community and cause unnecessary suffering.

Fortunately, town officials heard how concerned my neighbors and I felt and decided not to support the filming in Watertown. I felt a huge sense of relief when I heard the news. I don’t think I will watch the movie—a choice I am thankful to be able to make. However, I hope “Patriots Day” will show all those who supported and cared for the people at the finish line and the people who kept everyone in Watertown safe during the lock down, including the National Guard troops who were stationed outside my home for a few hours and whose kindness I appreciated when they came to search my apartment. Their presence—after the initial shock—made me feel safer.

Professionally, I have spent the past several years learning about people who go through traumas as a result of experiencing homelessness, violence, addiction, mental health challenges, and poverty—and about the impact trauma has on the brain and body in the moment and in the long-run. Unfortunately, many people have experienced some form of trauma. (Read about experiences of trauma and recovery in Who Knew the Mailman Triggered My Trauma).

The trauma I experienced and the repercussions of it are different from those who were near the Marathon finish line in 2013 and from those who have lost their homes, survived violence, and struggled with addiction and mental health challenges. Yet, they help me understand what those who experience traumas go through and what they cope with when faced with events that trigger memories of the trauma. We need to make sure our neighborhoods, workplaces, programs, and services are trauma-informed and understand how best to support people—how to create environments that are not re-traumatizing and are safe and secure for all.

Today is Marathon Day, and when I woke up, my stomach felt unsettled. As I drove to work and listened to the news about the race, tears filled my eyes. I then thought of the runners and the people who have experienced traumas whose physical and mental strengths have helped them move forward. I have some idea of how you feel, and I support you.

Learn more about trauma by registering for t3's upcoming course: "How Does Trauma Affect the Brain?"

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Image by Todd Van Hoosear (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Christina Murphy

Written by Christina Murphy

Christina has more than 15 years of experience directing mission-based communications and policy strategies, managing community initiatives, and organizing coalitions to end homelessness and hunger for children and families. She has worked in the US Senate and MA Senate and on a statewide gubernatorial campaign. She has a Master of Management from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University and a BA from Tufts University.