Episode 4: Trauma

How can you know what traumas another person carries?

It’s only a hose, but maybe you’ve seen too many snakes to trust your eyes.

[Intro music plays]

Dale: “I mean–I’ve died on the streets so many times”

Analyn: I say are you helping me to get out of this or are you taking my kid from me? I just had that feeling.

Marissa: “My new lover now thinks that he keeps saying, “Be stronger.” But I am stronger. There’s the difference.”

Eryka: I would definitely rather walk down an alley than down the street.

Donjuan: “But I was always kind of in the gut of the city, so to speak, looking for things, trying to – curious. Even here, just curious and roaming.”

Nicole: When I get stressed out, I’ll color. Or if my mind starts thinking too much, coloring is how I cope with a lot of – just about everything, actually.

Lucky: and pretty much he saw the crown that I wear on top of my head which is invisible to most, sometimes even me.

[end intro music]

Blake: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to When you are homeless. I’m Blake, along with Alison, and eventually today, we’re going to speak on the issue of trauma, something you can imagine a lot of people experiencing homeless have had in spades in their lives. And certainly that turned out to be true for these 8 storytellers, and so we’ll get into that. But before we do, I just want to point out that, last week, you saw that Dale’s story was released online. And I thought it might be useful to kind of recap that—or, if you haven’t hard it, to kind of give you a teaser for it if you want to go back and listen.

I interviewed Dale at a time in his life when it felt like he was feeling super urgent about getting off the street. He’d been at it awhile and had reached a kind of crisis-point emotionally. It felt, when he was talking to me. And yet he would have these long digressions into things from his past that were in the moment really interesting and fascinating and great stories to tell and it was only after it was over that I realized, “oh, he’s yearning by telling this story, he’s yearning for this life that he used to have.” Which, by all accounts is an incredible life. He has so many stories of his time in the audio industry, selling high-end equipment to really wealthy people, hobnobbing with them—and not just hobnobbing, like, actually creating these pretty meaningful relationships. One of the more striking ones to me was the relationship he formed with this sculptor named Tom Marsh who he names from Louisville. I looked him up. His stuff really is in the Smithsonian the way that Dale described. The scene that he sets there at Tom’s place—and Tom eventually died by suicide and this was a big turning point for Dale as you’ll see when you listen to that episode. Maybe it’s infarct part of the trauma that we can say would be relevant to this particular episode of the podcast. But Dale’s fondness in remembering that is just so genuine and heart-felt. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that on top of that—you might sense this when you listen—he’s got a streak of arrogance to him that is at times endearing.

Alison: Right. There’s that lien where he’s like, “I’m really smart.” And it is kind of endearing.

Blake: Yeah, yeah. Because it turns out that it’s true. He’s incredibly smart and you get him talking about speakers and he will go to a level of detail—listeners, there were about 30 minutes of this episode—of Dale’s story that I had to cut that’s just him talking about things that are way over most of our heads—certainly mine—when it came to how speakers are built and what the kind of ways are that you can make a really good one. And so those are some things I remember about his story. I’m curious, Alison, what you thought about it.

Alison: Yeah. It’s—a few weeks ago we talked about how Lucky, actually her—she had all these lines that I remembered and her narrative was really easy to follow. I kind of felt the same way with Dale. I mean, much thanks to your editing. I think you did a lot of work there. But so many of the things he said have stuck with me since I listened to them. “I’ve died so many times on the streets.”

Blake: Yeah

Alison: Yep. And he also seemed to be doing a lot of the reflective work. In a lot of ways, Dale and Lucky are in similar places, though very different people. Though both of them seem to be on this cusp of big change hopefully coming.

Blake: The other thing I would say about Dale is just that he has a really endearing way of talking. He’s got these long pauses that actually turn out to be worth it, where he’s kind of stuttering over words—and you get a sense that he might be doing it on purpose. And then out of that pause will come a cascade of revelations or insights that are really powerful.

Alison: This is a random question, but what was his eye contact like?

Blake: It was pretty intense. We were sitting in this little carrel on a library off Welton Street. And so there wasn’t much room and he was right there and he was leaning forward. And you’ll hear if you haven’t already he makes reference to a problem he has with his hand. And his pinky is sort of like permanently bent in this way. So he’s kind of gesturing with his hand, so this hand with the pinky messed up is right in front of you. I kind of remember that about him. His gesture emphasized the emphatic quality of his emotion. Super-interesting guy. I’d love to know more about where he is.

Alison: Yeah. Did he start his wood shop business? Did he—?

Blake: Right. So many times at St. Francis when I’m working with people, they’ll have these big dreams for themselves. And often the response that evokes in me is, “God, I really hope that you can do that, but I’m a little worried that this sounds not possible. And with Dale, you get the sense that it might be possible.

Alison: Because he tells us it is. He says, “I know how to run a business.”

Blake: Yeah. And he gives enough details that you actually believe that he knows very much what he’s talking about. He’s been there. He’s done that.

Alison: But you haven’t seen him since?

Blake: I haven’t. I do hope to get in contact with him to let him know that this is all being released. And hopefully he’ll respond. He seems like one of the more likely candidates of the people that I was involved with to do so. SO that would be great.

Alison: I think we’ll then move into our episode. Episode 4 of Trauma, talking about trauma. And we will talk more about Dale and focus more on his moments of trauma. One of many. And that was what was really hard when we were making and talking about this episode is that almost everyone we talked to could’ve had a spot in this episode, and they could’ve had 8 different spots. Like, I think a lot of people we talked to were experiencing trauma in lots of different ways. Either working with past traumas or something I wasn’t really thinking of, but experiencing trauma right now. Like, being in a state of homelessness is likely traumatic—so, presently in trauma as we were talking to them.

Blake: Yeah. And as we’ve said before, it often came without warning, without prompt. I don’t know—are there any things that you think maybe link any of the excerpts we’ll listen to, or do you imagine that they’re all sort of unique in their own way? Or should we just kind of see how that plays out?

Alison: Yeah, let’s return to that at the end. We might notice something. I did want to bring up—we’re not going to really bring in a lot of outside stuff for this episode, but I did want to bring up this term trauma-informed care, which I’m sure you’ve heard out there. It’s a really important phrase in all sorts of different fields. I took a mental health first aid class because I work at a public library and staff could take these classes and I wanted to just kind of just share with you this moment from that class that always stuck with me about trauma and interacting with people who have experienced trauma.

And it’s just—imagine, Blake, you’re waiting for a bus, and you bend down to tie your shoe and this big snake crawls over your boot and you get freaked out. And maybe you go home and you look it up later and you’re like, “That’s a really poisonous snake. If I’d have been bitten, I probably would’ve died.” Like, you realize that that was a really scary moment. Then, imagine you’re at some part and you bend down to tie your shoe and there’s a black garden hose there. And you freak out. And everyone’s like, “Dude, Blake, just chill. It’s just a hose.” So in that moment, you could choose to explain why you’re scared of the hose, because it reminds you of the snake. Or you could not explain that. You could choose to, like, work on that. Or maybe you don’t have the capacity to work on it.

But either way, that is how trauma works. Like, you have all these associations. And for some reason that really stuck with me. Because basically I might not know why you’re scared of hoses.

Blake: Sure.

Alison: And so it’s a zillion different things people might have these connections to.

Blake: And so it might manifest—your fear of this common thing might manifest as “crazy” or off-putting, or something.

Alison: Exactly. Or just, hard to talk to, or something.

Blake: That’s really interesting.

Alison: Yeah. So, there’s a place—a website called National Coalition for the Homeless, nationalhomeless.org—and they mention trauma-informed care. And one thing that struck me on their website that reminded me of that hose-and-snake little exercise was that they mentioned that often times really well-meaning providers can re-traumatize clients, just by, like, prodding too hard or not really understanding how trauma works. So, it just struck me.

Blake: Yeah. It makes me really—as soon as you said that, I thought, oh my God, what are the things that I’ve accidentally asked at St. Francis that might not have been the best questions?” I mean, just today, I was at SFC before we were recording and I worked with two different people on resumes. And you have to ask these basic questions, like, “Where did you work?” And invariably, the answers come back not just with the facts but with like, “Oh, and also, that’s when I was going through a divorce, and I did my best to forget everything that happened in that period.” This happened multiple times with this one interview today.

Alison: “I did my best to forget everything.” That’ what he said. Wow.

Blake: Yeah. Yeah. And then you move directly on to like, “oh, and then also I was a trucker for two years in this town.” And sort of, you know, it’s easy if you’re the listener and you’re not attuned to something like the hose/snake story, to not even catch it. And to just be like, “Oh, yeah. Marriages. Aren’t they crazy?”

Alison laughs.

Blake: Right? Like, that’s sort of the—and he, almost, now that I’m thinking about it, he sort of elicited that kind of response from me. It’s almost like I realize now maybe he’d sort of learned that he needed to make it into a little bit of a joke for the sake of—

Alison: Not appearing traumatized.

Blake: social niceties. And not appearing traumatized. Or maybe I’m totally blowing this up and he was really in a place of not being traumatized by it. Who knows? I don’t know this guy at all.

Alison: Right. Well, and I think that’s the point. We don’t know. Right? You never know.

Blake: The other risk you run—and it’s probably a risk worth running—is that you always come off as some sort of like, NPR, perfect person, who’s like, “Oh, that-must-have-been-terrible-for-you. If-you-would-like-to-not-speak-about-it, that-would-be-okay-with-me. We-could-just-return-to-the-résumé-building.” Like, you know, it can be a little hard–

Alison: “We all have our own traumas.”

Blake: Yeah. It can be hard to put on that therapy kind of voice for some people—certainly for me—and yet I absolutely see why in many cases it’s absolutely what needs to happen.

Alison: Right.

Blake. It’s so weird how, so often when we record this, Alison, I’m coming from St. Francis Center. And so, without even trying I’m kind of forced to prepare for what I’m about to —

Alison: You have that drive in between, right?

Blake: Right, yeah, so I have these experiences with these people, experiencing homelessness, that are often pretty, well, severe. And then I have a twenty minute drive to record here. And so I’m always thinking about things. And most recently, what I’ve been thinking about is the role of the service providers who provide services to the people experiencing homelessness. And, I had a conversation just now with a guy that I see at St. Francis all the time, his name is Duncan.

Alison: And he works there?

Blake: He works there. And he’s worked there for seven and a half years. And he saw me talking to someone, and he often comes by to say hello, he’s an extremely intelligent guy who’s got tons of fun stories to tell about his own life, not even necessarily just about what goes on there. Shout out to you, Duncan, if you’re listening. But, we found ourselves in a conversation today about the kind of support that’s needed for the people who provide support. And specifically we were talking about therapy. And, I hope that he won’t mind me mentioning this, and I don’t think that he will — I’ll ask him, so if you’re listening to this, you’ll know that he said okay.

Alison: [laughter] Permission granted.

Blake: He was saying that the only way that he can stay in his job, where his job is in fact to hear story after story, that is just incredibly traumatic; the only way that he can do it is if he goes to therapy. Every week. And it’s so necessary for him because, he says, he feels like a lot of people who work in that industry, they’re suffering secondary trauma. Like they listen to the trauma of others and they absorb it. And there’s a limit that any human hows to how much empathy they can give. At a certain, point, the way Duncan told it, you’re either gonna have burn out, you’re gonna hit a wall in other words, where you’re just not able to care, because you’ve cared so many times, so many days, so many weeks, so many months, that you just become callous, in a way.

Alison: And maybe nothing’s come from it.

Blake: Right. And maybe there’s that, too. Or, you’re gonna have a kind of break down and you’re gonna need to have an outlet for this. And he says that often, at St. Francis when he sees someone new, who’s just started, he’ll notice certain things about their behavior that he once recognized in himself. And he’ll pull them aside and say, look, I’m seeing some things that remind me of myself in your situation not that long ago, therapy helped me, you might wanna check these resources out.

Alison: Meaning if they’re expressing fatigue or frustration?

Blake: Right.

Alison: Okay.

Blake: And it just dawns on me that especially since — our avenue for having access to people experiencing homelessness to talk to at all, comes from St. Francis Center, comes from The Gathering Place, it makes sense for us to acknowledge the many different types of work that people at those types of institutions — and at those institutions in particular — put forth daily. And it’s not always pretty. I mean, there are moments where we just, if you’re working there, you have to kind of throw your hands up in the air at what you’re seeing. Despite the fact that you’re sincere about wanting to help people.

Alison: Especially — cuz, we’ve heard from so many of our storytellers how, like, I hate this place, that place sucks, they didn’t help at all. And I imagine people who are working their butts off every day are hearing that feedback from some of the clients or those who come to use their services.

Blake: Right. And just like, [sigh]. I’m trying, I’m really trying. I’m doing everything that I can. So anyway, I wonder how that might relate not only to — clearly, in a bigger way, those who work at these services — but, I mean, for you and me. [laughter]. To be honest. And for those who are listening to these stories. Like, these aren’t necessarily the easiest of stories to listen to. You know, I think about the kind of like stock character of the friend we all have who’s like, Oh, I’ll never go watch that movie, it’s way too depressing.

Alison: Right, right.

Blake: And like here they are, like. Giving all of you out there these stories which, let’s face it, have a lot of trauma in them —

Alison: They’re depressing —

Blake: Right, they’re depressing stories. And so, we want to acknowledge that we understand that that’s happening and that, that’s a part of how these stories have to be taken.

Alison: And, I mean, I don’t know if this helps any of you listeners, but I have found, firstly, just talking about them with you, Blake, does — it doesn’t make it better, but it makes you, like, settle in the stories better.

Blake: Yeah, they linger.

Alison: So, like, find a friend.


Alison: Talk to them about the stories you’re hearing, I don’t know.

Blake: And they do linger. They linger in moments that I wouldn’t imagine that they would.

Alison: Yeah.

Alison: So I think on that note we might move into our storytellers

Blake: Right.

Alison: and the small pieces of trauma we are going to play today. We’re going to start with Nicole. We’ve kind of very loosely built—well, I guess I’ll say everyone we’re going to hear from. We’ll hear from Nicole, Eryka, Devin, Analyn, and Dale, and their voices. And we’re starting with Nicole because her trauma came at, like, day one of her life, and also second one of the interview. She really went straight for it. And, by now, you’ve probably heard her story and you can see how it has really affected her entire life. And you kind of started doing that cyclical thing a lot of people talk about with trauma. Patterns were repeating. So, here is Nicole:

Nicole [recorded previously]:
Actually, I lost my – my mom lost three kids to crib death, a boy older than me and then my youngest two siblings. So my mom has five kids, but she only has two. And I remember my youngest brother. I was five years old. And my mom was sick, because her liver was really _____ sick. And so I basically had to take care of my brother for my mom.

And she got put in the hospital. And we got put in the care with my uncle and I went to go spend the night with one of my relatives. And my brother was gone the next day.

And after that, my mom’s husband started molesting me and my sister for around like three years. My sister was three. Yeah. And I was five, until I was seven. One of my aunts had a feeling, that he was doing something to me and my sister. Me and my sister wouldn’t say anything, so my aunt made my mom take us to the doctor to get us checked. And that’s when our mom found out that her husband’s molesting me and my sister.

Blake: Yeah, when you listen to that, it’s just, again, when you hear that voice, it’s just so quiet and yet it’s talking about such powerful things. Nicole’s story right way struck me as one that she was imminently capable of overcoming. And just the way that she told the story made me feel like she was going to have a way to get over it. And I think that’s probably not true. I think that there’s really no way around some of these kinds of traumas. And you said that it was cyclical, right, Alison?

Alison: Yeah. I think later in her interview, she talks about, one of her uncles molests her daughters, remember, and she gets—someone in her family goes behind her back, is the way she puts it, and tells her husband, or the father of those children. And that’s how her children get taken away from her. And she did kind of talk about it as—she didn’t use the word cyclical.

Blake: But you felt that she was aware of it.

Alison: I did. I felt like she was kind of returning to it in that way.

Blake: And were there any other ways in which she described other of her present circumstances where you saw her kind of aware of the way that trauma might have informed it? Or do you imagine that she kind of thinks, “eh, what happens in the past is the past, and I’m not really not thinking about those connections”?

Alison: No, I think the past was very present

Blake: Yeah

Alison: in her—

Blake: I felt the same way.

Alison: in her story. Yeah. I think it gets complicated because of how her kids are gone from her now.

Blake: Right.
Alison: That seemed to break the cycle but not in a happy way.

Blake: Okay.

Alison: Right? Like, now her kids are gone. And a lot of her story now seems to be trying to get back to her children.

Blake: And I know that she has certain feelings about her own mother’s way of raising her. So, that was one of those questions of the cycle—or, a cycle that could be potentially there, or maybe it’s different, I don’t know how she thought about that. I was curious.

Alison: So while we see how that early trauma really affects all of Nicole’s life, we’re going to move into Eryka, who—the trauma she experienced seemed to come a little bit later in life. More like, in adolescence. But all the same it affects her throughout until the day I talked to her.

Blake: Right.

Alison: So now we’ll hear from Eryka. And you have not heard her story yet, but as a reminder, Eryka—well, you’ll meet her later on. I think you’ve heard her voice once or twice so far.

Eryka [recorded previously]:

I grew up in a small town in western New York called Lowville. I had three younger sisters. My dad shot himself in 2007, because he had cirrhosis of the liver and had a diagnosis of six months to live. I met my first kid at my dad’s funeral. And my life just seemed to change at some point.

Fast forward a little bit, I came out as transgender in January 2017. My and my mom’s relationship started this up a lot [inaudible due to crying]. It got to the point where she was asking me every other day if I found another place to go or told me I needed to.

Alison: And so when I was speaking with Eryka, that moment when she talks about the relationship with her mom, that was really—I mean, she starts crying and I think it’s the one time in the interview where she cried, and she was talking about really hard things throughout our conversation—sorry, not interview, our conversation—and I don’t know. It’s something I really couldn’t imagine, going through something as hard as a gender transition and having your mom reject you for it and not having your dad around.

Blake: Right. We’ll transition now into an excerpt from Devin. You’ve heard from Devin a few times before in earlier episodes. He’s the one who came from Raleigh to Denver. And at a certain point in his story you realize, because he tells you, that he’s been in prison and that he’s coming out. And so the trauma that he describes is involving that time for him. And here’s what he says about it:

Devin [recorded previously]:

I’m being chained to the bed for like 60 hour period of times. I’m being transported back to the mental hospital. They shoot me with thorazine shots. I’m not going crazy but I’m telling them I don’t want to be back here. I’m going to make my way out of here. They try to give you shots to go to sleep. It was a whole lot.

Blake: And what I remember about how he described his story is that it was very matter-of-fact. He was not trying to make it sound bad. This is just what happened. And the “it was a whole lot,” I feel like it was him kind of correcting for that tone. It was almost as if he realized in that moment that it was a whole lot, and so he felt the need to say it. And you get the sense from Devin, very much so, that his whole mindset right now is geared toward not going toward any place that looks anything like that.

Alison: Wow.

Blake: You can see that drive in him in the rest of the interview, or the story, I would say.

Alison: Was he one of the folks who also was not into being in shelters. I can’t remember.

Blake: He had bad experiences in shelters, definitely. I’m trying to remember now specifically what his bad experiences were. They involved people not being respectful of his stuff. I don’t think that anything was stolen but like people just sort of barging in on his space a little bit. SO, yeah. He was not so pleased to be in that situation and was definitely looking to move somewhere else.

Alison: I mean, so Devin’s trauma—or one of his traumas—is this physical constraint, which I think is so different from what we’ve heard already from Eryka and Nicole.

Blake: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Alison: Which were more kind of emotional and psychological traumas. I guess physical as well—molestation. But I just kind of –I guess I’m just kind of pointing out—as we were talking about at the beginning—there are so many different kinds of trauma, and our storytellers really were reflecting that.

Blake: Right, yeah. And I guess maybe another difference between Devin and the other two has a little bit to do with it being completely unconnected to family.

Alison: Right. True.

Blake: He doesn’t—I assume he’ll probably never see any of these guards or prison officials in his life again. He’s not in that state anymore. And so I wonder how that changes or doesn’t change his way of compartmentalizing this or his way of thinking about it as segmented in the past in a way that, like, for Nicole, for Eryka, you know, their families are still in their lives. And I’m not saying that one is harder or easier than the other, but they are qualitatively different in that way.

Alison: Right. That’s a really good point. I think now we’ll share some of Analyn’s story, who we haven’t heard very much in this podcast yet, but her story is—it involves a lot of trauma.

Blake: That’s right.

Alison: And so the part we’ll play for you now is some of that.

Analyn [recorded previously]:

He never showed me a red flag. We got married. The firstborn child that I have, he hit me in the face because why? Not hit me, but slapped me. But everything is different. Just because I was hungry. I don’t know how to cook. We don’t have nothing to cook because nobody went to the grocery yet. We have money but that time, nobody went.

Soon as the first hit start, everything become easy for him. If I don’t fold his clothes in the right way and if I don’t put his clothes in the way it’s supposed to be, I get some kind of hits.
This marriage become – and he told – what makes me leave and want to leave him is not even the abuse, and that too, that’s part of it, but when he told me he’s going to bury me in the backyard.

He gonna kill me and bury me in the back and nobody gonna know. I don’t know nobody. I don’t have a family. I don’t have no friends. And it’s true. I said, damn, he could kill me like that. So I decided to move myself my way out. But that was wrong move. I shouldn’t tell him my plan. I should’ve left when he was gone, but I didn’t. I wanted him to know that I’m leaving. So therefore, we got a divorce.

Blake: Ugh. Awful. So terrifying. It really illustrates the kind of trap that I think many—especially women—fall into in relationships. And for whatever reason, it feels like a number of our female storytellers, or transgendered storytellers, were often in a position to feel this kind of entrapment a little bit. Would you say?

Alison: Absolutely. And I think Analyn’s is really at the extreme because she’s from the Philippines, as she says, she had no connections here. And she didn’t know about culture and customs and the way laws work and that comes up a lot in her story. So she’s really—probably more so than anyone else we talked to—trapped. And she also—just like we saw some cycles with Nicole, we see a lot of cycles in Analyn’s story.

Blake: For sure. I remember that too. Maybe from here we can transition a little bit into Dale’s trauma. We mentioned him at the top. But we did not mention anything of this excerpt, which is a whole other set of traumas physically that he’s had to deal with. That are also I’d say are pretty different from the four we’ve heard so far. Dale, long ago, about the time that his friend Tom Marsh died, by suicide, in fact within a couple days of that, he contracted Lyme’s disease. And this is him telling the story—or one of the many stories, actually—of his treatment for that.

Dale [recorded previously]:

And I went up to Marshfield in Wisconsin, which is kind of like the Mayo for Lyme’s. And I was treated with Rocephin, which is a fluid antibiotic, and they just – I caught it too late. And if you don’t – at that point in time – and I don’t think it’s really changed – if you don’t get treatment with antibiotics within a ten-day window the spirochetes get into your tissues and you can never get them out.

And since then I’ve done hyperbaric treatments, where you go into a hyperbaric chamber at two atmospheres of oxygen with IV antibiotics, and you do that for like three days a week for two weeks and you feel like absolute crap. But then you go into remission for like eight, nine months. And then I went and did the thermal treatment where they raise your body temperature up to 106 for as long as you can stand it, and they pack your chest and your head in ice, and you can’t even imagine how miserable that is. I mean as soon as that – you get up to 103 you want it to stop. But that’s what – the temperature kills the spirochetes. And then you might get another six to eight months.

And so about three days a month I have an enormous reduction in cognizance. I mean it’s like an eight-foot wall of water. I mean that’s the way I describe it. It’s like voices come echoing through, and you’re trying to decipher what it is. It’s an eight-foot wall of water, and you can’t hear. I mean I’ve dealt with that. The first two years I couldn’t complete a sentence.

Blake: “I couldn’t complete a sentence.”

Alison: I mean, the way he describes medical treatment, it really does sound like torture.

Blake: Yeah: “We’re just gonna keep raising your body temperature, and you just tell us—and just say ‘uncle.’ And the longer you can wait—

Alison: And we probably won’t listen.

Blake: Right. And then, the longer you can take it, the better—sort of, maybe—probability there will be that you don’t have to do this for a little while.” I mean, knowing what that feels like, and having to do it again, is really impossible imagine having to do. It’s kind of incredible.

Alison: And I think, like you mentioned when introducing this section from Dale, is—I think this is emotionally connected to the death of his friend, Tom. Like, so I imagine every time he’s going through this—

Blake: Yeah. It’s like, “Oh yeah, this happened the very week that my friend Tom died. And also, the same week that I lost $160,000 when it was stolen from me.” That was another traumatic thing that happened in the same span of 3 days as you say. So, yeah: I wonder—I didn’t ask, but I bet that, like, whenever there’s any kind of physical pain or debilitation, I wonder if that might trigger kind of a memory in a hose/snake kind of way. Like, all this stuff that happened in this specific time of his life when he was young.

Alison: Well, and then it’s interesting with Dale’s story, too, because there’s the trauma of that treatment, and then it seems like there’s another layer later when you talked with him where there’s the trauma of NOT getting treatment. He kind of talks about how hard it is to find treatment now. So it’s just like this almost this further layer.

Blake: Do you mean treatment for Lyme’s or treatment for other things?

Alison: Didn’t he say he’s not getting treatment for Lyme’s?

Blake: Right. He’s not getting treatment for hardly anything. Which sort of ties back to episode 2 that we did on logistics. And he has a whole section where he talks about the clinic, how basically all they’re doing for me is giving me aspirin and if anything more than that, I’m probably gonna be out of luck. And then he talks about another shelter—I think somewhere in the foothills where all they did was give him painkillers, and it sort of led to this temporary addiction.

Alison: He said, “They dumped me on the street, taking this large amount of painkillers.”

Blake. He used that phrase. That’s right. So, yeah. There’s a case of someone whose prior trauma involved—as his story just described—you know, the doctors didn’t catch it. That’s why this is so bad. Any number of us might have been bitten by tics but immediately got treatment and it was fine. That didn’t happen for him, and the result is a lifetime pf physical pain. And so every time that he goes to a clinic and they don’t give him medicine, we can imagine that he might be thinking, “Oh, well, the last time that someone at a clinic I didn’t give me medicine, I was debilitated for life. What will happen this time?”

Alison: The stakes are so high with every step.

Blake: Right. For sure. Now seems like a decent time to maybe transition to one more person. We’re not going to give you an excerpt from their story. But Marissa, she said something in interview that, I think, speaks to a part of trauma that we haven’t described, which is that not everyone wants to talk about it. We’ve sort of framed it as, you know, these things come unsolicited. And they did come unsolicited. But in the case of Marissa—and also in the case of many of these other people—there are certain traumas that they don’t want to talk about. And for Marissa, that had to do with a court case that she was facing, right?

Alison: Right. Yeah. She said, she kept talking about “the charges,” and she says the phrase, “I don’t want to talk about what they are,” and she kind of moves on.

Blake: Right. Yeah. And it’s very swift. It’s like, “We’re not talking about that.” And yet, she wants to talk about everything around it, which is really interesting, I thought.

Alison: And it is interesting, just the certainty, like, “we are NOT talking about that.” I do feel like boundaries around trauma—it seemed that when people had boundaries, they were non-negotiable. Like, “we’re not going there.”

Blake: That’s so fascinating. And a little terrifying, too, to imagine, “Well, if you were willing to tell us some of these things that were absolutely horrible, what must these things be?” And there’s different ways to answer that question. Some of it might be embarrassing, some of it might be just truly too terrifying to discuss.

Alison: Or maybe no one’s listened in the past, or there were consequences for sharing them in the past.

Blake: So, there you have it. There are six different kinds of thoughts that you get from our storytellers about trauma, both past and present.

Alison: I guess we can return to that question you posed at the beginning. Did you notice any themes or—themes might not be the right word, but—

Blake: Trends, patterns.

Alison: Yeah.

Blake: Yeah, that’s a good question. No, frankly. And I think the randomness of it is maybe part of the point. We’ve talked on this show before about what stereotypes there might be about people experiencing homelessness. We’ll certainly, at a certain point, talk about substance abuse both as we saw it play out and not play out. But I wonder: do you have any notions of like, what are the stereotypes that people have about the type of trauma that a homeless person might have experienced or might be experiencing? Or is it just that we lack in our clichés of this culture, we lack the imagination to even come up with that kind of empathetic stereotype?

Alison: I think trauma slides really quickly into mental illness. And I don’t really know—I’m not a scientist—I don’t know, like, the clear definitions. Like, is trauma considered a form of mental illness? Either way, I do feel like a lot of the stereotypes are more focused on mental illness and are almost not trauma-informed.

Blake: Yeah. So, to put it in the context of emotional trauma would be to say, “Okay, well, the stereotype is about the ‘crazy’ that you would see as a kind of manifestation of some trauma that remains invisible.” And you’re left to—if you’re empathetic—to kind of wince and wonder, and if you’re not, to just dismiss and move on. Yeah. I don’t think I want to leave you out there, listeners, with anything other than the notion that it’s impossible to know and it’s quite random, and there’s no way to know other than to ask, which is often not the thing to do.


It would take a certain amount of building of rapport, right? I think that one thing that I see in The Soloist and have seen play out also in the shelter at Saint Francis, is that the best thing you can do is just give people time. The time and attention of being a human, right? And it’s so easy, as Dale says in his story, it’s so easy to judge people when you haven’t seen a majority of their stories. And a lot of what you can see that he wants is just recognition. The story that he ends with in this way is extremely powerful. I’m not gonna tell it, but encourage you to go listen to it. But if you do listen for a while, well then you’ll know. You’ll know more quickly as a result of that conversation, whether to ask or not.

Alison: Right. Yeah. I think you’re right. Patience and listening is in there. And we had such the really unique chance to speak with these people in private for an hour. And that just doesn’t come up often in life often with anyone. I guess that’s not true with friends and family, but with people who have experienced trauma.

Blake: For sure. Well, thank you so much for listening to this latest episode of When you are homeless. As has become our custom, we’ll leave you with a quote, a lingering quote from one of our storytellers. And so here, we have Lucky:

Lucky [recorded previously]:

But being incarcerated with those women, having to be on the street sometimes, selling those drugs to those people, doing those drugs with said people have led me to believe, oh, me and these other human beings are one and the same. Don’t close your ears and your mind off just because someone doesn’t have a certain color spoon in their mouth, silver, bronze, gold, what have you. They might have something good to say. They may have something positive to bring in your life as well, you know? That’s all I can say is that I don’t judge these people anymore out here. The people I see at The Gathering Place, the people I sit down and have a meal with here at The Gathering Place, I don’t look at them as any different than me.

[exit music starts]

Alison: For web design and sound support, thanks to Jonathan Howard.

Blake: Our theme music was composed by Geoff Stacks

Alison: For support for interview space and scheduling, thanks to Melanie Deem and The Gathering Place

Blake: And at St. Francis Center, thanks for Andrew Spinks for permissions and support. Also thanks to the DU—the University of Denver and its Executive Director, Doug Hesse.

Alison: And another special thanks to Juli Parrish , Director of the University of Denver Writing Center

Blake: Thanks also to Kateri McRae for sound support and equipment, and to Andrea Sanz for social media outreach and photography.

Alison: Thank you, Chris Bunch

Blake: And thank you, Sarah Hoffman. See you next week.