September 11th and the Politics of Collective Healing

Sep 12, 2023

It started out a beautiful day. They always mention that—that it was achingly sunny, the sky a desperate blue. And it was. I remember that day like it was yesterday–as we all do. I walked to school with my father. I sat down and started to doodle. I got in trouble a few times before my teacher’s daughter came flying into the classroom shouting “we’re in a nuclear war.” 

There was little understanding of what was happening. I was only seven years old. Within minutes, we were on lockdown. Within the hour, the smoke had reached the windows of my classroom. In it danced flakes of fabric and freckles of dust. We were afraid–convinced that this day would be our last. And in a sense, it was.

Everything changed that day–for me and for nearly everyone else in the world. I lost many neighbors, many people I loved. I lost my childhood innocence, my sense of safety, my faith in the consistency of the world. Many lost much more than I did. I remember feeling guilty that I couldn’t give them something of what I had, that I couldn’t take away their pain.

Collective loss has a way of knitting people together, of forcing us beyond the safe parameters of our private lives and into the arms of strangers. Although I was too young to participate, I watched as my city–known for its brash, anonymous culture–came together in a historical performance of mutual aid and community support. My mom made sandwiches and brought them downtown. My teacher had us write letters to firemen. My neighbor cared for another neighbor’s newly motherless children. But most of all, people came together to grieve–to cry, to mourn, to hold the weakest among us until they could stand up on their own.

I think a lot about that day and the ones that came after.

Since I found my way into recovery and lost both of my parents—finding myself alone and painfully sober in a world I’d often rather escape–I have had to depend on the kindness of strangers, to heal in the care of others who had nothing to gain from my dependence on them. There’s the foster family who let me live in a spare bedroom for a year while I finished high school. There’s the RA in rehab who took me under her wing. There are the countless sponsors who saw me through the 12 steps, the girl who gave me rides to therapy, the man who brought groceries to my door. And there are the innumerable numbers who participated in the recovery programs and healing spaces that I attended–people who offered helpful advice, loving words, gentle touch, and commiseration. Together, we found our way to healing. 

It’s a shame–that collective healing should find us only in moments of intense grief and suffering. But maybe it doesn't have to be that way. Maybe we can build a more durable path to healing—one that starts here, wherever we are.

Collective Healing: What It Is & What It Isn’t

We are all survivors of collective trauma. We live in an attention economy that draws on our psychological resources, a world of scarcity and competition that pits us against others. We are all witnesses (or survivors) of global catastrophes, events, like 9/11, that fragment our perception of the world, that disrupt our faith, that catapult us into states of uncertainty and confusion. These events can be big–earthquakes, floods, wars–or they can be “small,” as in the loss of a community member or the disruption of resources. But no matter their proximity and relevance, these events affect us all.

Collective healing operates from the premise that what happened is just as important as its aftermath. It recognizes that in suffering, there is opportunity–the opportunity to strengthen our connections to ourselves, others, and our broader communities. 

In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is often talk of the “sinking ship” phenomenon. It’s the idea that passengers on a sinking ship will find intimacy in their collective fear and uncertainty–and that if they are to survive the event, their bonds only grow deeper with practice and care. 

We are all on a sinking ship. How we choose to manage that experience is up to us. Collective healing looks like taking the time and space we need to mend our wounds, but it also requires of us that we come together and tend to the wounds of others. It is, according to experts, “a cultural, political, social, and physical process of acknowledging hardship and beginning an active process of accountability, restoration of resources, and repair of the harm done.”

In the process of collective healing, we:

  • Build networks of mutual aid to provide resources such as healthcare, food, financial support, and materials. 
  • Seek accountability by apologizing, educating ourselves, providing reparations, changing policies, and repairing harms.
  • Reflect and educate ourselves by having hard conversations that empower us to make better decisions in the future
  • Build communal spaces in which we can engage in creative acts of healing, share wisdom, embrace a mindset of hope and regeneration, develop support and resiliency, and simply remain present with others.

How to Practice Collective Healing

There are as many paths to collective healing as there are ways to hurt. But the tried and true method of achieving communal wellness is in building formal organizations and informal networks that promote the above mechanisms. 

There are many types of collective healing communities. These include:

  • Twelve-step groups 
  • Grief groups
  • Group coaching sessions 
  • Classrooms 
  • Affinity groups 
  • Book clubs
  • Discussion groups
  • And more! 

If you’re searching for a collective healing community that combines the best of the above, consider joining Recovering Together, a weekly transformational meeting of folks grappling with the aftermath of grief and trauma–and the unhelpful coping mechanisms that often develop as a result of those traumas. 

Recovering Together aims to provide you with the support network you need to overcome your challenges–and thousands of resources and research-backed strategies to get you there. To claim your spot (without investment or commitment) sign up here

I hope to see you there. In the meantime, be there for one another. Do something kind for someone else. Create the time and space that healing requires–and never forget that you don’t have to do it alone.


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, metus at rhoncus dapibus, habitasse vitae cubilia odio sed.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.