Trauma healing is the work of our time.
As far as I can tell, this is just truth.
I’m sure many other people have different ideas about what may be the most quintessential, important, and necessary work of our time. But in my mind, it is trauma work. So much needs to be done in and for our modern world. And all of it is truly interrelated and necessary, but I believe trauma healing is the most fundamental work needed.
Yes, we need housing, health care, to stop fighting, to clean up our politics, to know we are all enough, and so much more.
This is all true.
And, have you ever heard of the ACES study? It unequivocally shows that the accumulated stress (i.e. unprocessed survival energy) from adverse childhood experiences (i.e. trauma) are intimately related to most all negative health and well-being outcomes later in life. In other words, there is a HUGE, undeniable, causal relationship between trauma and most all social and personal issues we are trying to remedy (illicit drug use, financial stress, unintended pregnancies, promiscuity, smoking, alcoholism, violence, chronic disease [cancer, autoimmune, heart disease, liver disease...], obesity, depression, suicidality, intimate partner violence, premature death, sleep disturbances, and more).
What if we spent more energy cleaning up all the residual gunk in our personal and social nervous system first? Maybe the problems we are trying to address wouldn't be as big as they appear now.
How can we create a new world when we are still weighed down with the pain of what came before?
Unpin your arms from those weighty boulders of eons of pain so you can reach for the stars. Gently remove your soul from the muck so you can again see the brilliance and possibility around you. Free yourself, and gain again the very simple human birthright of the ability to choose. Actually choose, in the now, and not just react in the now to what happen in the past.
Turn again ~ toward grace, beauty and possibility. You are not stone, cast forever in your current shape.
You are flesh and blood and malleable.
Reducing our baseline load of unprocessed trauma and gaining a new, clearer starting place as the foundation for any other changes we all hope to see in this world will have a multiplying effect. Clearing our coffers of old, stored, and incomplete trauma only serves to allow us all individually and collectively to have more choice, resiliency and options in who we are, how we behave, how we relate to other people, and what we can even begin to dream of creating. And this is doubly so for what seems scary, new, threatening or different.
We need to be able to have difficult conversations without being thrown into an old state of 'dominate or die'. We need to be able to hear and hold complexity and the myriad unknowns without going into a state of shutdown and overwhelm. We need to be ale to face the horrendous situations on this planet without being compelled to run away or numb. We need to do some serious collective healing in regards to all of our collective race wounding. We need to be able to process all the emotions of life threat that are triggered with life- and planet-annihilating topics like species extinction and global warming.
There is pain, so much pain
The modern world doesn't allow us time or space to feel it and process it. That is often seen 'looking backwards, when we need to be looking forwards' or it's seen as frivolous, or self-indulgent. Our implicit cultural truisms proclaim we must be productive and busy. We are taught to buck up, and not feel too much. Girls get a little bit more leeway on the emotion side of things, but our culture as a whole is still one where carrying on and moving forward are what is valued.
Of course we need progress and solutions too.
This seems to be a time of experimentation, of trial and error, of more and more people seeing more clearly that this world with so much built around patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, oppression, exploitation and the like just isn’t ok. It just isn’t working.
More and more people seem to be waking up to the fact that we’ve got to find new ways of being, relating and creating our lives. We need to learn how to live together, to communicate, get along, and relate to our home —to this beautiful blue and green planet we call Earth. Thankfully, there are millions of little projects going on ~ little experiments in living, loving and being. (And restoring, creating wealth, educating, and so much more…)
More About Trauma
Unresolved trauma severely limits one’s ability to be creative, resilient, compassionate and the like.
"Trauma is a contraction held within the body that becomes nonresponsive to our current time experience. We are 'shaped' by our traumatic experiences. They inform our perspectives, impact identity, relationship, physiology, emotions, behavior, thinking/interpretation, place and our sense of belonging. Trauma breaks safety and betrays relatedness, on the levels of mind, body, and spirit and alters one’s connection to community. Trauma is an individual and social experience."
When I talk about trauma I’m talking abut all levels of trauma together: personal, familial, tribal, cultural, and any others I didn’t think to name. A basic definition of trauma is the leftover residue (imprint, patterning, survival energy…) that remains in our nervous systems after an event that was ‘too much’ happened.
When we’re able to fully process the experience of a bad event, then it isn’t traumatic. As in, there is no lingering impact. There is no value judgement on something being ‘too small’ to be traumatic, as the only definition is if an impact remains. Small things that happen without warning can be traumatic (like if you were asleep or caught by surprise). Things that you’d normally be able to handle but for whatever reason you weren’t able to respond properly can be traumatic (like if you were immobilized for some reason). Things that happen chronically over time can accumulate into traumatic experience (like micro-aggressions and anything culturally permeating that you cannot get away from like racism).
Trauma creates lasting impact in our nervous system’s ability to function healthfully. We literally cannot respond, reason, think, relate, or be creative in the same ways. Our light is dulled. Our bodies remain in freak out or in shutdown. And this is the place from which we are supposed to create and live into the amazing world our heart’s know is possible?! No way.
Bare, naked and pleading. Too much and overwhelmed. This is not a stance of creation.
This is a stance of needing a new beginning.
Past pain shapes us, limits and dictates our available responses. The job of unprocessed pain is to find a way to the surface until we process it. It will be in our midst, triggering us, and impacting our ability to relate with others until we deal with it. End of story. This is just how it works to be biologically human; this is just how nervous systems work.
I see it like this, suppose we are collectively wanting to build a new road through a dense and thick jungle. We vaguely know where we want to go: to a beautiful world where everyone has what they need, is cared for, and our planet and people are well. But we don’t know exactly what that looks like, so we need to scout possible directions (experiment with different solutions). This scouting needs to be paired with clearing any obstacles in the way (heal our residual trauma) before the road can actually be built. Clear the way. Find the way. Clear the way. Find the way... on repeat. They go inseparably together.
I recently was lucky enough to hear Jon Young tell an old Iroquois/Mohawk story of the Peacemaker and how the great Law of Peace came to the original five nations.
I’m not going to try to retell the full story here; I don’t know it well enough to share it with proper respect. (But if you have a moment, please listen. The story is beautiful and amazing.) All I want to share here is part of the story’s resolution, as I understand it.
Fly free birds. Let your bird bodies and bird souls direct your way. May you never know pain or horror like man does.
May you always live in the wilds of creation, never mistakenly outsmarting your biology. May you always live in peace.
The Peacemaker came with a mission of bringing peace to the five warring nations. He started to be successful in his mission, and the people started to live in new ways and with new understanding. But he quickly realized this wasn’t enough. They technically had the peace they were wanting, but they were all still dead, lifeless without spark.
It comes to pass that the Peacemaker's way-pointing work was incomplete without another’s work. He met Haiwatha along his journey, who brought the way-clearing work of healing the trauma from generations of war. Together, their work combined, they bring peace to the nations.
The story continues into a prophecy that there will come a time that this paired way-finding and trauma healing will again be needed, but on a global scale. That the balance of life and all things good will be hinged upon mass healing of trauma and paired re-creation of how we live and be with each other.
I believed this already before I heard this story, and it feels all the more true and relevant now having it reflected to me back in this legend.
Moving Forward, Hand in Hand
I’ve heard people express that they feel selfish when they do their work to heal their griefs, pains and traumatic past — that they should somehow be only focusing on what is more broadly relevant. No! It is so utterly crucial for all of us collectively to heal our own personal corner of the collective pain body. We can’t heal another’s. Ours isn’t somehow less important than any other corner. We just can’t get to where we’re wanting to go when everyone is carrying around open wounds from past experience (personal, familial, tribal and cultural).
Yes, YOU! The guy in the mirror. The lady reading this article. Tend to your heart.
Tend to your slice of our collective puzzle. The social nervous system is real.
I dream of a world where trauma resolution is part of everything... part of public schools, part of divorce proceedings, part of financial and estate planning, part of the criminal justice system, part of social justice movements, and so much more. I wish that every time an important discussion was occurring (in politics, in peace talks, in a family...) and the participants got worked up that there was someone there that could press 'the pause button' and take all parties aside in that moment to help them resolve what was going on for them underneath.
I wish for the realization of all of our immense beauty. I wish we all get out of our own way. I wish we all get the help we need to complete what is still running inside, and regain our capacity for novelty, resilience, and joy.