Poppy's shelf

August’s reading: What happend to you?

What happened to you – Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, by Perry, Bruce, and Winfrey, Oprah is an excellent must-read for every adult who had a difficult childhood.

I have read plenty of articles and books about how the first years of our lives influence our development, but none has struck me as this rare pearl. I found it illuminating for two reasons:

1. Somebody finally stepped away from the supposition that those who encountered trauma in their early years are victims or troubled people.

2. Moving away from this stereotype finally created space for communication, and practical advice to improve our lives and ultimately heal.

Some quotes I found helpful for my inner peace:

Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.

Because what I know for sure is that everything that has happened to you was also happening for you. And all that time, in all of those moments, you were building strength. Strength times strength times strength equals power. What happened to you can be your power.

The elders were very patient with my curiosity, and gently amused at my Western medical-model formulations of “disease” when I asked how they handled depression, sleep problems, drug abuse, and trauma. They kept trying to help me understand that these problems were all basically the “same thing.” The problems were all interconnected. In Western psychiatry we like to separate them, but that misses the true essence of the problem. We are chasing symptoms, not healing people. For my Māori hosts, pain, distress, and dysfunction would arise from some form of fragmentation, disconnection, dyssynchrony.

The journey from traumatized to typical to resilient helps create a unique strength and perspective. That journey can create post-traumatic wisdom. For thousands and thousands of years, humans lived in small intergenerational groups. There were no mental health clinics—but there was plenty of trauma. I assume that many of our ancestors experienced post-traumatic problems: anxiety, depression, sleep disruptions. But I also assume that they experienced healing. Our species could not have survived if a majority of our traumatized ancestors lost their capacity to function well. The pillars of traditional healing were 1) connection to clan and the natural world; 2) regulating rhythm through dance, drumming, and song; 3) a set of beliefs, values, and stories that brought meaning to even senseless, random trauma; and 4) on occasion, natural hallucinogens or other plant-derived substances used to facilitate healing with the guidance of a healer or elder.

This wonderful book brought me to A seat for the soul, my September lecture.

Photograph found here.