Trauma Informed: I am not a victim or a survivor, I am COMPLETE!

This Fall I am choosing to write about Trauma Informed Models and Theories and what I think we need to know to create a world where people can be fully self expressed, free and just. 

I have learned so much in my own journey and hearing all your stories and witnessing your tears as I cry my own that I had to share the “New Conversation” I am bringing to the table! 

This Fall Edition of my newsletter “Behind the Movement is all about my take on the new Trauma Informed world that we are living in. From funders to social workers, if you are managing, working in, creating or studying service provision, healthcare, client centered, community organizing  in people of color communities than you are probably using trauma informed  trainings and language  to look at your work from a trauma informed lens also known as culturally specific, cultural sensitivity, cultural response, cultural humility, cultural awareness, cultural competency, and cultural knowledge.
Every couple of years or so, someone comes up with yet another theory to explain the complexity of inhumanity and injustice and the impact that they have on the mind, body and spirit of those that live it day in and out. But how do you explain the historical and generational impact and effect of violence, poverty, war, neglect and oppression? How do you create in language something that is unexplainable? The violence being waged on people of color, on humanity right now could not be put in words! We are chocking ourselves, in a rat race, circling like a hamster on a wheel, beating ourselves to death researching language , deconstructing mainstream theories and models  to put onto paper our experiences, lived and passed down and all that “others” witness  so that “they” know how to treat us when they come face to face with a person of color and we  sit in their office looking for support, service, healing, validation, sanctuary, survival, and breathe.
When that person sits in front of you, when the story comes out of there mouth, when you see how life has shaped their body, when they don’t have to say anything because its in the shallow of their eyes or their angry balled up fist..what model do you use? What ears listen? What eyes see?
Trauma informed is another fancy way of saying people of color, minority, immigrant, underserved, marginalized, disadvantge . I took the time to look up these words that I often times find in journal publications, academic pieces and that I am forced to use to be listened to in certain settings. This is what I found.
Underserved:  to be provided with inadequate services. Synonyms

Marginalized : to treat (a person, group, or concept) as insignificant or relegate to an unimportant or powerless position within a society or group, to put or keep (someone) in a powerless or unimportant position within a society or group, When you push people to the edge of society by not allowing them a place within it. Synonyms

Disadvantage : an unfavorable circumstance or condition that reduces the chances of success or effectiveness, something that causes difficulty : something that makes someone or something worse or less likely to succeed than others, a bad or undesirable quality or feature,an unfavorable, inferior, or prejudicial condition. Synonyms

WOW, no matter how you cut it the words that we use to identify ourselves or others continue to create violence. Someone who is disadvantage is also damaged, someone who is marginalized can be discounted and someone who is underserved is not good enough. And from this place we treat people, we serve people, we advocate,  we organize, we “help”, we listen to people and we judge people. They become the other and we know what is best for them.

It is imperative for front liners to turn Trauma Informed on its head and look within if we truly are to create another world that is responsible, accountable, integrity, humanity and dignity for all.

So, Where Have I Been, what bought me to this conversation? During the last two months , the winds of change have taken me from NYC to LA, from Ohio to Detroit, from North Carolina Baltimore, Albany and back again. In Bold Rebirth kicked off October Domestic Violence awareness month with intense conversations, creating healing spaces, building sisterhood, sharing best practices, organizing rituals, grounding with cultura and spirit and connecting to the tears of womyn and men dedicated to ending violence, sexual assault, DV, child sexual abuse, prostitution, trafficking, genocide, rape, war on our bodies, minds and spirits, 5 generations in the making. No matter how your doing it, today I am in deep gratitude for your commitment. Violence against humanity is a global conversation, from the Dominican Republic to Haiti, from Sudan to Egypt, from the Congos to Nigeria, South America to the South Bronx and every place in between, there is a war being waged that does not belong to us! I want to acknowledge everyone that has answered the call against crimes of humanity!
It was important for me to acknowledge all of you before I write because it is time for us to see each other, to validate our work, our efforts and our struggles in creating another world. Our existence depends on us seeing each other.  Below is more info on Trauma Informed healing and practice! Enjoy!
A Fall Healing Message 
Trauma Informed Spirituality
The separation of spirituality from our lives, our organizations and the movement leaves us spiritually homeless! Anodea Judith
Finding her rhythm had been a long journey. She traveled beyond the streets of oppression, the valley of inauthenticity, the forest of despair, the river of regret and the desert of self judgment. She crossed the seas of change, the mountains of transformation and infamy she arrived in the meadow of possibility she claimed her life song! 
                                                                                                   Shiloh Sophia Mcloud 2004
This beautiful piece was created by Shreya Shah doing amazing work with Rhizome Consulting, it is hand made with Henna. 
From Victim & Survivor to COMPLETE! 

When I talk about trauma to service providers, advocates, activists, organizers, social workers and all of us on the
front lines I dont speak of trauma as vicarious trauma or secondary trauma. For people of color specifically and people in general, trauma is a lived experience for the mere fact that we live on this earth. If you turn on the news, if you are present to what is happening all over the world and to those you serve you are witnessing  the trauma of others becoming your personal trauma.
However, the conversation of trauma for people of color for both ourselves as front liners and as consumers of services is not a conversation out there in a theory or model outside of oneself. It not a conversation from which to pull best practices from, to write proposals or operationalize the work for others to understand instead it is a personal conversation, a lived experience happening day in and out, that lives in our blood generations in the making.
I am writing about this today because for the first time in my life I was able to stand in front of my presentations and workshops not from an identity of victim or survivor but as complete. My new phrase is
“I am not a Victim or Survivor, I am Complete”
You may ask what does that mean? For the past two months I have heard and witnessed every story of sexual assault, rape, DV, trafficking, prostitution, child abuse , genocide etc and I realized that as we shared there was still something holding us back from the true healing that can be present in completion. I was thinking about my own story and how I got to be complete and I realized that it took people to treat me not as a victim of my circumstances but as an accountable of my life and presence me to the possibility of all that I can be.  It took a team of people to hold me to account to who I say I wanted to be and the dreams I wanted to manifest. It took a team of people telling me that they loved me and counter act all the negative self talk I had developed over time. As a result I didn’t  get to show up as not good enough, or alone in my life. They didn’t let me disappear, they didn’t let me sleep it away or be depressed. They didn’t let me get away with being less than the most powerful person I could be.
It wasn’t until I joined the Team Management and Leadership Program at Landmark that I realized that my liberation lied not only on access and education, healing spaces and naming oppression, self identifying or contextualizing my life within a historical context of violence, instead it depended on people not treating me like a victim or survivor. ( Understanding that these terms have a hisortical meaning for us all and not ignoring that some of us still use the terms cause they mean resiliency or validate you and our  struggle way before we had any words)
I will still challenge their current use in anti-violence, reproductive justice work, health care and service provision. So, what I realize in retrospect is that what I needed was tools to live my life with responsibility and integrity. What I needed was to unlearn all that I had learned to not keep my word to myself and others.  I always say that SELF LOVE is the hardest journey one will ever go through. Add to that keeping your word!
As time went on I realized that the words victim and survivor did three things for me. 
1. Kept me connected to the story I created of myself as a result of child sexual abuse and domestic violence  but it also kept me recreating the past I was trying to move away from in every relationship I was in. 
2. Survivor and Victim kept me showing up anyway I wanted to without any apologies to the impact that I was having on myself and others. 
3. Kept me blaming everyone else, my mom, dad, oppression, non profit industrial complex, history, colonization etc for the world I was creating. 
Being complete doesn’t mean that I don’t remember, or that when I least expect it trauma doesn’t  show up disguised as resiliency and power when in fact it is fears, doubts and resentments. It just means that I can now manage it as it shows up moment to moment to moment as well as be responsible for the impact that it has on YOU!

I can manage my triggers so they do not paralyze me and I can show up accountable for the impact that I am having on others and be responsible for the world I say I want to live in.

Today, I can honestly say that I am complete with my past. That year long journey was about LOVE, self LOVE and Love of others. To get back to being as if when that which happened didn’t. To show up in acceptance, acknowledgement and forgiveness. To Love and Dream ANWAY! The most challenging yet liberating journey one could have!

IMAGINE, if there was nothing to blame. IMAGINE, if there was no one to blame anymore. IMAGINE, if I am not good enough, no one loves me, I am on my own, Its my fault, and I don’t trust didn’t exist anymore? IMAGINE, If you were so complete with life’s experiences that all that was left was everything you could create?
What if I told you you could have it all?
What if I told you that there is a way to wake up everyday without worrying about the future or concerned about the past?
What if I told you that there is a way to get complete with your past such that it no longer paralyzes you instead you could manage it as it comes up moment to moment? 
Self Love is a seasonal act that happens every season. The Fall has come in with explosive transitions, powerful choices and deep self awareness. Setting intention to live into daily is a sure way to guarantee that you have it all. Creating a sacred power space in your home, making a list of what you are doing not what you are going to do and sharing your possibility with us everyday is another way to hold yourself to account for what you say your going to create out in the world this season. 

In my journeys over 15 years I have gathered that when I use TRAUMA and front-line in the same sentence( POC, advocates, service providers, social justice activist, healers, practitioners, organizers etc) there are 5 things that I know as fact…
  1. You are experts of your life.
  2. Your body has the ability to heal itself.
  3. You have experienced, survived or witnessed some form of trauma.
  4. You are whole perfect and complete. There is nothing to fix about you cause there is nothing wrong with you.
  5. None of us have integrity.

As such when I speak of Trauma Informed in front of a group, I bring to it 3 things that will counter what you think you know and what you are being taught about victim services.

  1. A twist where there is victim/survivor accountability and responsibility for the world we are creating towards a completion of our story.
  2. Deep conversation of internalized oppression providing clear practices and ways of being so that we can show up powerfully in our lives. Speaking to the “we have done everything so why is there no change, why is she/they still in that relationship or situation” a reoccurring dialogue that we have and drives our work.
  3. Contextualizes personal trauma within historical violence and the internalization of poverty, neglect, violence and oppression such that if they don’t exist we still have to manage our way of being, our listening of ourselves and others.

Trauma shapes identity in the form of internalized oppression. It shows up in our communication, in our body and impacts how we show up in relationships at home, movements and (work)organizations, in how we provide services and advocate for ourselves and others.

A. Internalized oppression shows up in communication. I call that  “When Trauma Speaks”

B. Internalized Oppression shows up in the BODY. I call that “When the BODY Talks”

Trauma Informed Communication “When Trauma Speaks”

Trauma shapes our identity, what we think we deserve, what we think we are worth, what we request of others and ourselves, attachments and expectations that we have and the way we relate to the world and ourselves. It shapes our opinions and creates a listening that we apply to every conversation and situation in our lives.

Truama shows up not just in our physical body but also in language and how we communicate with people.

Listening is your ability to take an experience and create it as reality in the story you create. The story then becomes your reasons and justifications for who you are and why you do what you do or what you don’t do.

Trauma affects our ability to show up in relationship authentic and with integrity. The identity victim and survivor keep you powerless and imprisoned to your past. The story you create about yourself and the world becomes  your already always listening conversation in which trauma has already had this conversation and knows how to respond no matter who the person is or how many years have passed.

Trauma takes a situation and creates it as an automatic recurring dialogue where we take an experience from the past and when we hear something we connect it with previous conversations, our memories, ideas, opinions, images, etc and then communicate from the place and not from the present moment dialogue.

In language trauma shows up as powerless language where one is always trying to survive a situation, fix something about or change themselves or others.  In language that may look like constantly defending themselves, making you right or wrong, rationalizing everything, having a reason for why they do what they do or being righteous.

Trauma Informed Bodies “When the Body Talks”

Trauma shapes us , our bone structure, our muscles, our ability to move, wether we are hunched, standing erect or always looking down.

When I was on my year long journey. I didn’t know it at the time but I was home for 3 months with severe pain in  my back, at first the doctors thought I had kidney stones, then they thought it was pelvic inflammatory disease. For two months they could not diagnose me. Later, I managed to get an MRI and what I had was a herniated disk. To doctors they had no real reason why that was happening to me at that time except that they found I had scoliosis, a curvature in my back that might be putting pressure on my spine.

While I could see what they were saying on the scans I knew there was more to it than that. I was asking myself why now? Why was this showing up in my life now?  I was scared that I was never going to dance again. I went to a couple of somatic , spiritual workers and healers and what we gathered was that as I was completing with my past, my body was also going through its own metamorphoses. My body was reshaping itself, i know longer had to walk with my head down. I was training myself to be seen and heard from a place of power. My muscles could now stretch , my back can stand me upright so i can see myself. I was no longer afraid of where I had been or where I was going. I was like bring it on, I  am ready to live and my body was shaping itself to mange and hold the new me.

Trauma threatens our sense of belonging, love, safety and connection. Our muscles hold memories that we don’t have language to, both personal and historical passed down through our blood. Trauma pain is passed down over generations into muscle memory. I heard someone say that our body is both a historian and a teacher.  Our body is made to protect ourselves in a blink of an eye in one second when  our sense of safety is threatened whether true or perceived your body will take flight, you will fight, you will flee and leave the scene literally or figuratively, your mind will save you from the experience and take you to the beach real quick or you will appease the situation, pulling out all your social work, healing tools, manipulations or survival skills to manage the situation . For survivors trauma often times remains hidden in the body until you are ready to feel it or look at it again however, it shapes the very essence of who your are, that is why there are things that you do and who you be that are inexplainable, that part of you that is like I know I should leave or eat healthy but there is a gap between what I know and what I am doing?

This is important to know because the person in front of you may be in one or all four responses at a time and you are trying to figure out why nothing you say or do works.

Trauma Informed Movements 

Trauma in the movement and organization shows up as  internalized oppression, a lack of integrity, responsibility or  accountability.  Examples of this are:

–       not showing up on time

–       I’m doing my part or  all about me

–       Deferring/blaming

–       Upset/drama/gossiping

–      Talking from feelings and emotions

–       Controlling, defending, protecting

–       Not showing up as an ally

–       Not wanting to collaborate  

In the Organization

  1. Blame it on others actions-they didn’t do their job
  2. Blame it on authority – my boss told me or did not tell me
  3. Blame it on Institutional Policies and rules or lack there of
  4. Blames it on the group
  5. Blames it on Gender, Social roles, Age or everyone else Is doing it
  6. Uncontrollable impulses- I couldn’t help myself
  7. Diagnosis/Psychological History- I grew up
  8. Blame it on something else being a priority or using their story of trauma to be out of integrity

INTERNALIZED OPPRESSION SHOWS UP as a way of being and as something that we do.  We show up as  enraged IN ALL AREAS OF OUR LIVES and where it gets played out  is IN OUR RELATIONSHIP, COMMUNITY, SCHOOL AND WORK!

So,  yes Trauma informs everything we do and everything we be. Being Trauma Informed will take more than a model or another cookie cutter list of cultural practices and traits we should look after. Trauma Informed is a life long commitment and lived experience where one holds themselves accountable for how they have internalized oppression or are playing out power and privilege. A deep process of self awareness, evaluation and reflection about their embedded prejudices, stereotypes, discriminations and constant need for POC  or the “others” to tell them what to do.  A commitment to re-eduate themselves in the language of humanity.


One thought on “Trauma Informed: I am not a victim or a survivor, I am COMPLETE!

  1. Thank you for sharing what I had no confidence to articulate. I have always believed in not labeling myself in my life’s journey, I knew this since the age of 4, I hated and resent labels.
    I always wanted to be called by my name, because it is the name of my spirit, and i am always calling my spirit.

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