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Returning to Our Center: Understanding, Naming, and Transforming Trauma


We are deep in the trauma literature, prevention, treatment, evaluation, and evidence. We know things from our ACES work with CRIHB and beyond. We hear trauma and see trauma in the data that comes in, the stories people tell. We are called to be trauma-informed, train on trauma-informed care, and incorporate this lens in all that we do. We even create scores that quantify trauma.

But are we using the word trauma too much? Have we become so focused on trauma that we cannot see the growth after trauma and the suffering is part of spiritual awakening? This was part of a larger conversation our team was having with a client about trauma-informed care and training people to be trauma-informed.

Dr. BigFoot

We sat down with Dr. Dolores Subia BigFoot this week to get her thoughts on trauma, the use of the word trauma, and what it really means, in clinical practice and in healing spaces.

Being able to have a definition of trauma generally is important because it gives a common language to frequent responses that people may not understand nor why they are having emotional and/or physical responses. There is a need to be able to have analogies and stories about the different kinds of trauma. Some people are not ready to talk about trauma. There is also a need to have specific information about a traumatic event, for example, a tornado, fire, car accident, or loss of a parent. There has to be understanding when something very specific has happened that may cause specific reactions. Having words to express what one is feeling and thinking allows for embracing the experience but not allowing the experience or trauma to define the individual.

Trauma is a pendulum.

We needed to have conversations about trauma because it was not recognized as to the level of impact, take for example engaging in combat. Lots of countries experienced WWI and WWII, but found it hard to define or express the emotional toil it produced.

Now we are identifying there is a potential for renewal and healing, that is post-traumatic growth and the opportunity to thrive after trauma. It is not about eliminating the word trauma; it is about having conversations about thriving, managing things in the future, and the presence of what is workable or manageable today. I give the example of a mother who lost her child in a school shooting some years prior. News reporters asked her how she found out about Uvalde, and she said,

“I was home and had the tv on. They had breaking news. It said school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and I just swirled around and fell to the floor. I was overcome by grief, not again, not again. Thinking those poor families, overwhelmed by sorrow and sadness, grief, anger, frustration…. I picked myself up and said okay, we have work to do.”

We don’t need to be afraid of trauma.

Trauma does create a threat. This process of post-traumatic growth is not that we remove fear but rather we do not let fear immobilize us. We make a decision about how to have a response to it and figure out what to do next. It is in the what to do next that makes it helpful or not so helpful. If you use substances or engage in other addictive behaviors, all those things are not so helpful.

When we are going through trauma…

  • People are so overwhelmed, “Is this ever going to end? Am I never going to hurt?”

  • We are so engulfed in pain we feel like we cannot manage it. At some point in time, we have to recognize we have work to do. It might not be gun violence; it might be that I have to cook supper. It is a continuum of understanding and embracing.

  • Our bodies, minds, hearts and spirit must transition. We have to transition and go through a dark space. It is not static. It is very dynamic, immense. If it wasn’t, you would not have that sense of pain.

  • How do we say, “Let’s stand up and let the work begin?”

  • We don’t have to use the word trauma initially, but we must pull it in some time. There has to be working definitions of trauma, historical trauma, and post-traumatic growth.

Historical Trauma

What about historical trauma, how can we talk about historical trauma in a healing way?

There are multiple aspects of historical trauma. There is generational loss.

Historical trauma just means it is right in the back of us. It is not a one-time event or understanding.

Just like anything else, it is reincorporated back into our understanding. We have an understanding of historical trauma with boarding schools, and we had to revisit that because they found so many unmarked graves—sexual abuse, and different things that happened. Understanding impact.

How do we love more than we hurt?

A mother was losing it when her child was sexually molested by her father. The kids were like, “Mom, don’t you love us more than your pain? “ Her pain was driving her to self-destructive behaviors. The reason why her children were abused, the history of boarding schools, poor relationships, and boundaries… her children were abused. That is still a historical trauma. Even though there was trauma in the present about what their father did.

We have to have discussions about the aspects of trauma and how it impacts us. Trauma is everywhere and nowhere. Gabor Mate reminds us that trauma disconnects us from ourselves or our spirits. We are all working toward returning to our Center as our good friends at Native PRIDE and Little Wound School teach us. We see people returning to their center at Doya Natsu Healing Center and Spotted Bull Recovery Resource Center. We know that Restoring the Sacred Circle is happening through the work and prayers of many. Honoring Children, Mending the Circle is another method of healing. Understanding, naming, and transforming traumas that occur is the goal of living a sacred and balanced life here on this Earth.



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