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Understanding Trauma

Updated: Oct 1

One of the crucial steps I had to take was to really truly understand my trauma, where it comes from and how it affects me. Processing the trauma is probably one of the messiest things one will ever do outside of oh, say changing the trash. It is a raw bundle of emotions and depending on how long a person has been numbing or shutting down those emotions will depend on the mess that they will have to decipher when the flood gates open. Eeks!!

It all sounds like an intimidating amount of hours sitting on a therapist's couch but it doesn't have to be. Honesty with oneself is a requirement and here is where the dirty work begins. I can only use myself as an example because that is the only trauma that I know and completely understand.

I grew up in a loving family, my parents spent 42 yrs. together before my mom passed and I do have many good childhood memories, but this is also where my trauma began. I grew up in a generation where we were considered "latchkey kids" meaning both parents were working and we pretty much raised ourselves. I have memories of sexual abuse by adult men that my care was entrusted to. When I heard things like "you only got b's and c's, that's not good enough" or 'what is wrong with you" it would translate into "something is wrong with you because you are not good enough." I was told by my maternal grandmother that I was tearing my family apart. These traumatic events would create the perfect cocktail for self-hate.

It took years to process this simplified version of some of the trauma I had experienced. It also nearly ended my relationship with my mom. Our relationship was so rocky that the first time she kicked me out of the house was when I was eleven; I mourned the loss of my mother that day and I considered us done with each other. I eventually found mother figures in women whom I looked up to and had conversations with. Through those conversations, I found understanding and my way back to my mom. Through my own conversations with my mom, I found healing although I do still have work to do, progress not perfection is my goal.

One thing I have come to understand is that my trauma is no more or less than another persons' trauma, it is just different and that is okay.

My main focus for this has been my relationship with my maternal grandmother and my mom. Now I am not saying that my paternal side did not have its own trauma, but my dad's mom was more nurturing towards me.

This part is hard for me because this is my momma and her mom, and they are not "monsters" they loved us to no end and wanted the best for us. I am indigenous to North America more specifically Potawatomi and Winnebago in English. My tribes experienced assimilation and forced removals onto reservations and into boarding schools as recently as my own dad and grandparents' generations and as of this blog, I am only 42.

My mom's family was one of the first families to make a living off of the reservation earning us the "too good" or "urban ndn" label. My grandparents strived to educate themselves in the colonial world because they were told "you have to learn how to survive in this colonized world." Miles away from home in boarding schools and isolated from their families, the treatment that children would receive was abusive and unloving. My mom was one of the first natives in our family to be educated in a public school off the reservation, she was one of the first to graduate and go on to college and then graduate with a bachelor's degree from a prestigious Catholic college. She was the very first Miss NCAI so she was driven with the teachings that my grandparents instilled in her, good and bad.

The fact is that she was only doing what she thought was best and didn't intend to hurt me. The dehumanization that boarding schools and the acts of forced assimilation did to my Great-great grandparents' generation and on down to present day generations, the Indigenous people of North America have experienced what is called intergenerational trauma. She was unable to be the mother I needed because her mother wasn't the mother she needed and on back. A child experiences a significant amount of trauma when they are ripped away from their loving families and treated like a prisoner, punished for their language and culture, abused and neglected, then forced attempted assimilation to a foreign society. They grow up with a very dysfunctional concept of love and they pass it on in their relationships and when they have their own children that is all they know how to show.

My grandmother was a RN who enabled my mother's abuse out of fear of the family being ripped apart by social services; ICWA was not a thing when she raised my mom and her siblings. My first huge feeling of betrayal came when as a child around 6 or so, I had misbehaved and had been "disciplined." When my grandmother stopped over and seen the marks that were left on my back, I heard her through an open window mention the marks to my mom. I thought she was going to defend me instead she said to her "what are you trying to do get caught she's outside in a tank top and people can see". At first I was hurt but from that moment on I knew no one in my family was going to help me, my hyper-independence and trauma starts to take form. Later on in my childhood I had started speaking to counselors that my mom had us going to about some of the "discipline" that I had received, and they let me know that what I was experiencing was abuse. Child and family services where going to be notified and I was told that I shouldn't have talked about that and that it would be my fault for tearing the family apart so when the counselors called for a family session I lied to them. I told them that I was over exaggerating and just trying to get attention. This really taught me that no one in my family was on my side and that even though they could depend on me, I couldn't depend on them.

I was damaged and for a good part of my mid-twenties I was very angry, hurt, self-destructive and unable to be a parent to my own children. It wasn't until my early thirties that my mom and I started on our journey to a beautiful healing relationship, she had shown me atonement by helping me with my children when I couldn't parent and she along with my dad continued to co-parent with me. We started having conversations and she started realizing how much she was learning from me. I could hear over time how our conversations evolved and by the time she passed away we were in a good place, but I am hurt by not having more good time with her. One bittersweet memory I have as a child is one night after going to bed my mom came into my room crying. She sat on my bed, and I sat up and held her while she cried and comforted her, this is an action she was unable to reciprocate because she didn't know how to. Although this is a painful memory, my pain is eased through understanding that it was okay for me to feel that hurt and the knowledge that I was teaching her something about love.

I have also had other women come back and tell me that my mom helped change their lives and to me, that means the world because when she couldn't be there for me at least she was there for people who were not as fortunate as I was. Now I am not making excuses for any type of toxic behavior but having an understanding of trauma and where it generates from is a good start to self-healing. Breaking intergenerational trauma doesn't just happen in one generation because when one heals themselves, they heal the generations before them and pave the way for those who come after, and this is the true power of healing.

One other important thing to keep in mind is to be kind and patient, people are human beings and are prone to make mistakes. Depending on how deeply a trauma is in-grained can affect the time it takes to heal from it because one is basically rewiring their thinking and it doesn't always connect right away. Try and try again and keep on trying because to become stuck or stagnant in toxic behaviors is not a good thing.

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