Trauma-Informed Care

First I will offer a definition of trauma-informed care, then explain what it means to me, as a trauma-warrior. The feedback I receive from those who hear my “story of hope” is that they connect with my story because of it’s rawness, realness, and relatability, I want to use that here with the concept of trauma-informed care.

As defined by The Tristate Trauma Network: “Trauma-informed care (TIC) is an approach that takes into account the prevalence of trauma, acknowledges the role trauma plays in people’s lives, and uses this knowledge to respond in appropriate ways to those affected by trauma.”

Beautiful! ♥

With that, I will share a story of trauma-informed care in action, outside of the mental health arena:

I had decided to attend a writers’ workshop in Orlando, FL. This was going to require a flight and some highway travel. Both of which normally result in increased anxiety for me (one of my triggers, resulting from two different bank robberies I was in, is a sensation of feeling trapped with panic attack symptoms surfacing). Therefore, my senses were heightened as I made my travel plans.

Upon contacting The Omni Championsgate Resort, I was advised that they could not guarantee me a lower level floor. The young woman on the phone stated she would put it in the notes and if anything was available upon check-in then I could have it. Yeah, that was not going to work for me. The idea of traveling up fourteen floors brought on more increased anxiety symptoms as thoughts of a busy elevator and heights beyond my comfort level started surfacing.

So, I did what I do best and reached out to management via email, sharing my “story of hope” along with a request for help. I stayed polite, yet truthful to my needs. The response I received was a perfect example of trauma-informed care in action!

“Good morning, Ms. Wellbrock,Thank you for the additional information, and what an amazing woman you are! I am happy to assist and have taken the liberty of blocking your reservation into a room on a lower floor and barring any unforeseen circumstances, there should be no problem honoring your request. Though a hug is not necessary, it’s always welcome! If you know your approximate arrival time, I’ll add to your reservation and hopefully will have a chance to meet you on arrival. Please let me know if there is anything else I may do to assist you, and thank you for your loyalty.”

Again . . . beautiful! ♥

Falling in line with the definition of trauma-informed care, this organization recognized the prevalence of trauma in a guest’s life, acknowledged the role it plays in my life (as well as my anxiety-inducing triggers), and used that knowledge to respond in an appropriate way to my trauma needs.

P.S. I utilized coping skills on my trip and had a panic-free, low anxiety trip filled with laughter, enlightenment and grace. I colored with gel pens on the flight, meditated and talked to a newfound trauma therapist friend on the highway shuttle ride, and enjoyed my third floor view of the scenic lazy river at the gorgeous resort.

The Healing Place Podcast: Episode 39

I had the pleasure of conversing on-air with Chaplain Chris Haughee, to discuss trauma-informed ministry and his role as chaplain at Intermountain in Helena, Montana, on my most recent episode of The Healing Place Podcast, available on iTunes, Blubrry or directly on my website at www.teriwellbrock.com/podcasts/.

Chris shared his insights with me by answering my interview questions beforehand, as well. With his permission, I am sharing his written responses with you:

Today, I welcome Chaplain Chris Haughee (pronounced “Hoy”), who is joining us to discuss trauma-informed ministry practices and his experience as a chaplain to the children of Intermountain, a residential facility for severely emotionally disturbed children in Helena, Montana.

The Reverend Chris Haughee is a licensed minister of the Evangelical Covenant Church and has served as chaplain of Intermountain’s residential services in Helena, Montana, since 2012. An adoptive father to two, Chaplain Chris Haughee is an advocate for greater inclusion of foster and adoptive families in the life and ministry of local congregations. You can follow his ministry at www.intermountainministry.org, contact him at chrish@intermountain.org or order the curriculum Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Wicks to learn more about becoming a trauma-informed ministry.

Q: Please tell us a little bit about your story.

It’s been four years ago now. My son had a particularly bad day at school, and his rage had hit the point at home that evening where I needed to wrap my arms around him until he calmed down. When he finally settled into my embrace, he sobbed. He couldn’t look me in the eye as I asked him how he felt. Head in hands he muttered, “I feel yucky inside, and I feel like that almost all the time.”

Despite all the love being poured into him, nothing was sticking because of his profound sense of shame. Holding my broken-hearted son, I have never felt more broken and helpless as a father. As a dad, when you see your child hurting, you’d do anything possible to help. That image of my son sitting in my lap, hands over his face unable to look at me and see the love and care in my eyes, will remain with me forever. It has driven me deeper into my own sense of call to express the love of God to those most desperately in need of it, especially those trapped in shame.

This experience steeled my resolve to help other parents, and other pastors and ministries, through producing materials that would train, encourage, and empower the community of faith to help hurting children.

Q: If you could reach as many people in the world as possible with your message, who would you want your audience to be? 

My primary audience is the church, especially those in leadership. Churches and ministries can be very effective communities for reducing stigma, healing trauma, and building resilience. Unfortunately, these same communities can also re-traumatize people, marginalize those most in need of help and healing, and can be guilty of holding any number of views towards mental illness and emotional disturbance that aren’t only bad practice when it comes to ministry, but also don’t truly align with their theology and mission, because they aren’t supported biblically.

I have worked hard at producing materials that would train, encourage, and empower the community of faith to help hurting children. My first attempt at creating such a resource is a six-week study for adults called “Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Wicks,” released in 2017. In the last fifteen months, it has been ordered by ministries and social service agencies representing 33 different states, two countries and the District of Columbia. It’s an effort in building “trauma-informed ministries.” A trauma-informed ministry is one that understands the impact of early childhood and other relational trauma has on brain development and social and spiritual functioning.

For those curious about the content of the curriculum, here is a brief outline:

  • Week One: Jesus and the children; key idea: Jesus welcomes ALL children, even those affected by trauma, toxic stress, or adversity (ACEs)
  • Week Two: Advocacy… what is this “trauma-informed” talk all about?; key idea: In order to advocate for children and families impacted by trauma, your church should consider trauma-informed ministry.
  • Week Three: Was Jesus’ ministry “trauma-informed?”; key idea: Jesus understood the devastating effects of trauma and adversity and his ministry was shaped in a way that responded to our needs.
  • Week Four: How the traumatized can look like they “have it all together.” key idea: those that are dealing with trauma don’t all look the same. Even leaders in your community have been touched by trauma… so everyone should be treated compassionately.
  • Week Five: Does being trauma-informed mean we avoid saying hard things? key idea: Jesus was compassionate, yet firm… being trauma-informed means you prepare for the strong reaction some topics may elicit, not that you avoid all issues that may elicit a strong reaction.
  • Week Six: Responding to trauma within the compassionate Kingdom of God; key idea: God’s Kingdom stands apart from this world’s kingdoms, bringing justice and mercy where trauma and heartache have prevailed.
  • BONUS MATERIALS: “Advocating for Rachel”–a case study from a licensed child and family therapist with suggestions for interventions that a church can appropriately implement to help hurting children and families!

I am currently working on a new edition of the curriculum that would include two additional studies on working with adults that have experienced trauma or are currently going through traumatic experiences and mental health issues, and a week on “next steps,” or how a group that has engaged the rest of the study can determine where to start in forming trauma-informed ministry practices that fit their context.

Q: Why is trauma-informed ministry and working with traumatized children so important to YOU?

It’s important to me because of my personal connection, in my home and in my work. I can see that those hurting and traumatized individuals are the very ones that Jesus was drawn to in his earthly ministry. My “life verse” is 1 John 2:6—“Anyone who claims to live in him must walk (live) as Jesus did.” So, this is about me “walking my talk.” If I am a Jesus follower, I better be about the things Jesus was passionate about. There is no escaping that Jesus was passionate about children and about those who are marginalized by their situation or their suffering.

Q: Are there any myths or facts you would like to clarify for our listeners?

Being “trauma-informed” in ministry is not a program. It’s not a fad or gimmick. It’s a lens through which you can come to see the world differently. It’s not unlike the “scales falling from Saul’s eyes” when he is healed of his blindness (through Ananias) after encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:18). Once you learn about ACEs and trauma and the impact it has on a person—physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually… well, you’d wonder how you ever saw things differently.

For instance, I will take Jesus’ teaching on worry from the Sermon on the Mount as an example of how knowing about ACEs and trauma helps you to se the world differenty (Matthew 6:25-34). In this teaching, Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life and what you will eat or drink… and what you will wear… Can you add even one hour to your life by worrying?”

How many of us have heard from messages on this teaching? After hearing a sermon on the subject of worry, how many of us have walked away thinking, “I should worry less! Jesus just wants me to trust God, so my anxiety means I am not being faithful.” Ironically, we might end up worrying about how much we worry!

Now here’s where knowing about the challenges facing those with ACEs should be reflected in our interpretation of this teaching: telling the survivor of ACEs to worry less, and that’s what Jesus wants you to do, is about as sensitive as telling a disabled child that they need to stop using their wheelchair and that Jesus wants them to walk. Many with ACEs wish they could be less anxious, but their brains adjusted to an elevated level of stress hormones early in their development.

Physically, their nervous and endocrine systems are not the same as someone who didn’t have that adversity in childhood. If someone’s infirmity doesn’t scream out to our sense of sight, touch, or hearing we shouldn’t assume it is less significant. The ACE Study found that the child with six or more ACEs will likely die 20 years earlier than the child with no ACEs. That’s significant.

Are we missing the point of the passage by shaming others and ourselves about our anxiety? I contend that Jesus was less concerned about worry than our inability to recognize our dependence on God. What did Jesus speak to? Worry about food, drink, and clothes. For most, provision of these basic needs in childhood was not an issue. But, for the child who truly didn’t have enough to eat as a child, who learned to hoard when food was available, THAT child just might have food issues—that’s just one common example I see in my ministry. Consider how you would tell these children about Jesus’ message on worry instead of the kids that argue about how many stalks of broccoli they might have to eat in order to get dessert.

When you can do that, you will know that you are on your way to being trauma-informed and that the scales have fallen from your eyes, as well!

Q: What support and resources have YOU utilized or recommend for our audience?

Perhaps a little selfishly, I’d like people to engage in the materials I have written… the curriculum called Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Wicks. I don’t benefit from the sale of these materials. All the proceeds go towards Intermountain, the place of my employment and ministry.

I can also recommend Key Ministries and the book “Mental Health and the Church,” as well as colleague Rene Howitt’s work at Cope24. I just reviewed a Bible study she has worked on that will be published later this year, and it’s really good. Personally, I can recommend the work of Lisa Qualls at OneThankfulMom.com. Also, any materials that come out of the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University, were they teach TBRI: Trust-based Relational Intervention, which is very similar to the relational-developmental work that Intermountain does.

Q: How did you overcome/handle your own trauma and parenting a trauma-affected child? What do you suggest our listeners do to help them overcome/handle trauma, and how it intersects with their faith?

To quote a friend who just gave her testimony at our church about her own struggles with mental health misdiagnosis and recovery, she was told after her first hospitalization, “This won’t be the first time you deal with this.” Our trauma is always with us. It’s about viewing your trauma-story as something you own, rather than being owned by your trauma. It doesn’t define you, but it has shaped you. Once I could accept that for myself and for my child, and for all the children I work with, I could embrace hope.

Ultimately, that’s what faith is about… hope. Hope that our present situation or circumstance isn’t all there is. Hope that we can find community and healing together. I’d like to encourage your listeners to walk towards their trauma in whatever way they can, with as much support and help as they can muster from their community, friends and family, and know that they can transform their pain into their power with enough time and patience with themselves. Hold on to hope.

Q: If you could meet anyone in the world, dead or alive, who could help you with working with traumatized children, who would it be?

Well, Jesus would be the obvious answer, right? And, my faith teaches me that Jesus is very much alive… not just in the words of scripture, but in the real life encounters I have on a daily basis. As he taught us in the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew’s gospel… every time we extend kindness and grace to someone who is marginalized, without hope, or is distressed, we are actually interacting with Jesus. The saints of the church have always understood this to be true. It fueled individuals like Mother Teresa. It empowered the social justice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And… so many others that won’t ever be famous our applauded in this lifetime.

Q: What is your dream job? Does it revolve around this topic? Do you want to be more involved in trauma-related ministry?

I think I am in my dream job, at least for now! I’d like to think I can speak with some insight to this very difficult and complicated topic of trauma-informed ministry because I am a pastor, parent, and ministry professional in a residential facility for severely emotionally disturbed and traumatized children. It’s not a calling I would have selected for myself when I was a younger man, but it’s deeply rewarding because I know that I am engaged in a ministry that means something… not just now, but for generations that follow and, God willing, for eternity as people who have felt outside of God’s love and acceptance understand their place in the community of faith.

I’d love to have the freedom to travel a bit more and share the passion I have for this work. I also wish I had a bit more of the research psychologist’s expertise, as I am working on building resilience in the children I work with and have attempted to measure the effectiveness of that work. It’s just not in my wheelhouse, so to speak, so I am hoping that God brings someone forward that shares my passion and has the research expertise to work with the data I am compiling! We’ll see… I am a dreamer and an idealist, and I think that scientifically proving that trauma-informed ministry can build resilience in severely disturbed children just might be what it would take for more ministry professionals to catch on!

Here’s an article I wrote about the resilience-focused curriculum I am writing:

Building Resilience for Better Lives (article for March 17, 2018 religion page)

Life is hard. “In this world you WILL have trouble,” Jesus said. The ability to successfully face the hardships that will inevitably come to us will determine our level of satisfaction, joy, and peace. Resilience isn’t just a desirable trait, it’s absolutely essential. And, it turns out that scripture has a lot to say about this essential quality for successful living.

There are many passages we could examine to illustrate the point, but the letter from James is one of my favorites. Eugene Peterson does a good job capturing the meaning of James 1:12– “Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.” Patient endurance. Perseverance. Determination. Grit. All these characteristics are desired to face and overcome adversity.

When working with and ministering to severely emotionally disturbed children, instilling these characteristics is a necessity. Children who have experienced early childhood trauma, sometimes called “ACEs” or adverse childhood experiences, desperately need to know that God loves them and that they have the skills and abilities to meet their present challenges and future difficulties. It’s not enough to simply love them and teach them Bible stories. They NEED the tools to take what they are learning from Intermountain’s amazing staff so they can apply it to their lives and integrate it into their belief system. When they believe the truths we seek to impart and embrace the unconditional nature of God’s love and our care, then we know we have made a lasting difference. That is why I have purposefully shifted the ministry focus at Intermountain Residential to building resiliency in the thirty-two children under our care.

Resilience is more than simply picking yourself up after you get knocked down, it involves environmental and biological factors that are often out of our control. As Paul Tough writes in his excellent book, How Children Succeed, the science of resilience tells us “that the character strengths that matter so much to young people’s success are not innate… they are not simply a choice. They are rooted in brain chemistry, and they are molded, in measureable and predictable ways, by the environment in which children grow up.”

For over a decade, many of those involved in social work have recognized the need to focus on a child’s strengths rather than their deficits. As the Social Work Policy Institute states, effective social work with vulnerable children has shifted to a “strengths perspective,” and as a result, “increased attention was paid to personal qualities and social influence that promote or reflect health and well-being.” I love the idea of building on the strengths the children I work with already have and then structuring my lessons and instruction in chapel around those traits identified to further build resilience.

I am currently writing a curriculum that ties into the measure developed by the Resilience Research Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia (resilienceproject.org). Using their “Child and Youth Resilience Measure,” I have been interviewing the children of Intermountain for the last four months and the initial results are encouraging. Recently, two formerly fearful children looked me in the eye at their discharge and could recount the things they learned and the skills they gained while in our care. They could see the connection to their faith and how their story and God’s story were now woven together on the path to resilience, experiencing greater hope, joy, and peace.

“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said. The children of Intermountain know that trouble better than most! Jesus continued, “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Let us join together in God’s Kingdom work, building more resilient children, families and communities.

If this effort is something you’d be interested in knowing more about, I’d encourage you to contact me or find out more about Intermountain and Elevate Montana. The Helena Affiliate of Elevate Montana meets monthly and is an inspiring group of people serving in a number of fields and capacities throughout Helena. If we’re going to make a difference in the hearts, minds and souls of children and youth in our community, we’ll need everyone’s help in some way.

 

What Is EMDR Therapy?

Following is an excerpt from my upcoming September newsletter. This month I cover: Step 3 in the Defining Resilience series – Utilize Self-Care Strategies; a video on anxiety and panic attack coping skills; information on EMDR therapy; and creating a safe space as a coping mechanism. I would love to have you (or anyone you know who could benefit from my insights) subscribe to this and future newsletters at Hope for Healing Newsletter, as I work to grow my audience.
What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR Therapy has been life-altering for me. In 2013 I experienced what I reference in my presentations as a “shift”. I was struggling in a toxic relationship, trying to come to terms with my trauma history, and attempting to juggle various personal issues. It was within the confines of Dr. Barb Hensley’s office, at Cincinnati Trauma Connection, where I finally confronted the dark spaces of my traumas and learned to process them, releasing the stored up energy which had been surfacing as severe panic attacks for the previous twenty-five years.

So, what is EMDR Therapy? EMDR is the acronym for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It was initially developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro as a method for helping soldiers, returning from war, combat their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. However, it has since been utilized to help hundreds of thousands of patients process traumatic experiences.

More information about the therapeutic technique can be found at the American Psychological Association’s Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

My personal experience during sessions included the following:

Sometimes I would use a light bar in my therapist’s office, keeping my head still and allowing my eyes to move back and forth, following a flowing green light stream from left to right and back again. Other times, I would close my eyes (as I was being distracted peripherally) and focus on the vibrating paddles I held in my hands. Those would alternate vibrations, left, right, left, right, left, right, and so on. My eye movements would naturally fall into a rhythmic back and forth movement, similar to the movement experienced during REM sleep.

While following the light bar or hand vibration pattern, I would be prompted to return to one of my traumatic experiences. The vast majority of the time something would instantaneously surface. A body memory. A flashback. A sensation. Something would appear. Sometimes it would be a snippet I had remembered outside of therapy, other times a memory would appear from an unconscious space. It would be filled with specifics I had long forgotten (such as the blue oval-shaped rug, sprawled across the floor next to my black metal-framed bunk beds, in my bedroom in our home in Park Hills, Kentucky- a memory from age four).

Sobbing, shaking, overwhelming emotions, and sometimes the symptoms of a panic attack would arise. The soothing voice of my counselor would be there to assure me that I was safe. It was there I would first learn to “just notice”.

I became aware of my triggers and realized the body memories were there to help me instead of scare me. I started to look forward to the sessions so I could dive headfirst into the chaos in order to find more answers. There was light within the darkness.

We touched upon every known traumatic experience, sometimes returning to an event repeatedly as something would surface later down the road. At first these visits into the past were seen as if I was watching a movie, from a dissociated space. I was watching someone do horrific things to a little girl from outside of myself.

I knew the day I returned to a trauma and saw it happening from within my body, through my own eyes, that I had reached a place of healing. To feel safe within my body as I relived a moment of terror during an EMDR therapy session was truly empowering.

EMDR allowed me the opportunity to process a massively complex history of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, neglect, exposure to violent crimes, and addiction in my family. I am now panic attack free. While I still experience heightened anxiety in certain situations, I am better equipped to calm my physiological responses, being mindful of my needs and triggers and the coping skills I can utilize to help myself overcome the fear.

Coming next month: What is PTSD?

Episode 36: Stacy Brookman – Resilience & Life Storytelling Expert

During a recent episode of The Healing Place podcast, I sat down with ACES Connection member, Stacy Brookman, host of the Real Life Resilience Podcast, to discuss her role as a resilience and life storytelling expert, finding clarity, her upcoming Emotional Abuse Recovery and Resilience Summit (of which I am one of forty-five featured speakers . . . yay!), and more.

Follow the links below to learn more about Stacy, life storytelling, to register for free for the 12-day summit starting September 1st, and the FREE guide listing the 35 most impactful books for emotional abuse.

Stacy Brookman

Life Story Laboratory – Summit Registration

FREE Guide – 35 Most Impactful Books for Emotional Abuse

 

stacy brookman

Listen in on iTunesBlubrry, or directly from my website as Stacy discusses her important work in the field of resilience.

Peace,

Teri Wellbrock

www.teriwellbrock.com

 

* I am excited to have more therapists, trauma-gurus, and ACES experts lined up over the next few weeks for podcast interviews. I would love to have YOU join me, as well. If you are interested, please send me a private messages through this site and I will send you my podcast interview questions for you to review.

I am a huge fan of lifting one another up as beacons of light for those who are struggling, looking for guidance, or lost in the dark. I would love to offer my podcast as a platform for your voice about your mission and passion. My goal is to provide motivational, inspirational, and healing stories for my listeners.

Confessions & Coffee

My eighty-two year old mother has told me five times in the past three months, “I have secrets I am going to take to the grave.” When I’ve prodded her for more info, she’s informed me she will keep the secrets into death and that was the end of the discussion.

After recording an amazing podcast interview yesterday for The Healing Place Podcast with Cissy White of ACES Connection and Heal Write Now, where we discussed the healing power of releasing our stories, our truths, I realized perhaps my mom needed an opportunity to shed herself of the burdens she’s been shouldering.

This morning, I headed off to visit this sweet little old lady I call Mom, promising myself I would do all I could to help ease the pain of these secrets. She was super excited by the new mini boombox I bought her for $29.90 on Amazon. We popped in a Patsy Cline CD and tears welled in her eyes as a memory swam up from the depths of her soul. She mumbled, “I love Patsy Cline,” and I allowed her a moment in the past.

I gathered her garbage and recycling. Paid some bills and shredded stacks of envelopes asking her for charity donations. Then I sat in a chair and said, “Mom, I want to talk to you about something important for just a minute.” She put the newspaper down and gave me her full attention. Unusual for her.

I proceeded to talk to her about the podcast I had recorded and the studies surfacing on the healing powers of releasing our truths. I told her I believed she kept mentioning her “taking certain secrets to the grave” because on some level she wanted to set those secrets free. I asked about her childhood and she opened up about a long-carried traumatic incident and I thanked her for sharing after acknowledging her pain.

Then I pushed a little more. It was as if someone was tapping me on the shoulder, whispering in my ear. I started to ask questions which opened us up to a conversation filled with brutal honesty, tears, compassion, understanding, love, support, and forgiveness. It turns out, I already “knew” her deep, dark secret. It had surfaced in one of my EMDR therapy sessions as a memory for me from a very young age. I was there when it all transpired. We were able to connect over something she had let haunt her for almost fifty years.

My mom had released her secrets. And I released tears and understanding.

As I left my mom’s today, after giving her a kiss and an “I love you”, she told me, “Your dad was here this morning. I couldn’t hear what he was saying though.”

Today would have been my dad’s 81st birthday. Now I know who was whispering in my ear. We’ll keep working together to help mom heal as much as possible in this life before she comes to join you, Dad. Katie and I hear you. We’ve got your back.

 

She called after me as I was headed out the door, “TT! I need more coffee!” So, off to Kroger I ran for her favorite Gevalia K-cups.  We’ve got her back, too.

The Angry Saint

I recently received a coupon for a free 8X8 Shutterfly photo book. Coolio! I was going to make a memory book of kid pics for my son who moved to Denver earlier this year. Then I realized I had made him one this past Christmas. (Darn menopause brain!) I looked up to see a black and white photo of my dad hanging on the cork board next to my computer. Perfect. I decided, I’ll make Mom a memory book of Dad’s life.

I started by adding photos of him from his childhood, years in the Jesuit seminary, and wedding photos. Then I filled the remaining pages with pics of his daughters and grandchildren. Easy-peasy.

One of the pages, however, prompted me to write memories of my father. I started to type out my happy memories, but they were interrupted by flashes of his outbursts. I sat there staring at the computer screen, contemplating how I am currently in the process of finishing up a book about my adverse childhood experiences, including a violent history with my dad during the first ten years of my life. How hypocritical of me to write a happy paragraph about my Dad for a photo book, right?

So, I did what I always do and called my sister to talk it out. She gets it. She lived it. Right alongside me. Kind of. I was usually cowering behind a locked bathroom door while she was being hit with the belt, but the terror was still the same.

She brought up some valid points. It’s okay to focus on the happy times, the heart and soul moments. Dad and I had reached a place of forgiveness and had made our peace before his passing. Reliving his violence in the book is a tool for teaching. I am painting a picture of repeated trauma exposure in order to enlighten others on overcoming and conquering past demons. Yet, I can choose to highlight his many positive parenting traits alone in this  photo album . . . soccer dad, best cinnamon toast maker ever, our good-night story teller, defender against a fifth grade bullying nun, teacher of raisin-counting math skills, piggyback riding muscle man, and more.

My dad was a man of deep faith, praying his rosary almost daily, wearing his scapular, engaged in reflection and prayer in a little nook in the back bedroom of Mom and Dad’s apartment. He grew up witnessing moments of violence, married a severe alcoholic who demanded he silence the children whenever she was too tired to deal with us, and used his belt and frustration to obey her commands.

So, Dad, in honor of you, here is the brief summation of happy memories I wrote in the photo book I am gifting to mom: “Saturday mornings, after soccer, Dad would take us to ‘Burger Chef and Jeff‘ for a treasured Fun Meal. I loved it that he tucked us into bed at night, telling us fanciful stories about German Shepherds, aliens or flying cars. His imagination always at play, he would scare us by tying a glove to the end of the vacuum hose, having it appear around a corner as he’d throw his voice, or have us look for the “river sharks” as we’d pass over the humming bridge, or turn off all the lights during a slumber party and grab our ankles, dragging us screaming and laughing from our fort. He taught me to count with raisins, always picked me up from a friend’s even at 3 a.m. if needed, engaged in deep philosophical conversations, and gave the best hugs ever! Thanks most of all, Dad, for believing in me.”

I miss you.

I love you.

I forgive you.

 

 

 

 

 

Where Can I Find Some Skin-Thickening Cream?

I was sitting here in my writing space, contemplating ideas for today’s blog post, when a friend commented on an article I shared in my Unicorn Shadows Book Launch Group on Facebook. The article I shared was You Can’t Be Trauma-Informed If You Can’t See the Trauma – a fantastic reminder to keep in mind that we have not traveled another person’s journey, therefore, wearing a trauma-informed lens will help us to see beyond the after-math of trauma and, at the same time, avoid our own triggering. This beautiful friend shared:

“It’s so hard!! From my trauma I tend to take everything personally!! Yikes!! I need some skin thickening cream!! If you have anything helpful for that, let me know!! Thanks!!”

That was my blog post inspiration: a how-to on “thickening one’s skin” to being triggered in our own trauma history. I used to find myself responding to other’s without understanding the underlying currents flowing beneath my gut reactions. One of the first memories that comes to mind relates to my interactions with the director of a preschool where I taught many years ago.

I had been doing the stay-at-home-mom thing for years, but was asked if I would be willing to teach part-time at the preschool where my then two-year-old daughter was attending. I adore kids and their amazing logic, sponge-brains always absorbing, and their knack for teaching us grown-ups about unconditional love. So I climbed on board the preschool wagon. A year in, this new director was brought on board . . . the one I allowed to push my buttons.

The day I walked into my classroom to find it completely rearranged, with new labels in place on some of my stations (i.e. sensory table, science area, reading corner), my head went kaboom! I stomped into her office and stated my case, accusing her of disrespecting my role as a teacher and violating my space and all I had accomplished in setting it up exactly as I had envisioned. There was an apology (of sorts) and we ended up coming to an agreement of terms on how we would handle any future changes she deemed necessary in the classroom. Fair enough.

In hindsight, I look back and realize how my response had little to do with the changes she made – they actually made sense and were beneficial for the children – and everything to do with the remnants of the trauma history of my youth. Walking into that classroom left me feeling as if I had no control, no voice, a loss of power within the confines of my space, and fearing retaliation if I would speak up.

What can we do if we find ourselves easily triggered by the actions or words of others?

  1.  Pause. Stop. Take a breath. Step back. 

All of those little tidbits of advice we hear often when we find ourselves stressing out. They work. If we stop for just a moment to notice the reaction we are experiencing, we can allow ourselves the opportunity to “be gentle” with ourselves and “just notice”. When I stand in front of audiences and share my Story of Hope,  I emphasize these two points.

Learning to be gentle with myself was a huge catalyst for healing. I learned to simply allow the feelings to be, without judging them, without trying to correct or guide them. I just let whatever was surfacing to flow through me. Then I would allow it to dissipate. Again, without judgment. The concept of “just noticing” is a part of this process. I allow myself the opportunity to experience whatever is rising to the surface within me by merely noticing it, observing it.

2. Remind ourselves we have not traveled another’s journey.

When I learned the concept of forgiveness on a soul level, it allowed me the opportunity to look at my transgressor’s lives from outside my own wounds. I reminded myself that I had not traveled their road. While I was not justifying their actions in any way, I was gifting myself freedom by releasing their negative impact on my current life. I allowed them their journey and, in so doing, continued along my own without them tagging along.

Perhaps my transgressors had been abused, neglected, hurt in profound ways, or traumatized. Their actions toward me or my indirect involvement in their actions really had little to do with me.

3. Send positivity toward others.

Once we have paused, then reminded ourselves we do not know another’s driving force for their negative behaviors, we can turn around our normally automated defensive reaction and instead send some positive energy toward that person/situation. That can be a quick prayer, a wish for the individual to find a moment of peace,  a sincere smile followed by silence, a purposeful sending of love from our heart toward the offender’s, whatever way feels as if you are sending positive energy.

By allowing this affirmative energy to flow from us, from a heart and soul place in lieu of an ego perspective, we empower ourselves in the process while providing much-needed goodness toward others.

4. Journal about the moment. 

When all is said and done, record it in some way. Journal, make a video blog, voice record it, again, document it in whatever way you find helpful. The point is to allow yourself to release your encounter without judgment. Set it free, perhaps noticing what triggers arose in you initially.

Remember to be gentle with yourself and merely notice what is surfacing as you record it. I also recommend writing without editing. A free-flow release can sometimes bring to light a long-sought-after answer.

Keep me posted on your progress! I love hearing stories of positivity, inspiration, and motivation. You are worthy of peace and joy. This is one way to empower yourself with those gifts.

 

The Power of Self-Care

As I continue on this journey of healing, I am amazed on a daily basis by the number of resources coming across my path. Articles on ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) will show up in a Facebook news feed or I’ll receive an email discussing trauma recovery. I love when the universe aligns the stars just so and the answer I was seeking magically appears.

I worked in school settings for years, as a teacher and in a mental health professional role. Helping children learn to cope with anxiety, bullying, overwhelming emotions, unstable home environments, the after-math of abuse, and so much more, had my own inner-child longing for more solutions.

The kids and I would work on filling their “tool box” with coping skills, such as using manipulatives like stress balls to ground themselves or release energy, simple breathing exercises for centering, free art to express something they might not have words to convey, and so on. Allowing kids the opportunity to express themselves in whatever way they were comfortable, while I listened respectfully and without judgment, created a space filled with compassion and tranquility. I once had a fifth grade child, whose home life was in the midst of chaos, tell me, “I like your energy. You have white light around you. I feel safe here.” To say I was blown away by that message would be an understatement. Knowing this child was picking up on the energy I was sending to her as she learned to cope, heal, and empower herself, made my sappy heart dance with joy.

This morning as I scrolled through the amazing articles on ACEs Connection, I came across an article titled, Why Adults Need Social and Emotional Support, Too by Mathew Portell. In it, he discusses the needs of his school, not just in regards to the students, but in relation to the staff and parents’ care, as well.

Pointing out norms they have implemented in their school structure, this blogging principal sets a shining example of trauma-informed care in action. Self-care is critical in all aspects of our lives. I think about those funny memes that state, “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” #truth

The point being . . . when we learn to take care of ourselves, we fill our own coping tool box with beneficial energy we can share with others: compassion, understanding, patience, kindness, and love.

As you move toward healing in your own life or reach out a helping hand to others who may be struggling to find their footing along their path, make sure to heed the advice offered in 25 Self-Care Tips for the Body & Soul.  Learning to live in the “now” and allowing myself to experience joy on a soul level has been life-altering. A great read, and a catalyst for change in my own life, is the book, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, by Eckhart Tolle. In it, the author advises us, “All the things that truly matter-beauty, love, creativity, joy and inner peace-arise from beyond the mind.

Empower yourself with self-care and watch your life transition. Then share your tranquility with others as we move toward a world filled with compassion and joy.

Peace to you,

Teri

Weekly Update – Book Proposal

Weekly update!

This week has been fairly quiet on the book-front. The completed proposal is in my editor’s hands. She will have it back to me by the first week of February. Then I can edit away!

As for the book itself . . . I am so excited to have an outline to work with and a plan for it. Finally. As I’ve told so many, I’ve been writing this book for years. In, what feels like, circles. Always coming back to “what is it I am really trying to say?” I knew in my heart and soul I didn’t want it to be a “woe is me” story all about my trauma. I wanted it to be about hope and healing and the journey toward joy, yet knowing the trauma has to be a part of it.

There is a connection that happens between our souls when we have those “me, too” moments. The haunting beauty of my story is that it paints with a broad trauma brush, touching different people in different ways . . . yet, the vast majority of those folks are striving to live a more joyous, peaceful and purposeful existence. And many are stuck. Not knowing quite how to do move forward.

This is my tale from trauma to triumph, the “how to” for getting oneself unstuck from the muck.

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Tomorrow, I have a meeting to discuss the website development. Excited to move forward with that, as well! Wish me luck.

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A beautiful and incredibly talented friend painted this unicorn shadow for me. It hangs next to my desk in my writing space. I smile at it every day.