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Check out Elephant’s continually-updating Coronavirus diary. ~ Waylon
It seems 2020 is coalescing to be a year of both personal and global trauma.
Life as we know it has been halted and so many of us, who might be inclined to distract ourselves from our own trauma, have been gifted the opportunity to sit quietly, at home, with it instead.
No friends to see, bars to drink in, people to date. It is not surprising that those who may already experience a turbulent psychological state have been thrust into deeper states of depression, anxiety, and loneliness (among many other struggles). With all this free time comes more opportunity for emotional unrest, increased self-harm (excessive drink and drug use) and isolation, loss of direction and contentment. But also offered is the opportunity for awakening.
To sit with the wounds of our past, the pains of the present, and the anxieties of the future is a task for the brave.
It is easy to believe you have not been traumatised by your childhood experiences, but it is likely that you actually have. I grew up with both a mum and a dad, a nice house, and lots of friends, but psychological trauma forgets no one.
In fact, on reflection, I have felt somewhat traumatised for most of my life. As I have delved deeper into psychology, anthropology, and spirituality in recent years, I am learning that being born traumatised is not as uncommon as you may think.
Reading recently about indigenous communities in Australia, in Marlo Morgan’s beautiful, but controversial book Mutant Message, I was reminded of the possibility that emotional, physical, and social pain can be passed on through generations.
Discussions on transgenerational trauma are not new. In fact, the term transgenerational trauma became used to describe the impact of the Holocaust on the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. Studies show that, epigenetically speaking, environmental influences can change the expression of our genes, which are then passed on as we reproduce.
Even if you did not experience a painful event firsthand, it is totally possible that you embody related emotional pain inside of you. Human history is full of traumatic events and, therefore, being born and being emotionally traumatised are almost inseparable.
On an anthropological level, the theories surrounding how individuals today are emotionally and spiritually connected to their ancestors are, of course, diverse and complex. Whilst ancestor worship in the present day is likely seen as a concern only for anthropologists, religious types, or far-out new age kids, its history suggests that a feeling of connection to our ancestors has always been prevalent in society.
Whether it be visiting your grandmother in the church graveyard, or singing to the ancestral spirits in the sky as many cultures have done since time immemorial, I think it is fair to say many of us feel some kind of deeper connection to those who have come before us. But to what extent have the experiences of our parents, grandparents, or our race and culture shaped our reality today?
That is for you to reflect on and decide. My own self-inquiry has reminded me that I hold the trauma of both my grandma and my mum within me. The giant and painful hole that was left in my little, four-year old dad when his father left, was most likely, subsequently passed on to and imprinted into me. I believe, like some psychologists, that our personalities are shaped extensively by the traumas of our ancestors and our own trauma that we have collected in our lifetime.
Hence why so many of us, from the day we are born, experience fear, anxiety, pain, and a yearning for deep and meaningful love and connection. We are essentially born with broken hearts that are rebuilt and rebroken over and over again in our lifetime.
When discussing transgenerational trauma, I think it is essential to discuss the experiences of indigenous and Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities throughout the world who have been subjected to years of cultural and physical violence.
Trauma induced by greed, power, money, and immoral political behaviour has been painted on the backs of entire cultures and is, despite positive political change, undoubtedly still carried within a huge number of the world’s populations today.
This phenomenon of collective, cultural and racial trauma became evident in Mutant Message, the book I mentioned previously. Morgan the author, an American woman, engaged in a four-month “walkabout” through the Australian outback with “the Real People” tribe. Among the many incredible and possibly discredited experiences that Morgan shared with the indigenous community, she was informed by the tribe that they no longer wished to reproduce. They were looking to bring an end to their community as they felt their time on Earth, as a people, was up. It was almost too painful for the Real People to carry on in a world where their values and lifestyle were continually destroyed by the Australian government and society. After generations of cultural and physical genocide, their pain ran too deep, and the Real People decided they would rather cease to exist than be subjected to traumatic, neo-colonial missions that continually stole and destroyed their land and culture. This is just one example of the collective trauma that indigenous, black and ethnic minority communities have faced throughout history, particularly because of colonial endeavours and the pursuit of a globalised, neoliberal, capitalist world order in more recent centuries.
So, with all of this in mind, let us spend some time reflecting on how our time spent in Coronavirus isolation can initiate healing from both transgenerational trauma and our own trauma accumulated throughout our lifetime.
Whether it be from a broken family, rape, abuse, grief, physical trauma, or anything else, pain and trauma are a reality we cannot always escape in this life. Experiences like this will happen to us, become imprinted in our bodies and personalities, and we will be changed forever. How we decide to live with our trauma, is however, a choice.
In the past year, I have lost a friend to suicide and a friend to addiction. Both young and amazing men who have a place in my heart, their deaths have triggered me to start thinking about what happens in people’s lives for them to end up helpless and lost with zero self-worth and esteem. One of my conclusions is that it is unprocessed, unconscious, and undiscussed trauma that massively contributes to the psychological downfall of so many people. We can’t face it, so we run and hide from it—until it destroys us.
I don’t want to sit quietly anymore in a world where silence, disconnection, and inaction legitimately destroys lives.
In the modern world, we are expected to function on an emotionally superficial level. We are supposed to work our jobs, do what we’ve got to do to get by and live another day…all without deep, genuine, open, empathetic connection, and interaction.
Today, vulnerability is our greatest fear and seen as our greatest weakness. But it is that vulnerability that can save us. At some point, we have to stop running, open up to others, and face ourselves.
For me, the Coronavirus isolation period has sent me in the opposite direction to many others. COVID-19 induced positive changes in my lifestyle. Fresh grief coupled with stressful family drama journeyed me inward on an awakening of sorts that has left me investing in exercise and hobbies rather than self-medicating with drink or drugs, which I may have been inclined to do in the past.
I want to share 10 things I have been doing every day that are helping to face and heal my trauma, instead of avoiding it and allowing it to linger in my body and bones where it will eventually express as anger, pain, jealousy, self-hate, and self-destructive behaviour.
Every day I attempt to:
1. Move. Dance, run, stretch, work-out. Moving is essential to getting endorphins flowing and increasing your energy levels. I try and work out, do yoga, cycle, or dance at some point throughout my day. If, like me, you currently are required to spend a lot of time in front of the computer, getting up and moving those legs can release excess energy and reset your mind, totally changing your sense of well-being throughout the day.
2. Sleep. Getting enough sleep provides you with the energy and health you need to wake up and get things done. Trying to do all the things on this list should ensure you can rest better at night too.
3. Eat. Do not restrict your food unless your trying to lose weight. The body needs feeding and energy. Invest in your diet. Eat healthily and eat enough—or, eat more than enough and dance longer! Food is power. Power is strength.
4. Talk. Build deep and meaningful connections in which you can talk about your deepest demons, biggest struggles, and greatest joys. Find people who you are not afraid to show your truest self to. Whether it be a friend or counsellor, we must express our thoughts and feelings before they eat us alive.
5. Love. Love yourself. Look in the mirror. Be Kind. Say “I love you.” Touch your body. Have a bath. Love others. Be kind to people in your life. Look for their good points. Build them up instead of tearing them down.
6. Write. Write down everything you like about yourself. Write your innermost thoughts on paper. You must get it out.
7. Forgive. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made. Forgive others for the mistakes they have made. You will feel lighter.
8. Play. Have fun. Stop getting bogged down in the seriousness of it all. As the great Alan Watts says “Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.” So, pick up a new hobby and spend time doing things that you love. Run in the fields. Go outside. Laugh. Smile.
9. Let go. Put down all that is no longer serving you. Alcohol, people, drugs…whatever it is. Let it go. This is not easy, I know. I have always been inclined to enjoy escaping reality a little too much. With the help of all the practices I have mentioned, it continually becomes easier and easier for me to say no to opportunities I once would have jumped at. Drinking beer every night is no longer so appealing when there are loads of things you want to do when you wake up in the morning.
10. Improve. This is ultimately about how we can become better people. How can we show up for ourselves in ways we haven’t done before? How can we look within instead of running away? How does being committed to making better decisions positively impact the lives of those around us? Being committed to improving ourselves might even inspire those around us to do the same.
This is not about being perfect. I for one, am not and would never aim to be. I will probably drink a beer again and will let my mind get the better of me and feel grey. But this is about putting yourself first and engaging in new practices that will probably change your life for the better.
You can let your past destroy you, or you can let it guide and build you.
I am realising that the moment we stop running and start processing the pain and trauma that lies within us, is the moment we start healing. It is only when we start healing, that we can truly begin to live.