You may have heard a term called trauma-informed care. This can be heard/seen in healthcare. I have also heard it in schools, and churches and in other areas.
What is trauma informed care/teaching/ministry/etc? In my words, it is the idea that we need to understand that everyone has a story to tell. That everyone has some type of trauma. Instead of getting frustrated and exclaiming/thinking what the heck is wrong with you!? We change that and say wow! What has happened to you in your life?! We come to people and meet them where they are. Where their hurt is and know that when they lash out it’s not at you, personally, its usually due to a hurt, a fear, or a protective mechanism that they were forced to create to protect themselves at some point in their life.
When I first heard about this concept, although I agree with it and support the need, my initial thought was something along the lines of; “That’s great, but not everyone was in an abusive home, or had a terrible upbringing.” I initially thought one might not need it with every person they meet. However, the more I reflect. The more I have learned and grown myself over the past 5 years I realize that we need to take this approach with each person we meet. (Here is more information from the CDC with an infographic if you want more information: https://www.cdc.gov/cpr/infographics/6_principles_trauma_info.htm)
Trauma comes in many forms. It can be personal (which can become secrets) or social (in a group or political), or in my opinion it can be world-wide (can I say 2020?). Most of the trauma-informed classes and information I have seen refer to childhood and/or personal traumas. Which yes, we, as older adults still hold on to those traumas, or potentially have additional traumas.
Today, as I am writing this, is the 21st anniversary of September 11, 2001.
I was a nurse in an ICU in CT that day. I had the day off. I woke up just as the second plane hit as my clock-radio alarm went off at 9am and my local (NYC) radio station morning host, who is normally one of those irritatingly up-beat people in the morning, said “Holy Shit! Another plane just hit. We are going to CNN.”
That woke me up.
I had no idea what was happening, as most of the nation was all trying to put it together.
Initially that morning I was glued, as most Americans were, to my television. I couldn’t sit still for long as the nurse in me just had to DO something. I went into work thinking there may be a group of people going down to help and was told to ‘stay put as we may get patients and we might *hopefully* need all hands-on deck. The ICU is on the 9th floor, and it was such a clear day we could see the towers. The smoke. It was quiet from so far away.
Many of my colleagues have friends and family that are working in the towers. We were all terrified for those that we knew, and those that we didn’t know. It all broke my heart.
I went back home to wait for a phone call. Still not being able to sit still, my friend came over and we watched the news while baking raspberry pie. For many years we would send a note referencing that pie on the anniversary, as one way to process. At this point, we don’t message each other each year and make a reference to that pie. I believe that is our growth in our processing; not, as some might say, us “forgetting”. We will never forget.
Questions asked, especially in that Tri-state area for the longest time, were: “Did you know anyone down there?” or “Were you affected?” Because people wanted to support each other but couldn’t bring themselves to ask what they really wanted to know; Did you know anyone that died in the attack?
To the questions that were asked, I had to say no. None of my family or friends (that I knew of) were in the buildings at the time of the attacks. I’ve come to learn over the years that I do know people that were there and survived.
Even though I said no to the questions, I share in the trauma of this day (as you may too). I felt attacked. I was scared. Driving in my town those first days and seeing armed military on the street that has some of the major banking institutions. It was scary. Our country was attacked.
In the weeks to come, I went down to Ground Zero. I still to this day remember the smell. ☹ If you were there during those first weeks/months, I am sure you do too.
In my opinion, trauma informed care has to include these world events too. I don’t think it is only for childhood traumas. For me, I can’t, to this day, read a story or see photos of 9/11 or the Twin Towers without crying. This was a trauma in my life, even though “I wasn’t affected”. I have a strong emotional reaction and connection. I know there are 1,000’s, 10,000’s or more that have more of a personal connection. I acknowledge that and don’t take anything away from that.
Ok, Patti, great story, but how does it relate to change?
To make real change, we need to learn to accept for ourselves that we have each had trauma in our lives. We then need to utilize approaches that those in healthcare are taught to use with patients and their family members. Safety, Trustworthy, Transparency, Empowerment, Peer support (these are a few, not all, mentioned in the CDC link above).
I had a relatively great upbringing. My parents were awesome (not perfect), loved us, we went on vacations, we had a stable home, food every day, and support for whatever after school activity we wanted to do. Did we have unlimited money? Nope. Just unlimited love (even though I didn’t always like the answers I heard to questions asked). My parents just celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary this past June. They have been my biggest supporters and biggest heroes who’ve taught me the most. They still live in the same house we grew up in. Sounds, to some, like a fairy tale.
However, I still had negative things that happened. I had things that I held on to for years that I wasn’t proud of and didn’t realize were creating unhealthy habits and coping mechanisms. I had to acknowledge (aka: admit to others) my traumas. I had to be transparent with MYSELF first! That was seriously the hardest. I had to do this with good, trustworthy, peer support.
Going back to 9/11 for a minute – this looked like talking about it with others. Sharing my story, even though it is not a story of ‘someone affected’. Each year I read stories of those involved, I cry, and I don’t care who is around. I become somber and take my moments. I do this every year A) to remember and B) it is how I process. I allow myself to feel the terrible feelings. I pray.
For my childhood, and other traumas I have had in my life I believe it is important to have a support system. It is too challenging and risky to approach some of these without help.
This is why I wanted to become a Change Coach. I have recently received my certification in the change process that helped me to release old coping mechanisms, called The Genesis Process. I am going through this process again and I am STILL learning, and STILL releasing old things that keep coming up.
We have all heard that life is a journey, right? Just like any good road trip this means we need to stop for gas, stop for bathroom breaks and stop to rest during our journey. Even on our change journeys, we need to refuel, get rid of the waste, and rest in truth over and over.
Please be kind to yourself on your journey. This is the only trip (aka: life) you have. Please acknowledge the precious gift it is.
Understand that you are not your trauma – whether it is a personal trauma that you have held secret, or a social trauma, or even any of the world traumas in your lifetime. You are not defined by that. You are a unique being that was created to fill the shoes that only you can fill.
I want to encourage you - you are exactly who you are meant to be.
If you feel you are meant to grow (and my personal belief, is we all are) I would love to help you. Be on the lookout for a profound change journey experience I am creating that will be available in the new year!
I want to end on a thank you to all first responders, military, healthcare front line for all you do daily to support our world. I also want to send my prayers to any of you who were “affected”, in big ways or in small, in the attacks on 9/11/2001. I, sincerely, pray that you have found or will find peace that is beyond understanding, from an event that knew no peace.