Trauma Journeys in Community
First steps to some principles for community-based healing
This is a first draft of a set of principles or markers for a journey of healing trauma in community settings. It is intended to answer the question “What can we share of what we know about trauma healing within diverse communities”? It recognizes the success of 12 step programmes like AA while pointing out the difficulties of (a) giving one’s self over to a “higher” power and (b) centralizing Christianity when dealing with peoples whose spirituality is other and whose trauma includes colonization and sexual/spiritual abuse within churches. This draft also honors indigenous and community-based healing practices rather than the more individualized, decontextualised and pathologising/disease models of Eurocentric paths. It assumes that healing places will have the same characteristics as those people seeking healing, i.e. be safe enough, open and freely accessible, able to offer confidentiality even though located within communities, alcohol and drug-free, honoring diverse expressions of Spirit and the particular group’s emergent culture ( developing community altars, marking beginnings and endings in meaningful ways, celebrating/feasting together, using multiple modes of creative expression).
Be safe enough
No woman, no child, no disenfranchised or vulnerable person within the larger community, including any member of non-dominant cultures, is fully safe. However those addressing trauma need to be safe enough. That is they should not be currently living in an abusive situation. Their basic needs for shelter, food, health care and at least some loving supports, should be in place first. Addictions, which numb emotions and increase dissociation, need to be in recovery. Addiction recovery and trauma recovery go hand in hand.
2. Be ready to know
We recover and look at our memories of the unbearable only when ready. Often it is in leaving places of conflict, getting rid of addictions, discovering loving supports, reaching some period of social safety, having a child or being with an other who calls forth the deep need to protect, nurture and foster growth, that we become ready to know. It is also rare for a trauma survivor to go toward healing until they are ready to know, however mixed their emotions.
3. Have guides or witnesses prepared to walk the path with you
Someone who has been through the journey of trauma recovery far enough can guide others at least as far, and only as far, as they have traveled. There also needs to be a clear commitment to stay with those journeying in both compassionate and self-compassionate ways.
Hence the problems of most medical/psychological/counselling systems which do not require practitioners to have made their own journeys …and the problems within profit-run non-wholistic systems or those with limited coverage which promote revolving-door treatments, short-term or solely medical-model coverage with no adequate training in multi-local models of trauma, indigenous ways or power literacy.
Even with adequate enough guides, there is still the need for community and or public witnessing of the injustices, pain and effects of trauma to heal individuals, communities and, in rippling effects, cultures. That is why I offer these tentative first steps for others to build upon.
4. Be in open healing contexts that counter and never fully replicate the power over dynamics of the abusive contexts underlying traumas.
Closed units or entrapment only within the medical mental health system (or even in remote communities/residential settings with just one or two ‘expert’ healers) tend to replicate dominant-subordinant dynamics. Long-term individualized one-up, one-down, expert-patient healing situations risk the same issues. They can easily maintain or replicate disempowerment and risk epistemological abuse however well intentioned. Hence I suggest community-based healing circles containing others further along on the healing journey. They can offer open, easy and free access to those safe enough and ready to know. They can ask confidentiality and social equity like that found in AA or NarcAnon. Information on such circles locally needs to be in every health and community centre, library, supermarket, church, video/liquor store and sports complex. Experienced guides could initiate such healing circles together in several communities, sharing their experiences, resources and learnings.
At the same time we need to be addressing the problems in the traditional training systems to which most survivors are directed. We need training systems which teach about multi-levels of trauma, that have a long-term peer team commitment to survivors, that teach power literacy and the effects of colonization, racism, global greed and cultural awareness specific to their places. We need to advocate for funding for survivor chosen wholistic treatment in multiple modalities beyond the medical, pharmaceutical and psychological, all of which tend to be euro-centric and non honoring of indigenous healing ways locally. We need to develop and offer those more community-based indigenous resources to more traditional systems, e.g. hospitals, doctors offices.
5 Rekindle inner life and the sense of Spirit larger than ourselves, larger than humans, certainly larger than organized religions or tribal traditions, many of which are themselves traumatized.
When the basic human contract of interdependence and loving connection with each other is violated, the sense of trust and of life’s meaningfulness is impaired. “Violence historically destroyed our capacity for inner life and has subsequently limited it from re-emerging” (McIntosh, A. 2008, Hell and High Water; climate change, hope and the human condition.)
Rekindling the sense of the Sacred and of inner life, heals.