Navigating Collective Trauma

****DISCLAIMER****

 I am not a doctor, licensed mental health professional, therapist, or an expert of any kind. I am a human that has extensively studied trauma, experienced various therapeutic modalities through time, and have practiced and taught yoga/mindfulness meditation for over a decade.  I may say things that are incorrect.  Please leave room within your mind to question and challenge me, I lovingly encourage it.

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In the last several months we have collectively experienced a global pandemic, and in the last several weeks the disease of systemic racism has come to the forefront of our collective consciousness.  

When our world shut down due to Coronavirus, we were physically separated from one another.  We may have feared for our own health and well-being, and that of our loved ones.  Depending on our socioeconomic status and access to basic resources, we may have been faced with personal hardship.  

Then, we bore witness to the horrific murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers. While protesting his death, inaction from local government, along with police brutality and violence, the community continued to be brutalized by the Minneapolis Police Department.  Peaceful protestors, exercising their constitutional right to gather, were tear gassed and shot with rubber bullets.  With the presence of the National Guard, buildings on fire, and city-wide curfews, our community turned into a war zone where we were again forced into our homes for safety.  The media cycle has been filled with violent images, videos and more senseless death.

So, what is trauma?  “It’s a response involving complex debilitation of adaptive abilities–emotional, cognitive, physical, spiritual and social–following an event that was perceived by our nervous system as life-threatening to oneself or others (especially loved ones).1

Trauma can be a one-time event, a prolonged event or a series of events.  Trauma that affects a community or a country is called collective trauma.” 1

We have, in the last several months, and especially in the last few weeks, experienced collective trauma.  You may be feeling it in a very real, visceral way, or it might be tucked somewhere in the back of your mind.

Our nervous systems, because we are communal beings, are collectively affected.  Our nerves serve to connect us to one another. The violence of the last few weeks, on top of the separation and difficulty we’ve experienced due to a global pandemic, is a MASSIVE amount of information for our nervous systems to process.  We may find ourselves ramped up and “activated”, or we may be in the “come down” from this intensity.  

When our environment and experiences are non-activating, our nervous system operates within a “normal range.”  Below is a chart that clearly displays how our nervous system responds to traumatic events.  We can either get stuck “on” in an anxious and activated state or get stuck “off” in a depressive and lethargic state.  It might be a helpful exercise to go through the various symptoms listed here to see if you have recently or are currently experiencing any of them.

Levine, Ogden, Siegel

During challenging times it can be easy to default to quick-fixes to manage our emotions and bodily sensations.  Some coping mechanisms are healthy and adaptive, while others are maladaptive and not helpful long-term.  

Common maladaptive coping mechanisms: 

-drinking alcohol to excess

-consuming caffeine to excess

-substance abuse

-prolonged screen time (TV/computer)

-binge eating/under-eating

-isolation

If our actions are only serving to ignore and repress what we’re feeling, we can potentially spawn other issues like divisiveness, aggression, shutdown, addiction, PTSD and an array of dis-ease in the body/mind system.

If we want to actively work with trauma instead of internalizing it, real long-term solutions should be explored and established.  It is my firm belief that by addressing trauma, past and present, finding ways to heal and take care of ourselves, we contribute to healing on a mass scale.  

“At any kind of transition point in our lives we all need the certainty of knowing at some level that we are securely held.” We can receive this felt-sense of safety through interactions and care from loved ones or professionals, but we can also offer it to ourselves.  We can explore self-regulation1 through many different modalities.

Self-regulation:

-walks in nature

-self-massage (ex: Gua Sha)

-practicing yoga postures

-deep breathing techniques (ex: Wim Hoff Method)

-meditation/mindfulness practice (ex: yoga nidra)

-singing/chanting/laughing

-rocking/shaking/bouncing movements

-hobbies that produce an end product (ex: woodworking, knitting, painting, crafting, gardening)

Because trauma-response is a nervous system response, we may not always have access to self-soothing techniques in a heightened state.  At this point, it may be helpful and necessary to seek outside assistance.

Co-regulation:

-talking with a trusted friend

-massage therapy

-pet therapy 

-craniosacral therapy

-EMDR therapy

-somatic therapy

-medication (temporary or long-term)

Through regular practice of self-regulation and co-regulation techniques we can build resilience.  It’s not to say that if you meditate and go to therapy, you’re never going to find difficulty or be triggered into a trauma-response, but it may help you to navigate stressful moments with more ease in the future.  

It’s difficult to dive into trauma work; it can be hard, scary and vulnerable.  It doesn’t always make life easier or more pleasant immediately.  So, why do it?  Why choose discomfort? 

“The racial status quo is comfortable for white people.  And we will not move forward in race relations if we remain comfortable.  The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort.  We can use it as a door out, blame the messenger, and disregard the message.  Or, we can use it as a door in, by asking, why does this unsettle me?” 3

As a species, we have this moment before us where we are able to step into a new paradigm.  

What does equality and racial justice actually look like?

What does it look like for humans to have access to their basic needs? 

What would shifting funding from police departments toward other social services like mental health resources, addiction services, and education look like?  

I am hopeful that we, as a collective human species, will find collective solutions to move forward.  We must listen, and try, and make mistakes, and try again.  We are in this together.  We all have much to unlearn, about what we’ve been taught or what we accept as “just the way things are.”  Furthermore we have much to learn from one another. 

If we truly want systemic change, we must first change as individuals.  

Real, lasting change takes time.  Take a deep breath, and find ways to sustain your body/mind system on this journey.  Cultivating a compassionate heart is a process and takes intentional effort. Compassion begins inside of us, and from there radiates to all beings.  

Compassionate action is choosing to wear a mask to protect others, choosing to directly address racism in our own bodies and in our communities, choosing to care about others’ suffering, whether we know them or not.  

I am still learning SO MUCH!  But I also feel capable in assisting others on this journey of discovery.  Please, use me as a resource, and let me know how I can be helpful as we move through this time together.

In love & service,

Sofia Lorraine

Sources & Suggested Reading:

1 Article: What is Trauma? https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/expressive-trauma-integration/201901/what-is-trauma

2 Book: Wisdom of the Body Moving, Linda Hartley

3 Book: White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo

Book: The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk

Book: The Urgency of Awareness, Jodi R. Pfarr & Allison Boisvert 

Book: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in The Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander

Book: So You Want To Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo

Book: How To Be An Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi

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