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The Fifth Step to Radical Self-Care From a Trauma-informed Survivor

5. I will stop listening to the voices of those who seek to undermine my life or my work - no matter where I encounter them.


Too often it seems we listen to people tell us who we were to define who we are called to become.


We allow ourselves to become monuments living in the past instead of living with the adaptability to live and experience change.


This means we give too much value to the voices that try to limit our potential or our ability to be resilient, especially when that involves trauma.


On the day I graduated from my master’s degree program, I reached out to admire the earrings one of them was wearing. (I own my responsibility for inadvertently reaching to touch someone without consent, even though no actual contact was made.) Their cutting response loudly proclaimed; “It is about trauma and how you just traumatized me, and YOU are the expert on TRAUMA.” Three people around us giggled at their wit, and it was that giggling that caused me to doubt my call - was what I did really that silly and unneeded?


Those of us who are experts on trauma are often not an expert by choice, but because when you endure and survive it becomes a calling to share that pathway to survival with others forced to walk a similar direction.

One of the greatest predictions of human ability to thrive is centered in ACEs or Adverse Childhood Experiences that occur before the age of eighteen. Some examples are the death of a parent, substance abuse or violence in the home, and major societal events like war. Most studies indicate that while we think we protect children, children live in an often-traumatizing world and at least sixty percent of adults experience at least one ACE in childhood. ACEs are also tied to the ‘isms and those from racial or ethnic minority groups or those who are not a cisgender boy experience more ACEs in their childhood.


According to the Center for Disease Control, these experiences can have long-lasting impacts on how we move and experience the world.


ACEs can have lasting, negative effects on health, well-being, as well as life opportunities such as education and job potential. These experiences can increase the risks of injury, sexually transmitted infections, maternal and child health problems (including teen pregnancy, pregnancy complications, and fetal death), involvement in sex trafficking, and a wide range of chronic diseases and leading causes of death such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and suicide.


ACEs and associated social determinants of health, such as living in under-resourced or racially segregated neighborhoods, frequently moving, and experiencing food insecurity, can cause toxic stress (extended or prolonged stress). Toxic stress from ACEs can change brain development and affect such things as attention, decision-making, learning, and response to stress.


Children growing up with toxic stress may have difficulty forming healthy and stable relationships. They may also have unstable work histories as adults and struggle with finances, jobs, and depression throughout life. These effects can also be passed on to their own children. Some children may face further exposure to toxic stress from historical and ongoing traumas due to systemic racism or the impacts of poverty resulting from limited educational and economic opportunities.

(https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/)


Some ACEs are easier to heal than others, and they stack. Some studies show that as many as ninety percent of people who are incarcerated experienced six or more adverse experiences in their childhood.


Like others, I became an expert in trauma because I had a choice – learn about it and heal myself or die. I would rather be an expert in chocolate or golf – anything but the pain which too often defines our human lives. The hour each week I spend with my therapist is as much a lifeline to my survival as insulin is to a diabetic. I work to encourage others to take similar steps to their own health.


Which is why I push back on that tittering attempt to score humor at someone else’s expense each time it returns to my memory. That momentary attempt to diminish my work is no different than the voices of my traumatic past that attempted to diminish me.

Those of us who are experts in trauma become experts in order to help others find new life in the same way we found new life through healing. It is hard to revisit our own past trauma and train ourselves to speak from scars, not wounds. Just as artists and scientific creators must drown out the voices of those who catcall their work, those called to the ministry among the traumatized need to learn to greet the naysayers with nothing more than a smile and a nod.


We like to think in binaries and this is not any different. We assume that it is as easy as dividing into categories - those who support us on one side (the "good" side) and those who oppose us on the other. But even our biggest advocates can become the loudest voices for our failure if we let them.


Our work is not done for the naysayers, but for the suffering. Radical self-care requires us to be able to silence other voices even when we get caught in the rain, to depend on our-self as the best gauge of our success or failure. This is not selfishness - it is learning to thrive through trauma. It is a critical step to healing.


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