On the first day of the “Rooted in the Mountains” Symposium at Western Carolina University, I was well positioned in the back corner with my laptop catching up on work that was pushed back a week due to Hurricane Florence. I had so much to do, but I was determined to complete a budget for the upcoming grant cycle. As I shuffled papers and edited the excel spreadsheet, I was still able to process what the speaker was saying. I had it all planned out! RIGHT! JOKE! Each speaker was female and Indigenous and more importantly RELATABLE. I did not feel the political and power divide like other conferences in the past when discussing Indigenous politics of federal versus state recognized Indians. In fact, like a little child I eased my way up from the corner… to the side… and eventually to the front of the room.
As I listened to the presenters, I began to really listen and make connections. I link intergenerational or historical trauma to termination of feelings, thoughts and a way of life. The holocaust, war, slave ships for labor, removal from homelands and boarding schools are all vehicles to aid in the termination of populations that did not meet criteria based upon a skewed understanding of the love of God and narcissistic controlling power. When we are stripped of what we know and nurturing is not shown we tend to just self-preserve to exist, nothing more. When we become robots it is difficult to pass down love and understanding. In fact, we might pass down the abuse and dysfunction we were shown, because it is all we know.
A norm, healthy or not is something we can expect each day, but if we were modeled something different (an abusive vs a healthy relationship) we tend to shy away or sabotage it because we feel out of place or we think we don’t deserve it. A great example of this is the movie “Once We Were Warriors.” The Maori like many indigenous populations enjoyed a way of life that worked for them in terms of gender roles and responsibilities, honor of matriarchal society and the land and sea. However, due to historical trauma those ties became twisted leading to the downfall of the mind, spirit and body. The termination of gender roles within the younger generation and within marriage are skewed because of external forces. The lack of healthy boundaries and affection in this movie is a direct trait passed down from generations. The wife Beth in the movie says to her husband, “Our people once were warriors, but unlike you, Jake, they were people with mana, pride; people with spirit.”
My spirit was nudged to listen during the symposium and I acknowledged my own pain and confusion. I had never been to a conference where on the first day I was biting my bottom lip and coaching myself not to cry in front of others, but on this day, I did. I felt an ugly face cry coming and it was one that needed to happen. You see, like many, I too have a relationship to trauma and I am finally working my way through it day by day. I was pregnant with my son 10 years ago, working a high stress job and walked on egg shells due to unhealthy boundaries. As our speaker stated, I followed all the guidelines that most OBGYNs suggest, but I couldn’t escape what was my dysfunctional norm. Let’s face it, you can’t control others, you can’t “fix” things, all you can do is pray, be calm and coach yourself the best way you know how to include your reactions.
While sitting in the conference (in my feelings) I was moved to update my status on Facebook: “But I didn’t drink or smoke, and I exercised,” said the Pregnant Mother. TRAUMA is real… Adverse childhood trauma is REAL. Children ARE affected by events as you carry them in the womb. Please (please, please) stay clear of traumatic events. If this is your everyday life and you can’t escape, please find a way to stay at peace-mindfulness, positive imagery and prayer. Take a long walk outside and have a positive support system.”
We are accustomed to hearing about babies born in addiction needing to titrate off of mind altering substances to function, to feel less pain. However with trauma, a mother can pull from her adrenal gland and also rewire the chemistry of her brain because she is running off of auto pilot to self-sustain and/or “fight or flight.” When we pull too much and exhaust our bodies we can begin to pull from our unborn child, remember WE ARE connected. Thus our unborn child in some aspects is wired like us, we didn’t give them much of a choice. I’m not a doctor or trying to be one. I am a mother and know this to be true from my own personal experiences.
Years ago I met with a very good alternative doctor who told me the same and now I am hearing this again from elders/clinicians at this conference. A child can carry YOUR trauma and it presents as anxiety or in other forms. They may have NO adverse experience of their own, but they DO have the one WE passed down. The good news is that it CAN be (clinically and spiritually) reversed by way of real consistent love, nurturing and healthy boundaries. WE CAN ALL RECOVER!
April Whittemore Locklear is a Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist. She owns and operates PickCans Consulting. She has two beautiful children Laettner and SunnyDae.