The Australian Childhood Foundation is hosting one-hour webinar chats with internationally renowned experts of trauma, childhood development, attachment, culture and so on. As Fostering Hope we are coming together as carers to listen to the webinars and reflect on our own practice, the children in our homes, and today our own childhood.
We listed to Dr Gabor Mate last week, an international expert on addiction and trauma. It was really nice to just sit, listen, learn, and reflect.
Dr Mate defines trauma as,
what happens inside a person in response to what happens outside a person.
Just take some time to think about that definition…
This definition explains why some of us can experience the same natural disaster or home environment growing up – but our level of trauma is different. As Christians we believe we are all created individually and are uniquely special – so some of us ‘feeling’ or being impacted by trauma more deeply than others is no sign of weakness, but rather how we are individually and specially made.
We all do experience pain and trauma – life happens! God doesn’t promise us an easy life, He says troubles will come and, in these troubles, we need to let Him fulfil us, seek hope and healing and hopefully grow. We all know how much harder this is to actually do! It is so much easier to go to things of this world to fill the hole of pain caused by trauma – quick fixes, alcohol and other drugs, medication, distractions, television, shopping, anything to numb the pain or make us feel better about ourselves and our situation. This is what leads to addiction and potentially further destruction. Dr Mate defined addiction as ‘temporary relief for suffering with a long-term negative impact.’
I am sure we can all think of an addiction in our lives that is or has met that definition…
What happens when we turn to an addiction to fill the hole caused by the trauma is, we disconnect from ourselves because we can’t deal with the pain. We then suppress who we really are, push down emotions, and this then leads to depression, addiction, anger, and other negative or destructive behaviours. Dr Mate also links this supressing of who we really are to physiological effects (in addition to mental health) – autoimmune diseases, skin diseases, heart conditions, blood conditions.
His answer to healing – to finding wholeness again – is to reconnect with the emotions we are pushing down – reconnect with one’s true self and find wholeness again. This may mean reconnecting with the traumatic event and pain. While this process will be really hard, Dr Mate asks us to consider weighing up the long-term mental and physiological impacts of not dealing with the pain versus the hard work of reconnecting with the pain. In this process he talks about ‘compassionate inquiry’ both for ourselves and if we are supporting someone through this process. We need to be inquisitive about the pain and trauma and compassionate with oneself. Through this we can grow through the pain and learning how to hold oneself to heal ultimately leading to healing (wholeness) in life.
He said he has seen this process be done with supernatural miraculous healing and the spiritual does play a role.
For most of us it will be a journey into our past to rediscover,
1. What happened in our childhood, what was the trauma?
2. What is the story we have told ourselves about why we are a mess up?
Then our present selves being compassionate with our past selves and taking away all the labels we have put on ourselves – shame, guilt, failure etc.
As I sit here writing this, I think of the birth families in our lives and the children in our care. I also think of my own childhood and those of the people I love. I pray for healing, for each of us to find wholeness for the hole of trauma and pain to be filled with beautiful gold threads of healing, love, hope, and a new future. This is the power of foster and kinship carers, this is also the power each of us have in the lives of those around us. Who can you hold with compassion today?
The next Australian Childhood Foundation webinar is on 14 July at 10:00am with Deb Dana from the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium in the Kinsey Institute.