Or, is being trauma-informed the essence of enlightened Love, which is what some of us call God?
But first, a little context. Back in the late 90’s two white, male doctors conducted a study out of Kaiser-Permanete and essentially discovered an irrefutable link between childhood adversity and adult health outcomes. The study, Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACE’s, has now become the largest public health study of its kind. As a result of this study, along with several other studies conducted over the last 50 years on PTSD in veterans and later, children and civilian adults, a treatment approach called trauma-informed care has emerged and continues to evolve. Essentially, to be trauma-informed means understanding all human behavior through a lens of compassionate awareness about the lifelong effects of our individual and collective adversities. This includes abuse we experienced in childhood, inter generational traumas like genocide, oppression, discrimination and war. I suppose we can now add pandemic to the ongoing list of total bummers.
Trauma-informed people, professionals, communities and, one day, countries, aim to promote intentionally healing environments where health and wholeness can be restored to every person. Lofty goals, but this one feels worth pursuing.
Healthcare providers, therapists, social workers, teachers, law enforcement, churches, even entire cities are educating themselves on the principles and practices of trauma-informed care. I’ve been researching the concept for the past twelve years, writing and conducting trainings nationally. It is my absolute passion to come together with people from all over the country and wrestle with why we’re here, what we’re doing, what happened to us and how on earth can we make this life a more humane and beautiful experience for everyone. We have more questions than answers.
So this morning, I was catching up on a bible study I’m doing with some sisters, aptly titled Not According to Plan. We’re learning about a prophet from the Old Testament named Habakkuk. Basically, Hab sees all the awfulness in the world and he’s having it out with God. Hey! Dude! There’s a bunch of blood thirsty animals ruining all our fun and it sucks! Help? And God’s like, my plan is to let these bad guys do horrible stuff to punish these other other bad guys who I’m really mad at, and then, I’ll fix it. I’m a therapist, not a theologian so this is my best, current, understanding of the story.
As I was journaling answers to the reflective questions for this week’s lesson, I asked (god? Myself?):
If god created us, he designed the human brain, and therefore knows that hurt people, hurt people due, specifically, to the neurobiological damage caused by child abuse and prolonged exposure to things like war, oppression and famine which were routine affairs back in the day and frankly, don’t show many signs of ending anytime soon. If He knows that, wouldn’t he understand that the Babylonians probably just had unresolved mommy or daddy issues and instead of letting them spiral out of control so they could demolish a bunch of other hurt people, why didn’t he just admit them to a trauma-informed psychiatric facility where they could learn yoga and eat an organic, anti-inflammatory, plant based diet?
After several moments of mounting frustration and emerging moral fatigue, I asked: Is God trauma-informed?
I quickly realized it’s probably a mortal sin to compare God to a man-made anything. He made us! He created the people who would give birth to the concepts and research discoveries that led to trauma-informed care. He’s the chicken and the egg.
But, because of free will, I’m allowed to play devil’s advocate.
According to the research, there are five to eight principles essential to the practice of trauma-informed care. The components keep changing as we grow in our understanding of what the heck it actually means; like life. Here are the five we’ll roll with: Safety, Trust, Choice, Collaboration and Equity.
Let’s break them down. (To build them back up? And break them down again? And build them up? And then utterly pulverize them into humble stardust so they’ll ride into my arms on the next insulting gust of wind where I’ll breathe life back into their empty existence and they’ll be so profoundly traumatized and grateful to be alive, they’ll cling to my awesome power for all eternity and we shall call this Love?)
1. Safety: Life is not safe but in a trauma informed community, people commit to functioning in ways that are physically, emotionally, psychologically and morally safe. We’re accountable for our actions and sincerely apologize when we hurt ourself or someone else. Since we’re human, and therefore inherently flawed, this takes lots of practice. Take the issue of masks, for instance. People who are very nice have occasionally taken to screaming at other people for either wearing or not wearing a mask. This is due to a survival reflex in our amygdala. So, the next time someone is screaming in your face, try calmly rationalizing with their activated, very primitive amygdala, by reminding them you’re not a saber tooth tiger. Or, just stay far away from people until the pandemic’s over.
How does God convey, express or extol safety? Does safety mean comfort? Do we need a certain amount of unsafety in order to evolve? Will this pandemic ever end? What lessons about safety and god or the universe are we learning? If god’s love is the ultimate safety, what are we here for? Cause I, for one, am not here for the food.
2. Trust In a trauma-informed community, all members commit to conducting themselves in a trustworthy manner, building on the practice of Safety. Trauma-informed people don’t lie, cheat, steal, bully, gossip, covet, sabotage or intentionally stir up drama. Imagine? It’s hoped that through practicing Trust, people can have corrective emotional experiences that will restore our ability to connect with others because connection is essential to healing…except right now because connecting might ummm, be fraught with significantly challenging, potentially fatal consequences. But like, eventually we can.
One time my brother put Tabasco sauce in my pb&j. I still don’t let anyone else make food for me.
Can god make sandwiches? No, but he did create the universe which is an algebraic miracle full of billions of living organisms that have co-existed and evolved for billions of years…(and they only rarely become deadly viruses) which is kind of better than a sandwich.
3. Choice: In trauma-informed service delivery, a member or consumer are empowered to make decisions about their care without fear of judgment or losing benefits. For example, if someone decides they’re not ready to address a certain topic in therapy, clinicians don’t punitively label them ‘non-compliant.’ Or, if a kid comes to school hungry, tired and dysregulated, a teacher might offer them the choice of having breakfast or talking to someone so they can calm down before going to class, instead of just giving them detention.
God said to the people: choose your own adventure! And we did. Yikes.
4. Collaboration This is sometimes also called democracy. In trauma-informed communities, everyone is empowered with voice and choice when it comes to making important decisions. While not every voice or choice can come to fruition, each person has an equal say in the process and hopefully, as result of this collaborative approach, we grow and learn from each other. It also means it can take, like, a thousand years to design a t-shirt but hey man, fast fashion needs to go anyway.
According to many gurus, manifesting is co-creating with the universe to live your best life. I suppose prayer is also a form of collaboration but sometimes it feels like bargaining. I’ve prayed to win the lottery and also occasionally buy Powerball tickets that I lay on crystals under the full moon but I don’t win either way, so then I just end up thanking god each month I’m able to pay rent. Ask and you shall receive…another lesson? A clue? A wink? A hint? Broccoli, cause I know what’s good for you?
5. Equity Finally, in a trauma-informed community, services are tailored so all people are equipped to achieve their personal best. Here it’s important to note the subtle difference between equality and equity. Equality means everyone gets the exact same thing. Equity means that some people may need more of a particular resource in order to have the same opportunity as someone else. This principle acknowledges and responds to diversity and the wounds of discrimination by aiming to be restorative, just, fair and inclusive.
Dish towels tell us ‘god never gives us more than we can handle.’ I’m guessing we shouldn’t take life advice from a dish towel.
In all sincerity, whoever or whatever god is, he’s the only being I’ve ever fully loved or trusted, despite how often we fight or how much I question him. Question, but never doubt. I know an incomprehensible force created me, you, this universe and every awful, miraculous thing in it and that we were all once harmoniously joined in perfect Love but were then, violently shredded apart; I’m guessing the day the human ego was formed? And some day, we’ll all be reconnected again, as that one, perfect Love. For now, while we crawl around in the messy middle, teetering on the verge of a collective nervous breakdown, I guess it’s ok to wonder. ~