Pain, trauma and positive change during Covid-19

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It seems 2020 is coalescing to be a year of both personal and global trauma. Life as we know it has been halted and so many of us, who might be inclined to distract ourselves from our own trauma, have been gifted the opportunity to sit quietly, at home, with it. No friends to see, bars to drink in, people to date, it is unsurprising that those who may already experience a turbulent psychological state, have been thrust into deeper states of depression, anxiety and loneliness (among many other struggles). With all this free time comes more opportunity for emotional unrest, increased self-harm (excessive drink and drug use), isolation, loss of direction and contentment. But also lies the opportunity for awakening.

To sit with the wounds of our past, the pains of the present, and the anxieties of the future is a task only for the brave. It is easy to believe you have not been traumatised by your childhood experiences, but it is likely that you have. I grew up with both a mum and a dad, a nice house and lots of friends, but psychological trauma forgets no one. In fact, on reflection, I have felt somewhat traumatised for most of my life. As I have delved deeper into psychology, anthropology and spirituality in recent years, I am learning that being born traumatised is not as uncommon as you may think. Reading recently about indigenous communities in Australia in Marlo Morgan’s beautiful book ‘Mutant Message’, I was reminded of the possibility that emotional, physical and social pain can be passed on through generations. Discussion on ‘transgenerational trauma’ is not new. In fact, in light of the second world war, the term ‘transgenerational trauma’ became used to describe the impact of the holocaust on the children and grandchildren of holocaust survivors. Studies show that, epigenetically speaking, environmental influences can change the expression of our genes, which are then passed on as we reproduce. Even if you did not experience a painful event first-hand, it is totally possible that you embody related emotional pain inside of you. Human history is full of traumatic events and, therefore, being born and being emotionally traumatised are almost inseperable.

On an Anthropological level, the theories surrounding how individuals today are emotionally and spiritually connected to our ancestors are, of course, diverse and complex. Whilst ancestor worship in the present day is likely seen as a concern only for anthropologists, religious types, or far-out new age kids, it’s history suggests a feeling of connection to our ancestors has always been prevalent in society. Whether it be visiting your grandmother in the church graveyard, or singing to the ancestral spirits in the sky as many cultures have done since time immemorial, I think it is fair to say many of us feel some kind of deeper connection to those who have come before us. But to what extent have the experiences of our parents, grandparents, or our race and culture shaped our reality today?

That is for you to reflect on and decide. My own self-inquiry has reminded me that I hold the trauma of both my grandma and my mum within me. As well, the giant and painful hole that was left in my little, four-year old Dad when his father left, was most likely, subsequently passed on to and imprinted into me. I believe, like some psychologists, that our personalities are shaped extensively by the traumas of our ancestors and our own trauma that we have collected in our lifetime. Hence why so many of us, from the day we are born, experience fear, anxiety, pain, and a yearning for deep and meaningful love and connection. We are essentially born with broken hearts that are rebuilt and rebroken over and over again in our lifetime.

When discussing transgenerational trauma I think it is essential to discuss the experiences of indigenous and BAME communities throughout the world who have been subjected to years of cultural and physical violence. Trauma induced by greed, power, money and immoral political behaviour has been painted on the back of entire cultures and is, despite positive political change, undoubtedly still carried within a huge number of the world’s populations today. This phenomenon of collective, cultural and racial trauma became evident in the ‘Mutant Message’ (1994) book I mentioned previously. Morgan the author, an American woman, engaged in a four-month ‘walkabout’ trip through the Australian outback with the ‘Real People’ tribe. Among the many incredible experiences that Morgan shared with the indigenous community, she was informed by the tribe that they tribe no longer wished to reproduce. They were looking to bring an end to their community as they felt their time on Earth, as a people, was up. It was almost too painful for the ‘Real People’ to carry on in a world where their values and lifestyle were continually destroyed by the ‘Australian’ government and society. After generations of cultural and physical genocide, their pain ran too deep, and the ‘Real People’ decided they would rather cease to exist than be subjected to traumatic, neo-colonial missions that continually stole and destroyed their land and culture. This is just one example of the collective trauma that indigenous, black and ethnic minority communities have faced throughout history, particularly because of colonial endeavours and the pursuit of a globalised, neoliberal, capitalist world order in more recent centuries.

So, with all of this in mind, let us spend some time reflecting on how our time spent in Coronavirus isolation can initiate healing from both transgenerational trauma and our own trauma accumulated throughout our lifetime. Whether it be from a broken family, rape, abuse, grief, physical trauma or anything else, pain and trauma are a reality we cannot escape in this life. Experiences like this will happen to us, become imprinted in our bodies and personalities, and we will be changed forever. How we decide to live with our trauma, is however, a choice.

In the past year, I have lost a friend to suicide, and a friend to addiction. Both young and amazing men who have a place in my heart, their deaths have triggered me to really start thinking about what happens in people’s lives for them to end up helpless and lost with zero self-worth and esteem. One of my conclusions is that it is unprocessed, unconscious and undiscussed trauma that massively contributes to the psychological downfall of so many people. We can’t face it, so we hide it and run from it…until it destroys us.

So, this is really why I’m writing. I don’t want to sit quietly anymore in a world where silence, disconnection and inaction legitimately destroys lives. In the modern world, we are expected to function on an emotionally superficial level. We are supposed to work our jobs, do what we’ve got to do to get by and live another day…all without deep, genuine, open, empathetic connection and interaction. Today, vulnerability is our greatest fear and seen as our greatest weakness. But it is that very vulnerability that can save us.

At some point, we have to stop running, open up to others, and FACE OURSELVES.

For me, the Coronavirus isolation period has sent me the opposite direction to many others. Covid-19 induced positive changes in my lifestyle. Fresh grief coupled with stressful family drama journeyed me inwards on an ‘awakening’ of sorts that has left me investing in exercise and hobbies rather than self-medicating with drink or drugs (which I may have been inclined to do in the past).

So, I want to share 10 things I have been doing every day that are helping me face and heal my trauma, instead of avoiding and letting it linger in my body or bones where it may eventually express as anger, pain, jealousy, self-hate or self-destructive behaviour. Every day I attempt to:

1)Move– Dance, run, stretch, work-out. Moving is essential to getting endorphins flowing and increasing your energy levels. I try and work out, do yoga, cycle or dance at some point throughout my day. If, like me, you currently are required to spend a lot of time in front of the computer, getting up and moving those legs can release excess energy and re-set your mind, totally changing your sense of well-being throughout the day.

2)Sleep– Getting enough sleep provides you with the energy and health you need to wake up and get things done. Trying to do all the things on this list should ensure you can rest better at night too.

3) Eat– DO NOT RESTRICT your food (unless your trying to lose weight). The body needs feeding and energy. Invest in your diet. Eat healthily and eat enough. Or, eat more than enough and move for longer! Food is power. Power is strength.

4) Talk– Build deep and meaningful connections in which you can talk about your deepest demons, biggest struggles, and greatest joys. Find people who you are not afraid to show your truest self too. Whether it be a friend or counsellor, you MUST express our thoughts and feelings before they eat you alive.

5) Love– Love yourself. Look in the mirror. Be Kind. Say ‘I LOVE YOU’. Touch your body. Have a bath. Love others. Be kind to people in your life. Look for their good points. Build them up instead of tearing them down.

6) Write– Write down everything you like about yourself. Write your innermost thoughts on paper. You must GET IT OUT.

7) Forgive– Forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made. Forgive others for the mistakes they have made. You will feel lighter.

8) Play– Have fun. Stop getting bogged down in the seriousness of it all. It doesn’t need to be taken so seriously. As the great Alan Watts says ‘people suffer because they take seriously what the Gods made for fun’. So, pick up a new hobby, spend time doing things that you love. Run in the fields. Go outside. Laugh. Smile.

9) Put down-all that is no longer serving you. Alcohol, people, drugs…whatever it is. Let it go. This is not easy, I know. I have always been inclined to enjoy escaping reality a little too much. With the help of all the practices I have mentioned, it consistently becomes easier and easier for me to say no to opportunities I once would have jumped at. Drinking beer every night is no longer so appealing when there are loads of things you want to do when you wake up in the morning.

10) Improve– This is ultimately about how we can become better people. How can we show up for ourselves in ways we haven’t done before? How can we look within instead of running away? How does being committed to making better decisions positively impact the lives of those around us?Improving ourselves might even inspire those around us to do the same.

This is not about being perfect. I for one am not. I will obviously drink again and will let my mind get the better of me and feel grey. But this is about putting yourself first and engaging in new practices that will change your life for the better.

You can let your past destroy you, or you can let it guide and build you.

I am realising that the moment we stop running and start processing the pain and trauma that lies within us, is the moment we start healing.
It is only when we start to heal, that we can really start to live.

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