Claiming My Power as a Trauma Survivor

I can act effectively in crisis only if I’m doing shamanic practices on a regular basis.

There are times survival takes every single ounce of one’s time. And it’s vital to do everything one can on the mundane plane to take care of a crisis. But, when crisis looms, I have the self-destructive knee-jerk response of automatically focusing solely on survival. I’ve learned that usually does not turn out well, not for me.

So I choose to instead focus on staying balanced, serene, and connected to my Gods in order to receive Their power and guidance. To accomplish all that, I need a lot of time for my shamanic practices and have to use a crisis as an opportunity for spiritual and shamanic growth.

If I, instead, frantically chase after money, security, a resolution of crisis, etc., then the money, resolution, security, etc., don’t manifest anyway. If I stay on my shamanic journey, then money, resolution, security etc., come.

When crisis hits, I need shamanism more than ever.

Historically speaking, shamanism as a means for healing from trauma—and keeping a disaster from damaging one’s psyche—has been a cultural norm. It has surely been a means for my survival and wholeness in rough times.

Shamans have also, since ancient times, used their traumas—even the worst traumas—as irreplaceable chances to manifest great magical and mundane power. This was surely my own experience.

After 9/11 traumatized U.S. citizens, and our government used that tragedy as an excuse to further traumatize us, enrollment in the shamanic classes I teach dropped for a while. When crisis hits, or appears as a possibility, some people believe they can’t afford the time or money for their shamanic training. They don’t understand that continuing their training can be pivotal to overcoming crisis. I provide scholarships, yet few people requested one in the year after 9/11.

One power of being a trauma survivor, for me, is that overcoming disasters left me with shamanic tools I can apply during this brutal administration. Another power is that I’ve learned the need for complete focus on survival is often a mirage. Mind you, I know it’s not always a mirage. But when it has been an illusion, living in that lie almost destroyed me. I’m lucky to be alive, considering what a lifestyle of overwork and worry did to my health.

“Long-term trauma” (LTT) is a worse diagnosis than post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Examples of an ordeal that causes LTT: being kidnapped and held hostage for years; and being married to a batterer for years. Quite a while ago, I suffered LTT. Not to worry, I took the necessary steps to be on the other side of that now, happy and whole. It’s all behind me. I bring up the diagnosis only to point out:

As someone who used Fey-touched tools to survive longterm horrors and come out the other side whole in spirit, I learned that serenity is possible during a horrific situation. Not always, for sure, but tranquility is not constant even in the best of circumstances. Though peace is often impossible when first in a terrible crisis, knowing that peace can develop—albeit sometimes only painstakingly in minuscule increments—is a power I’ve gained from being a trauma survivor.

When I create a calm place inside myself, I find strength and wisdom there to change a situation.

My familiar hangs out with a poppet. I made it probably in the ‘80s.

Like many survivors, I’ve been triggered by recent national events. Like many individuals, I started having trauma symptoms in response to national events. But now, screw Trump, screw his ilk. I decided I don’t have time to let fascists’ behavior traumatize me anymore. I’m doing everything in my power to keep their behavior from getting to me mentally anymore.

I affirm: They no longer will have space in my head. Heck, I’ve known all along that what’s going on in America right now is nothing new. That’s an advantage I have from being a trauma survivor. The horrific injustices currently widespread in our country are what I observed as a child in the ‘50s and throughout my whole life. I suffered terribly from some of these things My point is that what’s going on has been happening since humans first congregated, so I don’t have to lose my mind over it, but can carry on the same way I did the day before Trump got elected—fighting against such atrocities and living my life with joy.

I affirm: I can feel my indignation, rage, and even terror, but not sit in them. I can simply feel them, and then move on to feel my joy and love.

I affirm: Living in terror and rage would keep me from maximum effectiveness as an agent of change in the world. I want to help individuals upon whom horrors are being perpetrated, so I feel my indignation and rage, but do not reside in them.

In this post, I speak only for myself and of my experiences. I want every trauma survivor to find what works for them. So I support those who say a constant rage helps them fight oppression, even though that wouldn’t work for me. I used to walk around angry all day. That hurt my health and made me miserable.

Though I didn’t take my anger out on other people, furious thoughts consumed my mind, time, and energy, distracting me from doing what was needed to be as happy and productive as I became when I let go of constant angriness. Now, with less anger, I’m more likely to take positive action, more effective when I do so, and experience life’s joys more.

Wee shaman

Back to the idea that what’s going on in America is nothing new. I’ve physically, emotionally, and spiritually survived grueling ordeals that started in childhood. Some of these situations were next to impossible to survive, let alone survive spiritually whole. But I did it. For various reasons, I’m a person at risk in Trump’s America. Yet, because of the traumas I’ve gotten through in the past, I know how to find joy, peace, and beauty in my day now.

A few weeks ago, the current events in our country stopped triggering and traumatizing me anywhere near as much because I started taking advantage of being a trauma survivor in the ways I’ve described above.

In other words, I remembered that I’ve been through all this before, that I survived it, and that the horrors reported on the news every day have consistently been part of human society. I reminded myself that I learned tools to overcome crisis, shamanic tools that can keep me whole so I can enjoy my life and keep fighting oppression. I affirmed my commitment to devote as much time possible every day to shamanic practices and to spiritual and shamanic growth.

My shamanism centered me again, moving me miles toward inner wholeness. I intend to keep that movement going till I feel back to normal and then maintain that state through an ongoing abundance of shamanic practices.

I don’t bury my head in the sand about what’s going on in the world or what risks I am in. However, constantly thinking about the terrible state of humanity, or what bad things are happening to me, or that might happen to me, or the very real fact that I may not survive this current administration, will help ensure I don’t survive because unceasing worry would hurt my body badly. For one thing, the stress of nonstop worry exacerbates Multiple Sclerosis symptoms.

I will think about terrible things only to the degree needed, e.g., to minimize my risk, to change bad situations for myself and others, to discuss with my students the problems they face. Today, I signed up to be a phone volunteer for the upcoming elections. That felt great.

Nightmare monsters hide under my bed. They’re close by, threatening, trying to freak me out. I refuse to dwell on them. I prefer to use my time and the spaces in my head to celebrate existence and see its beauty.

If I focus on my shamanic practices and inner growth, I have the strength and bravery to not take the bait—in other words, to not freak out when monsters taunt me with cruel words—and to instead enjoy life.

I’m getting into top form for battling monsters. Staying serene and joyful and in pursuit of beauty help me achieve—and remain in—top form. Vehemently, passionately serene. Joyfully, loudly seeking beauty. So mote it be!

Bickering, Community Service, and Self-Awareness

Part two in a series on supporting newcomers (and oldtimers) in your spiritual community. May, 2013. Part one is on my other site, at http://www.outlawbunny.com/2011/06/14/welcoming-newbies/

A woman phoned me to inquire about my classes. That’s not unusual; I teach oral tradition style, so feel I should be available by phone if someone wants to ask about my work.

She immediately said that very few pagans are hard-working in their spiritual efforts. This is not unusual, either; I hear that sentiment plenty.

After addressing her community critique, I tried to move the conversation past it, but she kept returning to the issue. She is not someone for whom I’d be a good teacher.

It is only human to bond with someone new by denigrating others. But it is a tendency I try to avoid: While it feeds the ego of the two people bonding (they get to feel superior to everyone else in the world), it keeps them from getting any actual work done. I mean the sort of work that happens in my classes: for example, self-examination, self-care, nurturing of ability to serve community, and building shamanic skills. No, I am not the teacher for her.

Fool, tarot card, Francesca De Grandis, 12-03

The fool is about love. Fool, tarot card, Francesca De Grandis, 12-03

When first working as a spiritual counselor in an occult shop, I received a pretty big shock. I’d been guiding folks in a private practice, mostly by referral. Suddenly I was thrown onto the front lines. Someone would come to the shop to consult with me because their daughter had just died. Or their 14-year-old son had gotten somebody pregnant. Or their husband beat them.

I went home and threw out my lofty new age abstractions. I threw out my Celtic cross spread, at least for most of the shop appointments. (For those of you who don’t know the spread, it makes for a complex lengthy session.) A lot of these shop sessions were only ten minutes long. After that my boss pressed the buzzer: Time’s up!

I sat in my home and started coming up with very fast spreads that would tune me into the heart of the client’s issue(s) and the essence of the advice they needed. I compiled a list of community resources: contact information for women’s shelters, teen crisis counseling, etc. I honed my inner skills more than ever so that I’d sense a client’s needs stat.

I was a working minister.

Decades later now. As then, not all my work is with trauma survivors. Often, I help people with more “everyday” concerns,” as well as train folks in shamanism, other esoteric skills, creativity, and marketing. But I’m definitely always on the frontlines: in community, with a busy schedule of counseling and teaching.

I mention being a shop employee and my ensuing work because: I’ve rarely gotten involved in pagan debates; I am too busy! Mind you, I discuss my work with other front-line ministers who can help me polish my shamanic skills, not burn out, and otherwise address my work. But I do not want to be criticized because of theoretical issues that have little basis and are thrown on the table by angry people with no understanding of what I am really up against on the ministerial front lines.

When we’re busy looking at our own faults, polishing our own skills, taking care of ourselves, and serving community, we don’t have time to unnecessarily criticize people.

Criticism is appropriate sometimes. Each of us needs to be held accountable by community. And healthy debate is joyfully welcomed in my classes because fresh perspectives rise.

The sort of criticism that I’d like to see less of is the endless picayune bickering that seems to produce little. Hmm, well, it produces swollen egos, draws the limelight, hurts sincere seekers whether newbie or oldtimer, and silences timid souls. Important sidebar: It hurts the newbies not only because they feel rejected but also because it encourages them to behave in kind.

Even as an oldtimer, I can feel hurt and invalidated, when people get so riled up and so angry and bitter; and behind their words is the statement, “I am better than you, I am better than you, I am better than you.” And behind that statement is their primary one: “Go climb in a hole so that your sincere efforts don’t shame me any longer.” This can be devastating to newbies who are ardent seekers with hearts wide open!

Those kind of arguments and the comments of that person who phoned me are also tantamount to saying about the person being criticized, “You are the ‘other.’ You are ‘one of them,’ so you are not as worthy of love and respect. I do not have to treat you with caring and decency because you do not have the same vulnerabilities as me.”

Now, if this post ends now, my mental meandering amounts to me just being another superior jerk. But I am going somewhere productive (I hope):

It felt important to paint a recognizable picture of high-handed community strife and its outcome for three reasons:

1) If you avoid insane community debate, you still might be uber-critical of other pagans (or someone else) within the confines of your own mind. When I find myself doing that, it’s time for a good look at myself. Internal criticism (perhaps a running commentary on the superiority of others, lol) has the same impact on me as it would were I voicing it online. Same impact, dude! I might be avoiding looking at my own errors or avoiding responsibility, to either community or self.

Feeling superior is more comfortable than looking at my own faults. And superiority can, oddly enough, make me feel safer than self-care. And superiority is safer than getting out into the world to try to make a difference. You avoid the endless, high-handed criticism of I-know-better-than-everyone-else idlers who are likely to pursue you once you try to make a diff in the world.

2) Angry superiority is what many newcomers first see. Or we might meet newbies with a subtle version of the same thing. I want to make a practice of examining myself for this. For example, is my ego playing out in a more subtle manner? Goddess, when someone inquires about my work, keep me humble, welcoming, self-aware, and focused on love and service. Goddess, at all times, keep me humble, welcoming, self-aware, and focused on love and service.

3) If you are afraid of getting into the pagan community because of what you see, now you know i see it too. You are not alone. Please realize there are people who do not bicker. We aren’t as vocal because we’re busy living. If you ask the Universe to guide and inspire you, you will find us.

And, with us, you can work and dance and celebrate the Gods. Because we are pagan to the bone. Heathens, celebrating the stars, the earth, the seasons, ourselves, and each other.

You will find us. We are here. I am like you.

Solstice Snow-Kitty

The kitten almost knocked over huge houseplants trying to get a good view out the window. I figure that was pretty clear guidance from the Universe to take a break from shipping books and go outside with my kitten into the snow.

Our venture probably lasted only ten minutes, and was just us hanging out. But I felt joy and wonder.

Cosmic Cat Nap, Francesca De Grandis

I feel blessed today that I find immense joy in small things, despite daily challenges that would’ve killed many people in both spirit and body. I also feel the hope that my classes impart the same sense of miracle in the wee gifts amidst enormous difficulties. That is not necessarily spelled out in my curriculum descriptions, but it is innate in an authentic spiritual teaching and methodology: life brings challenges, and with them great sorrow; life also brings us great joy if we open to it despite our struggles.

There are, of course, times when trauma or other challenges will overwhelm. Then my job during class or a counseling session is not to be a Pollyanna who callously insists, “If you were really spiritual, you would be cheerful anyway!” The recent deaths of Connecticut children has us deeply grieving. At such times, I share coping and grieving tools, ways to heal, and methods to overcome problems.

We cannot always have the joy the World Tree offers us, and must face inevitable pain. My hope, in my heart today, is that I help my students and clients do that and also help them find as much joy as possible, when it is possible. I am an ecstatic, in love with the world tree, and I believe, deep in the cells of my heart, that the world tree is in love with each of us, so It wants to celebrate existence with us.

On solstice day, I smile thinking about my little faerie kitten looking up at the snow, studying it thoughtfully, and I wish you happy solstice.

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I experience profound love from—and connectivity with—the Divine. Do you want spiritual reading that reflects accessible Divine love? How about that honors your idea of Divinity (e.g., God, Goddess, God within, World Tree, Universe)? Read Sprinkling Faerie Dust on Breakfast. Available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/114317006/sprinkling-faerie-dust-on-breakfast