Trauma Recovery and Harm Reduction in Relationships

While things are funky on the professional front, they are going well on the truth and reconciliation front with the open adoption. Steps were recently taken by both parties to open communication after a year and a half of walls between us.

There are still super hard bits coming, like listening to the hurt we caused one another and accepting responsibility for the harm done, whether it was by mean words or the silence of avoidance. But I can feel how that step, when it comes, will have a foundation of trust and love for ourselves, each other, and our shared son, rather than being filtered through our pain and trauma stories as it was before, and that makes all the difference in the world. I know we will all be safe in a room together because we are each doing the work to make ourselves safe to be with.

Due to our experience and the way we have chosen to restore relationship, I now understand how important it is to couple trauma recovery with harm reduction in interpersonal relationships, because we often cause the most harm to ourselves and those we love when we are acting out of our trauma. In our situation, we were all traumatized by violence as children and beyond and we learned violent ways of reacting, whether by violating ourselves or others. In the program, violence is the opposite of intimacy. Any behavior or action can either bring us closer to or separate us from ourselves and/or each other. Trauma behaviors, which we use in an attempt to protect ourselves, usually bring separation rather than intimacy.

I used to believe I was a nonviolent person, until this process unraveled all the ways I violate myself and violate others through avoidance, withdrawal, and neglect of the relationship. In my pregnancy trauma and birth mother grief, I separated from people who loved me rather than nurturing intimacy. I occasionally participated in more obvious acts of verbal violence toward others through unkind criticism and bullying when “triggered” (I put this in quotes because the program says trigger is a word that implies something external causes the internal upset, when the reality is that our trauma gets set off because we have internal healing to do). However, I mostly turn my violence on myself through behaviors like isolating from the relationships that support me, perfectionism, harsh criticism for mistakes, brain loops that cause anxiety, neglecting my health, bingeing on food and alcohol that later makes me feel physically bad, avoiding rather than facing what needs to be done, failing to do the things that bring me joy (like being creative or reading books instead of vegging on tv), etc.

I began the program by making agreements that I am violent and I am willing to stop my violence. That’s not an easy thing to do, but I think the world of humans would be much different if more of us were willing to face the truth of our own violent behaviors, whether they are internally or externally focused. I used to think that only some of us grew up in homes where violence was the primary language of relationship, but now I see how we are immersed in a culture of violence. Not just physical and sexual, but emotional and verbal. We put a bully in the White House and that says everything to me about how much we have normalized all forms of violence. As does the relationships I see on television and in movies.

We are also deeply afraid of intimacy in our culture. How many of us are starved for touch because we don’t show affection we feel beyond our romantic partners? How many of us avoid telling each other the truth, whether it’s how much we like each other or how our feelings are hurt? How many of us avoid sharing the vulnerable parts of ourselves out of shame and the belief that we will be othered if we are real about who we are?

As I learn about stewarding communities, I can see that this work of harm reduction and intimacy nurturance is necessary in all kinds of relationships. I believe this sort of work – whether it’s this program or offered in other ways – is vital to humans being able to connect while navigating oppression and all the ways we violate each other and the system violates us. It’s vital to our trauma work as individuals and collectives, so that we no longer violate from our pain and our fear, and instead connect through deepening intimacy.

Returning to The Conspiracy of Blessings

I’ve been doing The Conspiracy of Blessings off and on since December 2016, so almost 11 years. It was inspired by Rob Brezsny‘s concept of pronoia – the idea that a benevolent universe is conspiring to shower us with blessings. While I don’t know if that is true any longer (I don’t know what I believe anymore), I know that I am capable of showering others with blessings, that doing so is good for my emotional and spiritual health, and that’s all that matters. I also recognized around that time that creative generosity is my thing. I am wired for giving – time, energy, art, whatever – which isn’t to say I’m any kind of special human, it’s just how I’m made.

The first blessings were beaded holiday ornaments, of which I had made an abundance for gifts that year. I had too many beautiful things to give away to people I knew, so I left them around my hometown to be discovered. Then I started an anonymous blog (that still exists for historical purposes) to track the project. It shifted from love bombing my local environment to sending packages of art blessings to people who needed some love in their lives. Now I do both as I am inspired.

The Transformation Dolls specifically came from many women reaching out because they were in deep transition with illnesses, divorces, career changes, etc. I wanted to contribute some transformational magic to their world. The Grace Hearts were added at some point, just because I love the symbology of hearts I guess.

Despite the times I’ve taken a hiatus, it is the most consistent creative and spiritual practice of my life. As I settle into having to work full-time for at least another 6 months (the next driver training/testing possibility for Eros is in the Fall), I am finding that this is the creative project I can commit to with my limited spoons. Hand sewing can be done in bed while watching tv. I am also interested in returning to exploring gift economy and other forms of anti-capitalist activism. So expect to see more from and about this project in the coming weeks.

My Shift in Theologies

I discovered recently that even though I’ve had an eclectic spiritual life, I was ultimately committed to a theology of suffering, born from the idea that I was the reason Jesus died on the cross (because they told us he would have died for just one person). I perceived his suffering as the ultimate act of generosity. Even though I left Christianity in my early 20s, I eventually took the idea to the extreme and called myself a masochist for god shortly before the pregnancy that sparked my dark night of the soul. I am a physical and emotional masochist in the world of kink, which has been good for my self awareness and expression. But I see now that this perception of sacrificing myself to emotional pain in order to evolve for and/or toward something called god was harmful and caused me to make choices that were traumatizing.

This is part of my crisis of faith. If I no longer believe in a theology of suffering and any kind of external divinity, then what do I believe in? I think I’m settling into a theology of self and relational awareness and devoting myself to the god-between-us. This has really been my deep work all along – evolving from a child with an ACES trauma score of 7 and all the implied consequences, to a self aware human who can move in the world with grace. My primary spiritual practices at this time are deepening my understanding of relationship by learning how to stop violating other people’s sovereignty and nurturing interdependent intimacy in relationships, as well as gifting handmade talismans to people through the Conspiracy of Blessings.

Settling into this new idea of a spiritual life brings is good for my soul. I was missing my deep connection to force of Life.

Art & Justice

By 8 a.m. on an extra day off I somehow cleaned the kitchen and contemplated what spirituality and spiritual practice might look like for me now that I no longer believe in a God, other than the god-between-us. My energy is coming back and it feels great. I contemplated what a theology of the god-between-us means and how spiritual practice looks through relationship. My marriage is definitely a spiritual practice. I also see my gift economy project as a practice, honoring that I am in relationship with all, even if I do not meet many humans face to face.

As part of my discovery process I turned to the Tarot. I read the Universal Tarot, which is a gorgeous deck that draws upon many of the religious histories of the world in its images and interpretations. What the cards led me to today is a spirituality based in Art and Justice, which honestly was a surprise and yet once discovered makes all the sense in the world. I was expecting something about relationship, community, etc. But Art and Justice are also two forces that move me and infuse my work in all of its forms. I can see how at this moment of my life, when working full time (supporting legal justice) and my health issues significantly limit actively building local friendships and community, that it makes more sense to focus on art and justice and how I can have impact through my creativity in the immediate, whether writing, sculpting, or making magical talismans for others (which does honor the god-between-us). It also gives me something to think about regarding a new concept art project that involves social justice.

This excites me and that’s what has been missing for me for a long while, a taste of the rapture of aliveness.

A Body At War

People talk about how hard it is to love the way our bodies look and how we need to find acceptance, love, or at least neutrality about our appearance. But no one talks about how hard it is to love your body when it betrays you every day with pain.

I loved my body for a long time despite the fat and cellulite and stretch marks. I loved that it gave me 3 amazing babies. I loved that it took me to ecstatic places. I loved touch as a form of showing care for people I adore. I’ve been neutral about my appearance since my early 20’s, but I loved how it felt to be in my body, to experience life through this highly sensitive and erotic vehicle.

Now I am hating my body because of pain. I don’t want to be in it. I hate the lack of control over my symptoms no matter what I do to try to manage them. I hate that my body doesn’t react the same as most others to medicines and supplements so that I am not finding relief where others say they find it. I hate that I’ve cancelled every commitment the last two weeks and can’t maintain relationships beyond family. I hate that pain is making working full-time nearly impossible. I hate that I have to ask for my doctor’s and employer’s permission to take *unpaid* time off despite the fact I am getting the work done in less hours (and they don’t like to have part-time employees). I hate that my health has become the number three expense in our lives after rent and food. I hate that I now have to choose between immediate relief and long-term healing because I can’t afford both.

Today I hate my body because I feel betrayed. I try everything I am advised to try and only find minimal relief. My body refuses to cooperate. I am beginning to feel like we are at war, except my battle plans involve inviting my body to feel good. Or at least neutral. Forget ecstatic, I would give almost anything just to feel neutral again.