Social Reform, Trauma, and Black Lives Matter.

I like to think that human belief systems are a reflection of both who/what you love and who/what has caused you pain. Opinions are subjective, and as much I believe that communication and connection are the necessary foundations for social change, I also believe that there are certainly undeniable roadblocks to changing others belief systems when you add traumatic experiences to the mix. Identifying what the roadblocks are, dissecting what they mean to our society at large, and erecting a unified plan of action of how to go about removing them in the future, is what the real conversation should be focused on – but no one is talking about trauma or the science of healing when talking about societal change. We just keep focusing on the denial of one another’s experiences by projecting our belief systems and ideologies onto one another.

As a lifelong scholar of trauma, I have come to accept that experiences – and especially the traumatic ones – produce undeniable changes in human brain biology in ways that nothing else will – science has proven this as fact. Our life experiences and the impact they make onto our biochemical makeup will directly affect our personal belief systems more than any conversation or shared Facebook post ever will. If we want to actually change our collective belief systems as a society then we have to change the life experiences of those in our communities and heal the wounds that already exist.

And when breaking down any of the social issues that are at play right now through the lens of trauma-informed science, I can tell you there are well-studied and documented solutions to heal and create change – but it first starts with a willingness to come together and validate and understand what the other side of the argument (whatever argument may be) is fighting for or against, and secondly acknowledging that so many of these issues are not social reform challenges, but challenges in how we enact human healing.

Trauma—physical injury to the body and its sequelae—is one of the greatest killers of humanity, taking young lives and inducing suffering and disability worldwide. Population, societal, and climate change are all increasing the incidence and severity of trauma. Despite its high global impact, trauma remains low on governmental priorities, a side concern for funders and of only passing interest to most scientists. The opportunities for trauma research are great, with the potential to create new survivors, who live stronger, healthier lives, with reduced health care and societal burdens. Achieving these outcomes requires innovative diagnostics, therapeutics, and devices, applicable to addressing the global burden of injury in a variety of settings. 

Brohi K, Schreiber M (2017) The new survivors and a new era for trauma research. PLoS Med 14(7): e1002354.

It is true that humans have been fighting against one another since the dawn of time, but we also thought the world was flat. The progress that has been made in the areas of trauma and human emotion over the past decade has been monumental, and the benefits of what could be taken away from that progress is being completely overlooked.

Let’s first look at Black Lives Matter.

It’s morphed into a political debate over race and power and injustice because it crosses over into those social issues – but in my opinion, the center of the argument is really about healing traumatic wounds within a particular community and preventing new ones from occurring. And who can actually stand up and say that’s not a good thing? Who can deny someone their own experience and their own story? How can someone look another in the eye and declare that their pain isn’t real or tell them to just get over it?

In my view Black Lives Matter = Our Pain Matters.

Any person with any iota of psychological intelligence knows that the first step in healing the wounds of trauma is having your plight recognized and having someone else say two simple words – I understand. It is why AA works for addicts and mommy bloggers share their stories of baby meltdowns. We all just want to be seen and known and validated for who we are. But people get stuck and lines get drawn in the sand because of all the historical and generational traumas of racism and the human desire to want to deny and defend having any part to do with that pain.

While my family has not personally experienced any traumas based on my son’s race, I can recognize and acknowledge that many others have. I can feel that pain; probably more than some of my counterparts because I can put myself in their shoes and because the faces of those who have suffered look like my own child. Suffering has a million faces, and trauma comes in a million forms, but once you have suffered yourself are also more empathetic to the pain and suffering of others that are different from you.

Do I believe the answer to Black Lives Matter is All Lives Matter – Hell No.

Black Lives Matter is its own movement and uprising to find a voice and a platform to demand that the pain and suffering of a population is seen and heard. I know that so many people in this world have suffered unimaginable tragedies due to the color of their skin and the reality of their circumstances. While that has not been our personal experience, those stories matter. Those traumas are real. We all deserve a shot at healing and protecting those we love from pain. We all also deserve the space to be different and to be seen and known for our differences.

In interpersonal relationships, I know a great deal about being different from those I love. I grew up on the welfare system (with the little yellow tickets and all) and most of the people from one side of my family survived this life thanks to some type of welfare and disability assistance. I was barely six years old when I started navigating the government ran mental healthcare systems on behalf of my mother. I have also been lucky enough to bare witness to people that were resilient enough to make something out of nothing for themselves and they taught me to believe that everyone has the propensity to make that happen. The notion that you can do and be whatever you want to do in this lifetime is a mantra that has empowered me to want something more from my life than so much of what I saw as a child.

At the end of the day what this blended experience has left me with is an incredible amount of empathy for all humans. No one in my entire life experience has had a more horrific deck of cards handed to him or her then my own mother, and the injustice and pain she has endured for an entire lifetime is truly heartbreaking. She has died – over and over again – and she has suffered for an entire lifetime because there are no support systems in place to help her heal from the devastation and loss of her unfathomable personal traumas. She has fallen through the cracks of an incredibly ineffective government ran system that our tax contributions promise to heal. The public sector failed her – it failed us – and it has left me with very little confidence in what those systems are meant to do for those who are not afforded the luxury of personal resilience.

She needed a place to fall, a system to support her, and plan to help her heal– and quite honestly no one gave a shit about the value of her life. I know firsthand what it means to love someone whose life is marginalized and discarded. I know what happens when salt is rubbed into open wounds and traumas do not heal – and will leave people filled with rage and torment. It’s the foundation of all violence and darkness. It is the root of how we all got here in the first place.

I stood at the Galleria mall this week and watched as protesters were shoved onto the ground and arrested for failure to leave the mall. The physical conflict of it all – the massive chaos of screaming and running and fear and pain of the people standing right before my eyes was one of the most frightening and downright unsettling experiences of my life. I felt empathy for everyone that day, I felt sad for us all. It just felt like no one was trying to understand the trauma and pain that was below the surface of that situation – everyone was just fighting for their own agenda.

And I hate it. I don’t understand why babies get cancer, or why my son was born in rural Ethiopia and was starving to death while some babies are born with a silver spoon in their mouth. There are really awful terrible and downright horrific things that happen every single day to people that I love and that I call family – and I will never be able to understand why. Life is just not fair. I wish I had someone to blame – and if I could take all the pain and emotion of what it has cost me and done to me and throw a brick through the window of the person who did this to them – well I just might. Because it’s just not fair that some people hurt so much and some people have so much.

So I understand the unrest – the anger – the emotion of it all. I understand why certain political candidates represent the individual that raped you, or the person who stole from you, or the person who lied to you. I understand why these shootings represent all of the bigoted humans that actually believe that the color of a persons skin is a reason to despise them and even kill them– ugh it makes me physically ill. I get why my zealously religious grandmother believes that abortion is the biggest injustice to life in this world today. I understand why my conservative friends are so defensive when they are viewed as racists for their economically driven political choices. I understand why some people are outraged someone wouldn’t stand for the National anthem when they have put their own life at risk for their freedom, I understand why some individuals made the choice to kneel. I understand why police officers feel so under attack. I understand why those who never had a shot in hell at picking themselves up by their bootstraps are angry that there was no soft place to land as they fell into the dark abyss. I understand that we are all standing up to fight against the traumatic things that have happened to us so that no one has to endure that pain again and so that that we can provide for those we love.

Which brings me back to these roadblocks to healing and what we do about them….

First, I believe we have to stop focusing and debating the facts of certain sensationalized news stories of injustices and instead focus on the root traumas that these stories are triggering. The stories are just the platforms for the traumas that happen every day in our backyard. It starts with sitting with someone who is different than you and letting them share with you what they have been through without judgment or it meaning anything about who you are and/or taking offense to what that pain has made them feel. It means allowing every trauma to have it’s own voice without feeling like that voice is somehow minimizing your pain or your voice.

I believe the second roadblock to our healing lies in how much political and social issues have become one and the same. Because of the extremes of a two-sided political party, politics has overshadowed basic human healing.

Thirdly, I believe that just like my mother – all of those who have experienced traumas need a place to fall, a system to support them, and plan to help them heal. For a great number of individuals, these things do not exist today. Some individuals believe that this place, system, and plan should be provided by the government through tax contributions, other believe that privately created monies and resources can do a better job at providing these things.

This is where political beliefs and social change intersect, but I do know that the constant clash of how we make it happen detracts from any progress in actually making it happen. We are so busy arguing over political issues and trying to create social reform that we are not out in our communities really attempting to help those who need it the most find a way to heal as individuals. It starts with one child, one person, and one life – and one of my favorite quotes in life is to be the change you want to see. Like Michael Jackson said – start with the man in the mirror.

Last, and most importantly, I believe that we have to look at what is happening to the future generations and get educated about the prevalence of trauma that exists in this country. As much as I believe there is a place for National attention drawn to the social injustices of adults, I also believe wholeheartedly that we can stop the cycle from continuing by investing into the lives of the children of our nation.

I am always completely dumbfounded by how few people bring attention to or have any awareness of the ACEs study that was conducted by our government.

The ACEs study proves that childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. As such, early experiences are an important public health issue. Much of the foundational research in this area has been referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

Because so many of you will bypass the plethora of links I have included in this article,  I will break it all down for you real quick. ACES means adverse childhood experiences (aka: trauma) – it comes in a million forms – abuse, neglect, household dysfunction etc. The more ACES a person experiences as a child, the more likely they are to end up doing or experiencing bad stuff that costs our society a great deal of money and creates allllll of  the issues we are all arguing over how to deal with – gun control, violence, lack of opportunity etc.

From a personal standpoint, I have experienced 5 ACES in my lifetime. I have raised two children who have experienced 3 or more ACES. The science tells us that we are one of the highest risk families for continuing to add to the social welfare problem in this country, but somehow we have all managed to bypass our ill fated destiny of dysfunction to travel to Africa to volunteer at schools and give back to our communities and help others in need.

So how did this happen?

Someone intervened in our developmental years and provided for us those three foundational things everyone needs to heal – a soft place to land, a support system to help us navigate through our pain, and a plan (*opportunity to bring value to our lives) to help us heal.

So this is my final call to everyone trying to create social change in the world today. It’s okay to carry a sign and to protest against the human suffering that happens everyday in the world around us – but please, please, please, take on a child in the community who is suffering in some form. Be a big brother or big sister. Consider fostering those who have been forgotten. Go into the community and provide a soft place to fall for someone who needs it. Visit a psych ward and talk to the population that has been completely abandoned. Become an advocate for a young teen who has found him or herself in the juvenile system. Give your time to a family member who doesn’t have anyone to look up to. Get outside of your bubble and your own needs and give back to the world – one individualized person at a time.

We can keep trying to change the world and the society at large, or we can try and heal one person who really needs it. I chose the later – and I cant help but believe if everyone did the same the world may just become what we all want it to be – and as idealistic as that belief is – the proof is in the pudding. I believe in human resiliency – I am walking and talking example of it. I believe in the power of one – I have seen it play out in the crazy messiness that I call family. I am proud of what we stand for – I am proud of my empathy for that despised middle place that no one seems to navigate from anymore. I believe there is a way that we can heal – that we can become united again. I will forever hold onto the transformative healing power of love.

I am love. And you can be too.


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