trauma interview 1

An interview: Living in the aftermath of trauma and disconnection

I recently had an intentional discussion with a mom of two middle-school aged kids about fear, trauma, resilience and coping. Her story highlights the negative impact emotionally absent parenting brings. It highlights how important ongoing connection is with children to help them feel emotionally safe and to help them to learn how to deal with fears both big and small.

I grew up in a farming community during the height of the apartheid years when there was a lot of violence in KZN. My primary school experience was quite frightening; I have clear memories of our school being guarded by the army and police. At home, we had a ‘safe room’ in the house and we were very aware of what we had to do to try and keep safe if we were attacked.

Sounds very frightening, was anyone there to help soothe you, to help you deal with the scariness of it?

Not really. My mom was not available. She was always working. My dad was away with the army. It really didn’t feel like there was anyone there to help us regulate our emotions. I love my parents. I know they were dealing with their own stress and depression in different ways as we were growing up.

You’re an emotionally in-tune and available mom to your kids these days. How did you learn to be available even though your own parents couldn’t be?

I had my horses. I had to do everything for them myself; care for them, train them, keep them fit and healthy. I felt a complete acceptance from the horses, I felt independent and competent being with them. I think this really built my relational skills; I learned  care and compassion through being with my horses. To this day, when I visualise my safe space, I think of sitting in the paddock with my horses at the farm.

What other relationships have been healing for you?

My relationship with my husband. My good friend is such a massive support and inspiration to me. Also, my children, I want to make different choices for their sake than my mom did. I want to be present and available. My children need me to be there for them, they need the parent that I didn’t have.

What reward do you get from being a present mom?

Getting to spend those special moments with my kids, the hugs and cuddles or the times they want to talk. I have learned to be in the moment with my non-affectionate child and drop everything when he wants a hug, I need it as much as he does.

In your journey, you’ve decided to do things even when you’re terrified of them, how has this benefitted you?

I have lived a lot of my life being held back by my fears. But I recognise that I have to grow, for the sake of my husband and my children. I was always terrified of the ocean. My husband has helped me to love and embrace it. I discovered that when you put your head underwater it is so peaceful. I really love it now.

What would you like to say to other people who are struggling with trauma-related issues from the past?

I would say to others, find a practice that calms you. Find a way to slow yourself down.

These days I have a practice of getting into the water daily for 5 minutes – yes, even in Winter! I have a mantra I say to myself often, and especially when I go into the cold water and it is “I can do hard things.” This is a very intentional “I can do hard things” practice for me. I practice taking deep breaths. I calm my mind down by saying to myself “Calm your body down. Breath. Calm your mind down.” Instead of getting that panicking feeling in the freezing cold water, I intentionally calm myself down. And then I think about everything I am grateful for and focus on those things.

I find that I carry this calm through my day, and when I get stressed out or into a panic, I tell myself “Pretend you’re in the pool. Calm down. You can do hard things.” It’s working really well as a coping strategy right now. I find myself being more calm in the moment, less explosive and not getting as angry quickly.

To the mom I had this discussion with, thank you. You are truly an inspiration. You were scared, but had this discussion with me anyway, thank you.

This mom’s story is so full of many strengths. She had no one to help regulate her emotional and sensory system (ie: help her calm down in her body or her emotions) when she was younger, but she has and is working out how to do that for herself now. She’s practising, like all of us not always getting it right, but practising – even when she’s terrified!

We talked about so many things that I haven’t captured them all here. But I will return to it to present more nuggets for you to think about.

Yours in healing from the wounds of the past.

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