I’m Back: Racism, Trauma, and Self-Care

I’ve been away from my professional social media accounts for nearly two months now. Trauma clinicians, including therapists, coaches, neurofeedback practitioners, biofeedback clinicians, and bodywork practitioners (etc. etc. etc.) are not immune from trauma and its effects. Myself included. We often have our own trauma history and are also impacted by things going on in the world around us, just like so many of our clients.

As someone who lived in Minneapolis and St. Paul for many years, in the areas most impacted by George Floyd, so much has hit incredibly and painfully close to home. I’ve lived in those areas, worked in those areas, gone to school in those areas, attended church in those areas, taken buses in those areas and I’ve seen police brutality in those areas. These are issues that have been a problem for a very long time and are finally being televised.

For those who don’t know me too well, I’m a white lady married to an incredible Black man and we have three delightful, brilliant, and treasured children together. We live in North Carolina but have friends and family back in Minnesota. For several weeks, I was regularly getting word of white supremacists causing mayhem on their streets. Some of them were being shot at. At the same time, we personally began to find ourselves on the receiving end of blatant racism, some of which resulted in the dissolution of decade-long friendships.

I’m thankful to say that protests are still happening in Minnesota and elsewhere, even if the news is not covering it like they were a few weeks ago. In the midst of it all, people are beginning to find their own personal balance between being engaged in the fight and refueling for the fight through self-care and trauma processing.

So, this is where I want to say this: Racism is trauma and it is personal, not political. It’s personal when it’s people I love and care about who are in danger, and who are fighting for their lives and their basic rights. It’s personal when safety is a concern for me and my family, or when it’s hard to sleep at night because my nervous system is in high gear. It’s personal when a news story or a personal experience of a friend or a “kid” (not a kid anymore) I taught in Sunday school raises my heartbeat, causes tears to come, and brings me to prayer throughout the night.

For weeks (months now), the best I could do was to care for myself, spend time with my family and then show up with a well regulated nervous system for my clients. Rinse and repeat. God, family and clients were my priorities and tending to those things has allowed my resilience to slowly come back into a more comfortable range. It feels good to be aware of that process.

How do you feel about your own process? If you’re tired, if you find it exhausting to be bombarded with one more racist event to contend with, or feel a sense of disillusionment about having to block yet another person who you thought was a friend, you are not alone. Racism is real trauma and you are worthy of real support and safe spaces to process. You are allowed to take breaks from areas of your life that are not essential right now.

Here are some of the things have have constituted self-care for me during this time that might be helpful for you. Take what applies and leave the rest:

Saying no is a wonderful form of self-care. No to conversations with people who don’t get it. No to extra things on your plate. No to friendships with people who have proven to be unsafe in the area of race and racism.

Set boundaries and remember you don’t need permission to set them. Sometimes, boundaries look like not answering texts, while other times they look like going “no contact” with someone.

Take time away from social action in order to refuel. Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” We have taken time away to garden like nobody’s business, set up our new above ground pool, have barbecues and so much more. Do it. You’re worth it!

Say yes to physical activity and sunshine. Consider things like walking, hiking, weeding, running, jumping on a trampoline, swimming, or doing something like yoga. Move that precious body of yours and enjoy breathing some fresh air.

Connect with safe friends. I have found myself connecting with a couple current professional friends, friends from graduate school, undergraduate school, high school and middle school. These are folks who have walked with me through similar struggles in the past. They’re experiencing this right now, too, and we get each other. Validation and empathy are powerful things, especially in community.

Find new communities. I have lost a couple circles of “friends” the past couple of months, but I have also gained some. Finding a Black homeschooling group and multicultural gardening group have been good for the soul. Tap into what you feel like you’ve lost due to trauma and see if there’s something new that feels life-giving.

Create something new and beautiful. This could be anything like art, music or the written word. Lately, gardening has given me a creative outlet. When it feels like there’s so much hurt in the world, there’s something extra special and life-giving about watching something grow, bloom and produce fruit.

Get some professional support. There is no shame in reaching out to a therapist, coach, neurofeedback practitioner or other trauma informed practitioner. Make sure they have experience with racial trauma. This is vital in terms of avoiding retraumatization.

Get back to basics. Sometimes our sleep schedules, sense of hunger or fullness, desire for activity and/or hygiene go by the wayside during traumatic times. Try adding one or two of these things back into your day at a time.

Allow multiple emotions to exist at once. It’s possible to feel great joy at seeing your children laugh, while also feeling infuriated and heartbroken at continuing racism. It’s okay for those emotions to coexist.

Rest when you need to. All of this is exhausting. Every last bit of it. Also, don’t feel like you need to help educate others on anti-racism if you are a BIPOC or in an interracial family. Take time to rest and refuel.

Also, remember that if the things that have helped me do not do the trick for you, it’s because it’s not the right tool for you at this time. Walking through traumatic times looks a bit different for each and every one of us.

You are worthy of relief, support and healing. This can take time and just how long depends on how much your reserves of resiliency have been depleted, as well as how often a new traumatic event is added to your plate. Once you find the right tools, you might find that you’re feeling better in a few hours, but it’s also okay if it takes a few days, weeks or months. It takes as long as it takes.

When we practice healthy self-care during traumatic times, we reclaim our worthiness and humanity from a system bent on destroying us. In the process, we create beauty. As I sign off, here are just a few of the moments of joyful beauty I have shared with my family the past few months:

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