Trauma training: dark chocolate and beer-batter pancakes

My name is Shauna and I train people in trauma informed care. My journey in becoming trauma informed began at a conference in 2010. I happened into a breakout session on the advice of a fellow parent attendee. I didn’t understand why I should be interested in this and yet I went. Eleven years later I am intrigued and still learning about the effects of trauma on development and its effects on relationships and the body.

I remember two things from the 90 minute session:

1. We each got a piece of dark chocolate

2. They asked about our earliest memory

I was pleased with the chocolate and had a tough time with the memory. In that room they had us close our eyes. I remember feeling a little awkward and yet as a rule follower, I did as I was told. The uncomfortableness of closing my eyes in a roomful of strangers outweighed the REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE feeling of not doing what I had been told to do. I closed my eyes. Recalling those first memories was a little unsettling.

I don’t remember much of my early years formed in southeast Montana.  The bitter cold winters and searing mosquito summers in a desolate landscape mirror my memories. I left there and have spent many years trying to leave it all behind. In my 40s, a kind child psychiatrist/ neurobiologist helped me make friends with a particularly embarrassing camping activity called beer-batter pancakes.  He reframed it as a great cultural story; it could also have been re-named “backwash breakfast”. When I learned he grew up in North Dakota, it made perfect sense. He had probably seen cigarette butts poured out of beer cans into Bisquick too-LOL! I so appreciate his reframing and now enjoy telling the story for shock value.

Memories are key to learning about trauma, not necessarily the exact recalling of memories. That is, our brains learn through experience and stores that information in our memories. We actually start this process before we are preverbal. We learn really well from bad experiences. It makes sense that my brain held onto the negative events so I that if something similar happened again, I would avoid it. Usually people avoid these things through fight, flight or freeze.

Sometimes the correlation is identifiable, as in the case of my partner. The smell of a candle being lit or extinguished anywhere in the house will prompt him to rapidly search to see what is burning. During his childhood, he accidently set his house on fire with a candle that wasn’t completely extinguished. Thankfully no one was hurt. Forty years later, EVERY candle he smells can evoke that same danger he felt as a little boy. Before I realized the trauma connection, I was annoyed by his vigilance. Now I understand and will let him know before I light something, so he knows it is safe. Sometimes people may not know what makes them nervous and may mistake their trauma response to a panic attack.

Being trauma informed means noticing things, which we will discuss more another day. Being trauma informed helps you recognize your own needs in real time. It helps us to eat healthy foods when we can, to have compassion for ourselves and others, and to give dark chocolate to people who are on their own trauma informed journey.

Another thing those wise trauma trainers in that conference room drilled home was self-care. in 2010, if you goggled the term-nothing came up. Today it is a buzzword and yet very important. As our society is rapidly changing, please be kind to yourself. Find your dark chocolate, something that is healthy and tastes good to you as we continue on our trauma informed journey. It may not be a food. It may be a playlist, breathing exercise, favorite sweater or essential oil. Notice what calms you and use it often.

Interested in learning more about trauma? Take a quick look at Nadine Burke Harris’ TED Talk.  Feel free to contact me if you would like to schedule a group or individual trauma training.