I am blessed to start a series sharing services which Southcentral Foundation offers, and this first one will be about the Family Wellness Warriors Initiative’s Beauty for Ashes. This week-long retreat and training is open to everyone, regardless of race.
Participants come from all over Alaska, and even from the Lower 48. Beauty for Ashes allows participants to explore past experiences with how it impacts interaction with others. Generational trauma of sexual abuse, neglect, violence, and addiction are covered exploring family impact. Participants gain tools to strengthen family and social relationships and many find their voice from anger and shame. This hopefully helps prevent family violence and reduces the effects of trauma and allows the healing journey to begin. Healing oneself also heals previous and following family ties. One can apply online for the next retreat coming up Oct. 7-11, 2019, or call (907) 729-5440. Mental health professionals are available during the program. Upon completion of Beauty for Ashes, an additional training to facilitate groups is offered called Warrior Wellness Training, which is a 12-week learning circle.
One has an opportunity to attend a variety of learning circles offered to those ages 18 and older with walk-in participation; Relaxation Stress Reduction/Mindfulness, Creative Wellness, Na Tia Sukan: Confidence in Recovery, Generational Healing, LGBTQ2 Support Group, ACE: Exploring Experiences of Harm for Men, DV Education: Fostering Safe and Healthy Relationships, Women’s Spiritual Growth. In Palmer, a learning circle for Veterans and First Responders.
On Thursday evenings Southcentral Foundation hosts Wellness Matters Night at the Nuka Learning and Wellness Center located at 4085 Tudor Centre Drive from 5-7:30 p.m. Dinner starts at 5 p.m., and Learning Circles are from 6-7:30 p.m. The Learning Circles offered are Anger – A New Outlook, Breaking the Silence – Healing the Loss of Suicide, Building Women’s Confidence, DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) – Creating a Life Worth living, Generational Healing, Grief and Loss, Leaders Journey Together, Life skills, and Recovery Support.
What is a learning circle? I took the liberty of finding the definition online from Wikipedia. A learning circle is a mechanism for organizing and honoring the collective wisdom of the group and is present in many indigenous cultures. For example, early native councils of elders came together to understand problems in a spirit of shared community in “wisdom circles.” I have also included the definition for DBT from WebMD: Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy tries to identify and change negative thinking patterns and pushes for positive behavioral changes. DBT may be used to treat suicidal and other self-destructive behaviors.
I reflect my journey— it started at the Downtown Soup Kitchen where I volunteered on the hospitality side which offers showers and washing clothes besides hot soup and sandwiches for lunch, with a clothing room. I had just been severely traumatized after being beat and could have pressed kidnapping charges. I did 10 grams of mushrooms which led to a major depression and panic attack. The seed that my Christian sister, Joyce, gave me of compassion, love, acceptance had me giving back. I became a mental health outpatient at Southcentral Foundation where it was suggested to me about going to Beauty for Ashes. The seed Joyce planted is shade she will never sit in, which causes a ripple effect. I had been blessed to draw on personal experience of blood, sweat, and tears, like when I did morning reflections from the scripture.
I had no clue about my mental health condition, but had gone to a state agency and they referred me for a psychological evaluation, being dual diagnosed. This means that I have an addiction which numbed me for decades. The mental diagnosis of Complex PTSD was not explained to me, and I was left to flounder being labeled with no idea of symptoms or definitions, but here you go, courtesy of Wikipedia once more: Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD; also known as complex trauma disorder) is a psychological disorder that can develop in response to prolonged, repeated experience of interpersonal trauma in a context in which the individual has little or no chance of escape.
What is historical trauma, and more specifically, what is Native American historical trauma? According to Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, historical trauma is the “cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over one’s lifetime and from generation to generation following loss of lives, land and vital aspects of culture.” Taken from our natural order of things transitioning to unnatural world of colonization is something that has hit Alaskan Native cultures hard right between the eyes. You see the evidence with so many statistics hurting us as a culture state and nationwide. Some Natives are able to transition and assimilate, but I try to throw a lifeline of awareness to the most vulnerable.
I know my own history and lifetime experience — my position of strength — but I cannot heal those who do not wish to heal themselves. Yes, even in our culture we have predators preying on the vulnerable, with even women being as vicious as the men. Some people are just so traumatized, they lose hope, or have no confidence, or so demonized they find no joy in joining a society that overwhelms them. A lot of it is psychological, and I am not making excuses for them, nor me.
There are entities out there to help one if they do their footwork, and people will help you if you are willing to help yourself. Decolonizing is not returning to the past; it is a process of reclaiming past traditions while building a better future. We cannot heal until we acknowledge the impact colonialization has had on our culture without demonizing the vulnerable. I recommend knowing your mental health rights, as you can fire your therapist, and you do not have to feel guilty. I had a severe panic attack and sought mental health help, but was just overwhelmed. I had a 3-hour intake and told the interviewer that I do not trust men, and I do not want a non-Native to see. I chuckle as I recall letting my shrink read a portion of my life story; she was unable to do so in one sitting, and I only wrote 10 pages that time.
Beauty for Ashes allows a person to get their voice back, and Family Wellness Warriors Wellness Training is a personal journey to heal. The learning circles and dinner on Thursday is a chance to meet new people and make new friends. Holistic approach, and the protocol with procedures are shared at the beginning for safety.
To remind my audience, I want to plant seeds for shade I will never sit in, so children have a childhood, and we break generational curses. I like those circles and hope to suggest to Southcentral Foundation of conducting traditional steams with traditional talking circles led by Natives. We do not need a non-Native leading this — that gives our power away. Chief Seattle Club for American Indians has been conducting a steam since the 1960s, and I am sure would have plenty of suggestions to setting one up. This is our spirituality, and I believe would be beneficial for those who are homeless and traumatized — to heal ourselves. By sharing what is available, it will not be thought of a special club anymore. Having people who have been homeless, for outreach who have been addicted, incarcerated, Native, and homeless to be on peer to peer, and for the learning circles so newcomers feel safer and more welcomed. This will start planting seeds for shade we never sit in for the next generation, as we are THAT 7th generation.