Trauma as Initiation
What if the world is undergoing a profound call to initiation? An opportunity for the transformation of consciousness that could awaken us to a deeper, more authentic, more connected way of being?
I proposed this blog post as part of the launch for my memoir “Seduced into Darkness: Transcending My Psychiatrist’s Sexual Abuse,” that articulates the potential for growth and maturation that a descent into darkness can offer.
But that was before the coronavirus stopped mankind in its tracks. Now the entire species is confronted with what it will take to survive this pandemic, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. How will we renew ourselves and not sink into despair and hopelessness?
In traditional cultures, initiation rites are consciously integrated into the fabric of society, forcing its young members to begin a quest of some sort, without the support of the tribe. Next, something happens that is physically, emotionally, or psychically rupturing, and the initiate fears she will not survive the test. Finally, having confronted her fears, and risen to the challenge, the initiate returns to the tribe where the depth of her learning is celebrated as she is welcomed back as a wiser, more respected member of the tribe.
In western culture, we have abandoned intentional rites of passage. Initiations often occur randomly, appearing as traumas that disrupt the psyche of the victim. Alone and terrified by a shattering experience, many such victims are abandoned by their communities, blamed for their encounters with darkness. Isolated and judged, they have no safe place to share their stories, process their feelings, or celebrate the gifts of the journey that could help to heal their tribe.
As a trauma therapist, I am honored to provide a safe space where trauma survivors (initiates) can share their stories, process their grief, rage at the injustices they suffered, and make meaning of their experiences. In such a nurturing container, trauma survivors can transform themselves from hapless victims, into wise, balanced men and women capable of guiding others through underworld journeys.
Ancient myths from the beginning of time have articulated the challenges and gifts of the hero’s journey. I find it healing to view my own journey in the context of the Greek myth of Persephone – the young, innocent maiden who is abducted by Hades, God of the Underworld, raped, held captive, and then rescued. In the end, she becomes not only the Goddess of Spring, overseer of the cycles of nature, but also Queen of the Underworld who guides lost souls navigating a trip through Hades.
The opportunity for renewal that trauma affords is held deep within our collective psyche. More recently, the term “post-traumatic growth” describes how many underworld travelers, or trauma victims report transformative outcomes from staying committed to a process of personal growth and development. Gifts of the journey include: 1) claiming the strength that allows them to survive horrifying experiences, 2) relating to others with more openness and compassion, 3) seeing new possibilities for meaningful service as their priorities shift, 4) a greater appreciation of life where they may have taken things for granted and 5) an enhanced ability to find meaning in life.
As the world begins to emerge from the corona crises how can we support the potential for our own growth and a global awakening?
1. We must talk through all our feelings, share our experiences, grieve our losses, and share our hopes and dreams.
2. We must serve as witnesses who listen deeply and help ourselves and others make meaning of our losses, our trials, and our growth.
3. We must find a way to serve our communities – to reweave the fabric that was ruptured during our isolation.
4. We must not succumb to avoidance through addictions, busyness, denial.
5. We must recognize what became “essential” on our journey and let go of excess, the distractions, the ego gratifying, but soul dimming material accumulations.
6. We must claim our creativity and nurture our individual and collective souls through writing, art, music, storytelling.
Let us create a culture that welcomes back our initiates with open arms and ears, eager to hear the stories, their pain and sadness, joys and accomplishments. Let us help them make meaning of their powerful journeys and accept the medicine that their perspective brings.
Let us embrace the wisdom of our underworld journeyers – the medical people who held the hands of those dying alone, the grocery store workers who smiled at us beneath masks and gloves, the people who got sick, faced death, and came back to tell their tales. And let us mourn for the many we lost, and let them not die in vain.
We must not go back to business as usual, but open our hearts and minds to the oneness this pandemic has made us acutely aware of, and listen to its call to a great awakening.
About the Author, Carrie T. Ishee
Carrie Ishee has been a student of healing, human potential, and consciousness for more than 35 years. Her quest to know herself began in college when a severe health crisis compounded by her psychiatrist’s seduction and sexual abuse shattered her physically, emotionally, and spiritually. After doctoral studies in clinical psychology, she worked as a behavioral therapist, pursued a master’s degree in art therapy, and later completed a two-year training program in life coaching. Her work today is focused on helping victims such as she once was break free from the suffocating shroud of trauma.