Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Courage to Tell Our Stories ...

I want to release what's inside of me
- our fear, our anger, our pain. And I want 
Canada to know why we are the way we are today.
Melvin Good, Residential School Survivor 

Owning our own story and loving ourselves through
that process is the bravest thing we'll ever do.
Brene Brown,  The Gifts of Imperfection

This week, the week of the Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Vancouver, has broken my heart, outraged my sensibilities and lit within me a candle of hope. I've been humbled by the courage and dignity of the residential school survivors and their families as they've told their stories and my awareness has stretched and grown as I've recognized, at a much deeper level than ever before, the intergenerational impact of so many generations of wounded parenting following the removal of thousands of very young children from their homes and communities. How can a child torn from his or her family at 3 or 4 know how to parent the next generation, and they, in turn, the next...?

I've also been reminded that it is not only the indigenous peoples who need to heal from the legacy of the residential schools system. We, the children of the first colonizers and oppressors, must heal as well. This notion, a new thought to many non-indigenous, was clearly articulated by indigenous priest, The Rev Canon Martin Brokenleg, the Sunday before the TRC at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Vancouver:

Colonization has had a massive impact on Aboriginal people. It has had an equally destructive impact on non-Aboriginal people - and this is largely unknown, unconscious, and even ignored.
There are then tasks for non-Aboriginal Canadians who wish to heal from colonization. Here I defer to the work of Dr Paulette Regan who is the director for the TRC of Canada in her book, Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada. Dr Regan suggests 3 major tasks for non-Aboriginal people who want to heal from colonization:
1.  Reject the image of the Benevolent Peacemaker, since it allows one to deny the negative past by taking refuge in an image Aboriginal people did not experience, that of another people who were benevolent only. 
2.  Accept the violence in Canadian history, including the residential schools era. This requires the loss of any "innocent ignorance" which can be a denial of the past.
3.  Acknowledge the absolute equality of Aboriginal thoughts and practices with Euro-Canadian thoughts and practices. This means moving away from racism and ethnocentrism, which I believe most Canadians want to do. 

Having the courage to tell our truth through telling our own personal stories, bearing respectful witness to each others' pain, apologizing for what belongs to us and then acting together to make change is at the core of our healing and reconciliation, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike.

This kind of truth-telling can also be a component of healing for other groups of trauma survivors, including those experiencing Compassion Fatigue and Chronic Sorrow. (Which is part of the reason I am talking about the TRC in a blog post about personal and professional caregiving this morning. All week, the residential school survivors and their witnesses have modelled to us, and to all trauma survivors, the gifts in finding the courage to tell our stories.)

When we tell our stories in healthy ways, in a safe and supportive environment, we can own our truths, stop striving to be other than who we truly are and free up the life energy we've been using, often for years, to hide the fact that we have been wounded by our caring work. When we do this, we normalize the experiences of compassion fatigue and chronic sorrow and we make it possible for others to find the courage to share their experiences as well. Thus, having the courage to tell our truths not only leads to our own healing and wholeness but to the healing and wholeness of our fellow care-givers as well.

So, I want to acknowledge, honour and thank the TRC and the residential school survivors, this morning, for showing us all a way to healing and wholeness through the telling of our stories and the speaking of our truths.

If you are a helping professional who would like to share your compassion fatigue story in a limited way in a safe environment, (or not), you are welcome to join us for the next Caring On Empty Compassion Fatigue workshop on October 18th in North Burnaby, BC.


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