The truth about trauma and the impact of terror, and how I learned resilience

Mom, Ann, Dad, Leisa, 1972 ______________________

Mom, Ann, Dad, Leisa, 1972
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I was about seven years old when my mom first told me about the abuse she had suffered at the hand of her mom, my grandmother. I remember this vividly because I had just poured a can of grape soda over my three-year-old brother’s head in a “do you dare me, yes I dare you” game I was playing with my five-year-old sister. My brother, of course, started screaming as if he was being murdered, and my gorgeous, stay-at-home mom bolted out the front door of our early 1900s home as if she was going to kill someone.

The look on her face was enough to scare all of us. Even my brother, who seconds earlier was wailing at the top of his lungs, turned his hysterics into mini whimpers. My mom, however, was just getting started.

“Who did this?” she yelled.

My brother pointed at me, my sister pointed at me… and I pointed at my sister.

My mom said, “All of you had better make up your minds about this because the one thing I hate more than anything is being lied to.”

And so, knowing that I was in way over my head, I said to my younger brother, “You were looking the other way, you heard Ann, she was daring me to do it, and when I wouldn’t she did it.” My brother turned his arm and pointed at my sister.

My sister shrieked, “Why are you lying? Why are you blaming me? You always blame me.”

By now, several of our neighbors had stepped onto to their front steps to watch.  The old lady at the house to the right was just shaking her head in disgust. It was the summer of 1976. Most of the fathers in the neighborhood worked in blue-collar jobs. Most of the neighborhood moms were home with their kids, at least in the summers. The city streets had sidewalks, and the houses were separated by narrow driveways. My mom used to tell us not to air our dirty laundry for the neighbors to see, and this was exactly what we were doing.

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Creating a culture of compassion in schools — Cherokee Point Elementary, San Diego, CA

In 2013, I posted a story about Cherokee Point Elementary School in the City Heights district of San Diego, CA. It was transitioning to becoming a trauma-informed school. Here’s a video that was posted this month about the school.

Minnesota high school screens students for ACEs to develop trauma-informed education

RomeoAndJuliet_TheaterParkSquare_March2015

Paladin students on a field trip to Minneapolis to see the play, Romeo and Juliet.

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At many high schools across the U.S, it’s spring break time. Most kids and teachers can’t wait to get away from school with their families for a week.

Not so at Paladin Career & Technical High School in Blaine, MN, outside Minneapolis.

“The week before break the level of anxiety gets pretty extreme around here,” says Leisa Irwin executive director of Paladin. “It’s the same before any holiday break.”

The kids don’t want to leave…for good reason. There’s nothing fun or relaxing about spending a week at home. Most students come from homes and neighborhoods filled with violence, alcohol and drug abuse. They live with families where humiliation, neglect, mental illness and hopelessness are part of everyday life. A stark 34% of Paladin students are homeless; they hang out on dangerous streets for a week in cold weather. The school is their haven.

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A trauma-informed school wasn’t part of my plan, but now it’s my life’s work

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 8.40.07 PMIn the summer of 2011, July 22nd to be exact, I took an interim position at Paladin Career and Technical High School as the executive director, while the school board started a search for a permanent director. At the time, I owned two companies and Paladin was one of my clients. I loved what the school did and helping to bridge the leadership gap during a search process was an easy decision to make. But I also loved working with the other schools, where I served as the chief financial officer through my consulting business. The decision to take on that interim role has irreversibly changed my life. And I can’t imagine doing anything else. I was hired as the executive director, no longer interim, at the end of the school year, and I closed my consulting company.

I came to Paladin with a business focus.  I wanted the school to be the best it could be. I wanted the data to reflect its success and I wanted the story of the school’s hard work to be indisputable. In the world of education, that meant telling the story of test scores, graduation rates, attendance rates, and fiscal strength. It meant telling a story that was in alignment with all the pressure from news media and legislation, a story that focused on core standards and high stakes testing.

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Meditation 2.0: A new way to meditate

Dr. Amit Sood, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and founder of the Global Center for Resiliency and Wellbeing, narrates this animation, which he produced after becoming frustrated with how difficult it was to meditate. After he realized that modern humans might need to do meditation a different way, he came up with this approach. Here are a couple of paragraphs from his description:

I was born in India. I like meditation. What is not to like about meditation? It is known to be relaxing, health improving, brain enhancing, and free of side effects. The problem was–after decades of learning and practicing I must confess that  I found meditation a very difficult practice. I had a few good days, but on most days I didn’t even know what I was doing. If after years of practice, this was my state, I can only begin to imagine what others might be going through. It occurred to me
that the busy minds of the 21st Century need a modified version of the practice to access its full benefits. I went back to the drawing board, immersed myself in neuroscience and evolutionary biology.
I started developing a simpler way to access meditation,  which was in many ways very different from what I had learned over the years. Applying those ideas helped my personal practice, but I was still unsure.
In the midst of it all, I met the world’s preeminent authority on meditation – His Holiness Dalai Lama.

Break-the-Cycle Parenting: In the Trenches

“I trust you to curl my hair,” I said to my twelve-year old as she came at my sizable forehead with a hot electrical appliance.

“And that’s sayinGiraffesg something,” I added, “Because those things can hurt and I can count the people I trust on one hand.”

Dang it, I overshared. It wasn’t the first time – but it’s something I rarely do with my daughter.

Tween parenting is so different. By the time I figure it out my daughter will be in another stage. She’s nowhere close to being an adult. But she’s not the same bundle of need she was as a baby, toddler or kid either. For years, she needed me to be secure base, taxi driver, entertainment and all all-around anchor and attachment figure. Sometimes it felt we were sharing the same bone marrow. She still needs me but not with the same ferocious intensity.

Sometimes it’s me asking if she wants to play a game or go shopping.

“You trust Heidi to curl your hair,” she said.

“I do,” I said, “Heidi is so fashionable. There are different types of trust for different people. Some you trust to ask money advice, some you can share your feelings with and some even get a key to your house or car.”

She looked puzzled.

“Do you know what I mean?” I asked. “Do you

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Weathered by my high ACE score

mounds

1. We are knee deep in one of the worst winters in history. When the winds pummel my house and the ocean flows through my basement, what am I thinking is: “I’m so glad I have flood insurance.”  What I am feeling is help. I scaredI want my mommy. I need a daddy.

It’s hard to admit as a middle-aged woman (and feminist) how much the idea of rescue appeals. I have decades of experiential knowing that wishing is futile.

I know my craving for the present, stable and loving parents I never had is like wanting to snort, stab a needle, drink too much or inhale food. I know not to dive into the craving but I can’t pretend desire is gone.

It comes and comes back. Always. Even when it goes away it returns. Usually when I’m tired, sick or afraid.

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