transmuting historical trauma- revised

My first memory is from when I was three years old. I witnessed a mass shooting at my hometown mall. My mom and I hid behind a bookcase in the bookstore. Later on in my life, I would read the newspaper archives, something like 10 wounded and 3 dead, including a 2 year old toddler shot right through the heart. The young woman who opened fire was described as a violent schizophrenic.

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My parents came of age during genocidal times in Bangladesh in 1971, a time of mass murders and mass rapes. Over 1 million people were slaughtered. The 2011 Time Magazine article, Forty Years After Its Bloody Independence, Bangladesh Looks to Its Past to Redeem Its Future recounts, “This was a past that could not be buried, at least not in a country where virtually every household can offer tales of parents lost or disappeared, sisters raped and children murdered.”

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I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 Disorder in my early 20s (I’m 33 now). I’ve had six, what might be called psychotic episodes in my life (lasting from 3 weeks to several months). These episodes may have been the most meaningful times and the most misunderstood times in my life. This essay is an exploration in unpacking some of the content from these episodes.   These surges from the unconscious, which I’d rather call them (than use the term psychotic episodes), contain mystical elements, biblical themes, eastern spirituality.   One time in a few short hours I felt I experienced life through the lens of a deep variety of spiritual, religious, and psychological systems, in an intense confusing whirlwind, from traditions as ancient as Daoism to modern neurobiology, tapping into knowledge that I normally don’t have access to.

Also included in these episodes is a lot of nightmarish content, including descents into hell that are too painful for me to describe or comprehend now. In this short essay, I will focus on the content related to my family and ethnic background and history. I believe my surges from the unconscious, this inner inner wisdom and forces, has a huge capacity to encouraging the healing of intergenerational trauma.

This essay explores an energy that is especially potent and accessible during these periods of unconscious spelunking.  I first met the hostile energy and its bigger-than-life ability to strike fear into my heart, when I was in one of these states. It was attached to my father. I couldn’t even be in the same room as him, I was so paralyzed with fear. This bull-like energy was going to kill me, I knew it. My father was very critical growing up, and he did chase after me and hit me a lot, and yell, but this energy was so terrifying, in retrospect, it seemed beyond him. But then, it was just how I felt I perceived him in these states. This would continue every time I had that surge from the unconscious- Absolute terror at my father and the archetypical violent force he carried.

Later, in these states, I would wake up in the middle of the night several nights in a row, and the whole environment became this hostile energy, and sometimes it was concentrated in something in my room. Even something as insignificant and inanimate as a cereal box seemed hostile, it was as if the entire environment was out to rape me. And I lived with these states of terror in the middle of the night, but thankfully they eventually would subside after a few hours or less.

Recently in therapy, my therapist, with my permission, encouraged me to lightly revisit or invoke the hostile, environment-as-rapist state, because I had been experiencing it again. I did, and the therapy room environment shifted to extremely hostile. We only stayed there for a few. Later in the session I found myself while describing a dream as getting incredibly angry, like wanting to flip-a-table angry.  My therapist let me throw a pillow. I seldom get super angry, and this feeling felt super uncomfortable for me.

A few sessions later I was describing being mildly annoyed with someone important to me, and asked to repeat the words, “What the fuck [this person’s name]?” As I did that I noticed some anger and sadness, and then all of a sudden I went into a dissociative fugue from almost the rest of the session, totally lost, not knowing who I was, or where I was but in tandem, having a light grip of reality.

When I described the session to my psychiatrist, she said it was indicative of suppressed rage, and indeed that night I had tried tapping into the anger around the person, but to my surprise and some horror, my face started contorting into the most grotesque, angry expressions I had every seen. My body was contorting too, so much that I bruised my ribs. I was watching on my computer screen’s live photo program. I couldn’t shout because I was at home with roommates, but I know it would have been blood-curling. And I started talking about rape. When I did this I felt a deep resonance with the mass rapes of women in Bangladesh during the war of 1971. This was not the first time I felt I was experiencing trauma and expressing rage and somatically processing rage and hurt associated with the war.

The first time I got more information on the hostile violent force was during one of my states. I had a vision where I saw all my ancestors from what seemed like the beginning of civilization in rapid succession lining up back to back. Then I saw my mother and father laying in my bed before I was conceived, and my father whispered to my mother, “What do I do with the pain that happened in Bangladesh?”. And then fast forward to when I was a young child, my father took on that violent energy in the vision, and I stayed in state of terror, knowing of this force’s impending desire to rape and kill me. My father is one of my role models, and he really taught me so much, if not emotionally available all the time, he’s mentor-like and wise. This energy I realized was not my father. It did impact him, causing him to have a violent temper towards his two young children, but that energy was coming from the genocide.

My father’s family was homeless for a year during that period in Bangladesh. His house was raided, and his family was lined up by a rifle squad, but spared. My mother lost her grandfather, who she was very close to, an altruistic doctor. He was shot and killed by the West Pakistani army.

I realized that I have the capacity to transmute this energy. It happened that time with the contorted rageful faces and body postures. It is not easy to transmute this energy.   Sometimes I think it takes people over. It is really hard work, with the added difficulty of being labeled crazy and pushed into the mental health system.  Another time I felt I transmuted the energy was at a cafe called Borderlands (which I also personally associated with Bangladeshi civil war and the genocide, partly because of the name). The vendor outside had gifted me a little orange tourmaline crystal. At the cafe, I had this inexplicable desire to break it. Of course I couldn’t because it’s a hard stone, but I tried, and then I start shaking all over. My friend who was with me advised me to stop. When I got home, I tried it again, and an earthquake went through me.   It felt like somatic experiencing on a transpersonal level, a release of trauma. Afterwards, I cried, and cried, and cried. I cried for my mom, who had lost her grandfather, and then made a photo collage about her and her strength. Powerful forces and emotions have coursed through me around this.

I thank my ancestors and the sacred feminine creative source, for aiding me along this journey. And I thank my friends and family. Sylvia, the woman who opened fire at the mall, I learned had been sexually molested by her grandfather. She was dealing with a hostile force too. One that had attacked her when she was a vulnerable child.

Exploring the surges from the unconscious and exploring the meaning of the violent energy, and even inviting it into a therapeutic setting, has allowed me to release trauma that has been stored in my body and also energetically release trauma that has been stored in my family unit. After going through these processes of exploring and releasing energy through my body, akin to the practice of Somatic Experiencing developed by Peter Levine, which facilitates the release of trauma frozen-in-time, in the body, I noticed deep shifts in my family’s interaction patterns. My father and I had been distant for a long time, and connected to these releases and explorations of the violent energy, we started connecting and communicating on a very deep level- at a synchronicity level. I am a believer inspirit animal guides and that spirit animals come to me to teach me things. My father, and amateur photographer, uncannily started sending me his own photographs of the animals that I felt called by, with the exact timing of when the specific animal or insect was calling me, without me ever mentioning any animals or insects to him. I was blown away by the strength of connection we started experiencing- connection on a deep psyche level. And our connection is continuing to smoothen out at multiple levels. And the same kind of deepening of communication and connection is happening with my mom. My family is entering a deep healing process, and I believe this is partially a result of the therapeutic, self-reflective exploration, even invitation, and holding of the violent energy that had permeated my episodes. By allowing the intense, violent anger to flow first through my father, as a larger than life, numinous violent-seeming force during my episodes, to the environment as a the violent threat, to violence and anger coursing through my body, to the release and realization of the connection with the transgenerational trauma that is present within my personal history, to the telling of the story, using self-reflection, mindfulness, and a curious and compassionate therapist and psychiatrist, I believe historical trauma can be transmuted, and lead to incredible healing for the person going through the process, and consequently their family.

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