I feel it’s important for me to share this part of my healing journey largely because so many people are affected by historical trauma and are continuing to suffer from the effects. I want people to know that there is hope to heal these soul wounds and that they don’t have to carry the pain and burdens of their ancestor’s experiences with them for the rest of their lives. This is a message that I feel is not often shared. We can and do look at the impacts and effects and ask the questions of how to resolve the issues however I believe we also need the knowledge that we can heal. Contrary to what the long term impact of Historical / Intergenerational trauma makes us believe (that we are powerless) it is when we take ownership of our own healing and recovery that we can claim our power back and seek out the answers and support we need to heal. A part if this is to choose not be a victim of this anymore (there is power in that alone) because once you consciously make that decision you then have the power and freedom to move forward in life, until then you a prisoner to what was done. That may be hard for some people to hear but when it was said to me It was very helpful and in a way gave me permission to not be held captive to this any longer.
Although I have studied a lot about trauma and learnt the most experientially, I am sharing this perspective from my own experience and I will give you a bit of back ground on my family. My parents both migrated to Australia in their twenties, my father is of Lebanese Armenian heritage and my Mother’s side is English. Growing up I never heard anything about a genocide and it probably wasn’t until I was in my mid to late 20’s that I had any awareness of what had happened in the past. This seemed odd to me at first, why hadn’t anyone said anything, but then as I learnt about trauma and its effects I began to understand why no one spoke about it. When you have that level of pain and inherited shame it’s not easy to speak about such things. I watched a documentary Grandmas Tattoos which shows one woman’s search for what had happened during the Armenian Genocide and the effects it had on her and her family relationships. This along with lectures I’ve listened to on what happened to women and children during the genocide regarding sexual assault, rape, degradation and humiliation, yes I could understand the inherited shame and silence. My dad’s father, Garabed, was a survivor of the Armenian genocide. He was a child during this time, his youngest sister Yegsha was taken by the Turks in 1915 (as so many girls and women were), she was said to be a very beautiful girl. Not long after that my Grandad's mother, Lusine died; it is said that she died from a broken heart, and yes I can feel that now as I type this, I feel it in the same place she did, right in my heart space. (I’m thankful for this body feeling I have right now and this sadness and tears that are expressed, it has shown me another place I need to send Divine Love to heal.)
Growing up I loved my Grandad very much, he was a warm gentle and generous man, he never said to much to me that I can remember (could be also to do with language barriers now that I think of it, yes because he spoke Armenian and Arabic and I was not taught the language) but when we visited his house in Melbourne he would always empty his pockets and give his money to me and my older brother. He smoked a lot and liked to play backgammon in the late afternoons, however during the day if you were looking for him he would be at the TAB. I now understand that this was his coping mechanism, we know that addiction and gambling are linked with experiences of trauma as these activities affect the brain and help with feelings of connection and happiness which are the opposite of what trauma brings, isolation and pain.
My father has been hugely affected by the genocide and I have seen how much grief and loss he has endured in his life, he was also hugely impacted by abandonment and addiction which had direct implications for his children, this is how Intergenerational trauma goes right, until we break the cycle. I write all this with only absolute love and respect for my father and Grandad because I love them both on such a deep soul level. This isn’t in anyway shape or form about blame, not even for the perpetrators at the time because nothing good can come of that, they and their descendants need healing to. Speaking about this experience for me is more about understanding the journey, the suffering and how to reconnect with our birthright of being in joy. I believe our ancestors want nothing less for us and that brings them joy too.
I also believe we cannot wait for acknowledgements or people to say sorry, it is the same with any trauma. If we are not going to heal until we receive our ‘sorry’ then we may be choosing to hold on to something that is not serving us or our ancestors in being truly free. In saying that I am in no way intending to minimise the experiences of any person or group of people that have experienced Historical Trauma. In the past I wished for so long to hear this (especially for the elders of our community). But now I understand there is another way for true healing and it is not reliant on anyone’s actions but our own.
There are two experiences that stand out to me as I write and reflect on this journey. I attended a march in Melbourne with my youngest son. We met up with my father, this was the only time we could really see each other, once a year at the Commemoration of the Genocide. This was the 100th Commemoration in 2015, so it was a very significant date and day for the Armenian people. The march was very much about being seen and heard and demanding that the genocide be acknowledged by governments around the world including the Turkish Government. I found this experience quite distressing because there was so much anger from one side which triggered, of course, reactions from the other. I felt very sad about the lack of respect people had for each other, the lack of care, the lack of love for our fellow humans and the absolute willingness of some people to add salt to the wound. What had began as intended empowering march had turned into the same old fight, the same old story, I could see that this was distressing for my father and I put my arm around his shoulder to try to act as a barrier to any further hurt. Standing in between the two sides was a row of horses and police, I was standing right in front of the horses and couldn’t help but connect with them, their energy so patient and calm among all the noise, I looked into their eyes, I tuned in; they knew this was not the way, they patiently wait for us to take a step back, to see the overall picture and wake up. They are still waiting for us to live in peace. Waiting for us to stop playing out these roles that have gone on for a century now.
The second was a visit to Budj Bim, an Indigenous sacred site close to my home town. At the time I was working as a youth worker and it was part of our organisational professional development that we visit Budj Bim and learn of its cultural significance. It turned out to be quite triggering for me as I could feel the energy of the land and also it connected me to my own sense of loss and grief. I felt very isolated in my experience as I am not indigenous yet I am affected by historical trauma as well, but I am without a community to support and understand this. I really loved and respected that the Indigenous people had each other to share their experience and feelings with and I really wanted an ‘each other’ too! For me that is part of the Historical Trauma to, lack of connection, lack of culture and loss of language. Since beginning my healing in my early 30’s I’ve learnt different ways to process through trauma, Inner Child work and EFT probably being the most useful and effective for me, and although I worked through layers and layers of what needed healing (from this life time) I hadn’t been able to reach or heal the pain loss and grief attached to the genocide. And like I had done in my family of origin I wanted to also break this cycle of Intergenerational loss and grief. I have to say I am not doing this alone I know also my youngest son was very impacted by this as well. It is interesting how it seems to affect some siblings much more strongly than others (but I’m sure that’s another story as to why that is).
So in 2016 I had my first session with Colour Mirrors, my question was around how to heal this wound for myself and my ancestors because I didn’t know how. I was guided to choose some colours that showed me what I needed. Then I went away and did a process using art to help process through this grief. The beautiful thing is that our soul knows what we need and chooses which colours we need accordingly. The symbolism of my painting was so powerful and strong for not only me but my ancestors as I had included them in the healing process as that was what was needed.
This year I didn’t attend the commemoration and marches that were happening in main cities for the commemoration. What had called me to go and attend in the past no longer called, In my heart I wanted to honour my ancestors with a celebration, I wanted to attend an uplifting festival that honoured and celebrated Armenian culture and strengths. In essence I wanted to connect with my ancestors in a different way, through love not loss. Part of being able to maintain this love and continued relationship through experiences of family dysfunction and repeated trauma is an understanding of the impacts of trauma. It has helped me have compassion and love for my family members who are still affected by addiction and also allowed me to set safe boundaries for myself.
When I look at the impacts and what it has meant for my family of origin and well everyone connected by blood it is clear that there absolutely needs to be a spiritual base and intention as part of healing this wound. For this I like what Joe Solanto shares from the Elders of one community about Spirituality being so connected to the healing process. I can see through writing this the strength and tenacity that has also been passed on through the family not only to survive the darkest times but also to know we can reach higher than ever before, that we can be more. This is Post Traumatic Growth, which is probably something else that needs to be more out in the open. So we can see how far we have come and what gifts all that time of suffering has bought and lead us to, this beautiful place of peace where we now know we don’t have to suffer anymore.
Through the Colour Mirrors healing process I was able to release the feelings of sadness, loss and grief that was carried for so long through the generations which cleared a space for me to feel the love and strength that my ancestors have for me. I also send them divine love and acknowledge their strength and the wholeness of who they are, I am now able to see them in a different light, the light of who they truly are. For they are much more than what happened to them and it is my true wish that descendants of genocide survivors do their own healing work, so more and more we will experience true peace as soul wounds are healed.
It DIdn't Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who we Are