PTSD In Utero – Thanking Hitaji, Energy Healer

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This article originally appeared on Heady Blossoms : Journal in 2010.

Heady Blossoms is a journal that covers topics ranging from wildcraft, nature, social change and spiritual awareness to the essential reflections of an untamed artist. My offerings focus on a self sustaining lifestyle, healing through nature and spirit with an emphasis on the significance of honoring Our Mother while finding harmony through the blending of the feminine and masculine. Excerpts from my Memoir – “Ballad of a Sandwich Girl” and Nature Journal – “The Summer at Duncan Lake.”

About five years ago, my close friend Marion rushed over to me in the cafeteria at Vermont College. “You have to see Hitaji and have an energy healing.” Marion is a serious woman, never taken lightly.

I thought of Hitaji, very different than I am, larger than life, unaffected by her overwhelming presence. She studied and embraced her African American heritage, bringing healing and wisdom into her world. I simply did not know what to make of her. When overcome by the spirits, she broke into boisterous chanting and dancing. As a rooted, earthy New Englander, I admired her from afar, not knowing or trusting myself at the time how to react or respond.

Unaware of the possibilities and deeply absorbed in my exploratory study process, I rejected the idea. Agitated at my uncertainty, I wondered what I feared.

Marion grabbed me by the arm and pulled me towards Hitaji, who sat quietly, enjoying her lunch. Marion was not a physical person; her intensity was unsettling.

Hitaji did not look up; she continued eating her lunch and told me when and where to meet her and to make sure that my hands and feet were clean.

I returned to my room and wondered if my feet were clean enough, as I had taken a shower a few hours before. I washed my hands and stared at my reflection in the mirror. What was I doing?

The dorms at Vermont College are very old and traditional New England with bricks, cinder blocks and old tile floors like what they have in hospitals, only these are not shiny. I hesitated as I took the flight of stairs down to the lower level and approached the seemingly empty dorm room. Hitaji sat on an antique wooden desk chair, her head lowered in meditation. I paused.

“Come in, Mj. Don’t be afraid.” Her voice penetrated; I sweat. She knew.

She dragged another chair before her, got up, flipped off the light and returned to her seat. She sat in front of me rubbing lavender oil in her palms. She instructed me to close my eyes as she massaged the oil on my rigid hands. My fear lingered. I struggled to take slow and even breaths until I finally relaxed.

She brought me face to face with generations of women in my family. She asked for their presence so that they would stand with me. Much of my research is based on my paternal lineage of grandmothers reaching as far back as the early 1600’s. I already knew a great deal about them, their lives and interesting journeys through the passage of time. Hitaji summoned them into my circle.

After reaching a relaxing place and state, she then told me that it was time to let go of the fear and trauma of the accident that I had as an infant. She instructed me to advise my inner child that it was okay and that (I) Maryjane, the adult, would protect her. I was floored. What accident?

At the end of the session, she asked me about the ‘accident’, that I encountered as a child. I had no idea. She suggested that I seek answers.

That was it, so I thought. I knew that I did not have any memory of an accident and that no one spoke anything of the like.

During my entire life, as far back as I can remember, I suffered from night terrors. I believed them to be bad dreams or nightmares. I have no recollection of any part of the dream that would offer clues as to their origin – no colors, sounds or specific people. I used to think that my blood curdling screams actually scared the memory of the dream from my consciousness. I could not explain the dreams or terrors, nor could I trace them to any particular event or person.

When in the dream state, I envisioned being in a very dark, silent place, the darkest place that I had ever encountered. It was almost like a vacuum. My conscious self tried to make sense of this, so I labeled it a cellar or dungeon. Sometimes I thought that I was in a coffin because it was so tight fitting that I could not move and felt wildly claustrophobic. The root of the terror was that my life was in extreme danger and no one knew I was in there, hence the loud screaming that often left me hoarse.

These dream events were so common, that people in my life became accustomed to them – sisters, parents, husband, children, roommates…I simply screamed at least three or four nights a week and woke up in a sweat with my heart racing and then I apologized and went back to sleep. It became an ordinary part of who I was.

After my return from Vermont College, I had dinner with my parents and my sister, Susan. I asked them if they recalled any accident that I was in or that I may have witnessed as a baby. Everyone shook their heads no and continued on to other topics of conversation.

Suddenly my father interrupted and looked at my mother. “How about when you were pregnant with Maryjane and you fell down the stairs. You were holding onto Susan and you had to go to the hospital.”

Everyone was quiet. I couldn’t believe that I had never heard this story. However, the science of my parents’ generation was not as advanced as today; they had no reason to think of PTSD in utero. My mother went on to tell me that she fell down a steep staircase with Susan – my older sister – who had to have stitches in her chin and that she (my mother) went to the hospital and remained there under doctors’ care for two weeks until my birth. I was born slightly prematurely because of this accident. Perhaps I was really going to be a Leo instead of a Cancer. Another thought to ponder, although I am a typical Cancer with strong Cancerian traits.

I knew that when my mother discovered that she was pregnant with me, her doctors advised her to have an abortion because they believed it was a tubal pregnancy. Obviously, she refused. I did not know about the accident on the stairs. I talked with my family about the probability that my lifetime of night terror and fears stemmed from this in utero experience. I was proud of my father – born in the 1920’s – for having the insight to consider that my trauma was in fact prior to my birth.

Later on that night, I meditated. I faced my frightened inner child with conscious awareness of the accident. I assured her that she was safe. I fell into a deep sleep.

Since this truth unfolded, I have not experienced a night terror. I have an active dream life; I acknowledge my dreams and record them in a journal. The trauma of my pre-birth accident, which resulted in a lifetime of Post Traumatic Stress, has been resolved.

Thank you, Hitaji for your gift of healing. Thank you, Dad for considering all possibilities. Thank you, Mom for ignoring the doctors. Thank you, Sophia for your infinite wisdom and guidance.


The New Year Blessings

The New Year Blessings

May your New Year be blessed abundantly with wealth, wellness, and grace. May your health be uplifted, and all things healed and made new. May your insight search for a deeper clarity of the how and a deeper clarity of the why. May you be made strong of heart and gentile by nature. May you walk in the footsteps of the Holy Spirit. May you taste the softness of Mary Magdalene and the sweetness of the Black Madonna. May you be free of enslavement and pain.

May you breathe deeply. May you be guided by the natural environmental beauties of our planet. May you be of service to your family and to your community. May you harbor self-pride and dignity. May you be sustainable. May you not be afraid of dying or living. May you just BE.

May you be wanted and loved by yourself first. Never needy and desperate for the love of another. May you never run from responsibility. May you have the ability to stand on your own two feet. May you be self-sufficient and brave. May you develop the ability to love over hate. May you develop the ability to appreciate instead of resenting. May you be able to sit in stillness when needed. May you see the God in you. May you develop the ability to be warm instead of cold. May you be all of you and nothing but you. May you be a person of honor.

May you be present and mindful. May you walk with purpose and the determination to make it happen. May you allow your soul to take flight. May you be your true self never allowing yourself to compare you to another or to feel not good enough. May you speak your truth because nothing but the truth will save you.

May you slowly allow the right kind of people into your life. May you be willing to forgive and let go. May you never break your own heart nor disrespect your own personal boundaries. May you stretch as wide as the earth. May you fly with angels customized just for you.

Hitaji Aziz- M.A., RMT, Reiki Master
Trauma Abolitionist, Speaker, Writer
Poet, Life Coach, Holistic Healer

Testimony of the Righteous, In honor of Larcenia Floyd, Mother of George Floyd

Testimony of the Righteous In honor of Larcenia Floyd, Mother of George Floyd A tribute to the resilience of poor, working class women

A tribute to the resilience of poor, working class women 

Act One 

“I knew George Floyd’s mother even though I never met her face to face. I never shared a meal with her, nor did we gossip about our neighbors while waiting for the arrival of the monthly welfare check or being careful not to miss the Metro because we had houses to clean, standing at the bus stop surrounded by the silence of Latino women going to some of the worst jobs in the city. We never said hello and never had the time to say goodbye. No formal introduction would ever happen but at the same time we were tribal sisters with ancient identical tattoos. 

We wore the tattoos of poverty, Spirit, hard work, generational resilience, laughter, single parents, burritos, gospel music, flying bullets, Black eye peas and cornbread, prayers, dreams deferred and a sacred hope when there was nothing to hope for coupled with periodic despair. We kept our heads above the water but mostly we existed under the water with small pockets of air slowly keeping us alive. I knew George’s mother, but I never met her face to face.” 

She and I were the statistical conclusions of governmental research. We were the charted cycles of the marginalized studied in college classrooms across America while members of our families generationally rotated through the American prison system. We were the “New Deal” failed by deficient school systems, food deserts without food justice, racist red lining, brutalized by traumatized police systems, chronic medical disparities, culturally insensitive gentrification of communities not seen as historically worthy. 

Educated people studied us in sanitized United Way board meetings,  preparing for their next funding cycle. We were “section 8 mothers “, meaning that you might have to be a mom and a dad all at the same time because too many families with fathers touched by incarceration would never be allowed  to live in  government  housing. The Section 8 program is a support system for broken families with no intention of those families becoming financially grounded, mentally thriving, or sustainable enough to envision a positive future. 

We were expected to heal the sick as well as tame the wild alone. We were experts at surviving and morphing into distorted versions of ourselves, bonded to section 8 account numbers,  housing inspectors, caseworkers, and slum landlords. We tried over and over to make things better as we tumbled through welfare systems and poverty programs that could not nourish us as mothers fragmented and broken by the constant shock of not having. I never knew George’s mother, but  I will tell you one thing, I knew her pain. I knew her deep disappointments. I knew her feelings of abandonment. 

We were American women rooted in African ways that would never be remembered. We were grounded by the tribal energy of the diaspora, in places where race and class hypocrisies dance well together. Where poverty has always been a generational problem, hand in hand with the mass killings of Black men. The violence of poverty has never been far from the violence of the Black body. Black people dying by the hands of the prison system, by the  hands of White people killing them and by the hands of other people who looked just like them. The journey of the Black body has always needed intensive care. 

Waiting patiently with patriotic foolishness. We were women of color trapped in a romanticized matrix of dreamlike American visions never meant for melanated women who surrender  to life  in marginalized ways. We are the mothers waiting for the next funeral; the next open graves waiting, the next balloon released into blue skies. 

We were colonized  and constantly surrounded by the stress and the fear of whiteness. Each day we bore witness to the systemic manipulation of poor Whites rooted in  Eurocentric brutality based in distorted stories of indentured servitude and racialized traumas used to divide, control, and concur. We noticed the deadly residues of White supremacy through the actions of young White people acting out White family system-trauma- nightmares in bold and dangerous ways. I never met George’s mother, but  I do know that we hungered for reparations and a home, waited for those forty acres of work well done with mule in hand and a place of safety that we can call our own. 

With intention, we will carry the ancestral heartbeats and the resistance of those who came before us, always resisting and fighting to reclaim the humanity of a people. Even when shot in the back with cuffed hands we resisted. We resisted and died while jogging on a sunny day. We resisted by suicide, heart attacks and nervous breakdowns. We  sold cigarettes on corners until we stopped breathing. 

We were magical women resisting, hiding under the sun, birthing new people, disappearing, murdered while sleeping or simply coming from a store eating skittles. We were often accused of resisting while  being suffocated with knees on the neck, quietly whispering,”I can’t breathe. Quietly whispering, you are killing me while echoing the sacred  childlike words of Mama…… Mama…. 

Hitaji Aziz- M.A., RMT, Reiki Master
Trauma Abolitionist, Speaker, Writer
Poet, Life Coach, Holistic Healer

The Old White Polish Woman

The Old White Polish Woman

One late night in the middle of a dream an old White Polish woman told me that this was my world. Yes, she did. She was just there knitting and sitting in a silver rocking chair on the side of my bed covered with the letter X. She wore a red scarf tied under her chin and those orthopedic stockings that old women used to wear. She had on a white dress covered with smaller Xs and a warm matching shawl hanging delicately over her shoulders. She smelled of jasmine and lemon grass. She sat there like she was always there.

She told me that I was the keeper of every valley, every tree, and every butterfly. She told that me I was the keeper and part of every seed that sprouted and every wave that moved across the ocean. And then for a second, she would pause to knit another stitch. She told me that this was my world and that all the people were relatives of this great earth. In the book titled Seven Secrets of Success, Dada Madhuvidyananda , “We then think, feel and act for the welfare of all beings”(p.29). He explains that for one to have balance and success they must act with a kindness to all. She told me that the more that we loved and respected one another the more we would remember who we really were and why we were here on earth. The old White Polish woman told me that love had to start with self-first or it would not be effective.

She told me that we all had signed a contract to come to this great land and that we knew each other before we arrived but had forgotten all that we came with when entering this dominion. We were spirits having a human experience. She rocked in silence again, knitting unknown colors, and then she began to tell me that I had everything that I needed to fulfill my end of the deal. She told me that if I remained willing, I would remember all of who I was before, because this was a part of the great mystery of life on earth.

She went back into her silence rocking and knitting as if she were listening to instructions from some other place that I did not know about. Suddenly, she would slowly open her eyes and begin to instruct me on the beginner’s guide to “How to Save the Earth in Your Lifetime.” She said that all this could really be done if all of us were willing to walk past fear, past false mythology. She said that we had to be willing to critically think and diligently question all situations with faith as the foundation. She said the key for us would be to follow the still small voice inside.

She rocked back into her silence as I waited patiently for her to continue to tell me what I was to do while being a keeper of the earth. She said that all people no matter what their difference were leaders of the earth. She said that the act of remembering would sometimes feel painful for most of us because it would call forth a level of honesty that would radically change our lives. She said that it would feel like a birthing and that a lot of us would resist and die without ever knowing who we really were. She continued to rock like she had always been there.

This story is dedicated to Ms. Anne who was my grandmother’s Polish friend. She was an immigrant with memories of Hitler, struggle, and demanding work. She owned a Polish bar not far from our house. She would share a shot with my grandmother as she poured ginger ale for the little colored girl sitting on the bar stool.

This is for you Ms. Anne and all the hard-working Polish women that I grew up around in McKees Rocks and Pittsburgh, Pa. I honor your spirit and kindness. A deep bow to you and your kind.

Hitaji Aziz “Angels speak to me and through me every day”

The Story of Vision Quest : by Dr. Michael Yellowbird

Dr. Michael Yellowbird is the director of Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Studies and a professor of sociology and anthropology. He is a Dean at the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Manitoba, Canada. His body of work  and his critical thinking about mindful living, meditation, wellness, social justice, the  de-colonialization of social systems that affect marginalized groups is compelling. His wisdom and thinking  completely  elevated  the way that I think about justice wellness and mindful living as a woman of color.  He is a man of great spiritual medicine. I see him as a sacred healer and I highly respect the path that he walks. He speaks with a deep clarity about the need to pursue wellness for the marginalized and the journey of Native People respectfully call First Nation.

He is currently working with the  Faculty of Social Work at the University of Manitoba to launch a Center for Mindful Decolonization (CMD) that will partner with tribal leaders and communities, health providers, educators, and social service agencies to introduce decolonized mindfulness approaches in Indigenous communities in Manitoba. His latest book is titled “Decolonizing Pathways Toward Integrative Healing in Social Work”


Minding the Indigenous Mind
Mindfulness Journeys to Nirvana

Greetings Mindful Friends and Relatives,
The Buddha once said, “There is a way to be purified, to overcome sorrows and grief, to release suffering, to secure the right path to realize nirvana. This is to be mindful.” Mindfulness is a journey that enables us to contemplate the origin of all things that arise in our minds and bodies and the termination of them. As we come to understand that nothing is permanent, we are relieved from our suffering. In this column I wish to share a short fiction/nonfiction story that I wrote about a mindfulness journey that I have begun and have yet to complete.

Day 1, Afternoon

I arrive at my destination to begin a ten day journey of mindfulness and neurodecolonization sitting meditation. I have sat in meditation for several hours a day, for a number of days, in the comfort of my own home. But that was in the northern California town where I live. This is the first time that I will be sitting outside, back home on the rez, and I imagine the energies, sensations, and effort will be quite different.

The buffalo grass is waving in the winds and the air is filled with the fragrances of sage and the earthy-smelling Buffalo Bur and Owl Clover flowers. No mosquitoes. No wood ticks. No biting flies, yet. To the east of where I will be sitting are the rickety willow frames of the sweat lodges from last year’s Sun Dance and my brother’s fasting camp. A lone bird, probably a scout, sits atop the one in the center, occasionally flapping its wings to keep its balance in the sporadic gusts of the prairie wind.

To the south, I can see the all but translucent shades of dirty, yellowish-brown plumes of arsenic, chromium, nickel, lead, and dioxin clouds rising from the coal gasification plant across the Missouri river. The rising ash makes no sound but portends a tale of climate change and compromised health for all creatures, waters, and lands. My Amygdala, the fear-central region in my brain, activates as I experience a bit of anxiety realizing that I am probably breathing in the noxious fumes that are blowing across the lake from the plant.
I gently place my big, dark purple, square Zabuton meditation cushion on the place that I have cleared for my sit. On top of it, in the center, I place my smaller round, black Zafu cushion. I sit on the Zafu as a test run, close my eyes, cross my legs, and sink into it. It is slightly off center and I stand up and make a few adjustments. I lay my two blankets that I’ve brought for the chilly evenings and mornings next to the cushions and go about setting up the sun shade, positioning it over where I will be sitting.

I will sit for long periods of time, meditating in silence, focusing my attention on training my awareness and concentration to mindfully tune in to my mind, body, thoughts, and all the sensations that arise. When my body asks, I will get up and mindfully move around, exercise, stretch, walk, eat and drink, and sleep.

Day 2, Morning

The first several hours of my mindfulness journey have been pleasant, as it seems that I have been able to hold the awareness of my breath and body without too much effort. My brain waves seem to be holding very nicely at a mid to upper Alpha band range, and I feel alert, relaxed, centered, and alive. Enlightened already? I smile at my arrogance.
Whenever an unpleasant memory, a twinge of anxiety, or a sense of boredom enter my field of awareness I acknowledge them, befriend them, accept them, and return to the awareness that I am breathing in and breathing out; whenever joy, happiness, or desire make their way into my consciousness, I do the same.

Day 4, Night

I stand looking at the stars above me and the darkness that envelops the land. The breeze is cool, and I detect the smell of smoke, probably from the fires that are burning in Colorado this summer. Tonight before I begin meditation, I find myself wrestling with many fears and self-doubts. After some time, I sit down and begin focusing on each in and out breath. I see the exact moment when each in breath originates outside my body, and I consciously breathe it in. I continue watching it as it fills my entire body and then ends when I can no longer take in any more air. I hold the fullness of my breath in my body for a moment and then take note of the instant that my out breath begins inside me and then exits through my windpipe and throat, and finally trails out of my nostrils:

“Breathing in I see the origin of my breath, Breathing out I see the cessation of my breath. Breathing in I see the origin of all things, Breathing out I see the fading of all things.”

Day 53, Morning

I don’t know how long I’ve been distracted or if I’ve been mindfully maintaining my awareness of all the processes of my mind and body. It seemed for a long time that I had been successfully engaging the awareness of my breath and body. Then for extended periods, my consciousness began picking up mesmerizing, sometimes very disturbing, old memories that I had long forgotten, or didn’t know had taken up residence within me. When I regained my mindfulness, I gently detached from them, remembering that they are just memories. Before I could return to my focused breathing, my awareness exploded into beautiful shades of black and I found myself sitting alone in the deep, dark recesses of celestial space, breathing in and breathing out.

A wood tick is crawling across my face and it is at this moment that I realize that I have been visiting the “ghost cave” of makyo (魔境), clinging to the experience of illusion and self-delusion. I smile and release myself from my bubble of deception.

I’m not tired or hungry, but I feel the wind and sun gently caressing my exposed skin. For some reason I feel it most in my hands: “Breathing in, I make my body calm and at peace. Breathing out, I make my body calm and at peace.” Calmness and peace evade me and I open my eyes and stand up, stretch, and begin walking to the west.

Day 54, Night

I’m sitting. I’m solidly grounded to mother earth, feeling her electromagnetic energies probing me as they rise, making their way to the stars above, and then descend back deep below to where they came from. Sometimes the waves of energy are so strong and saturated that I feel every part of my body pulse and inflate like a balloon that is filled with liquid electricity. I sit very still, unmoving, lest my body spring an energy leak and my soul escape, only to be whisked away and pooled together with the falling stardust. Concentrate. Breathe.

Sometimes the energies have a predictable pattern, and I am able to brace myself for each incoming wave as it builds momentum and strength and then releases into a calm buzzing in my ears and toes. At other times, the waves seem to chaotically materialize from all directions and engulf every molecule in my being, bringing me closer to a thermodynamic death. Death? Death is not so bad.

The ultimate fate of the universe is heat death. One day the universe will weaken to a state of having no thermodynamic free energy and therefore will no longer sustain the processes that devour energy, including life, including me. It starts to rain; gently at first and then a downpour bursts from above. I remind myself that I am at peace.

Day 55, Day

I remember the electromagnetic waves are distractions, and I go back to my breathing and adjust my Purple coneflower meditation position so that it is stable and synchronized with each breath. I allow my belly to become soft and begin my inverse breathing. I silently repeat to myself, “Breathing in I am connected to all life. Breathing out I am connected to all life.” My breath is alive.

Day 72, Night

The chirping sounds of the multitude of crickets all around me have now magically converged into single ringing chime that washes over and through me. The sound touches me for only a moment and then proceeds far beyond, to the north. When I become distracted enough I can hear it change back into millions of cricket voice choirs, rising and falling in an ancient unison. Their song begins to synchronistically pulsate with the beating of my heart. I use this shift in my perception to go back to my mindfulness breathing in the present moment: “Breathing in I bring clarity and purpose to my life. Breathing out I bring clarity and purpose to my life.”

Day 81, Afternoon

I’ve finally made peace with my memories of death. They arise and I no longer react with fear or grief. The blood has dried on all their faces and their smiles have returned. Their eyes sparkle and they turn and walk back toward the east and gradually fade away: “Breathing in I feel compassion for the suffering of those that have died. Breathing out I feel love for those that have died. Breathing in I feel compassion for my suffering, having died with them many times. Breathing out I feel compassion for my suffering, having died with them many times.”

Day 88, Morning

I slightly shift my sitting position and notice that all of last night’s aches and shivers are gone, and the burning in my legs from sitting in my semi-Purple coneflower position has finally faded away. In the southeast, the sun has now fully transcended the earth and raised itself over the horizon to see if I am sitting where it saw me last evening. Through the skin of my closed eyelids the sun produces a deep red that bleeds into my field of vision. The shade of red changes as I gently raise and lower my chin towards and away from the sun. All the life in the summer air has begun buzzing, singing, fluttering, and floating through the humid, damp sky that hangs above me.

My attention on my breath is like my breathing itself: life. The pace of my breathing remains unchanged, and I notice how my lungs and belly fill completely with the warm, sticky air that is gently blowing from the west. I exhale with awareness as my lungs empty emotional toxins from long, long ago. My mind silently utters good-bye confusion as I breathe out; good-bye self-pity as I breathe out; good-bye greed as I breathe out; good-by historical trauma as I breath out. In a moment of distraction, I am able to feel my breath as it enters and exits the hollow centers of the hairs on each of my thin, dehydrated, sunburned, wrinkled arms.

Day 90, Evening

With the subtle changes that are going on around me, I begin to ascend out of the deep breathing awareness that I had been suspended in for much of the past eighty-nine days. I feel myself being slowly liberated my from my connection to my meditation cushions and it seems as though someone has turned off the spigot of the earth’s electromagnetic fields. I am ending my sitting to return to the world of chaos, and I am reminded of Qigong Master Duan Zhi Liang’s teaching about disorder and confusion: “The essence of all evolution in nature emerges from chaos. By understanding the infinite energy that is always available to us, we can flow naturally with the chaotic energies of the universe.” Breathing in I draw in the never-ending life-force that envelops me. Breathing out I draw in the never-ending essence of this time.”

Day 91, one minute after midnight

I feel a hot, panting breath in my face, and the intense smell fresh of blood enters my nostrils. I slowly open my eyes to see that I am in a six-inch, face-to-face staring contest with a large mountain lion. In his eyes I can see the smoke rising from the coal gasification plant and his fur smells of crude oil. We calmly look at each other for few seconds. I uncross my legs and move my body slightly forward to stand up. My visitor steps back, allowing me the room that I need to get to my feet. I pick up my cushions and blankets and walk through the grass towards the gravel road. My companion follows beside me as we both fade into the darkness, heading towards the lights of White Shield, heading towards nirvana.

My Father’s Silence – A Personal Account of Trauma and its Origins, By Hitaji Aziz

My Father’s Silence – A Personal Account of Trauma and its Origins
Family Constellation therapist Mark Wolynn once said: “Just as we inherit our eye color and blood type, we also inherit the residue from traumatic events that have taken place in our family. Illness, depression, anxiety, unhappy relationships and financial challenges can all be forms of this unconscious inheritance.” The same analysis can be utilized in reference to the history of chattel slavery, trauma and systemic racism in America. It was an inhumane system whose historical attributes can be still found in the American prison systems of today. This history has left hurtful and paralyzing residues of trauma, passed from one generation to the next within African American communities.

There has been long-term collateral damage and an ongoing psychic wound which deserves to be healed with Radical Self-Care and by providing the emotional resources for the personal as well as the collective well-being of African American communities. Mark Wolyn teaches that “traumatic memories are transmitted through chemical changes in DNA”. There is a need to understand the conscious and unconscious inheritance of terror and systemic racism long-term.

Writing “My Father’s Silence” is the short story  about story about my family system. It reflects the epigenetics of a family and the humanity of all families.

My Father’s Silence by Hitaji Aziz

I grew up right outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a town called McKee’s Rocks in the 1950s. McKee’s Rocks was a large Italian community with smaller pockets of old world European immigrants. We also had Gypsies, Jews, one Chinese family and even smaller pockets of Blacks that had migrated from the south and its terrors.

I was born out of one of those Black families that migrated from the same place where they were owned. Their plantation was based in Evergreen, Alabama. The journey was headed by my great grandmother Sally and her husband William Liddell who died just before they reached Pittsburgh in the late 1920s. They were part of the great migration of ex-slaves and Blacks looking for more freedom and less terror. They were running; running hard for their lives, leaving all their possessions, except what they could pack and what they wore on their backs. My father’s family got to there on the same emotional journey, migrating from Atlanta, Georgia; running for a dream called Pittsburgh.

My father, Jack Kirkland, was one the first African American men to be hired in the steel mill near our government owned low-income housing in those days. We called them the “projects” and it was the first time we had an indoor toilet. We lived by the sounds of the steel mills. The sirens of the steel mills were always in the background of our lives. We always knew when the work shift started and when it ended. Being hired in the mill was a big thing for a Black man in those days of the 50s and 60s.

My dad was a chronic alcoholic and wounded so deeply that he had lost all of his social compassions by the time I was born in 1953. He rarely ever smiled and when he did he was usually drunk. If he did smile it was a smile of shame, rage, terror, pain and he would never be able to understand the complexity of trauma and depression that co-created his pain and his living. Today he would be classified as depressed but no one talked about trauma and depression in those days and no one talked about a man being deeply sad, especially a Black man. He was naturally traumatized just by growing up in Georgia in the 20s, 30s and 40s where lynching and terrorist attacks were as common as the air he breathed.

Every working day right after he clocked out you could see him rigidly walking with lunch pail in hand to his mother’s house to start the daily after-work-drinking-binge that would last for hours. His mother, Grandma Vasey ran a “Speakeasy” out of her apartment to make ends meet which was a common activity in our community. He was a man who was bonded to his suffering and chronic depression; sexually addicted and a classic workaholic.

One day he accidentally cut his finger off at the mill and his boss had to force him to leave. Terrified that he would not be able to return, my father was convinced that he could still work with the loss of his finger and needed no medical attention. He was known to be a hard worker, always on time and never late for work yet always late in being a father. On pay day my mother would send me to grandma Vasey’s house to ask him for money. The eighteen dollars taken out of his check was never enough to make ends meet on her disability check she received for having a stroke. My dad always had money for drinking, gambling, women and nothing for a daughter in need. I remember sitting there for hours in a room filled with drunken Black men; silently overwhelmed waiting for him to just notice that I was there while literally watching dollar bills fall out of his pockets. There were no words for “children of alcoholics” back in those days.

My dad lived by a different definition of manhood than the general White population of poor white men; both groups have been historically silent about depression. He had to carry an extra layer of shame by being the grandson of slaves. It was not popular to be a Black man and it was never safe. You could be killed any time and for any reason. Like I said, he grew up poor in Georgia and impending death or the possibility of dying based on race was a norm for Black men.

I understand now why my dad was so messed up. He was profoundly disappointed with life. He was always afraid and brokenhearted. His medication was alcohol, work, women and anything he could do to take the edge off of the rage and terror that walked with him every day. I suspect he was an incest survivor by the way he acted out sexually. His whole world reflected this terror and you could see the same terror in the eyes of his drinking buddies.

My father was one of my first sexual perpetrators along with several of those drinking buddies. Sexual abuse within my family is another story to be told. It was not unusual for them to ask or act like I was his “woman” instead of a young girl in elementary school who looked just like her dad. I was called “little Jack”. He would even pee in front on me on the side of the street. When shopping for school clothes he would not hesitate to steal in front of me. One time I even saw him arrested for stealing. Another time when he tried to steal in a store I started to cry and asked him if Jesus would do that and he stopped although he was pissed off. On top of all of this I would usually end up holding his hand to cross both of us across the street because of his drunkenness. I was my dad’s little mother; a parent, a child and a sexual object.

His sadness usually took on the faces of rage, violence, resentment and coldness; mostly coldness and detachment. Sometime when he was growing up he accepted the message that said that men in general are not considered real men if they showed their true feelings and allowed themselves to become vulnerable. Somewhere and some place shame had taught him as a little colored boy that it was too dangerous to be real and human.

My father grew up with a mixed and confusing message. The historical message was that my dad was a descendent of people who were considered only 3/5 human in the early development of this country, so how could he ever be a good-enough-man; there was an energetic ceiling placed on his humanity. The other part was that as a man you were not shown how to own your own devastation as a human other than acting it out in destructive ways. Yet another part was about their sexism and that women were often objectified as a form of medication.

He internalized this message as part of his core self. My father was not raised to see life with passion and dreams to be pursued. His life was more about survival and his future held no real meaning. He lived never knowing when his life would end, based on the color of his skin. He would never be good enough nor did he expect it. Along the road he managed to internalize enough illusion and oppression that he believed the myth and messages of the shame. He was what he thought he was and he manifested those thoughts every day.

The majority of the men in my family were alcoholics and they were depressed, violent and deeply sad like dad. They took out this depression and sadness on their families. They were the first terrorist that I was ever exposed to. When I was a little girl pretending to sleep I would hear them only come to my grandmother Bessie and they would cry in the wee hours of the night about racism, the N -word and they would share with her their fears and the most vulnerable parts of who they were only to rise in the morning detached, cold and smiling that kind of smile that only drunk men can do. Once again, they were men and men had to stay strong by all means.

It all came together when I was a teenager that something was critically wrong with the men in my family and my family in general when my cousin Jean was beaten to death by her husband James. Death-by-beating was never attached to her death and it was said the she “just did not wake up that morning”. We sat there in the church; a church where James was the deacon viewing Jean’s body and still no one could really name what had happened. We knew she had been beaten to death after many bloody beatings. We could never name my cousin James’s depression and mental illness after a thousand times of hearing him cry in the wee hours of the night only to rise early in the morning cold, detached and smiling that smile that drunk men do.

I sometimes wonder how it would be if we had known how to hear them with deeper attention. I wonder what it would have been like if they could have named their depression, their terror, their emotional pain and their addictions. I wonder how things would have been if they had the opportunity to experience a kind and gentle compassion from a society that saw them as invisible and less than. I wonder how their lives would have turned out if they knew how to define their own dreams and passions outside of addiction and violence. I wonder how it would have been if the women in my family would have been empowered not to cosign the insanity.

I miss the father I never had. I miss having a safe father. I still fantasize how it would feel to have a father be proud of you. I forgive my father for the many days that I had to be his mother as a child. I forgive him for the sexual abuse for I am too worthy to carry such a huge resentment. I forgive him for shaming me and for never saying the word love. I forgive him for never hugging me and for never making it safe to be his child. I forgive him for his coldness and the many days of embarrassments. I forgive him for that smile.

I forgive myself for the many men I tried to make be my father. I forgive myself for being attracted to the many men who were just like my father. I forgive myself for the many years of depression and self-abuse; thinking and acting that I was less than human.

In the legacy of my father and the men and women of my family I promise with intent to remember that all little boys and girls are worthy of deep attention, respect and kind compassion for their sacredness and divine spirits.