Good Trauma

Hear the sound file.

Good Trauma

I harm people to help them heal themselves.

Sounds backwards doesn’t it?

And yet, it is the essence of what I do.

I create rituals to both compliment and counteract allopathic, orthopedic, psychiatric medicine as well as untreated and unacknowledged spiritual and emotional traumas. What I do is known by many names. The one I favor is Ordeal Path Worker. A person who walks the ordeal path believes that some manner of trial must be faced and overcome to move past whatever is in their way. It does not matter what religion if any you believe in. The ordeal can be symbolic, cathartic, ritual, or all of these. The specifics of the rituals change from person to person. They usually (but not always) involve a great feat of physical or emotional intensity that brings the individual right up to the place where they they think they will break, and holding space for them while they push themselves through.

  I am the person who pulls people into the skies leaving their problems on the ground as they fly through the air on the strength of my hooks and their skin. I am the person who manipulates steel into the proper shapes to mark your journey in flesh through fire drowned brands. I am there placing every needle ritually with care nested shallowly in the skin. The patterns become the mandalas that capture and then dissolve their pains when removed. Sometimes I am the first asked for touch after a horrific assault. I wait patiently taking an hour or more for them to work up the courage to let me make gentle wanted contact with their express permission. I stand as artist, oracle, hierophant, witness, and safety net to the people who seek me out.

This is great work. This is being handed a persons spirit at it’s most vulnerable. Yet what I do is devalued because of misunderstandings, misconceptions, and in some cases, willful ignorance. No one questions when a doctor breaks a bone to reset it. Or when they sunder skin to withdraw or give blood, vaccines, hydration. This is respected and scientifically quantifiable. What I do is not new, nor is it quantifiable, and it is still relevant. In the past I would have had a specific name be it Shaman, Witch, Priest, or other community title. They facilitated the rituals that enable people to move on to their next step by being witnessed, being supported, and in many cases welcomed back into the community as a person who is now different from before the ritual.

Today a variety of body modification, modern primitive, BDSM, fetish, and suspension artists who may or may not follow a specific faith path perform these services for those that seek them. Practitioners and seekers come from all of these communities as well as other more conservative backgrounds. My practice is informed greatly by the modern medical, piercing, and spiritual communities but still taught person to person through shared knowledge. I have and still go to trainings as well as keeping up to date on the latest cleaning techniques and procedures.

What separates ordeal path work from fetish and thrill seeking is intent. It is not engaging in an experience purely for experience sake, body decoration, endorphin/adrenaline rush, art, or sexual pleasure. All of these elements may in some part be present in construction of or a by product of the ritual. Ordeal path work is about ritualistically healing and reclaiming the spirit embodied by an individual.

Physicians are more and more divorced from their patients due to a variety of reasons including financial, political, and labor constraints. We have more need than skilled medical practitioners. They may get to spend fifteen minutes with a patient in a day. More often it is closer to five or six minutes. I have postponed and cancelled rituals based on a person’s physician’s advice. I have worked with psychologists to make sure that the rituals happened at a good time in the person’s therapeutic sessions. I am not dismissive of their expertise and skills. They do not have the time to heal or have the capacity to heal every part of a person, and good physicians acknowledge this. One could make the argument of needing more healers for our medical professionals, but I digress.

I am not a physician, but I am a healer. I spend hours and days even talking with and getting to know my people. I meticulously answer questions multiple times, I make certain of informed consent, and I make sure I am the best person for the job before I perform any service for them. I have time in luxurious quantities compared to modern medical practitioners. I also can turn someone down, refer them to another practitioner, or tell them that I ethically cannot assist them if I feel they need medical intervention first. I take no Hippocratic oath. I took an oath to heal as I can, the best that I can, for those who need me. I can also charge, give away, or barter for my services at my own discretion. These are important distinctions, and ones I make clear to anyone who is seeking what I offer before we even get to the negotiations.

For the work I do I have had to develop a lexicon for traumas. When I was starting out as a new practitioner it was very difficult for me to engage with trauma without an automatic negative judgement. Trauma was bad, end of story. There was no such thing as good trauma. This is not the case. Trauma is defined as a deeply disturbing or distressing experience, or a physical injury. Which means that the death of a loved one, childbirth, having a tooth pulled, serving in wartime, moving to a new place, gender transition, being evicted, etc… were all sharing the same word with the same gravitas and same negative associations. Not all trauma is life threatening. Not all trauma requires a professional. I have in true fact helped ease more traumatic experiences as a friend and partner than as an Ordeal Path Worker.

I want to focus on instances of what constitutes good trauma. It is the bulk of my work, although a decent percentage does deal with negative trauma. There are definitely instances of gray area between the two, but for the sake of this word space, we will speak to good trauma and some of it’s rituals. We will define the word good as being of benefit or advantage to someone or something in the long term, OR, and this is important, a natural part of life that can be difficult to accept.

Life transitions are marked throughout the world in a variety of different ways. Coming of age rituals are in my opinion the most interesting and diverse category. Many of them, however, have not grown with the times. Some coming of age rituals, which can be hundreds of years old, can be viewed as pedophiliac, misogynistic, homophobic, awkwardly placed in the modern day longevity of humans, damaging, or just plain irrelevant.

There has been some effort to make new coming of age rituals in communities around the world, or to change existing rituals so that cultures maintain the ritual, but change the intent. A good example being Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s in the Jewish communities performed at thirteen for boys and twelve for girls respectively now being more of a transition from childhood to the beginning of adulthood rather than an announcement of marriageable eligibility. After the age of 21, in the USA at least, there just are not that many age related rituals as if to say ”You are an adult, do that until you die.” Unless you get a new degree or qualification of some sort. This does lead to people looking for some sort of way to mark important events and shifts in their world. Sometimes they come to my door.

Life changing rituals happen across the age and gender spectrum. They have included graduating from schools, apprenticeships, and trainings, shifting from different stages in adulthood, change of gender, public coming out of sexuality, being discharged from active military service, changing countries, moving to a place, buying a house, acquiring citizenship, paying off major debt, marriage/partnerships (don’t argue, there is enough comedy throughout time to validate this as trauma), and speaking for myself, changing political parties.

We will expand upon parenthood to highlight the nuances that can be present in each example I share. This is to show how rituals fit in with good traumas. I will not be detailing all of the rituals that can go with each point made. What follows afterwards is a short list of other traumas that can be considered good that I have helped facilitate rituals for. The nuances can go on forever because people are majestically complicated.

Becoming a parent. Even if you put aside the physical realities behind childbirth, becoming a parent is traumatic. It doesn’t matter if you gave birth to the child, or even participated in the genetic make up of said child. If you chose or accepted the responsibility to be a parent through birth, adoption, fostering, planned, or accident, you are about to suffer a series of traumas. The biggest parts I deal with are acceptance of parenthood rituals and identity reaffirming or reconstruction rituals.

Acceptance of parenthood rituals have many variations on the theme of  “I make a commitment to be the best parent I can be”. Identity rituals are painful but good and come in two flavors. The first is the goodbye/welcome format. You must say goodbye to pieces of who you were  before the child. These happen continually as one gets older, but seem to come faster as a parent. There are also welcoming rituals for new pieces of yourself as an individual as you grow into them. These are to celebrate becoming a new person who is also a parent rather than a parent that, at one point,was this other person. The second type is a promise to commit to being who you are within and without the bounds of parenthood. Many people struggle with loss of identity as parents. There is often a feeling of being two, sometimes even three separate people if the parent works as well. These rituals allow for an acceptance of self as a multifaceted being that for a time, must feed some parts more than others.

While some view that pet ownership should be held less than child parenthood, I argue that you are still in for trauma. Or at least your house is. There is responsibility, joy, and grief with pets as they come in and out of our lives and families. When you are responsible for a life that relies on you, that is a life altering experience. It is as important for people to be seen as good to their animals as to their people and there are  rituals for them.

Medical traumas are a touchy subject for a multitude of reasons. These are discussed once again as good traumas, ones that are engaged in with the knowledge and consent of what is being done for the future good. These include teeth loss (how many of us put teeth under the pillow for the fairy?), healing surgeries, bone setting, abortions, donating blood for the first time, learning one’s blood type, getting screened for STD’s, gender transitioning with either medicine or surgery, getting glasses, a hearing aid, prosthetics, dentures, braces, hair loss/gain, and weight loss/gain to mention a few. All of these can be either positive or negative depending on circumstance, and all of these can lead to ritual for positive change, celebration, and acceptance.

Faith based traumas are equally tricky waters to traverse. I define faith based traumas to include any system of belief that is integral to your personal structure. This allows for the inclusion of atheists and agnostics. Whether it is finding and accepting a new faith path, rejecting one that has damaged you, or recommitment to a path given to you as a child that you would like to consciously choose as an adult, faith based traumas are rarely discussed as good.

Death needs it’s own category. I have not ever sat with someone as they died. I help the people left behind with their grief processes. I have only once helped an individual who had been told they had a limited time left in this world. Death is a finality, an absence, and a marking of a passage. There are many rituals for burial, and some few for the week or so after. Grief and bewilderment, loss and sorrow can take years to lessen or fade in strength if not in memory. Death is important, essential, and even as we rage against it, sing into the night with reminiscence, or quietly accept it’s gifts, when it comes without violence it is to be celebrated. Our transience is what makes the human condition so valuable.

These are the beginnings of a conversation that I have been in for years through my own and other practitioners personal experiences. These do not take into account other important factors such as whether the person is currently experiencing a trauma, has experienced it, will experience it, or all three.  Not all trauma is unexpected or sudden. These traumas discussed are event based, not physically chosen traumas such as tattoos, piercing, and other alterations. There are many such pieces that enrich and alter the conversation. The point is to begin these important philosophical explorations by stating some hard to hear truths.

Not all trauma needs medical intervention.

Not all trauma is harmful.

Not all trauma is bad.

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