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Gabriella Evans Anderson

Conversations on Trauma and Awakening: Gabriella Evans Anderson

Interviewed by Hailey V. Martens
“I believe that when we reside in environments that are not safe (both internally and externally) and when things are too painful to be with, we naturally move away from the pain and numb or protect ourselves in whatever way possible. Looking back I can see how my eating disorder protected me – probably to the point of actually saving me from a much worse fate.”

Gabriella is a sometimes awkward always loving human, and a lover of other humans in all their complexity. 

What helps you feel safe and grounded?

I feel safest and most grounded when I am with someone who I know fully loves and accepts me as I am. I feel safe and grounded when I am in safe relationships, including the relationship I have with my Self. My husband comes to mind. At this point in time I've kind of surrendered to oftentimes needing another human (or animal) as a portal into that beautiful feeling of safety and grounded-ness. Put another way, I often require co-regulation to get to a self-regulatory or grounded state. I love and appreciate how I am able to be the most myself when I am being held in a container of safety with another non-judgey human being.

If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

I don't really want to be reduced to three words haha. Multifaceted human comes to mind. That is two words, but that's what I'll say. Multifaceted or complex human. 

I have so many parts of myself, and there are parts I probably don't even see or fully realize or express at this point in time. I could maybe describe my ego in three words. I could find three descriptive words for my inner critic and three more for my inner child. I could give some more words or labels to the warrior in me and some words to the worrier in me. I could give some words to my true Self or essence; I think, however, that I am all of these parts and I also notice that some of the words I may use to describe certain parts of myself are in total opposition to others, but they’re all part of the gorgeously complex me so let’s stick with multifaceted human.

How would those who love and respect you describe you?

My husband said caring, attentive, aware, passionate and sexy. I don’t know what my friends, siblings, parents, niece, nephew or daughter would say. Perhaps observant, strong, soft, mysterious, inquisitive, serious, quiet, silly, powerful, playful.

How would you define trauma?

I recently wanted the film “The Wisdom of Trauma” and I feel so validated by it in so many ways. It has reminded me that trauma encompasses not only the impact of really big, bad events (war, murder, violence, sexual exploitation), but also the deep wounding of previous unmet needs and the shame and pain that go along with that. For me – I’ll speak very personally – trauma is not only what happened to me, it’s also what didn’t happen (those things that I needed but didn’t get). Also, and maybe even more importantly, it’s what happened inside of me as a result of the stuff that happened or didn’t happen. What happened inside of me – and I know this is true for many others because I see them in my therapy office weekly – is that I became very disconnected from my true Self because it was too painful to be present with reality. 

Isn’t the body-mind system is so incredibly wise, protective and preserving to know to split off like that? Sadly that dissociation or splitting for me also led me to believing that there was something wrong with me, or that I was defective in some way. I forgot who I really was. I abandoned my true Self – which, if I had to describe that part of me, is just pure love (there are my three words for my true Self haha) – to the point that I completely forgot my inherent worth. I see this as no fault of anybody’s, which is another really tricky piece of the puzzle related to trauma. I notice that as humans we so often want or need someone to point a finger at or blame, whether it’s our abuser or oppressor, the parent who wasn't there and didn’t protect us, or ourselves because we should have known better. We want to make meaning. I don't think that the shitty things that happen are necessarily fully anyone's fault (we are all walking around with unconscious blind spots or wounds and are simply doing our best), and that's what makes it so difficult to be with trauma and to heal from it; it’s non-sensical. It often straight up doesn't make sense. 

How has trauma contributed to your suffering?

When I was being born I inhaled meconium (baby poop) from the womb so I couldn’t breathe properly. The instruments that we have now to vacuum that shit (pun intended) out weren’t available at the time, so I was taken from my mom and put into an incubator (a plastic box) for a while (I think for two weeks – I will have to double check with my mom). During the time I was in the incubator, I was not often held. In my current understanding, babies need to be held or else they do not survive. We need to be picked up and held; we need that beautiful co-regulation or else we get overwhelmed by our own feelings. So that’s how I came into this world, which I conceptualize as probably experienced as quite traumatic. Thankfully during those early days both my mom and my Nonna (my maternal grandmother) understood or intuited the necessity of holding and of co-regulation and – despite the doctors’ orders – they eventually picked me up out of that little box and held me. This is the first example that came to my mind when you asked this question. To this day I know that my body holds memories of that being birthed experience. I can think back on a number of other traumatic events that have happened. The common thread for me though is how these types of events impacted me internally, which is that my system largely went into a dissociative state. Trauma contributed to my suffering in the way that I become very shut down and shut off and often lost access to my voice, my intuition and to the present moment. 

My teenage years really stand out when I think about the theme of trauma in my life also, so maybe I will speak about that I little bit in case it helps someone through their own suffering down the line. When I was in high school, I became shut down to the point that I pretty much stopped eating. I had a severe and untreated eating disorder. When I reflect back, I can see connections between my unsafe home and family environment and the feelings (and associated acting outs) of un-grounded-ness in my body, though I was so numb at the time I had little to no awareness of the energy and intention behind my food restricting. I can see now how I felt invisible to those who mattered to me the most back then and how that was reflected in my body, and on another token how I wanted and needed to be invisible and I needed to hide the female-ness of my body in order to stay safer. I can see now how my rejection of nourishment was a mirror for the felt sense of an absence of emotional nourishment at home.  

I believe that when we reside in environments that are not safe (both internally and externally) and when things are too painful to be with, we tend to move away from the pain and numb or protect ourselves in whatever way possible. Looking back I can see how my eating disorder protected me – probably to the point of actually saving me from a much worse fate. I can see how I did my best with what I knew at the time. I have thankfully gone back and done deep healing work with the teenage part of myself. I see her and love her and am there for her a million percent, and I also still feel deep sadness that she – that younger version of myself – didn’t have a safe support system to plug into at the time. I remember trying at certain points to seek support. I remember going to my high school guidance counselor but I don’t think she knew what to do with me. She told me I should see a doctor and ended up sending me to a walk-in clinic by myself. When I went to the doctor, I remember feeling so scared and so ashamed. It too felt like an unsafe place. I ended up lying my way through the doctor’s assessment just so that I could get out of there as quickly as possible. I think part of the tragedy or an additional layer of the trauma for me (and for so many others) was not being seen or understood in the suffering. Of being completely alone in the suffering. 

What I did not receive much of as a child and teen (holding, understanding, support), I have come to find I have no choice but to give to myself regularly now. Or I guess there is a choice. Maybe my life could have gone a very different direction. I suppose I could have stayed stuck and sunk even deeper into the darkness, which is interesting. I wonder what it was that allowed me to get to where I am today verses allowing some of the previous addictions and other less safe ways of coping to take me over completely. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely still have addictions and neurosis and am far from perfect, but overall I feel incredibly grateful to be living a relatively balanced and healthy life and to have healthy and sacred co-regulatory relationships (including that with myself). 

How has trauma contributed to your awakening?

Hehe, nice segue. I guess I get to answer my own question now. How have I evolved through the pain to where I am now and how has that pain actually supported my evolution? 

I don’t know at what point I realized I was so cut-off and disconnected. I think part of me knew all along that I was numb, closed off and playing small. That whisper of awakening or truth was most definitely there all along through the darkest times, it was just very covered up and distorted by the darkness. I didn’t have a singular moment of awakening like I have heard described by some. Rather it was a slow burn and continues to be. The expansion of the fire of truth in me was (and is) slow and steady. The trauma and suffering were (and are) the fuel for that fire. I see how all of my past pain lit a fire within me and fuelled and fed that fire and eventually allowed me to grow a burning desire and passion to heal myself and to help other women in their own healing, especially teen girls and young women. That pain led to me to taking legal action against one of the people who abused me and in part gave me the means to become trained as a trauma therapist. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for all of the darkness. It’s pretty amazing. Also, I have no idea where that fire metaphor came from but hopefully it can be understood. 

Another thread of how trauma manifested for me and also contributed to my growth is in the story of how past relational trauma impacted my adult relationships. The story of the romantic relationships of my young adult life is very similar to Alexa’s story. I see now that because of the early patterning and the negative unhealthy beliefs I inherited early on of “I’m not good enough”, I found myself in toxic relationships in my early adult life. I have even become grateful for those recently. I wouldn’t be the partner I am today and I wouldn’t be with the partner I am with today if it weren’t for the excruciating learning and waking up that happened in my past relationships. A big part of my work and my evolution or growing up has been in forgiving the past versions of myself. It’s intriguing how I can quite easily forgive others. I can see so clearly others’ wounds – just like how in Alexa’s story she could see that her ex was not well and was in an unbalanced internal place – and I can have the deepest compassion and forgiveness for others (maybe that’s why I’ve ended up in this line of service work that I am in) and when it comes to myself, the forgiveness work is ongoing. 

I suppose the greatest gifts to have been born out of past trauma and suffering for me are a heightened level of awareness and compassion, and a continued desire to come into greater presence and alignment with the highest good. Out of all the darkness and pain and subsequent light (a light that was always there but sometimes covered up) has also come the birth of my own daughter and a deep desire within me to be as present, authentic and balanced as possible for her. My wish is to allow Hanna (my daughter) to be as much herself as possible while simultaneously showing up for her and providing safety, security, soothing and all those other fun, yummy essentials while also staying true to my own Self and my own needs. I do not wish to pass on the patterning of past generations (“I am not good enough,” “I am not worthy,” “I don’t deserve love”). I suppose this is where I am at in my own evolution now. When Hanna was born I went back into therapy with questions around intergenerational trauma and breaking cycles and the work and evolution for me are ongoing. I don’t have all of the answers and I think that being okay with not knowing is part of my healing and evolution also.

Is there a final message you would like to pass on to those who are stuck in suffering that is similar to what you have been through in the past? 

My instinct would be to see, hear and gently hold those who are stuck like I was stuck. I’d want to help them feel safe and loved.