Dina-Perla Portnaar
Integrated Communications & PR | BD | Presentation | Writing | Speaking | Coaching

Enforced, persevered and overcome

Recently, I participated again in the international summit on healing trauma, with the best and international practicioners we have. During a couple of weeks, I spent a day part on two or three interactive sessions, in which the latest developments in the field of psychology, spirituality, philosophy, healing and medicinal botany were discussed. Once I finished the summit, I structured the massive amount of knowledge like I always do, in order to implement everything in my own workshops, 1:1 coaching and lectures.

Saddam Hussein

I noticed one of the speakers a bit more than the others, namely Zainab Salbi, not so much because she originally grew up in Iraq, or because her family befriended Saddam Hussein, or because she was a Muslim woman, but because she spoke about trauma from the point-of-perspective of her own, unpolished life experiences. Nothing is as powerful as that. Earlier, she wrote the memoires called Between two worlds: escape from tyranny: growing up in the shadow of Saddam. I read it with chills all over and even though our life experiences differ, I recognized and acknowledged many, many things. Salbi described what a dictatorship does to a human life, how she was married off by her mother, how she was sent to the US, how her partner abused her in a horrific way and how she found out later in life that her mother had wanted to protect her from a relationship with Hussein, who noticed Salbi as a young woman.

Salbi made her life’s work out of her history. She went back to the war zones, even though her mother was not happy with that and she helped a lot of women in any way whatsoever. Salbi documented the darkest histories of our time, in the hope that change would be possible little by little. Women whose lives were enforced in oppressed areas, who persevered and – oftentimes only via the next generation – overcome.

Social transformation and profound self-examination

During the summit, Salbi talked about the internal war within herself and about discovering yourself after trauma, in other words, the process of waking up. She explained among other things why it is crucial for women to tell their stories. She acknowledged the fact that breaking the silence around trauma can be one of the most difficult and yet most important steps to take, especially in a world in which perpetrators try to hold on to the lies and mechanisms of coercion that were created by them – with all the power that they have. Trust me, I know what I am talking about. In fact, women who remain silent are directly responsible for the maintenance of whatever abuses and mechanisms that exist. Salbi also talked about the #MeToo-movement and how it can actually provide social transformation in the long term. Above all, Salbi really showed herself, by explaining how someone can start to contain all dimensions of traumatic experiences as she managed to do, for instance through profound self-examination. She emphasized that there is no such thing as a hierarchy in types of trauma. Each type can produce the same processes and must be approached with equal care and attention.

Freedom

Zainab Salbi reminded me of myself at a micro level. Like Salbi, I mainly occupied myself with the stories of others at first during many years. When I shared their stories, I spoke about my own history as well, of physical and mental violence, endometriosis and biological childlessness – in retrospect, the latter could have been prevented as a result. When I mediated between perpetrators and victims, I did that, of course, from the position I would have liked during times when I went through hell on earth as a child. Like Salbi, I had to stop myself and my intentions for a better world at a given moment and start looking at myself, because who was I in the midst of my own and someone else’s trauma? Like Salbi, I dived into the shadows to get out in the sun and to complete the cycle, partly and in retrospect due to the strong sense that I made – to the best of my abilities and with compassion for everything and everyone – the right choices. Like Salbi, I experienced that it really does not matter at all if the outside world does not understand my process of waking up and the outcomes of it, because like Salbi said during the summit: in the meantime you’ll leave a big footprint in the world, long after you and the outside world are no longer here. These prints are powerful and will continue to indicate direction for a long time. Like Salbi, I made my life’s work out of my history – body, mind and spirit. Like Salbi, I understood that freedom is an inside job.

However, what I have never known until recently, is how freedom and inner peace actually feel. It surprises me every day. Maybe I would not have dared to hope, especially the fact that I would come to a point where I would think: show me who I am after – and without – all of this. Bring it on. Let the universe surprise me. Enforced, persevered and overcome like my friend Ellen always said about me, but what would follow after ‘overcome’, thus victory? A gift.

This article was published via the Dutch publication called De Kanttekening.

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