Personal statement by Gesine
When I found this work two of my worlds—political activism and transformational healing work—finally came together. I wanted to be involved both in work that shifts the systems and conditions around us, and in work that supports the change and the healing of the people who live in those systems (including myself).
This is how it all started: I had suffered from what they call post-traumatic stress ‘disorder’ (PTSD) after experiencing police brutality and realized that my former approach of toughening it out and getting back to the streets had stopped working. I also learnt that I was not the only one in this situation but that many people lacked support around trauma after experiences of police brutality.
In 2005 me and others founded activist trauma support in order to create radical infrastructure, similar to the street medics. We held workshops, produced info material, ran a hotline, and offered direct short-term and long-term support. Doing that work I realized that my need and desire for greater competence around trauma increased. I heard from a lot of people about high levels of burnout, trauma, depression, and emotional struggles connected to and impacting their political work. I could see the detrimental impact on our movements and its people and it became clear to me that this was a place where we lost a lot of power that we could actually impact. We do have the power to shift our internal dynamics and ways of working and being so that we can be more effective in our struggles and don’t unnecessarily lose so much energy internally. I felt like our solidarity and competence often did not extend into those areas and I was not happy about the ways we treated and supported each other. This must have been the moment where I decided to see if I could do something about all this.
In 2007 I moved to California, USA, to learn more about trauma and how to help folks through it. I enrolled at a university in San Francisco and started studying counseling psychology. During my training to become a somatic psychotherapist a friend introduced me to generative somatics.
I was interested and signed up for a weekend training on somatics and social justice. This was the first time I heard someone speak to what was going through my head all along – the need for systems to radically change and the need for us to change and heal ourselves. The need for us to work on ourselves so that we can become stronger and more resilient and can build political movements that are powerful, hard to resist, and hard to repress. At the end of the weekend I was struck by an intense sense of how very useful this work would be back home in Europe, for the people and for the movements I had been working with for so long.
It was good to hear some of the questions addressed that I had been carrying around for a while – what happens after the power shifts? People will still be the same, will we not just repeat the same old in new ways? How come there are so many interpersonal problems in our circles and communities that often end up in divisiveness and conflict? While we have great ideas, the actual living of them often appeared difficult. And what were we going to do around depression, trauma, and anxiety in our communities? Tell folks to stay home because they are not tough enough? There needed to be a different way. Was it possible to be strongly politically active and still live lives that make us happy? What do we do with feelings of guilt and hopelessness because what we do never feels enough or the feeling that we don’t deserve joy? How can we become more powerful as people and as movements and have more impact? How can we become less vulnerable to the repression we are facing? How can we recover better when repression hits? How do we deal with how systems of oppression are showing up in our own circles?
I found relief in the concept of the interdependence of personal and social transformation. In saying that both people and systems have to change. One without the other will not last or go deep enough. That made a lot of sense to me.
When I was introduced to the idea of generativity—our capacity to find new ways of being and doing beyond being trapped in the same old automatic reactions—I could start seeing ways of shifting some of the stuck places I found myself in, and we often found ourselves in collectively. There were ways of coming back when I got triggered or activated. It became a possibility to reach out for support. There were ways to build something stronger into my system than my fear. There were ways to coordinate better with people and work together more effectively and enjoyably. There were ways to share myself and be open and connected in ways I had not had access to before. I noticed how our connection and capacity increased, and how personal and interpersonal issues started to have less of a grip on us.
I was inspired to find people who brought personal work to activism. Having been active in grassroots movements and living in collective political projects for years I knew how much of our energy was lost in hard group dynamics, interpersonal problems, and personal struggles. Defining personal work as an essential part of activism that is needed to make our movements stronger and more resilient helped me to get beyond a lot of my judgments of looking at all personal work as some kind of new age thing that bypassed the reality of the systems at work.
I was very glad to encounter people who brought political analysis to personal work and to healing. A few years ago when I was dealing with PTSD and felt pretty horrendous I had tried out a couple of therapists. Sadly, it did not turn out very well because they lacked an understanding of activist context as well as political analysis. One therapist told me that being involved in direct actions meant that I was suicidal. Another one informed me that she thought my distrust of the police must be grounded in my relationship with my father. Getting this kind of “help” was very frustrating and I never went back. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to say that there is no helpful therapy out there. But it was the moment when realized that I would work best with people who understood and were aligned with our concerns around social and environmental justice. It seemed to me that in conventional therapy most of the analysis of the problem did not extend beyond looking at dysfunctional core families. In generative somatics trainings we were also addressing how systems of oppression, i.e. racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, capitalism, etc. were part of shaping people all the way through life. Here my political analysis was intrinsically connected to my personal transformation, and my personal work was inseparable from my political work.
I was inspired to find a methodology of transformation with a clear commitment to radical systemic change. Finding an approach that aims to build momentum and capacity to create systemic shifts helped me get on board as it felt so deeply aligned with my life and my values. My mind was inspired by a different way of thinking about change, by a theory that both applies to individuals as well as to groups and systems. My body sensed that something about this felt right, that it made sense on a weirdly physical level. In the years to follow I could see how transformation works, I saw people change themselves and their lives through practice and commitment, I heard about how their collective political work was empowered, how old painful places found some healing, how relationships deepened. It gave me somewhat of a map of the landscape around how people change and how we heal. Within that it also gave me hope that change is actually possible.
I kept training with generative somatics and took their courses multiple times. Every year seemed to change me. I found more power, stability, joy, and more connection to myself, others and the world around me.
I appreciate having community to connect with in this work. It amazes me to keep seeing people around me change individually and collectively where they want to change. I also felt myself change through practice over time in places where I set myself out to shift. It helps me to think big and go beyond my own hopelessness and start to envision powerful people in powerful movements that are going beyond fighting back and actually produce lasting systemic change.
I kept practicing and training with generative somatics and became part of the teaching team.
A lot changed in me and for me over those years and, yet the feeling I had after my first somatics weekend about how useful this work would be for the movements that I came from in Europe, stayed the same.