Work, Wellness, and the Future of Healing our Trauma

How Sarah Symons, founder of Her Future Coalition, has created a business model that that is radical enough to heal the world we have coming.

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo for Unsplash.

She wasn’t looking for a prince, she was looking for a sword.

Early in the days of COVID, I had a phone conversation with a colleague, who is a trauma specialist. As we were discussing the things happening around us and our fears and anxieties, I commented that I was exhausted. She responded, “Of course you are. We are currently experiencing a collective trauma. And when we are in trauma, we are in constant adrenaline mode, trying to survive. Healing cannot begin until we can emerge from the trauma and rest.”

Over the next nine months, millions of us received stimulus checks, Andrew Yang facilitated over $3 Million in grants of $3,000 each, and more people than we could have ever imagined pre-COVID, lived on unemployment checks for months on end.

As people lost their homes, friends opened their doors and couches, in spite of a pandemic, to give them shelter. When the families of college students had to quarantine in a hotel for 14 days, prior to the start of the semester, donors stepped up and paid for it. And, small businesses everywhere offered special gifts and products to front line workers and others, who had lost family members to the disease.

Online newspapers opened up COVID related articles for free to everyone and social media channels started flagging COVID related posts, as well as suspected fake information.

And, although we might wish some of these things happened sooner or in larger quantities, we could hardly imagine how much worse off we would be if they had not happened at all. They were (and still are) necessary and amazing things.

So why don’t we, collectively, feel better?

There’s no doubt that part of it is that trauma specialist’s explanation that we are still in the trauma. After all, the Capitol was stormed, trashed, and defiled only yesterday. But it’s also so much more than that.

⓵ We are constantly reliving and resharing some of the scariest days many of us have ever known with the constant conversations about who is suffering the most, what we should be doing differently, what we should be doing the same, why some people are wearing masks, why some people aren’t, who doesn’t want to get the vaccine, who has to get the vaccine, and who we know that is no longer with us.

⓶ We are inundated with conversations discussing either what the world will look like when this is all over or what the world looked like before it started because the present is painful and overwhelming.

⓷ We are expecting things to move more quickly, the government to do more — or less — , our jobs to keep paying us, our landlords and lienholders not to evict us, to find jobs and houses to replace the ones we lost, our friends and family to agree with us, our police officers to stop killing people of color, and our President to leave office because he lost the election.

All of these things are natural, expected, and even useful, while we are still in this trauma. What is imperative is that we start thinking less about what the world will look like post-COVID and more about how the world will feel and how we will recover, even thrive.

This is exactly what Sarah Symons, the founder of Her Future Coalition, has learned from fifteen years of working with survivors of the worst kinds of trauma that exist.

Sarah Symons, founder of Her Future Coalition. Photo by Kate Gardiner.

There is a shift that happens when we cross from survival mode to healing mode, and what we need becomes radically different. We no longer need to be given things that will get us through today or this month; we need to be given the one thing that will get us through the future: Opportunity.

Healing and finding joy again will require opportunities to work, to commune, and, certainly, to hope.

It is because of this radical approach, that so many young women, who joined their program, are now making their own way in the world — as doctors, nurses, accountants, social workers, parents, activists, artisans, and many other fields.

It is also why the goldsmiths they have trained are now an all-womxn production unit and pioneers of some of India’s first female goldsmiths. Turns out opportunity is a sort of pseudonym for access.

When Sarah started working with these girls, she had a mission to provide survivors of humxn trafficking with concrete survival tools: shelter, education, and well-paid employment, so that they could end the cycle of poverty and slavery in their communities.

What she learned is that it is not about rescuing or saving these girls, it is about shifting the culture around the potential of survivors of gender-based violence, and other marginalized people, and to provide them with the opportunities to reach that potential.

One of the ways she does is through a Post Traumatic Growth approach: moving forward, in the present moment, with gratitude. A model she created from listening to the needs of the girls, and a model she knows will work because she has seen it work, over and over again.

⓵ Telling and retelling their stories only serves to retraumatize survivors and keep them defined by their past. Focusing on the future and learning how to move on is what brings them to a place of transcendent joy.

⓶ Staying in the present moment by creating something, learning something, or accomplishing something is more healing than processing the past over and over or fixating on the future.

⓷ Survivors live in gratitude. They are not comparing themselves or their lives to an ideal, but to the horrific alternative of continuing to be in slavery. They are extremely grateful for the lives and opportunities they have.

This is not to say that there isn’t a need for trained healing work that involves sharing your story, or that it will always be traumatic to do so. In fact, the book, Standing in the Way, is also launching today, and it was co-written by Sarah and one of the womxn from their program, Anjali Tamang.

This book tells her story of being trafficked at age 12, from a village in Nepal to the brothels of Kolkata. Her Future Coalition has been sponsoring her education for years. Today, she is in her third year of college and is preparing to go back to her village and open a school to prevent the trafficking of another generation, in a place with extremely high rates of trafficking and child marriage.

This is what is possible when we shift our mindset, to see the interconnectedness of all people. This is what is possible when we adopt the radical perspective to look for the potential in everyone, for the ways we can provide opportunities for that potential to flourish, and when we get out of the way and let them fly. How do we do this?

We realize and remember that we are all one people; we are sisters and brothers. We all have the ability to heal, and we all have a claim to wellness.

This is what the future of work and wellness must look like. And, it is the only way we can ever have any chance of healing the world that is coming.

Visit Her Future Coalition to learn more about their work, subscribe the newsletter, sponsor a child, give a donation, or purchase ethically made products from their jewelry centers. Follow them on Instagram and Twitter.
Purchase the book, Standing in the Way, written by Sarah Symons and Anjali Tamang.
• Read the next article in this series: Work, Wellness, and the Future of Harmonizing our Workforce: How Dr. Vanessa Bouché, founder of Savhera, has created a business model that is audacious enough to harmonize the world we are creating.

The Modern World needs Modern Activists.
Modern activists are thinkers, entrepreneurs, protestors, writers, readers, teachers, and innovators. We are putting everything we’ve got into creating solutions that live at the intersection of gender justice, racial justice, economic justice, and climate justice. We are radical, audacious humxns who lead and create with moxi and devotion.

We are inspired by rebellion and fueling a revolution.

LaKay Cornell is a writer and creator on a mission to change the world through changing the narratives. Modern Activists is a series in her newsletter. Learn more and subscribe here.



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