A Serpent in the Garden
“Trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being” (SAMHSA, 2014)
The Eden Alternative uses the metaphor of a garden to show how creating a human habitat, where different species come together to thrive, and not just survive, is the antidote to the three plagues of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom for Elders and their care partners.
- In this beautiful space one can become well-known, share their stories, and hear and hold the stories of others to develop truly close and meaningful relationships. This is the antidote to loneliness.
- In this genuine home, one is honored for the gifts they offer, even as they receive from others. This is the antidote to helplessness.
- The vibrant garden, filled with people of different ages, animals of all kinds, and lush green plants, offers endless opportunities for variety and spontaneity, the antidote to boredom
But what if there is a serpent* lurking in our beautiful garden?
Without diving into theology or philosophy, we can look to the story of the biblical Garden of Eden, where a time came when the inhabitants feared they had done something wrong and hid themselves from the face of the Divine with feelings of guilt and shame.
These feelings, and the denial that followed, kept Adam and Eve from participating in the bounty of the Garden and the close relationship with God and peaceable communion with the animals and plants they tended. Their actions, according to the story, had an impact that affected their children and their children’s children, for generations.
Today, there are people who may struggle to avail themselves of the garden’s bounty, no matter how openly it is offered.
Perhaps they carry shame about something that happened in their family a long, long time ago.
Perhaps aspects of their own history leave them feeling unworthy to partake of the joys of community.
Perhaps their survival responses to past abuse or assault make it difficult to receive care now.
Painful memories and unresolved trauma can lock people out of the garden, but there are ways to help people heal and reconnect with community and a sense of true well-being.
The Trauma-informed Care Project defines trauma-informed care as “an organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. Trauma-informed care also emphasizes physical, psychological and emotional safety for both consumers and providers, and helps survivors rebuild a sense of control and empowerment.”
This approach is a wonderful fit for organizations already on a journey of culture change, for agencies and homes invested in person-directed care, (and it is a new requirement for nursing homes from CMS!)
Even though painful memories and unresolved trauma can keep Elders and their care partners from enjoying the bounty of a rich and vibrant community, there are real-world approaches to recognizing and responding to the effects of trauma. We can ensure that everyone in our community is able to hear and say “yes” to our invitation to enjoy the Garden!
If you have been working hard to create and sustain a beautiful garden for Elders and their care partners and want to learn more about how to support healing for people living with unresolved trauma, you are invited to join me at the 2018 Eden Alternative International Conference workshop on “Effective Responses to Emotional Trauma in Person-Directed Care Settings,” on May 3rd, 2018.
*By the way, I actually like snakes and once had one as a pet. Please take the title reference as allegory only!
Lisa Kendall, LCSW-R, CSW-G, is an Educator and Mentor for The Eden Alternative, teaches the Fieldwork class for the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute, and serves on the Cornell University President’s Council on Work and Family Affairs. As a social worker and clinical gerontologist, Lisa has a private counseling and consulting practice in Ithaca, NY. Her blog about self-care for every member of the care partner team is available at www.lisakendallcounseling.com/blog’