The lasting anguish of trauma can be overwhelming to those it burdens. But at a recent reading event, author Sarah Salter Kelly examined her journey to overcoming these wounds and turning them into a reconciliation experience.
On Nov. 22, hosted online by Owl’s Nest Books, Salter Kelly held a reading event for her newly released self-help book, Trauma as Medicine. By pursuing a background in self-help, shamanism and energy healing, she told her virtual audience how she was able to overcome trauma and use it as a force for good.
Trauma is often avoided and ignored, but Salter Kelly says her book outlines how heavy these burdens can become.
Her story began in 1995, when her mother was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Edmonton during the cold of winter. The local police found her body 10 days later.
“The more time that goes by, we become heavier and heavier from all of the things we have not felt,” she said. “We end up creating more and more rules that make our world smaller and smaller because of all the things we are afraid to feel.”
Trauma as Medicine speaks to transforming anguish and grief into a source of healing.
“Do I love myself enough that I’m trusting in my instincts and trusting what I need to feel? Am I willing to have the courage to meet the fear behind whatever the experience was so that I can move forward in a good way,” she says.
During her book talk, Salter Kelly shared the anger and resentment she felt towards her mother’s perpetrator, who later died by suicide after his conviction and imprisonment in 1996. Closure was nearly impossible because of this.
“I wasn’t ready to forgive. I needed to really know that I wasn’t letting my mom down,” she said. “Here’s the irony. My mom had an affirmation on her bedroom mirror that said, ‘I forgive myself, I forgive everyone, I am free.’”
But the healing process is not always linear. Years after the incident, she used to dream of a child she believed was the perpetrator, seeking atonement.
This led her to reach out to the perpetrator’s sister, Marilyn Brighteyes, who shared about her brother’s history in the foster care system and their family’s history in Canadian residential schools.
With the information she gathered, Salter Kelly began to develop compassion for her mother’s killer. This compassion made her curious about his humanity.
“It inspired me to start to ponder, who was he other than a murderer?” Salter Kelly said. “His Alcoholics Anonymous book came into my hands … with a friend that commented inside of it [noting] ‘thank you for teaching me to love myself.’ How could somebody who [knew of self-love] also be a murderer?”
Curiosity arising, Salter Kelly, alongside Brighteyes, started to investigate the compound trauma caused by colonization in Canada. Over the years, the two have held talks together on reconciliation, sharing the stories of their own experiences.
“My soul, my heart was so cracked open by the amount of grief and trauma,” she said. “There was a lot of deep listening and learning as I recognized there was so much more to the story of why [the perpetrator] ended up being the guy in the parkade that day. Somebody doesn’t just wake up one day and decide they’re going to go kill someone. There’s more to it than that.”
Using her experiences and background in energy healing and self-help, Salter Kelly compiled these practices in her book. The beginning of her forgiveness was when she recognized that her mother’s perpetrator was one the greatest teachers of her life.
“From a place of acceptance, this is what happened and I can’t change anything about it. If I am to tell the truth, he has brought more teachings into my life than almost anybody else,” she said. “If I accept these teachings of compassion and shared humanity, then I have to honour where they came from.”
You can purchase Trauma as Medicine at Owl’s Nest Bookstore — in-store and online.