Systemic trauma, PTSD & childhood trauma – with Trace Barbour Aguila, CTP, CLC, MHFAC, CDC

What is it like to experience multiples types of trauma? How can we better understand the experiences of those who face historical and present day trauma? What do we need to learn in order to grow and to heal as individuals and as a society?

These are some of the questions I have been pondering in the last while. Over on social media, I have had the privilege of engaging with individuals who are on ground floor of the issues facing individuals and culture today.

Trace Barbour Aguila is one of those people. Trace experienced multiple adverse experiences growing up and they face ongoing systemic trauma every day. Trace is actively working personally and professionally to make changes locally in their hometown of New York City and in the greater world. I invited Trace to share their fierce compassion and wisdom here.

Trace Barbour Aguila (they/them), CTP, CLC, MHFAC, CDC is the founder of A Thrive Life — They are a mixed race Romani and Indigenous Muisca Healing Practitioner, Coach, Consultant, and Death Doula by lineage and training; focused on coaching, support, and guidance for grief and trauma healing with  movement, mental health, spirituality, and community. Trace lives and works on the occupied land of the Lenape known as New York City, where they are also a writer, an educator, and a true enneagram 8, fiercely compassionate, a disruptor, vulnerable, and open to initiating and holding space for tough conversations.  They are the first generation child of a deported immigrant and a transracial adoptee. Trace’s coaching and healing work is anti-racist, anti-oppressive, uncolonial, non-pathologizing, intersectional, and a interdisciplinary approach of trauma-informed and healing centered engagement. Trace is a member of TRACC4 Movement Healer’s Network, IDHA NYC – School for Transformative Mental Health, and the New York State Trauma-Informed Network

How would you describe healing from childhood trauma while facing ongoing systemic traumas?

I would describe it as uncomfortable and exhausting. There can be despair because you face it everyday. You get up and it’s there. It’s ongoing engagement with biases, racism, sexism, ageism, and classism. That’s really hard.

In your personal journey, what compelled you to begin to heal?

I understood that I had been through considerable trauma but it was not until my forties that I knew I had to take the time to process it. As a person of color, as a person who grew up poor, as someone who had colonization so deeply ingrained in me – a colonization that constantly gaslit me into bootstrap theory. I was and overworked and burnt out. I simply did not have the luxury of time to heal. I was facing so many obstacles and desperately trying to keep up, desperately trying to prove I was worthy and a ‘success’ story.

I went through significant personal and professional relational traumas that made me realize I had to do something. Childhood trauma taught me that experiencing unsafe relationships was normal and to be expected. It was what I deserved.

After I escaped a two-year violently abusive relationship, I knew I needed to pause and address my trauma. I was fortunately because I was able to access a trauma-informed therapist through the public system. I embarked on eight months of intensive therapy.

My therapist encouraged and supported me in feeling empowered and learning to trust myself. It was not focused on retelling the story but about getting me to the place where I believed I was not defined by the trauma I had experienced. I was allowed to have a safe space to process it in.

Trace Barbour Aguila, CTP, CLC, MHFAC, CDC

I think some people may incorrectly assume that people have time to heal. Could you provide insight into the reasons why this is inaccurate and why time is not the same for Black, POC and LGBTQIA+ communities?

This is such a loaded question! I can’t really speak for the Black experience because I am not Black. However, I can speak from my experience as a non-white biracial person and as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. The assumption is built up the assumptions that:

  1. We can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.
  2. Everyone has the same resources or access to resources.

This is a common theme that runs in the United States. It is built into every single corner of our systems from medical care to mental health care as well as any of the helping professions – personal fitness trainers and life coaching, for example.

What other supports have you utilized in your healing?

One of the first things I did was move to a safer living space. Having a safe space is so important.

Within my own LGBTQIA+ community, people are open about stating that their homes and spaces are safe. We talk about it. We make it explicit. We make a point to curate safe spaces.

Tracy Barbour, Aguila, CTP, CLC, MHFAC, CDC

Secondly, I focused on safe relationships. Over the last years, I have found relationships where I could be myself. That doesn’t mean I always share everything with the same person. I find having several people I can talk with different things about is helpful. This way you aren’t overloading others who may or may not be triggered by what you share personally and privately.

What would you say to encourage someone who is healing from complex issues and childhood trauma?

Find a safe space. Talk about your story if you want to but realize you are not required to. Find a professional who is trained and also has their own lived experience. Find and use resources from not only mental health professionals but also from community and spirituality.

It is okay to curate your inner circle. When you are ready, move your body. Using somatic or embodied practices will help you not dissociate.

Finally, cultivate joy and purpose. Once you are ready, I would encourage you to find joy as much as you can.

Tracy Barbour Aguila, CTP, CLC, MHFAC, CDC

What would you like those in supportive roles to know?

Please don’t use shame. Shame paralyzes people because it creates doubt and guilt. Guilt then becomes displaced and turned inward. Shame is never motivational nor healing.

How do your experiences inform your work?

I used to internalize some of the shaming things people would say to me, especially the very passive-aggressive commentary. Throughout my life, it was expressed to me that I did not know what I was doing, I was incapable of being trustworthy, I was weak, my truth and reality were either not real or inconsequential, and that I was required to listen to others and follow directions only.

Those messages break down a person to a shell. They can cause a person to not trust their own intuition and to become complacent and compliant. I was also told that my varied interests, my strengths, and my thirst for knowledge were weakness and that I was not focused enough.

After going through therapy, after resourcing what I could find to help me in my own healing, I knew there were many others who were probably like me. People who needed to feel safe. People who needed love and not scorn. People who had been stripped of their power, autonomy, identity, and sovereignty.

Tracy Barbour Aguila, CTP, CLC, MHFAC, CDC

I realized we are very unique as individuals and we cannot fit into little boxes.

All of this influenced me to become a companion and a guide. I am not someone who is in an authority position. I am a non-judgmental and non-anxious peer.

In my work, I use an interdisciplinary approach. It is trauma-informed while taking cues from healing centered engagement. I adhere to the principles of trauma-informed care: safety, trustworthiness and transparency, peer support, collaboration and mutuality, empowerment, voice and choice as well as cultural, historical and gender issues

Healing centered engagement approaches healing for individuals through community and relationships.

Trace’s recommended resources:

Where to connect with Trace: