Excerpt from the upcoming Essay-
Understanding Trauma at the Sensory Level
DIRT GROUP, Nature, and the Ancient Embodied Neuroscience of Mutual Aid
Kenneth S. Turck, MSW, LICSW
All Rights Reserved
©2022 Hooganaga Dreams
The Early Days
“They’re stealing your words, Kenny!!”
In the mid 1990’s I was working in St. Paul at the Wilder Foundation’s, Bush Memorial Children’s Center. Bush was a residential treatment center for kids who were struggling with the impacts of complex trauma and regulating their emotions. Sometimes they became aggressive when their nervous systems became overwhelmed, resulting in what were identified as “significant impairments” in their day-to-day functioning. These kids had experienced overwhelming, inescapable distress in their lives that was difficult for most people to comprehend. The public often viewed these kids as damaged, dangerous, troubled, and delinquent and were convinced if these kids could just learn to think differently, they could “manage their behaviors” and be “a normal kid”. Neither the public or the profession realized these “behaviors” were involuntary distress or survival responses encoded in the kiddo ‘s nervous system they had little if any control over. They were not making choices to “act out”. Fortunately, my co-workers and I were privileged to have kid centered, forward thinking mentors and supervisors. We were encouraged to “think outside the box” and creating a positive environment, was the focus of our “therapeutic milieu” or what I began referring to as the “marinade” in the early 1990’s.
Ingredients in the Marinade
There were four group living areas at Bush: The RoadRunners, the Explorers, the Dolphins, and the Wolves. Each group had 9 kids; ages 5-11 years old. Many of our kiddos identified their time at Bush, as the first time in their lives they had truly felt safe. However, the kiddos from my group (RoadRunners) also expressed their concerns regularly that my co-workers were “stealing your words, Kenny!” As one of the more experienced workers at Bush, newer workers began using some of the same vernacular or what the kids referred to as my “phraseologies” or “verbage”. This really bothered the kiddos from my assigned group, and they began to be very vocal about this and insisted that “we need to come up with some new words for you so they can’t “steal your style”.
Part of my “style”, according to them, was playing my guitar and singing original compositions for them at bedtime as a soothing way to help them settle in for the night. Many of our kiddos were sexual abuse victims and bedtimes were very challenging for them. Well, as bedtimes were difficult, sleeping was disturbed which then impacted their mornings too. They began to ask if I could sing and play guitar in the mornings too, but I told them as a vocal performance major when I started college, I found that I struggled to sing in the morning without warming up properly but I could some of my vocal exercises used to “wake up” my voice in the morning. One of these exercises consisted of making up random words or syllables as I moved up and done the scales. The kids especially liked this exercise as it often sounded silly and didn’t have to make any sense. One morning as most of the kids were still in bed, two ten-year-old’s were up and asked me to do this vocalization exercise. As I was folding laundry, watching the news, and doing this vocalization exercise, they about gave me a heart attack when they suddenly screamed from behind me, “THAT’S IT KENNY, THAT’S IT, THAT’S YOUR NEW WORD!!” I nearly fell over and asked them, “what word” and together they shouted, “HOO-GAH-NAH-GAH Kenny! HOO-GAH-NAH-GAH—that’s your new word!!“. They were so excited, laughing, and high-fiving when the other kids soon started to emerge from their bedrooms—some with sleepy, smiley faces, and some more awake and enthusiastically asking, “what’s going on? What is so funny?” As we laughed and thought about how we should spell my new word, we began discussing what it should mean too, “words gotta have meaning Kenny”.
As everyone got ready, we headed to the cafeteria for breakfast and what would be an enthusiastic conversation and a decision about how we would spell this new word and when we returned to the group area after breakfast, we finalized it’s meeting also. This was important and I didn’t realize just how important this co-creation was to my RoadRunners until we got back to the group area, and we were writing it down for the first time. Collectively, they decided, Hooganaga would be the spelling and (hoo-gah-nah-gah) would be the pronunciation key. They told me they thought it should be a greeting—but not just any greeting—they wanted this greeting, which became “Hooganaga 2 ya!!” to convey the level of safety, connection, belonging, and agency they had come to feel during their time at Bush. They wanted this new greeting to embody the healing they were experiencing and to convey a true wish for the recipient’s entire well-being. I was dumbfounded and moved at what these kids were teaching me then, and only more so now at what they have taught me over the past 35+ years.
Next: The Marinade