Andrea Steffens - Exec. Director and Founder
Personal Statement - Andrea's Resume
I have always loved stories, something I've traced back to my maternal grandmother who visited our family for a few months every year. She was basically bed-ridden -- I was the only child I knew whose grandmother had been hit by a train.
And, I was her willing companion and journeyed with her into memory as she regaled me with near fairy tales about her life that reached back into the era of the Irish and English horse drawn carriage. She had old sepia photos -- many on tin that showed her, unrecognizable to me then, in brocade ball gowns or standing next to an elegant house. She was fierce that I know who my people were. And so I learned the importance of story telling in developing identity and connection to tribe. Human beings are, after all, herd animals. I was hooked. My father also was keen on story telling about my ancestors, our Scottish family who like our Irish ancestors fought the good fight, fought for their freedom for centuries at great price -- the toxic stress symptoms our family carries. it all made sense as I learned about the intricacies of how the body responds to severe stress. Responses to trauma suppress or activate DNA -- transmission of trauma is as real physically as it is psychologically. So the legacy of toxic stress symptoms pass from generation to generation and one of the ways in which that sequence is interrupted is through telling the story -- in a quite specific way -- one that is natural to human beings, a natural response to adverse experience. Talk about it. Tell it. The story demands an audience, a community, a patient listener. A Witness.
Over the years, I grew to love memoir, one person plays, autobiography and yes, even confessional poetry. I became a performance poet as I put the stories I knew and created into share-able form. To this day -- today even -- I continue to serve story. I overhear them standing in lines for whatever reason -- groceries, tickets, entrance to football games, at the bank, waiting for dinner reservations, in Macy's checkout line. Wherever I am, i hear them in loud conversations or whispered -- in restaurants, the subway, in the waiting room at the doctors office. We are surrounded by stories -- just pay attention to your day. See how often you hear a story...about something, anything.
As a child, I planned to raise horses and be a poet. Then, bam! My mother died when I was fourteen. My life changed and it would take many years before I realized the trauma that I carried with me from the occasion of her death. It wasn't until I began my work with sexually abused women in California and with Vietnam vets in Alaska that I recognized many of the symptoms that so disrupted their lives were mine. I recognized PTS in people recently out of prison, in inner city people and Native American friends. I learned that all of us will experience at least three significant traumas in our lives -- only three, if we are lucky. I learned that you didn't have to be a combat vet to have these symptoms of traumatic stress -- that they exist in people regardless of ethnicity, age, location and gender. And they do not have to be life threatening to be traumatic.
My biggest undertaking for my own healing was a large and complete memoir which gave the attention that story needs. Because in writing your life, you tell your story over and over (delete the inaccuracies, as your memory sharpens.. You edit and work it. And int he process, you work it out.
I have come to understand how and why writing the way I did it and the way I taught works to heal. And I expanded these methods to include techniques that exist in different cultures. Some I learned first hand from my Tlingit and African American friends, and others from books written by of Mircea Eliade, Marie Louise von Franz, Ellen Jane Harrison, Nor Hall and Lyn Cowan, Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. These were the ways I learned about ritual with its many healing ingredients that I had been using instinctively in my workshops, classes and individual sessions. It came to me as it has come to others because it is our human inheritance. In many cultures the important stories were told repeatedly, redundantly, again and again. The less important became gossip. Our stories are going to get told in one setting or another. Think about this next time you start telling a story. So I say,for those important stories, if you can't get to us then I hope you will find a friend and/or another writer, an artist, or a story teller who will Witness -- such an important function for all of us -- a friend who will listen deeply, who will receive your story and ride with it as you tell it, retrieving all the details you can -- exactly what the event was, or the condition, when, where, what and how your body felt, what you decided about your life from this or these experiences. Tell and listen to yourself as you tell it. Repeat it. And to those of you still suffering after years of silence, know that your story waits for you. It wants to be told. And yes, it needs to be held in an environment of safety, trust and Deep Listening. Your life, like those of many others, could change dramatically for the better in telling that difficult, that challenging story.