Sarah Salter-Kelly is a local author who her book 'Trauma as Medicine' in 2021.
"In Trauma as Medicine, Sarah Salter Kelly shares her experience of her mother's kidnapping and brutal homicide as an inspiring example of how to distill trauma into medicine on a personal level. Chapter by chapter, she invites the reader to take their own journey of healing."
'A riveting read. Sarah really grips your attention every step of the way with her personal stories. Her approach is very relatable and easy to understand. A great book for those who are dipping their toes in their own healing, as Sarah creates a clear and easy format to understand tools of healing, stages of healing and how to work with them. Also a great read for any veterans on the healing path, as everyone can use a reminder or a different perspective in our continuous healing and growth. This book is for everyone.' -Dannika,Gaia Rising
We had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Sarah about her and her book!
Gaia: Sarah, such a pleasure to be chatting with you. Why don't you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your background?
Sarah: I grew up near the banks of the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton Alberta, spending most of my free time playing in the ravines, hiking the trails, and jumping from the cliffs. This amounted to a lifelong love affair with nature and a desire to seek the edge of possibility.
Gaia: The main trauma you talk about personally in ‘Trauma as medicine’ is the experience of your mother’s kidnapping & homicide. Was this the first major trauma you addressed in yourself? Did it bring attention to other traumas in your life that were hidden in the shadows?
Sarah: Rape and Murder were the most obvious, and because of the extreme nature of this trauma it cast a shadow on the ones that were not. What I’ve noticed through the years is that it is difficult to acknowledge the power the smaller ones hold over us. We must convince ourselves that they’re relevant, and worthy of our attention/intention. Our bodies of course know this, but our mind needs to get on board. The first significant trauma for me was leaving home/being kicked out at 15 years of age. I was determined to be my own authority, unwilling to subject myself to my parents’ unreasonable expectations, and I refused to ask for help – with the fear that it would not be given. Given my age, lack of skills and development, this meant I went from the suburbs to the downtown core (of Edmonton, Alberta) and a lifestyle that was precarious and oftentimes dangerous. This took years for me to address as I couldn’t rationalize that it was traumatic, because I felt it had been my choice. Ironically, the self-determination and connection to Spirit that I gleaned from those formative years were what supported me in facing the devastating challenges of losing my mother to homicide.
Gaia: What was the hardest part for you personally in getting started with your healing of this trauma?
Sarah: Any sudden death leaves us grappling for a foot hold on reality, because everything that we knew to be true no longer is. There were so many hard parts, but if I am to narrow one down to the hardest in getting started, it would be making a choice to stop everything else in my life and let myself feel/grieve. After Mom’s body was found and we had a funeral, I had gone back to my retail job selling CDs/tapes in the local A&B sound music store. Three months later I recognized I was so overwhelmed with grief - every day - and I needed to be with the truth of what was coming through me. I could not fake or pretend that I was okay, and I didn’t want to. I quit my job and went on medical EI for a few months. This set a precedence for choosing what my body was telling me over the expectations of what the over culture dictates as permissible or expected.
Gaia: In your book, you create a framework for individuals to use in their healing, without revealing too much to our audience, can you talk about one of the eight foundations you laid out, and explain how it helped in your experience? If it was a particularly difficult step for you, could you explain why?
Sarah: Intention is where we begin and is of the utmost importance. We can heal anything. There is nothing too big; which is why I share; to give readers/listeners an opportunity to say 'heh if she can do that, I can do this'. Set the bar high and all obstacles will be transformed. My intention was freedom. In as much this included not only addressing the grief and trauma around her death but finding compassion for her perpetrator. In time this included getting to know one of his family members. What is hard is that it is uncomfortable. This isn’t bad, it simply means we are growing.
Gaia: Spiritual bypassing is a term that is becoming a growing topic in the spiritual community. For those who do not know what ‘spiritual bypassing’ is, in a nutshell, spiritual bypassing is a defense mechanism in which we avoid confronting our uncomfortable feelings or shadows. Example: ‘Well this really bad thing happened to me, but everything happens for a reason.” Others can also weaponize, either unintentionally or intentionally (depending on who they are and where they are at). Sometimes it may be used to promote acceptance or some people might use it to establish dominance if they feel threatened. Example being “That really bad thing happened to you, but the universe has a plan and everything happens for a reason.” Your book strongly shares the sentiment of ‘everything happening for a reason’ and finding ‘purpose in the trauma.’ How can the reader walk away confidently knowing the difference between spiritual bypassing and these principles you are teaching as a means of true healing?
Sarah: I love Everything Happens for a Reason and I believe it 100%. What happens with Spiritual Bypassing is people forget the AND that is tacked on to the end of that statement. For example, Everything Happens for a Reason AND this includes all my anger, uncomfortable feelings, emotions, grief and rage. They are a part of the main event not separate from it. We cannot harvest the teachings of trauma if we have not digested it and told the truth to ourselves about what impact it has had on us. We need to tend to and acknowledge victimization, face fear and express emotions as these each hold purpose in our greater understanding of who we are. They push us to let go of control and grow. We are not meant to override our emotional response by tacking a positive affirmation on to it and ignoring what is present in our being. We need to notice what we feel AND that somehow, even if we don’t understand it there is a reason for it. Both are true.
Gaia: What does forgiveness look like to you, and how do you know that you have ‘arrived’?
Sarah: Forgiveness is a practice, a way of living and being in the world. I am certain it is not a place we arrive at permanently, or something we can hold on to indefinitely. We humans change with the cycles of the seasons and the stages of our lives, which generate different perspectives on what has come to pass, and this means we often have to forgive an old wound, again. Super frustrating when we want to be done, yet this is the truth of the human condition. I think the most important part is that we initiate the practice, as it generates freedom. For me this is the act of letting go of blame and opening to the inquiry of why these profound teachings have come into my life. The first time I felt completely free from being haunted by my mother’s perpetrator was when I accepted that he was one of the greatest teachers in my life.
Gaia: Shamanic themes and altered states are consistent themes in your book. How did you come to the conclusion that these are valuable practices for healing trauma?
Sarah: I have thirty years of experience in utilizing altered states for personal healing, as well as guiding others in my private practice or through workshops/training. Altered states give us an experience of direct revelation where we can feel for ourselves the spiritual nature of our existence inclusive of our connection to Source. Whether this is through the use of plant medicine or shamanic journeys/trance – both are viable tools in helping us remember we are our own authority on healing. Trauma is not something that can be addressed by putting it into a box, these practices help us to incorporate the mythic/energetic/spiritual nature of what has come to pass so we may begin to determine their purpose and meaning. In my book I reference the use of the Underworld as a place where we can imagine that our trauma is hanging out. A landscape that we can invent and connect with through the use of our imagination. In doing so we do not have to cut off or get rid of any parts of our trauma, there is room for the whole thing, and in time when we are ready, we can develop the relationship with it that supports transformation.
Gaia: Would you be open to sharing about a power animal that you work with and what it represents in your life and healing journey?
Sarah: Almost thirty years ago I felt a connection with Wolf. Perhaps it was also because I was reading Women who run with the Wolves at the same time. Either way I used to go out at night under the full moon in the golf course that was in Edmonton’s river valley and pretend to be a wolf. I would ask Wolf to help me shape shift and I would walk through the edges of the open spaces on all fours, smelling wind, feeling the spirit of the land and learning to determine if I was safe. When I felt I was, I’d dash out into the wide-open greens, jumping, skipping and playing as wolf. She is the power animal I reference in Trauma as Medicine for helping to shift the paradigm of victim/prey into personal power. I feel her guide me in stepping into leadership as well as to willing to face/eat any heavy energy on my path - with an open heart.
Gaia: What other books or resources would you recommend for healing trauma, plant medicine and shamanic journeying?
Sarah: Books for trauma I would recommend includes, 'Healing Trauma: Walking the Tiger' by Peter Levine,'The Body keeps score' by Bessel Van Der Kolk & 'In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts' by Gabor Mate.
As for Shamanic Journeying – most of my knowledge comes from direct experience, however these books are great: Starhawk’s Spiral Dance (journeying is called trance), Nicki Scully’s Alchemical healing or Power Animal Journey’s, Sandra Ingerman's Soul Retrieval.
Plant medicine: I first started experimenting with psychedelic’s thirty years ago and am comfortable with how they work in my body. My preference has been to explore their ceremonial aspects with others, rather than read a book. As I share in Trauma as Medicine this included venturing to the Amazon on five occasions. That being said I am presently reading 'Fly Agaric, a Compendium of History, Pharmacology, Mythology, and Exploration' edited by Kevin Feeney – which is fascinating book on the use of the infamous red capped mushrooms. And have just purchased Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World by Paul Stamets!
Gaia: Could you explain what “wholeness” means in terms of being healed from trauma? Do you think that we can be completely whole in our lifetime, or does it take our whole lifetime to create wholeness?
Sarah: I think we are whole already. However, we tell ourselves stories all the time that make us believe we are not – stories that are most often related to our trauma. Some of these include why we are not worthy of love, what we are ashamed of, or what we are afraid of – to name a few. This energy negates our capacity to feel into our wholeness. Into the truth of what is present. We need to change the stories; it is actually that simple (and that hard.) To recognize our wholeness includes the experience of our challenges. Instead of allowing them to make us feel separate from ourselves, we can learn to metabolize them and open deeper to who we are.
Gaia: I fully agree with the sentiment of “you are not what has happened to you”. Why do you believe we can easily get caught up in making our stories our identities?
Sarah: Honestly Dannika, I think it is a natural stage in healing. In the acute phase, right after we go through trauma it overwhelms our whole identity. We do not know who we are anymore – and the truth that something horrible happened to me, needs to be felt because it is real. Its energy is dark, heavy and charged, and we carry this around with us, it becomes a part of the stories we tell. However, in time the charge lessons, and we gain more perspective, where we can start to realize that there is more to who we are than what happened to us. We recognize we have a choice in who we are, and how we live, that is not dependent on what was or was not done to us.
Gaia: Our ‘feelings’ can sometimes feel like our gut or intuition. How do you differentiate between your feelings and your grounded sense of inner knowing?
Sarah: I need to have practices in my life that keep me grounded, such as meditation, gardening, and physical exercise. This way I am cleaning my energy body regularly and addressing or allowing for emotions to move through me when they arise. It becomes easy to tell the difference between a sensation that is intuitively guided and one that is just an emotional reaction/response with this practice.
Gaia: You mother’s assailant was a first nations man. Finding this out about your mother’s story prompted a further journey into learning about Peter Brighteyes’ life, upbringing and history. Through your discoveries you learned how colonialism, racism, present day legislation & the systems in place that still affect first nations peoples, had a great impact on Peter Brighteyes. You were able to arrive at a place empathy learning about how him being in and out of the system, abuse & intergenerational traumas greatly impacted Peter and created the ‘evil’ in him that you believe led to him murdering your mother. Can you talk more about the process of how the empathy developed over time? What were the challenges of stepping into empathy?
Sarah: The word I would use is Compassion or shared humanity. This is such an important part of Trauma as Medicine. When we decide in our own bodies, that we are willing to heal at all costs, Spirit/Source/God brings us the teachings that we need to support this outcome. Of course, the challenge is sticking to it and being willing to face what comes, because it is going to be difficult and uncomfortable. For me, this meant I needed to let go of my need for Peter to be the Bad guy and start to wonder who he was as a human – other than a murderer and a rapist. For he was also a son, brother, father, friend and member of Saddle Lake Cree Nation. This was not easy. However, my mother’s spirit is very pushy - she was life Coach and believed there are no accidents - so I decided to listen to her. This coupled with prayers and ceremony, led me to stay curious and follow my intuition. It took years and has amounted to the soul work I’ve come to this planet to do.
Gaia: You also developed a friendship with Peter’s sister. Can you explain how that was essential for your healing personally?
Sarah: This has been totally unexpected and one of the most soulful relationships in my life. Because it is hard. Because it makes me confront and be with the trauma of colonization and recognize the role my ancestors had to play and learn to be an embodied conduit for change. Together – Marilyn and I - offer story share talks at conferences or events on lived reconciliation. We have probably done this about 20 times since 2015 and each and every time I feel I learn something new, my energy body heals deeper, and I am inspired by what we generate together as possibilities for simply listening to the other.
Books I recommend for learning more about the First Nations experience in canada: 21 things you may not know about the Indian act: Helping Canadians making reconciliation with Indigenous peoples a possibility By Bob Joseph, Half-Breed by Maria Campbell, Stolen life by Rudy Wiebe & Yvonne Johnson, Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King. Most importantly read the reports from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that includes first hand stories, history and calls to action that still have not been mandated.
Gaia: What is your hope for humanity and the Earth?
Sarah: To become sustainable people and live in reciprocity with Mother earth, each other and Spirit.
Gaia: Are there any other personal spiritual practices you have? Do you mind sharing about them?
Sarah: Mediation, Yin Yoga, sharing Haywahrikuy gratitude offerings with the land (I have been studying the energy healing tradition of the Q’ero people in Peru for 16 years) and time outside physically challenging myself.
Gaia: Are there any spiritual philosophies, beliefs, or paths you are drawn to that you would like to learn more about?
Sarah: I would like to go to Ireland, Scotland and England to listen to the land and learn more directly from teachers of the Shamanic lineages native to those lands. About 65% of my ancestry is from there.
Gaia: How do you think you have grown as a person in the last year?
Sarah: This book birthing has initiated a whole new journey, which coupled with the teachings of covid times is really profound. I trust myself more than ever before and feel willing to show up and be present with what is here.
Gaia: What is one thing you would like to grow about yourself in 2022?
Sarah: Quite literally my arm strength with my weights practice…And to generate an international presence in sharing Trauma as Medicine!
Gaia: What is your sun sign and do you feel you relate to it? If you know what your moon and ascendant signs are, do you feel like they reflect in your personality?
Sarah: I am a Scorpio Sun with an Aquarian Moon and a Libra rising. They – along with the rest of my chart – vastly reflect how I exist in this world. I need things to be in balance, at peace and diplomatic, not always an easy task yet that is the determination of the Libra influence. I am fiercely independent in my spiritual nature and have had learn to forge my own path in relation to energy healing and digesting trauma, here is the Aquarian moon. The intensity of my life and my desire to go into the dark, be with truth – no matter what - and not waste time with small talk is my Scorpio Sun.
Gaia: Tell us about more about the readings you offer and other products or services you offer?
Sarah: Private sessions in person in Grand Forks or on Zoom. I teach Trauma as Medicine retreats – there will be one in Kaslo in September – and have an online mentorship 12 week program which follows the book also beginning in September. Every full moon I host an online shamanic journey. Come April I will be doing a Trauma as Medicine book launch event for the Nelson area at Soma Yoga studio!
Gaia: Where can we find more information about accessing your products and services?
Gaia: What would be in your shopping bag at Gaia Rising?
Sarah: Oh easy – Beeswax candles, new set of cards on mystical astrology, incense, and I need some statues – Green Tara, Kwan Yin, Isis and Ganesh.