Aunia Kahn's work in trauma and mental health has grown over the years and has created a launching pad for the Healing Art Creatively Program. Art and trauma-related work first came together as a passion and purpose with her career’s first exhibition Voices Within Surviving Through the Arts (St. Louis Artist Guild 2005) where her art took on subjects of abuse and trauma and was awarded for her endeavors.
Later, she was invited for consecutive years as a panelist for the Washington University School of Medicine’s MOHOP (Mental Health Outreach Program) and has regularly been a guest lecturer at Southwestern Illinois College speaking abuse, trauma and medical trauma. With her interest to create a supportive and interactive tool to support people working through trauma and adversity, she authored the “Inspirations for Survivors” deck.
She has also worked as a mentor at OSLP Art & Culture Program, collaborating one-on-one with students who have developmental disabilities on projects and assisted the program in building their student’s portfolios. As a curator, she has curated exhibitions focusing on trauma and mental health such as Darkest Dreams a Lighted Way (2008) and Empathic: A Mental Health Awareness Exhibition (2016) and Touch By Violence (2013).
She continues her work in the field teaching courses, offering free resources, and providing tools to those that need. Her work has been in over 300+ exhibitions in over 10 countries; at places such as San Diego Art Institute, Los Angeles Center for Digital Art, iMOCA, St. Louis Art Museum, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Mitchell Museum, and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.
She has also been on podcasts like Entrepreneur on Fire, with 70 million downloads & 1 million monthly listens.
Aunia has curated several internationally recognized books and projects.
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In Good Health!
Hello and welcome to in the rising podcast. My name is Betina brown, and this is the platform that I've chosen to talk about living a life that's in alignment with your hopes, your dreams, and your goals, and, and really living a life that's full into what your idea and vision of full, what that is walking away from shame and blame that does nothing for you. And with shame and blame. A lot of that can come from poor experiences and poor experiences can often be what we call trauma, especially in our, our childhood. And so this is a really, really important episode today. And my guest is AYA K who not only shares some of her own personal trauma, but her experience, her view of how to get this trauma out of your system and make a change not only for your life, but for generations to come. So I'm really eager for you to hear what AYA has to say. Thank you so much AYA for spending some time with me today. I've read your story and I am looking at it. It is really, it is so powerful and you do art and trauma and trauma is a huge thing that I talk a lot about on, in the rising podcast, because , um, for some people it's an event for others, it was a childhood. And so, but either way, we're here now having to develop through this. So why don't you share a little bit like where, where your work kind of started from?Speaker 2:
Sure. So my work kind of started from of course living a traumatic childhood. So having a background , um, basically right out , right out of the gate of being, you know, a survivor of dealing with some pretty intense , uh , situations growing up. And then , uh , later in life, I ended up having a lot of health issues in association with that, which a lot of people don't understand the correlation, right? Mm-hmm <affirmative> . But as I started to develop health issues, when I was around 19, it , it was there prior to kind of inter intermittently, but really when I was 19, it started to surface extremely intensely. And that's when I started to notice the correlation between the adverse childhood experiences, which are your ACEs. If people don't know, you can look 'em up and you can take your ACEs score. And , um, it gives you a number from one to 10 and it lets, you know, kind of like what you might be challenged with based on how many ACEs. So the, the higher number of ACEs, the higher number of , um, adverse childhood experiences, the more likely you'll suffer from addiction, you'll suffer from health problems, obesity , um, heart, heart issues. I mean, the list goes on and obviously this was not something that I was researching back when I was 19, but it's something I wanna bring up now for other people to be able to really look at mm-hmm <affirmative> . And for me, I have 10 outta 10, so that was pretty intense to go, oh, that makes a lot of sense to me. But back then, I wasn't as privy to this information. And, but I still had this understanding that something to do with what was going on with me growing up, had to have an effect on me as a human being, because people that I knew who had also went through traumatic childhoods, which was a lot of people, a lot of people think it's isolated, right? Or think that they're the only ones. And it's actually very prevalent in society, child abuse and child neglect and things that we don't often associate with being abusive, per se, like having a narcissistic parent and not really knowing until years down the road that you were being abused and gaslit right. So when I was , uh, kind of comparing myself to other people that I grew up with, a lot of them had got into drugs and alcoholism addiction problems, and I didn't go there, but mine ended up being health issues. And not that those two can't correlate, right? Like you can't be an addict and not have health issues or, you know, vice versa. But I realized that that was kind of my way that I was expressing my trauma and the way that my body had assimilated, the damage. And I had to deal with that repair. So my health just completely started tanking. I was bedridden for 11 and a half years. It took me 18 years for anybody to listen to me and actually hear what I would like really hear what I was saying. I was taken in and out of the hospital sometimes a couple times a week. It was pretty awful. And I was forthright with my abuse, which I felt would be advantageous to medical support, like saying, you know , I have gone through this. Yes. I understand. I have anxiety. Yes. I understand. I have PTSD . However, there's something else going on. I've been researching psychology from the Donna time . You know, since I was about 14 , when I was like, what is wrong with my family ? Um , and they just still automatically would categori categorize me as having mental health problems because I was forthright about that trauma, which was very reaffirming. It was very dysregulating. It , um, took a lot of my , um, what's the word I wanna say it took, it took a lot of my power away because I felt somewhat empowered by being honest and open about my adversities. And so there was like this power that was taken away. It's like, oh, you're gonna be honest. You're gonna be vulnerable. You're gonna tell us these things. And we don't think there's anything physically wrong with you. So it took till , you know, 18 years in, which was three years ago to get my first diagnosis. And I'm like in my forties and 43. So, and it was really great, but there's a lot of trauma that I've had. There's a lot of trauma now that I've had to really deal with with the medical aspects of it. The not being listened to the not being heard, being gas lit by the medical community. What do you do when the people that are supposed to help you harm you? Right . Mm-hmm <affirmative> and there's actually a book out called that. If people wanna look into it for people who have medical trauma. So that's, that's kind of where I got into, you know, it's , I always kind of like call it like , oh, it's a happy accident. You know, like my family was an accident. You know, my , my health issues were an accident, but it brings me to where, where I am today. So when I started to get really sick, I turned back to art. That's not where my focus was. I was using it as a catharsis. I never wanted to be an artist out in the world exhibiting, like I wanted to be a therapist. Like I had zero interest in being an artist, but I'd always been artistic. I just didn't understand that there was a , um , something you can do with that. No one ever educated me. I didn't go to museums growing up. I didn't have any sort of art education. It was very much like you need a real job, you know, like a real human job, but I never even thought of it otherwise. So as I kind of started moving into this in the early stages of my work, it was very dark, dark, dark images. It was very difficult for me to show them publicly. I had a friend of mine see my work name , Roger. And he , uh, told me I should put my stuff in art exhibitions. And I thought, are you out of your mind? Like, it just, it didn't seem, it felt like a visual journal, like a real private narrative that I was exploring. And the thought of sharing it publicly was mortifying <laugh> to me . Um, but I'm also driven. I wanna help. And I thought perhaps it could have impact and maybe someone else would feel this, understand it. There might be a sense of community or support. So I gave it a try. And from the very first show, it really took on its own life. And I got really connected to the community. And I did things through like Washington university school of medicine, where I was on their mental health outreach panel and , um , McKendry university and , um , Southwest Illinois college, which I believe they've changed their name now. So it's been a while and just other things. So I got into, you know, institutions talking about art and correlation with healing because truly I was in survival mode during that moment. And it's the only thing that was really keeping me here. I mean sure. Friends, family, people that I love. Yes. But there needs to be a secondary anchor for people, right? Like you can have all the people love you in the world, but if you don't have something that's yours that you can hold onto some something, then that's why people lose their lives. Cuz they don't have the something people can love you all day long. But if you can't hold onto something, you might not stick around. Right. So yeah. So that's, that's my long, quick, fast story <laugh>Speaker 1:
And, and you have so many really awesome points in that long, quick story <laugh> in that, you know, I had never even heard about that score in the first place that you mentioned, but um, you know, I do like to read about trauma, especially as a physical therapist , uh, we are taught in school to not chase the pain and the longer I am, you know, if your knee hurts is really the knee , the problem, is it your ankle? Is it something, you know , looking and the longer I was a PT, especially with , um , these longer chronic term conditions, not a hundred percent of the time, I'm not taking that away from the people's experie experience.Speaker 2:
Yeah ,Speaker 1:
Of course. But the more I realized that not every physical problem is physical and origin. And so that's when I became a life coach and started looking at trauma, started learning about myself. Um, just, just to , just to have more, to have more during that session. And so I think with your score, what you'll , I'll look it up and put it there too. In the , in the , um, description, is that it gives someone a tool to start off with. Um , yes , because I , I think, you know, to say that why I have a traumatic childhood, that means different things for different people, because for some, you get so used to certain things it's not seen as trauma to you, but it is. And so haveSpeaker 2:
Yeah. So I think that will be a huge point to, to document that there's a starting point with that. Mm-hmmSpeaker 2:
<affirmative>. Yeah . And also , um, I do a workshop based around this and one thing I always wanna point out because when people go and visit their ACEs scores, if they get a high one and they see the results of that, such as, you know, heart disease, obesity, addiction, early death, if they see all of these things, it can feel even also more traumatizing like, oh no, I didn't know. But the good thing I like to tell people is that if you are aware of these things, then you can do steps, like seeing a therapist, talking to a good medical doctor, doing things like art or things that are joyful to you. There are ways to combat those things and not necessarily reverse them, but kind of gain your power back. Kind of like you're saying as being a PT, like the stuff that's going on in your body, of course there's medical issues that exist, but there's also psychological elements that play a very large part in how our body assimilates stuff, because we hold stuff. And if we're not processing through the trauma, if we're just holding it, mm-hmm <affirmative> we can think about it all day long. We can go to a great therapist and feel like we emotionally have it in our head. Just fine. We're like, we're great. No big deal. I got through this. I feel strong. I forgave people, but yet you still hold it in your body and you can't completely recover without recognizing your body. Like there's a book. The body keeps the score score . Mm-hmm <affirmative> so that's the same thing. And so for me, for somebody who's, who's been in this journey for a long time, it took me quite a while to come to that understanding of like, I've been psychologically stable in the understanding of my abuse and the forgiveness and the all of these pieces. But why am I not better in other parts of my world? Like , oh, there's a whole other level. You can be cognizant and you can do , um, you know, processing in your mind, but your body still holds so much. Mm-hmmSpeaker 1:
Unfortunately mm-hmm <affirmative> , but we can work through that. All of this has hope to, to it, all of the things that people will come across, if they're looking at their ACEs and other things, or they start to come into awareness perhaps of abuse that they didn't recognize, like you said, that was abuse, cuz it was so normal that there are so many hopeful ways to move through that.Speaker 1:
Yes. And, and I'm glad you brought up that book cause I've read it twice and every time every there , but I , I think it is relevant cuz I'd like to link it to processing that there is a story where , um, a couple was in a car accident in Canada and many people died and they were both PhDs decided to do the whole scanning thing with the medical community because they did , uh , one person did , um , die, rather tragically. Her car was on fire. And so they heard the whole process. Now one, I don't know if it was the husband or wife when he retold the story, his blood pressure changed . Like his palms got sweaty. There was a physical reaction to his retelling. When the wife told the story or the , the other spouse, there was nothing, there was no blood pressure change . There was no brain scan change. They both experienced the same thing, but they processed it differently. And so I like that story. Not that it's not a nice story. It was true. Sure . But I like it to make it relevant. That how you process your story does not have to be according to any medical journal or someone else's story. What do you think on that?Speaker 2:
I think that's very true. I think trauma processing is a very individual journey. It's like peeling apart an onion. It's like your process. I mean, you, I think it's important to have people guide you through that or seek out support for that. If it's, it's affecting your life in a negative way, or even if you think it's not completely affecting your life, but you kind of know it is, then I think it's important to seek out help, but it's, there's no one fit just for anything in life. There's not one fit that's going to cure you fix you make everything all better. Anybody on the internet, that's selling you a quick fix. That's saying you are going to be completely fine. Everything's good is a liar because we are as a human being, we, we all look different. Our DNA is different. The way we process stress is different. Our generational trauma is different. There's scientific proof. Now that says generational trauma does exist. This is not some woo woo thing. Like, oh, we believe in, you know, the past. It's like, no there's scientific proof that says, if you family members have been traumatized in the BA past, it's gonna carry on and carry on and carry on. And you can be the changer of that. I don't think that's a word you <laugh>. It is today. <laugh> okay . That sounds good. Um, you know, you can be the change maker of that, but you have to be aware. So we have all of these levels, like I said, we have generational trauma depends on when trauma happened in our life. Was it early childhood trauma? Was it trauma later in life? Was it trauma that we don't even know? I keep bringing this up because I think the point that you made is super huge. So many people do not know that they are being abused or being traumatized. I have somebody in my life right now, who's in their forties who had a terrible situation with their parent. And, and when we sat down and this is like a real close person to me, I said, do you understand that this is abuse? And the person for the first time in their whole life went , I , I didn't know. You're right. Oh my God. And like changed their whole life and their relationship with that person and put up blocks and boundaries. But because they were so used to it, you know , they were like, well, I guess this is just the way the person is. They didn't recognize the pain. And so they're working through that. So I think everybody has such a different journey and, and to not get what's to not, I don't want people to get discouraged. If something doesn't work, if something doesn't work, it doesn't mean you're broken or, you know, there's something wrong. It's just like, that's not the door for you. And that's okay. There might be something else that's an even better fit. Just keep on trying and working towards things and knowing that you are going to be okay. As long as you know, you are willing to tell yourself that I'm okay, I'm gonna be okay, I'm I will be safe. You know, you have to tell yourself all of these things because it's hard to believe all of it, right? Mm-hmm <affirmative> like when you go through that stuff, it's hard to believe yourself. And that's the one thing I noticed with trauma stuff too, with the process of healing and finding modalities to help is that as a person, we have to be able to believe ourselves, believe our own journey. So many people that have trauma have , have a hard time with identity and trusting in their own perception, trusting in their own. I mean, beliefs trusting in their own values. And so when we can start trusting ourselves that we can guide ourselves, we can protect ourselves. We are autonomous, we have the power . That's when I think people can start healing really mm-hmm <affirmative> really well, but it's a journey. It's a total like it's, you know, it's like a maze it's, it's , it's only thing for everybody.Speaker 1:
It is , you know ? And even when you said generational , um, um , story, like the pain goes from generation that just doing the research, cuz I am , I always say I'm such a nerd. <laugh> I will , I will drive somewhere. I'm like, why do they do that? <laugh> why do they put the hands sometimes in this and this? And I'll research it on the trip. But when we look at , um, you know, why certain things seem to see , always happen to family members? Why is it always alcohol that, you know, no matter what, like alcoholism was something in my family, but drugs not like I , you know, I, I, I would smoke a little bit here and there cigarettes and I could never feel like that was a thing for me. I could just stop, but I could definitely keep drinking. Like that was an easy flow and it was within the family. So people have that. And for some people, even if they have the belief of like a higher thing that there , this is your generation, this is your pain to carry. We can see that. So it's it , it is the spiritual. And then here science, just backing it up again to put that down there. Absolutely . Yes. I like your point of being the changer , the change maker with some awareness, because it is not a given that it has to continue and you may be the change maker to start making the changes down the line, right? Yeah. What do you think if someone realizes, wow, for example, I had such a narcissistic parent or a narcissist or this within my family, what would you , um, feel would be helpful for them to help raise their awareness? For example?Speaker 2:
Sure. That's a good question. I think really education is probably the most important thing, especially with like narcissist. I know that's specific , um , to something, but for like a narcissistic parent, it's like actually understanding what does that mean? What does a narcissist do? How are the ways that they manipulate? What are the things that you can do to protect yourself? And there are so many different things that, you know, people will open a door to, you know, maybe, maybe it's something as, as, as , um, like , uh , what's the word I'm trying it , um, like workaholism. Okay. Like so many people don't recognize that that's a problem, right? They're overachievers. I mean, I'm only bringing this up cause I know a lot about that. <laugh> it's, it's one of my vices. So I just wanna throw that out there. It helps me be accountable, but that you recognize these things and that you research them, you really dig in and you try to peel away that onion and find out why it's happening and how can you shift it into a better space? Because we can always shift our perceptions. We can shift anything that we're doing. There's nothing in our life that we can't shift , shift our perception on. Even if we don't like it, we can learn to shift our perception to accept the things we don't necessarily like in our life. And there's certain things that we can't change in our life. There just is life happens. But the things that we can change, like things that are going on in our life personally, like the functions that we have, let's say alcoholism, addiction, work alcoholism. I mean, there's so many dysfunctions versus the people on the outside of us, right? Who, who create other dysfunction, there's two different things. And so when dealing with your own self it's being able to notice it, be kind to yourself about it, beating yourself up, ripping yourself down, having all guilt and shame is going to destroy you. You have to be willing to be open accepting. This is what it is. I did this, I , I became this person based on what I knew in that moment. Now I know something different. I can make different choices, but I'm not gonna penalize myself for the past because I don't live there anymore. And if people wanna keep bringing up your past or bringing you into your past and you're really not living there anymore, then those people don't need to be in your life. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And then the people on the outside that we deal with and like we become aware of, let's say my mother is abusing me or, you know, my partner is not good to me or my boss is a horrible person. Then we have to be able to again, be aware, figure out our part in it. Is there any way that we're playing a part in it? And if it's not healthy for us, how to, how do we a get out of it? And especially during COVID , sometimes people are a lot more caught in situations now than ever. So there's not always the opportunity to flee a situation. Right. But how can you protect yourself in the best way possible? Because not everybody has an opportunity to , uh , distance themselves at this point, which is unfortunate.Speaker 1:
Right? Right. And then you are creating art. You are in these art , um, exhibitions. You're, you're, you're being upfront with traumas of your past. Um, what would you, would you, let me, how do I rephrase this? How, if you're talking with someone and you're upfront with yours and they're trying to hide all of theirs, what do you want to tell them? Not necessarily that you do, but you know , keeping all the trauma to yourself because of the stigma that might be associated with that. What do you have to say to , to situations like that?Speaker 2:
Well , that's good. Cuz we deal. That's a good question. Cuz we deal with that on so many levels. Don't we, where people are so afraid to speak out or be open , uh , and just be truly who they are based on judgment, based on feeling shame based on feeling , um, outcasted. And there's actually scientific studies and people don't know this. Like people feel like, oh, if somebody rejects me and I feel really bad, I should just get over. It's no big deal. We are pack animals. Mm-hmm <affirmative> our li our lives depend on people being there and accepting us into the group. And if we are rejected, this hits us at a really deep level. People think it's just very surface. Like, oh, I was rejected. Like, no, it's it hits your survival button. I've been rejected. I'm ousted from the group. And so the reason I bring that up is part of the reason people don't, you know, step out, open up, you know, wanna share about things is because of that fear of rejection, which is to that core level of like fear. And what I tell people is like, you have to walk your own path. You just do. If you don't wanna speak out about it, or you don't feel comfortable doing that, then, then you have to do what you have to do. Like, but I would encourage people that if they do hold onto something and if there's any way possible that they could find a safe person, whether or not it's a therapist or, you know, it's a friend or whatever you need to do to deal with it. Because sometimes we need people that are not close to us, right. To help us, you know, help us out. Cause you know, sometimes we don't wanna tell a friend and we wanna tell somebody who's like a third party who knows nothing about it, but finding a good healthy therapist, if you don't fit, this is another thing. If you go into a therapy office and you don't like the person right off the bat, do not go back. Yeah . Do not compromise yourself for anybody cuz you feel bad or you feel guilty or, or maybe I was wrong. It's like, you have to go with your gut. If you don't like it don't do it. There's a hundred million other people that you can try to find them just the perfect fit. So I think it's just really having somebody go about their own journey except where they are if they don't wanna be open about it. But at least understand that the more that we are open, the more that we bring things to the light, the more that we don't push them down, mm-hmm <affirmative> the more likely we will to heal because the more we push it down, just like for instance, anxiety, I know I'm bringing this up because the , I think probably 70% of the world is anxious right now. <laugh> , you know , we all, so many people deal with anxiety now in the modern world. Right? And the more that you push it down and the more that you try to pretend it doesn't exist, it's gonna volcano at some point mm-hmm <affirmative> and the more willing you are, like, I, I have people in my life that panic attacks and I, as I as well. And one of the things that neutralizes a panic attack almost not always is just by saying, I'm gonna have a panic attack. I feel like I'm gonna have a panic attack and it takes away some of the power not saying that I don't still have them not saying it's a one fix all situation, but it takes kind of the power away from it. Cuz when you hold something in, it's affecting you so much in the back of your mind that you don't recognize it at all because it's just sitting in the back. But if you put it out into the world, you're owning it. You're like, this is how I'm feeling right now. This is what's happening right now. You are identifying it, you're putting it out there and it doesn't feel it's so hard to hold yourself, holding yourself to is just very stressful in general. Mm-hmm <affirmative> so that's what I would say. You know, be kind toSpeaker 1:
Yourself. Yeah. Be kind to yourself. Last question because it's called in the rising podcast, you know, and we have on all various levels risen to some point, but where are, where do you see yourself still rising to like what is on the forefront for you Ona ?Speaker 2:
Well, for me right now, it's probably launching the healing trauma creatively website where I finally feel at like at a place that I can take all the things and put them in one spot. So getting that diagnosis, you know, three years ago and then getting a secondary diagnosis, which is actually the root only two months ago , uh , really shifted me to feel like I'm ready to propel into using my art education, psychology and inspiration in a way to help the world partially because I feel real solid in my healing, in um , my trauma healing as well as my physical healing. Thank goodness. Um, not everybody has that option even if they do get diagnosed. So I wanna offer that. And then , um, just being able to take it all because of COVID and go, like how can I offer things to help people? Cause I feel a little limited right now, you know, a lot of other people could be out in the field and doing things and with my complicated, rare disease, I'm very limited in what I can and cannot do. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and so I feel this , um, very strong need to help community. And so that's kind of where I'm at. And I do a lot of different things with different projects and they all inspire me, but this project has got my heart. Like it just it's like my soul. It feels like the journeys I finally have come together in a place . And so that's where I'm, I'm rising slowly. <laugh> I launched two courses. So I'm excited, but I wantSpeaker 1:
You to say, how can people get in touch with you? How can they learn more from you, please, please give us that info.Speaker 2:
Sure . You can find my courses at healing trauma , creatively.com and you can find my email@example.com a U N I a K a H N cuz that's not easy to spell, but I'm all over the internet. You can find me on, you know, excuse me. You can find me on YouTube. You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok . Yeah. All of those places. <laugh> all the things, allSpeaker 1:
The thingsSpeaker 2:
Like this <laugh>Speaker 1:
Well, thank you so much for your time. I've learned a lot from, from this and I will be checking this out as well. I really appreciate your time. And I think I wanna just say that , um, a thank you from all the people that may have not been able to give you that thanks personally, or just send it through the universe because every single person making a difference makes so many differences across generations and across the world. So thank you for that. So how do you close out? So how do you close out a show like this AA shared so many valid points and really talked about the body keeps the score. One of my favorite books of all time that we can talk and do all the other things that, but we have to get it out of our body system, our visceral body, the trauma. And it is so important also to, to know that a you've been traumatized and B that you don't have to stay in. That position. Things grow in the dark pain, grows in the dark rejection, grows in the dark. But when we add light to that with a safe space or just a creative outlet, such as art, we can really make and transform not only our life, but generations to come. So I find this podcast episode really important. I'm so glad that you tuned into the , and if you feel that someone would benefit from hearing what AYA has to say or just knowing more about her creative work, learning more about her workshops. I absolutely ask and request two hands together to please share it with someone because this podcast may make a difference for someone in many ways that you don't even begin to understand. So thank you so much for your time because it is that one resource we never ever get back . And until next time let's build one another .