I recently had the opportunity to interview Rita Bozi, a multidisciplinary creator with a diverse background in trauma facilitation, playwriting, acting, and dancing. Raised by Hungarian refugees, Rita draws on her personal experiences to inform her work as a Somatic Relational trauma and psychedelic-informed Facilitator. Her co-written play, “52 Pick Up,” was performed across the globe in countries such as Canada, the US, England, Australia, France, Iceland, and New Zealand, and was even translated into French and Icelandic. Rita has been recognized for her literary contributions, winning 3rd Prize in THIS Magazine’s Great Canadian Literary Hunt in 2012. Her writing has been featured in The New Quarterly, FFWD Weekly, WritingRaw.com, and Unlikely 2.0. In our interview, Rita shared insights on her artistic journey, the impact of her upbringing on her work, and her views on social issues and inequalities. It was a fascinating conversation that shed light on the importance of empathy and kindness in both creative pursuits and everyday life.
1. If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Honest, kind, eccentric (some people say weird).
2. What was the main theme behind writing the intensive work titled “When I Was Better,” which has relevance not just in the context of historical discourse but also sociocultural issues?
When I Was Better grapples with multiple themes at once; those of loyalty, betrayal, power and family crash up against each other, coupling and recoupling in different arrangements causing dissonance and complexity and a whole lot of pain. Hope comes through at the end with the possible reunification of family. As long as we exist as a species, family and power will always be a part of our sociocultural issues. And perhaps betrayal could be a theme that could transform over time if we as a species looked at our complicated collective trauma and systems of oppression that betray our own humanity. And quite possibly with the changing tides of seeking social justice, loyalties may in time transform into connectivity and truth.
3. How do personal experiences help us understand war’s impact on micro levels such as human relationships and personal troubles, which are often not defined with modern spectacles?
In very simple human terms, our species records all of what we have lived, everything we have experienced in our lifetime, on the autonomic nervous system (ANS): the joys, the pain, the traumas, the triumphs; all that we can recall and all we have dissociated out of survival necessity. Every living body is a human map of lived experience that is held in the muscles, bones, tissues, blood, glands, organs, brain, in the heart and soul. Our bodies, brains and soul are living walking maps of what we have gone through; and our cellular intelligence holds the account of our multi-generational, collective and historical traumas. The effects of trauma can reverberate down the generations through epigenetics. And what is stored in the human body affects how the ANS of one human relates to that of any other human. It is through the ANS that we relate to each other. And when one human is dehumanized, that ripple effect is felt in partnerships, families, communities, cultures and nations.
From the perspective of neurobiology and neuroscience, war is impacting our bodies, our minds, spirits, souls and the health of this planet and the reverberations are felt everywhere. For those of us who are not living in war zones, we are undoubtedly affected by the environmental devastation, economics and politics of war, and the very real threat of escalation. However, for those humans ripped away from their homes, their families, there is no greater pain than to belong to this planet and belong nowhere. For human health, connection with kin is one of the greatest determinates of health and wellbeing – and yet when our kin has been murdered or disappeared or our kin has suffered devastating trauma, relationships are changed forever.
Unless we have extraordinary trauma-informed support and safes communities to welcome us, humans live with the haunting of these traumas that span generations. When fear, terror, horror, humiliation, defeat and powerlessness become wired and imprinted on the nervous systems of individuals, we can be in loving partnerships yet feel like we are living with savage creatures. This is the tyranny of PTSD and CPTSD; we are perhaps living in new relative safety but the nightmare in living on in the body and these nightmares wreak havoc on relationships. I can’t imagine the amount of people on the planet diagnosed with mental health issues that are in fact, sensitive souls living out the horror of what has transpired on this planet during the past several hundred years.
What is sometimes hard to remember as we see on the news, groups of people fleeing, cramming into buses, desperately hanging off departing planes, is that personal experience of living in a body on this planet is not immune to the barbarism of modern warfare and it lives with us well into the future, perpetuating more of the same.
4. Do you think your work in the novel “When I was Better” will change the attitude towards refugees as not just mere “victims of war” but also survivors of war, as it is a history of people turned into refugees without their consent, battling hope in the worst totalitarian situations?
That’s a great question. I am not sure how many people this novel will reach. And for those whom it reaches, I can’t predict in what way it will touch them.
I was heartened to read an generous and transparent email from a reader in Montreal that said, “Although I had a difficult relationship with my mother, your book brings new light and understanding to her behavior.”
Before we were a trauma-informed, many people were simply called crazy. Now they are called mentally ill. Hopefully we get past mentally ill and call a spade a spade: it is trauma in all its forms and incarnations. And more directly to your question, the term “victims of war” is a very narrow sighted term that does not take into account the multi-generational impacts of war. Yes, some do not survive war and other survive unspeakable conditions. As I have alluded to in the novel, there is the war after the war – the war of recovery. The aftermath. I think we need a new term that goes beyond victim or survivor but rather “those suffering and recovering from dehumanization.”
But truly there is a superhuman, soul level, spiritual strength in surviving. With an estimated 100,000 remaining Holocaust survivors on the planet, the youngest of them now in their 70s I wonder at this tender age, what survival means to them? Many of them still bear on their arms, a tattoo of the number they were given at Auschwitz.
We have to keep in mind what memories survivors live with. The question is, how long is it until a victim becomes a survivor? And how long until survival transforms into thriving and flourishing? Some will never see that day, I am so sad to say.
5. Why did you choose the title “When I was Better,” which is associated with the Hungarian saying “When it was better, I didn’t brag”? Was there any subjective experience related to this?
This title is a dedication to my beloved, deceased father. It came to me as his dementia was taking him further away from us. He hadn’t been able to speak for over year when I suddenly had the realization that the strange response he frequently gave to someone asking him how he was doing, would be the title of my novel. Whether it is an actual Hungarian saying or my Hungarian father’s saying is a bit of a mystery, but it certainly came out of the mouth of a Hungarian. He alternated between, “When I was better, I didn’t complain,” or “When I was better, I didn’t brag.” I think it was his way of making light of his suffering. Even to this day, both statements hit me with a kind of confusion but what is sad to hear is that there may have been a time when he was better and he couldn’t seem to get back to it. When he was finally allowed back to into Hungary after thirty years of being denied entry, he said it wasn’t the same country that he knew. That was particularly strange to hear given it was no longer under Soviet or Communist rule when he returned. This speaks to the essence of the title, “when I was better”, a time when he may still have had more spirit and resilience, and the country still felt like home.
It is said that under trauma there is a part of us that is unbreakable – the spirit. I guess I would have to ask, who came up with this saying, and did this person undergo torture, starvation and political terror? I think that some people can never seem to get back to a place when they were better. Not in this lifetime. Not everyone is privileged or lucky enough to find themselves in the right place or time.
I am right now thinking of the populations trapped and imprisoned by wars, displacement, systems of oppression, thought forms, antiquated traditions, and distortions that keep people locked away for a lifetime: the Rohingya who feel forgotten, the women and children of Syria’s widow camps. We have the Ukrainians, Haitians, we have Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, the Congo, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Somalia. I wonder about when and how things were better?
6. According to you, what was the most important aspect that kept István and Teréza united even after facing Nazi invasion and Soviet occupation, as their relationship is beautiful and sometimes questions the spirit of love, faith, and emotions itself?
Well, it is sad to admit, but I think what keeps them together is the bond of marriage and belief in a faith that proclaims divorce a sin at that time this story takes place. I also think it is not a simple answer. As much I would like to say that love is what kept them together – that would sound lovely – I think there was also a measure of defiance against the powers that sought to break their spirits. The systems knew they were hurting people – it was a kind of revenge against defectors, by keeping families apart. So I think everyone whether in love or not, sought to reunite if anything to outlast the systems. And I think there is a biological imperative that parents want their children to have both parents in their lives if at all possible.
It is sometimes hard to see through the trauma, to know ourselves when it comes to love. Pain can often overshadow the truth of knowing who we connect with and who we love. Yes, I think the relationship between István and Teréza holds both beauty and pain and when daily life is in question it throws into question all things. I guess there are those lucky amongst us that have unwavering love, through time and distance and the bonds of family are secure enough. But not everyone is that fortunate.
7. Do you think István choosing self-protection over his responsibility towards his family is an act of selfishness or a choice out of no choice, as your novel “When I was Better” has characters that may not always please everyone and have conflicts with their own ideas?
I think it is both. If anything, life is full of complexity. In a story based on heroism there seems to be only one right choice that has us cheering for or loving the hero. If you think about the predicaments humans are forced into, how do we assess whether or not it is selfishness or a choice out of no choice? I think about the movie Sophie’s Choice wherein, Sophie, upon arrival at Auschwitz, is forced to choose which of her children would be sent to the gas chamber. If not one, then both would be. For István, the truth is, Teréza, would have lost his husband to 17 years in prison in Hungary. This way she only lost him for 7 years. Of course his choice to keep staying in Hungary when in fact she had wanted to flee, impacted her in the end, which left her alone to care for a baby. These are times that people are left between a rock and a hard place.
8. According to you, how important is it for one to work on their personal quest and introspection, considering personal troubles, isolation, issues of anxiety, depression, and the long-lasting fear of violence and traumatic experiences expressed in several survival scenarios?
It is absolutely necessary, given the history of this planet: to cultivate and intend empathy, to be embodied in order to become empathic and humane; to come to an understanding of what lives in us from our histories; as to what has comes to shape us; to question what we have been told as given; to seek new understanding on what it means to be human and to look into the human shadow and stop pretending that when what is needed is transparency.
There is so much we take in that we are unaware of – like racism for example. It is a deep seated and a systemic man-made virus with epidemic contagion. When we examine our language, assumptions, behaviors and ways of relating to others, economic and social marginalization, then we can see that all is not well in the world. And who is going to change that?
One human at a time, looking inward.
When I think of how easy it is to live in the ongoing dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system – and that dysregulation amounts to anxiety, depression, isolation and fear, we have a long way to go to make ourselves safe for ourselves and each other. No one on this planet should live in the fear of being hunted.
9. How did you balance your novel “When I Was Better” from too much information and intense romanticism as authors try to put forward their subjective experiences into objective analysis that requires significant and factual research?
I was lucky to have the wise mentorship of author Dennis Bock who kept pushing me to address the events that would tussle this couple around. I am naturally drawn to research and factual accuracy – I can really go down a rabbit hole to gets facts correct. And I also benefitted from the excellent eye of my editor, Adrienne Kerr and my dramaturge and husband, Ken Cameron that let me know when the information was, as you say, “too much.”
In fact, I was so dedicated to the truth of the real story, that this novel benefitted from the encouragement I had to bend the truth. I had to resist my reflex to say, “But it didn’t happen this way!” Instead, I did my best to listen to my husband who advised, that to create dramatic tension it was ok to amalgamate several actions and give them to one character – an action that a real life human might not have taken. It took me a minute to get, that dramatic tension was more important at times than information, subjective experience or objective analysis.
10. Do you believe in the saying “Only in the darkness, you can see the stars,” as your novel “When I Was Better” presents the darkest history of family ripping apart but always puts forward a ray of hope as the characters István and Teréza have hope for a reunion?
That is Martin Luther King Jr. It is resonant with Jung’s sayings, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious”; and “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness in other people”; and, “To confront a person with his own shadow is to show him his own light.”
When you put it that way, “When I Was Better presents the darkest history of family ripping apart but always puts forward a ray of hope as the characters István and Teréza have hope for a reunion,” I guess I did take to heart my own father’s words when he comforted me over the phone, between my sobs, when I had moved away from home that, “In our darkest moments comes the light.”
Sometimes it takes forever for morning to come, but we must notice the signs, even if it is only the sun shining on us for seconds at a time.
11. According to you, what are the reasons that survivors of war are not able to overcome their sufferings even after sixty years or more of the war, as the most conscious understanding from your novel is that people tend to feel disbelief, guilt, and regret for their loss?
I believe that until very recently we have not known the best way to work with trauma. We have not understood the significance of how trauma is held in the body and that it requires deeply embodied and empathic relationships and communities to help heal survivors of trauma.
12. Do you feel that surveillance, used in the name of protection and security, is a feature of modern societies as well, as surveillance is also one of the highlights of your novel “When I Was Better,” reflecting how government and autocratic regimes control our choices not just over the kinds of things we consume but ideas as well?
Yes, absolutely it is. This is what Edward Snowden blew the whistle on, and many others before him.
Regimes and governments attempt to control populations with blatant threats, doublespeak and by leveraging and censoring media. What is now the future with AI? This could be ominous.
But the good news is that when we are confident of our subjective embodied truth, when we free our bodies of perceptions of fear and trauma, we can be empowered through our own earth-based, communally collaborative wisdom.
13. Do you think grown-up children like Zolti found it difficult to trust and have faith in their surroundings due to intergenerational trauma, as the character of infant son Zolti in your novel is holding a future about which he is unaware but surely suspicious of his surroundings, and the perceptions of what we experience are somewhat influenced by our age as well?
Our perceptions are formed in the womb and in the first 3 years of our lives. This is not to say that we don’t get blind-sighted later on. But the degree to which we have had securely attached relationships from the start, and nourishing environments, directly relate to how we will process traumatic events later on. Hopefully with age we gain perspective but that is not always true. Some people and their nervous systems suffer deep damage from relational and developmental trauma; damage that affects them for a lifespan. We are already getting messages in the womb, from our mothers about what you might expect from life. And in Zolti’s case, life was already a prison with no escape. His mother would have organized her nervous system around her reality. Zolti’s body would have grown inside her subjective experience of fear and paranoia.
14. The book “When I Was Better” discusses public unity against authoritarianism and hegemony and has a diverse audience. In your opinion, which age group did you target while writing your book?
I never target my art towards anything but the heart. I see no use in targeting specific audiences. I am like a painter or a poet – the creation moves through me, it needs to be expressed and to find itself a form. I am not writing for anyone in mind. But stories need to be told. Our ancestors need to be remembered for what they have lived. There is so much, so many hidden stories of trauma and joy that I see myself as a storyteller, actively here to remember what we mustn’t repeat. However, I think that children of refugees would likely be drawn to this story. Especially now with what is sadly happening in the Ukraine. The past, present and future are unfolding at the same time. Hopefully we learn from history and of we don’t at least we can honour those that sought freedom from authoritarian regimes.
15. How did you create your characters, and what values do they represent in your real life? For instance, Tereza is based on your mother.
My own values are based in integrity, honesty and kindness. I see it as a life work to be tended over and over again.
In terms of the characters and their values, I created those characters from my own lived experience and from my experience of my family, extended family and people I have met. Including characters that simply spring up from my imagination. They appeared, they showed themselves and they started talking and taking action. I felt them move through my body, felt how they moved and acted.
I think many of them seek to embody integrity even if their distorted integrity has its foundations in shame and trauma. They want to embody freedom but sometimes the fear has them doing the opposite of how they wish to express that freedom. And sadly, when we are disembodied through trauma, these values can be distorted. I think this distortion of values plays through the entire book. I think of someone like Putin who thinks he is acting out of integrity and support of this people, but all of what he does is based in the dark side of trauma and the distortions of values.
16. In your novel, you added humor to a historical political context, which is evident in the chapter “What Did You Put In This.” Did you ever feel the risk of adding humor to the novel?
My only risk was not adding enough humour to this book. People who suffer deep trauma often have great sense of humour – you have to develop it to survive the darkness. I had wanted to add the humour in more places, but I couldn’t force it. It had to be appropriate and tasteful. And I think it could have used more levity but again, I didn’t see or feel other opportunities.
17. Women are among the most adversely affected survivors of war, particularly targeted and raped, and their dignity is denied. You have sensitively described this aspect of women during the reunion of two sisters, Teréza and Klára. Do you think society overlooks and ignores undignified behavior towards women during such encounters, or do they avoid it by choice?
Where do I even begin?
Rape has long been a weapon of war. As far back as the ancient Greeks, who considered the rape of women during warfare a, “socially acceptable behavior well within the rules of warfare,” as cited in Kelly Dawn Askin’s 1997 book, War Crimes Against Women: Prosecution in International War Crimes Tribunals. Until July 2015, Kelly Dawn Askin was senior legal officer for international justice with the Open Society Justice Initiative and began her doctoral dissertation in 1993 on how to prosecute war crimes against women.
On March 20th, 2013 she wrote, “Since the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda (ICTY/R) in 1993 and 1994, the creation of the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) in 1998, and subsequent hybrid war crime tribunals for Sierra Leone (SCSL) and Cambodia (ECCC), rape is now widely acknowledged to be an instrument of warfare, terror, demoralization, devastation, oppression, and destruction. It destroys families, communities, identities and lives, often more so than murder or other forms of non-sexualized violence.” (Open Society Justice Initiative)
She goes on to say that, “Despite the huge advances, the tribunals have done a relatively pitiful job of holding high-level leaders or others far from the battlefield responsible for sex crimes.”
Angelina Jolie who back in 2012, alongside the then foreign secretary William Hague, launched the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. In a Guardian article published on Nov 28th, 2022, Jolie criticizes foreign governments for their lack of support of victims of wartime rape. Like Askin wrote in 2013, Jolie writes in 2022, “Despite the commitments governments made, we have not seen significant, lasting action at the global level. This is deeply painful and frustrating.”
Jolie goes on to say,
“But when it comes to hard choices about how to implement these promises, we run into the same problems time and again. We run into some security council members abusing their veto power, such as in the case of Syria. We run into economic and political interests being put first, treating some conflicts as more important than others. And we run into a lack of political will, meaning that governments in recent years have downgraded the importance of efforts to combat war-zone sexual violence, despite the direct link to international peace and security.”
In the Netflix documentary Live to Lead, Gloria Steinem says,
“The family is the root of everything. If there is a hierarchy, in the family which says, men don’t do the dishes, or worse there’s violence, that is reflected everywhere else…The single biggest determinate of whether a country will be violent inside itself, in its streets, or will be willing to use military violence against another country, is not poverty, access to natural resources, not the degree of democracy even, it’s violence against females.”
In the Harvard International Review under the heading, Domestic Violence, Traditional Values, and Masculinity in Modern Russia, it is reported that 1 in 5 Russian women face domestic abuse every year, 10 percent of Russian women who are abused go to the police, 3 percent of those cases make it to court, 14,000 women die of violence every year in Russia.
Exactly a year ago, on April 13th, 2022, Nadia Murad a Iraqi Yazidi human rights activist addressed the UN Security Council at their Open Debate: “Accountability as Prevention: Ending Cycles of Sexual Violence in Conflict.”
Murad now lives in Germany. But in 2014, at the age of 19, Nadia was kidnapped from Kocho, Iraq, her hometown, after the deadly massacre of all the men in that village. For three months, Murad was held and sold into sex slavery by ISIS until her escape to a refugee camp in the Kurdish region of Duhok.
In 2016, Attorney Amal Clooney made the decision to represent Murad in a legal action case against ISIS commanders.
On November 30, 2021 the world saw the first ISIS conviction for genocide.
A German court convicted “Taha Al-J., an Islamic State member, of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes following his enslavement and abuse of a Yazidi woman and her 5-year-old daughter, which resulted in the child’s death. The Iraqi national was sentenced to life imprisonment. This is the first trial, and the first conviction, of an ISIS member for genocide anywhere in the world.” (Nadia’s Initiative website).
Amal’s Clooney’s statement: [ARCHIVAL AUDIO – AMAL CLOONEY AT THE UNITED SECURITY COUNCIL] “I am legal counsel to Nadia and other Yazidi women and girls who were kidnapped, bought, sold, enslaved and raped by ISIS […] But it was clear from an early stage that this was going to be a challenge. The world’s powers were focused on a military solution and nobody wished to speak about justice. So we fixed on one imperative, we could not allow the evidence to disappear …”
In her extraordinary and deeply insightful speech to the UNSC, Nadia speaks of the shame, stigma and danger of speaking out and sharing stories of sexual slavery, abuse and genocide. She is pushing for a global code (Murad’s Code) of conduct and for long term support for survivors. Nadia speaks about how we listen and what we do with the information and testimonies once they have been heard. She speaks about holistic survivor-centred centres for ongoing healing and social support. And she calls for meaningful justice, for international criminal courts to prosecute war crimes, and for “courage” from those who can change and implement policy. And she insightfully states that until we have gender equity in the world, we do not have democracy.
I wish to include that it is not just women, but children, girls, boys and humans on the gender spectrum. As long as we have patriarchal systems of oppression, as long as men are ruling the planet, the masculine will be wounded and toxic to others and to itself. We need gender equity in order to have real democracy.
Is it that society overlooks, ignores or avoids this behaviour? It is unfortunately a cellular legacy that needs consistent and devoted attention to change thinking, attitudes and embodied empathy. While we are dissociated from our own pain, we are dissociated from the pain of others.
We are all complicit, except for the victims, of we don’t continue to raise our voices against such deplorable acts. We are looking at centuries of custom and culture, interpretation of religious scriptures, and ways of thinking; trauma on both sides, of the victims and the perpetrators. Gender equity, education, lobbying, meaningful justice and changing perceptions (on an autonomic/mind/body level), this is a start.
When humans are afraid, they are less human. When humans are terrorized, they terrorize and are even more less human. This is such a complex issue that I think people go numb, look away, don’t want to talk about it, think it’s someone else’s problem. It pains my heart deeply.
18. The book has been nominated for the 2022 Goethe Book Awards for Historical Fiction. What does this recognition mean to you, and how do you think it will impact the book’s reception?
Well, I am realistic in my expectations, after receiving 50 rejections from agents, and another 25 from publishers as I shopped this book around for two years before Atmosphere Press in Texas took an interest. I am amazed to have any interest in this book whatsoever. It is not a sexy or popular subject and requires dedication on the part of the reader.
I am deeply grateful to have my blood, sweat and tears recognized by the Chanticleer International Book Awards. I know how hard I worked, how many times I wanted to stop and how much it required to persist to get the best work I could out there. I know my writing has many layers and levels and so to get this far is really a lovely acknowledgement, particularly in light of the fact, that it is an international award.
Honestly if this distinction attracted a screenwriter, producer and director that wanted to collaborate in bringing When I Was Better to the screen, that would be the best possible outcome. It would be my gift to my ancestors, my parents and to refugees everywhere. I also think it is an important story and I could see it being a very interest challenge for a director and cast.
19. Would you like to share what “Brilliant Healing” is all about and how people can practice somatic meditation, as you have a website and organization named after it?
Brilliant Healing Systems is essentially the name I gave my private practice about 21 years ago and then two years ago I changed it to Brilliant Healing Inc when I incorporated. I am a Somatic Relation Trauma-informed Facilitator, Psychedelic Therapist, educator and podcast co-host. I am in the business of helping people heal from trauma. The approach is body and client centred, drawing on neuroscience, interpersonal neurobiology, phenomenology, somatic inquiry, somatic reflection, somatic meditation, ancient wisdom, creative, embodied and intuitive knowing, combined with the therapeutic and ceremonial use of psychedelics. BHI is about creating learning and healing companionship, through close knit, kind and empathic communities.
20. Can you discuss any particular insights you’ve had through your own personal somatic work, and how these have influenced your approach to therapy?
Well, that is also another book, and the insights I have are that when we have complex trauma, and CPTSD, it can feel like the body is a battleground and that the world is a hostile and frightening place and that nowhere and no one is safe. I have experienced all of that. Going into the body to process what lives on the cellular and neural level is not fun – that is why people avoid it. It is not easy work, but it is valuable and necessary if we are to make our body, minds and actions safe to each other. Through this work, I learned how disembodied I had become – seemingly in touch with my body – but there was so much emotional, multigenerational and spiritual pain that I was holding that it would often floor me to even begin to touch it through my heart and body.
And we cannot heal alone. We need embodied, empathic, intuitive and skilled others to hold the pain with us. We need to be felt with. These are stories in the body that need to be processed up through the right hemisphere – it only goes so far to retell stories through words – these stories of the body need to be felt by others in order to move and transform them into meaning, purpose, vitality and connection. Through my direct knowing, depression comes from being chronically scared, disconnection with the perception that there is no one there for us. And anxiety is the body’s solution to being vigilant in perceptions of danger. These are not pathologies that require medication. These are solutions to the pace, the demands and disconnection of modern society.
21. You practice trauma therapy by looking into family histories and experiences. What common behaviors have you found similar while talking to survivors of war incidents?
I don’t like to categorize human behaviour – though I just did by giving my insight on what I think depression and anxiety are. We all respond to horror and terror differently depending on the kind of bonds, supports, and community we have to process that terror and horror. Each individual responds to trauma differently. I am sure there are common stories but we have to behold each human as a unique individual.
I want to say, that while it is extremely important to know what has happened to people, there are two stories unfolding. One is embodied meaning from the right hemisphere, a sense of your truth, of your reality, that comes from the body. It is the unvarnished truth as we are living in it now. The other story is disembodied meaning from the left hemisphere. It is about narrative, stuck emotion. It is the story you have created to make sense of your pain but the continuity of it is gone.
I think there are so many stories of war, of hope and despair that we need to listen with fresh ears and hearts, because so many people have a unique story. But if I can say anything about what I think people never stop missing is the home they once knew, their language and their culture not to mention the humans they have lost. There is nothing more soul crushing than losing your entire family.
22. What advice do you have for individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in somatic relational trauma therapy, and what skills or qualities do you think are essential for success in this field?
Explore your own personal trauma and do it through somatic traumatic-informed means. It must be done through embodied intersubjective relationships. As therapists our own personal work never ends if we are to be the best support to others. And our embodiment practice, a study of our own nervous systems, values and perceptions are key. We need to lead with empathy.
23. Can you speak to the role of self-responsible communication in your work, and how you support clients in developing healthy communication habits in their relationships outside of therapy?
Well again, we need to hone our embodied empathy, our curiosity about the other, and refrain from giving insights or interpretations. If we are defended we will not hear, feel, or sense the other. And while shame is at the core of our communications, we will not be present to ourselves or another. When shame leads, we are either defended or we cannot give or receive empathy. Communication starts with presence for our shame and then empathy. Only then do we get curious about the other.
24. How do you incorporate creativity into your therapeutic approach, and how do you encourage clients to tap into their own innate creativity as a tool for healing?
I read clients poetry, invite them to reflect verbally or through writing. I invite movement and gesture, music and art into the work. We get curious together about the changing moment and inquire together on emergent phenomena. It is a right hemispheric approach.
25. The novel deals with themes of betrayal, resiliency, and the human spirit. Can you discuss your approach to writing these complex and nuanced themes?
Well, it helps to have gone through my own complex trauma! I think when we are exposed to complex situations as children it either make your thinking more complex or it can shut you down. I had to often think fast on my feet, as emotional conditions rapidly changed in my home. I think undergoing a lot of therapy helped me examine my own motivations and the possible motivations of others. I was more able to put myself and the characters into situations and imagine the ways they could behave when they are in fear, terror and entrapment. My approach always comes down to listening to my body. I get my answers there. And I read a lot of autobiographies, biographies and watch a lot of documentaries – I am both fascinated, marvelled, in love with and horrified by humans. So, when it came to complex theme, I did in fact look for the moments of nuance that I myself felt when I was growing up when experiencing mental and emotional abuse. That can be pretty subtle and nuanced.
26. Have you considered bringing your novel to the big screen, such as a movie or a documentary?
If I had the right support and the right doors opening, this would be a Netflix, or HBO mini-series at the drop of a hat. I am currently hoping to consult with someone who was once in the film industry – it is a small seed and I am hoping it will sprout. I wrote the novel with a film in mind.
27. How do you see the field of psychedelic therapy evolving in the next few years, and what role do you see somatic practices playing in this evolution?
If we are to truly take care of individuals in the field of psychedelic therapy, somatic relational trauma-informed approaches will be necessary. With psychedelics, dissociated material can rise from the body, mind and psyche, much too quickly, further flooding already overwhelmed nervous systems. I think there may be a lot more damage done before we find a level of care that can meet the delicacy of working with human trauma. Hopefully we will do it right this time and not the Timothy Leary way which was a rather glorified approach based on hubris.
28. Could you share something about your upcoming non-fiction book, “PUNK Therapy: Psychedelic Underground Neural Kindness,” with your audience?
I can. It is the healing journey of 3 women, who came to me with complex trauma and wanted to do medicine work. These are very intimate, in-depth portraits of their lives, past, present and future and the complexity of healing together. My journey is also in there. It is from the somatic relational trauma-informed lens, woven with modern psychedelics. These are very transparent accounts and I have been consulting with the women on the content. To protect their identities, I have names them after famous punk icons: Marianna Faithful, Siouxsie Soux, Nina Hagen and Patti Smith. When you look into the past of many of these women, there are stories of sexual abuse, assault, drug addiction, isolation, sexism and systems of oppression. All of them, the punk icons and the amazing women I work with, have metal, heart and determination to heal on their own terms while maintaining their creativity and dignity.
29. Do you have other writers in the family?
None. That I know of. We are a family of indentured servants, going back 400 years.
30. What advice would you give to aspiring writers, particularly those who may be struggling to find their own voice or develop their own unique style?
My advice it to do your own personal work. Explore yourself through the body and not just through the mind. Learn your own subjectivity that you may embody others. And the voice comes from within. Trust its gentle and faraway call to “come back to me.”
For readers interested in Rita Bozi’s book “When I Was Better,” it is available on Amazon in paperback format. The book provides a personal account of Bozi’s struggles with mental illness and the road to recovery. Bozi’s writing is candid and reflective, offering a unique perspective on mental health and the challenges many face in seeking help. The book has been well-received, with readers praising Bozi’s honesty and bravery in sharing her story. You can purchase “When I Was Better” on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.