Reshaping relationships with stories for personal healing.
The journey to healing and owning one’s identity is rarely a straightforward path. Along the way, we have to peel back the layers of our stories, and often those of loved ones who came before us, to recognize both the pain and joy that uniquely makes each of us who we are. Through her work as a teacher at the Toronto Art Therapy Institute and faculty member of the Sensorimotor Therapy Institute, Jacquie Compton helps others work through these layers with trauma-informed therapy for the mind and body. In her conversation with Root & Seed, Jacquie shares her own powerful story of ongoing healing, and taking truer ownership of her roots.
As a biracial Black woman, Jacquie grew up between two seemingly separate worlds. There was the home of her birthplace in Canada, with her mother, and her father’s homeland of St. Lucia, where she spent her formative years. From a young age, Jacquie picked up on messages from the world around her that told her whiteness was the “safer” side of her identity to embrace, but she remained curious about all facets of her roots.
“I was surrounded by question-makers. I was totally surrounded by identity-makers.”
Holding Space For Others
When she worked on a genome project at school, Jacquie uncovered more about her father’s ancestors. In one way, she recognized the strong lineage of political leadership he took so much pride in—a Compton, her great-uncle, was the first Prime Minister of St. Lucia. Yet, there was a less recognized past that spoke of her grandmother’s traumatic experience of motherhood, and inevitably, her father’s own pain. “I embody a history of my ancestors’ experiences of slavery.”
In part, recognizing the complexities within this side of her family’s roots would later help Jacquie hold more compassion for her father. “He was such a cool man. But also, there was always this youngness.” He instilled in his daughter a passion for music, for philosophy, and lovingly pushed her to think for herself. But he also struggled to openly express that love, and he was unfaithful to her mother. “That was one of the reasons why my mother left him … As much as it wasn't right, I kind of understood it as trauma responses.”
Looking back, Jacquie sees how the tumultuous time of her parents’ separation in her early teen years started her on a path, however non-linear, to where she is today. Her mother was only in her 30s but had fallen gravely ill, so she moved Jacquie and her brother back to Canada for medical care. While she admired her mother’s bravery in starting life anew, Jacquie witnessed so much of her pain, both emotional and physical.
“At a young age, I think there's something that happens in our relationships with our parents when we're witnessing something like illness—we also become caregivers.” This was when the healer within Jacquie began to take root, allowing her to hold space for others’ traumas.
Moving Through Grief
At the same time, Jacquie had arrived in Canada with an idealized idea of her mother’s homeland—it would be like Christmas, she thought, or maybe like the world of Saved By the Bell. The true reality was jarring. Jacquie stood out in her predominantly white highschool. Survival instincts kicked in.
“I was processing this grief, and my parents separating, and navigating these two worlds that I’d kind of been in before, but never really lived in. And so in a sense, that's one of my experiences of racial trauma … of not wanting to stand out.”
Later in adulthood, Jacquie felt another series of shifts in the wake of loss and new beginnings. It started with a miscarriage and her father’s passing in 2018, when her son was only three. She had grown apart from her father over the years, but music had always remained a shared point of connection. When Jacquie revisited some of the records that had meant so much to him, she found a transformative sense of peace in that relationship.
“There was the last record he was listening to: Eric Gale, who’s a jazz guitarist. I'm really into the 70s jazz kind of era. Really like funk. Soul. And I was like, ‘Oh, what is this? Ok, I have to listen to this.’ And I did. And I was like, oh my God … memories just like instantly, right? At a young age, hearing this album, hearing this record …
I have all those records and it's expanded in many different ways. But he is always there … I can hear him in this music, and it connects us … I can embody it, but it sees joyous exchanges that I'm continuously having with him. And where I hear it, it's not passive, his appreciation of me or his honor. He wasn't even able to say, ‘I love you.’ Like, you didn't even know how to say it ‘cause he didn't know how. And so now, when I hear him say it, it's like, ‘Oh, that was easier, wasn't it?’ …
As much as grief is so heavy when someone is physically not there, it takes us a long time to transition into something that we don't know … I see that we can now be so connected.”
In a short span of time around so much loss and reconnection, Jacquie also moved up in her career, gave birth to her daughter Nelly, and went through COVID and the reckoning of 2020. Amidst it all, words flowed out in poetry.
“This is where my dad sparked a lot in me, sparked my ‘poet self’ to arrive … It always felt like something was coming through me and the poetry was always that receptivity … I started getting more and more rooted to my roots, more and more clear about who I was.”
And although Jacquie had always known she was Black, she began to feel this connection more intuitively. “It just didn't metabolize into words yet, so I couldn't really own it yet for myself.” Now, she feels it most when she visits St. Lucia.
“It's a sense of feeling at home … The rootedness and the experience is like a conversation that starts happening, which is familiar and similar to the conversations I have with my father and the relationship I have with him. It's like all of a sudden, there's many, many, many beautiful conversations that are happening with my ancestors … I'm having this conversation, and it's like memories that aren't from my lived experience still move through me.”
Peeling Back the Layers to Heal
Today, Jacquie targets her art and somatic therapy work to help support those within BIPOC communities. She feels connected with these approaches to healing, which originate from Indigenous practices all around the world. Recognizing that people with marginalized identities often carry more repressed, intergenerational traumas that are passed down as a means of survival, Jacquie explains that the goal is to move through trauma slowly, building up capacity to hold complex stories with tenderness and care.
“I always think of an onion … We start with the outside and go in. It's just like getting to know ourselves … go layer by layer, ‘cause they're all interconnected anyways … Meeting the place of rest or meeting the place of joy, or meeting the place of comfort—that's an entry point into our trauma … Trauma healing is not about pushing it away or moving forward. It's about bringing it in. It's about integrating it.”
A necessary piece of this journey for Jacquie is the ongoing practice of cultural humility. “It requires openness and curiosity and reflection, and introspection about what's happening for us. And challenging those things, challenging our biases from a place of really tapping into the way our body communicates —maybe oppression, or the way our body communicates aggression (like microaggressions) without noticing … Allowing all this unconsciousness to become conscious, it's a never-ending journey.”
“I always think of therapy as a place to allow ourselves to come back to our natural wisdom, to come back to our essence, to come back to our natural way of being, and also be curious about the experiences that have happened in our lives that may have shaped us. And then also connecting to a sense of agency that we get to also reshape and retell our story. We actually get to change the story if we want to.”
Jacquie’s story reminds us that sometimes the conversations we need to have are with ourselves, especially when memories we need to capture are linked to those who are no longer with us. Root & Seed’s Conversation Tool can help to preserve these memories so we can come back to them and process, or even share them with future generations.
In the insurmountable
ebb and flow of grief
beauty rises unseen
it rises, so effortlessly to the surface
beauty that is wrapped
and held so sweetly
in a history of love
love that reaches beyond meaning
that supports the sails for one to move
through in this world
the depths of the heart
know the open seas so well
that heart brought beauty to this world
moved by the curiosities and philosophies
of the soul
allowing stories to transform
and take shape
like softs circles in the sand
entering into places of melodies
giving space for beauty to
be heard so clearly and
the soul to be moved
- Jacquie Compton, from A Body of Wisdom
We invite you to learn more about Jacquie and her therapy practice by visiting The Grounded Heart.
Has there ever been a moment of healing where you felt your relationship with your culture or sense of identity begin to shift?