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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

Watching the Sunrise: A Conference Reflection

Have you ever stood and watched the sun rise over the mountains? First there is a glow. Then a glimmer. Then an explosion. That is how I felt as the first day of the Attachment and Trauma Network (ATN) Creating Trauma Sensitive Schools Conference (CTSSC) approached. While watching a sunrise, I am always aware the sun in all its glory is behind the mountain, but it is still a surprise when it explodes into view. It is also a surprise when the clouds are just right for the explosion to be spectacular. Until it happens, one can never be sure—but we are certainly expectant.

First it was the glow. Scott and I arrived on Friday. It was a get “ready, set, go” kind of day. One in which we were little more than moral support. I couldn’t even imagine the details inside the heads and computers of Julie Beem, ATN Executive Director and Stephanie Garde, ATN Operations Manager. This was the third conference, but in a new location. And the attendance had grown from 600 to 1200 to over 1700. As a Board Member, I understood how hard these two had worked alongside Dr. Melissa Sadin, Creating Trauma-Sensitive Schools Director, to prepare for a successful conference.

Then it was the glimmer. Saturday morning the ATN tribe descended to take over the facilities and begin preparations. Boxes exploded from closets and the volunteers (including Scott and i) began assembling the registration bags. Eventually there were Self Care rooms to be set up and the Exhibit Hall prepared. The conference would occupy three floors and the attendees would be housed in three different hotels connected by skyways. We began to see them wander in; registration would soon begin.

Then there was the explosion. Registration began on Saturday night with numerous volunteers (including us). It was just the sun peeking over the mountain. The true explosion was Sunday morning and by 2:00, almost all 1700 attendees were registered, and the first sessions began. The smoothness of this process was a tribute to the preparation!

The explosion was magnificent, but with people spread over three floors and dozens of rooms, the magnitude wasn’t evident until I walked into the ballroom to hear the Keynote Speaker, Dr. Robert Anda (co-researcher for ACEs Study). My sense of this moment has been the same during all three conferences. It is a visual of the growing movement of trauma-informed educators, mental health professionals, and leaders of organizations—all trying to help small children who like myself have suffered the unspeakable. They were who I needed as a child. They would have understood me. They would have known how trauma affected my brain and body.

This was the sunrise in all its glory. This was the invisible wave it felt like I needed to catch all during my healing process. To stand there gazing over the crowd with my Volunteer scarf and Board of Directors name tag felt surreal. I am not sure what I was hoping for while sitting on the therapy couch, but this one truth had become my reality: “Hope is the evidence of things unseen.”

My only regret was that I could not have a personal conversation with every person in the crowd—believe me, I did my best. Each one was on a mission of purpose. I have attended educator and church conferences my entire adult life. I learned a great deal and was often inspired, but never felt the synergetic passion of the attendees at Creating Trauma Sensitive Schools Conferences. This was worth waiting for. This was worth working for. This was worth hoping for. The hope I feel concerning solving our nation’s problems is from this group of people and all those they represent.

For three days I watched the sun rise and set over the conference. I volunteered, listened, spoke, and networked. My body was exhausted, but my heart was full. My ATN tribe had pulled off the world’s largest gathering of trauma-informed educators. As a Board Member, I could not have been any prouder of the dedication of staff, volunteers, speakers, exhibitors, etc. And then, it was over, and I was watching the sun set as I travelled back to Seattle.

Thinking back over the past three years of conferences, I feel like the sunrise describes me also. The first year, barely healed/healing, super BRAVE, and tenacious—but certainly peeking out at the world. Year two, I was able to fully own my story and the life it had brought me to—it felt like I had surfaced from behind the mountain. Then, this year feels like the explosion of colors, stories, opportunities, connections, and finding a tribe at ATN.

So many who are on their healing journeys feel so alone and wonder if they will ever be able to surface from the mountain they are hiding behind. I tell each one—yes, have hope in what you cannot yet see. The sun will rise and in a way that is exactly the way you unknowingly hoped it would be. Six years ago, on a list of twenty things I envisioned for my future, I ended with this statement:

Involvement in a think tank/business enterprise/ministry/organization with friends who have the positive attitudes, vision, and the talent and drive to make things happen.

My work with ATN truly fulfills this! We are excited about many new opportunities on the horizon. The sun may have set on the conference, but we are chasing the sun into a new day.

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