“I hold people’s hands until they learn to hold their own hands. Together, we are unburdening.”
Mother. Student. Wife. Holistic healer. Activist.
Valerie Gene Herbert, senior non-traditional student and double major in WEST and sociology, is doing the work to dismantle the harmful effects of the system and heal from her personal trauma so she can help others do the same and live her truth. One can only look at her in complete awe and admiration as she sets out into the world each day to helps others. That is her life’s work: to exude love.
As a Colorado Springs native, Herbert has been able to get to know the ins and outs of the Springs community that she knows so well.
“I feel like living in Colorado Springs can be really hard and very insular, but if you get into and connect to all the different communities, you can literally save people’s lives by knowing these tiny sects of communities that overlap. It allows people a place to be seen and a place to be valued.”
She went back to school, after taking time to work and be a mother, to figure out her true path.
“My life moved fast in a lot of ways and led me to doing lots of different things. My path became clear in what I wanted to do. WEST and sociology are kind of vehicles to get me there.”
Herbert hopes that her degrees unlock new doors within her field. “It’s the most appropriate degree for licensure and my master’s degree for clinical counseling, so I can work with Medicaid, Medicare and non-profit stuff,” she said.
It is important to Herbert that she helps everyone who is in need, and extra schooling will create opportunities for her to help those who cannot afford the expensive mental health care in the U.S.
“I do work donation-based and sliding scale already, but the platform needed in order to help as many people and in order to dismantle institutional ideologies, having that licensure can be extremely helpful for that.”
As the community that she lived in became smaller, Herbert was able to establish important connections with people that she has been lifting up and helping heal. On top of being a student, Herbert wears many other hats.
“I am a holistic counselor and do somatic therapy as well as teach yoga and meditation. I definitely work with the mind-body connection in getting people to integrate that disease in the body and mind to allow people to have the power within themselves to heal. That’s a really big part of what I do in the world,” Herbert said.
“I don’t even call it a job. It feels so weird to call it a job. It’s just my life.”
She is self-aware about her own experiences, which helps her identify others’ experiences and trauma from a healing standpoint. “It’s obvious that it was my own pain that brought me on this path. Pain is the catalyst for change.”
Her work speaks to her soul and spirit. Kindness and goodness radiate from her words and actions. “I also do quite a bit of social activism in the past 15 years primarily around the environment, queer rights, women’s rights, and I helped with the intronization of the BLM movement,” Herbert said.
Part of her work also includes what she does for herself, her own healing and growth.
“This is constant resistance; This is sovereignty; This is owning my body; Some people think this is radical to do this healing work. It is. It’s radically necessary,” Herbert said.
As an empath who provides therapy, Herbert has had to find ways to avoid letting this type of work overwhelm her mental health and peace.
“The worst thing we can do for ourselves is to allow ourselves to empty ourselves out to help someone else. All it does is keeping people from seeing truth. Then you have people who are co-dependent of you.”
As much as Herbert believes in taking care of herself, much of her work is helping others introspect, rewiring their brains, teaching them re-embodiment and how to attend to themselves.
“I’m not pathologizing people. I’m looking at people’s parts and the things that they are bringing to me, and I’m helping them separate those things out from their ‘self,’ so that they can have a little breath in that and see those parts.”
Herbert is trained in interpersonal neurobiology. “I’m looking a lot at micro expressions. I’ve studied a lot on the nervous system and attachments, so I’m really forming a relationship with people that is safe that allows them to be able to get under things that they couldn’t,” which is crucial to working with people with past traumas, according to Herbert.
There is nothing that Herbert thinks is more important to growing and healing than connection.
“We heal in connection, not isolation. We cannot heal things in isolation, because we are creatures of attachment. All of our injuries happen in attachment; therefore, they have to be healed in attachment,” Herbert said.
However, this type of work can be mentally draining to someone taking on so much of someone else’s pain and experiences, so Herbert has learned how to set up boundaries and protect herself.
“Allow a container for myself and my heart, while also being able to reach energetically into someone else’s world and to feel but not take it back with me,” Herbert said.
But her work moves beyond your clients in connection to the world that also needs healing.
“We have these internal parts of ourselves that we have developed overtime and then we have these external systems that we have internalized, so we have to dismantle those internal systems of self-oppression from those external systems,” Herbert said.
She urges people to do internal work to understand how externals have impacted their mind-bodies, especially during a pandemic, and how that external factor is affecting our internal world. She feels as though the inequalities experienced during this unprecedented time are hitting women the hardest.
“As somebody who runs my own business, who has a daughter 85 percent of the time, who has to school this child online from home, while I’m also doing school online, and neither one of us are online learners, this has been crazy. I think it is especially challenging and overwhelming right now, and as a mother and friend of other mothers, I can see the burden of COVID coming down only on mothers the hardest,” Herbert said.
“As a mother, so much of societies’ gaps are kind of forced onto mothers, as unpaid labor, as something that is required, and we are trying to support one another as well. It’s really beautiful and really difficult.”
Herbert is not a single parent, but juggling being a mother, running her own business and being a student is never easy. Her wife is her partner and helper in giving their daughter the best life possible.
Herbert and her wife’s relationship is something that I personally hope to find at some point in my life. It is a story of true love, raw, radical acceptance and growing together and supporting each other in whatever way that may be.
“When I met my wife, at the time, she was living as her birth-assigned gender as a male. I started my relationship with her as a man, in a heteronormative relationship,” Herbert said. After being married for at 4 months, she and her partner knew she could no longer live as a man.
Herbert and her wife are a perfect example of embracing all the changes that come with being human. “At 36 years old, she started to transition, and she turns 40 in a month,” Herbert said. “Watching her become who she is was literally the most beautiful experience of my entire life, to witness that and go through that.”
As Herbert lives her truth, she was able to see her wife step into and live out her own truth. The result was a relationship that is more authentic and freer.
This type of real, raw, honest existence is something to not only respect and marvel, but to hopefully influence the rest of us to do the same. Growth is not always comfortable; change is inevitable; and Valerie Gene Herbert is the epitome of these truths.