Caryn Clark, Trauma Bakes

“In covid, we all had this collective trauma. It’s more important than ever to be intentional about how to find joy in our lives, to celebrate even when it feels like the biggest train wreck. For me, baking is something that brings me joy,” said Caryn Clark, owner of Trauma Bakes Dessert Shop. The bakery was started as a gift of healing to herself and others during the widespread and ongoing trauma of the pandemic. She says, “Cakes, cookies and sweet treats always make you feel better.” 

In covid, Caryn was going through a lot of personal changes, which most people would consider traumatic, like dealing with past hurts from a painful childhood, being cut off from her family of origin, empty-nesting after years of raising and homeschooling her children, getting back into the workforce, and then losing her job due to covid lockdowns. Her daughter got married and moved overseas, which meant separation when travel was restricted. And Caryn was approaching her 50th birthday. 

For Caryn, a way to relieve stress is to fill her kitchen with the fragrances of yeast, vanilla and cinnamon, and to work out her frustrations by rolling out pie crusts or kneading dough. “It’s a creative process for me. There’s a reward at the end of what I’ve accomplished.” She was doing so much baking that she began thinking about opening a bakery. “During this time there was a traumatic situation in my life playing out, in addition to the group trauma we all had,” she said. One day, when she had about all she could take, she began ranting to friends in a group text, “‘You know what?! I will name this Trauma Bakes. I’ll make Flying Monkey Bread, and Boundary Free Brownies.’ I was being sarcastic, trying to vent and make fun of things. Immediately both of them said, ‘Oh my gosh! You have to do this.’ I thought, ‘No, this is crazy.’ But the next day, I had an appointment with a therapist and I told her about this crazy idea. She looked at me and said, ‘Oh my gosh! You have to do this. Please do this.’ I was scared. I was worried that people would be offended, that someone else would think, ‘This is so tacky,’ that someone would be put off by it. But I’ve had really lovely responses. I have connected with people in the trauma community. People have been so kind. So I decided to do it.”

In addition to the Flying Monkey Bread and Boundary Free Brownies, Caryn sells Not Your Toxic Mama’s Biscuits, Selfcare Loaves of bread, People Pleasing Pies, Border Free Bundt cakes, Love Bomb Cookies (“because they make you feel good”), Hoover Cookies (“because even though you don’t need to eat another one, they’re so good they suck you back in”), and her husband’s favorite: Family Gathering Cookies (“because they’ve got flakes, nuts and they’re a little fruity”). “I have a whole line of Spill The Tea Cakes and Smear Campaign jams. I also have scones. I can’t find a creative name related to trauma for everything. I’m glad for that, actually,” she laughed. “I’m introducing new things for Valentine’s Day. There’s never a bad time to have brioches filled with cinnamon and icing. I’m going to make King Cakes for Mardis Gras too. I’m not much of one to celebrate Mardis Gras, but there’s cake?! I’m in!”

“I love afternoon tea. I am obsessed with all things tea. Once I experienced it and had scones with clotted cream and jam, I’ve never been the same,” Caryn said. “I find it one of the most amazing experiences. Just having tea or coffee, just giving yourself 15-20 minutes and something sweet, is a great way to help and reset yourself. Having a reward for yourself, whether you have tea and a treat, you journal, or you just be quiet. It’s more important than ever because we have noise everywhere. Do that for yourself. Somedays it feels like survival. You don’t have tomorrow guaranteed, so just find a small nugget every day. I’m trying to have a laugh every day, multiple times each day, but at least once a day. It’s really important right now.” 

A survivor of childhood trauma, Caryn learned that a shift in her focus could help get her through the pain. “It felt quite heavy. I was very much in my mind, a lot, using my imagination, and finding ways to laugh at things. I’ve always managed to have, even in hopeless moments, some hope that this will not last, it will get better, and I will laugh again. I learned early on how good it feels to laugh really hard. It’s a great release. I just felt the need to make light of things I couldn’t process or change. I needed to have humor in order to survive.”

“My husband, who I met in high school, is incredibly witty, and I had to hone my skills to be able to hang with him,” Caryn laughed. “My son is the funniest human, the wittiest person I know. My daughter is also funny, but what’s really lovely about her is she’s really funny and doesn’t mean to be. I think I’m like that too. The ability to laugh at yourself and not take yourself too seriously is so important. Any time you mess up or fail you should definitely joke about it. I’m always looking for ways to make fun of what’s going on. I’m not perfect. [Life] is messy, and I own it. I would love to see everybody doing that.”

“I’ve always had a desire to really enjoy life,” Caryn said. “I love to entertain. I love to have people over, feed them, and laugh with them. It’s where I get some of my greatest joys in life.” Caryn also enjoys traveling, studying different cultures and meeting new people. Currently she is learning to speak, read and write Korean. She observed that in addition to making time for oneself and doing things that bring joy, “we need to be thinking about others, caring for others. It’s important that we are really kind to each other because we are all going through this [pandemic induced trauma] at the same time. There seems to be a lot of ugliness and hate. When you see someone in the store, even if you have a mask on, smile. Your eyes change. Thank people. Hold doors for people. Acknowledge them, because we have been isolated all this time. The little acknowledgement you give, even if it’s just a nod, matters right now because there is not anyone who hasn’t been affected in some way, or isn’t struggling to feel really alive and excited about life right now.”

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