A journal of healing

Posts tagged ‘CBT’

Sharing dirty little secrets

The following blog  SEX is written by an extremely brave and courageous woman. It is hard to comprehend how she feels unless you have been there. I can imagine how much spirit it took to write this and even more strength to share it. The issue is not the event. It is not the past. It is the present moment and the reaction one has to various stimulus NOW. You cannot erase what happened and so any therapy that makes a person relive the trauma or go over the details of their past are often only re-traumatizing the client or patient. A good therapist gives the patient tools do deal with their trauma and their feelings and reactions in the present moment.
Pat writes about how she interprets sexual feelings now. She knows that any sexual advancement made by an adult to her is taken poorly; she does not enjoy it. She transfers sexual feelings to touch with her own son. Of course she does. It is safe. He is safe to her. She feels it is wrong, and it would be wrong if she were to follow through, which I am sure she didn’t. She loves her son. The problem is that she has attached so much garbage to any intimate relationship that when she feels the physical touch and closeness of a hug from her son, it triggers a response she deems inappropriate. But how would she not when the time and place in her life when she first had sexual relations was when she was a child. There was safety in the body, the smallness of her son. It has nothing to do with intercourse. It was about the intimacy she craves and the safe sensation of being touched by someone who does not want anything from her. THIS is how the cycle of sexual abuse CAN be continued, but Pat knows this is taboo. Instead, she carries so much shame with her. That is the gift that keeps on giving. (sarcasm)
My life is very similar in the sense that I do not like to be touched by anyone. It is extremely difficult for me to relax in any type of physically intimate relationship. My father deemed all women sluts and dirt. The only woman he did not have a comment about was my mother. Their relationship was the strangest growing up. They were never demonstrative. My mother and father never hugged or even sat close. The only kiss I ever saw them give each other was her on his bald head. But I discovered later why she was so Victorian in her manner about sex. My father used to berate me from the time I had boobs that I was a whore, which is incredibly funny since I was anything but promiscuous. There was no healthy sex education growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in white suburbia. Sex was naught and dirty and only “hoods” did that sort of thing.
To be safe and actually unbeknownst to me at the time, the “boyfriends” I had in high school were all gay. They were not out back then, but they were into the arts and gentle young men. I never pushed the issue of sex, and they did not either so it was safe. My best girlfriend was a toucher. She liked to tap on your hand or arm when she was talking to you. Finally one day she asked me why I pulled away every time. I just said I did not like to be touched and she was ok with it and was mindful.
My first sexual encounter as a young woman was disastrous. But I quickly learned that if I got drunk or high, I could relax enough. This became my pattern. My ex-husband was fine with it because I do not think it was ever about intimacy for him. Eventually, sex was the only thing I had to control in my life, so I withheld. He went quickly elsewhere. (Actually he was elsewhere before, during and after our marriage) When we first met, and I felt safe with him, I enjoyed walking hand in hand, cuddles and other intimate gentle touches. That soon turned to grabbing at me, dominating stances like having his arm on my shoulders and slapping my butt. The relationship deteriorated until it became sexually violent and that was when I pulled completely inside and put up the wall. For me, the wall was weight more than anything. I cannot say honestly that I did not want to have a sex and so I was a horrible flirt when out with the girls. But I never went through with anything. For me, it was the need to be desired more than anything.
My relationship with my now husband is platonic. It was established as such and remains. It works for the both of us.
The issue of touch is very touchy (ha ha) for me. The therapy I was in for two years was all touch therapy. It took three months for the therapist to be able to even begin therapy and touch me. The therapy is called Associative Awareness Technique. It is a system that used touch stimulus as part of the therapy in the form of different series of applications such as stroke, tap and pressure in very deliberate patterns and places. The concept is that it helps to deregulate the nervous system from going into flight fright or freeze when touched. It is much more than that and you can read about it here: http://www.rochesterptwellness.com/
As part of my healing process, I also took classes in Spiritual Healing Touch. I really enjoy applying touch therapy. As part of the class, you have to be the client and take turns. It was very hard for me but since I have taken a series of classes with the same girls I have gotten better at receiving. Sometimes it is amazing how I feel afterwards. There are certain partners that I am very comfortable with. I have to completely get out of my head when I am working on someone but because I am the one touching it works. One time they did a group healing on me and I have to say I was shaking I was so frightened. I was on the table and four ladies who I know well all were working on me at once. It was too much and I felt trapped.
The sensation of feeling trapped is very important and I am going to take a moment to explain. Sexual trauma or for that, all physical trauma is based on the premise of being in a situation beyond your control. Having your freedom in some manner removed is what triggers the fight, flight or freeze. You can run away, you can turn and fight for release or you can play dead and freeze, hoping the predatory will pass over you. Being trapped can sometimes not have to have another person physically confining you. You can be trapped mentally and it creates an even more profound sense of helplessness and defeat. This is often the case for people who are in a domestic violence situation. I will write more on this in later blogs. Do not judge, because those chains may be invisible, but trust me they exist.
For a young child, being in a violent home can feel like being trapped. You cannot tell anyone of your situation because that would excommunicate you from your source of survival. Children cannot see that there are alternatives and adult prey on them with that threat. “Tell someone and you will get sent to an orphanage.” “Tell someone and I will really get you the next time.” Children do not have the cognitive ability to see beyond their present moment and they have nothing to compare with.
I am still amazed that there are so many people out there who did not and cannot understand imperfect childhoods. I thought growing up with alcoholics was normal until I became old enough to visit other families whose parents did not get drunk. When and where I grew up, kids were on their own and invisible. Parents disappeared during sleep overs. I always thought they were doing what my folks did and that was sequestering themselves and getting drunk. Parents did not haul their kids everywhere. You walked or rode your bike. It was not until I was preteen that I saw a different structure in family life and once I did, I spent any moment I could out of my house and at my girlfriends. I never had a sleep over at my house. Only once did I have my friends at my house for my fifteenth birthday. My parents and I had moved into a three bedroom apartment and four of my girlfriends and I were in my bedroom listening to music. My father burst through the door, swearing about the “nigger music” we were listening to (it was a folk group) ripped the record off the turntable and smashed it. My friends left in a hurry. Forty years later two of my girlfriends and I got together for a reunion. I told them the whole story and they had no idea that that was what my home life was like. It was one of my dirty little secrets.

Brain Parts: What is the Amygdala and why won’t it go away?


In order to really understand how trauma is manifested in someone, I have to try to explain a little bit of physiology of the brain. I am going to be very basic as I promised this was going to be an easy to understand blog. But this is also part of why things are the way they are for people with trauma related issues. But before I go there I want to share something that came to me the other night. Not everyone has trauma, not everyone gets this at all. Be careful trusting your healing to someone who says they get it, but really does not. That is why I want to do this blog. To help those who are suffering even a little bit to understand why and what is going on so they do not get taken. People with PTSD and trauma relating issues can be extremely vulnerable and therefore easy marks.

I actually was shocked when I first began therapy to find out not everyone is messed up…which  is probably not the right way to say this. What I mean is that I had no point of reference to know I was different. I did not know there was even anything wrong with me. I knew I was scared. I knew I was filled with constant fear. But that was not why I went to see someone. I went because I was in constant pain. I will come back to this in a later post. My point was I had no idea what hypervigilant was and that I was extremely hypervigilant. I did not like to be touched. I had big time issues, and still do sometimes, looking someone squarely in the eyes. I will also talk about the importance of eye contact. But again, I had been like this for so long, I thought it was normal. It was my normal. It is not everyone else’s normal. I really thought other people had childhoods like mine. Some do, but no one has the exact same experience. Be careful of therapists who claim to know your pain and then proceed to tell you how bad their life is. You are paying for them to listen and work with you, not you listening to them. It is also not a competition: “who had the worse time as a kid?” There are times when similar experience could be crucial such as working with soldiers. I also think it helps that a therapist truly understands sexual assault. But all this will be for later discussions. I am just trying to explain why I am writing about all this.

But I must share this experience I had years ago. I went to this counselor who was attached to a Mega Christian church. My brother-in-law attended and recommended it. It was a huge congregation and they had a counseling services right at the church. This was many, many years ago. I went because I was starting to have issues in my first marriage. I went once to meet the counselor and she wanted me to write about my life. I went home and then wrote about thirty pages of stuff. I brought it back the next visit. First of all, she had this annoying habit of sighing after everything I said. Her: “So, Jane, how are you?” I would reply, “I am doing ok.” Her: “(((((Sigh))))))” She proceeded to read my story in front of me. She starts sighing in rapid succession and then burst into tears and left the room. I remember sitting there and saying softly under my breath, “That worked well.” I left and never returned. I laugh now, but that could have been very damaging.

Back to science: The brain is an organ composed of many compartments that all do different things. There are three main parts: The Reptilian, the Limbic, and the Neo-Cortex. The part that is in not in charge for someone with trauma is the cortex. The reptilian brain is the survival brain. The limbic is emotions based mostly on past experiences, or in some cases; trauma.

The Reptilian brain gets its name from being the oldest part of development of the brain. Make perfect sense if you believe in evolution, like I do. This is survival at the most primitive state. It controls heart function and breathing. It is what makes us fight when threatened or retreat or flight if needed. Sometimes the body will go into a freeze. Think of a possum or pill bug that rolls up. If humans have instincts, then this is the part of the brain that may be involved. We have innate fear of harmful things such as snakes, spiders or even the hot stove. This part of the brain kept humans from walking up to a tiger and cuddling it.

three parts of brain

The limbic system is the emotional center. I am going to spend a lot of time on this in later posts because this can be the center for major issues for trauma patients. There are ways to work with helping and I will share what I know and hopefully readers will chime in with what they know. In the center of this area is a “mass of nuclei” known as the amygdala. When I first was learning about this, I thought of one of those garbage cans with a spring lid on it. You step on a pedal and the lid pops up. I thought of this amygdala as being that garbage can with the spring lid stuck open all the time spewing stuff. This is what happens when someone has PTSD. That little bugger is stuck on or open and firing all the time. The stuff spewing out of it is chemical and electronic signals that fire up other glands and areas of the brain that flood your body with lovely things like cortisol. Do not let the small size of the amygdala fool you. It is a very powerful nasty critter when it is overwhelmed. I will talk how it gets overwhelmed. Just remember this is all natural, and just like other diagnosis, can often be remedied.

The rest of the brain is the learning and thinking areas. We actually use very little of this part of the brain. Some less than others. The issue is that most therapies work on this part of the brain. Cognitive Based therapy, CBT, or talk therapy works in this part of the brain. For examples, affirmations that are supposed to rewire your thinking are applied here. Trouble is that little bugger Amygdala is more powerful and will over ride that kind of therapy in no time. The route of PTSD and trauma based issues is that they are not “learned” like a lesson. They are sensed. You have to retrain the limbic system. You cannot think yourself differently; you have to learn what safe feels like in order to turn off the amygdala. And if you have no clue any more what safe is, well….. hence why this is so crazy hard to fix.

So this is a pretty simple explanation of how these three systems in the brain work or do not work. I would love to hear what you think. Please comment in the comment box or share your story with us.