A journal of healing

Posts tagged ‘childhood trauma’

Living the Ace Study

This past week was terrible. I did not get through it unscathed. I am wounded and in a bad way. Let me explain something about triggers and how simple things can dig so deep that it can immobilize someone. I again point to the ACE Study http://www.acestudy.org/index.html  about Childhood Trauma and the lasting effects of living in and witnessing trauma.

The effects of trauma are pervasive and unique. What triggers me may not trigger you. And how I react and for how long will also be different. The first thing that I learned when I became a Certified Trauma Professional is to allow the feelings. Never tell anyone what they feel is wrong, or over-reactive. What a person feels is their right. Trying to modify behavior by saying they are wrong to feel that way or try to change them can make things a whole lot worse. It is the same principal as working with grief. Time and reaction is unique.

Reaction to trauma is also a chemical and physically wired behavior. Neuropathways are developed as trauma is experienced or witnessed. When triggered, the body reacts out of protection secreting chemicals to produce energy for flight or arousal. Long time exposure will create a programed system reaction which often includes the shutdown of the body, anger and explosive behavior, and often a desire to stop participating in life. These are the three basic reactions of trauma: fight flight or freeze. A triggered person will resort to one or all of those reactions without a sense of doing it.

This prolonged constant flooding of chemicals like cortisol and other potent hormones designed for safety will affect the body and cause illness. It is proven. See Ace Study. And this reaction does not fade, but for many, it exponentially gets worse. And so in time, less creates more of reaction. For some it becomes over whelming and they cannot function. There is no actual cure for PTSD. The only hope is to learn to live with it and tame the Tiger so to speak. By exposure to more positive situations and learning to self-sooth and calm, many people learn to cope.

I learned that revisiting the trauma is not a good thing. The old method of recreating events and mollifying them does not work and is not healthy. You actually recreate a new trauma by doing that. I found that out too late for me as I spent a lot of time recreating my events in an attempt to grow past them. It did not work. It is enough to say that I spent over forty-five years in an abusive state caused by my alcoholic parents and an abusive husband. Forty-five years is a long time to be treated like shit; emotionally, physically and sexually mistreated. One does not get over that.

So back to this week: things at work are to the point that I am reacting by shutting down. It has progressively getting harder for me to be there. On Monday,  I was “in trouble” because I was being negative in a meeting. Supposedly I was grimacing and my body language was offensive. I swear this is what was reported. In the past I was written up for rolling my eyes. My boss is a terrible boss and the person who reported this is her mini-me. I understand the dynamics and I could spend a whole other post on how horrible it is at work. But let it suffice that my boss’s words to me were cruel and hurtful. She told me no one wants to work with me. In a previous accusation of misdoing, she told me no one likes me. She then said stop reacting like you’re the victim. If she only knew.

My Clinical Educator resigned after 27 years there.. I threw a reception for Margaret on Tuesday right on site. We had a fabulous relationship. She had my back, and I had hers. I would never have survived without her when I first started. Her leaving trigger all sorts of abandonment issues for me. She saw the mistreatment and the poor leadership. She left because she had enough.

One of Margaret’s favorite things is cake…. Well actually frosting. I had a special cake created for her. It was beautiful and fresh. I was sitting enjoying a small piece, minding my own business. The VP of Clinical was standing in front of me eating a large piece of cake as well. Then, totally unsolicited, he turns and says over his shoulder just as I was putting a piece of cake in my mouth, “should YOU be having that?” I was flabbergasted.

What happens to me when something triggers me is I shut down. I go into this place of protection. Unfortunately, I am unable to speak. I remained in the room until the end of the reception. I never touched the piece of cake again. When I left the building, I burst into tears and cried all the way home. (I actually cried again when I wrote this) I had my fill of painful criticism and hurtful remarks. This is continuing to affect me as I have not been able to sleep through the night. I wake up and perseverate on all the nasty comments.  This is physically causing some nasty flares and a lot of pain.

I am hyper aroused and anything sets me off like a loud noise or small issues. On Wednesday, Joe’s car had a huge malfunction with alarms and flashing lights going off when we were going somewhere and I completely flipped out. I was so upset I was hyperventilating and curled up. We got the car home as we were not too far way but I cannot explain how terrifying it was for those four minutes. I was so bad; I took the next day off. I had to lie because they would never have understood.

I know what I have to do and I am working on getting out. But it is not so easy. I am lucky there will be escape. But how many other people are out there who deal with this daily? No one knows the effect rude and nasty comments can make. We all agree a positive remark can make someone’s day. Why is so hard to see what a offensive, uncalled-for comment can do?  We need to learn to be more sensitive to people. Kids are killing themselves or becoming addicted to escape the effects of bullying which is extremely traumatic. Bullying continues in adulthood and some people are true experts at being bullies. I have met many. How many people suffer in silence only to get sicker and sicker because the effect of childhood experiences haunt them as adults?

 

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Harassment

This idea for this post came from my Doc friend’s blog. She was talking about harassment and where does the line get drawn. She had a patient who was making passes at her staff in jest, but it was still annoying. Of course it was annoying. It was harassment. And as I wrote back to her, harassment is determined by the person who is receiving it, not the person who is inflicting it. It has nothing to do with the intent. It is all about how something is received.

I also went on to say that for someone who has a traumatic childhood, or was a victim of sexual abuse or other violent acts, the response to someone’s intent to be funny has just the opposite effect. It can cause a major trigger that can put someone into a tailspin for days and weeks. They may not even know what they are reacting to. It could be a word or even the tone of the harasser.

Harassment can come in many forms. Often people think they are doing a good thing. But someone who constantly harasses someone from the concept of improving the person is totally misguided. What makes that person think they have that right? What makes them so superior to be able to comment?

As I thought about this all week, it hit me that parents come from a point of improving their child but when does it become harassment? Isn’t improving a child the role of a parent? Is there a point when the parent should stop trying to improve their child?

What about a spouse or your partner? Is it ok to harass them into doing something, especially when it affects your family or home? It probably is not ok, but it is hard not to do. I speak from experience.

My husband’s 28 year old daughter will not learn to drive. This makes me crazy. She is terrified, she says. She finally got her permit and then took one lesson. This took three years to accomplish. She said the lesson went ok. But she has made no attempt to continue.  Instead, she relies on her father to tote her around like Miss Daisy. I think he enjoys her dependency on him. Did I say this drives me nuts?

I am skilled in motivation interviewing. I teach it matter of fact. I know in my heart that I am not going to move either one of them on this topic, so I resort to harassment- truth be told. My intent to get his daughter to drive is based on the best interests for her. I want her to be independent and not have to rely on US for the rest of her life. We won’t be there. She has no other family and she has no friends. Her mother passed away at the age of 52. She instilled this irrational fear to drive in her daughter as the mother never drove.

The real reason the daughter won’t drive is because then she will be expected to do something with her life. That ain’t happening either. I know this probably irks me more than anything. What a waste.

Does harassing them help? Absolutely not. It only escalates my anger and frustration more. Can I walk away from it? NO. It slaps me in the face every time she calls her father for a favor. There was over twelve years when his daughter was out in California with her mother that she never called or spoke to her father. It hurt him to the core. But when the mother died, it was; “Oh, Daddy.” He can’t see it or chooses not to.

The bottom line is it still harassment, even with the good intent. I know in my heart I want her to have a life and not rot away like her mother did. I am sad that she is wasting her life. She has all the capabilities to do whatever she wants, but she chooses the easy way out. I have no right to her life. But boy, it is hard to keep my mouth shut. I am so helpless on this because she is not even my kid.

The bottom line is harassment is a person attempt to control. It is coming at someone from the viewpoint of superiority, or desiring some effect of change. I lived with harassment my whole life. Although it was sometimes masked in humor, it was my family’s way to control and inflict. Years of harassment left me sensitive to being criticized in any manner.

We cannot change people. We can influence them, we can teach, we can support. But it is impossible to change someone who does not want to. But damn, its hard not to do.

 

Don’t take this personally

“You’re too sensitive.” “I meant this is a good way.” And my favorite: Don’t take this personally.” Everyone time someone says those things; I know it is going to be a dagger in my soul. I am too sensitive. I will take it badly. And I most definitely will take it personally. Because that is the honest intent. Prefacing statements with “honestly” or to “tell the truth” does not excuse the fact that you are about to be mean. “It’s for your own good” never really is. It’s about you feeling superior to me.

Being an empath is not a pleasure. I see right through most people’s crap in a heartbeat. It does not mean that I can shield myself from the hurt. I never learned that part of survival. Because of that, I am very vulnerable to insults, even if they are shrouded in good intentions. They never really are good intentions.

When you are a large woman, you are a walking target for these kinds of insults. People feel so justified to say, “You would be so pretty if…..” “or you have a beautiful face….” People tell you how much better your life would be if only you could be more like them with statements like: “you should run with me some morning.” Oh Honey, if you really knew me, you would know I can hardly walk some mornings due to psoriatic arthritis. But you don’t really see me, so thanks but no thanks.

These comments do more than just hurt me. They trigger me. My family never lacked in cruel comments. It was a sport to see how clever someone could insult another. I was an enigma in the sense I was the only woman in my family who was large. I mean I am the tallest by 5 to 7 inches, I wore a much larger size (my Mom was a zero to 3) and I had boobs. I spent my childhood listening to “how much better I would be if I only…” This is emotional abuse by the way. I was deprived of treats, often subjected to ridiculous diets like green beans and Jello and constantly harangued about my shape.

[And this is how just writing about my childhood trigger me to justify it. I realized this when I went back to reread what I wrote:] My mom was in charge of the food in the house and meals were excessively high in carbs and fat. There was always soda and cookies available because the other siblings could gorge on them. They were thin. I was an extremely active child and teen often spending the day swimming or riding a bike for miles. I was not allowed to sit around and watch TV or even read. As a younger woman, I was very active. I only slowed down because of the PsA and if I did not have it, I would still be playing tennis and other activities as much as I could.

My family’s constant barrage of self-improvement comments were actually telling me how I failed. There was little said to counter the demeaning of the words. It successfully made me feel like a failure and that was the intent. I know this now, but it scarred me. So now when people make their veiled comments, I hear the disappointment in my mother and father and it brings me back to that time. When you have PTSD, it does not take much to trigger you.

When you grow up with a sense of failure, you have two choices: over achieve or lie down and whither. I overachieved. My success had not dampened the hurt I feel when someone is critical. I am so sensitive, that a look can set me off. I feel people’s disdain of me even if they think they are hiding it. I read people very clearly. It does not matter who or what the relationship. It does not matter if I love or hate the person. Their intent comes beaming through.

Next time you go to make a comment, try to remember that a large person already knows they are large. Chances are they have spent a lifetime trying to meet other’s expectations and have failed. They may not be strong, and your words will haunt them for days. You have no right to demean someone ever. If you think you are helping them, you are not. Get off your white horse and stop being so pompous. Learn that “right reflexing” (the attempt to take charge of someone else’s change process) does not motivate anyone to change. Understand your motive before you speak. Send love, not hurt.

 

4th of July Liberties

 

I was born in America. I have never experienced anything but the freedoms we have here in this country. I do not know any better and so I take it for granted. I am disgusted by piss-poor politicians and can be vocal about my feelings. I am entitled. I take for granted the rights and liberties we have. But I am proud to be an American.

However, I hate the way we celebrate this holiday with fireworks. I personally love the display and the colors. But I hate the noise. It upsets my little Cookie.

Last night we were all sitting in the garden as is our ritual before bed. The dogs take a walk around the yard. We call it the perimeter check. And then we sit for a bit and meditate. There were a few little pops in the distance and Cookie was a bit nervous but still quiet. Then a neighbor set off a huge firework which exploded right over the garden. She panicked.

We ran inside and she took off for the bedroom. I had prepared for this and had the air conditioner and fans going. We crawled into bed and she crawled on top of me and shook. I finally calmed her down and she fell asleep next to me but in my arms. I thought we were ok when another one went off. She again crawled on top of my chest and buried her face in my arms. Finally they stopped and she fell asleep attached to me on my side.

I know everyone has the right to celebrate. I wish they would go back to making fireworks illegal in NY. There are enough displays that are set off by the municipalities to enjoy. I am sure tonight and the next night will be even worse for my little dogs. Browny does not seem to get upset by the noise. But he does get upset when Cookie is upset.

I wish I could teach them something I just learned. I am taking a class to become a Certified Trauma Professional. This class has taught me so much about PTSD and trauma. It is taught by Dr. Eric Gentry, who is an internationally recognized leader in the field of disaster and clinical traumatology.

He teaches that people cannot feel the effects of stress or trauma in a relaxed body. Seems so simple. But he explains in length how the human body is always reacting to triggers of some kind. People who have had extended periods of some form of trauma are in a hypervigilant mode all the time. There are chemical reactions in the brain and the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems go into over drive.  In short, our body is in control.

He explains that we need to be aware that this is always on in one degree or another. And we react by constricting our muscles all day. An example is when at the end of the day, you neck and shoulders are way up and hurt and you have no idea why. It is the constriction of the muscles that you held in a clench all day. We clench our muscles everywhere. It is one cause of leg cramps and back pain.

It is common now for people to understand the concept of just take a breath. Dr. Gentry talks about the power of just taking a breath. He talked about other methods for getting control. But the method I think is amazing and it works is called the pelvic floor relaxation. First you have to become aware of the muscles in you hip area. Do a few kegal exercises by squeezing the muscles that can stop you when you pee. Now just completely relax that area completely. Do that several times a day. Concentrate on those muscles being relaxed when something stressful is happening and you will find you won’t be as stressed.

The issue is that the effect only lasts for a very short time. This is something you have to do all the time. It only takes a second and no one knows you are doing it. Another method to use  is called the wet noodle. This is where you go absolutely limp in a chair for ten seconds. It is like a mini vacation. The effect of being in a relaxed body is how people are learning to deal with PTSD and every day stress.

I wish I could teach my little pup this. But for her, the only comfort is a dark quiet room and being held by her Mommer.

10 Things I would tell me when I was twenty.

floers

I am turning 62 this week. I am not sure how I got so old so fast. Don’t say it isn’t old because it is. The government says I am old enough to get social security. I will start to receive my teacher’s pension. I get hearing aid ads all the time and senior housing offers. I am five years older than my mother when she died and I am only nine years younger than the age my father passed. If I could, this is what I would have told myself when I was younger.

  1. STOP WORRYING. You really have no control over things, so stop worrying. Have more faith in yourself that you are smart and will figure it out as it comes. But trying to put everything into a safe controlled environment is futile. Shit happens. There is nothing that will come your way that was not supposed to happen and you will be fine.
  2. Trust your gut. When it seems like someone is a schmuck, they are. Don’t trust everything people tell you. If a situation feels wrong, run the other way. Believe that you intuitively know what is best for you and go with it.
  3. Stop trying to please everyone else and please you. People will take advantage of you if you let them. No one is going to give you what you really want so get it yourself. Do not put yourself last. When you get to the end of your life, you will be bitter and angry, not revered for being so generous.
  4. Don’t make people, men especially, a project. You may think you are helping them, but actually you taking care of their lives because they are selfish and lazy. They can take care of themselves, you take care of you. If someone attaches, they are a sucker in every fashion and will deplete you. Or they are a predator and you are fresh meat. They will resent you in the long run.
  5. Find things that make you happy and then do them. When you change your world to please someone else, they do not truly care for you. If they did, they would honor your choices and support you. When someone tries to change you, run! Be who you are. Do things you love.
  6. Go find someone who wants what you want. If you want a family, go find someone else who wants children. There is a small window of time when you can be a mother. If this was what you want, you need to find a partner who loves you enough to complete that part of you. See numbers 3 and 5.
  7. Forgive. Try with all you heart to forgive. Yes there are things that are so egregious that happen that you may not be able to forgive easily. Then seek for understanding and then move on. Get good help such as counseling and support. Stop blaming yourself for the things people have done to you. It is their fault and their problem. You did not deserve it and you don’t deserve to keep punishing yourself for their crimes.
  8. You are beautiful. Accept it. Do not listen to what others have said; they are wrong. So very wrong. Do not try to fit into the mold others want you to. If they love you, they will accept every ounce, every freckle, every inch of you. Believe in your beauty and radiate. Stop hiding and feeling like a monster. The monsters are the voices that tell you are disgusting. Do not give them the satisfaction of bringing you down. Take care of yourself. Do not live a life of deprivation in order to meet some unrealistic goal. Accept who and what you are.
  9. Don’t bury the gifts you have. You have a voice and a musical talent. Do not stop making music. It is who you are. You have art and theater in you. It is your being. When you bury these because someone makes you miserable about participating, realize they are jealous. If they love you, they want you to be all of who you are.
  10. This is the most important: Stop being afraid. It will make you very sick. Figure out why you are so afraid. Seek help before it takes over and you become incapacitated. Learn coping mechanisms. Get rid of the things or people who are making you afraid. Have more faith in yourself that you are the master of your world and you are fine. Learn to be independent and fearless. Travel and meet new people. Do not let someone isolate you from your friends and the things you love. These are the gifts you are meant to have. Do not let the nasty voices from the  past haunt you the rest of your life. They cannot hurt you anymore unless you let them. They will not be there when you are older. Don’t give them the power to continue to hurt you and make you feel less than you are.

 

The stories we tell ourselves

floers

We all have a constant dialogue running in our heads. It is our story teller. We are wired to do this. We actually reward ourselves when we tell ourselves a complete story by releasing the pleasure hormone, oxytocin. Much of this I learned from a course I am taking on Courage Works with Brene Brown (http://www.courageworks.com/classes/living-brave-semester/lessons. The issue is we automatically believe the story, whether it is true or not.

I find that I am a consummate story teller in my head. I react very quickly to situations and it can be as minute as a look. Off in my head will go a whole scenario with a beginning, middle and end. For example, a simple look from someone will trigger my automatic reaction to my lack of self-worth and I take the look to mean I have done something. Then I will concoct a reason such as there must be something wrong with my physical appearance that made them look at me that way. I will then come up with a defense mechanism, which may be a snotty look of my own. That will put that person off, because in their head, they will do the same thing. The end of the story is they don’t like me and we react negatively to each other which only reinforce the story. I accept this and feel satisfied because in my head it makes sense. The hormones rewards me and I take this as gospel. But the truth is, when I walked in, she was even thinking about me, she had gas. She looks up and sees me glowering at her, and reacts.

Not only do we tell stories but we also automatically go to the negative side of things. We are also programmed to do that. It is call negative bias. We are hardwired to look for the danger in things as a safety mechanism. When a person is repeatedly exposed to constant trauma such as mental and physical abuse, this negative bias is rooted so deeply that it can be insurmountable to overcome. Trust is non-existent. The story mechanism bases its content on the facts of history within the person. So if someone has had negative outcomes from interpersonal relationships, especially if they were intimate relationships, the foundation for negativity is huge. It is the go-to end to all stories.

Seems like that would make the person a distant and unfriendly soul, and that is what happens often. That feeds their story ending pool because it keeps the person safe. They know what to expect and so in their heads, their story has the expected outcome and there is no surprises. Being vulnerable is too overwhelming. To some extent, we all do this and it is very difficult to overcome. We have to learn to draw boundaries and we have to learn to pay attention to our stories.

This has been a huge revelation for me. I jump right in and write these stories in my head about situations and they are always so dramatic and crucial. Many times, I paint myself a victim and in fairness to me, it is based on experience. But since I have been learning about this, I find that I can now stop and say, “Whoa, this is a story I am writing.” Sometimes I find myself grinning at this thought because it means I am aware, which is good.

This is where all this goes. There are few things in the world we really can control. Story telling is one. We can actually change the ending of the story if we want. If we want is the hard part. It requires that you look beyond the experience and expectations we set for things. It means we have to be vulnerable and exposed because there is a lot of comfort in being able to say, “I told you so,” even if we are saying this to ourselves. We like to be right. “See I told you she didn’t like me.” When in truth, SHE never gave me any real indication of not liking me, she just had gas. But before any real interaction could occur, the wall was up, protection was in place and the story ended as expected. But it was not true.

Pam Grout (http://pamgrout.com/ wrote a series of books on setting expectations. In her work, she talks about expecting miracles. I tried doing her experiments and had some interesting outcomes. It is sort of the same principal of writing your story only it is more writing the beginning of our stories. She says that if you expect miracles, write it as a must fill expectation, you will discover miracles. Just like we write the ending, we can also write the beginning. How different would my experience been if I had walked into a room, and instead of narcissistically thinking it’s all about me, I just smiled at everyone and expected to be received. MY energy would have been positive, which would have caused an automatic reaction to my positive personal energy. The beginning of my story could have been expecting a positive outcome. The middle of my story would have included being more open and trusting and therefore easier to work with. Can you figure out the ending?

Its a Gut feeling

vegas nerve

Have you ever wonder if there is a connection to having gut issues and being under stress? Why do some people always  seem to be sick? Why is it that when facing a lot of issues some people end up with sore tummies and other disturbances? It is because of the connection to the autonomic nervous system.

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is a division of the peripheral nervous system that influences the function of internal organs.[1] The autonomic nervous system is a control system that acts largely unconsciously and regulates bodily functions such as the heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal. This system is the primary mechanism in control of the fight-or-flight response and the freeze-and-dissociate response. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomic_nervous_system

This is the system that regulates how we physically adapt (or not) to pressure and challenging situations. It is the system that keeps animals safe and helps them to employ tactics such as being able to run at super speed or feign death in a freeze like mode. This system triggers chemical such as adrenalin and cortisol to help the being physically have the juice it needs to do what it needs to do in the form of flight, fit or freeze.

People have the same ability of flight, fit or freeze. We adapt to situations with the ramp up of the same chemical juices during times of stress. For people who are in stressful situations all the time, this chemical and nervous system process does not have time to deregulate. The human never goes back to “normal”. Hence: Post-traumatic stress syndrome. PTSD.

We think children have a natural resilience and are not affected by stressful things. We dismiss their stress with sayings like: “They will get over it.” Or “they are too young to understand what is happening.”

What really happens is that the child internalizes it. It may be hard for parents to see that their child senses stress differently and how that correlates into health issues in the child. It is also complicated by the fact that two people can be exposed to the same stressful situation and one will react and be done with it and the other will have it affect them harder and for a long time. We add to that sensitive child’s issues by naming that child a sissy and telling them that their issues is insignificant . That adds a layer of guilt on top of it and makes the child withdraw further.

The same situation happens with adults. Some people do not deal well with stress and have learned to not say anything, because there can be a layer of judgment that comes from people, including medical providers. Even people who teach tools such as mediation and mindfulness can be critical of those who struggle to “find their zone.” We are all hardwired differently and all meditating in the world cannot really change that.

The Ace Study was a scientific research study that identified the link to maltreatment of children and chronic illness. They program has grown and is now widely accepted yet many providers still do not know about this epic study. It states emphatically that there is a correlation to childhood trauma and adult stress and chronic illness.

What needs to happen in the medical world is a change in thinking. Current medical practice is symptom management. There is a medical issue we throw medicine at it to eliminate the symptoms. When people return over and over for the same issue, there probably is more there and the illness is not actually the main problem. This is what being trauma informed is all about.

For those of you like me who have chronic issues, there is a new thinking out there that really is helping me cope. I wish I could find the article but I cannot so I will have to paraphrase. This was from a young man who has multiple disabilities and chronic illness. He is currently in a monastery and is not writing.

He said instead of trying to cope and bury your issues, live with them. We are a society where other people’s suffering makes us uncomfortable. He said that is why people want to help. It is not really about the sufferer, it is about the dis-ease that suffering generates. We want to eradicate it before we become part of it. I will write more about this in another post.

But for the sufferer, they are taught to move on, get over it or take a pill. It dismisses the being. It diminishes their lives and their history. What would happen if we all were allowed to live with our baggage instead of struggling to remove it? What if we accepted our plights and accept what comes our way as being human. Instead of guilt and anger, we would learn honor and virtue. Being human is messy. It does not come with instructions and no one has the same path.

This is the current direction of the ACE movement. The focus is to help children who live in violence and maltreatment to speak up. They are encouraged to talk about their situation and ask for help and without shame or guilt. But what about all the adults who grew up in households that were littered with dirty little secrets like incest and drunken violence. We were told to never tell.

All though this post rambled on through many different topics, they really are all connected. We are human. We have uncontrollable systems within our bodies that regulate physical reactions. We taught at an early age to cope. But we don’t really; we camouflage our emotions that eventually manifest in illness.

What do you think would happen if there was a change that allowed people to say, “yeah, I am really struggling here?” and have the reply not be…. “let me fix that or let me change you?”