A journal of healing

Posts tagged ‘pschotherapist’

Stretched to the last inch

rubber-band-01Tonight I thought I would write about what it feels like when I have a trigger. And also explain a bit about how stress grows and a reaction builds very easily. Most of the time, I do not know when a trigger happens. It sneaks up. Not tonight. Tonight, it was a pie in the face trigger. Let me explain. There has been a lot going on with me, so I am already in a heightened state, even higher than “normal” for me.
Because I have been in a heightened state for so very long, at least 58 years, it does not dissipate like someone who has not been exposed to trauma. Think of a rubber band that gets stretched. Over time, it loses its elasticity. It becomes frail and can snap when one more pull on it occurs. If you look at a rubber band like that, you will see it actually is decomposing. The rubber crumbles and pits. This is very much like what it feels like when you come down off a freeze or even more so a flight or fight. You are spent. And the human body will crumble and decompose faster with constant stretching or stress.
If the rubber band is given time to relax and not get stretched again, it will go back to its original condition…. to some degree. This is what a normal reaction would be like. People who have a normal nervous system would maybe fly off the handle for a bit and then calm down and be alright in short order. They return to homeostasis, or all systems are even and functioning at a normal rate.
For someone who has had developmental trauma or PTSD, homeostasis does not happen quickly or easily and in some cases not at all. The system is always a bit heightened. So let’s say for this writing, you start off at you are at 0 in a scale of 0-10 in the “homeostasis” rating scale. This 0 represents a calm even demeanor. Something sets you off and you rise to a 7, and with a bit of time, you go back down. But you now go back to a 1. This becomes your new normal. Something sets you off, and you go to an 8, and then back down only to 2. You experience a lot of negative stimulation, (think stress and trauma) and because it is coming at you fast and constantly, you never have enough time to release and go back down. Like the rubber band, you may snap or become stretched out.
But many people who have this experience define their new normal and “stuff it”. They have no clue that their level is not normal and that they do not experience homeostasis. For them, they are always a bit heightened. And so when you run around at a five all, and I mean ALL the time, it takes nothing to get to 10. A simple trigger such as someone saying the wrong thing can put you into orbit. It may not have anything to do with the actual event.
Have you ever seen a garbage can with the spring lid and you leave it open for a long time, they get out of shape and won’t close tight. Using that analogy: you are going along; the garbage can lid on the amygdala is slightly open, oozing a bit of coding that is telling your glands to secrete a bit of hormones into your body. So now you are simmering with cortisol and a bit of high blood pressure. Your digestive track may be revving slightly or in my case, slowing down, you are breathing a little shallow and your heart is slightly elevated say at 90 bps. No biggie if this has become your normal for a while. You actually get used to it. And if for any reason the lid closes completely, you actually may feel tired, sluggish or “off”.
So my lid is always open. Then something happened to me tonight that set me off. I flew off the handle at a ridiculous thing. It was not ridiculous to me at the time. It was horrible. I have been simmering a bit higher than normal all week anyways. We have a situation in the family which could impact the dynamics of my household completely and will be very stressful. My husband’s ex-wife and the mother of his only daughter is dying. We found out tonight they had to intubate her. She is in ICU with no kidney or liver function. Not good. She is only 52. It is a long story, but his daughter has been living with her for the last 9 years. She is 25. So there is a lot going on with that. Then, he and I are looking into our retirement possibilities. Tonight after we had called her, I went to check out my teaching pension and it is so confusing it was starting to set me off. Then I read something and I lost it. I flew off the handle in a reaction that was totally unrealistic to the situation. It scared the crap out of me that I might not have a pension at all.
My body slammed full of toxins, the cortisol and epinephrine hormones flooded me. I became red, hot and my hands tingled. My skin was electric. I tried to talk (actually yell) and made absolutely no sense. This happens a lot to me and I get very frustrated. It too is a chemical reaction to stress which shuts down the language center. When I get frustrated, it adds fuel to the fire. I felt trapped like someone was holding me and I want to run away and I cannot. (This is also my common reaction and it manifests in chronic pain in my legs. This is another blog post.) My practice is to burst into tears in frustration and anger and that usually stops the building of the hot mess I am becoming. Then as I s l o w l y come back, I do not come back all the way. I always have a headache AND as an extra bonus, there is usually guilt and remorse for being such a jack ass and flying off the handle.
I disassociate from myself during the drama. I actually watch myself as I react which is very weird but part of the techniques I have learned to use to deal. It helps to bring me back faster. After an event, I think about how similar my behavior is to the behavior my father demonstrated, only he added physical violence to his rage.
The thinking part of my brain that would normally have thought out that “I need to investigate this” which was not accessible at all to me at the moment of the trigger. And because my husband was there and he reacted to my reaction, it added to the circus of the event. Even the little dogs know to get out of the way and hide. That really makes me feel bad. As I got older, I had these “events’ more often. It was really a horrible way to be. I was easily provoked. I am a little better at not getting provoked so easily. I actually have walked out on situations where people have started to push buttons, which is really great. It stops the person in their tracks when you walk away or out of a room when someone is yelling at you. I remove myself as the target and it makes me proud that I stood up for myself. Win-win.
I will say this as I like to always end on a positive note. Like I said, I have found some techniques to help me be calmer more often and more reliably. I will share more of them later. But in the heat of a really strong stimulus, I am still pretty weak. Nothing like thinking you have no money to retire on to tweak you especially when your family is being rearranged again. I have learned to “see” myself in the event and since I do not like that person, I burst into tears and release the anger. Unfortunately, I still need to work on the guilt, but I am better.
The long and short of it, at least I am still here in this world having my temper tantrums. I am not lying in ICU with a machine keeping me alive. Life is precious, every moment. I am very grateful for all of my experiences. Even those days when I feel like a spent rubber band.

The sisterhood

little girl

Tonight I took a journey of sorts. I went looking through some of the new readers who have read my blog and have a blog of their own. It breaks my heart to see how many women out there have a story which starts once “upon a time there was a man, boy, cousin, uncle and even father” who crossed a line. One reader pondered if their young pairing bothered the other person as much as it did her. She wondered if he even remembered what happened. That struck a chord in me tonight. A dissonance chord.

I thought about my situation and my past. I remember the last time I spoke face to face with my ex-husband many years ago. We were in the process of dissolving 27 years of marriage. I will never forget the shame I felt. I felt shame… for what? But he had honed his skill to turn the ugly in our marriage to be my entire fault. He even told someone I made him break his hand when he smashed it into a wall. He did not tell them that he missed my head by less than an inch. He justified so much of what he did as either I deserved it or it was a reaction to the issues in his life…. In other words, not his fault. I am sure if questioned today, he would have no regrets and no memory.

I remember my father sitting in his bed at the hospital telling me, ME….the victim of something that at that time I had an incomplete memory of, that he had no regrets. No shame or sadness for beating the crap out of me and my sister. No ill thoughts about any of the things he did to me. Because he was so drunk then, did he not remember? Did this exonerate him if he did not remember? It took me 48 years to remember it completely myself. If I really push the issue, can I prove any of it? Does that mean it did not happen?

Or sitting across from my brother as he glibly tells his story of success and after money making success. He looked through me as if I did not exist. Maybe I don’t. If I am not there, can what he did actually ever of happened?

I read what other women thought and spoke of in their words…. Some were full of rage, others were sad. Some were lost and others were finding a healing way. But there was a spark in most that said I will fight on. I will win over this. I will find me, I will feel me.

I will be.

Enough said for tonight.

Namaste, my sisters.

what is a trigger?

The fact that the cell membrane and a computer chip are homologues means that it is both appropriate and instructive to better fathom the workings of the cell by comparing it to a personal computer. The first big-deal insight that comes from such an exercise is that computers and cells are programmable. The second corollary insight is that the programmer lies outside the computer/cell. Biological behavior and gene activity are dynamically linked to information from the environment, which is downloaded into the cell.   Bruce H. Lipton Ph.D.. The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles (Kindle Locations 863-866). Kindle Edition.

I purposefully started this blog with this piece of information. The book, the Biology of Belief was very eye opening for me. I read through and understood about half of what he was saying. My intentions are to go back and reread this, but currently I have a few other books going. Dr. Lipton, a cellular biologist, was radical in his thinking. He left the exalted chambers of academia to live on a Caribbean island and wrote this book. It is a little high end for vocabulary, but his discoveries of the cells power is amazing. For those who believe in mind, body and spirit, it is a good read.

What does this have to do with this blog? Triggers! This is a phenomenon very common to those who have PTSD and developmental trauma. Unless you have it, it is hard to understand. I have heard several times in my life: “why do you just change?” If it were that simple, I would and so would the thousands who have chronic trauma related issues. This is not a choice. If a therapist tells you that it is, run for the door.

What is a trigger? Each person has multiple triggers in their lives. There are smells that trigger hunger and smells the trigger revulsion. Same nose smells them all. What makes the one smell pleasant and the other not pleasant? The memory attached to it. I love the smell of pine for example. It reminds me of the Adirondacks, The River and decorating the house for the holidays. These are all pleasant places or times that I felt safe. There are smells that trigger the opposite.

Light is a big trigger for me. I am very sensitive to light; the brightness and color of light. For example, the fading crimson light of sunset will often trigger me if I am not careful. There is something about the shadow and color that sets me off if I do not focus and keep myself in the present moment. It takes conscious effort to be aware. Why would this particular light bother me? I had to really analyze this as this has been a factor for a very long time for me, since I was very young.

Every night, my parents at 5 pm would stop their lives and sit down to have cocktails. It was without fail. We children were excommunicated from the area and left to our own devices. The room would fill up with the stench of cigarettes and later cigars. One cocktail would follow another. When I was very young, it was not so much an issue as my brother and I were fed earlier by my mother’s live in. As time moved on, this ritual lasted longer and longer. My father would drink and turn into a monster. And the hard part was it was not all the time. Sometimes he would be fine, and other times he would explode into a rage for no reason. My mother would catatonically sit on the sidelines and allow his irrational behavior to run its course. I did not realize at the time she was protecting herself.

Two things this light symbolized for me. The exclusion brought on by the ritual of cocktails. There was such a feeling of isolation and rejection stemming from their choice of alcohol over their children. And the fear of what drinking would do to my father. When we moved and I was the only one at home, they would get so tanked that they would not stop. Often, I would have dinner on my own, go out for the evening with my friends to come home to either the monster or having to help them get to bed. Needless to say I did not bring friends home.

The tricky part of triggers is we often do not know what they are. I can be going along in my day and realize that I am not breathing well. My chest will get tight and I cannot take a deep breath. I will have no idea what set me off, but something did. It can be as apparent as an argument or it can even be something I overheard. But sometimes, it is just the environment. And that is where cellular biology comes into play.

Think of the cell as a little person all on its own. It has a brain (nucleus) and it has a body with multiple parts that produced respiration and osmosis of sorts and creates energy. Surrounding the cell is the cell membrane which is like our skin…..which of course is made up by cells. “Each eukaryote (nucleus-containing cell) possesses the functional equivalent of our nervous system, digestive system, respiratory system, excretory system, endocrine system, muscle and skeletal systems, circulatory system, integument (skin), reproductive system, and even a primitive immune system, which utilizes a family of antibody-like “ubiquitin” proteins.” Bruce H. Lipton Ph.D.. The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles (Kindle Locations 345-346). Kindle Edition.

This is important to understand because triggers are sensed. They can be attached to a memory which will indicate whether it is a good trigger or a bad trigger. As we proceed through our day, we are assaulted with so much information that if we were to pay attention to it all we would be immobilized. So we tune out. I should say our thinking brain tunes out. The cells on our body do not. So we may feel uneasy without realizing where it is coming from. Have you ever walked into an empty room and felt creeped out? I have. There is something that was there or may still be and I cannot perceive it cognitively, but my little cell brains can. And when that happens, the little cell brains send a signal to the nerve highways and send the non-apparent threat up to the reptilian brain. It reacts and sets off the limbic system and opens Mr. Amygdala who then sends off all sorts of chemicals and then I feel crappy. AND, I have no clue why.

Think of how often this can happen in the course of a day. The part I will get into later is that this reaction or trigger grows exponentially. In other words, simple things set us off more and more. And because we end up being triggered continually, our system is flooded with chemicals that create inflammation and disease. Chronic pain is a common symptom of developmental trauma and PTSD.

This is in part why I had to take a mental health day this weekend. My pain level is out of control. My body is telling me I need to calm down. I had to take myself out my normal environment of work and interactions. It is not how I can live, but the respite was good. Unfortunately, the resurgence in the world of grocery shopping yesterday produced a heightened sense of over stimulation and increased pain level again. But the one day was worth it.

A Mental Health Day

fall 10-2014      Today I took a much needed mental health day. It is the first time in ages I have done that. I have taken sick days rarely in my working life and only when I am on my death bed. I think it is the old belief that I am not worthy to treat myself well. In healing from trauma, this is one things you have to get past; feeling worthy. It is all of part of the package of feeling safe. There was an underlying reason for taking the time off and that was related to stress.

I have been working very hard…actually since I was eleven. I have had only brief sessions of time when I was unemployed. The last time was when I was divorced, and lost my job, had to sell my home and move. I ended up with a bit of a cushion and so I spent some time getting used to being single for the first time in 27 years. Actually, I reflect on it now as one of the best times of my life. But that was thirteen years ago. I have been working non-stop, going to school and other activities since then. This past month is the first time I have had no commitments what so ever other than a very full time job. My job is actually very fulfilling. But…. There are a lot of other issues that make it incredibly stressful.

So tonight I am going to talk about how stress can affect us and we do not even know it. Today was a bit of an experiment that unfortunately worked. So let me explain as un-graphically and as delicately as I can. But first a bit of science:

Now let me start this with I am still learning about this. There is a lot going on in the body we have no control over. Things like breathing, our heart beating and so forth work all on their own and that is due to the nervous system. There are two major branches of the nervous system: the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems which make up the autonomic nervous system or in other words: our autopilot to feeling and the reaction to stimulus. It is the sympathetic system that reacts with fight or flight. Either you get all pumped up and adrenaline courses through you and you rage or you run. The parasympathetic system sort of works in a completely different way: “stimulation of the parasympathetic system causes constriction of the pupil of the eye and contraction of the ciliary muscle; increase of the glandular secretion of enzymes, as in the case of the pancreas; increased peristalsis; and a slowed heart rate.” http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/parasympathetic (2014). Sooooooo what is peristalsis? It is the movement of “stuff” through your guts such as food and enzymes and fluid. This is the system of that makes you crap. (Sorry).

For me, digestion has never been something I do well. I am very heavy and have been my whole life. I was born chubby and just managed to get bigger and bigger. Of course there is the period of self- medicating with alcohol, which I will share later, that did not help my weight. But my nearest and dearest friends will tell you I have the loudest gut they have ever heard. My friend has wanted to record me and sell the sounds for either Halloween or as whale sounds. NO pun intended. And there is no way to be delicate about this; but I can fart the Star Spangle Banner in three parts. LOL!  I have learned after 60 years that this is one of my reactions to stress. It is a family trait too. The joke was always when my brother went anywhere; he had to hit the pot first thing when he got home. We always said my petite mother propelled herself around in the morning by her own exhaust. Farting was not only allowed in our home, it was revered. It was one of the few things that was funny. To this day, if you want to make me laugh, tell me a fart joke. If you want to make me laugh hysterically, fart!

But because of my studies, I have discovered that actually this was a reaction to the stress level in the house. I have also become acutely aware that this peristalsis is a big indicator for me when I am stressed. If I am extremely stressed, I do not digest. My gut is very quiet. If you have been in the hospital for anything, one of the things they listen to is bowel sounds. Without noise, there is no movement. People who are on pain medication tend to get blocked up very easily, which can be very dangerous. Passing gas is actually often a required act before they will release you. (sing- a- long) Release me and set me free. HA! I do not fight nor do I flee or do flight. I freeze. And the first indicator is my gut.

But recently I have noticed a new “thing” and it is not much fun either. When I am weary and I am experiencing everyday tension and stress I have a reaction that builds. Think of this in terms of a scared animal. When my beloved Bishop had his aneurysm, his reaction was to stand next to me and first he peed and then two minutes later he shit. Just stood there and crapped. It was nothing he had ever done before. (I had to take a break from writing as this is the year anniversary of his death this weekend. He was 14 and we helped him cross quickly and painlessly as we could. But my heart will be broken forever.He was one of those once in a lifetime dogs and I loved him more dearly than anyone ever in my life.)  keeper of the garden

But his reaction was a parasympathetic response to what was going on with him. For me, it is chronic. I was suffering from this plague before for several months this spring and summer. I noticed I did not suffer from the “gallop to the throne syndrome” at all when I was on vacation. I thought it was the water I drank at work, which it was in part. But then I began to notice this week it was back and getting worse. My idea was to take a day off and see what happens. And what happened was I was fine all day. No problem. That in itself was very telling.

This little experiment told me that although I think I am handling the stress at work, I am not. Our body is the best indicator when something has triggered you. I could not articulate what is setting me off, and it is probably a slew of stuff. It builds until I become unable to handle it. Mentally, I think I “got it covered”. The only way to tell if this is a reaction to stress or a trigger is to remove the trigger. And when you do not know what exactly the trigger is, it is almost impossible to stop the reaction. And around we go on this PTSD merry-go-round. Totally unfair, but there it is.

The up side of this was I had a glorious day. I sat in my garden chair and felt the sun on my face and the soft wind in my long hair. I closed my eyes and imprinted the feeling of safety and comfort. I opened my eyes and looked at the splendid colors of the golden leaves against the cerulean blue sky. My little dogs romped in the abundant leaves enjoying the crackle and snap as they buried themselves in the piles. These are images that I purposefully paid attention to so I could draw on them when I needed. I have to teach myself safe and so while sitting there, I repeated out loud so I would hear it, “I am safe.” My world was whole, complete and safe. I was surrounded by the plants and flowers that still lingered. I love my garden and it is my sacred space. I felt love. That is the ultimate feeling of safe. This was the medicine I needed. If I could bottle it I would be a millionaire. I am the only one who can “teach” myself what safe feels like. If I do it enough times, it will help with changing my physiological reaction to triggers. I can recall the feeling when things get tough. I depleted the feeling of safe in my past and I will explain in another blog how triggers can cause reactions exponentially. For now, I am safe.

doggies and leaves        blue sky and leave

All phot0s @ JDeMeis 2014

 

 

 

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

brain

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.

Namaste.

Trauma preception and epigenetics

One thing about trauma that people do not understand and I want to make sure I make this point: Trauma is based solely on perception. And that is when it gets tricky because people want to judge based on their perception of their personal trauma and how they deal with it. There are those who react strongly to some event, while others stand by passively. Why is that?

So we know that you can be more receptive to the effects of trauma by the disposition of a gene. (See Trauma Part 1 post) Did you know that trauma resilience or more often, non-resiliency can be passed on from generation to generation?

Psychic legacies are often passed on through unconscious cues or affective messages that flow between child and adult. Sometimes anxiety falls from one generation to the next through stories told. – http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-me-in-we/201205/how-trauma-is-carried-across-generations

In my family, there are five children and two parents. We will start with my father. His trauma was based on survivor’s guilt. His older brother of a year and half had been allowed to go with his father on some errand. The car stalled on the railroad tracks and both were killed. His mother was pregnant with my aunt. My father was raised in great affluence, but I am sure there was a ton of guilt and remorse heaped on him for surviving. My mother’s father died in an alcohol ward at a sanitarium after ditching my grandmother for his cousin. NO shame there. My mom was 15 when that happened and she died with the secret. I only found out about it from letters and clippings she had saved and her sister confirmed it. Both my parents were alcoholics and abusive. Violence exploded intermittently in our fine suburban house in the heart of a very plush little town. I am not going to go into all the gory details because it is not relevant.

My oldest brother is eleven years older than I am. I am the baby. My brother #1 pretty much raised me and my next oldest brother. He was never a hugger, never emotional. As he got older, he became bereft of emotion. He has pretty much shut down completely, much to his wife’s sadness. His whole life was spent in service as a fireman and ambulance volunteer. He has scraped more people off the road and out of ditches than I can imagine. His part time job was working in the local morgue and funeral home. He could do it because we all thought he had no feelings. He has feelings, but he has never felt safe enough to express them. So he has shut down. It is his way of coping with his trauma.

My next oldest brother was a cut up. We all have an incredible sense of humor as did my father. But this brother was always chastised for not being good enough. So first chance he had, he left. He escaped. As his own children got to the cusp of their teen age years, the same time this brother started to escape our childhood home, he left his own family. He escaped. He now wishes to reunite with his children and his grandchildren and cannot understand their anger towards him.

The next child is my sister, who is eight years older than I am and is the biggest mess. I do not even know where to start. She has ended up being disabled but had a horrible adult life. She has tried several times to commit suicide. She has been sickly and has learned to use her illnesses as a ploy to get people to fawn on her. I finally had to ostracize myself from her in order to not get sucked into her world. Her way of dealing with her frustrations mirrored my father. She would get violent. Several times I had the misfortune to be her target. She stopped when I got bigger than she at the age of eleven. But there were times she would corner me and beat the snot of out me. I think it strange now that no one heard her or me.

The next brother is only two years older than I am. Something happened between his birth and my sister. There are six years with no children. She had a succession of children every two years, accept for this period. I did not find out from my mother, but from notes in medical papers that l found after her death. There were some “issues”. I remember reading something years ago about a drug call Diethylstilboestrol or DES. It was given often for women in the 1950 to prevent miscarriages. There is a lot of information on this and the effects of it on the daughters. I never used birth control in my marriage and yet, I never had children and had many gynecological issues. http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/DES_daughters

During this time, my parents really stepped up the drinking, which also had an impact on the maternity situation. Then in 1952, my brother was born. But this brother has issues all of his own. He was an addict for a long while. He has had some successes in life but some real tragedies. He struggles with successful relationships and much like my father, would become violent when drunk and/or high. He is doing much better since he became sober. But not so much in his adult relationships. He is a dreamer and schemer just like my dad. He is incredibly materialistic and will probably die closing a deal in his 90’s. But as children close in age, it was this brother I was closest to. We used to cling together when the world was exploding. He and I would hid or be banished to the basement together. His violent temper caused trouble in his adult relationships. But he is a devoted father and grandfather.

My reaction to all this childhood trauma is completely different than the siblings exposed to the same elements. Granted, as the youngest, I was left alone with my parents when I was 15. I was the only target for about three very intense years. My thing is I abhor violence. I am just recently learning to yell when I am angry. Not that it is a good thing, but it is better than stuffing it all down. I took on the victim role as it was what I was in many cases. I shut down and freeze. I used to hide as a child and continued as an adult to hide in a wine bottle. I stopped drinking a long time ago.  None of us are better or worse, none of us should be judged for the personal reaction. It just is. That’s perception and that is also the theory of transgenerational trauma. “Previous research assumed that the trauma transmission was mainly caused by the parents’ child-rearing behavior, however, it may have been also epigenetically transferred.” Those damn genes again………………… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgenerational_trauma.

But Fear not, it is not all hopeless.

 

 

What is trauma? part one

Trauma is a reaction that is as individual as the person experiencing trauma. According to the American Psychological Association “it is an emotional response to a terrible event.” And it can occur any time in your life, even before you were born. As stated by Dr. Robert Scaer, a well-known authority on trauma: “We have found that the brain of the infant, and for that matter the fetus, is also exquisitely vulnerable not only to physical insult but also to pain, experiential trauma, and variations in the intensity of the bond between mother and infant, even the emotional equanimity of the mother while the fetus is in utero.http://restoryyourlife.com/dr-robert-scaer-on-preverbal-trauma/

We often think that trauma is a reaction to some horrible event such as war or natural disaster or even a car accident. It is a misbelief that there needs to be physical harm done to the victim. Sadly, although these things readily cause trauma, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Trauma can be caused by just being a witness to violence. Being an innocent bystander to a tragedy can cause trauma. Being subjected continually to a negative environment can cause trauma, which I hope will give pause to those reading this. I think our world is turning to a place where negativity is a breathing entity which is exponentially growing and devouring everyone’s soul. I am not going to go there….. right now.

This project is to help people understand the nuances of trauma and some methods of healing. I have found a propensity for the information to be very clinical. As if the confusion of the subject can be hid in the mumbo jumbo of medical terminology. There is also a lot of senseless information out there. For example this statement from a help guide: Trust your instincts. If you don’t feel safe, respected, or understood, find another therapist.” By nature or instinctively, most trauma victims trust no one, they do not feel respected and so finding someone to feel really safe with is very unlikely. Especially in a therapist who has not experienced a similar form of trauma. Our VA’s are filled with well-intentioned personnel who are, with their best intentions, trying to work with war weary soldiers to have experienced the bowels of hell. It is at best, insulting. Just for the record, my opinion only, would be to train soldiers who have been there and experienced trauma to become counselors. And the government should pay full shot for their education and then pay them very well to do this work. Teaching and counseling is a great healer for both teacher and patient.

That is not to say that there are not great therapists out there. Trust me, there are. I just found that tidbit a bit amusing. I know I connected with my therapist when he leaned in and simply said, “I care.”

I learned very recently that the level of reaction to trauma is genetic. According to Katalin Gothard, MD, PhD, there are two genes that determine the level of resilience and vulnerability. If the gene pair is long in shape, you may be able to have less reaction to experience than someone with one long and one short gene pair. And if you have two short genes, chances are you will freak out over the same experience. I found this information soothing because many people who have trauma experiences and are not resilient have huge buckets of shame. And degrees of resilience again are very individual. I wish I had a nickel for every time someone has said to me, “just get over it”. I actually was called by a psychotherapist a “hyper-sensitive” and it was said in a manner to demean. “Ah, yeah, yup… I am.”