The painful cost of trauma : understanding abandonment depression

Painful trauma has a way of driving us out of our body.  To have lived with an intolerable reality which we are given no help to process or understand is an agony beyond words.  Not to be held, understood and empathised with in our suffering means our neurobiology cannot be soothed, we become flooded with stress chemicals such as cortisol.  Recent studies show that empathy increased the presence of oxytocin in our neurobiological systems.

I know the relief that has come for me in therapy as  have been able to let my own feelings out.  I know the damage that has occurred when, in trying to express said feelings with unsafe others who are defended, blocked or lacking in empathy they have become, not only trapped within, but other feelings have then occurred in reaction such as pain, disappointment and distress.  It was only last week in reading the chapter on abandonment depression in James Masterton’s book on the real self that I became aware of how complex and multilayered the feelings of that state are.  It is within the abandonment depression that we feel suicidal as it contains what Masterton has labelled the six feelings of the psychic apocalypse, very aptly named.  Guilt, rage, panic, fear are four of these feelings.

In recovery those of us who have undergone trauma or abandonment trauma need help to understand our feelings and the courage and strength to bear with or integrate these feelings. Rage is a huge part of what we feel when we meet again invalidation or similar abuse that triggers our earlier abuse.  There is panic when we face the rage which also comes with a great deal of fear, after all when we were younger and abandoned we experienced fear as we were confronted with overpowering situations of stress and distress which we can go on reliving unconsciously for years and had no help with.

In our recovery we begin to regress to these feelings and since such a huge part of so called borderline trauma involves invalidation or lack of support and empathy, when we meet such triggers again, we can regress and find ourselves once again filled with grief and rage.  Our overt reactions will most likely not be understood by those who have no idea of the complexity of feelings we are left trying to contain, process and express as a result.  This why we need in recovery an enlightened witness who is able to show empathy for what the real self had to suffer in childhood which led to the adoption of a false self as a defence against fully feeling the complex feelings of the abandonment depression.

In his book on Complex PTSD Pete Walker deals with the abandonment depression.  He also explains how the inner critic becomes very active at a certain stage in our recovery, shaming us for daring to recover and try to become well.  The inner critic may be comprised of things said to us when young by others who tried to shame or judge us instead of showing empathy or helping us make sense of difficult feelings.  We can shame ourselves in similar ways for our reactions, which comes often from the so called ‘adult’ part of us that won’t accept or allow the child to be the child, vulnerable, tortured at times and deeply confused.

Empathy is so essential as we begin to deal with our inner critic less we start to shame the child all over again in a bid to protect it or protect against the feared rejection of others that we experienced in the past.  It’s a complex process.  We do need to become aware of when we become triggered or start to act out old pain, but shaming ourselves for it won’t work and help us to heal.  Painful feelings need to be lovingly contained and soothed for true healing and integration to happen.

You weren’t there

Dark Spirit

I longed for someone to be there

On those lonely wide open afternoons

You were gone from home

In just the way your own mother was gone

I reached for the key

That hung on the hook in the shed

And on one of the days it wasn’t there

I broke the window

And cut my wrist

Thirty stiches

Neighbours took me to casualty

Do you know how much it hurt Mum

To know that dresses and other people

Were more important than me?

It wasn’t that you worked

It was that you left me alone

Why not get help?

But how could you know how it was

When you just repeated your own silent history?

Now I see

What I could not see then

I understand why panic attacks visit me at that time of day

When

One of the six horseman of the psychic apocalypse

Comes calling

Panic

Hidden deep inside panic are so many other emotions

That could neither be expressed nor contained

As well as a hungering heart

That needed to be held

And tended in love

Now I know why ravenous hunger visits me then

I eat and eat

But the hunger is for something else

My inner child

Help adult me

To remember and to understand

It all makes sense

That body will never lie

Show me how to be there for you

So that panic can end

And love attention and self care

Can fill up the empty spaces

Of a wound

Far larger than me

A survivor of war

I awoke this morning in such a shell shocked state but with a kind of quiet calm around me, on a clear, bright, crisp morning of sunshine.   I had a fitful night again.  Since my dental surgery I have not slept well.  The violent mid night sleep awakenings have returned again fraught with explosive feelings inside my body and memories of painful events flowing down like a river of burning coals.  And then the thoughts of my mother and all she has endured over the years of various mental disturbance and anguish in my family commencing with my older sister cerebral bleed and going on from there were running over my mind.

Seeing her in the state she was in yesterday filled me with anguish and the deepest most profound sadness.  I wanted to pick her up and take her to a place where there would be human angels to care for her and shower her with love.   Its all I want for her really.  But one central recent event particularly was haunting me.  A few years ago after my remaining sister’s third or fourth hospitalisation for catatonic depression following her sad abuse at the hands of her family where she was forceably committed to a psychiatric institution in another city while on what was a so called ‘manic’ spree my Mum had a fall down some stairs.

At the time she was trying to carry a packed suitcase of things down four flights of stairs in my sister’s apartment block to take to the hospital.  My sister had come out of the last psychiatric stay and fallen two times due to the medication she was given lowering her blood pressure.  She just collapsed and hit her head open and had to be taken to hospital again.   My mother phoned me that morning and I think she needed my help, but I didn’t want to give it.  At that point I was exhausted by the hospitalisations of my sister and her attempted suicide in 2013 and the outfall of that.  The only way I really felt ‘safe’ was by keeping my distance.   And I did not know my Mum would attempt to do such a silly thing, as she never mentioned the need to pack a suitcase.  Never the less I still feel shame and guilt which I know rationally on some level is not deserved and I need to share what goes on inside my mind as at night it has such a dark power over me.

That day around the time my Mum must have fallen or been preparing the case I was at the park with Jasper and my entire body and brain was flooded with pressure.  It was so bad I left Jasper in the confined part of the dog park and raced off into an open field a little way away.   I was only gone about 20 minutes and when I came back an angelic young man with long hair was with Jasper.  As he came towards me I put my head in my hands and just cried with the pain and overwhelm.  He was so kind and just sat with me and we talked about my struggle and my family.  It must have been around that time that my Mum fell and was lying at the bottom of the staircase 20 minutes away.  She ended up fracturing her pelvis and that injury amongst others had dogged her for 3 years.  From memory it happened in 2014 though so much has happened that I cant fully remember now.

When I bought the autobiography of Eva Schloss a few weeks ago, the woman who survived Auschwitz with her mother I shared some of it on line here.  I thought about my own connection to the survivor story and of my own hidden Jewish heritage.  (My great great grandmother renounced her Jewish ancestry and faith when she married by great great grandfather in the 1860s) and wondered why that story had such resonance and power for me.  Eva never spoke about her time in Auschwitz until the 1980s when she was asked to open a memorial to her dead step sister Anne Frank.  She remained silent for over 40 years and only then did the tears begin to fall.  I always think when we read something or are drawn to it there is a reason.  We are seeking understanding or a resonance with another’s experience or haunting.   Was I also a survivor of war.  Can we equate Nazisim with narcissism, the two are similar.

There is perhaps no way to say what I have been through is as extreme as Auschwitz but the degree of trauma in my family over the past 30 years and the painful aftermath of emotional distancing and dissociation in my family to survive has deep so deeply painful for me as the youngest.  John Bradshaw in drawing attention to birth order theory says that in the dysfunctional or traumatised family the fourth or youngest child carries the thwarted unification needs of the family.  They want to bring healing to the suffering and attention to the wounds and emotional togetherness.  They are also often an outsider or witness.  The second child is often the scapegoat and acts out the unconscious suffering of the family and is then shunned or considered a failure.  In my older sister’s case it wasn’t that she was shunned, just excluded by a chain of events that saw her marry early and leave the family before it was fully forming its place in the world, when she came back and tried to find a place in it, that was when she came badly unstuck.  By the time I came along there was precious little attention left for a young girl who was so very much younger in age than any of her siblings in a family subsumed by survival and an upwardly mobile materialist improvement project.

My own trauma of a major near death experience at the age of 17 and the loss of my teeth has all been retriggered with the latest dental work and I need to be mindful of that.   In two days time it is the 13th anniversary of the day my husband finally packed his bags and left me all alone at the coast unable to take any steps forward to get emotional help but mired by then in over 30 years of pain. So its no wonder suicidal feelings were around strongly on Sunday and have been dogging me a lot over the past week.

At this point its early morning here as I said.  I was brought to tears by the love shown by valued followers on my last post Rocking you may never truly know how much it means just to read some kind words or to see a little heart symbol in the comments section of my post on awakening at this point in time.   I was full of such sadness and ghosting feelings of guilt over my Mum’s fall.  But I also know that what happened with my family was in so many ways far bigger than any young child in a family could fully deal with or heal.

Sad consequences of things in my family have affected me deeply.  As the youngest swept up in such wild, swirling and traumatic seas over many years I have done well to survive the war with my sanity and mental state as in tact as it is.  There has been an ocean of tears, longing and pain to navigate, an ocean of love.  Throughout it all I have managed to keep my heart as open as I possibly could.  So many times I opened it to those who were invested in me shutting it back down, those who told me to ‘put it all behind me’ or ‘get the hell as far away from it as you can’, but I know if I ran I would only take the trauma with me.  Staying here or fronting up to the past has been much harder in so many ways but I do believe it has been necessary.

I do see myself not as the saviour in all of it, which would be a kind of hubris really but more as the teller of the tale who sitting a bit far off on the sidelines is able in some strange way to give a voice to all of it.  I also know that as much as my family and its trauma and suffering has shaped me it does not need to define me as long as I bring consciousness to it, as well as to the mixed up tangled ball of thread of painful feelings which when unravelled and not shown necessary empathy and mercy could destroy me, if I let them.  In time once the telling of the tale is done I will be able to take distance but as the sober one I will always carry the ache.  I just need more emotionally than my empty well or vortex of family can truly provide.

In the end I am a survivor and hope in time to be a thriver.  I am also a witness and perhaps in some way a war reporter too, but not one who maintains only objective distance, rather one who in sinking to and at times almost being drowned in the depths of unconscious feelings that are not personal but deeply collective emerges in time with a dark pearl within which are contained all the composites of feelings and traumas gone before.  I will not be told that pearl is a stone that needs to be discarded, painful and traumatic as it has been.  This life is the one that life has given me, not chosen and I am still in the painful process of disentangling myself and finding a way to live outside of multiple traumas that could so easily have buried me.  But I am also seeing I deserve so much more, and have so much more to give.  Its just at 55 I still have not found my path.  My blog is really my only pathway to the outside at this point.  And at this point maybe I just need to accept that and be open to the possibility of change, scary as that is.

Angry with my family

Anger

I am not going to deny my anger any more.  I have legitimate reasons to be very angry at my family and my mother and sister in particular for what they put me through following the end of my marriage and even in the years before where I was just never treated with support, empathy and love.  I am sick to death of denying the truth to myself, rationalising it and minimising it.  I just spoke to my therapist and she said my anger needs to flow out and I need to find ways to do that today… write about it in your blog, draw it out or scream it out, do what ever you need to do to get it out of your system she said to me and so this blog is part of that process.  Internalised, invalidated anger has been kicking around inside my system for so long, it resulted in my accidents and in my alcoholism.  Part of my recovery is that I need to speak about it and value and validate my inner self and inner child.

I recognise what happened when I spoke to my mother yesterday when writing my blog A hollowed out shell was that by crying and becoming really vulnerable my Mum roped me into compassion.  Earlier on I had ended the conversation when she was once again telling me I needed to forget about things and put them behind me.   She called me back out of guilt to ask me to dinner and at first I said no and then wanted to relent when she showed me how much pain she was in and how insecure and unable to truly express herself she feels.  While I feel compassion for her I cannot let that over ride my own anger about what happened to me for it is anger that lets me know something hurt me deeply and wasn’t okay and that then helps me set some kind of boundary.  If I get told I shouldn’t have it or feel it that is invalidation abuse pure and simple and if the person is trying to guilt me out of it that is worse abuse.  Full stop! No argument, no debate!

I had a difficult day yesterday.  I noticed I got onto You Tube and posted some videos in two posts which although they had interesting insights don’t really help me to cut to the depth of dealing with the trauma and anger I am still carrying from the head injury that happened to me 12 years ago as the result of my sister and my mother’s meanness. At that stage I needed support and help to heal and grieve and know my truth, but I see how impossible this is to attain from anyone in my family they were just not that awake to the inner self or emotional realities.  My Mum is close to waking up but she seriously needs therapy.  I am sick of trying to be her therapist.  It isn’t my job really and she often told me that its not a good idea to go to others with your problems.  Her bottom line is that you need to work things out alone but that comes from a childhood where she was left alone and had to figure things out all alone.  Yesterday she was touching into deep realities and she told me how she feels so helpless and alone with no one much to talk to about all the things she goes through.  I want to say “well Mum get some therapy” but she never would.  So I end up being the font of all compassion but my compassion now is only prepared to extend so far when no recognition of past hurts or any apology has been forthcoming.

Second reason for anger and terribly acute body symptoms over the past few days has been unresolved issues with my living sister.  She was so awfully mean to me at the aforementioned time, telling me I was a selfish little girl and that I had had a shit of a life and she pitied me.  Oh and also going behind my back to my nephew (my older dead sister’s son) who I was really establishing a close relationship with and telling him how jealous I was of her.  Luckily at that time (just under 3 years ago now) he told me and I confronted her on the day we putting a party on for my mother.  I wish I had just walked out for at first she tried to deny it and then she said he had no right to tell me and then that she thought it was true.  But what I actually think is true is that the situation was the reverse and narcissists always believe they are so wonderful that the universe is jealous of them, why I do not know when the are such superiority junkies looking down their noses at all and sundry.  I have never been that person, as those who know me and have told me its just NOT ME.

Anyway she has softened somewhat in later years and actually did give me a grudging apology about what occurred in 2005 when I confronted her and Mum about it 2 years ago around this time of year.  But it was in no way an apology that came from her heart or truly recognised the damage done and the other day when she rang me about my tooth issue concerned to see how I was, it was I who ended up apologising to her for reacting to the horrible way she traated me.  Did I need to apologise  NO!  And my inner child is very upset with adult me about it and let me know as I woke up with shocking PTSD symptoms yesterday.  Whenever I see my sister my anxiety level goes through the roof and I was telling my therapist today that it was because I feel there is a lot of anger and hurt my body is carrying and the only way it has to come out is as anxiety.  But the mixed up irony is that as anxious as I feel I try even harder to bond with her and its a trauma bond and end up having an extra coffee with her even though its not really good for me to do it, because I feel she may be lonely.

I am aware as I write all this out it may seem like sour grapes to some.  I don’t really care as what you think isn’t my issue.  But what I need to know and see more clearly which is why I am putting it out there in black and white is how I can over ride my own impulses and intuitions. I often find my inner critic attacks my real attempts at feeling the truth of my feelings and most particularly that includes genuine expressions of anger.

Katina, my therapist was today reminding me that as much compassion as I feel I also need to remind myself that its okay to be angry.  So many of the messages around me growing up in family and Catholic school were based on anger being a ‘bad’ or negative emotion, when really anger is a signal of something from our deepest, truest inner self.  If we deny or over ride our own angry impulses we end up in such strife.  I have had so many accidents due to traumas from my past or pain replaying over in the present moment and this is one of the saddest facts about trauma,  it tends to attract more of the same to us but most particularly for those of us who were taught to value compassion, rationalisation and excuses over valid expression of anger.  So many times I have been told I better be careful as anger is dangerous, but this is only the case when it is not cleanly and clearly expressed, or if it is expressed aggressively.   We need to be so mindful of where our sore angry spots lie because when triggered they are signs of something from the past that needs to be dealt with or is calling for our awareness or attention, if we don’t pay attention we are in trouble  It won’t do us any good to act our anger out on those who really are just triggering a massive back log of past stuff but we still need to be aware that such people aren’t good to be around on a long term basis.  I am sad to say that goes for my family at present, much as I long for their love, when they are around it comes with huge reminders of pain from the past.  I have not ‘let it go’ yet, it hasn’t let go of me.

Its difficult writing this, as I was the television was just turned on by some automatic process.  I went over and Jasper my dog had his ear on the remote but what was most interesting was that it was a show called Compass and was on a priest’s life, and at that moment in time he was speaking of the ‘false ego’ that has to die if we want to fully embrace our humanity.  It made me question the wisdom of hanging onto my anger.  Maybe my sister had changed now and has soften, maybe she regrets what she did to me all of those years ago.  Maybe my mother wishes she hadn’t been so cruel to have chosen my sister over me when I was ‘too sad’ grieving at the end of my marriage.  I truly don’t know the answers to these questions.  Is my anger coming from ‘false ego’?  Is that why the television automatically came on?  I don’t know either but I am putting this in my blog as part of the mental process I go through on a day when I am trying to make sense of and deal with this anger from the past and the deep wound in me that gets triggered around this time of year.  I feel less angry now after writing this.  I have attempted to express my true reality, for what it is worth.   And I appreciate any feedback or any sharing from others about how you have dealt with your own anger.

And in the interest of openness the following are just a selection of anger quotes I came across on line :

 

 

You didn’t protect me

I just had a watershed moment after briefly connecting with my sister at the markets and touching on the recent death of her daughter in law’s father about how alone I was following the death of my Dad and how prior to that Dad never protected me from Mum’s angry whirlwind energy and perfectionist project which was part of an onslaught on me from a very young age.

Byron Brown’s book which shows how we engage with the introjected critic from a young age in three ways, counterattack, rationalisation or by absorbing and collapsing in reaction to its energy has mirrored insights I came to following reading Pete Walker’s book on Complex PTSD a year or so ago but Brown expresses this information in a more useable way showing how each matter of relating means we respond from one of three bodily levels, gut, head or heart.

You will need to read the book to find the outline of the information he presents in it but his basic explanation is that early on we learn to take in the criticism that is not fair on us and identify with it even when we are defending against it, rationalising it away or using it to fall into a depression or psychic paralysis we are wedded to the critical energy and it exerts profound power over us.  When we respond to inner or outer criticism with any of these three methods we are in fact ‘hooked’ by the idea that in some way the critic is right or that we deserve such criticism on some level.  From this position we self reject and so disempower the helpful response which would be to let the critic’s criticism fly past us without reacting, instead staying connected to love and compassion for self from our inner centre.   Which is a powerful position of letting go.

I found myself crying on the way to the market after reading the chapter Engaging the Judge for I remembered how often as a child I was on the end of ‘attacks’ from my Mum.  I would defend against these attacks, sometimes by flying into rages or even pulling knife on my Mum at one stage after it had gone on for years and Dad would just sit on the sidelines and do nothing to help except say to my Mum behind my back “her mouth is her defence”.

I internalised my Mum’s own shame as I see it now and this is why my father’s death had such an affect on me, regardless of the fact I had no one nearby to comfort or protect me after he died, I was also without the inner protection I needed from internalised criticism due to my upbringing and I think this realisation is what really brought me undone this afternoon. I also identified how often when others criticise or hurt me I rationalise the pain away rather than feel it and I have also allowed it to enter me and overtake me so badly that at the end of my marriage I had completely absorbed it and collapsed under its weight.

Add to that this afternoon we were speaking about how much support my niece in law has around her following her Dad’s death and that triggers the deep pain that following my own father’s death I was completely unsupported which is why I left the meeting with my sister with a bursting chest and tears fell when I was soon out of the carpark.

In a way this blog isn’t really for my readers although I do hope some others gain some insight into how their own inner critic may not belong to them, it is my attempt to put in black and white what I have gone through.  I am recognising how emotionally abandoned I have been not only after my Dad’s death but by so called boyfriends and friends who didn’t recognise the full brunt of what I was going through in those painful years age 23 – 31 and even into recovery both with my ex husband and last partner.

On the way home from the markets I listened to Massive Attack’s song Protection full bore as I recognised how the loving arms I needed around me were never there.

I was never protected and even worse my own deep pain was never validated nor understood anywhere apart from with one or two therapists …oh and yes, on here with those who have gone through the same devastating soul crunching emotional abandonment in their own lives.  I watch other’s struggle with the critic’s attacks of their own process when they are opening to deep and valid emotional pain, so long buried in their own souls.  I recognise what they go through when that inner critical voice tries to shame them for feeling or starting to depend on someone who finally WILL protect them when the fear of being hurt again is so huge.

All I can say is that such recovery takes so much courage and so much work for the worst ever thing would be for the critic to jump in at the most critical stage of healing and cause us one again to sabotage the process.  This is exactly what happened to me in two therapies, the first I started in July 1992 and the second attempt in 2001 and I am reliving that pain as the anniversary of the head smash up accident of 2005 draws close.  It was after this I met with astrologer Melanie Reinhardt and she gave me the gift of Byron Brown’s book a gift I could not open for 12 years.  Ouch and double ouch and triple ouch, but thank God now I can start to get a handle on so much in my own life and psyche that has been for me a permanent stumbling block.

Brown’s book is helping me so much because he brings recognition to a process whereby we can help ourselves by becoming more mindful and recognising too that our soul really is the part of us we most need to connect to in order to heal.  On one level our soul or essence or pure being can never be open to criticism, what flows out of it when our own energy is lovingly received (which happens for so few of us in) should be natural experiences of flow and discharge of essential energies inside of the soul and our inner being.

When all we meet in the outer world from day one is forms of resistance to the flow of our innate energy, hungers and needs which issue from the soul we naturally begin to dam ourselves up with alarming consequences, However later in life we can become more conscious once we learn to tap into who we really are deep inside, that instinctive innate part of which knows how to be and what to do freed of a hundred and one defences of the inner critic we internalised over years, inner voices and judgements which keep us locked up in defensive responses and reactions that keep us trapped and locked up inside.

Return after a deep day of darkness.

I went back into a very dark place on the weekend.  On Saturday it was as if the pain of my past alcoholic days and all that awful things that went on came to live back inside of me and every nerve of my body felt like it was on fire.  This was all triggered by a dinner with friends who were part of that stage of my life.  I was in so much pain on Saturday and feeling deeply suicidal again.  I think some of it too was prompted by my ‘friend’ asking “So what do you DO all day”  and “And does that work?”. That can tap into all the shame a guilt I feel as someone with chronic PTS I wont add the D as I don’t see it as a disorder, but as part of what living and being raised in a trauma inducing world brings to us who are gifted and sensitive, who no longer works or has much outside involvement or engagement in the working world which I decided to check out of over 16 years ago when I saw how dysfunctional it can be.   At the same time I also know I was facing very deep sadness over how profound my disconnected or separation from connection has been and how it is a part of being sensitive and having gone through so much trauma that others have not.  That became clearer to me after all we shared on Friday night.

There are days and days my socially injected inner critic takes me to task about that and I forget all the time about the necessary inner work my soul has been engaged in over the past 16 years in trying to make sense of and shed the pain of my past or at least learn essential lessons from it.  And how realistic would it have been for me to be working and how would I have then dealt with being there for a mother who was sick a sister suicidal and another sister in care?   I chose to be there out of love and empathy even though I got so little back.  That one is on me to wear.  Slowly I am trying to establish a stronger connection with my inner child and be there for her, but it is slow….and does it really matter how much I do in one day or is it in fact more important to maintain a high level of emotional connection within in order to practice self care?

Then I have days like today when I log onto find I have connected with an amazing soul sister from the UK who is also on a healing pathway and who really gets me and I her.  I understand that I am actually in a process of waking up and trying to throw off so many shackles.  I am also doing the deep work of being real and raw and open in a society in which there is at times so much ignorance, suffering, unconsciousness and pain around and that is when I get faced with the what I do all day questions.

Truth is I would love to be more connected but I need REAL connections these days…..they are slowly coming to me much as my Inner Critic tries to convince me otherwise, I am making progress.  The best thing I have in my life is really my blog and blogging community here as here is where I find others who are on a path of conscious work on emotional levels, however its sad that we cannot meet face to face.

In interesting aside on Friday night at the dinner I was sharing with my old friends about the power of the Inner Critic.  It isn’t a subject they would ever talk about but on Friday they both admitted to being besieged by criticism as well.  Wee then questioned my friends young adult children who said they have not a clue about what an  Inner Critic is.  “If anything goes wrong I immediately blame someone else”, they both said.  “I wouldn’t take it on board if others were always trying to point out my flaws!”  We 60s generation were amazed and a bit confounded by this.  Not to live with an inner critic or endlessly working over time conscience, how could this be? The next day one of my friends had a bitch about it their lack of care, obviously a raw nerve had been touched!

Anyway I seem to have got a bit off track or not, as the case may be.  I felt the comment from my friend perhaps as criticism when it was not, maybe it was just a question of interest.  Is there a way taking care of ourselves could become a full time job?  Isn’t that important work?  At the same time I am not dimissing my inner need for a way to find work or a sense of outer engagement that could give something back and help others.  I am just not at that stage yet.  My blog is my work, caring for myself and my home and my dog is my work and it gets lonely and hard on the tough days.

On other days I wake up to remind myself that the past is gone now and that I do have a present that isn’t fraught with all that past pain and its draining to have it retriggered  I am not longer numbing myself with addictions as I was then, so the rawness is intense. I literally felt every nerve in my body to be on fire on Saturday.

I am now aware after Saturday of the need I have to  keep a strong sense of protection around myself, retriggered trauma makes me drained and I need to increase self care regimes after these kind of dark days.   If I don’t take care of myself and get into too many situations where I am pulled back into the past the consequence is that I get hollowed out and my life is not nurtured from within.  As an empath and sensitive person quiet time is essential to my soul.   Without it I suffer and I can get overloaded.

I also need to remember that each day I am moving towards growth or trying too.   The tough days still come and they can knock me sideways,  but I am always relieved when after those tough days the sun shines again on me in a place where I have understood more and perhaps cleansed more that was formerly unconscious in me from my system. Today I need to celebrate my own life with self nurturing after those days of darkness.

An exploration of trust, safety, trauma, instincts and love

I wrote this very long post just over two years ago.  It never made it out of my drafts which contains over 50 unposted posts.  I am posting some old posts to clear what the inner critic didn’t want posted.   I think it meanders all over the place, but reading it back it has some powerful insights contained within it that were working their way to the surface of my conscious awareness at the time :

One of the impacts of suffering trauma of any kind, most especially persistent or repetitive trauma is a loss of trust and safety which can become a major default and expectation. In trauma our limbic system, (the most primitive interior aspect of our brain) is impacted and goes into over drive. At a perception of threat the amygdala sends messages to the hypothalamus which activates the sympathetic nervous system to tell the adrenal glands to release the neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine to elevate our heart rate, and release oxygen into the blood which helps to activate our muscles for fight or flight. At the same time the hypothalamus releases corticotropin releasing hormone which stimulates the pituitary gland to release edren cortio-trophine hormones which send the message to the adrenals to release cortisol.

Trauma survivors end up with an excess of cortisol being released into our bodies due to the fact that the trauma response cycle once activated tends to be retriggered over and over. We endure states of hyperarousal in which fear, flight or fight can be re-triggered by things that are dangerous and things that are not. Add to this complexity the fact that in severe trauma we can enter a freeze state if we are unable to escape. Our muscles contract, we go “dead”, hold our breath, feel less pain.

Peter Levine an expert on Post Traumatic Stress explains that the inability to escape, the feeling of being trapped is what leads to a hostage state, if we are able to take flight and escape from the threat we don’t suffer as much in feeling permanently stuck and powerless, we may be able to throw off the stress to a degree, establish boundaries around the threat and rebalance our own systems.

However if we are placed in a position where we are immobilised or prevented from fighting back we tend to become flooded with body chemicals which enact powerful changes upon or innate body balance. One of the most debilitating aspects of being traumatised is the belief that the present is not different to the past. We live with the traumatised reality and view repeating over and over.

I myself go into a kind of freeze many mornings on awakening. There is a sense that I am strung between two worlds. One part of my consciousness is anchored in one reality. In the present, in my body, in the room but another part of my consciousness is in a deeper more far off place which is dreamlike, liquid, sticky and heavy. I feel a sense of deep tiredness, sinking, almost a paralysis and a desire to rest but also a desire to move forward which is tinged with the fear of a shadow memory not fully conscious of being hurt when I took the steps to move forward. Normal life, just reaching out to someone or somewhere else seems fraught with danger.

As I reflect upon this I know that in the mornings I am dealing with significant body memory of times I was immobilised or prevented from moving forward and at present it is very close to the anniversary of the accident where I nearly died and was immobilised in skeletal traction for 101 days.

One of the first significant traumas and ruptures we experience is actually our own birth. When I was ready as a foetus for birthing I felt the impulse to forward along the birth canal. My mother held off going to the hospital and held me in, as she wanted to finish bottling plum jam. I got dammed up, stuck in and then birthed in a very short space of time.

This birth imprint/memory has repeated at critical times in my life. I ended up in early adulthood with a condition of the psyche which was quiet a mild form of borderline personality. How this manifested itself was in feelings of profound push pull in human relationships. The desire to be close then the desire to back off due to a fear of being frustrated or engulfed, those fears then alternating with the fear of being abandoned.

It is now recognised that people who become borderline suffer significant interpersonal trauma such as neglect or abandonment. They carry huge backlogs of frustration and rage which are in not being validated or understood become worse. Normal interactions become tinged with the fear of being close again, due to the fear carried that the person will be traumatised as they were in the past.

A significant causative factor of the borderline conditions is invalidation abuse, the person’s reality is denied and anger results.   Triggering situations which may reflect old abusive ones but not in reality may be avoided. It’s a sad state of affairs. How to reach out? How to trust if and when we have been hurt and traumatised or abused in the past or stopped or threatened or held back from expressing what we needed to express from our heart even if it was anger, disappointment, upset?

These thoughts are on my mind today as I am making significant steps to heal my own trauma. I awoke this morning after a night of very powerful dreams which featured my ex partner pointing out to me all the ways in which I was deficient as a woman I awoke at one point and got up to go to the toilet (a major achievement and sign of progress, for often I can stay paralysed in bed for some time holding in my wee) remembering the accusations of where I fell short, feeling inadequate and outraged.

I managed to settle back to sleep (yet another sign of major movement forward since I have begun recent body centred trauma work) for usually my body goes through a push pull tug of war for hours turning this way and that before I can actually settle back to sleep. The dream retuned, with my ex trying to apologise to me. We were at a dinner and I was seated on his left side and my mother was seated on his right. My mother was siding with my now ex partner as he was then trying to apologise and explain that he had been too hard on me (this was true in real life), but by that stage in the dream I was so angry and was expressing my disappointment to many people who found my anger too overwhelming and decided to move away.

I was left alone in the dream feeling guilty for having over reacted and seeing that at one point my partner was now with a beautiful girl and sharing a happiness together we could not share because I was trapped in my trauma which was beyond my control and had paralysed me, thwarting my desire to love and be loved.

I awoke with a complex myriad of feelings passing through me, one of which was grief. How all of this relates to the blog that I began a short time ago I am not sure. But one thing I do know. When I entered that relationship I was already traumatised and I had also gone through about 4 instances of significant emotional abandonment by partners who could not understand my emotions and reactions.

I carry the guilt of my extreme reactions which I see were not my fault but a (then) unconscious reaction to the trauma of abandonment and abuse which at that point I did not have the consciousness or skills to communicate in a more “rational” way.

I suffer at times from an extremely punishing inner voice. I have read that this voice is one which individuals who are scapegoats due to the fact they carry powerful emotions and insights into emotions suffer in families who deny these and in the book I read about it the author calls this voice “the inner accuser”.

The inner accuser is an introjected (injected into our psyche from the outside voices of parents and others) voice which runs an ongoing monologue on how we are falling short of an externally imposed ideal which has nothing to do with who we really are. It arises out of us as a result of us not being validated, having our true emotional reality ignored, denied or stomped on and a lack of empathy shown.

A few nights ago this voice appeared to me in the dream image of a huge beast which stomped its hooves on my dog killing him underfoot after I released him on a wild plain and watched on powerlessly. This morning after getting out of the bath I was aware of this part of me looking down at my clothes which were laying in a pile on the bathroom floor. It then came out as a killer voice and was almost demonic about how messy I was and lazy and to “pick those clothes up right now”. Luckily I was able to look this subpersonality in the face, I was facing the bathroom mirror at the time. “I don’t think you are being fair”, I said “I’ll pick the clothes up later, it’s not that important anyway, a few clothes lying on the floor.”

I can’t tell you what a major achievement this was for me. Often this “voice” terrorises me and makes me break down in tears. I recognised the voice from my childhood and from my mother’s childhood. One story my mother tells is of how she was forced to clean and had to iron the sheets by her mother. She would stand on a stool at the ironing board and cry “when I grow up, I’m never ironing the sheets”. Guess what we were taught to iron our sheets!

It could be good home economics or just a waste of time dependent on your own view or values. But it’s a major insight for me to understand the multigenerational source of some of the patterns inculcated in us in our family. On another note and again I am not entirely how this is related to this very long and meandering blog but lately I am reading Jeffrey Masson’s book Dogs Never Lie About Love which talks of how dogs just love out of this instinctive childlike essence of being that has no ulterior motive or guile.

This is how we come into life, with our instincts fully alive and awake but dependent too on how others mirror us in the environment. Some of us who suffer abuse will come through because this living, loving part of us that sees deeply, senses and knows will not allow itself to be fully thrown off the scent of it own instincts or be fully conditioned to betray its own deepest impulses. Yet for many of us this betrayal and understanding it may be a huge part of our journey of healing and recovery. Many of us (me included) may become twisted and warped by being told we are wrong, mistaken or off base but the strongest of us will keep pushing through fighting against the inner voice in our heads that would lay what is the best of our instinctual feeling self to waste.

In a beautiful paragraph in his book Masson writes.

Dogs are not worried about how they will be perceived by other dogs. They do not have to hide their joie de vivre for fear of being naïve (oh how I relate to that one!!), and they do not need to feign boredom when they are in fact interested for fear of appearing unsophisticated. Dogs never stand around at parties wondering what to do or say, or why they came, or how pitiful they might seem to more elegant or more amusing or more important guests. They do not struggle to be witty, getting right to the point… Yet they manage to come away with a greater and more accurate fund of information than human do at their parties. For the dog sex may or may not be present, in deed or thought, but information, knowledge is critical: What kind of dog am I dealing with? Who stands before me? Where have you been and what did you do there? But even more basic.: Who are you really? Questers of the truth, that’s who dogs are seekers after the invisible scent of another being’s authentic core. Eoq

Maybe dogs don’t suffer in the way we do as they are not led off the scent by humans who would tell them they are wrong or bad for being who they are, they just keep doing what they do (having written this though some training of dogs leaves a lot to answer for in the way we impose our own very human ideals and values on dogs). Dogs may be neglected as we humans too can be neglected and show the scars and yet they will keep questing and trusting in the hope of one day finding love.

Reading this book made me think so deeply about the ways in which I have responded in my own life and allowed trauma to hold me hostage with the deep unspoken unconscious expectation that the present will be like the past. My binding to the trauma in my own family led to the abandonment of two crucial relationships. I think the pain of that underlay this morning’s reaction to the dream I spoke of above. In the dream the apology had come. I had the opportunity to embrace the apology and move forward but my anger kept me trapped, it kept me trapped in the expectation that the present would me like the past and tricked me into believing it would be too dangerous to reach out and try again. I would be risking getting my fingers burnt.

Exactly how long have these powerful emotional defences been in place? I think back to Simon, my lovely boyfriend of years ago who wrote one day in my diary “for me I see Deborah struggling to love and reach out and fearing getting her fingers burnt”. He had his own issues that led me to fear, but love could have won through. In end it did, he chose someone else due to his own fear of abandonment and I accepted his choice. For him the relationship did not work out, later he came looking for me due to a chain of circumstance he missed me.

Anger has for me broken apart several key relationships. This is a Saturn Mars Moon issue that I have been working on for some times and came to a head with my present body work therapist who has been able to empathise with and contain my anger and in doing help me to understand its necessary place and move forward to a place of risk and trust.

In her book on healing trauma which I mentioned in a recent blog, Babette Rothschild points out that the first most important thing to develop when working with the traumatised person is a place and feeling of safety where psychological defences are understood and worked with rather than labelled as “resistance” or dysfunction. The therapist is working with someone who has undergone extremely scary and painful events which shadow over the present day and the person needs adequate holding and support to work with strong body sensations of the past which impinge so powerfully on the present.

Our psychological defences of anger in trauma keep us safe but in time they may prevent love because anger and fear are so strongly related. When angry we may actually be really scared and that defence needs to be understood in order to be transformed so that the love of healing can flow through and melt the defence when it is no longer necessary and may be self limiting, blocking new experience by old evidence that was true then but is no longer true. We need love to face our fear and the fear of others in a grounded and fully embodied manner. It is our choice to risk and trust and that trust does need to be earned in any relationship.

We who have been traumatised or led to mistrust our true instincts as scapegoats must not surrender our defences too easily to those with whom old abuse may be re-enacted. Recovery and understanding teaches us through trial and error who is and who is not worthy of or trust. Anger is a valid response to invalidation, though and may have lessons to teach us about what we most need, what is most important and where we need to set boundaries. The pain of seeing what was lost in holding onto anger and expressing it was a lesson in the dream I’ve explored in this blog. Did that mean that my anger was bad or wrong? For anger is often related to grief, trauma as we struggle with the deep memories of what was taken from us or lost.

Anger and grief can be sides of one coin that is thrown up by the deep psyche and lands sometimes on this side, sometimes on that. And maybe there is a profound alchemy that occurs as we do work with both. Grief and sadness can unify rather than divide and separate which is what anger does and each may be called for in different situations and at different times depending on what is needed.

The Well, instinctual hunger is calling me now….so for what it is worth these are some of the complex ruminations that have flowed out from me today as I explore the nature of trauma, grief, anger, longing, impulse, instincts, past relationships, hurting, healing and love.