Depression is necessary when we are healing our childhood wounds.

I have been reading my way back through Pete Walker’s book on Complext PTSD over the past day and finding it really mirrors and reflects my own experience. He talks a lot about abandonment depression which is a legacy of not being ‘met’ emotionally by our parents or caregivers. This leaves a wound within us, we do not get to grow a healthy ego as a director of our feelings and helping us to manage them in response to others and negotiate for our own real needs and feeling in life which are bodily and soul based. We live with those wounds inside and they can rise up.

Walker talks a lot in his book about the 4F reactions to early trauma and I have addressed this in other posts a few years ago (see below) When we get into recovery these are present as anxiety and fear and they drive our reactions and contribute to our state of depression, especially if we have not been able to get angry or grieve for the loss of our true self in childhood. Therefore on the way out of healing from emotional or physical betrayal or abandonment we have to feel what we could not feel as a child, which is painful and something Presence Process advocate Michael Brown addresses at length in his book of the same name. But we also have defences which rise up as the four (4) F responses.

According to Walker four responses to trauma are fight, flight, freeze or fawn. You can read about them in more detail in his book which I highly recommend. He also outlines there the cycle of reactivity which involves bodily sensations, inner critic attacks, attempts at running over or away and or attacking others or deflecting and defending (which may be a healthy protest response to invalidation or further emotional abuse).

There is a very enlightening section in Walkers book which talks of a client Mario who arrives at a session with Walker in a heightened state of reactivity. Simmering below the surface of all of Mario’s reactions are the feelings of grief and shame that fuel this feelings and drive his inner critical attacks. All of us who suffer from childhood trauma carry some level of this grief, fear and shame. We continue to shame ourselves as our parents did and this causes us to feel depressed and we get lost all the time in self reinforcing loops of trauma and criticism, fear, flight, fight, fawn or freeze recycing. Until we can fight our way out of the shame not by attacking or defending but by sitting with the very real buried feelings and processing them in order to release them then we do not get far with breaking out of the reactivity cycle.

Dissociation as many of us know is a huge part of childhood trauma. In order to survive we often had to go off somewhere, we became fearful of our bodies which contained the uncomfortable cocktail of emotions buried inside that parents left us with or dumped into us when they offered us no help with managing our feelings. As Walker points out, many of our parents would not let us use our anger and tears to liberate us from the traumatic experiences or protest unfair or abusive treatment. In recovery the internalised critic will often shame or fill us with fear for getting angry or crying. But what is most needed for recovery is to contain and feel in our bodies the feelings of anger and sadness and associated shame. This is why I believe that medicating feelings and resorting to the belief that depression is a result of biochemical imbalance is not very helpful when it comes down to healing childhood trauma.

John Bradshaw often writes that grieving is the healing feeling. Depression can often be a refused call to grief for what we lost the way to. Depression is not just a pathological condition and Walker argues eloquently that it needs to be understood as essential to experience along the path of healing our traumatised inner child and getting into the present with what WE TRUELY FELT AND NEED TO FEEL IN ORDER TO HEAL AND BECOME REAL.

Depression can be healed with mindfulness, rather than reactivity. What is needed to sit in presence with our hurt from the past when it is triggered into awareness in the present making associations back. This can initially be done in therapy with a therapist who can provide us with holding and containment to release our feelings and deal with and challenge inappropriate shame. However ideally it is something adult survivors learn to do with themselves now. We give our hurting child the love needed to heal, we don’t dump it on others, we take responsibility for our pain even though we did not cause it and often did nothing to provoke it.

Deep level recovery from childhood trauma requires a normalising of depression, a renunciation of the habit of reflexively reacting to it. Central to this is the development of a self compassionate mindfulness…. the practice of staying in (our) body.. the practice of staying fully present to all of your internal experience. (as well as) noticing he psyche’s powerful penchant to distract from these uncomfortable sensations.. over time the survivor will need to rescue himself from dissociation and gently bring back his awareness into fully feeling the sensations of his fear. Although sensations of fear sometimes feel unbearable at first, persistent focusing with non reactive attention dissolves and resolves them as if awareness itself is digesting and integrating them.

Pete Walker

On shame and trauma : the antidote is unconditional love

It was not my fault.jpg

Shame runs very deep for most traumatised people.  Profound self loathing (seeing yourself as disgusting, unlovable, worthless, useless, incompetent and hopeless) can even help you make meaning of traumatic life events and still survive in the world.  In experiencing shame you are incorporating the violations of your body, spirit and mind as if these acts provide indisputable evidence that you are inherently not good enough.  In other words, in feeling shame you become what was done to you.  You conduct your life with intense disgust directed at yourself.  Such inadvertent attempts to annihilate your essence can lead to suicide.  In shame, you only know yourself as the excrutiating pain and the complete aloneness.  Shame is the ultimate re-enactment of trauma.

The truth is that your essence is untouchable.  Your essence is beautiful, lovable, pure and precious… no matter what!!!

Learning to treat yourself with unconditional love, compassion and respect will take courage, tenacity and determination.  There is not a painless way to form new beliefs about yourself.  It takes heroism to learn and practice self – supporting skills in personal, social and vocational circumstances.  Ironically, you will probably feel very uncomfortable with being loving to yourself: you might well have a need to feel uncomfortable.

Your core theories involving shame are formed by traumatic circumstances, and these foundations need to be slowly and surely dismantled within the container of unconditional love and compassion for yourself.  Your discomfort can be observed, accepted, soothed and survived with the active and loving presence of your wise self.

You can learn to establish and maintain eye contact, to be present in the moment, to listen attentively to other people and respond accordingly.  You can be curious about everything and seek out wonderful experiences.

YOU ARE NOT THE SHAME YOU EXPERIENCE

Excerpt from Evolve with Trauma : Become Your Own Safe, Compassionate and Wise Friend.

 

Related link:  Freeing yourself and understanding self blame

http://www.new-synapse.com/aps/wordpress/?p=2572

 

(Image credit : Pinterest)

The dark place of abandonment

Being made to believe we are not okay as we are and certainly not deserving of someone’s love and relationship does affect us so very deeply.  I am revisiting the work of abandonment therapist Susan Anderson lately.  I was lucky to be guided towards her book From Abandonment to Healing just over 13 years ago when my marriage ended and I found myself in a very dark place.

This was not the first time as abandonment has been a pretty much constant theme for me starting with my older much loved sister leaving home when I was only 3 to marry and start her own family and live overseas.  My Mum wasn’t emotionally available to me at all, she worked all the time and when she was home we had to duck and weave around her compulsive cleaning, there was never a place to rest and my Dad also vacated through his own addictions (minor ones) when he was around he wasn’t really there.  Later in life after I nearly lost my life at the tender age of 17 in a motor vehicle smash up he was hard line forcing me to go to secretarial college in the painful aftermath of my older sister’s breakdown and cerebral bleed.  Later I saw her abandoned too at her most vulnerable time and was back at home when she tried to take her life in 1982 when I was only 20 years old.

Dad ended up dying when I was only 23 and that was followed by my then partner (who I had two terminations of pregancy to), ringing me at 4 am in the morning just a few days after my father died to tell me not to bother joining him overseas as he didn’t love me any more and had found someone else.  Do you believe that later when our paths crossed in Greece I slept with him only to come home one night and find him in bed with someone else only to be accused of being ‘mad’ when I reacted to it poorly?  Luckily at that time I was with other friends in Greece and the owner of our B and B deplored my ex’s behaviour.  Never the less I internalised the abandonment seeing it as due to a flaw in me.

I won’t go into the pain of three more similar ‘leavings’ of exs over a period of 18 more years, often on the back of being told there was something wrong with me.  What that ‘something’ I now know was terror and fear pure and simple and Susan Andersons’ newer book which I just bought Taming The Outer Child : Overcoming Self Sabotage and Healing from Abandonment explains how very real changes in our neurochemistry involving the amygdala leave us with an over active fear, flight and fight response which is automatically triggered in any new relationship or prospective interaction  (and not only with new potential partners, from my experience).  This reactive pattern she gives the name Outer Child and it can sabotage and lay to waste new connections but not only that leaves us with cumulative Post Traumatic Stress as a result of our abandonment trauma or ‘schemas’.

Anderson.jpg

As I sat with my sister yesterday after she tried on the clothes I bought for her and saw how much of her self love had been decimated I thought it is criminal what people are telling her, I know her fixation on clothes and looking good are symptoms of her abandonment but its not only that, the roulette wheel of psychiatrists and medications has left her depleted, she went down the exercise route but withouth any psycho dynamic therapy and no emotional recovery buddies.  She is not able to express and read as I am and that works against her.   I know new clothes will not fix that deeper wound to her self esteem but I think it doesn’t hurt to be there to try as it’s getting so much colder here and she has no warm jumpers and when people tell her ‘its all in her head as she has lots of clothes’, that to my mind is pretty invalidating and harsh.

I seem to have gone a little off track here but what I am trying to address in this post is how our abandonment at another’s hands can leave us questioning our own use, meaning, value, beauty and goodness and how healing involves not internalising those feelings from someone else.  In her earlier book Anderson uses the acronym S.W.I.R.L. to describe the process of working through a recent abandonment which may trigger far earlier ones.  (Shattering, Withdrawal, Internalisation, Rage, Lifting).

The true abandonment as adults is then self abandonment which occurs as we internalise false beliefs about our value and worth and fail to understand or validate reactions to abandonment and its deeper triggers. For sure we may not be perfect and have wounds and scars and reaction patterns we need to understand and work with : the process Anderson outlines in the second book, but we are not worthless because we have been abandoned or gone through loss and all our feelings and reactions make complete sense once we understand their roots and work to understand our own history and self sabotaging behaviours.

From this position we should be showing compassion to those who have suffered emotional abandonment not be taking out a big stick to hit them over the head with.   For healing involves compassion, wisdom and tenderness both to others and to our inner child that bleed from very real wounds in earlier life.

Bigger than words

I just read a blog about a person’s struggle with therapy and with the pain they deal with on a daily basis that needs to be worked through in that context of therapy and with their frustration over the use of certain words and terms.   I understand exactly how they feel.  I get frustrated at times with concepts, intellecualisations, formulas, and descriptions or pidgeon holes of psychic suffering, the map is not the terrritory and what we suffer cannot always and easily be placed in these boxes.   And yet in a world where we have to communicate and interconnect such terms or words or diagnoses are used to make sense of suffering….the problem comes when we identify with them too much and loose that natural spaciousness that is part of our deeper being, soul and who we are in experientia….

I feel the most comfort when I can float within my own ocean and on the days when the seas are not made too choppy by to many mental winds sending up storms of criticism and judgement within then I can, on a day like today just sit quietly feeling myself in the room while being gazed at lovingly by my dog Jasper and feel myself surrounded by peace and love.   But only half an hour prior to this my inner critic or ego was on the rampage and I was crying about how I am not a very good mother to this dog, which is not true, what is truer is at times I abandon our world of love and peace for a world and relationships which are often fractured or jarring to me.

I used to think that the problem was in my being ‘too sensitive’ and needing to adapt, to try harder, to be more pleasing but what I am seeing is that when I try to adapt outside of my natural pace then I get lost and because I am highly empathic and intuitive I do absorb energies in the ether which are non physical, such as emotions.

Anway I have had experiences and times when I have turned up at my own therapist feeling frustrated when I was deeply feeling something and being asked to explain what it was.  Just how do you find a word for deeper feelings and exactly how can you fully communicate the abject terror, despair, sadness or elation and joy that you feel in response to certain events?  Feelings can have such layers and are even not the same as emotions which are never only pure and simple when we try to make sense of them for such an emotion as grief may have sadness in it but also anger and despair.  When we start telling ourselves stories about those feelings then we have moved from the deeper felt sense of ‘my heart feels like its in a vice and I cannot breath’ (which is an experience in which tears are being held so deep inside) to thoughts such as : ‘this should not have happened, would not have happened if I had not done x y or z!’ which just ends up making us feel much much worse and may end in depression or even suicide.

Sometimes I feel its best just to sit with ourselves and try to touch base with our inner world quietly, tuning in.  In my experience all of our restless seeking out there for the critical support or emotional connection which may be lacking can a lot of the time, detract us from the source of inner peace inside.  That is not to say we should isolate and never connect with other humans, at times when we do it works and we feel connected but of course at others it does not and then we may need just to withdraw and return within in order to befriend our own aching heart.

Being our own best friend, may sound like a truism to some but if we don’t have our own love and ability to be present to what is arising inwardly even in abject pain (which I KNOW is very hard at times) we won’t ever really find true healing, comfort, and peace.

Real pain and sadness

I wish that so many people who suffer from depression or bi polar could have it affirmed that their pain is real.   I just read a blog of a fellow sufferer who could not get out of bed on Christmas Day,  I know how that feels.  I always force myself out of bed though.  I am not able to stay in bed all day, just cannot do it, even when I am sick and need to.  But I know that deep binding and paralysing depression that hits as a real response to challenging life events of change, hurt or loss, have undergone it in my own life. There were whole days and weeks and months I never got out of my pyjamas all day, I didn’t shower, found it difficult to stomach food and did not see a single soul.

I look back to those terrible crushing days of extreme physical and emotional as well as spiritual isolation and wonder how I survived them.  The pain was just so intense but on another level I was numb.  Critical killer inner voices besieged all my waking hours.   Love had left my life, my marriage was over, I had no home of my own and no employment.  All I did was write all day.

I am here to say though that today my life is not like that.  Sure I am very sad on some days, but those feelings of  complete inner hopelessness and emptiness are no longer as strong.  I reached out to get help and it took me many therapy attempts but in the end I found that help.  I found a therapist who helped me.  I got this blog started.  I started to write how it really was for me.  People reached out to me. I learned to get in my car and go for a walk or a drive when I was lonely to a place where I could be with people.  5 years ago I got myself a dog and then started going to the public dog park with him every day and making some new friends.  Some days I had to drag myself there in the afternoon.

I joined groups then left groups, told by them I wasnt allowed to have certain feelings or express certain feelings.  I had to let certain relationships go.  I had to believe in myself.  I had to keep reaching for validation of my suffering true feelings and pain.

I am here to say that I believe recovery is possible for those of us who are willing to reach for help and become aware of how past emotional abandonment,abuse or neglect may have dogged our lives, our pain was real, it wasnt a figment of our imagination.  We suffered and we bled.   We were not responsible for the emotional neglect we suffered or the abandonment that happened to us.  It left real deep scars in us.  We don’t have to take the blame even though the harsh truth is that our recovery is our responsiblity.  No one else can do it for us, but us, and we cannot do it alone.

So if you are suffering, trust yourself.  Keep reaching out for love, keeping taking those baby steps forward even if you suffer set backs.  Just keep at it one day at a time, one minute at a time, believe in you.  You are worth it?  You are worthy.  There will be days you wish you were dead,  days you feel the pain is too much, those are the days you are probably all alone with no one to give you a hug.  On those days I reach out here and often I am responded to.  I know it’s not the same as a physical hug but it helps.  It has brought me back from the abyss many times.

Life at times can seen so dark and lonely it really can.   But there are those out there who love and care despite their own pain and despair, so keep reaching until you find that connection, validation and love.   The world really needs you it does, you are meant to be here.

Third installment : Three generations of Shared Family History : the Family Body : research into inherited stress and trauma responses

Here is the third and final installment from Chapter 2 of Mark Wolynn’s book It Didn’t Start With You which concludes his coverage of genetic research shedding light on how stress and trauma are passed on through at least three generations :

It’s only recently that scientists have begun to understand the biological processes that occur when trauma is inherited.  To learn more, researchers turned to animal studies….Chemical changes in the blood, brain, ova and sperm of mice are now being linked to behavioural patterns, such as anxiety and depression, in later generations.  Studies performed on offspring, for example, have shown that trauma, such as the stress of maternal separation, caused gene expression changes that can be traced for three generations.

In one such study, researchers prevented females from nurturing their pups for up to three hours a day during the first two weeks of life.  Later in life, their offspring exhibited behaviors similar to what we call depression in humans.  The symptoms seemed to worsen as the mice age.  Surprisingly, some of the males did not express the behavior themselves, but appeared to epigenetically transmit the behavioral changes to their female offspring.  The researchers also discovered altered methylation and gene expression changes in the stressed mice.  Among the genes involved was the CRF2 gene, which regulates anxiety in both mice and humans.  The researchers also found that the germs cells – the precursor egg and sperm cells – as well as the brains of the offspring were affected by the stress of being separated from their mothers.  In another experiment….offspring that received low levels of maternal care were more anxious and more reactive to stress in adulthood than were the rats that received high levels of maternal care.  The stress pattern was observed in multiple generations.

It’s common knowledge that infants who have been separated from their mothers can experience challenges as a result.  In studies involving male mice, pups that were separated from their mothers exhibited lifelong increases in stress susceptibility and generated offpsring  that exhibited similar stress patterns over several generations.  (In one study).. conducted at the Brain Research Institute of the University of Zurich in 2014, researchers subjected male mice to repeated and prolonged periods of increased stress by separating them from their mothers.  Afterward, the traumatised mice exhibited a number of depression like symptoms.  The researchers then had the mice reproduce and discovered that pups in the second and third generation showed the same symptoms of trauma despite never having experienced it themselves.

(Similarly)…. high numbers of microRNA – genetic material that regulate gene expression – (were) present in the sperm, blood and hippocampi of the traumatised mice..(and)…in those of the second generation……Although mice in the third generation expressed the same symptoms of trauma as did their fathers and grandfathers. elevated numbers of microRNA were not detected.

In a later study published in 2016, Mansuy and her colleagues were able to show that trauma symptoms could be reversed in the mice after they lived in a positive, low stress environment as adults.  Not only did the mice’s behaviors improve, they also experienced changes in DNA methylation, which prevented symptoms from being passed to the next generation.  The implications of this study are particularly significant.  In later chapters we’ll learn how to create positive images and enriching experiences that can help reverse stress patterns that may have affected our family for multiple generations.

What makes the mouse research so intriguing is that science can now substantiate how the challenges experienced in one generation can become the legacy transmitted to the next.  In a study involving the offspring of stressed male mice conduucted at Emory University School of Medicine in 2013, researchers discovered that traumatic memories could be passed own to subsequent generations throgh epigentic changes that occur in DNA.  Mice in one generation were trained to fear a cherry blossom-like scent.. Each time they were exposed to the smell they simultaneously received an electric shock.  After a while, the shocked mice had a greater amount of small receptors associated with that particular scent, enabling them to detect it at lower concentrations.  They also had enlarged brain areas devoted to those receptors.  Researchers were also able to identify changes in the mice’s sperm.

The most intriguing aspect of the study is what occured in the next two generations.  Both the pups and the grandpups, when exposed to the blossom odour, became jumpy and avoided it, despite never having experienced it before.  They also exhibited the same brain changes. The mice appeared to inherit not only the sensitivity to the scent, but also the fear response associated with it.

Brian Dias, one of the researchers of the study, suggests that “there’s something in the sperm that is informing or allowing that information to be inherited.” He and his team noted abornmally low DNA methylation in both the sperm of the father mice and the sperm of the offspring.   Although the exact mechanism for how a parent’s traumatic experience gets stored in the DNA is still under investigation.    Dias says, “it behooves ancestors to inform their offspring that a particular environment was a negative environment for them.”

Ths particular study provides compelling evidence for what the researchers term “transgenerational epigenetic inheritance,” the notion that behaviours can pass from one generation to another.  When I work with families in my pratice, I often see recurring patterns of illness, depression, anxiety, relationship struggles, and financial hardship, and always feel compelled to look deeper.  What unexplored event in a previous generation drives the behavior of the man who loses all his money at the racetrack, or the woman who chooses to be intimate only with married men?  How have their genetic inheritances been influences?

…..

Given that a generation in humans is approximately twenty years, the results from human studies spanning multiple generations are still pending.  However, with the research demonstrating that stress can be transmitted through at least three generations of mice, the researchers surmise that children born to human parents who experienced a traumatic or stressful event would also likely pass the pattern down not only to their children, but to their grandchildren as well.  Uncannily the Bible in numbers 14-18, appears to corroborate the claims of modern science – or vice versa – that the sins, iniquities, or consequences of the parents can affect the children up to the third and fourth generations.  Specificially, the New Living translation states : “the LORD is slow to anger and filed with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty.  He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected – even children in the third and fourth generations.”

As new discoveries in epigentics are revealed, new information about how to mitigate the transgenerational effects of trauma could become standard practice.  Researchers are now finding that our thoughts, inner images and daily practices, such as visualisation and meditation can change the way our genes express, an idea we will examine in more detail in the next chapter.

The idea that we relive family traumas may well be at the core of what psychiatrist Norman Doidge alludes to in his breakthrough book  he Brain That Changes Itself when he writes “Psychotherapy is about about turning our ghosts into ancestors.”  By identifying the source of our generationl traumas Dr. Doidge suggests that our ghosts can “go from haunting us to become part of our history.”

To be continued

Voices from inside anxiety and depression

If we struggle with issues such as anxiety and depression its helpful to the ones who KNOW, those souls who also struggled and suffered and found a way out or through the experience.  There are a lot of people and voices outside there who have known the pain, isolation and profound suffering that anxiety and depression can bring.  Matt Haig is one such voice and he published a book in 2015 called Reasons to Stay Alive where he speaks candidly about his experience and of how there is life and hope on the other side of that long dark tunnel of depression.  Matt believes his depression and anxiety came to him as learning experiences leading him on an inward path of self discovery and uncovery.  He doesn’t believe in medication as a long term solution for himself, for in his case it didn’t work but he appreciates that each of us have our own pathway to travel and medication helps others.

For now, I do what I know keeps me just about level. Exercise definately helps me, as does yoga and absorbing myself in something or someone I love, so I keep doing those things.  I suppose, in the absence of universal certainties, we are our own best laboratory.

The following excerpt comes from the chapter Pretty Normal Childhood in which he speaks of death anxieties he had around losing both parents when he was young.  In this chapter he shares how a throw away unkind comment from a girl in school who he liked sent him into a downward spiral and I am sure many of us can relate to this. At that age we don’t have any filters against such comments and we are longing for love and acceptance, so criticism hits hard and can be deeply internalised.

In the final paragraph of that chapter, Matt writes :

I didn’t totally fit in. I kind of disintegrated around people, and became what they wanted me to be.  But paradoxically, I felt an intensity inside me all the time.  I didn’t know what it was, but it kept building, like water behind a dam.  Later, when I was properly depressed and anxious, I saw the illness as an accumulation of all that thwarted intensity.  A kind of breaking through. As though, if you find it hard to let yourself be free, your self breaks in, flooding your mind in an attempt to drown out all those failed half versions of yourself.

A few chapters along he speaks of how more men kill themselves as a result of depression that women, the reason, men are conditioned to see depression as a sign of weakness and ‘are reluctant to seek help’.  The prohibition Boys Dont Cry plays a huge part in this in fostering an untruth that limits and encloses boys and men in a prison.  Matt’s way out, as it is for those of us who suffer, men and women, is to talk and listen and encourage both.  He reminds us that depression doesnt make us outcasts from humanity but just normal humans.  Depression can come to be associated with who we are when really it is a experience which happens to us.

It took me more than a decade to be able to talk openly, properly, to everyone, about my experience.  I soon discovered the act of talking is in itself a therapy.  Where talk exists so does hope.

Finding our voice in depression is a way out, or at least a way of connecting, once we can connect we feel less alone.  There are so many other souls out there who have walked this pathway, we just have to open our minds, hearts and mouths to find them.

In other chapters Matt writes a letter to his depressed self from the self who finally came through the depression, telling that former version of himself he will come through it. This is not what depression, anxiety and panic attacks tell us every day we suffer them.  Instead they tell us the pain will never end and it will destroy us.   I am not naive about depression and know we all have to do our own inner work and find our own ways to come through.  I nevertheless like to recommend voices of those who can be guides or forces of encouragement for other undergoing their own dark night.  Matt Haig is just one of these many voices.

More amazing poets

Benaim

Continuing on with a recent theme of sharing poetry formed in the crucible of heartbreak, soul ache and depression I would like to post another poem this time from the collection of Sabrian Benaim, a Canadian writer, performance and teaching artist based in Toronto.  This writer`s work  came to me via the recommendation of another blogger,  I recall it was Mirrorgirl (though I pick up so much from WordPress and other sources at time its hard to keep track).

Her collection of poetry Depression & Other Magic Tricks is well worth reading and will resonate with you deeply if you have or do suffer from depression.  This is the last poem in the collection :

follow-up  a prayer / a spell

i am feeling better

so I say / good morning / & mean it

yes / today is a good morning

to exhale / and feel joy

with the release of breath

i no longer need to be holding

i am not alone

Because I feel alone

I am not alone because i feel alone

I an not alone because i feel alone / with company

when I look in the mirror i will find a reflection

of the gifts i am withholding from myself

light hits / everything at a different angle

i make a habit of tilting / my head

when the sadness waterfalls

i will let the salt cleanse the wounds I cannot see

i will let dance parties be the hospitals i heal in

if in need more help i will let the people offering help me

if i need more help i will let the medication help me

i forgive my body for being a machine after all

i forgive my memory for being the cupboard door

that will continue to pop ajar

no many how many times i push it shut

i forgive myself even if i am the last person i want to forgive

whatever i have come from / wherever I am going

i will remember the present as the place to start

today is a good day/ to wake up / & be great

& have gratitude / for the relentless

pump of this heart / the way it does not know how

to hold back

i exhale / & i begin

🙂

A gift from the Gods : reflections on love, loss, grief and melancholy

Sometimes, now, I imagine that there was a moment when the gods and goddesses of creation offered us this : the gift of love, provided we accept the fact of knowing we will die.  Would any of us refuse the offer?  Would we choose to live a life without love to remain ignorant of death?  Even in the early moments of my grief, I never hated the bargain.  Even in the midst of the pain of loss, I welcomed the fact that we had twenty five years of learning to be lovers.

Forever taking leave, always on the verge of departing, we wander the world and along the way, at one time or another, meet others and together for a  brief moment arrange things.  We fall in love, marry, raise a family, start work, become knitted to the fabric of a community .  Yet all the while we see with a deeper, third eye, a subtle erosion of all that we have so patiently and lovingly built.  One by one the things we make slip away.   One by one those whom we love pass on.  And always in the dark silence of the night we know.  Always in that dark  hour of solitude we understand that death will take away the ones we love

But where do they go, those whom we have loved and have died?  We soothe our children with stories of heaven, and even as adults we still continue to cherish this place in our heart, eve if we can no longer believe it with our minds.  Something in us needs these tales.  Something in us needs to imagine that love does endure, perhaps even beyond death.  And yet, these stories can cheat us of the deepest demand which love makes upon us : to love what does not last, to love the rose which in its blooming already fades.  To embrace here with love what will pass away, what is in this very moment passing, while still hoping for a love which lasts beyond the grave!  How can we do that? Again I don`t know, I only know that after the shocks of grief and long, slow winter of mourning, I have found myself experiencing the world through different eyes, as if grief had changed the prescription of my vision.  In these moments, I experience all that is around me with melancholic eyes, with those eyes which can see in the midst of what is present in the moment, an absence which already haunts the moment.  Melancholy, I now believe, is the mood which allows us to love in the midst of our continual dying.  It is the mood which nurses the fact that love is born and rests in the cradle of death.  It is the mood which allows us to bear the mystery of love as the fragile home which the homeless soul builds in the human heart.

Robert Romanyshyn : Mourning and Melancholy : The Orphan and the Angel

Experiences of grief and loss do make our souls feel homeless.  That in which we have taken root, or those with whom we shared linkages and connections, even if haunted with shadows of disconnection are gone, suddenly taken.  We can experience grief over the loss of more than just a person, but when the person we have lost or who has died was so centrally important to our lives a vacancy or lacunae is left and into that void we fall.  Some of us are lucky to have those who will stand by as we are swallowed up, others of us may not be so lucky and may have anxious ones swoop in and try to save us.  Others of us may watch loved ones being swallowed up and feel powerless.  (I most certainly know I experienced a lot of that in my own life witnessing the traumas, losses and abandonment of my two sisters and mother.)  How we respond from this powerless place is very important.

I have personally felt that sometimes medication was being used as a way to stop a necessary descent.  I remember listening to a lecture by poet Robert Bly in which he said this: in depression we suffer a loss and refuse the call to descend, in grief we go willingly down.  Perhaps our various reactions and responses to depression, loss and grief or a dark night of the soul are not so clearly demarked, but the point is during these times the unconscious comes calling and its a testament of our love not only for that or who we have lost but also for ourselves how we respond. Bearing in mind such responses are never fully conscious.  Loss and grief do seem to demand of us an opening out after we fallen for a time and an opening of our heart in love, maybe even if for years we collapse or fall into a closed or folded up state.

Understanding abandonment depression : insights from James Masterson

Abandonment depression appears as a subject in a few of my posts.  I made a leap forward in my own recovery when I first began to become aware of the term just over a year ago following reading Pete Walker’s book on Complex PTSD where he deals with the subject in depth.  Abandonment depression is different to basic depression which can be a feeling of depletion or lowered energy following a loss of massive change of some kind in a person’s life.  When dealing with this kind of depression easy solutions of distraction for a time or a taking of pain relief to help when people find them selves in the critical stages will help.  In the case of abandonment depression we are dealing with something that will not be helped by these kind of solutions since it involves a core wound that must be understood, felt, mined and addressed through psychological work.

Here is how James Masterton describes the abandonment depression :

In the throes of the abandonment depression, a person will feel that a part of his very self is lost or cut off from the supplies necessary to sustain life.  Many patients describe this in graphic physical terms, such as losing an arm or leg, being deprived of oxygen, or being drained of blood.  As one patient put it : “I felt as though my legs would not work so I couldn’t possibly leave the house, and when I went to fix lunch I just knew that I wouldn’t be able to swallow.  And if I did I would probably throw it back up.”

At the darkest level of this depression, a person can despair of ever recovering her real self, and thoughts of suicide are not uncommon.  When one is brought low enough repeatedly, or for an extended period of time, it becomes increasingly harder to imagine oneself happy again or able to push through life with the strength and confidence with which the reasonably healthy go about their daily living. At this point a person can teeter on the brink  of despair, give up and consider taking her own life. If the separations they experience in their external lives are painful enough to reinforce the feelings of fear of abandonment, some will commit suicide.

(this is well beyond an acute episode of the ‘blahs’)… The roots of depression push farther into the past than seems apparent.  In time, true sources, eating away inside, make themselves known.  But initially they are well defended by the false self.

It is the nature of the false self to save us from knowing the truth about our real selves, from penetrating the deeper causes of our unhappiness, from seeing ourselves as we really are – vulnerable, afraid, terrified, and unable to let our real selves emerge.  Nevertheless, when the defences are down and the real self is thrown into situations calling for strong self assertion, situations that trigger the repressed memories of earlier separation anxieties and feelings of abandonment by the mother, the serious nature of the depression is glimpsed and felt.  At this point it is not uncommon for the patient to panic and slide down to the very bottom from which he convinces himself he will never recover.

(Panic hides fear of the rage underneath depression).  Depression and rage ride in tandem.  As depression intensifies, and comes to the surface of awareness, so does anger.  At first (the real reasons cannot be pinpointed)…rage is diffuse and projected onto outside sources (anger at life or the world or just angry in general…..Anger of the abandonment depression is far more intense and complex).  Anger that is part of the abandonment depression. has more damaging consequences.  Its intensity can cause bodily shaking, feelings of helplessness, feeling like a baby (age regression) and it comes from painful childhood experiences that may not be easily recalled because they are so solidly defended against.

Eventually in therapy real causes of the anger begin to become apparent but the anger is still defended against by being projected onto targets that are often stand ins or proxies….this occurs because feeling anger is associated with fear of rejection as well as fear of intimacy since in childhood being close came with difficulties and rejections.

Rage and fear (the) lead to panic.. Panic feeds on the fear that we cannot express our anger over abandonment.  It can be a claustrophobic strangling of energies, a tightening up of options : either we express our anger and risk losing the love of others or we deny the anger in order to remain in the helpless state of dependency and hold onto others.  As the panic grows, patients report that it feels like facing death or actually being killed.  Often this anxiety will be channelled into psychosomatic disorders such as asthma and peptic ulcers, each being a perfect metaphor for the underlying fear… A person with a peptic ulcer is often hungering for emotional supplies that were lost in childhood or that were never sufficient to nourish the real self.  As an adult, she is unable to find sources to supply the needed emotional support or to get through life without it.

The person living with (such a) death threat, or what is perceived as a death threat, hanging over his head necessarily leads a fearful life, in which every move to express hiself, to allow his rea self to emerge, is accompanied by the need to look over his shoulder in fear and panic… panic can escalate as the patient slowly becomes aware of the depression and anger that have been bottled up over the years.  The false self has blocked any expression of these feelings for so long that when they do manage to surface, even in the slightest way, the resulting panic can be paralysing and terrifying.  Fear of letting these feelings out into the open, even in therapy can mushroom into panic proportions.

Guilt is the fifth column behind.. the patient’s frontline of defences.  (This is not normal reasonable guilt but rather)… fed by the guilt we internalise in early childhood from the disapproval expressed by the mother for self actualisation or individuation……Not being able to face up to the internalised guilt about that (healthy) part of themselves, these individuals will suppress making any moves in forbidden direction and resort to old familiar clinging behaviour that they remember made them safe and good years ago.

(Clinging and guilt lead to…) helplessness.  Failure to activate the impaired real self (and) to deal with painful feelings.. which in the abandonment depression is abiding and total…. staying in unhealthy jobs and relationships, fearing moving on from old unhealthy patterns, even denying that we desire to.

James A Masterson, Fear of Abandonment, The Search for the Real Self

The anger against, fear of and panic due to devaluation of our true self internalised by the false self in the course of growing up lives on inside of us and must be faced on the path of healing.   Facing such internalised voices, feelings and fears means we must also confront the inner critic who has become hostile to the real self ever breaking free and asserting its real needs which bring with them the deep seated fear of abandonment by others that had its roots in the past.  Mastering our fear of abandonment and the abandonment depression is the price we pay to discontinue the inner self abandonment we face when we begin to become more conscious and aware of the real roots and aspects of the abandonment depression.