A safe calm space

As a trauma survivor also raised in a high anxiety home its important for me to find and relax into safe calm spaces where and when I can find them.  I find there is a moment of decision in which I must take the opportunity just to ‘be’, to let myself and my awareness keep a focus on sounds and then quietly on my breath.  At times my body chemicals over-ride this, particularly at the time of my two major physical traumas at others like today on my walk with Jasper this didnt happen.  We had a lovely moment sitting under the shedding acorn trees in the child’s play part where I was just in the peace of the present moment.

It’s unseasonally hot here today, but under the tree it was cool and while sitting there and enjoying the surrounds I also focused on closing my eyes and hearing the layering of sounds around us which included birds singing, a dog barking, the low hum of traffic as well as the soft sound and feel of the breeze.  I was aware of my body but for a miraculous moment there was no pain in my body and I was able to breathe a full breath which seems impossible when a trauma cascade hits me as it can up to two or three times a day.  It was so beautiful just to revel in the pleasant sounds and sensations around me, to be aware of the absence of thought apart from the soothing one. “this feels lovely” and to feel myself let go and expand in to it.

This experience of peace had come just after reading and replying to some comments on my last post about trauma, addressing where we put our focus, the experience of being in and out of it and sharing some of what I understand from trauma specialist, Peter Levine’s work on trauma about pendulation in working with traumatic events.

It also came after a period of doubt about my current therapy which is extremely affirming but at times brings up very very painful sensation when I have to re share traumatic events or experiences and reactions from the past or the past week.  For a while a while ago I was seeing a body harmony therapist who was very quick to pull me out of my thoughts about sensations especially when they were in triggering parts of my body that have undergone trauma.  Due to the numerous physical traumas there are not a lot of parts of my body that trauma has not touched but Robyn during our sessions would try to keep me entering then leaving and then shifting the focus on to something pleasant  in the room or by getting me to look into her eyes when I was in overwhelm or flashback which is what Peter Levine encourages his own clients to do.  And often an outpouring of grief would occur at these times which she would mirror and affirm.

This work is not easy because trauma can be so very magnetic and as I understand it there is also something called the trauma vortex, which I experience in my spine as a kind of spinning sensation and it can spin at times clockwise and at other times counter clockwise, hard to explain here but I sense this spin at different times of the day and when awakening at night which is accompanied by the sensation of cells in my body being fluid or silted or inundated with fluid.  (In my original near death trauma my lungs were punctured by a broken rip and the fluid poured in through the pierced pleura.) At times it is so hard to get my attention pulled away from this magentic focus which is also telling me something deeper not always accessible in words.

Today I also had the awareness of how my own reactivity contributed to the second trauma which was a bike accident triggered after doing a cranio sacral session on the original crash around the first anniversary of my husband leaving me.   I would not have had that second accident if I was not on the run from family and I would not have had it if I had not retriggered the trauma of the earlier crash in that session.  The most important insight I came away from that session with was seeing my accident from outside and how it had traumatised my father at the time who was not, like my Mum called to the scene of the crash and I think had to see me cut out of the car after a long period of being trapped.

Writing all of this today is actually retriggering me too.  My family heard about my second crash but no one bothered to come over to be with me and so I was pretty much alone and then in trouble with the family I boarded with for making their lives harder by having had it.  And so I took myself away on retreat to Glastonbury to an ashram and was not able to really get all the help and support I needed despite the fact I had made a good friend from my Dad’s home town in Holland when I was in the UK and ready to come out of hospital.   I ran from her too as I felt my trauma was really not understandable and if I think about it I also feared abandonment, so I ran back to family.  That is a hell of a lot of running.  And yet I did the best I could at the time.

All of this is behind me now, but the thought lives on when I think of connecting with my sister over Easter on the fourth anniversary of our older sister’s death.   Should I really be blaming her for a lack of empathy shown after  my ex husband left and she accused me of being a selfish little girl?  What of the fact she has undergone her own trauma since and is kinder now? What of the times she did try to help me but was not really sure how to?  How much contact to have and how come I still feel so responsible for her and long so much to connect?  Yet even as I read this back, of course I long for this sister’s love but she never treated me as kindly as my older sister did. And even that relationship had toxic elements.

I know this is a lot of questions and I dont know all the answers.  I imagine readers getting impatient with me.  But then I think of a comment from a follower last night which said to try and see the situation from outside myself and to consider how I would treat this person (me) who had been through so much?  Wouldnt I just advise her to take care of herself first, no matter how ‘selfish’ that makes me seem and keep limited contact?

What I am understanding today though is, how much that is good is really around me at the moment when I take those steps to find that safe calm space in the day in the present moment away from past trauma triggers and residues.  Trauma lies in my past, not my present and yet at times it seems to dominate my present.  I get those mixed up thoughts of love for my sister and mother while seeing things they did that also hurt me.   I think of how my sister is now very alone and isolated in her own life but I am aware too of the fact that she too is responsible for herself and maybe she finds her own quiet calm space better being on her own, than around me.  And I know a lot of the time being around my sister quiet frankly triggers me and makes me feel more anxious as memories of that horrible time at the coast where she asked my mother to choose her favourite person to be with out of her and me ended with Mum saying she would rather be with my sister who was happy not sad. Part of me feels betrayed but part of me understands, but then I was always left alone in my grief anyway just as I was left alone as a child and the end of my marriage in 2004 just opened up all of those other losses starting with my father’s death in 1985.  Those losses too are all in the past and yet they have marked me.  They have, at times, led to faulty beliefs that I didn’t deserve any better or somehow caused it all.  In the calm quiet space I can just observe these thoughts come and go.

Today I am grateful for that lovely moment I had earlier in the day.  I am grateful for the lovely lunch of quiche and home made salad I just ate while writing this, I am glad for my therapist Kat and I am glad for the ability to be able to write about all of this and to be heard, read, reached out to by others and understood.  That’s a hell of a lot to be grateful for and heading into easter, although it will always be tinged with the trauma of losing my older sister in 2014 after 34 years of witnessing her also go through trauma and abandonment I am aware that out of the crucifixion of all of our most painful experiences does come a time of entombment and then resurrection.  We go into the fire in trauma, part of us get burned up as we walk across ‘the burning ground’ but we also emerge in time, transformed in some way, deepened in some way, enriched in some way and also made more full of compassion in some way.   It’s a painful territory but one that also makes us aware of blessings as well as the depth of love which is always present in grief and in our longing and which we should pray never to fully forsake due to the pain and agony of trauma.

A wall of fire

Walking through trauma and waking up inside a nightmare that has formerly been repressed is so so hard.  I do not think anyone truly understands trauma unless they have lived trauma.  That said some therapists try and have sufficient insight, others don’t in my experience.  I often get stymied trying to explain my complex body symptoms to my psychoanalyst, Kat.   She does not know how my nights are, the struggle I go through daily and nightly as I feel I am drowning and get fixed on past imprints.  I survive as best I can by putting structure in my day and a daily connection with nature is essential to me.

That said reading of how others are also struggling to express to those they love who can sadly not understand brings back key incidents from my own struggle for recognition.  My husband got very jealous of my therapy and sided with my Mum in trying to pull me back in line, that said I know he cared for me and didnt want me to be struggling but as a trauma survivor I was and lack of empathy ended up triggering me to take flight again and smash up on the other side of the world all alone.   My by then ex husband came to the hospital but gave me no support, told me I needed to go home and he would give me no help with residency (which I eventually got alone) even though I supported him with Australian residency when we met as well as setting up his business.  He wanted back “the happy girl I married”, what was the message in that, please put all this sadness behind you if you want us to survive.  Its the same message I got in the next relationship I sadly went into 3 years after my ex husband and I separated.

To be dumped when you are already foundering is killing.  I honestly dont know how I survived.  After the accident overseas I did come home and ended up living alone at the coast for years, no therapy and that was a big mistake but by then my trust was shattered.  Luckily I have now been back in therapy for just over 4 years but only really found my last best therapist 3 years ago.

Walking through trauma is like walking through a wall of fire, it is that painful.  Along the way you will be told all kinds of shit by others who have not a clue of what you live through on a daily basis.  For me a lot of the way I coped was to pretend I was okay and put on as good a front as I could to be accepted but when I finally crashed and burned after coming home I started to get honest and yes, even scream at times, which lost me ‘friends’ but not the people who truly understood and cared.  Being deluged with trauma visions as stuff starts to uncover is fucking hard and you need support, sadly there is no way out but through it and sadly until recently truths about trauma and the body were not fully understood, apart from in shamanic cultures and disciplines and those reactions were only understood to be ‘irrational’ but they are not really irrational when you know what a soul has endured but all a part of a valid response to PTSD or Complex PTSD.  I have said it before in this blog and I will say it again.  You are not abnormal for having a normal response to the overwhelm of trauma.  By its very nature trauma overwhelms us and learning to contain that charge takes a lot of time and has to be done slowly over time with those who can help us to hold it and release it little by little by little, a lot like letting air out of a balloon.   Wounds to the soul, as D H Lawrence reminded us cannot be cured over night and they will always leave us different, marked in ways that others who have not endured trauma can and will never fully understand.

Letting go of numb

The following extract comes from Tara Brach’s book True Refuge : Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart.  Interestingly it concerns a woman who Tara was working with in therapy who as a young child had her long hair cut off by her mother as it was too much bother. I was sharing in a post a few days ago how this also happened to me and the trauma of it was felt when I went to the hairdresser late last week following my Mum’s death.   The woman in question, Jane, had also had her mother die a few years before the time she was seeing Tara.  In therapy she was sharing how the pain of this event had awakened in her heart through intense feelings of fear, felt as a claw “pulling and tearing at my heart”.  What followed was an outburst of anger towards her mother for subjecting Jane to this ordeal.

The anger soon turned into deep sadness as Tara worked with Jane encouraging her to feel the pain and grief deeply in her body, and in time it transformed into peace.  Jane had reached some deeply powerful realisations as a result.

Brach writes the following in her book :

Carl Jung wrote, “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment, and especially on their children, than the unlived life of the parents.”  The outer domain of our unlived life includes all the places where we’ve held back from pursuing and manifesting our potential – in education and career, in relationships and creativity.  But it is the inner domain of our unlived life that sets this suffering in motion.  Here we find raw sensations, the longings and hurts, the passions and fears that we have not allowed ourselves to feel. When we pull away from the energetic basis of our experience, we turn away from the truth of what is.  We make a terrible bargain.  When we separate from the felt sense of our pain, we also separate from the visceral experience of love that allows for true intimacy with others.  We cut ourselves off from the sensory aliveness that connects us with the natural world.  When there is unlived life, we can’t take good care of ourselves, our children, our world.

The feelings you are trying to ignore are like a screaming child who has been sent to her room.  You can put earplugs in and barricade yourself in the farthest end of the house, but the body and the unconscious mind don’t forget.  Maybe you feel tension or guilt.  Maybe…. you are baffled by intimacy or haunted by a sense of meaninglessness. Maybe you fixate on all the things you need to get done.  You can’t live in a spontaneous way because your body and mind are still reacting to the presence of your distressed child.  Everythingy ou do to ignore her, including becoming numb, only strengthens your link with her.  Your very felt sense of who you are …is fused with the experience of pushing away a central part of your life or running from it.

In shutting down the passion, hurt and pain she had experienced as a young girl whose precious hair was butchered, Jane had locked herself into a numb and anxious fragment of who she was.  Yet something in her was calling her to live more fully.  By beginning to contact her body’s experience, by touching ground, she was opening the door to what she had been running from.

Traumas of this kind may seem inconsequential, but really they are not.  Something was done to us we didn’t want or need and had no power over and feelings do remain.   The true self in Jane probably loved her long hair,  it wasn’t all just about ego and looking a certain way, hair does hold our power and is connected to our heads which are such a vital part of our being. To be subjected to something that upset us and then to be laughed at for reacting (as Jane was) leaves a scar and a powerful subliminal message.  Going numb to it does not mean the feelings go away, they need to be dealt with, with compassion and sensitivity.

When anger is denied

Afer sharing a reblog of Twinkletoes post on Anger Turned Inward yesterday I have been thinking a fair bit about the subject.   Anger turned inward ties into issues of feeling unsafe expressing strong feelings, feeling powerless, frustrated, neglected and ignored when we really needed help and validation.  There is a deep despair and grief that we are left with when we are not responded to with empathy or helped to be effective with expressing our wants, needs and frustrations as children.  If we have no where to go with these feelings we often repress them or they fall to the level of our body.

If we were raised in a far older family we may have been left alone or ignored all the time. We may have been on the receiving end of bullying which is projected shame and may be due to the frustration of older siblings who were left alone to take care of us in the absence of parents or carried their own pain due to lack of emotional receptivity and nurture, we are then on the end of the projection of that siblings pain as well that gets dumped into us, and if we can’t express that to anyone its a set up for a host of later painful feelings of emotional isolation and depression

Some of us like my fellow blogger and I were sent to our rooms when angry.   I wasn’t locked in mine but I still felt alone there with my ‘big’ feelings I didnt quite know how to manage.  But I also know my Mum had those big feelings too and Dad didnt know how to cope so would go awol, laughing and joking about it (which on one level was better than exploding) however that was a set up for me for a passive aggressive emotional style.

In the passive agressive style we don’t feel safe enough to set boundaries or say no or even allow for the fact we have needs which may differ from others.  We may equate self assertion with abandonment, if we were on the receving end of a lot of aggression when young we may come to fear self assertion believing it can only happen in a way that hurts and we may either fear hurting others or losing their approval.  If we have known the deep pain of feeling abandoned we fear being the one who abandons others and so we can end up putting other’s needs first.

In my own family I didnt see healthy self assertion modelled a lot and being left alone I learned to try to be needless and wantless, after all there was no one there so I was better to lock it all away or deny it.  I think at a young age I learned to escape into books and TV.  I can still do this at times.  I remember in a past relationship if my ex called and a show was on I liked often I would not take his call.  That may or may not be okay, I am not sure but surely connection to a human should be more important than a show.

I have learned a lot through reading. I sometimes think readers of my blog may get a bit frustrated though as I am always blogging about something I have read.  Escape is not always a bad thing, only when it diverts us from dealing with life and complexities.  That said some complexities we may wish to side step, if we are an empathic intuitive.  We don’t always have to be emotionally available.

Anyway there are some good books out there to help with understanding the role anger plays in our lives and whether or not we have learned to express it in healthy way and listen to what it is telling us in functional ways or repress and deny it leading to depression and auto immune problems.  I have written blogs on the subject in the past but often they get buried way back due to the way my blog is set up and the fact that now, 4 years on I have a lot of posts.

For information of those who would like it though, some of the books on anger I have found especially helpful follow:

John Lee, The Anger Solution : The Proven Method for Achieving Calm and Developing Long Lasting Relationships.

This book is great as he explains very clearly the concept of age regression which is similar to an experience of an emotional flashback that can intensify the way we responde to incidents which trigger old experiences of pain, neglect or abuse.  He gives techniques for unpacking the past triggers.  Just understanding when we are age regressed helps us a lot in our emotional recovery.

Beverley Engel, Honour Your Anger : How Transforming Your Anger Style Can Change Your Life.

Dr Les Carter, The Anger Trap : Free Yourself from the Frustrations That Sabotage Your Life.

And for those whose passive aggressive anger style may come from a fear of abandonment due to displeasing others a very helpful book on learning to self assert honestly is :

Harriet B Braiker, The Disease To Please : Curing the People Pleasing Syndrome.

I am sure there are many other wonderful books out there.  There is no substitute for good therapy to work with the roots of anger and self assertion as these are such important issues when we are dealing with depression.   I hope some of this information may be of help to others.

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.

F.E.A.R. : what might happen then?

This is just a stream of consciousness piece I wrote a few weeks back when I was contemplating the overwhelming power of fear/trauma imprints and how little those who live it really understand.  I hope it resonates for you.

Fear it dogs us in so many different forms. It masquerades under many other names such as anxiety of which it forms a certain portion.  Some acronymns I have heard also come to mind while writing this Fuck Everything And Run, False Evidence Appearing Real which immediately causes me to question?????? trigger warning, hyper alert, sirens wailing.  Call the Ambulance : at one time some thing so intensely REAL happened that it made fear course through your system in every cell turning you into a chemical explosion on legs.  Today confronted with something new you are being reminded and so you want to run while you are not consciously capable of making the deeper connection between past event and present time.  The present has been over flooded by a wave that is past trauma rearing its head like a hungry ghost baying with terror from the deep unconscious but you don’t hear it scream while at the same time  the screaming energy imprint floods every tissue overtaking you entirely body, mind and soul drowning everything else out until all of the goodness, all of the love,  all sense of safety and trust is lost, eclipsed.  You become a pulsing aching sore that is bleeding and there is no way to stem it.  No one seems to understand how it might be to live that either.  And so you feel more and more alone.

But what if someone came who saw what was happening to you from the inside out.  What if someone who knew just said to you, ‘darling, this is trauma. I am here’, what if the reality held deep inside your cells was validated.   What if you could then face it hold it, see the Gorgon’s head and no longer be paralysed with dread because someone said “I will stay with you, I don’t believe you are crazy or mad, I see that you have suffered”.

Would you then live to see the winged horse of Pegasus fly free from Medusa’s head, your art, your suffering, your pain, your torment validated given form and allowed to fly free.  What might happen then?

 

Fear

Lizard Eye

Fear is the jailor

Wandering through the haunted citadels of your mind

Rattling his bunch of keys

Taking refuge there

Binding you tightly in hollowed out places

Where you were left alone

Drenched in chemicals that overpowered

Your young body

Chemicals become a potent cocktail of confusion

Desires and reactions and haunting imaginings

All mixed together

Hard to separate

Pooling and drowning your life

Growing larger through critical absence

Flooding you like an ocean

That obliterates consciousness

Lack of containment

Holding

Moments in which consciousness

Was totally overpowered

Left you feeling so unsafe

So insubstantial

In the face of life

Fear is also your inner protector

The one that says if you wander too far

Outside the perimeter

Limited and circumscribed

By narrow society or family

You will be alone

Vulnerable to death, attack, starvation or illness

Very real experiences or memories

Rising up from flooding banks

Of limbic brain

Deeper ancestral subconsciousness

Awaken soul

To the voices and vibrations and thoughts

Of the terrorist within

Who wants to keep you locked up

Buttoned down

Bound tight

Safe from harm

Running his ceaseless litany

Of terrifying scenarios

Take care of your heart

By all means

But do not allow the terrorist of fear

To kill off

All the life, joy, hope, freedom

And spontenaiety

Your soul contains

These wonderous chaoses

Fear will never understand

And make the jailor

Quake with dread