Left all alone

Left all alone with our wounds where do we go?  When the ones we turned to for help have failed us where do we go?  We can only turn back towards ourselves but we have problems if we cannot trust a mind within that can also turn against us, for those of us who suffer with an inner persecutor and then attract those who are only too happy to persecute us not knowing the true depths of our pain or wounds we are in grave danger there within our own heads filled with voices of others and of society that do not always speak the truth and often may not even see our true self or struggles.

When I witness someone struggling with this dynamic it breaks my heart but it also reminds me of the many times I found myself in exactly this situation.  Some people will oh so eloquently tear us to shreds, telling us how we are failing them and ourselves when the truth is they just do not know what we are fighting or struggling with on any day.  Being led to believe that we are less thank=, that we are not good enough, that we don’t deserve empathy and kindness and care hurts us deeply. It can wound our self protective instinct and the true self always has a protest and has to hide it deep within or else it comes out sideways, in the worst case we turn it agaisnt the self in self harm or possibly even suicide.

My current therapist often quotes British analyst D W Winnicott to me when she says “anger or delinquency is the last cry of the true self”.  Our authentic self needs to live even if that self is subverted and distorted to other forms of expression and it is only us who can stay with our reactions and make sense of them from deep within the self (but only if we have developed sufficient ego strength which is not a given but must be formed as result of healthy development.)  Since dissociation is a huge part of developing ego splits offs of parts of us from conscious awareness others could not bear it is not easy to hold all of this alone, nor hold onto our own reality and sanity or self integrity in the midst of it.  And this is the reason why a lot of us need a lot of help and one of the reasons why when the person we turned to for help fails us we suffer a double extreme dose of pain and hurting and frustration.  That person let us down and often they may have turned it back around on us, blaming us, this may echo what parents or siblings or teachers or other care givers did to us when young and it takes work to get out from under it.

Ideally we would have a loving adult self within as a centre of consciousness that could help the child in us when we were struggling but this part of us is only birthed through the parent’s help and if they could give it we need to look elsewhere for it.   When therapy failed me I looked to certain others such as Margaret Paul who recommended this inner bonding process to me, but it was still necessary to find a better therapist than the ones I had before who had their own limits and hidden dependency issues they transferred and played out in our therapy relationship.

Ideally for those of us with lots of attachment wounds we need to find a very skilled therapist with good boundaries but also one prepared to extend themselves a great deal for us.  I was told this on advice of someone who acts as a teaching therapist and has been a psychotherapist in practice for over 40 years.  We should not be blamed for having a ‘difficult’ reaction to being abandoned once again in therapy or emotionally in other ways.  We should not be led to believe we did something to cause it by being ‘too extreme’  or ‘too sensitive’ (which is an accusation often used on people with BPD).  No matter how old we are the inner child in us deserves empathy.

I don’t think anyone with serious attachment wounds ever lashes out deliberately to hurt others.  They are lashing out due to an empathic failure of some kind occuring.  The accusation may be that in lashing out we are causing harm to the other person and lacking empathy for them, there may be some truth in this, because a wounded inner child cannot see that everyone has limits and differing degrees of depth of psychological understanding.  The most we can understand is that others do their best, just as we do, it can be however that their best is not good enough for us or helpful for us at that point in time and in worst cases it can cause extreme damage.  Then the relationship needs to be let go with no accusation on either side, unless the other is trying to blame us for just being who we are and vice versa.  But we will still be left with a lot of pain and confusion inside that we need positive mirroring to work through.

Enough

How different would our lives be if we only believed we were enough and had enough?  As I look around this society and even consider my own life and past I see that a fear of not enoughness can dog so many of us.  This fear can cause us to compete or to believe we are not worthy enough, it can prevent us from expressing ourselves, from reaching out to love and be loved and it makes us attack or collapse when that reaching out hits a brick wall or is demonised or rejected by another person who also feels not enough or that we are not enough for them.

I guess this is coming to mind as its interesting I had the clash with the gardener the other day all around the 11th anniversary of getting together with my ex partner back in 2007.   At the outset of the relationship he had a long list of why and how others were not enough and of how he had struggled to find enough love, and during the entire relationship he found it so difficult to relax and then began to point out to me all the time how I wasnt enough this or that.    I know now that as an adult child of an alcoholic parent he had never had a resting place either and he was driven by a lot of unresolved grief which manifested as rage when things triggered him.  He drove one of his sons very hard and would call him mean names if the son refused to do something his father wanted often only because he was tired too and loved to play guitar and needed to rest or just loved being in the ‘now’ as I did.

I thought of this unhealed wound yesterday as I have reached the chapter in Jeanette Wintersons’s book Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal (which is what her stepmother said to Jeanette when she found out she was gay) where she has a breakdown after a love relationship dissolves in her adulthood.  Reading it reminded me that suicidal feelings often accompany the opening to the realisation of our wounded self that never got to fully birth in dysfunctional homes that could not honour our sacred wholeness.   Jeanette expresses very powerfully the forces within herself that she struggled with and that over the period 2007 to 2008 caused her to break down and break open to the self hatred and ‘madness’ inside her which was nothing less than a composite of all the toxic things, behaviours and beliefs her mother had introduced into her life over years as well as associated feelings that for most of her life she was writing over the top of.

Jeanette tried to take her life in 2008 and had what I can only call a spiritual experience in which she understood her old self was dead and she had to be born again on a deeply psychological level, she also began to realise she needed to address and understand the feelings and forces that were driving her from within.

In a very heart wrenching paragraph she writes :

extremes – whether of dullness or fury – successfully prevent feeling.  I know our feelings can be so unbearable that we employ ingenious strategies – unconscious strategies – to keep those feelings away.  We do a feeling swap where we avoid feeling sad or lonely or afraid or inadequate, and feel angry instead.  It can work the other way , too – sometimes you do need to feel angry, not inadequate, sometimes you do need to feel love and acceptance, and not the tragic drama of your life.

It takes courage to feel the feeling – and not trade it on the feelings exchange, or even transfer it altogether to another person…..you know how in couples one person is always doing the weeping  or the raging while the other one seems so calm and reasonable?

I understood that feelings were difficult for me although I was overwhelmed by them.

She then began to hear voices and inside them found : ‘a piece of me…..so damaged that she was prepared to see me dead to find peace…. my violent rages, my destructive behavior, my own need to destroy love and trust, just as love and trust had been destroyed for me…. The fact that I did not value myself”  And she also found that ‘the lost furious vicious child’ was the ‘war casualty’ and that was the part of her hated herself and also hated life.

Jeanette began to dialogue with this destructive part of herself which was really a defence against her childhood pain and that is what brought her back home to herself.  It also led to the writing of a children’s book The Battle of the Sun which as a person with an astrological interest intrigues me as the Sun in our chart is our spiritual centre, it is the essence of us born to shine before it becomes in many cases covered in tarnish or buried under the force of our inner demons or monsters, or what Jeanette imagines as ‘the Creature’ within.  It was this creature which was a representation really of all the lies she had been told about her being a bad self, never good enough, and it’s primary purpose (as for all of us who internalise the critic) was to mock, disparage and tear her apart, but never the less giving this part of herself a voice in the end, as for all of us, helped Jeanette to reclaim her sanity.

Her pen ultimate realisation which she shares at the end of the chapter The Night Sea Journey makes me cry :

A few months later we (the creature and Jeanette) were having our afternoon walk when I said something about how nobody had cuddled us when we were little.  I said ‘us’ not ‘you’.  She held my hand.  She had never done that before, mainly she just walked behind shooting her sentences.

We both sat down and cried

I said. “We will learn how to love.”

Learning to love ourselves, to accept our pain, to hold our own hand, to know that we were and will always be ‘enough’ no matter what other forces or voices in the family or culture have told us well really isn’t this our most important challenge?  And doesn’t the deepest recognition of this truth mean a lessening of our insane and voracious consumption which drives us in covering over our sense of emptiness and not enoughness to over produce and over consume in ways that close our eyes to the reality of vast magentic gift of enoughness that surrounds us on this living, breathing, fully sentient, spirit infused love infused planet earth?  Is it not the trance of our not enoughness either internalised or projected the thing that keeps us hungry and blind, causing us to lash out, over protect or self or other harm?   Is not what is needed on this planet an awakening to the sacredness of earth and all life which can only come from a deeply realised sense of preciousness and enoughness?

The importance of grieving in recovering a sense of self

Grief reveals

With sufficient grieving, the survivor gets that he was innocent and eminently loveable as a child.  As he mourns the bad luck of not being born to loving (or emotionally available) parents, he finds within himself a fierce, unshakeable self allegiance.  He becomes ready, willing and able to be there for himself no matter what he is experiencing – internally and externally.

Peter Walker

 

 

Two triggers

I noticed today two triggers that propelled me into flashback mode.  Doing some cleaning and tidying up today I hit my head and was immediately in flashback and my system and hormonal/neurotransmitter responses were being activating, flooding my brain and gut.  I lay down on the floor and gently head my head and said to myself “You are having a flashback,  you feel scared but you are safe”, I then connected on breathing as I practiced self soothing, I did what an earlier body harmony therapist taught me.  Looked around the room, connected to something pretty and safe in present time,  an embroidered cushion and eventually I was able to stand up and self calm.  Part of my PTSD trauma is that I crashed on a pushbike after doing a cranio sacral session to deal with my near death accident at age 17 and was flung over the handlebars, cutting my head open on an iron foundary  This occured close to the first anniversary of my husband returning to the UK and telling me he was going to leave me.  I also had another accident (more minor) on the second annivesary in 2006 and at that stage I did not know what flashbacks were.  I was living totally isolated and alone at the South Coast.

The second trigger prompted sadness over something my friend, was asking me about yesterday concering my ex husband. I shared with her my sorrow over a pregnancy I decided to terminate when I was only 6 months sober from active alcohol addiciton in 1994 and only 8 months married.   I made that decision from my own fear of not being able to be a good enough mother and I know it hurt my ex husband as after he left me he quickly got involved with someone new who gave him a child and told my mother before he told me.  (Mind you they both bonded over refusal to allow me my therapy to deal with a traumatic neglectful past.)

Today this sadness about children was trigger as when Jasper my dog and I go on one of my favourite walks we pass by a child’s play centre and the kids are behind the fence and often they run down and call out to us saying things like : “look, doggie!!!”  So today we went over and then I helped them by throwing back about 6 plastic spades that had been thrown over the fence near to where Jasper and I were standing.   After I left the children behind this huge wave of sadness came upon me and I started to cry and feel so guilty with thoughts like “its no wonder your husband left you”, “you were just a hopeless alcoholic” despite the fact that by that stage I was working as hard as I could on my recovery.  Anyway we kept walking as I cried to the oval where we threw the ball around and then walked back to sit in our favourite spot by the swings on a bench under the tree and by that stage I had moved through the trigger.

Its good to be able to share about these things, about the sadness I will always carry not only for the 5 children I could not bring to term but also for the inner child in me who never really got to become a proper grown up.  My therapist often says that due to the traumas that befell me between age 17 and 23 I never got to properly leave home.  She uses the expression “it was like you were flung out of a cannon”… I was also drowning my shame and false sense of inadequacy in booze and drugs from 23 to 31 when so many other expereinces of emotional abandonment and isolation kept replaying.  The final two abandonments were my husband and then last partner leaving me while telling me I was damaged goods, something it has been hard to get out from under.  But today I can say I think I am making progress. Realising a flashback is a reminder of being so small, powerless and helpless THEN… but not necessarily NOW is so important.  As Pete Walker points out some of us who become passive or co-dependent have our fight and flight responses disabled and we have a lot of work to do to beat the inner critic who beats us up or comes at us from others who know fuck all about our real inner history.  Learning to fight off and not succumb as much to the flashbacks and to make sense of them is so so important to recovery.   It really really is.

The child in you, you left behind?

Art of growing

I love the idea and feeling of having a connection with the inner child in me.  Certain therapists and writers focus a lot of their recovery on the ‘inner child of the past’.  There are the archetypes of the wounded child, the divine child, the soulful child and the magical child.  Our inner child holds in our body and cells the unconscious memory of all that happened to us in our early years.

Childhood represents a time we were open to everything.  Many of us were connected to the world in a deep or magical way, we may have sensed the presence of spirits, we may have observed things and situations with a state of awe and questioning which was open and then we may have been many times been met with the shut down world of adults, telling us we didn’t see something, or must hug the uncle we don’t like or feel safe with, or that ‘the sky is actually not purple, why didn’t you paint it blue?”  Such things are confusing to a lot of young ones and get them to question their perceptions or natural creativity, or sense of connection and openness.

I know in my own emotional recovery process a few years into sobriety discovery of my inner child and working with a therapist who helped me to understand certain key impacts of traumas that occured in childhood helped me to make so much sense of why eventually I sought relief in drugs and alcohol to numb the pain.  I also understand now, why I retreated to my room to write poetry and into music which expressed things that my ultra conservative and very hard working parents would not have understood and actually poked fun at.  I remember too, my personal diaries and letters were never safe from the boundary invasions of my mother who read them.  When I was only about 6 she read in a note that I had said I was in love with my first childhood sweetheart Peter Woolridge.  She almost thundered at me that I could know nothing of love being only a child.

On Saturday my sister told me she has no memories of any of our childhood pets or much of her childhood and I can personally tell you she knows less now than she did five years ago before she was medicated and given a dose of ECT.   Loss of that child in her also was extreme because she was my Mum’s shadow and would follow her around and do her best to adapt and please her, often telling tales on my older sister who was at that point getting into lipstick and cosmetics (a much bigger issue then, in the early 1960s).  In later years if I ever confronted Mum, I would be given the silent treatment and my sister actually ended up having a fall when this occured back in 2013 when I tried to confront Mum about a particularly damaging boundary violation that happened in childhood.

Anyway back to the inner child.   I recently received a comment which spoke about the person separating out from their inner child and no longer identifying as much, and maybe this is something we may need to do if the pain of our inner child is manifesting in wounded child behaviour that hurts others.  And yet, even then, I think that needs to be understood and we need a connection with the child in us which as therapist and shame explorer John Bradshaw points out is the source of our soulfulness

I don’t know if I will ever get to the point where I leave my inner child behind.  She comes out when ever I get to spend time around young children and when I can allow my spirit to be joyful, spontaneous and free.  I often feel that my gorgeous doggie companion, Jasper carries this child energy too, for me.  I love on our walks to watch the joy that shines from his eyes as he chases birds and frolics in the long grass.

There is an adult part in me too, that my inner child often needs the comfort of when sad, confused, hurting or out of sorts.   Two of the most helpful books I read in sobriety a few years ago were Healing Your Aloneness and Inner Bonding by Margaret Paul.  Both books explain how we suffer when we lose touch with both the inner child and a loving inner adult/parent inside and how to understand how establishing a connection can help us understand our past and reactions in order to heal and let go of old unhealthy patterns and demands.

Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss’s book Freedom From Your Inner Critic :  A Self Therapy Approach helped me to understand how the inner critic in us often acts to protect the inner child against projected shame and critical attacks from parents, becoming internalised over a course of years and how we can work with the critic in positive ways to help us grow in directions or ways our inner child may feel unsafe or threatening.

In my years of active addiction, I know now for sure that my inner child was crying out for release.   I got to liberate that side of myself on weekends with the help of booze and drugs, but acting out those hidden inner urges of a fun and love starved child in such an unconscious way led to enactments of my wounded child’s past pain and hunger over and over again.  I am now no longer as ashamed as I was of all of that.  I know my inner child lacked for so much in the way of nurture, emotional presence, attention, guidance and good boundaries as well as deeper emotional insight in those years and emotional recovery and uncovery of my inner child has helped me to understand so much.

I hope never ever ever to leave my inner child behind for it is she who so often holds so much of my essence.  I personally see as people age the inner child come to the fore more and more and try to tell of a hidden legacy no one wants to hear in terms of reactions others at times find difficult.   I saw my much loved Godfather struggle in this way and his childhood wounding lay unaddressed and he was so often trying to speak of it to me, who he knew was in recovery.   There is nothing lovelier in this world to see than an older person with the inner child smiling behind their eyes or expressing through their aging bodies.

My personal wish is that as a collective we would value, respect, cherish and honour both children and the inner child because a wounded inner child run amock in psychopathic leaders can cause overwhelming destruction and decimation.

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.

Rescue

AB

In  the pool Of your tears You found a girl who was drowning And could not see The life within that pain That for long years was hidden beneath the surface

So much misunderstanding Bred by a silence She could never fathom Became an ocean And now from deep within the pool She is asking of you rescue And you know you have to take her hand

There are things she did Not knowing which way to turn There was only fear and longing that drove her to empty places Not knowing how or why she repeated this ancestral pattern of darker times Awakening in dreams Ghostly spectres arising from cells Cloudy ocean depths Obscuring day vision

This ghost girl became a waif With no blood pulsing through her veins Feeling herself to be So deeply alone Yet all the time her sense of aloneness Of drowning Came from disconnection

Once she found another soul To share her space and true being with Her folded up heart unfurled like a flower In the sunlight cast by affection and attention The pool of tears dried And slowly she found herself awakening in paradise

And so now When darkness threatens She runs to the light Knowing she must not stay here alone too long Listening to damaging thoughts that only grow in isolation and silence Whispering lies she had no protection from

Now she has found you And you can take her by the hand She knows she is never alone And that she can receive all the love she longed for From the one inside Who will never leave her so alone again.

Slowly over several years You taught her how to do this How to turn away from the false places And towards the real

Now she no longer needs to dream Of rescue But can summon her own life By breathing deep and acknowledging her self From within

On ambivalence and facing my wounds

I kind of love the word ambivalence.  I break it down into its two roots ambi and valence.  I know valence is a kind of frequency or charge, I guess we could call it an energy or pull, this by-way pulling of contradictory inner charges of though and feeling is something I go through a lot in my relationship with the outer world and my family most especially.

I seem to be torn at times between forgiving my Mum and family for past neglect and feeling great disappointment, resentment and anger about them.   I long to connect and then feeling thwarted and hurt want to get as far away as I can.   The resentment has changed for me in recent months with the realisation that it can, if buried and the true feelings not dealt with cause disease on many levels.  I do feel this together with the many experiences of wounding and emotional abandonment I experienced together with difficulty forming healthy nurturing relationships contributed to my breast cancer last year.

I know acceptance on some level provides relief.  I can accept something occurred or is occurring although I may not like it, I just realise I am powerless over other people and realise expecting change is doomed.  Only the adult part of me is capable of that since my wounded enmeshed child wants to hold on and not accept the truth at any cost.  When I don`t accept or choose to see the reality I can make excuses for bad behaviour or just keep hoping ‘this time it will be different’ and just stay stuck in anger as a defence against grieving, mourning, accepting and moving on in a rational way.

I just watched a second video from Courage Coaching on how narcissistic parents can infantalise a child and it sent some shivers through me.  I have struggled with feeling a sense of competence and independence in my life due to being over involved and enmeshed with my Mum for some years and this difficult situation was made harder by my father’s death when I was 23.  I feel shame and guilt at times when I see how I acted my own fear and pain and feelings of being not worthy enough or inadequate in relationships sometimes through anger and think gosh I really was strongly on the narcissistic spectrum. But I also know that true narcissists try to avoid any possible introspection and that is not me.   I am overly introspective at times and often make things my fault that are not.  As I now understand it, the home I was raised in and influences around me were out of my control then, I was for a time powerless over the unconscious effects. Pain and difficult emotions such as anger and resentment come as teachers to guide me to a healthier pathway and in recovery I need to contain and work through them so I make healthier choices that don’t lead to more of the same.

I never had my painful feelings mediated or learned how to deal with them growing up.  I saw my own family using alcohol a lot and that is what I learned to do, silencing and drowning the complex mixed up feelings of my child within.  I had, even for years into my sobriety, trapped childhood feelings all mixed up inside.  Therapy is helping as is understanding how a regressed brain and wounded inner child forms in such an environment. This child needs help to understand his or her feelings and grow up.  It`s a long and difficult process for many of us.   That painful relationship we got involved in was just a trigger for us to do our own healing and that now is OUR responsibility no matter what wounds we carry.   If we stay stuck in blame and angry with the abuser or abandoner as a defence against a deeper acceptance we are in trouble.  Anger over what was done to us is an essential stage we must pass through to engage and moblise our push to heal and change and form better boundaries.  We cannot by pass it on the road to healing but staying stuck in it recycling over and over is just not healthy.  We deserve a happy life free of that kind of angst and pain after all we have been through.  When we form better boundaries and learn to self soothe and self care we are less likely to be as angry in my experience.  Our inner child needs our inner adults tenderness, discipline and strength.

Suffering = Pain x Resistance

One of the most healing balms we can apply in life is acceptance.  Its so hard to hear at times that we need to accept painful things that have happened, most especially abuse or the failure to be protected by those we thought ‘should have’.  However what has happened to us has happened and for some of us, perhaps, left deep scars or even a festering wound really as these kind of wounds have not yet formed scar tissues until a way along the journey.

I think at times we can compare our pain to an open wound.  We so suffer unconsciously from what happened to us that is not yet fully known yet leaves its bloody foot prints upon us.  This is where applying unconditional loving presence towards our hurting, painful or contracted places can help.

Christine Neff talks alot about the equation that heads this blog in her book on Self Compassion in the chapter on resilience.  What she says, and what many Buddhist teachers teach, is that it is really our resistance to our pain or things we wish did not nor did not want to happen that causes us even more suffering in the long run.  I know for myself when things don’t go well or I hit a brick wall my immediate response is to try to find a way to more through it or react, that is when I need to pause and bring my energy back deep within in order to move it in a more helpful non resistant direction.   I do this a lot on the road when driving and getting stuck behind a very slow moving car.  I pull back and slow myself even more in this situation.   But I can also see situations in which I did not do this in my personal life and my not accepting and fighting against the certain thing I didn’t like I made things far harder for myself.  That said there is a time to fight for things that are within our power to change when it would be for our own or another person’s good.

We are in the long run human and our reptilian brain does cause us to react.  Christine explains in her book how we are hard wired to escape pain and predators as mammals, those defensive reactions served us well in the past but if we are reacting to being retriggered in the present all the time such responses become counter productive.  In PTSD and Complex PTSD we can get frozen in those responses.

Key to understanding how and why we resist and react is the concept of experiencing emotional flashbacks or what John Lee has called age or emotional regresssion.  I am the midst of writing a post on this concept.   When we age regresss or flash back we are no longer in present time and we often do not recognise it.  We can say things that were better not said, we can get frozen in time.  We can start to try to fix or give unwarranted advice.

I am just reading a book which deals with the concept of being hijacked by what the author calls our ‘toddler brain’ this occurs when we are age regressed and triggered by some kind of cue, perhaps the harsh tone of somone’s voice or undeserved criticism.

When we are in age regression or hijacked by the toddler brain we cannot respond well and with empathy.  We may not see the truth of a situation.  We may lash out.  We may sever friendships.   Getting ourselves back in adult brain takes work for those of us who had difficult or traumatising childhoods that left us with deep attachment wounds.

When we can open to a difficult reaction in the present moment with our full awareness (one of the skills we learn when practicing mindfulness); we can be less reactive.  We can practice self soothing.  The adult part of us can turn toward the inner child and comfort him or her, we can take ourselves into time out in order to have that inner dialogue.  We can also set boundaries with our wounded self in order to take care of him or her and not react.

Christine makes the point in her book that we are more hardwired to remember negative experiences than positive ones.  I guess this is one of the ‘pinning’ aspects of trauma I spoke of in a recent post.  When we are pinned to the negative sticking place we see only threat, we may be flooded emotionally or physically with a panic attack.  In my own case when this happens now I remember to work to take a few deep breaths into my belly because when I pay attention to my body I realise what has happened is that I have frozen my body or stopped breathing something I had to do when trapped in the car waiting to be cut out all those years ago, something I also used to do a lot when my Mum’s energy was upsetting or troubling me.   I have then learned to shift my focus and my attention to something beautiful in the surrounding environment.  I will have to deal it time with things that call me stress and anguish but being mindful in the present moment means I don’t have to ‘blow them up.’

Stopping the running of negative dialogues and scripts is also a part of this process. Often when stressed or panicking if I pay attention to my inner dialogue its all about resistance, saying things to myself like “this is all too hard, all too much. shouldnt be happening” or feeling and telling myself I cannot cope.  Sometimes in order to feel better all I have to do is place my attention on a task in hand that is right before me and start with that one little step instead of looking at the big picture and totally freaking out.

Doing something loving for our body is another way we can draw attention away from pain when we pinned in place and increase the flow of good chemicals such as oxytocin inside.  For example when I woke this morning and push pull symptoms of PTSD began I reached for some hand cream beside the bed and gently applied it to my arms and hands.  This soothing action took me into a gentle, loving, peaceful place.

Decreasing our resistance and lessening our suffering is also about opening to body sensations that may have come from our compulsive need to resist that formed over long years if we were not taught as children to engage in a positive way with challenging emotions.  Burying them inside us is not helpul.  For myself I know how my body has suffered from the chronic tightening that goes with repressed or denied anger I was not allowed or helped to express.  Today I sometimes deliberately tighten my muscles or limbs as an excercise to help them release stress and relax and I find this exercise helps me., but this exercise is totally different to a lifetime in which we had to bite down hard on difficult emotions and experiences.

All in all there are many things we can do to deal mindfully with our pain so that it doesn’t have to turn into deeper suffering.  Self compassion, mindfulness and learning to work with painful sensations, thoughts and emotions are all ways we can apply the soothing, healing balm to our wounded, contracted, hurting or fearful places.

 

We can run from our demons but we cannot hide

Can we run from our demons” The short answer is Yes! But they have a way of following or haunting us asking to be known.

Tonight a friend inivited me to an author talk with Jimmy Barnes. For those who live outside of Australia and don`t know him, in the early 80s Jimmy was the `bad boy` lead singer of rock band Cold Chisel.  At the height of their career the band sold millions of records.  In the past few years Jimmy has published part one and two of his autobiography Working Class Boy and Working Class Man.  The former tells of a very traumatic childhood growing up as the son and grandson of alcoholics.  Jimmy also suffered maternal abandonment due to his mother`s succession of affairs with partners who abused young Jimmy.  It is a harrowing story of trauma.

The second book, which has just been released, gives an honest account of his rock career as well as his accompanying descent into addiction and self destruction and towards the end of his active addiction a suicide attempt that was unsuccessful but took place while he was in a black out.   Jimmy found sobriety in 2012 which is really only relatively recent.

The author interview was so moving.  I was in tears by half way through.  Jimmy spoke of how he was always running, caught up in the flight and fight responses of complex trauma.  He spoke of how he used screaming to keep his demons at bay, but also of how, no matter how fast he ran, his demons continued to pursue him.    I got a bit triggered through part of the interview. The interviewer didn`t really understand abandonment trauma.   But then if you have not suffered trauma you cannot understand it unless you are a therapist who has experience with it or are another emotionally attuned person with empathy for trauma.   She showed compassion but the interview could have gone deeper.

I would have loved to have been able to say to Jimmy thanks for sharing your recovery story so honestly, but there was a huge line of people waiting for photographs to be taken after the talk, and as the friend who accompanied me to tonight`s event said, ‘I probably would have bust into tears the moment we connected.’   It was still great to hear someone coming clean about the inside world of abandonment trauma and addiction though.  `I thought if people really got to know who I was they would not like me or what to have anything to do with me any more,` Jimmy said at one point in the interview.  That made me choke up because those feelings of his are so far from rare or unique, the complexity for Jimmy though is that as someone, who for over 30 years has been in the public eye, the roles of persona and true self can be split very wide apart and the mask coming down may be all that more challenging.

What I took away from tonight`s talk though was along the lines of what I tried to address in an earlier post on grief.  Our trauma is never really `behind us`.   It follows us until we turn around to look it in the face.  It wants to be known and shared, to be honoured, not hidden.    Jimmy is still only really in relatively early sobriety so he has a way to travel down the path, I felt so for his inner child who from what was shared still seems to be powerfully affected by past traumas that he is working to face.

I couldnt help but hope that his inner child would get some help along the way.  I would have loved to give him a hug but my friend had texted me late this afternoon that the organisers had requested that no one hug or kiss Jimmy.  I could understand why.  People in the public eye receive so many of our projections.   At the same time it would have been nice to have been able to hug the guy and say thanks so much for being so open and honest so people can understand what the consquences of trying to use alcohol and drugs to escape trauma are.

We lost another very famous rock star, Michael Hutchence to suicide in 1997 and only last week a two part television documentary aired on that subject.  Alcohol and prescription drugs were a bit part of that story but there were issues of abandonment and trauma associated too.  Luckily Jimmy has had the support of a loving partner throughout all of his ups and downs.  That also bought tears to my eyes.  I admire those who stand by us in recovery once we commit to do the work. I haven`t experienced it in my own life, but I am glad Jimmy has.   All in all it was an emotional evening.  On the way home I popped in to visit my Mum.  Held her hand while she cried about her stomach pain.  I thought how strong the bonds of pain are that link us to family, they are the demons that pursue us along a long corridor of years but my experience is that it`s better when we turn back to face them and hold their hand, for in the end isn`t a demon just a scared and traumatised child who longs for recognition, empathy, insight and love?