We had nowhere to go with the pain and the wounds ran deep

Reading Marian Keyes latest novel Again, Rachel is quite triggering for me.. For those who do not know Irish writer, Marian struggled with addiction and got sober around a similar time to me, I came across the book at Target but did not buy it then and got home to hear her interviewed on our Radio National book program about 4 Mondays ago following therapy. T

The lead character Rachel must be based loosely on Marian’s own life and family and in it Rachel is an addiction counseller working in a facility with a smaller amount of sobriety to Marian.. In the piece I just read a client begins to tap into and unload some of her abandonment trauma in group therapy and in the novel Rachel has to shut that down to continue the deeper feeling work one to one.. It moved me a lot as it had to do with a young pregnancy and abuse and abandonment. This same thing happened to me (with the exception my Dad was not abusive but emotionally disengaged) but when Mum found out I was sleeping with that boyfriend I fell pregnant too at the age of 21 a month or so before, she would not talk to me for days so when I found out I was having his baby I could not go to her, she screamed and yelled at me that day and told me she was ashamed of me.

I fell pregnant twice to him and he abandoned me miles from home with the first pregnancy only I did not know I was pregnant at the time, but Dad was very upset he and Mum had to wire me money for a train ticket home as this guy, Jim drove off leaving me with nothing at all. When we got back together Dad must have been really worried as he ended up getting sick the next year having already gone through all of the trauma of me and my older sister nearly dying in 1979 and 1980. Interesting this is all coming up as the Full Moon at 23 degrees in Libra opposing the Sun in Aries had set off my father’s painful Venus in Libra opposite Chiron in Aries square to Pluto in Cancer (Dad was born in 1920.) I just read the following about Chiron in Aries and both Mum and Dad had it and it has to do with wounds of feeling worthless.

If you have Chiron in Aries, it means the core of your pain comes from a feeling of worthlessness. Very often you carry the pressure of being the best you can be.

(People with this placement :

They tend to avoid talking about their pain at all costs, which is why it is quite hard to tap into the healing gifts of Chiron in Aries.

Source : TF20S

Reading this makes me realize that for addicts, just as Gabor Mate says there is no tough love, the abandonments we go through are real and our younger life of trauma often may remain hidden, out acting out behavior becomes problematic for others who end up labelling us as crazy.. but then as Alain de Botton points out, who does not suffer from some kind of wounding or craziness in the emotionally ignorant world.

For me I never got into treatment, I did it all alone apart from attending AA for over 8 years almost daily at first and then three or so times a week, before Jonathan and I went overseas and I started one to one therapy.

I am glad now that my pain and tears are not as great.. I have unpacked a lot of it over the past 23 years since then, but at times I can still get the spins, lately its about someone pulling me in to try and help him and his daughter who is sick.. I cannot afford it and he chose to be away from her after her mother died but I cannot help but think its all magnetic attraction, after all I was sent away so many times and after Dad died I had no one to speak to of anything, it got acted out in drinking and often lashing out with boyfriends which they could never understand and so left me.

Even in sobriety marriage was difficult trying to feel my feelings, which were not seen as acceptable. I have a post to share after this one prompted by Cherie White about how bullies shut down, shame, smear and gaslight targets but in an alexythymic culture its the ones who are sensitive and feel that so often get disparaged.

All I know today is that the abandonment i lived through in my life was intense.. I have not made it up.. I saw the heavy cost in my family too of two sisters being medicated rather than addressing feelings.. Yes, its sad at Easter to have no contact with anyone but in a way it feels safer and better. At least on my own I am free to be a mess and to feel if I need to, but today there have been no tears only a lot of anxiety dancing. Still I am alive even as it draws closer the anniversary of losing Judith my sixteen year older sister. The tears have gone now, what just lives on is the unadulterated recognition of how hard it was for all of us girls to be feeling, vulnerable woman in a deeply feminine wounded world.

Separating past from present

Past abandonment trauma has a way of poisoning our life from the inside.. When others reach out to us,at times we can be triggered, not feeling seen or validated we may react from deep within that tender and aching wound.. Before we know it the other party has pulled back startled, perhaps gone silent (hopefully has not tried to attack us more but that can sadly happen too.) I had a touch of this yesterday with someone I have connected to over past weeks via Instagram.. He tried to fix me with his comments and then used a word that I actually abhor ‘should’ in a sentence, never mind that that word ignored the validity of what I was feeling and my windows of tolerance and capacity to cope. I did not know how to reply at first so I simply said, I am human and I have read that Joseph Campbell once said if any word would be best to be erased from our human vocabulary it is the word ‘should’ the person replied back that I seemed to be hurt and so I listed for him some of the traumas I witnessed or was subject to since 2004.. that shut him up… and of course I would be lying if I said my fear of abandonment was not triggered but it could not unsettle me enough to say anything more.. I feel proud of this today.. I managed to hold onto myself.

Holding onto our trauma reality and not diminishing or discounting it is not easy with some people who can never have clue about how it feels. That said there is a time to separate past trauma from the present moment in which it can often bleed through for those of us with high level abandonment, emotional neglect or abuse trauma.

By divine happenstance after praying this morning I opened my Tian Dayton reader to this page and meditation.. I hope it resonates for you.

Separating Past from Present

Today I can take care of myself in the present. I can identify feelings as they come up and separate them – those that belong to the past and those that belong to the present. If they belong to the past I will not make them about my life today but will instead understand that something current has triggered them. The enormity of my response it probably not about what is going on right now. If I make it about my present, my life will quickly feel overwhelming and unmanageable. I will seek help from people and situations that are designed to assist me and I will separate what about today from what is about yesterday.

I do not make my present about my past

Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as bird from the hand of the fowler.

Proverbs 6:5

moving too fast : today’s reflections

Somedays it all seems to be moving too fast, life and demands seem enormous.. It is one of the reasons for the past three mornings I have let myself settle back to rest for a hour or more just to slow myself down, constant demands play in my head, fears for my sister, lists of things I need to do to maintain my own life and health and that of Jasper, so today I just stopped the angst and settled my breathing and rolled over and got an extra hour’s rest (did the same on Friday and Saturday too!)

Today the neighbours needed to meet about a new fence they are building as their home is nearing completion over the next few months. I had to get to the fruit and veg markets today as I had spent yesterday afternoon with my sister the round trip can take up to 3 hours depending on how long I stay. Its a constant balancing act but today my own needs came first and Jasper and I managed only a short walk around the block.

I’ll be glad to settle in and rest again at home this afternoon… Commitments to help my sister with clothes will have to wait and even though today is Dad’s birthday I am letting it pass in silence.. no one has reached out and he was in my thoughts a lot this morning… It is interesting visiting a house under construction as it reminds me of being with Mum and Dad when the Mugga Way place was being built. It was a big move for us and we had to live in a very cold house with only concrete floors through a tough, bleak Canberra winter. The number of that house 88 relates both to transformation and death, during the years there I crashed and nearly died, my sister had a stroke and entered a coma for a month later turning psychotic and my Dad became ill and died.

Today I am not crying over Dad I just have acceptance for it all. I am not fighting life or my past today.. Some may say you need to keep expressing the pain and fury or hate or hurt over what happened to you, but what if your soul chose it on some level? I know that angers a lot of people who have been abused or endured a lot of loss. I know for myself, as therapist Alice Miller says, genuine anger cannot be passed by on the road to authentic healing from trauma, abuse or injury….and believe me in no way am I saying we deserve abuse or pain but when we let that pain turn us into a person who only uses it to feed ongoing feelings of hatred, resentment and hurt what is the purpose? And when we use it to amp up the fight/flight response all of the time we just end up triggering more panic and anxiety and disturbance.

Yes there is a time to vent and get that unearned shit or slander or the put downs out of your system. Yes there is a time to rebel, to say no, however surrender and letting go is not always about defeat but about saying some things are just larger than us and so far out of our control.. This realisation is part of the reason I wept so deeply and for so long and so quietly with my sister yesterday.. there were no words to say and she didn’t say much either was just perplexed. But sharing about it on the empath page others said they also cry around certain people and energies and then feel a release as soon as they leave. Who knows what I am clearing for the collective when I cry, who knows if just being with my sister opens up all of our shared pain…. The grief I felt yesterday went so deep into the core and heart and soul of myself, the tears were not only for what got stolen from me in terms of life but for my mother and father and sisters too in dealing with the long term affects of multi-generational traumas our grandparents and great great grandparents endured.

Pulling back from the downward spiral of hurt and angst is never easy for me. Saying “No” to others demands in the past has often been beyond me..but at the moment, I am at my limit and IT MUST BE DONE FOR SANITY AND HEALTH, if only for a few days.

I was grateful to be guided by higher power to a good reading on anger earlier today in the reader Hope For Today. I will share it at the bottom of this post, later.. Recovery shows me with time I have a choice of how to respond to hurts, angers, invalidation or triggers. I do not have to give the power to others over my reactions.. I can go vent to get a grip on what is burning me, share the frustration and pain with a safe person and then quietly go back and speak my truth to the triggerer if that seems right and valid.. If not I can pray to release the charge or externalise it somehow…..

Sometimes in the past I have had to scream NO only to have people look at me like I have leprosy of some kind.. But my experience is that those who know why I had to yell that NO end up sticking around, they get it. I wish my sister was strong enough to say NO to shock treatment but she isn’t.. Being passive serves no one and I am not talking about passivity when I talk about surrender and letting go. I am talking about an active step of sanity and health that shows me where my boundaries lie.. I am not super human I am just not and there is a time to pull the pin and walk away from shit rather than lose energy in a response that will only end up depleting me further.

The reading on handling anger taken from Hope For Today follows.

I was around a lot of anger this weekend. Some of it belonged to the alcoholics in my life, and some of it belonged to me as I came to grips with my powerlessness over people, places and things.

By applying the Serenity Prayer to the various situations that occurred, I was reminded that my anger can be an attempt to change someone or something because I don’t want to change. Being willing to change – to acknowledged my anger, identify its source, look at my part in it, and express it lovingly – is a big part of my Fourth and Tenth steps (inventory and daily inventory).

I gain self worth when I change the things I can and accept responsibility for my reactions rather than blaming or shaming another. I have choices. I can stay in my anger, or I can use it as a signal that I need to change. I trust my Higher Power (or inner sane parent) to show me what I need to do so that I can experience the sense of self that comes from accepting emotional responsibilities and realities.

The how, what, when, and why of expressing my feelings is one major part of life over which I do have control.

How trauma fractures the psyche, causes dissociation and creates the persecutor/protector in our psyche.

In response to trauma or emotional abandonment our psyche will splinter or fracture.  Ideally parents help us to mediate as young ones the big feelings we have to deal with and help us to integrate them. But in situations of abuse or neglect this doesn’t happen and we are left to contain unbearable feeling.  Since all feelings occur and are felt in the body if our parents don’t help us to do this we are left with the split off feeling buried or held in tissue or psychic space.  Memories associated with the feelings and accompanying sensory traumatic events then become somatic and walled off, they still affect us we just don’t know why and how.

Jung wrote on how dissociation works and this overview comes from Donald Kalsched’s excellent book The Inner World of Trauma : Archetypal Defences of the Human Spirit.  

individuals who might be described as ‘schizoid’ in the sense they had suffered traumatic experiences in childhood which had overwhelmed their often unusual sensitivities and driven them inward.  Often, the interior worlds into which they retreated were childlike worlds, rich in fantasy but with a very wistful, melancholy cast.  In this museum like “sanctuary of innocence”… (they) clung to a remnant of their childhood experience which had been magical and sustaining at one time, but which did not grow along with the rest of them.  Although they had come to therapy out of a need, they did not really want to grow or change in the ways that would truly satisfy that need.  To be more precise one part of them wanted to change and a strong part of them resisted this change.  THEY WERE DIVIDED IN THEMSELVES.

In most cases these patients were extremely bright, sensitive individuals who had suffered on account of their sensitivity, some acute or cumulative emotional trauma in early life.  All of them had become prematurely self sufficient in their childhoods, cutting off genuine relations with their parents during their developing years and tending to see themselves as victims of others’ aggression and could not mobilize effective self assertion when it was needed to defend themselves or to individuate.  Their outward façade of toughness and self sufficiency often concealed a secret dependency they were ashamed of, so in psychotherapy they found it very difficult to relinquish their own self care protection and allow themselves to depend on a very real person.

Kalsched goes on to point out that such people developed what Elaine Aron has called a virultent persecutor-protector figure in the psyche which jealously cut them off from the outer world, while at the same time mercilessly attacking them with abuse and self criticism from within.   Kalsched believed this figure had a daimonic cast calling on the idea of Jung that energy split off into the psyche can become malevolent and acts as a powerful defence against what Aron calls ‘linking’ with others and with the vulnerable innocent or inner child it has been called in to protect.    The figure may not only be malevolent it may also be angelic or mythical or heavenly in cast.  Together with the inner child/innocent this force formed an active psychic dyad (or duplex) structure which Kalched calls the archetypal self care system. 

Jung showed that under the stress of trauma the childhood psyche with draws energy from the scene of the earlier injury.  If this can’t happen a part of the self must be withdrawn and ego thus splits into fragments or dissociates and it is a natural psychic defence mechanism that must be understood and respected.

Experience becomes discontinuous.  Mental imagery may be split off from effect, or both affect and image may be dissociated from conscious knowledge.  Flashbacks of sensation seemingly disconnected from behavioural context occur.  The memory of one’s life has holes in it – a full narrative history cannot be told by the person whose life has been interrupted by trauma.

For a person who has experienced unbearable pain, the psychological defence of dissociation allows external life to go on but at a great internal cost.  The outer sequalae of the trauma continue to haunt the inner world, and they do this, Jung discovered, in the form of certain images which cluster around a strong affect – what Jung called ‘feeling toned complexes’.  These complexes tend to behave autonomously as frightening inner beings, and are respresented in dreams as attacking ‘enemies’, vicious animals, etc. (not under the control of the will… autonomous.. .opposed to conscious intentions of the person…. they are tyrannical and pounce upon the dreamer or bearer with ferocious intensity.)

In dissociation the psyche may also splinter into various personalities which may carry rejected aspects of the person.  The mind becomes ‘split apart’ and such defences involve a lot of internal aggression as one part of the psyche tries to attack and protect the other more vulnerable, rejected parts.  The psyche cannot integrate these parts without therapy and active help.

In the course of natural therapy for such people the hostile attacking or protective force that acts to keep the person remote and in lock down will begin to arise in dreams and active imagination.  Elain Aron’s book The Vulnerable Self in Chapter Six “Dealing with Inner Critic and Protector-Persecutor” outlines some of this process as she give more insight into the role the persecutor-protector plays for highly sensitive individuals.  She also gives some examples which will help fellow sufferers to deal with their own dreams or nightmares where such forces arise. After dreaming we can through a practice of active imagination find a way to interact with these forces and help get them working more for us than against us. Aron’s book will help you in this regard too.

Donald Kalsched’s book is also an excellent reference for anyone suffering trauma.  It is more analytical in tone and quiet detailed.   The self care system that works to protect us can end up working against us too, this is the prominent point Kalsched makes in his book.  The inner persecutor-protector will sometimes work to organise a suicide if the psyche feels too much under threat from internal or external forces.  The persecutor-protector needs to really be understood by anyone attempting to free themselves from the crippling effects of childhood trauma.

I have a second associated post to post after this with some of the information from Elaines’ book on the persecutor-protector linked to below:

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2018/10/19/understanding-the-protector-persecutor-complex-and-its-link-to-dissociation-and-child-hood-trauma/

Why anxiety and logic don’t mix : relationships and insecure attachment

Reading the book I recommended yesterday Anxious in Love is putting into perspective for me why things can hurt and go so wrong for us who suffer PTSD, Complex PTSD or anxious and insecure attachment in relationships.  As the authors point out in Part 2 :  Connecting With the One You Love different parts of the brain are operating for us and our partners who don’t see what all the fuss is about when we respond with anxiety to certain events or triggers.  I am being taken back with every word to my last relationship where I would get an hour long lecture on how wrong I had things to be responding in the way I did with little empathy shown.

In anxiety our forebrain (or rational brain) is emotionally hijacked by the lower brains (hind brain and mid brain) where centres such as the amygdala lie.  Being responded to with logic as most of us know is tantamount to having a red flag waved in front of the face of a raging bull!!!!  But we also need to understand our partner may be coping with the situation in the best way they know how while lacking a more complete understanding of how rationality has flown out the proverbial window.

In this situation what is called for is developing the ability to intentionally respond rather then becoming reactive.  The solution is for each partner to understand and have an attitude of curiosity about what is happening for the other.  It’s something an old therapist of mine would bring up a lot about by ex saying “its just sad he cannot have an attitude of curiosity about what is occurring for you”.  To be told you are bad or wrong for responding as you do is just terrible and I think its a key to so called Borderline Personality Disorder sufferer’s struggle.  Perceived abandonment when triggered can send us into a cascade or spiral that takes is into the darkest place for days and if we are left alone in it too long for some the feelings (what therapist Pete Walker calls the abandonment melange) can lead to suicide, addiction and other self destructive mechanisms of coping.

What Carolyn Daitch and Lissah Lorberbaum, authors of Anxious in Love offer instead is a way of each partner entering the other’s reality for a time to validate it, both the non anxious partner and the one who suffers anxiety.   As sufferers of insecure attachment we can learn to understand our partner’s reactions and can learn to voice our needs in relationship in a less angry, attacking or accusative way.  Often non sufferers who operate from the higher brain just do not understand the severity or intensity of our responses to triggers.

Lack of emotional flexibility is one of the hardest legacies of anxiety reactions in relationship, it shuts down emotional attunement between partners and makes an open dialogue impossible.  Being able to set a time out when we know we are being triggered and our brain is going into hijack mode is useful, and hopefully our partner will accept it if we let them know what is going on with us.  The alternative is they respond with emotional distance/withdrawal themselves, judgement and anger (being triggered themselves), misunderstanding or protest which can be very difficult.  The more we can talk through these reactions and responses in our relationships the better change we have of resolving conflict and growing empathy and attunement.    The more we can step into their shoes and understand what is happening the more we can make an “appeal to reason” while explaining what underlies our reaction.

Some partners may be even triggered by us saying what has triggered us, though. They may respond by telling us “that’s all in the past” but in that case they need to work to understand how emotional hijacking works and show empathy in any case.  A person who is not willing to do this for those of us with insecure or anxious attachment may not, in the long run, be the best partner for us.

More detailed techniques for reconnecting are given in the book in later chapters of Part Two but today I thought I would just share what I have learned from the book so far for those not in the position to purchase a copy at this point in time.  The book is building on my knowledge of many years of trying to deal with anxious attachment and its destructive effect on some of my relationships.

Because the experience of attunement with a significant other is powerful, ruptures in attuned connection bring about a sense of absence, loss, and even distress.  Yet those ruptures in attunement are inevitable in all relationships, no matter how solid.  There are times when you just fall out of sync with one another.  It’s important, therefore, that you both have the ability to repair ruptures when they occur.   Just as quickly as you fall out of sync, with some flexibility you can repair the disconnect and engage one another in attunement again.

Anxious In Love, p. 98

How the inner critic hinders grieving (and anger)

Buried

The greatest hindrance to effective grieving is typically the inner critic.  When the critic is especially toxic, grieving may be counter productive and contraindicated in early recovery.  Those who were repeatedly pathologised and punished for emoting in childhood may experience grieving as exacerbating their flashbacks rather than relieving them.

I have worked with numerous survivors whose tears immediately triggered them into toxic shame.  Their own potentially soothing tears elicited terrible self attacks.  “I’m so pathetic! No wonder nobody can stand me!”  “God, I’m so unlovable when I snivel like this!” “I f@ckup then make myself more of a loser by whining about it!”  “What good is crying for yourself – it only makes you weaker!”

This later response is particularly ironic, for once grieving is protected from the critic, nothing can restore a person’s inner strength and coping capacity like a good cry.  I have defused active suicidality on dozens of occasions by simply eliciting the suffering person’s tears.

Angering can also immediately trigger the survivor into toxic shame.   This is often true of instances when there is only an angry thought or fantasy.  Dysfunctional parents, typically reserve their worst punishments for a child’s anger.  This then traps the child’s anger inside.

In the dysfunctional family however, the traumatising parent soon eradicates the child’s capacity to emote.  The child becomes afraid and ashamed of her own tears and anger.  Tears get shut off and anger gets trapped inside and is eventually turned against the self as self attack, self hate, self disgust and self rejection.  Self hate is the most grievous reenactment of parental abandonment…

Over time anger becomes fuel for the critic.. creating an increasingly dangerous internal environment. Anything the survivor says, thinks, feels, imagines or wishes for is subjected to an intimidating inner attack.

When we greet our own tears with self acceptance, crying awakens our developmentally arrested instinct of self compassion.  Once we establish self compassion through consistent and repeated practice, it becomes the cornerstone of an increasing self esteem.  When an attitude of self compassion becomes habitual, it can instantly antidote the self abandonment that so characterises a flashback.

(copywrite) Pete Walker : extracts from : Complex PTSD : From Surviving to Thriving

Insights into trauma induced co-dependency, a bill of rights and dealing with the issue of over listening/ receptivity

The following extracts from Pete Walker’s book Complex PTSD : From Surviving to Thriving may help you develop insight if you were led through parental neglect to deny your own needs, wants and desires leading to a state of codependency which Walker names “trauma induced codependency” :

Trauma induced codependency (is) a symptom of self abandonment and self abnegation.  Codependency is a fear based inability to express rights, needs and boundaries in a relationship.  It is a disorder of assertiveness, characterized by a dormant fight response and a susceptibility to being exploited, abused, and/or neglected.

Servitude, ingratiation, and obsequiousness become important survival strategies.  She clearly forfeits all needs that might inconvenience her parents.  She stops having preferences and opinions that might anger them.  Boundaries of every kind are surrendered to molify her parents, who repudiate their duty of caring for her…. All this loss of self begins before the child has many words, and certainly no insight.  For the budding codependent, all hints of danger soon immediately trigger servile behaviours and abdication of rights and needs.

(people influenced by trauma induced codependency) seek safety and acceptance in relationship through listening and eliciting.  They invite the others to talk rather than risk exposing their thoughts, views and feelings.   They ask questions to keep the attention off themselves, because their parents taught then talking was dangerous and that in their world their parents would inevitably prove them guilty of feeling unworthy…. they (feel) its is safer (1) to listen than to talk. (2) to agree than to dissent. (3) to offer care than to ask for help.  (4) to elicit the other than to express yourself and (5) to leave choices to the other rather than to express preferences.  Sadly, the closest that the unrecovered fawn type comes to getting his needs met is vicariously through helping others.  Fawn types generally enhance their recovery by memorizing the following list of rights :

  1. I have the right to be treated with respect.
  2. I have the right to say no.
  3. I have the right to make mistakes
  4. I have the right to reject unsolicited advice or feedback.
  5. I have the right to negotiate for change.
  6. I have the right to change my mind or my plans
  7. I have the right to change my circumstances or course of action.
  8. I have the right to my own feelings, beliefs, opinions, preferences, etc.
  9. I have the right to protest sarcasm, destructive criticism, or unfair treatment.
  10. I have the right to feel angry and to express it non-abusively.
  11. I have the right to refuse to take responsibility for anyone else’s problems.
  12. I have the right to refuse to take responsibility for anyone’s bad behaviour.
  13. I have the right to feel ambivalent and to occasionally be inconsistent.
  14. I have the right to play, waste time and not always be productive.
  15. I have the right to occasionally be childlike and immature.
  16. I have the right to complain about life’s unfairness and injustices.
  17. I have the right to occasionally be irrational in safe ways.
  18. I have the right to seek healthy and mutually supportive relationships.
  19. I have the right to ask friends for a modicum of help and emotional support.
  20. I have the right to complain and verbally ventilate in moderation.
  21. I have a right to grow, evolve and prosper.

The codependent (also) needs to understand how she gives herself away by over listening to others.  Recovery involves shrinking her characteristic listening defense, as well as practising and broadening her verbal and emotional self expression.

I have seen numerous inveterate codependents becomes motivated to work on their assertiveness when they realise that even the thought of saying “no” triggers them into an emotional flashback.  After a  great deal of work, one client was shocked by how intensely he dissociated when he contemplated confronting his boss’s awful behavior.  This shock then morphed into an epiphany of outrage about how dangerous it had been to protest anything in his family.   This in turn aided him greatly in overcoming his resistance to role playing assertiveness in our future work together.

With considerable practice, this client learned to overcome the critic voices that immediately short circuited him from ever asserting himself.  In the process, he remembered how he was repeatedly forced to stifle his individuality in childhood.  Grieving these losses then helped him to work at reclaiming his developmentally arrested self expression.

 

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.

Force of Magic

Is there a force of magic in this world that we can draw upon, even if it is as simple as the magical turn we can find to change a despairing way of thinking into something full of life, light, joy and hope?   I am writing this after reading a comment on another blog in which the writer was exploring the idea that there may be another way of re-visioning the painful trajectory of her past life.

I do not know the life circumstances of the commenter in question,  but I got a sense of light and hope after reading it.  I had just endured one of those early afternoon attacks that come after I have been out in the world then came home and busied myself with tidying up the ‘mess’ I see about me which was really just some leaves torn to pieces by yesterday’s wild winds after a day of unseasonable heat in which the skies were stained a strange colour and there was an ominous tinge in the air (something my therapist commented on as I was leaving therapy this morning.) and bird shit stains on the outside decking as well a dirty smeared panes of glass on the little segments which make up my balcony doors leading onto the deck outside!

I can not really explain these attacks.  They are probably like a panic attack and there seems to be a digestive element involved and I just got home from town after my visit to therapy where I bought a book on the connection between the brain in our gut and the type of food and thoughts we feed ourselves on as to how they affect or drain our brain leading to anxiety.. I know what a penchant I have for some sweet and have noticed too a poor tolerance in my body for certain carbohydrates after I suffered from breast cancer and had radio therapy back in 2016.   And yes, I seem to have diverged. But if I can reimagine my diet then I can also re-imagine the types of thoughts I feed and fuel myself with.   I had the attack after a wave of busyness trying to clean up which is a constant theme not only in my life but in my therapy, too.

This morning when I dropped some face scrub in the bath this thought came to me…”you dont have to clean up every mess that you see”.  My recent poem Blood Stains on White spoke of this need I have which comes out of a home in which compulsive cleanliness played a huge role.  There may be a tantrum or an outburst of anxiety provoked energy from my Mum if something got into a mess.   I have stopped my Mum in the past mid manic cleaning spree to give her a hug only to have her dissolve in tears on me and today I was thinking of how at a very difficult point I put her through a lot when I was breaking up with my last partner and there was a huge grief component buried underneath that I was in many ways in flight from and still had not processed in therapy.  Today it was good to be able to read this poem in therapy and cry as I do often when I read some post to my therapist which touches on emotional neglect which scarred me in such a deep way as to not be fully conscious until at least very recently.

Anyway perhaps this past of mine cannot be reimagined, although, if like the commenter mentioned above I did reimagine my past as a fairy tale I perhaps may have resonated with the fairy tale Cinderella in some way.  I am always trying to clean up messes, longed for the missed attention and affection of far older siblings, and the only fairy god mother who has turned up is perhaps my therapist, Kat who I value more than words can say.  I dont know how long it is going to take me to become free of this intensely deeply embedded inner critic, perfectionist task master who I choose to call Mr A, (the annihilator), who seems to drive my panic attacks, but at least I have more awareness around this inner psychic force.  It seems to appear on the back of a cleaning spree and perhaps I find myself in flashback mode when I am engaged in this way….. often having been locked out of the house when Mum wanted me away to focus on getting everything spick and span.   I hope there will come a time when I realise I dont have to be spick and span to be lovable enough, that its okay at times for things to be a mess and that a lot of the inner punishment and accusing isnt really mine, just something I internalised so many years ago.

And today after I spend time introspecting on it all I can find the light that lives inside me when I am not back entrapped in that powerful flashback mode, then I settle into myself and my body in a way that is comfortable for me……I am no longer in the contractive state of flashback but a more open expansive state of present moment awareness free of past triggers….It comes and goes this space.  I know enough to know that no flashback lasts and although I pray for a day I will be free of them.  Perhaps for now its more realistic to know that I can trust they will come and go, that I will know moments of peace and harmony despite all the terrors and torments of a past that I am working my utmost best to become more conscious of..

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.