Tag Archives: PTSD

Irene Lyon: Who Heals?

Irene Lyon: Who Heals?

Irene Lyon says that, ideally, we develop a sense of safety and belonging within our bones, guts, and cells as our attuned caregivers encourage us to feel self-worth and personal agency over the pivotal first three years of our lives. Because we are too young to think and reason, our learning is stored into our body posture and the muscles that move us, the muscles that give us strength and a felt-sense of confidence to take on the world.

Father son attunement

Photo taken by Mother

The sensation that we are worthy of the effort it takes to get what we want comes up from our gut which sends more signals to the brain than the brain does down to the gut. As we grow up, we become conscious of our thoughts which get laser-beamed down to the gut, reinforcing the feeling that we can cope with the challenges of our life.

Vagus Nerve

Afferent Signals Arrive in the Brain

Calm is not the same as Regulated – PVI Oct. 2023

The energy that forms how we sense our gut and organ systems (what we call our Sixth Sense) defines our sensations of ourselves as physical, emotional, mental, relational and creative beings. When we are unable to connect to ourselves, to others and our to environment, this shut-down behavior is often described as PTSD. How did this connection get faulty?

For some of us, it goes back for generations, including how our parents were raised and how they mirrored this behavior in our early years. Where large broods are the norm and poverty is widespread, babies were often seen as “yet another mouth to feed” rather than an opportunity to build something wonderful for the next generation. Beating children and chronic shaming practices that use disconnection (get out of the car, now!) and humiliation as a way to control a child’s behavior creates a high level of toxic stress and biological shame that becomes infused into the ENTIRE organism of the young child. In very young children, these feelings are learned as body sensations, which can’t be rationalized later as words or stories. These bad feelings must be addressed where they are: in the body and nervous system.

Those of us who experienced this kind of toxic shaming in infancy and childhood don’t know what it means to feel safe and relaxed in our bones, gut, and cells. We have learned to always be on guard and to express something along the lines of

“all connection is bad and everyone is to be suspected as dangerous and a threat.”

The chronic betrayal by parents and primary caregivers, from which an infant or toddler cannot escape, can instill a quality of hopelessness and defeat such that the person, as an adult, will feel they are in fact bad meat. This underlies self-harm and addictions. The internalized belief that they don’t deserve to be treated well (as the adult may have screamed while the beating the child) leads them to risky situations and abusive relationships. The pervading sense that they are not valued, or even wanted, can lead to a constant cycle of resistance to doing the work, fleeing from healthy behaviors, and rejecting the care of healers and supportive situations. See Irene Lyon‘s blogpost on why every trauma survivor CAN heal, but not everyone will.

For those of us who had mothers who were not capable of soothing us, we lived our early lives ping-ponging between hypervigilant and freeze response. We must learn what it feels like to be biologically calm and to cultivate an internal sense of safety and connectedness. So much restoration work is required, including realizing that maybe the mother herself never felt safe or calm. Coming to accept that my mother could not soothe me, even though I was capable of being soothed by my godmother, allowed me to forgive both my mother and myself. I see now that maybe I am good seed that fell upon rocky ground.

Oprah says, “Feeling that you deserve something is not the same thing as feeling worthy.” And simply feeling deserving and worthy doesn’t mean there isn’t a Competing Commitment such as “if I become biologically calm, I won’t be on the same wavelength as my family and they will reject me because they believe that I must be like them to be liked by them.” If someone has a (maybe unconscious) belief that getting well would betray their connection to their (birth) family, they might get trapped on the hamster wheel of spiritual seeking. See this Harvard Business Review article titled The Real Reason People Won’t Change.

Update Dec 2021

NYTimes Opinion “Opioids Feel Like Love”

The connections between brain opioids and motherly love were first explored by the neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp decades ago. Dr. Panksepp, who died in 2017, told me that when he first tried to publish data connecting brain opioids to attachment, he was rebuffed by a top medical journal. His research showed that morphine, in doses so low that it didn’t cause sleepiness, eased separation cries made by baby animals in multiple species.

The idea that the purest, most innocent love — between parent and child — could have any commonalities with the degradation of heroin addiction was “too hot to handle,” Dr. Panksepp told me. Today, however, decades after he published his work in another journal, what is now known as the “brain opioid theory of social attachment” is widely accepted.

When people nurture children or fall in love, hormones like oxytocin are released, infusing memories of being together with endorphin-mediated feelings of calm, contentment and satisfaction. This is one way that social contact relieves stress, making bonding a fundamental protector of both mental and physical health. When we are far from our loved ones or sense that our relationships are threatened, we feel an anxiety that is not unlike withdrawal from drugs.

So if “all connection is bad and everyone is to be suspected as dangerous and a threat,” the endorphins and oxytocin are not endogenously generated. Attachment does not become pleasurable or soothing. Spending time with others does not produce “calm, contentment and satisfaction.” No wonder Maia Szalavitz says “Addiction is A Learning Disorder.”

Update October 2023

BOTSA PDF link updated Brain Opioid Theory of Attachment. The endogenous opioid system plays a central role in sociality in primates, including humans. Conclusion:

We conclude that there is significant evidence for a role for the endorphin system in a range of mammalian bonding behaviours, including separation distress, play, gregariousness, grooming, infant attachment behaviours, positive affect and affiliative behaviours.

It goes on to say that emotional pain is reduced not only by endogenous opioids but also by oxyctocin, so maybe a caring kiss really does soften the pain. Reducing emotional pain using opioids, endogenous or not, flattens all emotions, not just the painful ones.

Anterior Cingulate CortexEndogenous opiods ties in with pain management using self-hypnosis according to David Spiegel, MD, Associate Chair of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and founder of Reveri self-hypnosis app. At about 40 minutes in to this podcast, he suggests that pain can be managed when self-hypnosis activates endogenous opioids in the dorsal portion of the anterior cingulate cortex (midline “default mode network” emotional regulation).

If you say, “Your hand’s in ice water, cold, tingling, and numb,” [an MRI shows that] you turn down activity in the somatosensory cortex here. If you say, “Well, the pain’s there, but it won’t bother you,” which is sort of the way people on opioids sometimes feel, it was in a different part of the brain, the dorsal anterior cingulate, which is a part of the brain that we’ve shown turns down activity when you go into hypnosis, so we understand how the brain is doing it.

Jan Winhall said, on October 5, 2023 in a PESI seminar, that trauma survivors can work to remove danger from their surroundings but that the numbing behavior, which was an adaptive coping strategy, sometimes continues and interferes with connection with the self and with others. She recommends shifting away from a pathologizing model of these adaptive behaviors and, when safe, to “turn down the dial” on endogenous opioid production so the person can titrate the willingness to tolerate emotional pain and “revivify” emotional attachment.

Facebook Hou-Dunnie

Facebook Hou-Dunnie

Jim DeRoche posted this on Facebook with the comment, “It’s not.”

My comment:

When I was a toddler, my parents used to tie me to the highchair in the kitchen, then go to the front room to play Bridge with their friends. I was so adept at getting free, their friends called me Hou-Dunnie.

His reply:

Anyone, who is incarcerated or held against their will in any manner, possessing the mental toughness and heart to stand against their circumstances, I have great respect for always. Anyone, who adds a 3-D component to the mental one, physically demonstrating where their heart is by successfully going over the wall in any manner and beating the opposition, I have even greater respect for always! Love that move you pulled, reversing your parents sketchy binding caper, defiantly executing a move superior to that perpetrated against yourself and winning the evening. That’s a keeper of a story! ?❤️?❤️?

Yeah, well I have 10 younger siblings, and I have more stories about bound toddlers. But… another day…

Anet Dunne Crack me the F up!

Boundaries: Excerpts

Boundaries: Excerpts

Anna Runkle, the Crappy Childhood Fairy, recommended Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend. At first, it was hard slogging through the ultra-Christian rhetoric and scriptural references, but it started to make sense by the end as an example of Judeo-Christian indoctrination in our society. Here are some excerpts. Brackets indicate my comments.

p87 – The Law of Cause and Effect. Rescuing a person from the natural consequences of his behavior ENABLES him to continue his irresponsible behavior.

p219 – Fear of Success. Poor finishers fear envy, criticism, [punishment and revenge]. [The #1 emotion of narcissists is envy.]

p223 – We withdraw from relationships when we need them most. Just like untreated cancer, boundary problems will worsen with isolation. [Co-regulation is stronger, more balanced.]

p227 – Unmet emotional hungers. We all need love during the first few years of life. If we don’t receive this love, we hunger for the rest of our lives. This hunger for love is so powerful that when we don’t find it in relationships with other people, we look for it in [things] food, work, sexual activity, or over-spending money. Compulsive spending is often a reaction against strict rules.

p229 – Address your real need. Impulsive eaters may discover that food is a way to stay separate and safe from romantic and sexual intimacy. As their internal boundaries with the opposite sex become firmer, they can give up their destructive food boundary. They learn to ask for help for the real problem, not just the symptom.

p231 – Surrounding yourself with people who are loving and supportive, but who will not rescue.

p234 – [Survivors of childhood trauma] are convinced there is no good within them. Over-permeable boundaries. Believe they are treated badly because that’s what they deserve. Our ability to trust ourselves is based on our experience of others as trustworthy.

Trust, the ability to depend on ourselves and others in time of need, is a basic spiritual and emotional survival need.

  • Figure out what you are risking when you change
  • Are you willing to lose (love, safety, …)
  • Be diligent in carrying out your plan
  • Get started. Do it.
  • Don’t give up. Pursue your plan to the finish.

Forgiveness is: writing off the debt in our hearts. They no longer “owe” us.
p259 – Take an inventory of your unmet needs.
p260 – To set boundaries is to risk losing the love you have craved for a long time. Letting go of the wish for them to be different is the essence of grief.

  1. Own the problem of your own poor boundaries.
  2. Stop sabotaging your freedom.
  3. Seek Grace and Truth to cope with grief
  4. Get support for your grief.
  5. Let go of what you can never have. Move on to what you want.

You can only steer a moving ship. Your efforts to preserve the old waste your energy and time. Letting go is the way to serenity. Grief is the path.

Coming from a home where anger was used by a parent to control children
p262 – Do I have an angry person in my head that I still fear? This hurt, frightened part needs to be soothed.

  1. Realize it is a problem
  2. Talk to someone. You will not not work this out alone.
  3. Find the source of your fear (Anna Runkle’s Daily Practice)
  4. Stick to self-control statements, stick to your decisions, reiterate what you will do and what you will NOT do. Let them be angry. Tell them you care for them but your NO still stands.
  5. Regroup and talk to your support system.
  6. Practice. “God does not want angry people to control me.”

Blaming others gives them to power to [be the only one who can] make things right. Take back your power by taking responsibility for your life and make the life you want.

Guilt is not a core emotion. It is “you are bad.” [It is a trauma response to a boundary violation suffered as a child.]
The guilt I feel is my problem. Do the things that are right but elicit guilt feelings [or fear of punishment/retaliation/retribution]. Work the edge. Cope with the grief. Mourn.

First, securely bond [with someone appropriate and capable of secure bonding]. Second, set boundaries.

Don’t ping-pong between Compliance and Isolation

Resentment is a signal. Do I have permission to feel angry? Anger is a messenger.
p279 – Boundary-injured people are slaves

Conception Explodes Off Channel Islands

Conception Explodes Off Channel Islands

I posted this comment to this NYTimes article California Boat Fire Kills at Least 20; Haunting Pleas as Flames Erupt

I spent two nights on the Conception with a Sierra Club trip to the channel islands in October 2017. It has a main stairway from the passenger bunks below deck to the kitchen on the main deck and also a secondary escape hatch which they made sure we knew about in the Emergency Procedure Drill they held. The hatch opened to the main deck cabin, which we all saw was engulfed in flames. I am also a diver and have slept on other boats and you are right, they are similar. Typically, the crew sleeps close to the wheel house, far from the passengers. I am stunned by this tragedy.

Channel Is Conception Explosion

Conception Boat Fire

The Conception at Daybreak

Conception Below Deck Floor Plan

The Secondary Escape Hatch Was Under The “N”

I have not yet written about the Sierra Club trip because it was shortly after the October 2017 fires in Santa Rosa. I had planned the Channel Islands trip months earlier, and paid for it in advance, as required, so I had to go. Frankly, I was grateful to get out of Santa Rosa even though I was coming down with a massive cold contracted in the shelters. But more on that later.

Trauma: Inherited, Denied, Healed

Trauma: Inherited, Denied, Healed

Elizabeth Rossner writes about the legacy of trauma and the labyrinth of memory in this wide-ranging review of her visits to Auschwitz with her father who came through the camps (she has a chapter on why she does not use the word “survivor” here). She also explores the legacy of trauma for the survivors and their children who experienced the killing fields of Cambodia, the retreat from Hanoi, and the massacre in Rwanda.

Traumatized people don’t feel safe, and parents who feel unsafe create households without a feeling safety, raising children do who not feel safe. The traumatized parents express the unresolved trauma in two main ways:
1. Suppressing all emotion in an effort to suppress the unrelenting, wordless fear trapped in the body. Children can’t play with someone who is numb. Children can’t bond well with someone who is numb. Drugs and alcohol often strengthen the numbness and emotional unavailability.
2. Traumatic rage squirting out uncontrollably in overreactions to upsetting everyday events. Children never know when the traumatized parent is going to beat them for a trivial infraction, or embrace them with understanding. The parent is inconsistent, and blind to the inconsistency.

Rossner quotes Dr. Maria Angeles Morcuenda, “The children of people with unresolved trauma have not learned [yet] to feel safe [even when they are] in a safe environment.”

Esther Perel says “home is the place where you feel safe, seen, appreciated, respected, and wanted.” When trauma in the home is denied, such as physical abuse, emotional abuse (betrayal and the like), or sexual abuse, the dependent child may resort to denial in order to preserve the attachment on the damaged parent upon whom she or she relies.

“Trauma denial is an act of self-preservation,” says Perel. “We employ self-delusion when too much is at stake and we have too much to lose. The mind needs coherence, so it disposes of the inconsistencies (lies) that threaten the structure of our lives. This becomes more pronounced when we are betrayed by those we feel closest to.”

Elizabeth Rossner says, “I hope my book invites readers to consider their own relationship to intergenerational transmutations of grief, trauma and resilience.” In her conversations with Dr. Morcuenda, we learn that healing from trauma is all about getting to feel safe. Dr. Morcuenda’s work focuses on “How do we make this baby, this child, resilient to the inevitable trauma life is going to bring? The work is to give each child what he or she needs, and to recognize what interferes with their ability to do that.”

Healing is seen when the trauma survivor can become fully present in the moment. Resilience can develop when we can interact fully in the moment without numbing out or slipping into the past.

My Absolute Darling

My Absolute Darling

I read Gabriel Tallent’s book straight through in two days in August. Then I saw the blurb from Stephen King who offered an unsolicited endorsement. “I tore through an advance copy of the 400-plus-page novel in three days. It’s a first novel and he’s got everything working,” Mr. King said. “When I read it the first thing I thought was, I couldn’t do this, and I’ve been doing it for 40 years.”

While it is technically a first novel, it took eight years to write, and Gabriel’s mother is fiction writer Elizabeth Tallent. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Tallent began writing the book during his senior year of college at Willamette University in Salem, Ore. After graduating, he got a job as a waiter at a ski lodge. On days he wasn’t working, he’d write for 12 to 14 hours.

“Three years later, he had 800 pages of a sprawling novel about the Pacific Northwest and the strange characters who live there. He realized the seed of a more arresting story was there, scrapped the draft and wrote a much different novel, one that focused on Turtle’s experience and the physical, psychological and sexual abuse she endures, and her fight to overcome it. It took him five more years and another dozen drafts to finish the book.”

The New York Times says, “Turtle’s story unfolds on the coast of Northern California, in the lush, untamed forests, gulches and tide pools around Mendocino. She lives with her paranoid, survivalist father — a self-taught philosopher and gun nut who teaches her that the world is a treacherous place and humanity is doomed. At 6, she learns how to fire a bolt-action pistol. At 14, she’s become an expert sharpshooter and hunter who can navigate the forests in the dark, identify edible plants, make fire with a bow drill and shoot, skin and roast a rabbit over a fire of dried grass and twigs. She’s at home in the wilderness, but is failing at school and estranged from her peers and teachers. She’s alone except for Martin, a sadistic monster who would sooner kill her than lose control over her.”

The intensity of the book captured me and took me to a place I thought no one else could ever see. It showed that intensity is not the same as connection. Thrill is not the same as pleasure. Arousal is not necessarily good. Excitement is addictive. The paragraph on p.338 that was most compelling for me:

Turtle thinks, pull the trigger. She can imagine no other way forward. She thinks, pull the trigger. But if you do not pull the trigger, walk back up that creek and in through the door and take possession of your mind, because your inaction is killing you. She sits looking out at the beach, and she thinks, I want to survive this. She is surprised by the depth and clarity of her desire. Her throat tightens and she takes the gun out of her mouth and strings of saliva come with it and she brushes them away. She rises and stands looking our at the waves, overcome with the beauty. Her whole mind feels raw and receptive. She experiences a searing, wide-open thankfulness, an unmediated wonder at the world.

The beauty of the Mendocino area is woven into emotional intensity and family violence in an extraordinary way. I agree with the top writers who declared the book a “masterpiece” on par with “Catch-22” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

What I Learned in Oakmont

What I Learned in Oakmont

OakmontRoom613The venerable, 85 year old Senior Peer Counselor put it best, “These people are a gift.” I learned so much from the unmarried couple in their 70’s with whom I stayed in Oakmont for the past eight months.

  • I enjoyed being surrounded by beautiful objects and expensive books that I did not have to dust.
  • I learned what it felt like to be on the receiving end of verbal abuse.
  • I saw what “scab-picking” was.
  • In dismay, I watched the man flee into a financial fantasy to shield himself, emotionally, from the verbal abuse. For 10 years he had been sending money to a Nigerian “lawyer” in the hope of getting a bank in Abu Dhabi to lend him a million dollars to invest in real estate. Just before I left today, he told me the Nigerian lawyer had been jailed, which froze the man’s assets in Nigeria during November and December, and that he had fired the Nigerian. He continues to believe that his loan will fund “next week.”
  • I watched the hostess punish me by keeping the TV tuned to Fox News.
  • I learned that isolation is the enemy of mental health.
  • I saw that Learned Helplessness keeps people trapped in ruts of thin emotional survivorship. They mistake this for courage.
  • What takes real courage is climbing out of the helplessness that was learned when one was vulnerable, sharpening the tools that have been gained over the years, learning to trust yourself again, and doing what it takes to get out of the rut.
  • I learned why the work we do as Senior Peer Counselors is so important.
  • I learned that love is simultaneously fragile and indestructible.
  • I learned that a dog is a fountain of joy and unconditional love. I won’t be paraphrasing D.C Fontana anymore about “enslaving animals for the emotional gratification of humans.”

Their beautiful Golden Retriever suddenly became lame before Thanksgiving and had to be euthanized before Christmas. The house was not the same without her. The Feeling of Healing was gone. A grayness descended.

I left.

Zen, SAMe and Ear Wax

Zen, SAMe and Ear Wax

I have had a bad week. Last Thursday, after a shower, I dried my ear with a twist of toilet paper and plugged up one ear. I ignored it, and on Friday I increased my SAMe intake from two tablets a day to three, shrugging off the warning of increased agitation.

Saturday morning the ear was still plugged up so I went after it with a Qtip, driving the wax so far into my ear that it triggered feelings of claustrophobia. To distract myself, I went to see “Zero Dark Thirty” about brutal interrogation, waterboarding, and a Seal assault leading to death. I was so overwhelmed with the feeling of suffocation I had to leave the theater three times in the first hour. The feeling of being choked was so strong I actually took off my necklace. Yet I took a third SAMe for the day right after the movie.

AKD-sadToddlerSaturday night I felt like I was dying. My mind said, “it’s just earwax. You’re not going to die of earwax.” but my body really ached up the center line from my solar plexus to my heart.
My early-life decision came back: No one would help me. They were going to leave me me die. I had such a strong “felt sense” of being a sick child with plugged ears and a stuffed nose and not being able to breathe. I felt like I was being punished for being bad.

I know that at the age pictured, with two smokers in their early 20s for parents, I had frequent bouts of tonsillitis and upper respiratory congestion. My long hair would get matted when I was sick and I hated having it combed out. In frustration, they may have decided to “just let her cry.”

I kept going outside for walks in the 25-degree night because it was the only time I felt I had enough space or enough air. My mind said, “You don’t breathe through your ears. This is discomfort. You can tolerate it.” I did not wake up my husband because there was nothing he could do to help me. I started to understand what Xanax is for.

Vulnerable means Woundable. Can we try “Receptive”?

I try to fix things myself. I was so frustrated that I could not see into my ear. I knew the Emergency Room on a Sunday in January would be full of people with the flu coughing on me because ear wax would be called last. By mid-morning I realized that a neighbor I sometimes speak to is a retired doctor. I knocked on her door at noon. Nothing.

By mid-afternoon she was back and was happy to rinse out my ear with a dilute solution of hydrogen peroxide. She got it unplugged. I was SOO relieved. Went to the store and got her a $20 bottle of French wine. But I didn’t sleep that night. The agitation was almost as bad, except this time I could hear with both ears. I found a pile of leaves on the sidewalk nearby. Crunching though them at midnight calmed me.

Monday morning it took 2 hours to get a doctor appointment, and they wouldn’t give me one on the same day. Another bad night, but I stayed inside. Tuesday the young doctor scraped the wax off my eardrums and it hurt! “I thought you had suction!” I yelped. But I can hear better now.

What I Learned

As toddlers, we really are helpless, but the “learned helplessness” can be crippling in later life and can become part of the foundation of depression. To climb out of the harmful early leaning, I can learn to look for the Helpers, and to ask for help. I now have tools that I did not have as a pre-schooler, including Reiki, Zen Mind, Compassion and other spiritual and mental tools.

I should let my ears drain naturally, not even a hair dryer, because ear wax is supposed to stay pliable so it doesn’t stick to your eardrum. Lateral jaw action and an occasional, single drop of mineral oil in the ear will help keep it pliable.

I should have started the search for an ear doctor right away. The feeling of dying can be very scary. Three SAMe tablets is too many.

Augusten Burroughs This Is How

Augusten Burroughs This Is How

Just a quick note on Augusten Burroughs (a chosen name, not the one he was born with) and his “help for the self overcoming shyness, molestation, fatness, spinsterhood, grief, disease, lushery, decrepitude and more, for young and old alike.” Gotta say, he sure know how to include keywords in his title!

He doesn’t exactly address fatness, instead he tells a sad tale about anorexia. His solution? Tough love. Give the anorexic a ton of money, tell her you love her, kick her out and never EVER give her another piece of advice. I’ll bet his technique has a low survival rate. And I’ll further bet that his survival rate is just as good as current therapy.

Overcoming lushery: he is an expert, having nearly killed himself with alcoholism. During his recovery he wrote the book “Dry.” His recommended technique? Want something more than booze. This, by the way, is also the way to overcome decrepitude.

Therapy? That was the best advice. This from page 121:

Augusten Burroughs This Is HowFor years, I believed [discussing my past in therapy] was how to live.
I was wrong.
It’s how to stagnate.
I know now how to get over the past.
It has worked for me in a deeper, more enduring way than any therapy I have ever had.
Writing six autobiographical books is what freed me from my past.

“Dry” was one of those autobiographical books. On page 177 of this book he tells a mother who lost a son to alcoholism a hard fact. “The fact she was missing was HIS fact. He loved alcohol. He died doing what he loved most.”

How to overcome Spinsterhood? Meet lots of people by every means possible. Use a different dry cleaner. Go to different grocery stores. Talk to people and present yourself as you are, not the gussied-up version of yourself. If you want someone who will love you as you actually are, present yourself as you actually are.

He ends with a detailed description of the slow death of his partner from debilitating disease. The book is an essay on the meaning of life which he boils down to Be Here Now. Fully Present. Don’t be afraid of the disease. When the symptoms arrive, you will cope with them and it will be okay. The fear of torture is much worse than the torture itself.

This is a good book. Recommended.