Eating Binge and Triggers

I am sad to report that I just gave in to a minor binge. I had been pretty tired and beat all day for having stayed up late last night and not getting sleep for more than roughly four hours. When I woke up this morning from my landlady walking around at 7.30ish, I had meant to go back to sleep for another two hours, but never managed to as my body seems to have produced a full fight-or-flight response even upon waking up. So I decided to get up and use the extra time. I was glad about the extra hours, but dragged through the day, not really up and motivated for anything. I forced myself, though, did some paperwork, emails, the blog and other online stuff, then practiced the guitar for about 1.5 hours. In the early afternoon, I had a light lunch and took a nap for about an hour later on, ran errands by car, came back, played on the computer for another hour and a half, then went for my walk of about 60-90 minutes. I felt fatigued, though not cranky (the sun helps). I am also still feeling weak from the aftereffects of the medication at the hospital (the antibiotics, I guess). Maybe yesterday’s program was a little too much: Seeing the hypnotherapist in the afternoon after yet another fairly short night and productive morning, then having a pretty heavy session with him to be followed by helping his partner in life with some computer work for compensation at their home (he agrees on treating me on that basis, we’ve become friends over the years, which I’m very grateful for as I hold him and his knowledge and skills in high regard. I have also built a modest, simple website for his practice in return for treating me – I  had insisted on the latter, i.e. doing some compensatory work). I took a walk afterwards for about an hour, then went to see a beautiful concert and spent an excellent evening in an intimate setting at a nearby music venue. I was welcomed in a very warm, joyful manner and felt great interacting with the people who know me there. I even made new friends with the performing artists, who were totally accessible and likeable in addition to delivering a really fine, entertaining performance of the highest musical quality. I was almost my old self prior to the big break in my bio in 2007 – and I thoroughly enjoyed myself! I felt great and I returned home all worked up and being in a positive, encouraged mood, although tired and beat. But I was too excited to go to bed, so I stayed up until around 3 am and went to sleep only then.

I woke up from steps on the wooden stairwell in the building, which connects my bedroom in the basement to the open main area of the house. I mean, don’t get me wrong: It’s a beautiful house and if I lived here with someone of my own choosing – like a partner-, I’d probably love the open space with lots of light coming in from all sides. My own appartment is separate from the main wing and separated by two doors, located one floor down from the upstairs living room and kitchen (her area, I have my own small living room and tiny kitchen). Although my landlady is a nice, cultivated and mostly quiet lady, I hear her walking around when she’s here and sometimes her being on the phone. I don’t mind that as much as her appearing in front of the window next to where my desk and computer are as well as in the garden in front of the French windows of the main part of the flat. She had mentioned her being present in the garden a few times before I moved in and I thought I would be able to handle this. And I did for the most part. But for some reason, this week she’s here every day and all day. And I get triggered in very bad ways. I feel intruded on, monitored, in short: Not safe (she doesn’t really monitor me and respects my space, only knocks on the connecting door or the window, if she has a message for me. When she does, which happens only once in a while, my body goes into “anxiety mode”. The fight-and-flight response also sets in every time I notice a movement next to the window left from my computer desk or in front of the other window. I feel like a caged animal with the warden approaching the cage. I am aware of how insane this will sound, but the physical response is substantial. I can’t slip into the “flow” of getting lost in whatever it is that I’m doing. And I have come to love that feeling of being lost in whatever current activity I’m going about on the computer or when playing the guitar or whatever. I have identified monotasking and “getting lost” in concentration as one of the very, very beneficial alterations to my prior modus operandi on the jobs and projects I had been working on as a way of reducing stress levels substantially. In other words: One thing at a time and ideally at a pace I get to set instead of someone else pushing and pressing. The latter – I can simply not tolerate any longer as this equals getting triggered in the above described way. But – I have barely ever managed to be in this place of sweet oblivion to the world around me while being totally consumed by writing, reading and composing music some time ago. I call it the visiting muse when this mode of being in the current activity fully kicks in and I seem to have identified this as a need of mine in order to get the work done in a way where I feel I not only full control, but also full access to my emotional self prior to the trauma – almost as if there had never been such a thing like trauma. I consider this way of “getting lost” a huge step forward towards healing in my personal journey and it had been working nicely for a while after I had found this to be important for me. But it only works in a place where I can feel perfectly safe and safe meaning zero potential to get triggered. Sadly, this has never been the case all too often after some time in 2007 and after the new neighbour in my previous appartment had moved in (which is why I haven’t really resumed writing and recording new music). Not only would he break my focus by returning from his nearby job for lunch and slamming the doors as hard as possible, but his routine would involve venting loudly and violently by playing on his computer playstation all the while screaming abusive names at whatever game character he was playing against. Yes. Don’t ask… Of course, I approached him about that and since we had a sort of friendly interaction at first, I did my best to work the “understanding string” in him, explaining my getting triggered and doing my best to convey it in terms someone not suffering from the condition might at least get some idea about. To no avail. Let’s just say that things got to a point, when it became a question of time that one of us would have become physical. In short: There was no way in staying there, although I tried and didn’t really want to move away. But my former landlord wasn’t backing me on this, so I had to give in. It had become full blown torture and I had never been closer to losing grip of myself and losing control over my impulses. If I had… well… I’m sure, it would have likely amounted to full blown brawling and seriously hurting each other, I’m afraid. By the way, this situation had been going on for about 4 years. It wasn’t until then that I found this appartment and got to move in. I had been looking for a suitable place for all that time and realtors or landlords would flat out deny me even looking at the places on account of my material situation (depending on welfare and being prematurely retired). In retrospect, this was the first time that I really, seriously contemplated on ways of ending my life. I’m not talking about suicidal ideations, I’m talking about looking at dependable, safe options to conk out and be done with it.

I seem back to this “mode” of insomnia, fatigue and despair throughout the day as well as being petrified from getting triggered often (so much for the duration of the emotional boost of having overcome my fear of hospital… *ugh*). I’m also pretty sure that last year’s episode of major depression, which lasted almost all year, happened on account of it: I don’t get to express myself in other ways here than in writing (at least writing works fairly well, the triggers don’t limit me that much from it). I can’t seem to enjoy playing my instruments, because for being in the moment with all my attention, I need to feel safe. Physically safe. Sudden unexpected movements or noises, while I’m in this mode of oblivion, trigger the fear-based chemicals and physical response in my body (ironically, a defined stage above the audience is a safe place by that definition; some club settings like last night – errm… that’s a different story altogether…). Luckily, around here that response is not as hard and as lasting as in the other building, where I wouldn’t have a chance of coming back to some peace for hours on end. In other words: Whenever I got disturbed, whatever it was I had been working on, I might as well have dropped right away. There simply was no point in trying to carry on. It’s not as bad here, but when disturbance happens… the feeling and focus are gone. I know, it’s crazy – at least to the unassuming reader/visitor. And I can’t seem to get any control over this. I am trying. I speak my mantra in the mornings, at night and in the situation or right after a trigger happened. But so far – to no immediate avail of quickly reducing the stress level so I get to carry on. In all honesty: This is a devastating experience. This way, I can’t access my talents, let alone hone my skills (which I’d otherwise resume, passion or not). If not that – I don’t have anything meaningful left. I live alone and don’t expect to share my life with a significant other again. But just be without purpose? Sounds like there’s no point to that, although I have been enjoying myself whenever and as often as I could in the previous years – but in solitude. The solitude… I can’t seem to endure any longer. In well defined settings, where I have some idea of what to expect, like e.g. last night, I am relaxed and in the moment, at least as audience so far. Being on stage… well, I have mentioned that a couple of times.

Any ideas? Moving elsewhere seems inevitable given this. However, there is no telling, whether I’ll get into a situation like in my old appartment – or worse. In which case – even the most modest of helpful routines would cease to work for me. Technically, there can’t be anything else but a single, small house for me. However, the limitations of subsidized living make it very unlikely to find something within those limitations. Plus, even if I do – which has happened a select few times and again quite recently so -, it is very likely I won’t get to actually move in. After all, I’m not exactly “landlord material”. I was very lucky with this place and landlady here. I feel terrible about my situation and condition being this way and I need to remind myself not to start beating myself up for it like I used to do earlier in life.

It’s a brutal curse to be locked into a constantly overcharged, stressed out, thus easily exhausted and fatigued body. This is what I had hoped to obtain medication for: To be more relaxed on a more constant basis, even if at the expense of some additional fatigue or other side effects in the beginning. If I ever wanted to reconnect with my musical abilities and enjoy them – which is must, for simple mechanical movements don’t really work here-, I need to find a solution for this. But I have run out of ideas as to how to solve or alleviate this. I appreciate your thoughts on this, if you happen across some. Thanks.

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11 thoughts on “Eating Binge and Triggers

  1. As I was doing some research tonight on infant dissociation, this article popped up as a Google hit. It’s long and takes a lot of focusing, but it seems relevant. I copied the hit, and here it is:

    [PDF]
    the effects of early relational trauma on right brain … – CiteSeerX
    citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.130.917…‎
    by AN SCHORE – 2001 – Cited by 698 – Related articles
    ment of the right brain’s stress coping systems, and maladaptive infant … the neurobiology of the dissociative defense, the etiology of dissociation and body–mind …. regulation, the ability to flexibly regulate stressful emotional states through …

    I found the article to have well-documented information on infant brain development and on how, exactly, a baby’s adult life is affected by the mother’s attitude and behavior toward him or her. I was trying to find out for myself how early a baby can learn to dissociate and to numb out in response to fear and chaos and neglect. Evidently, these responses come from the primitive brain and can be called upon even in the womb!

    What I found in the article is virtually the same thing my therapist told me today–in expanded form. When I asked her how young I could have been to have learned to dissociate, she said I probably learned when I was a baby. The article supports this. The author provides a lot of references to check out.

    The reason I’m sending this to you is that it bears out much of what you have said about yourself, and it may provide some useful insights into your own situation. What you say about your own infancy is right on target, in other words! I didn’t read the whole thing, so I don’t know if there were any discussions of resolution. But I thought it was a useful article that provided substantiation for what you have already stated. Sometimes it’s really good to know that what your intuition says and what science says are one and the same! Namaste . . .

  2. Thanks for sharing this article, Jean. I will take a look! (I have begun taking a look over my morning coffee and it makes very interesting, conclusive points. So instant retriggering of hyperarousal then is my main current – and apparently lingering – limitation. I am beginning to prepare myself to the realization that I’ll simply have to put up with feeling uncomfortable in situations that invoke memories of the initial traumatic experiences. In regards to getting triggered like this from the proximity with my landlady, I think I’m beginning to identify that those fall back on experiences of the ongoing childhood abuse including beatings and other forms of physical violence. This would make sense as my landlady fits the “trauma bill”: She’s female, appears in a superior, almost “omnipotent” role which I have no real means of defending myself against – the child didn’t and the adult would likely produce nonbeneficial consequences like possibly getting evicted -, she’s occupying “my space” without prior notification and I feel scrutinized and monitored. Wow – how could I have overlooked all that prior to moving in here? I must have been very desperate of getting away from the other place…

  3. Sudden insight: The eating binges function as numbing out (I had assumed that before) where all other “self-medication” is no longer avaible or feasible (alcohol produces very painful and bone-deteriorating as well as debilitating joint inflammations from gout), when the pain from retriggered trauma is no longer bearable. Brings me back to medication: I need something to provide for that effect of numbing out where the outcomes of retriggered trauma are simply too much to bear. And since most situations of physical proximity, which I have NO CONTROL over, produce unbearable discomfort, I may have to find something I get to use on a constant basis more or less. Which keeps bringing me back to marijuana – IF my system can tolerate it, that is…

  4. Wow, am I ever beginning to see the light! Here is a quote from the second link I sent you:

    “Although initially they (meaning infants) may have used dissociation
    to cope with traumatic events, they subsequently
    dissociate to defend against a broad range of daily
    stressors, including their own posttraumatic
    symptoms, pervasively undermining the continuity
    of their experience (1995, p. 620).
    What is maladaptive about this psychic-deadening defense
    is not only that the individual shifts into dissociation at
    lower levels of stress, but that it finds difficulty in exiting
    the state of conservation-withdrawal. During these
    intervals it is shut-down to the external relational
    environment, and thus totally closed and impermeable to
    attachment communications and interactive regulation,
    critical sources of possible further emotional development.
    Dissociative detachment (Allen et al., 1998) thus becomes
    an attractor state. Intimate social relationships are
    habitually appraised at a nonconscious level to be
    dangerous, because these contexts are always potential
    triggers of “vehement emotions.””

    This article, the second one I sent, is easier to plow through. The information makes a lot of sense, but now I am stuck with the question, “So where do I go from here?” Quo vadis? It’s going to take me a while to come up with an answer to this. Meanwhile, I’ll just slog along until I “get it.” What the article DOES is explain to me the entire mess I’m dealing with–my whole life, in other words.

    But today I must take my cat on the bus to the vet, grocery shop, and interview a couple of teenagers for the newsletter I put together here at my apartment complex. No time to be depressed or think about the ramifications of the information in this article. Keep on truckin.’ Namaste . . . Jean

    • If you read my blurb about that music night out, Jean, you may have noticed that it IS possible to have at least MOMENTS of feeling connected on an emotional level. I’d like to think that I have had times of emotional connection with my ex-wife and her statement uttered in a conversation with my mother seems to confirm that: “I truly loved him while it lasted.” That’s a double reminder and one for myself as well: It IS possible to go there, but one must be prepared to going into a full re-experiencing of initial trauma when things wreak havoc in that relationship.

      I suggest this course of action: Slowly increasing exposure to “dangerous” situations and gradually relinquishing control. The situations I’m talking about seem to have worked for me as long as they were placed in an overall friendly, benign setting (like that music venue e.g.)

      In all honesty and admitted – I have not taken the plunge again following my divorce in 2003, except for one time in 2010, which – unfortunately – quickly turned into a catastrophic experience I had trouble moving away from as the involved person would mercilessly attach and exploit my weaknesses to emotionally feed on them in ways of compensating her own deficits. By all means – that’s the worst possible outcome I couldn’t even have imagined until it happened. I even tried to solicit a restraining order, but again – the system left me standing alone there. Fortunately and with RIGID non-compliance as the police suggested, the harrassing borderline stalking stopped.

      I guess, what I’m saying is something I keep referring to as being almost “violent” with myself, i.e. “push through” no matter what and go right into the expected source of all “evil”. It was this “move” one of my previous blogs – the dramatically coined “battle cry” – was about. To put it more positively: Overcoming the worst of all fears of committing myself to hospital for that throat surgery, which had ALL the ingredients of the initial as well as reaffirming later trauma at age 4, reminded me of the fact that somehow I had found the angle and strength of rising above my fears on a more or less permanent basis in my adult life.

      I don’t mean to praise myself here or anything like that. Because what I’m suggesting came at the expense of frequent and fairly violent panic attacks, both during the day as well as at night, along with MAJOR physical discomfort I had always assumed to be the results of a physical condition (IBS e.g. or similar; there are/were SOME reasons for the physical, like e.g. maldigestion on account of partial pancreas insufficiency, which I’m treating by adding enzymes to each meal. Today, I’m not all sure, whether the latter wasn’t a result of the emotional situation as well and coming from major depression, which seems to have an effect of slowing down the bulk of body functions. Tentatively speaking, I believe depression to be the successor of the numbing, where other reasons fall through).

      I guess, you could boil things down to asking “better safe than sorry” or vice versa? In earlier years I seem to have answered myself by being ready to not be safe seeing as I had already experienced trauma and not died from it. I seem to lean towards resuming that course of action in order to get more out of life, more meaning, more intensity, more of everything. But I haven’t really taken steps in that direction again and I seem divided not so much for reasons of being unwilling to overcome my own fears, but from fear of finding myself rejected over and over and over again. Then what? Because I seem to close in on the finding that a person can only take so much rejection. Or can they? Having watched a very emotional candid TED clip with Thandie Newton and thinking of phenomena like racism or otherwise political segregation, maybe it can be an idea to simply grow into and beyond that, as well. I myself seem to gravitate towards taking a strong(er) stance for myself again. But that’s a) not set in stone yet and not really expressed and b) a decision each of us has to make for themselves. If there could be c), I’d love to find a way of finding a healthier, less taxing balance.

      Just some food for thought.

      • Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply! I really appreciate it right now because that article was like a sucker punch–just the thought of the deficit I have is enough to cause me to consider giving up hope.

        Of course, I’m not the sort of person to give up, but sometimes I come close to it. But if my ancestors could survive generations of working in the coal mines of Scotland, I can hang in there in my own “coal mining.” I believe I hit the “mother lode/load” in that article, and it’s not a pretty sight. (By the way, I’m the last generation on my mother’s side to be connected at all to coal mining in this country. My cell phone ring tone is the song “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” How fitting!) I called my therapist this morning and told her about the article’s effect on my morale, and she returned my call, wanting the url for the article so she can read it before I see her on Monday. At least she is interested enough to do that.

        So now I have a lot of thinking to do. I truly appreciate your input. I’ll let you know how I process this mess. When I’m down, I usually come back up and land on my feet. Your words of support help. Vielen Dank . . .

      • I have done some further reading into this, in particular the concluding summary, Jean. Sadly, according to the wording of the article it is a sucker-punch to end all sucker-punches and it doesn’t provide a positive outlook – quite the contrary. Wordings like “indelilable” and similar take the air right out of me…. On the other hand, there is my own evidence of having gone to places I technically could not have gone to according to this. I clearly remember the thought process and thorough weighing of “options” when I met my (ex-) wife. Some deeply rooted premonition told me that being with her would be a terribly dangerous, bumpy ride as opposed to the comparably safe, almost predictable and hence convenient relationship I was in at the time. And it took me 9 months to finally take a leap of faith. I never regretted having taken it, because it provided me with the closest possible experience of a meaningful relationship, probably the closest I have ever come to experiencing true love (and I DID love her, there was never ever any other woman, not even so much as a temptation or anything. She was the center of my world when it lasted, I loved and desired her from day one to the very last time we were together. I guess, I’ll never really be over her and a part of her will stay in my heart forever). On the other hand, I can’t deny that this experience came at the expense of expressing a full reexperiencing of old trauma…. I literally went into panic attacks I had thought to have overcome at that point, particularly so after intimacy of some kind, not necessarily confined to intercourse)

        As for myself, I guess I’m going to try these approaches: One being an attempt of simply taking myself less important – a partial degradation or denial of sorts. I seem to have fared better when I assumed that position as far as “sense of self”. On the other hand – I count on hopes of the limbic and physical responses wearing out to an extent (eeeermmm… not that this has really happened so far). Maybe a third aspect can be to simply admit to expressions of fear-terror when they happen – at the risk of being ridiculed for them. Oh, and fourth, I have another session with the hynotherapist coming up. But in all honesty and especially after having read large parts of this article, I think he may overestimate the power of his therapy. Or maybe not? Who knows. I got nothing to lose.

  5. What you say here at the end of your comment is how I am beginning to feel–I have nothing to lose. But talk about discouraging! I just had a conversation with a friend, a retired psychologist who knows a lot about the brain, and talking to her helped lighten this up a bit. But I have a long way to go to get back my enthusiasm for continuing in therapy,.

    After reading the article, I understand a few things better, such as why I don’t really care whether I have a lot of friends or not. I do have a few friends, but most of the time, I’d rather spend my time alone. I have always liked being by myself. It seems safer, quieter that way. Well, that article gave me some insight into the reason underlying this. Very similar to what you have been saying all along about what happens to you, how you go into panic mode, and so forth. I just avoid the triggers. “Pushing through” may be something I need to consider. Thanks for the idea.

    As my dear friend, the retired shrink, says, “With awareness comes change,” and she is so right about that. Now that I’m aware of the information in the article, what impact is that awareness going to have on my life? That’s my question right now. When I know the answer, you will be the first person I’ll tell! Thank you, my friend . . .

  6. As far as awareness: We must remind ourselves of two things in regards to this article: So far, it is but one position and an overall suggestion of where the fear-based responses reside in the brain and all of that to the end of defining the DSM and ICD criteria more closely. It is “a little” daunting and in part discouraging that of all possible places it’s the oldest, least developed, least influentiable part of our brains. Nonetheless – in the very beginning they speak of neuroplasticity, albeit having worked in detrimental ways by (my wording) setting the fear-terror responses in stone of sorts. It is this exact place which I’d like to challenge – or rather interpret differently (and for selfish reasons of course…): If neuroplasticity is responsible for the fear-based “circuitry” to be “set in stone”, who is to say this can’t be reversed? Of course, I have no illusion about the work being hard, long and often cumbersome. But it MUST be possible! And actually, there are other examples and cases, where neuroplasticity helped to either roll back some detrimental outcome or at the very least substitute for damaged or lost brain areas.
    With awareness comes change. I’d like to suggest not to dwell on the – seemingly daunting – conclusion drawn here. We are living proof that one can rise above whatever. And we have learnt to become our first and most attentive, caring guardians. Try to focus on that. I will – and from positive experience in that regard.
    Namaste, as you keep saying 😉

    • Yes, and I’m feeling a little better about the prospects now. Thanks for helping me start to get my perspective back. Also, a good bill of health for my cat when I took her to the vet today helps. ; ) My shrink is going to talk to me about the article on Monday. If she has anything positive to say, I’ll pass it on to you. We can use all the positive news we can get! I believe you are right in suggesting that if our brains can get us into the mess, they very possibly can also do the reverse. Good thought to keep! Auf Widerlesen . . . ; )

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