Yeah, I find myself described here to a T. Spot on, all the way from headline to the last full stop!
Unfortunately, above article is written in German as it appeared in a publication where I live and come from. In a nutshell, it describes the dynamics in (emotionally) dysfunctional families – like mine. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they publish this on Christmas Day – of all possible other days in the year. Christmas, after all, is a holiday that sees families come together as one, most often at their parents’ home. However, there are those like me who need to put as much distance between themselves and their bio family for reasons of self protection and – ultimately – for reasons of getting a chance to heal.
It is a bit of a lengthy article for me to translate myself, so I can only hope that Google Translation service can make sense of it as it nails the unhealthy interactions in emotionally dysfunctional and repressive families to a T as far as I’m concerned and telling from half a century of personal experience with that (not to mention countless ill-conceived and unproductive therapy scenarios that ranged from “waste of time” to personal “ground zero” and getting retraumatized in the process). I do remember a moment – I believe it was some time in 2008 – that I let my sister know that I would see to a restraining order should home folks dare to contact me against my express wish not to. Events leading up to this position included shenanigans like e.g. claiming they had placed a missing person report with police in my area and claiming to have overheard me on my mobile phone that had somewhat miraculously switched itsself on while safely resting in my vest’s chest pocket with no pressure whatsoever on the keys and additionally secured by a mechanism that would require two non-adjacent keys to be pressed at the same time to unlock the keyboard. While I admit that it isn’t entirely impossible for this to happen, after careful consideration and trying to assess the likelihood of such a thing to happen, I must conclude that they had lied to me about that missing person’s report. To be safe, I called local police and inquired as to whether or not they such a report and whether anyone was looking for me. Very unsurprising it turned out that no such report had been placed, not with the local nor any of the nearby police stations. I believe it was then that I decided “enough is enough” and told my sister, whom they always involved in such trickery, that she had better gotten the message across to them that I no longer wished them to contact or monitor me in such ways. Revisiting that moment, it is blatantly embarrassing to see the degree of dysfunction becoming apparent in those actions…
In any case… reading that above linked article, sadly I have to conclude I’m one of those children who need to have as much distance between themselves and their bio folks for no other reason than to protect those bits and pieces of one’s personality that went somewhat unharmed or less tampered with. I guess, I had known this about 10 going on 12 years ago, but it apparently took another decade to fully sink in. If only I knew where to go from here. It often feels as if I had exhausted all my options.
Read the full story here.
Wow! One of my Facebook friends – and one of the few I’ve actually once met in real life – just shared this on their wall. In carefully familiarizing myself with these 12 very effective sounding ways of “disengaging” from the impact toxic people can have on your well-being, I immediately realized two things: 1., that much of what I’ve been dealing with throughout my entire life has a lot to do with the fact that unfortunately one of my former caretakers is – or at least was – a very toxic person to the point, where everyone around them is reduced to the part of feeding their disorder. 2. This is going to be my lifeline for the time ahead, where I have no other option but to temporarily move back to the house and people I grew up with/in. I’m going to save you the details of that situation, but let’s just say it’s either that or being homeless. Seeing as I don’t think I have the tools and robustness to actually survive as a homeless person, I have to comply with that option (while trying my best to be grateful, also, in order to make things hopefully go well).
I’d love to be positively surprised and I’m not ruling that option out per se. But having this list of really great sounding devices at hand is definitely going to help navigating those potentially difficult waters ahead. (And *sigh* – just when am I going to get a break again? Yeah, I hear you: I am going to have to make that break for myself. This in itsself will require taking the system on in the country I live in, which is another humunguous bear to wrestle with and which I’ve been wrestling with for the past 8+ years; in my best yoda voice: Carry on I must 😉 ).
On Friday night, I had written a longer blog along with this video. For some reason, it vanished into the recesses of the server cloud at wordpress.com – or I was too drunk at the time to actually hit the “publish” button and closed that text window prior to saving. I don’t think this was actually the case as far as I remember, but maybe this was the universe’s/internet’s funny way of saying that my blog post sucked to begin with… 🙂 So here I am, trying to capture the thoughts and sentiments again that were sparked by this clip. First off, upon watching above linked video, I realized without a shred of a doubt that Dr. Maté is right. What he says about pain and the role it plays in an addict’s life resonates strongly with me. How am I being an addict? Well, I think, I’ve become an addict to food by way of recurring bouts of binge eating accompanied by the “bright” choice of washing said food down with fairly sizable quantities of alcohol. (they feel sizable to me, as my constantly overclocked, overheated, overcharged nervous system – a “gift” from a lifelong existing C-PTSD as I learnt in 2013 – doesn’t require large amounts of any substance to produce even wilder modes of altered consciousness). So in admitting to the fact that I have become addicted to food and quite a bit of alcohol, I just mean to say that I think I get the “addict” part of his monolog here (and since I am aware of the health risks coming from that behavior I think about replacing these choices of self medicating with cannabis, which I believe to go easier on the system according to the research I’ve done on it – and maybe even produce some welcome positive side effects in regards to physical and emotional health). The urge to soothe the pain by overeating and then slipping into a quite comfortable sedation, the latter amplified by alcohol, is a way of using these substances as a pain killer – or to drive out utter depression from sometimes feeling completely void, empty, destroyed inside. At those times, the feeling is that the sentient part of me is irreversibly shattered. (By now, I think I have come to understand this as a false assumption brought on by lingering outcomes of experiences from my early and later past growing up, which seem to have dominated my inner monolog and thought process for … well forever. But realistically speaking, for as long as I can feel anything, if even just for fleeting moments, the sentient part of my being can’t be dead. I try to remind myself of this during times of severe distress serving as an anchor for not losing sight of the goal and perspective).
When I had sat down that night to link to the video and add my personal comments, I had gone through a series of strong, negative emotions that brought me to the brink of completely freaking out with red rage over spending a couple of days at my former home. I say “former home”, because I feel that I have made a new home for myself where I currently live – and I think I did so more or less consciously, because that former home never felt much like a good home to begin with. For reasons too mundane to go into detail about, I had to accept help with money from family in recent years and in order to make it acceptable for me in some way, I tried to talk myself into the idea that this might also be an opportunity to regrow a relationship that has wreaked havoc on my very being from pretty much the get-go. So I guess I’m saying that spending those two, three days there exposed me to XXL-sized triggers, the nature of which I even believe the Buddha to have driven beyond any measure of impulse control, not to mention preserving the “sweet spot” of that heartspace of balanced and centered awareness. Needless to say that I have to make quite the effort to get more control over my life and my actions and decisions again, if I’m not to keep betraying myself completely and thus sabotage any serious attempt at healing the still lingering, deep wounds from the past and their outcomes. But I’m digressing.
Emotional loss and trauma – I think, I can say from plenty of years of personal, felt experience that Dr. Maté nails it here. There were brief moments in my more recent past and in an attempt to heal myself all by myself when I gave myself permission to feel that loss, be with that pain of having lost true connection with my former caretakers from early on, brought on by being seperated from them and then later for all the abuse that went on and prevented me from expressing the true nature of self or even getting seen and maybe even loved for it. Those things definitely didn’t happen in healthy ways and it became never more evident to me than over those recent few days.
I mention these things, because – quite naively – I believed that if I could access this deeply rooted pain over isolation and loss, and feel it and let it come out, a natural consequence would be that I’d thus release that pain from my bodymind. But I now have to admit to myself that this was indeed a short-sighted approach. “No man is an island”, the saying goes and I had to find out that this is true. In order to truly release the still largely unaddressed and unprocessed pain from my earliest days on the planet, someone has to be there with me when I’m with my pain, as Maté points out from his experience as a therapist. Apparently, it doesn’t suffice to just feel that pain and then let it come out (in quite violent emotional break- and meltdowns that sometimes lasted for hours). Apparently, the witnessing part is an important component I had overlooked and which seems necessary to experience some sort of natural bonding that should have happened much earlier and feel a sense of connection with someone in order to truly have a healing effect. And the other aspect I realize about this loss is that the need to fill that void left behind by initial emotional loss doesn’t vanish over time. Time doesn’t heal those deep wounds from the past at all. Only compassion does. At least, I hope so.
I would have preferred to do the healing all by myself. But apparently it doesn’t work that way. In terms of taking pragmatic steps, I am now happy to report that I have contacted researchers conducting clinical trials for MAPS.org and made it on a wait list for another round of phase III clinical trials some time in late 2016/2017. Frankly speaking, I have no idea how to keep going until then. I can only hope that my innate wish to live and become healthy, which has kept me going for 50 years, won’t let me down so close to the actual first-time ever prospect of experiencing a potential true recovery from those deeply engraved wounds from day one… Wish me luck, if so inclined!
Your Life After Trauma: Discovering The New You | Professional Perspective | Heal My PTSD. Michele Rosenthal, who wrote “Your Life After Trauma“, repeatedly addresses the core conundrum of (lost) identity after trauma and how to shape your new one. (Hence the title, I presume). I must admit that I haven’t read the entire book yet, just her excerpts and blogs, so forgive me if the point I’m about to make is redundant. In any case, I’d like to preliminarily agree on Michele’s finding that trauma impacts identity. I have heard other survivors say a similar thing, e.g. this gentleman (very worth watching, but another heavy trigger warning!): But I also think, there’s more to it than “just” identity (I must reiterate my trigger warning on what’s to follow in the next few paragraphs). How about restoring dignity? How does a survivor of trauma – especially those, whose trauma was inflicted upon by way of abuse of a perpetrator – restore self-esteem and a feeling of being dignified? How do I arrive at the perception of “operating” a healthy self when all the self I’ve ever known is one that’s defined by abuse and being manipulated into believing one was undeserving of dignity, respect and – to use the big word – love? (on a side note: Can we repair the relationship with an abuser and more importantly: Is it even within our responsibility or possibilities?)
These questions address the realm of forgiveness and for me, that was and still is the hard part, the part that sits at the root of perceived isolation: Our commonly accepted notion of a “good person” includes the ability to forgive a wrongdoer and “rise above”, be “the bigger man (or woman)”. While forgiveness is certainly a noble trait in a person, I think there can be situations when forgiveness becomes impossible, particularly so, if one gets programmatically humiliated over long periods of time and where one’s idea of self hinges on the concept of being merely an extension of another person’s self – serving no other purpose than helping them to compensate for whatever shortage of love they went through (and thus technically creating a situation of co-dependency and thus completing the cycle of abuse). Now, I’m aware that human history sports some almost superhuman acts of forgiveness, e.g. the late Nelson Mandela’s approach on those people in power, who held him incarcerated for almost all of his life. Or take Dr. Martin Luther King’s philosophy – or the New Testament. The list goes on. There are numerous approaches and philosophies that posit forgiveness as the ultimate personal liberation from a place of suffering and the quintessential climax of personal evolution. I think I get the idea behind that and I also think I can see, how releasing a grudge can be relieving and liberating. But can forgiveness really work unilaterally? Is it really forgiveness, if a victimized person decides to sort of “embrace” the actions of a previous perpetrator and arrive at an understanding that doing what they did was part of their particular journey? Or is it rather betrayal of that part of self, which got humiliated and trampled upon? If I “let go” and “move on” – doesn’t it automatically include turning my back on that part of self that got hurt so badly? How do I really reconcile the story of the battered child? By telling them “farewell, kid!”? If so, then this certainly comes at the price of sacrificing a part of true identity which got lost in the drama of abuse, never to be restored or healed. It actually then means consciously burying a part of self that got destroyed by a perpetrator (which then – to me – requires grief counselling to come first before taking any other steps in a therapeutic process). Can this really be the idea behind forgiveness, i.e. helping a perpetrator by consciously killing and burying a part of self that is a genuine aspect of an individual’s personality? Doesn’t this mean I’m becoming a complice in the act? And if so – how can I look at myself in the mirror and not feel a sense of shame and guilt towards myself? It seems paradoxic to me to speak of “recovery” and “healing” when that particular path of recovery requires me to betray and actually sever an aspect of self I’ve always felt to be at the core of my being (and an aspect of self I seem to have a much easier time of accepting and lovingly embrace). It’s a paradox I haven’t been able to reconcile so far and it seems to stand in the way of truly getting to move on. Sure, we can always introduce the concept of “time” and how an adult self no longer is equal to the child self. Of course, it isn’t as we had to adopt a number of coping techniques in order to survive and function. So I think, I have been – albeit unconsciously – shaping an identity from the debris of my former child self. And I think I have succeeded in doing that. But … along with all the “progress” and increasing ability to adapt to the challenges in life, there’s been this nagging sense of betrayal at the core of my inner monolog. There’s always been a sense of perpetration on my part – and that sense of betrayal seems to revolve around that abused and battered child self, who never got their former reality validated and acknowledged for what it was: A living nightmare, a prison, an incarceration! Personally, I don’t think there can be any true recovery, if one’s past doesn’t get validated at some point. If that validation doesn’t happen – e.g. by the perpetrator saying or signalling: “I see you and I see what I’ve been doing to you” and then ideally going on to say “I’m sorry, please forgive me!” or in some other way, by e.g. the so-called “empathic witness” as Alice Miller called it – then I think dignity remains impaired and control over one’s life and actions isn’t really restored, unless – and this is important! – we take other actions to address this situation, e.g. by firmly divorcing a former perpetrator from our current life. (which is also an aspect that keeps coming up in Jeff Brown’s work of removing the debris of a hurtful past and reshaping the human being at the core of one’s individuality and which seems to be an essential step in empowering oneself and reclaiming autonomy). So, what was I saying? Are we stuck in the past forever, unless a perpetrator asks our forgiveness? And can we only move on by betraying that aspect of self that got shunned and shamed from early on? I truly don’t know. Time and again when pondering this particular conundrum, the answer seems to be – a rather devastating – “yes”. I hope, someone out there strongly opposes and tells me otherwise. And if not: Can life still be worthwhile, albeit being severely damaged and then needing to arrive at a place of acceptance as the inevitable grounds of operating from? I’m in the process of finding out, I guess.
(P.S. I think, you’ll understand my trigger warning by now. If this blog has triggered you, I do ask your forgiveness for potentially having done so… But it seems to me that all the sources I’ve consulted so far and all the conversations I’ve been having in regards to this – maybe minus Jeff Brown’s work – seem too easily ready to sidestep this aspect)
Let me have your thoughts, if so inclined. Better even: Tell me, I got it wrong (and how I got it wrong)
Here’s another one by Dr. Levine. Now, this may trigger some. However – and seeing as I come from a history of abuse in early and later childhood, which was largely emotional and verbal, I don’t recall sexual abuse – I find him to be spot on with everything he says and particularly how he says it. I also find him to come across as very compassionate, very understanding, astute and open-minded and seeing those traits from his speech here and the work he refers to, that alone has comforting, reassuring qualities where I’m concerned. But see for yourself, if so inclined.
I will openly admit that following my material demise in 2008, I had taken to the bottle quite a bit (and prior to that as well) as a form of self-medicating. While I’m aware of the adverse effects of alcohol on physical health and have no intention of promoting alcohol use, I do seem to have found one potentially helpful effect of it on people dealing with one or the other kind of trauma and emotional injuries from the past. I’ll try to describe this as best as I can here while reiterating my cautioning or warning in following suit in similar ways. (i.e. “don’t try this at home”)
In my own quest, introspection and some associated research in regards to identifying the damage done to me from repeated severe childhood trauma right from postnatal weeks along with an upbringing later, which sported quite its share of verbal, emotional and mild physical abuse, alcohol turned out to be a catalyst in recent years in regards to washing up pent up emotions, largely emotions of pain I had either been made to suppress as part of my “rearing” or was forced to suppress in order to keep going and to function “normally”. In retrospect, what stuns me the most is that I actually did function fairly normal, at least when looked upon from the outside. However, it’s been from early on that I’ve wondered about this sense of isolation and how it was that I wasn’t given the right to express my true nature like everybody else seemed to do without any inhibition or moderation – or so it appeared to me. Yet the conditioning from a guardian with a narcisstic personality disorder sharing roof and bed with a co-dependent person suffering from their own unprocessed trauma – I strongly suggest the introduction of a general parenting aptitude test prior to reproducing, seriously! – was so pronounced and complete that it never even occurred to me to protest or make an attempt to break free from the behavioral patterns I was forced into. Plus, from mere survivalist pragmatism I gained an understanding from early on that it wouldn’t do anything but get me in more trouble than I already was in, if I made attempts of standing up for myself. My own sister was a vivid example to me of this approach – i.e. standing up for yourself – going nowhere, at least not in a dysfunctional family. So I increasingly preferred to suffer in silence rather than stand up to the abuse I was subjected to. However, one day the silence part didn’t pan out any longer as at one point out of the proverbial blue skies my childhood best buddy declared he’d refuse to come visit me at home any more for reasons of inadvertently being made witness of the verbal abuse going on in our home and his personal feelings of comfort and sanity getting compromised from that (my words today, he expressed himself differently, but nonetheless clear and decidedly; we were 11 years old when this happened. Luckily, I got him to concede and ring the door bell without coming upstairs…).
In light of this background and a long history of repeated failure as an adult, both in my personal as well as my career life and this coming from my history of emotional immaturity due to an unnurturing upbringing and being left at dealing with severe emotional deficits to this day, I began to realize that I needed to dig deeper and that “acting normal” as a coping strategy hadn’t really worked for me. It should have rung a bell with me to see one significant other after another eventually break up with me after varying lengths of time. Out of some past 20 romantic relationships there is only one that I walked out of. In all other cases the person meaning to have a rewarding emotional bond with me became frustrated and hopeless and walked away. And sure enough, I’d do what I had always been doing: Distract myself, immerse myself in work, find a new quick fix – like taking up waterskiing – or whatever I deemed fit to deal with in the situation. But after ultimately getting divorced in 2003 and this happening after a period of roughly four years during which my ex-wife and I were alternating between breaking up, getting back together, trying to reconcile our differences, then getting put through the horrific experience of a miscarriage and the ensuing trauma for my beloved ex-wife that ultimately had us end up in counselling, both as a couple and each of us individually, with all this craziness going on for quite some time, we both realized in 2002 that we had exhausted our options and thus were left at needing to split for good. I had no idea how devastating the aftermath of actually calling it quits for good would be to me and I believe the ensuing downward spiral in my life to have originated from that horrible loss. After all, with all the abuse inflicted on me for all these years growing up, thus never having experienced all the trials and tribulations of normal puberty and adolescence and missing out on too many things to mention here, for the first time I actually get the feeling to have someone in my life, who really loves me for no other reason than – sharp breath – me being the person I am, an experience I had missed out on until then (I was some 28 years of age when I first met my ex-wife). I recall genuine happiness for the first time in my life in the years that followed. A close friend at the time once said, he experienced me as “blossoming” and coming into my own skin like never before. I think he was more accurate than he could have known: For the first time, I was just being myself – and someone loved me for it! It’s still an epic thought and feeling when thinking about this. And then this would be taken from me again…
So I understood that something was fundamentally wrong with me, if women kept escaping from me once they had come to really know me better and once the level of intimacy had surpassed a threshold of “skin deep”. And I also intuitively knew that there was no point to ever try again until I was “fixed”. After seeing my wife for the last time following our divorce appointment in court, I consciously decided: “That’s it. No more romantic endeavours for you any more!” I felt so broken, so infinitely corrupted from the inside out that I even began to see myself as an emotional poison noone in their right mind and heart would be able to tolerate. (actually, and quite frighteningly – this is probably a very accurate description of my inner self). So I began to look at each of my perceived shortcomings, contacted our former therapist again, booked some sessions, ordered and read just about any book the abstract of which resonated with me and started to pick at and dissect the mess I felt I was. Which brings us to what I’m alluding to in the headline: Alcohol.
I think, we can all agree on the empirical fact that alcohol lowers inhibition in people – for better or worse, unfortunately often times worse. I found this lowered inhibition to be very true for me: Every time I’d treated myself to a bit of a head “buzz”, the inner critic would fall silent, thus giving me access to emotional realms I’d usually wall myself off from in order to “keep it together” and staying functional – whatever the latter means for a person no longer employed or actively participating in the general workforce. As I noticed my guards coming down following an intoxication that was strong enough to alter my consciousness but not as strong as to completely shroud or even halt thought processes, I also noticed an emotionally stronger response to certain stimuli, particularly when watching movies that somehow resonated with my own history of abuse and multiple trauma. As I noticed this effect, I actively ventured further into this direction and gave myself permission to let these feelings manifest in me – even to the point when I’d repeatedly fall apart on the sofa, sobbing and whimpering for hours on end and allowing myself to feel the full effect of all the bottled up pain washing over me and dominate me for as long as it lasted – all this in the private setting of my home, of course, which I inhabited all by myself and didn’t share with anyone (and still do). For now, I can’t say, whether or not these meltdowns have fixed anything, but they sure gave me a sense of relief mixed with a sense of reconnecting with my authentic, albeit badly bruised and damaged self and allowing the heart to express its full emotional virility, even if it comes out as pain.
I think, my tentative finding from these meltdowns is that they instilled a sense of being more at peace with myself. In addition to that, I think I am now better able to have more control over some impulses and violent outbursts of anger, which would often take hold of me over seemingly small things and all this being basically rooted in a persisting sense of helplessness, where I’m overcompensating the latter by becoming overly defensive. Does this make sense to you?
Like I said: I don’t mean to vouch for alcohol as a catalyst or driver of emotional exploration. For mere despair and not having access to better-suited options of treatment any longer, I found it to be the only “tool” available at the time. I am well aware that this can’t become a long-term approach…
Your thoughts, if so inclined?
The therapeutic movement puts a lot of emphasis on abuse when it talks about trauma. What is often missing is a dialogue about the traumatic nature of neglect. Both abuse and neglect can have a traumatic impact on the receiver and impede their developmental processes. When a child’s needs and presence are ignored, they often experience the neglect as a trauma. With no tools to understand that the parent’s neglect is a function of their own issues and challenges, the child has a tendency to assume that they are being neglected because they are unworthy of attention and love: “If the parent doesn’t notice me, if the parent doesn’t meet my needs, I ‘must’ be unwelcome on the planet.” If this internalization lasts too long, it can congeal into a web of self-hatred that is difficult to overcome. It is difficult to believe in our inherent magnificence if we carry the belief that we are unworthy of love. May we begin to weave a deeper understanding of neglect into our understanding of trauma. If we want children to believe in their value, we have to remind them of it by attuning to them and meeting their needs. Even a comment like “I am sorry I have not been attentive lately- I am overwhelmed- Please don’t take it personally” can make a big difference. A little bit of attention goes a long way…
I can attest to the above coming from a history of (partial) neglect that left its mark on me since it happened at critical times (right after birth for a duration of some weeks and again at ages 2 and 4). I just turned 50 and I still haven’t overcome the inherent/instilled “unworthy” pattern.
Does CPTS manifest an infinite loop of symptoms? Continue reading