And now, the New Year’s face of trauma recovery: I am so grateful for how wonderful I feel this year! That’s why I wanted you to see some of my holiday pictures – so that when I tell you in mere words that “it’s worth it” to confront all this trauma by feeling it to heal it, you can see for yourself that it’s true.
My holidays kicked off with a shine on Nov. 24 when I sang Handel’s “Messiah” at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda in a full-scale replica of the White House East Ballroom. They even handed me a 17th-century gown and said “here, wear this.”
I looked like Bo Peep searching for her lost sheep amidst the crystal chandeliers (I called the Dollar Store to see if they had any shepherd’s crooks, but they just said “Yeah we get a lot of crooks in here…”). It was a riot… and we sang good. DVDs to come, ask me.
Many of us, whether in trauma or just excess stress, unfortunately find the holidays to be the worst time of the year. When the whole world is supposed to be joyous because they’re cuddling up with family, those of us who don’t have the Picture-book Perfect family can feel like failures, feel unloved, and even feel that we don’t belong to exist. I sure did, in particular for the ten years 2002-2012, in spades.
But not this year. It’s no exaggeration to say that 2013 was the best holiday season of my entire life.
Trauma stinks, to put it politely, and I’ve been posting some pretty awful stuff about about “as bad as it gets” with infant brain stem trauma and how the emotional pain can louse up a whole life. I had some friends back east who in jest (usually) didn’t call me “Lousy Brousie” for nothing.
I’ve also noted that the worst of infant trauma can happen not only in poor and violent areas, but in the most wealthy and educated families. In fact it happens in 50% of American households.
I wanted to let you know that every step we take to walk fully through whatever trauma we may have, is so worth it. It’s worth it, to feel all the even terrifying feelings we sometimes need to feel to heal them — because the healing can feel “as good as it gets.”
I may be clowning around now and having Thanksgiving dinner at the beach, which I did — but it was a result of a lot of hard internal work. Doing this work results in a growing feeling of “love inside” as Dr. Henry Cloud puts it, which at times can feel as if God’s love were pouring in the windows of our soul. Or at least of the Nixon Library, which are some pretty huge floor-to-ceiling ornate windows…
And: this year I actually had Christmas! It’s amazing how much of the joys of Christmas we can miss when we’re frozen in dissociation. But now that I’m unfreezing, I get to experience the wonder of finally being alive. Starting in December I went to so many tree lightings and caroling parties that I began to gain weight because I could finally taste the food for the first time this year.
I went to the Nutcracker Ballet with a dear friend, just at a local high school – and got 100 times more out of it than if I’d flown to New York to see the New York City Ballet’s world-famous production.
I could hardly keep myself from leaping up onto the stage. It was a shock how fully I could hear Tchaikovsky’s music, feel it in my heart, see the children prancing around, like never before. It feels like the joy a child feels when we just jump for the sheer joy of being alive. Everything feels so real. I tried to get tickets to go see it a second time but they were sold out…
Humans can only feel safe in the presence of caring humans. “The Mind is a dangerous place – never go in alone.” So yes: I do mean it when I say “Don’t Try This at Home.” And I wanted you to know that it’s all worth it. And that you are worth it. And yes – you can find compassionate friends who will let you attach.
Dealing with trauma has required me to set up a very broad safety net: an empathic, painstaking therapist skilled in Adult Attachment Theory; support groups modeled on the AA and other “anonymous” organizations’ principle of total acceptance and emotional support for the wounded; and close friends who were serious about staying attached to me — because they wanted to heal, too.
A lot of these snowmen on the gingerbread house on Newport’s Balboa Island were quite frozen in dissociation when I first met them. But over the years, as we shared our histories and helped each other grieve our real grief, we began to heal from the past, and melt our frozen hearts. So now above on Dec. 22 we’re all enjoying Christmas! (And yes there were real people involved, but the first rule of this kind of deep sharing is 100% confidentiality – so I can’t use their pix…)
Therapy alone won’t do it. It requires the whole “recovery suite.”
As the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, attachment disorder, brain science and the biology of brain stem dysregulation have become understood in the last ten years, we’ve all focused on creating “preventative programs” to help babies and children now. We’re trying to alert parents to be more attentive to their infants and to these issues. Obviously this is necessary and mission-critical.
But I’d also like to point out: if half of today’s parents themselves, like 58% of the adult ACE Study participants, have moderate to severe brain stem developmental trauma, will working with parents on how to be better parents be enough? Necessary, but not sufficient, as mathematics textbooks put it.
I wanted you to know that you are worth it, specifically. You can find Recovery friends and support groups to really lean on — so that you can get to the parts of the traumatized brain where you can feel the deep stuff and really experience deep healing.
Dr. Dan Siegel calls it widening our “window of tolerance” to feel things which are repressed in dissociation. This biologically can only be done in “dyadic consciousness,” in the presence of other compassionate human beings whom we can trust and to whom we can therefore become attached.
Otherwise the brain stem just knocks us out into dissociation and we can’t feel a thing, period. You can’t fool your brain stem; it knows you much too well.
Don’t we need a campaign to heal the parents, too? Not for some socio-economic brackets – but all Americans? It sure is worth it! That’s me in the ocean at Dana Point on Christmas Day, in 80-degree sunshine! A New York girl’s dream come true. (You can see the grin on my face if you click on the picture… )
In one example, scientists report that the infant brain, from conception and early cell division, must divide cells and grow based on some kind of rhythm, and for nine months it is driven to tune on a cellular level to its mother’s heart and breathing rates, among her other vitals. “We have a pregnant employee who’s an athlete who’s resting heart rate is 40 beats/minute; she’s likely to have a very relaxed baby who likes relaxed rhythms. And a hyper-thyroid mother whose heart rate is 95 may have a baby who finds a higher regulating rhythm,” Bruce Perry reports.
But a mother with ACE trauma herself, hysteria, or any high stress often has “a totally irregular heart rate, breathing and other vital signs,” he notes. “These moms end up with kids who are difficult to sooth because the mother had no rhythm consistently present for them to entrain to in utero. After birth, they can’t find any rhythm that is soothing.” Perry says that can easily cause developmental trauma.
Such mothers themselves, even the most determined to love their baby, require deep psychological and biological healing for their own trauma. That is often true for fathers who marry such women as well.
If a mother isn’t “attuned” inside herself, how can she truly attune to her baby? I had so little ability to attune to a baby in my 20s and 30s that I literally “didn’t even have it in me” to have children. “I would have thought the very idea would have been absolutely terrifying to you,” my fourth — and last! — therapist said (finally found a good one). Without far reaching programs to heal the parents, many will remain biologically incapable of attuning to children.
It’s Adult Attachment Disorder which is the underlying cause of childhood trauma — not babies.
So remember, all you adults out there, including you who may be in this field of endeavor because of your own childhoods or because you just can’t bear watching the inter-generational trauma being repeated over and over:
You’re Worth It.
I raise this cup of spicy home-made Christmas Tea to you, with the most contented smile I’ve ever had on my face, to prove it.
Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.
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