Tag Archives: trauma

Survival Instinct

#18: Last book blog from “Don’t Try This at Home,” Chapter 3

Goya Capricho 75 ¿No_hay_quién_nos_desateLast time, I was in the hospice with Mom in 2008 and Dr. Rita told me to “just disengage.”  “I can’t disengage, she’s my Mom and she may be dying,” I said. “Besides, I couldn’t do that to my sister.”

But the real story was, self-protection literally never entered my mind.  Since infancy, self-protection wasn’t in my biochemistry; my entire organism was all about trying to oblige Mom.  I took Mom’s excommunication verdict when I was 25 the same way – the idea of protest or self-defense never remotely occurred to me.  I didn’t even know I had self-preservation instincts.  Whu Nhu?

Yet we all have survival instincts – strong ones.  Trouble was, my instincts for self-preservation had been constantly being overwhelmed by events which seemed beyond my control.

I was beyond clueless in 2008, but here’s a fact I’ve learned since: “the overwhelm of our instincts for survival by events completely beyond our control” is the technical definition of trauma.  And when our survival instincts are forced into trauma mode, “double-plus un-good things happen,” to quote George Orwell.

As I went into overwhelm in that 2008 hospice, it was like living in a nightmare during the day, all day, every day.  I began to experience days when it felt as though Mom’s critical voice was screaming so loud in my head that her voice had become the inside of my head.  I began to have waking and sleeping nightmares about Goya’s Los Caprichos, a series of 80 etchings heavily populated by just such images.  All I wanted was for Mom to let go her claws from my brain. [FN1, Goya, above: “Can’t anyone unleash us?”]

One day watching Mom nap, I was dimly conscious of a horrifying gut reaction from deep in some prehistoric part of my mental sub-basement, a place out of Dante’s “Inferno.”  Up came a horrible idea: something which is inflicting so much pain upon my sister and me requires the raw animal response of fight, flight, or who-knows-what.

I looked at Mom and thought “This is a creature in total misery because it knows no God and no perspective.  It can’t find enough meaning in life about which to feel peace, so it’s going out inflicting as much hurt as it can on the universe, because watching people like me suffer is the only way it can know that it exists.  This is a bad golem, a hurtful thing, and not only is it hurting me, it’s about to be flown to New York to make life miserable for my beloved sister.  I must defend my little sister!  Why do we prolong this golem’s ability to torture itself, my sister and me?”

Horrified at my own hideous emotional upsurge, I flat-out ran from the room and the hospice.  Many palm trees narrowly escaped the fury of my assault upon the grounds around Mom’s condo that night as I jogged off this unwelcome animal fury, until I limped inside and fell asleep senseless in my work-out togs.

In short, parts of me were literally going mad.  There were deep places lurking in me with a gut instinct that emotional pain this intense must mean that I was about to be killed – and we all have a survival instinct to fight back.  Luckily the higher parts of me prevailed.

Caution: in trauma, adverse experiences can feel either much worse or much better than they actually were.  Perhaps Mom was no such person.  Perhaps I was traumatized during my incubation, then I projected my anxieties on her.  We have no laboratory proof either way.  But my job is my own healing and transformation.  For that we must go beyond denial, to feel into our feelings without acting out.

I’m Sorry

Goya Capricho 72 No_te_escaparásDuring the last three days in the hospice, I decided I had to bring some calm to Mom’s soul, or all this would kill me along with her.  I went in one morning and basically insisted on loving her.  I sang to her.  I held her hand.  I rubbed her back.  I used the fact that we thought she was about to be kicked out of the hospice for failure to die according to the Medicare schedule, as a selling point.

“Things are looking up,” I said, “Linda’s finding you a nice place in New York.” My sister was in court running legal cases all day, while trying to find a nursing home nearby. “How am I going to get to New York?” Mom demanded.  I talked her step by step through how we would first get her up into a wheel chair, then onto a plane with oxygen, and I’d sit with her on the plane, and Linda and her family would meet us at the other end.  In great detail.  That seemed to calm Mom down.

“I’m sorry I separated you from the family,” she finally said, 100% out of the blue, regarding me with a baleful look before falling asleep.

I felt moved and teary, but somehow it wasn’t enough to make me feel much better.  I was way too far gone into the emotional pain pit.  [FN2, Goya, above: “You will not escape”]

During these last weeks, I was staying alone nights in Mom’s upscale retirement pad on the beach, out of my mind with isolation and grief.  To keep my immune system from collapsing, I’d jog around the gated community late until midnight after 12 hours in the hospice, so disoriented that I had trouble not running into a palm tree or two and bashing my own head in.

I had to use the computer for business, and I couldn’t go through this alone; one night I “just found myself” on Match.com.  What, you ask, after all those weeks of diving deep into the pain of the Inner Child, then being told “Go Way Kid” by my mentors, and then more weeks of ultra pain delivered in person by Mom?  “That stretch in the Florida hospice with Mom was the worst weeks of my entire life,” I wrote at the time.

Wasn’t I more ready to enter a mental hospital than a dating website?  In retrospect, that’s a big “Yes.”  Years later I heard that the standard joke at Alcoholics Anonymous is about a guy who’s been sober for months, then suddenly “just finds himself” with a drink in his hand. That’s exactly how I “just found myself” on dating websites.

But nobody warned me at the time.  In fact, my second therapist Dr. Rita told me that I was doing very well on her program.  She said that I was well enough to go back to work, and that I was well enough to drop my own therapy and fly around the country to physically nurse someone else for weeks.  She also said I was well enough to date.

In my mind, it was simple: I had a huge deficit of romantic love.  I’d gotten no deep emotional connection in my 27-year marriage, then I got a taste of it from Dan back East, a taste which blew me away.  I had accepted starving to death as a 27-year norm, then discovered there’s food out there.  Really tasty food, in fact it was addictive, if you recall.

Hitting the Bottle

Goya Capricho 43 El_sueño_de_la_razón_produce_monstruosNow it’s simple, I thought: “I married a bad man.  He was mean to me.  So I’ll just find a good man to love me.”  If Dan wouldn’t, I’d find a “West Coast Dan” who would.

What I didn’t know was that I was in so much pain from not merely 27 years but a lifetime without attachment, that I was hitting the bottle.  I was trying to anesthetize an entire life of emotional pain, with the “feel good” of romance.  [FN3, Goya, above: “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”]

I couldn’t stand the thought of returning from Florida to California after week upon week of this living Hell, with nothing and no one to whom to look forward.  After my evening jog, I’d take advantage of the three hour time delay to take calls from California into the wee hours.

“I hope to meet a productive man who has worked in transportation, construction, engineering, the military, science, or any field which gives him the satisfaction that, at the end of the day, he can look at his work and say:  ‘Today I created something to make the world better’,” my Match.com profile said.  “Such men seem to have the self-confidence necessary to love a real woman.” It also mentioned my singing.

“Hi, I’m a productive guy, and turn in a day’s effort for a day’s wage,” one aerospace engineer wrote back.  “I like to be active, love to play in the ocean during the summer, play racquet ball outdoors, and bicycle the Back Bay.  But I also have this music connection, and found it fascinating that you perform music.

“I have too have lived abroad, and I have a universal outlook on business models in today’s world.  It would be interesting to talk to you about the American and world economies.  Got to go practice the piano!  With a song in my heart…” he signed off.  A prospective accompanist, no less.  We spoke several times about everything from Schubert to Schopenhauer.

Another night there was Bob the Air Force man.  We both had the same science degree and an interest in international affairs; we hit it off by email and then by phone.  “I just read your profile and was impressed,” he wrote me.  “We seem to have a lot in common, including a connection to the military.  Appreciated what you wrote in your profile, and have never seen it put quite that way before (about productive men).

“The experiences I had during my many years of military service (world-wide travel + two wars) were exciting, inspiring, and humbling.  The average American has no idea how lucky he is to have had the good fortune of being born here, rather than one of the thousand other places I have visited around the globe.”

Mom passed away overnight in Florida the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  We had been scheduled to fly her to New York two days later, that Tuesday.  My brother-in-law booked me to New York for Wednesday Thanksgiving eve, to give me two days to pack up whatever I could carry of Mom’s belongings in our parents’ suitcases.  I gave away most of the wall paintings to Mom’s friends and relatives, made arrangements for the furniture, brought whatever bulky items might sell to an e-Bay trader, and took calls from Match.com while packing.

We held a funeral for Mom in New York on Thanksgiving eve in my sister’s upscale church.  Again Linda and her family said all the words.  When they were done, I just got up and sang again, this time Mom’s favorite song, “Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”  Again everyone cried and almost applauded my singing.

Again I was without tears.  At least this time I knew why.  I had always lived in fear of Mom, and now she had spent her last six weeks doing what felt like trying to obliterated me.  I felt really awful.

I’d been scheduled for many months to sing in the Handel’s “Messiah” given annually at the prestigious Nixon Library in California on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  I decided that I’d had my life on hold while sitting in Florida long enough, and told Bob I’d be back for the performance.

“You can’t be alone in California the first night right after your Mom died,” he said. “I’d like to take you to dinner after the concert.”  We arranged it.

And you, dear reader, already know what happens next.

Footnotes

FN1   Goya, Francisco de, “Los Caprichos,” set of 80 aquatint prints, Madrid, 1799 :  Capricho № 75: ¿No hay quién nos desate? (Can’t anyone unleash us?)
FN2   Goya, Capricho № 72:  No te escaparás (You will not escape)
FN 3  Goya, Capricho № 43:  El sueño de la razón produce monstruos  (The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters)

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This is from Kathy’s forthcoming book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from the rest of her book 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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Isolation Row

#14 in my ongoing book blogs from “Don’t Try This at Home”

Last week my second therapist Dr. Rita was telling me to “heal yourself” to where I was reduced to singing Verdi arias about being doomed to live alone in a cave forever.  So I just felt worse.

isolation cell blueYet Rita continued drumming in the isolation message. “You don’t need Dan,” she scoffed about the rebound guy.  “You don’t need anyone else.  What you need is, to stop trying to heal the child who’s sick, with some guy’s d–k.  Just heal yourself.”

No, I may have New York potty mouth, but that did not come from me.  Yes, you did see that in this polite book on brain science, because that, verbatim, was the instruction from a therapist, at my great personal financial and emotional expense.

That is a quote directly from this refined, soft-spoken, highly educated lady, right in the middle of her technical shrink-speak in my 2008 notebook – and I doubt she coined the rhyme.  It must be standard trade jargon in some PhD circles.

Note the irrational but seamless segue asserting that only total isolation can work.  Going to other people, anyone at all, is linked to the disgust and mortification of “going to some guy’s d—k.”

I’d never heard of different ways to “go to other people” back then, but what about Dr. Rita?  Had she never heard of a middle ground somewhere between an isolation cell, and a “d—k?”  Say, go to a pastor, a divorce seminar, a women’s group, or a girlfriend?

Or maybe, gasp, go to your therapist for emotional support?  I sure never wouldda thunk of that at the time!  By then, that would have sounded to me like a nice outing to visit Torquemada. “Why do they call him Torquemada?” asks Mel Brooks.  “Because you can’t torq him outta anything!” [FN1]

While it did turn out to be true that neither sex nor romance can heal childhood emotional pain, can it be done by lying alone on a sheet covered in applesauce?  (Oct. 11 blog)

 Death Sentence

Mel Brooks Torquemada crop best”But this is a Death Sentence,” my emotional limbic brain, otherwise known as my heart, responded forcefully from deep within. “This feels like a Death Sentence,” I kept telling Rita, “This isn’t working!

“I do need someone else to love me!” I would go to her in tears saying.  “If you tell me do it myself, that means I’ll be alone forever!  Something feels terribly wrong!  It makes me queasy to say I have to do it myself, like I’m not good enough that someone else would love me enough to help me.  It’s a sinking feeling.  You’re telling me that no one else is going to love me enough to help me, which means I must be intrinsically unlovable.”

By making clear to me that they wouldn’t work with me unless I found a phantom inner child I just could not find, both my first and second therapist were in fact telegraphing just that. “You’re the problem, everyone else can do it, you’re uncooperative, we can’t work with you, you’re a failure.”

Not too far from “unlovable,” is it?

I joke now about Mel Brooks pronouncing death sentences (above).

But back then, as I searched for an inner child, all I could feel was a bottomless well of emotional pain and terror like something out of the real Inquisition.  I’d find something really horrifying deep inside which I was afraid to look at, and have repeat nightmares about dead fish with horribly dead eyes (or worse unmentionable themes).  No inner child, just horror.

Is that horror, me? Am I a freak with some kind of inner dead fish or inner monster, instead of a “normal inner child”? The whole time, I can find no mention in my notes of the word “trauma.”  But what, I ask you, was all of this, if not trauma?

The only thing I could do, once in this  down-spiral result of the isolation, was to sit in my room hugging a pillow, and repeat to myself how badly I wanted to be held by someone, anyone — anyone at all.  Then I’d think of how Dan the rebound guy held and caressed me head to toe for hours and days on end, for the first time ever in my life.  (For some reason my ex preferred tennis rackets, and my parents were too busy.)

In particular, I would recall the overwhelming sense of relaxation I experienced with Dan, in a way that bowled me over.  Granted, a funny way to talk about relaxation.  But it was that big a contrast to my “normal” of the time, which after all was a very high- performance, finish-off-the project and bring home the bacon “normal” more suitable to someone as relaxed as, say, Donald Trump (possibly the least relaxed being on Earth.)  “You just take all the tension out of my body” I used to tell Dan.

It got to where I’d walk into his room after work, take off my watch and literally throw it against the far wall – hard, because it was a really big room – at which point we would both dissolve into gales of laughter.  Temporarily.

Romance vs Therapy?

But now all that was gone, and I was the living opposite of relaxed.  Now the original Dan emotional pain which drowned out my Dad’s funeral, blew out my transcontinental air budget, hijacked my world and sent me running into therapy would start all over again, in an endless loop of grief.

True ManhoodCertainly my thinking brain was growing dimly aware that for all his tractor-drivin’, gun-slingin’ he-man manners, Dan was not much of a real man when it came to women.  Somewhere in the same 2008 notes I also wrote quite reasonably that his no- attachment credo couldn’t be right because “if all men treated women that way there would be no one to care for the children and no more human race.”   Wouldn’t a real man stand up to protect a woman (from guys like him) ?

Yet go tell that to my emotional limbic brain while it was locked up alone.  Ha.

How was I to stay away from men, when romance was the only thing left on the planet which appeared to offer some semblance of holding?  I felt sure this kind of holding must be “bonding” (aka attachment). [FN2]   I had been totally unaware of the existence of this wonderful thing until the “Inner Child Workbook” revealed it to me, and also revealed that I lacked it so utterly.  Now, all I could think of was:  couldn’t I please get some bonding before I die?

Around this time without even thinking I wrote something in a notebook, then blanked out on it completely and put it away.  A few months  later going over my notes, I noticed it with a shock and here is what I wrote:  “Dan loved me more than anyone in my entire life has ever loved me.”

Huh? An astonishing thing to say, given Dan’s predatory behavior and utter lack of regard in throwing me out of his farm house days after my dad’s death.

Still, I stared at that sentence for a long time: “Dan loved me more than anyone in my entire life has ever loved me.”  And then I had to admit to myself despite all reason, that it was true — not that I’d dare tell another soul, least of all my, er, therapist.

I just flat out did not feel as though I had gotten anything near the kind of love that Dan had given me, however meager, in the almost two years we were together, from my mom, dad, ex, or anyone in my life before.

A sad statement on the state of my soul but still the truth is the truth.

And hey, compared to both my therapists, Dan did love me a heck of a lot more. What after all, did they give me? No wonder I kept trying to crawl back into Dan’s arms in subsequent romances – at least from Dan I got something!

Where were the diagnostic tools – or any diagnostic method? Where was the Adult Attachment Interview, I ask again? Hadn’t Dr. Rita read any Adult Attachment Disorder books or anything on adult Attachment Theory or adult Attachment Disorder?

Once again I thought, Fall, 2008 surely was the end of my world.  Surely it could get no worse than this.

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This is from Kathy’s forthcoming 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 of excerpts from the rest of her book each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about adult attachment theory, attachment disorder in adults, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

Footnotes

FN1  Mel Brooks, “History of the World Part I” (film), 1981; Brooks plays Grand Inquisitor Tomas Torquemada (among others).

FN2  Technically there is a fine distinction between”bonding” and “attachment” in recent psychiatric literature, but for years therapists used the terms interchangeably.

Tagged With: Adult Attachment Disorder, Adult Attachment Disorder Books, Adult Attachment Theory, Attachment Disorder in Adults, Adult Attachment Interview, Divorce, Rebound, Emotional pain, Grief, Inner Child, Therapy, Trauma, Limbic Brain

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Down the Rabbit Hole

#13 in my ongoing book blogs from “Don’t Try This at Home”

When Dr. Rita heard about my exploits last week with “The Inner Child Workbook” and the applesauce caper, she said, “Well, I thought you could do some reading, but we don’t recommend doing those exercises unsupervised.” Now you tell me; the damage was done. [FN1]

I was terrified by my lack of bonding (attachment) which the Workbook had revealed.  But from my notes, I was too terrified to realize that I should try to describe it to Dr. Rita.  Anyway, she had her own agenda, which caused more damage.

Inner Child Garden w. fairyIn guided imagery, a professional creates a script for a sort of dream sequence and has the patient imagine it, to uncover feelings locked in the subconscious.  It’s a fine tool in the right situation, but this weren’t it.

“Close your eyes,” she said, “and imagine you’re going down, down, down below the ground. You emerge onto a path to a secret garden. You see a little girl about 5 coming toward you. Imagine you take the child’s hand; notice how tiny it is.”  She had me sit with the girl by a stream awhile “to get used to each other,” then lean against a tree to “see whether she’d sit on my lap.”  But I still could find no child inside me; trying just created more anxiety.

Next Dr. Rita said “Let’s ask the child some questions. Respond without thinking, from the gut. What’s your first memory of Father?”  “A pair of slacks going behind a closed door,” I mumbled.  Spontaneous, yes, and I’d never said that before, but that was me talking.  No child involved.

“What’s your first memory of Mother?”  “I got a B in kindergarten and I was afraid to go home.  So I hid in the class bathroom trying to erase it.  I wrote an A over it, but I got caught and it was really awful.” Again it came spontaneously, but this was me talking, and it was an incident I’d remembered all my life.  I can still see the inside of the class bathroom door and feel the fear.  But I’d just tried to forget it since Mom was a fact of life, like the weather.

“You had to put on a front because they didn’t accept the real you,” Dr. Rita announced.  Me, I never would have thought of any of this.  She, however, had a whole analysis: “Both your father and mother abandoned and rejected you.” Gosh I never would have thought of that, that sounds really embarrassing!

“You have ‘repetition compulsion’- you’re compelled to find men who abandon, so you can recreate the problem ‘on stage.’  So you can go back and fix it,” Rita went on. “But you didn’t break it – you don’t have to fix it.” I wrote that motto on a large 5 x7 file card and it’s still on my desk today.  It sure sounded like plausible and useful data.

But where was the Adult Attachment Interview, needed to diagnose anyone starting therapy?  It’s been around since 1996. Why didn’t she tell me about Attachment Disorder in adults like me, as well as in children? That might have given words to my terror at my lack of bonding. [FN2]

Instead it was all head talk, and the solution was even more head talk.  Dr. Rita, my second therapist, concluded with the same advice verbatim that my first therapist gave at the end of my Oct. 11 blog: “Just let it go,” she said.

“Just stop trying to fix it with men, and let the past go. It’s an act of will.” Just think your way out of it.  But “trying to fix the heart using the head, is like trying to paint with a hammer—it only makes a mess,” as I later learned – much later. [FN3]

Isolation Again

Then Rita lowered the isolation boom—again. “You are the one who has to do it,” she intoned. “You have to feel the little girl in your heart and comfort her, love her, and heal her.  She wants you to be the one to make her feel safe and be the Mom she never had.

“You have to do it alone, that’s the whole point. If you go to other people, she’ll be frightened, because she’ll think you don’t love her, if you’re running to others. You’ll scare the little girl away if you go to anyone else. A child will always run from anyone other than Mom.  Especially from men.  If you go to men she’ll be terrified.”

Forza-zinka-milanovStill, there was absolutely nothing that felt like a child inside me.  I tried and tried; I was paying good money for all this! I listened to Rita’s “Garden Path” imagery over and over on a tape I’d made of her, and did all the exercises; no result but despair.  It was more like “down the Rabbit Hole.”

I got out Verdi’s epic “La Forza del Destino” in which Leonora is consigned to live alone in a monastery cave unto death, to repent of her ill-fated love affair. I sang her farewell aria until I sobbed. I took it all very seriously, and Zinka Milanov (right) rocks as Leonora. But I felt worse and worse.

“I can’t do any of this if I can’t find a child!  Is there any way to put a structure on this process?!” I actually said the following week.

What I meant was “Have you no methodology?  I’m drowning over here!” The more I look at my notes, the less I can understand why no one could understand my protest.  It was a really loud call for help.

My emotions may have been shot, but my thinking brain could still perform.  My notebooks show it all.  I had just worked 30 years to restructure the global monetary system, build rail and water infrastructure projects, and launch billion dollar satellite systems.  So if Rita’s RX made sense, I could get it.  If I could find an inner child, I would. My predicament was bizarre, but no one listened.

Where were the diagnostic tools – or any diagnostic method? Where was the Adult Attachment Interview, I ask again? Hadn’t she read any adult attachment disorder books or anything on adult attachment theory or adult attachment disorder?  But no.

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This is from Chapter 2 of Kathy’s forthcoming 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 of excerpts from the rest of her book each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about adult attachment theory, attachment disorder in adults, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

Footnotes

FN1  Taylor, Cathryn L. MFCC, “The Inner Child Workbook,” Penguin Putnam, New York, 1991

FN2  Main, Mary,  “The Adult Attachment Interview: Fear, attention, safety and discourse processes;” also titled “The Organized Categories of Infant, Child, and Adult Attachment: Flexible vs. Inflexible Attention Under Attachment-Related Stress,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 2000, 48:1055-1095. At: http://70-40-200-36.bluehost.com/documents/Main.pdf
–This is a very difficult topic to research, so I did it for you; check my blog on it, with more footnotes at the end: http://attachmentdisorderhealing.com/adult-attachment-interview-aai-mary-main/

FN3  James, John W., Friedman, Russell, “The Grief Recovery Handbook,” Harper Collins, New York, 2009 (original 1998)

Tagged With: Adult Attachment Disorder, Adult Attachment Disorder Books, Adult Attachment Theory, Attachment Disorder in Adults, Adult Attachment Interview, Divorce, Rebound, Emotional pain, Grief, Inner Child, Therapy, Trauma, Limbic Brain

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Comments are encouraged with the usual exceptions; rants, political speeches, off-color language, etc. are unlikely to post.  Starting 8-22-16, software will limit comments to 1030 characters (2 long paragraphs) a while, until we get new software to take longer comments again.

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I Oughtta Have My Head…

#11 in my ongoing book blogs from “Don’t Try This at Home”

After my divorce and the saga with Rebound Dan back East, did I mention dating in California? I did meet several fellows who looked promising at first.  Harvey the Vet, whom I met at a church dance no less, didn’t work out; turned out his dad beat him as a kid and he  couldn’t trust.  And yes there were enough PTSD stories to raise the hair on the back of a gecko’s neck.  But more in Chapter 4: Post-Divorce Dating.

Then there was Pete the high-priced management consultant.  We met in late 2007 when I had a brief binge on Match.com in an attempt to  replace Dan, another California dream that never seemed to materialize.

St Pauli NA cropPete read The New Yorker and Alan Greenspan’s biography, took me to Zagat-rated restaurants, and toured me in his Lexus from fine museums to the LA Book Fair.  He was a perfect gentleman, articulate, earnestly seeking a relationship, loved music and dancing, and generally on the up and up I was sure.

Pete was the first to say that I ought to have my head examined.

We talked by phone in early July 2008 while I was alone back East after my Dad died and Dan ditched me.  Pete concurred that it was definitely a problem to be unable to cry over my Dad, and so he opined that I ought to see a shrink.

Interesting source for the diagnosis.

Pete at first drank St. Pauli Girl NA.  That stands for “non-alcoholic” but Whu Nhu?  Not me, your clueless Singing Nun; it went right by me.  Then, after six months he’d have a glass of wine with dinner; a few weeks later it was a bottle of wine, then by the time I got back to California later in July 2008, it was a bottle of vodka for dessert, after which Pete physically passed out on his elegant glass coffee table. The last time he asked me out, I pulled up to the restaurant to find Pete outside with a Manhattan in a can. “Please put that away, it’s me or the booze,” I said. He popped the lid, I drove off, and never saw him again.

Five months later, shortly after New Years 2009, his boss informed  me that Pete, 55, had overdosed and died alone with his three cats in his upscale home steps from the sand on Huntington Beach.  At the funeral, just before I sang Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” Pete’s ex revealed that here was no average businessman who’d only had an accident. Pete, she said dolefully, had been in and out of expensive alcoholic rehab clinics like Betty Ford since the age of 15.  He died of sheer blood loss when his gut walls rotted through.

Could have fooled me.  “Gosh, the guy market’s in a lot worse shape than I thought,” I said. “Beware of men who cover up their past,” I emailed the girls.  Oh, men, men, men.

But what I couldn’t grasp was the truth.  Despite Pete’s elaborate fronts and apparent virtues, it was remarkable: I had once again found someone who couldn’t attach.  I had no way to know he was an alcoholic when we met, right?  But in fact, anyone who drank that hard for 40 years would have had his head so far up a bottle that there wasn’t much of his mind left for emotional contact of any sort. Not with man, woman, nor beast (pity the three cats).

What nutty part of my subconscious had sniffed out another of these “No Attachment” folks and bought it again?

If you’d ever have told me, as late as 2005, that I’d move to California, land of fruit and nuts, I’d have rolled my eyes. If you’d told me that I’d move to California and get a therapist for Heaven’s sake, I would have laughed my level New York head off. Who, me, the mortgage-paying, foreign exchange rate-slinging business gal?

But by July 2008, I was ready to believe Pete about one thing:  I definitely needed to have my head examined.

I thawt I Thaw a Thewapist  

I did, I did. I thaw TWO thewapists.  Therapist?  Therapist? Oh the thshame of it all; society so stigmatizes us for even thinking about it.

Group Therapy-Family AgainOut of the dating shark pool I stumbled, into the therapy jungle. That’s right, I took the plunge, despite the massive social condemnation, the incredible expense, and the huge time commitment.  I threw myself into treatment heart and soul for seven months, out of genuine alarm at my own mental state.

How did I find a therapist in the dark depths of 2008?  What an act of science.  Back before my Dad died, I was googling “singles events” in the local Orange County CA on-line newspaper.  Amongst the dances, jazz concerts and “Chocolate Lovers of America” events, (seriously, I kept the printout filed) up came a meeting tagged “Support for singles dealing with divorce.”

Armed with nothing but divorce grief and emotional pain, my friend Lola and I sallied forth to that weekly group earlier in 2008 – without a goal or a clue.  But on July 19, 2008, back I went with a vengeance, this time looking for serious answers about my sorry psyche.  Here’s what my notes report:

Dr. Matt went around the room of 8-10 women, asking each what brought us in. “I’ve moved seven times in two years,” Lola said to my shock, though once again I thought I knew the person well. “I left my husband, moved in with my daughter, then with my boyfriend, then I left him. I just keep moving. I’m miserable everywhere I go. No wonder I can’t find someone to love me – I don’t even love me.”

“I lost a 27-year marriage, my Dad died, then I was dumped by the rebound guy and he’s all I can think about,” I said.  “I feel like I’m crazy because I can’t cry about my Dad.  I don’t want to go to work or go out or do much of anything but cry.”

The other women had husbands deeply sunk into substance abuse who were wrecking their finances, or who repeatedly cheated on them in long-term unhappy marriages, or husbands who abandoned them and their small children.

What’s a “Codependent”?

What could Dr. Matt do but explain the concept of a codependent?  “What’s the definition of a codependent?” he asked.  “When a codependent dies, someone else’s life flashes before their eyes.”  Everything he said was spot on; my notes prove it:

“When a child experiences emotionally unavailable parents and is abandoned, ignored, heavily criticized, or feels substantial tension at home, the child is convinced very young not just that they have done something bad, but that they themselves ARE bad,” he reported. “Children cannot externalize cause and effect; in a child’s mind, everything revolves around ‘me.’  When a child sees parents fighting or other stressful behavior, the child thinks it is the cause. When a parent is an alcoholic or a workaholic or otherwise absent, the child thinks it is to blame or they wouldn’t have gone away.

“When even worse parents overtly blame the child, unjustly since it’s a child, the child cannot separate fiction from reality, and again thinks:  ‘I am bad.’  When parents are emotionally unavailable in this way, it creates a false belief structure lodged deep in a child’s subconscious that ‘I am bad.’ ”

“I am bad”? To my shock, suddenly I was resonating on all cylinders. Yikes, there was a part of me that had felt that way ever since I could remember.

My parents were thoroughly clean and upright, never drank or smoked or did anything but work – but they did fight and get angry.  And I sure had never felt they were “emotionally available” to me — what kind of nonsense is that anyway?

What do parents have to do with emotions?  I’d never even heard of the idea that parents were supposed to be emotionally anything with their kids.  Kids who had emotions weren’t behaving properly!  Isn’t it a parent’s job to get rid of emotions in kids, to get kids to grow up?

Trix rabbit caughtEmotions, like Trix, are for kids, right? Boy was I confused.

And then, just sitting there,  suddenly I was cowering in the back seat of the family car in grade school while my parents laced into each other up front. “Please don’t fight, please don’t be angry!” I scrawled madly in my notebook. “What did I do wrong? Why won’t you love me?”

Just like that, right out of nowhere, I was back in grade school.  Oh my.  And, asking my parents “Why won’t you love me?”  Huh?  I just found all this today in my dusty 2008 notebook. Wild.

Dr. Matt went on with his briefing. “Whenever family stress occurs, the child learns wrongly ‘I caused it, I broke it, I’ve got to fix it.’  That’s untrue, plus a child can’t possibly fix it,” he said. “But the child develops ‘repetition compulsion’ – later in life they are always trying to re-live the same childhood trauma, in order to master the situation, to go back and fix it.  It can’t work, it never does, but facts never get in the way of the deep subconscious when it’s bent on a compulsion.”

“Why are you sending me the message that I broke it and you are demanding that I fix it?” I scribbled madly, still bizarrely addressing my parents many decades ago.

Later in life, Dr. M. said, this child gravitates toward spouses and others who behave as the parents did, to people who are distant, angry, or who actually do need fixing – all people who are emotionally unavailable. “ ‘Oh, just like Mom or Dad. That’s a dance I know, I know how to relate to that,’ thinks the subconscious,” he said.

“The textbook case is the codependent wife always trying to rescue her alcoholic husband by paying his bills or covering up his bad behavior.  She’s blindly acting out a childhood repetition compulsion that she’s got to ‘fix it’ – just like as a child she had to cheer up Mom or appease angry Dad.  The original term was ‘co-alcoholic,’ because the fixing spouse is as dependent on the drug as the addict.  They need it around to maintain their subconscious childhood dynamic.”

Dr. M. even managed, hearing me for five minutes in a meeting of eight women, to diagnose my marriage and warn me against a particular brand of non-attaching men. “Enmeshment occurs in people who were too depended upon by one parent, usually the mother, as kids,” he explained, “in the absence of the other parent, usually an absent father. That’s unnatural, so for example, a son who became Mom’s substitute for his absent Dad, will have a deep felt need to escape from ‘too much Mom,’ whether Mom was angel or devil. As an adult, this man has an allergy against relationships; he always has one foot out the door.”

“Larry (my ex) always had one foot out the door!” I scribbled madly, trying to keep up.  “Larry’s Dad was always traveling on business in Europe and his mom made her first born son into a little emperor.  Plus yikes: Dan (the rebound) always had one foot out the door…”

Painting with a Hammer

With such brilliant insights we should quickly be cured, no? Dr. Matt’s words were true indeed. He did fail to mention that they are also the basics in most standard psychiatric textbooks, as I learned ‘way much later.  Too later…

Instead, the RX which came next hit me like a hammer: “You don’t need to go back and fix it. Just let it go,” said Dr. Matt.  Simple as that.  Just think your way out of it.  Just let your head tell your heart where to get off.

I didn’t know then, that this was all head talk, and that head talk has never transformed a heart in human history.  I didn’t know then, that brain science says the thinking frontal brain has virtually no power to influence the emotional limbic brain. [FN1]

“Trying to fix the heart with the head is like trying to paint with a hammer; it only makes a mess,” say John James and Russell Friedman,  the top experts on divorce grief and every other sort of grief. [FN2]  But I hadn’t heard of them yet.

“You know how to take care of others, that’s your expertise,” continued Dr. M.  “But you have another part of YOU that really needs caring for, your hurting child part – so eliminate the middleman.  Stop trying to take care of others, and take care of yourself instead.”  It did sound clever.

Then he lowered the boom. “Go to a safe place and introduce these two parts of you to each other,” he said. “It’s likely they’ve never met. Start with the wounded child part inside you, make sure you’re in a really safe place where the inner child feels safe. Then ask her, ‘Would it be ok to meet another part of yourself?’ Then introduce the care-giving adult part, to the hurting child part and leave them alone together so they can subconsciously process.”

“Leave them alone together?” After his barrage of terrific but crushing data, which had struck such a nerve gusher, this sudden conclusion left my head spinning. It sounded like a gobbledegook segue to nowhere; “go take a long walk off a short pier.” It was an answer to “Now What?” that made no sense whatsoever.

“Do it yourself,” he was telling me.  I had a sinking feeling.

I went home and diligently followed his advice — and I felt much, much worse.  In fact, after a week of trying this out, I got to where I was in such a flat-out panic that I was nauseous.

———————————
This is from Chapter 2 of Kathy’s forthcoming book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.  Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from her book every Friday, in which she explores her journey of recovery and shares the people and tools that have helped her along the way.

Footnotes

[FN1] Lewis, Thomas, Amini, Fari, Lannon, Richard; “A General Theory of Love”, Random House, 2000. Great link: www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/

[FN2] James, John W., Friedman, Russell, “The Grief Recovery Handbook,” Harper Collins, New York, 2009 (original 1998)

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When Family Doesn’t Get It, Recovery Partners Will

#4 in the news blog series; original post on ACEsConnection, September 26, 2013

When we’re hurting, we all want and need those closest to us to “get it,” but please take comfort from the statistic that it usually does not happen that way.  Why?  Therapist and scholar Jack Kornfield says, “Even Buddha and Jesus had a lot of trouble with their families when they went home!  So did Mother Theresa.  Holding up the ring nuns wear as brides of Christ, she told a journalist: ‘ I’m married, too, and He can be very difficult… ‘  ”

That’s because when we humans get close, to those closest to us, that proximity turns on the fight-flight paranoia in all concerned (in everyone, not just in me).  Why? That’s where humans get the most vulnerable, so that’s where (our bodies and paranoid brain stems feel) we could potentially get really hurt.  There is a lot of literature on this problem – please don’t feel alone on this!  You are exactly normal.

Henry Cloud & John Townsend

Henry Cloud & John Townsend

This is why we have support groups and that is why therapists exist.  In my experience it’s instead my recovery partners, my trauma-informed therapist, and trauma-informed folk such on ACEsConnection who get it.  And that’s a life-saver.

Dr. John Townsend says: “There will be people who are marked, at the same time as you.  Find them.”

Find people who are in the same boat, who are not in denial, who do get it– and spent a lot of flight time sitting with them, face to face.  That’s where the real healing is.

When I did that work, I didn’t know about ACEsConnection, the  private Facebook  of the ACE Study.  ACE is the top research on childhood emotional pain and health;  it shows Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) actually create most medical, mental health and emotional issues in adults.

What I did in 2009 was to get relief by piling on many extra hours of “flight time” sitting with my Recovery partners, one whose parents were dying, and another whose spouse committed suicide.  The emotional pain was excruciating, but the process worked — because we were in the same boat.

We used the “Grief Recovery Handbook” by John James & Russell Friedman and wrote “Grief Letters” as the book assigns. It’s an arduous method and they do caution:  Don’t do this alone!

So arduous, we were advised by the pros to “schedule in the flight hours” with a Grief Partner — and we met in pairs every single Wednesday night for 3 hours and Saturday afternoons for even longer — for three years.  We just read our Grief Letters to each other.

Grief Recovery Handbook,+20th+Anniversary+Expanded+EditionWe shared everything, and I do mean everything, the deepest of grief.  One hour sharing by each of us of our letter of the week, sharing in turn, while the other sat with mouth shut (that’s why “Hello Kitty” has no mouth) and practiced compassionate listening.  After sharing 1 hour each (no one can take more than that in a day!), we’d have a snack and chat, or go walk on the beach on Saturdays.

I can not possibly say in mere writing how deeply healing that was – it saved my life!

This can not be done by email or telephone.  It’s the eye contact that heals the brain; ask Dr. Bruce Perry:  the eyes literally carry the image of the soul from one human into another. That’s how mothers co-create their babies’ brains, and that is the only thing that can heal us for the rest of life.  “It’s all about the face time.”

But our family members were just not in the same boat (or in denial; they might be in the same boat but couldn’t face it; denial harmful to all concerned).  So trying to get from them, something they simply do not have, was just not the best use of our truly valuable time.  Sooner or later, they will get it — but probably later.  I had one family member in denial who lives 3,000 miles away, and that was all the family I had;  I had to wing it from scratch.  That was a big ouch by itself.  It still stings.

Then I “accidentally” met my recovery partners in choir.

If no recovery partners appear magically in your ‘hood,  join ACEsConnection.com — nation-wide and world-wide– and go to or form an ACE meeting.   Or find or form a support group at your local house of worship or county health organization.  I’ve tried all the groups from DivorceCare to GriefShare, Codependents Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery (aka CR, Pastor Rick Warren’s national group), and even Al Anon.

It was incredibly painful because so many just do NOT get it — but I became a gold mine of ideas on how to find recovery partners.  Message me, I’ll help you — I found them, I did recover — and now I feel great most of the time.

If all else fails there are weekly Al Anon meetings in every city in America and they are not just for families of addicts. They will be there for anyone who is hurting and needs loving acceptance; just walk in and admit to that tiny streak of co-dependency that lurks in all of us.

Plus: Here is an incredibly fruitful link I just found on http://acestudy.org/faqs
Q:  I’m a survivor and/or perpetrator of child abuse in search of help; what should I do?
A:  Talk with your physician, and ask for a referral.  No matter what your age, if you do not currently have healthcare coverage, contact the nearest children’s hospital or children’s advocacy center and ask for help. This jumps to the National Children’s Advocacy Center at http://www.nationalcac.org/locator.html and to illustrate, I put in my zip and got 5 matches within 50 miles such as:
1. Child Abuse Services Team (CAST), 401 The City Dr., Orange, 92868  (714) 935-7599
2. Miller Children’s Abuse and Violence Intervention Center, 2865 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, 90806  (562) 933-0590
3. Children’s Advocacy Center for Child Abuse, 363 S. Park Ave. Ste. 202, Pomona, 91766  (909) 629-6300
4. Riverside Child Assessment Team, 26520 Cactus Ave., Lower Level Moreno Valley 92555  (951) 486-4345
5. Palomar Pomerado Forensic Health Child Abuse, 121 N. Fig St., Escondido 92025  (760) 739-2156

Building a Life Team

I’m no stranger to emotional pain so bad it can lead to suicide. My new book “Don’t Try This at Home: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder” notes the pain was so intense, it nearly did.

Rick & Kay Warren, Matthew 9-28-13In fact this blog resulted from a Sept. 17 interview with Pastor Rick Warren on his son Matthew’s suicide this year. Pastor Warren told CNN, “Matthew was not afraid to die.  He was afraid of pain.”

Pastor Warren and his wife Kay have been passionately calling for a change in our mental health system to recognize and deal with the fact that this happens too often, starting with a July 26 statement calling for complete mental health system reform.

Among the comments I received after posting this warning about how bad the pain can get, were these:

“Thank you for sharing.  I have Major Clinical Depression myself and I can totally relate to what his son went through. Many times, even the people who say they love you the most, don’t really get what it’s like to go through such intense emotional pain that you want it to just stop no matter what the cost.  Then, those you have no choice but to turn to for support–actually work against your recovery by saying and doing things that are counter productive.  It’s the worst ‘Catch 22’ I can imagine being in.”

The next comment was:

“So very well stated! And when folks don’t get that they are acting in a counter-productive way, the person in need is getting re-traumatized again; it’s a mini-re-traumatization. Not unlike a micro-aggression or micro-inequity.

“Micro-aggressions/micro-inquities are usually attributed to minority experiences.  There is a ‘dose-response effect’… a cumulative effect of these and other traumas that create a heavier burden for the person in need as time goes by.  The fundamental essence is that the person is alienated from ‘the group.’  Being a part of one’s social group is a biological need of all mammals ! ”

I replied, “No, most people can’t get what it’s like ‘to go through such intense emotional pain that you want it to just stop no matter what.’  It’s so hard, that Catch 22 you talk about.  Many times in 2008-2011 I was in Matthew Warren’s shoes.  But I had to see a friend every day whose spouse had committed suicide, so I had to look the results in the eye. That is the only reason frankly I survived.

“I’ve been thru micro re-traumatizations like that for decades. This is why I so appreciate ACEsConnection.  Because there, I can be 100% my real self, trauma and all, and everyone ‘does get it;’  you get the real me.   So no re-traumatizations.  Priceless!”

Feel like you’re at the End of the Line?  Here’s the proverbial bottom line:

It is SO important for us to simply be heard saying the truth of what we feel, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – and then to , receive a totally accepting response.

As in “you belong, no matter what you are feeling. ” And it’s just very difficult to get family to do that;  it’s too intense for them.  It’s just human nature; let’s accept it.

That’s why Dr. John Townsend also advises that we all create a “Life Team” of seven people who are not family – Seven “Recovery” team partners – so we can call someone every day and share how we really feel, no bull, and be accepted and validated.

He says it’s only by bringing our “bad parts” into relationship with other humans, that we can heal them. Amazing. You should see what his list of “bad parts” includes, it’s astonishing.  He’s for sharing every not-good thing we feel under the sun.  Even horrid sexual impulses.  Talk about the emotions, so that we can feel it and heal it – then we dissipate the impulse and don’t act out.

Make the Call !  Get Your 5 Supplements…

Dr. Townsend says everybody, every day, requires — as a physiological need — what he calls the Five Supplements:

Grace, Empathy, Validation, Acceptance, and Encouragement.

Can you imagine that?  As an ACE survivor, the first time I heard him say this, I thought:  “This shrink is out of his mind.”  I’d never had such a wonderful experience in my life – let alone every day of my life — and as a doctor-certified requirement of the human soul.

OK, so we need a list of seven people who will do this for us – because obviously, we are also going to be there for them and do it for them!  That’s what “General Theory of Love” calls “100%-100%” agape. I’ve been doing this and it really works.

But then: we have to make the call. That’s usually the worst part, we are so mortified.

harlow-monkey-getty sm, better ResolutionI once told my therapist: “Last night I felt like the Harlow’s monkey shown in ‘General Theory of Love’. ”  It’s a baby monkey huddled up in a ball of agony like a spider about to die — after it was removed from even the terry cloth mother monkey and left in a cold bare wire cage.

But I had called a recovery friend the night before, and simply told them that.  And got accepted telling it.  My doctor replied:  “That’s the point.  The monkey couldn’t make the call.  YOU made the call!”  And I felt better.

To which our team of commentators responded:

“Saying one’s truth and being ACCEPTED as in “belonging” is just spot on! Again, it’s a biological need.  Mammals NEED to belong.  Dr. Gabor Mate states this often.

“Sadly, an excellent example is bullying.  It’s why so many young kids take their lives when bullied.  Being ostracized from the group is to inject disease (or as some would point out “dis-ease”) into the victim; denying one from BELONGING. Then one looks at Dr. Daniel Siegel’s work and understands that individual biology is modulated by interpersonal experiences (click the link).”

And:

“I REALLY appreciate what you’ve both shared with us.  It has a ring of truth to it (resonating loudly within me) and I wish there was a way to TEACH that to every single person on the planet.  It’s as basic a need as food, water, clothing, shelter.  Our society suffers when WE suffer — rejection and isolation are such HUGE barriers to self-esteem, feeling loved, being accepted.”

So that’s it:  Everybody, every day, requires, as a physiological need, Dr. Townsend’s Five Supplements:

Grace, Empathy, Validation, Acceptance, and Encouragement.

Then, let us build our Life Teams, and let us keep working together here in dialogue.

And remember: the monkey couldn’t make the call – but we can make the call.  So make the call!

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How Your Brain Works 101

#2 in my News Blog series; original post September 13, 2013

BrousBlog9a Perry head shotDr. Bruce Perry just put out his latest on “How Your Brain Works 101,” in his September 5 webinar for the National Council on Behavioral Health. Perry’s revelations at Dr. Daniel Siegel’s March 8  (2013) UCLA Conference “How People Change” hit me in the solar plexus.  Now you can hear him and download his slides, (Click here and scroll all the way down to September 2013). [FN1]

You know how your car works – don’t you want to know how your brain works? Click here for an introductory  video on how Attachment Disorder causes brain trauma  [FN2]  Click for Dr. Perry’s YouTube channel with educational videos in depth: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCf4ZUgIXyxRcUNLuhimA5mA?feature=watch

I first heard of Bruce Perry in August 2010; not his name, but his substance. I was commuting to another high-pressure defense job on the 91 freeway outside Anaheim, CA, worrying about how to pour concrete at Seal Beach Naval Base.  It didn’t look to my clients, or to me, as though I had anything wrong with my high-performance business brain.

On the car stereo was a CD by psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud. “Humans are neurologically designed, physiologically designed, psychologically, spiritually, emotionally, and cognitively designed, to be in a relationship where you are loved,” Cloud said to my shock. “You are designed to take aspects of that relationship inside of you, and they actually become a part of who you are.  My 17-month-old came into the world with nothing in her head.  A lot of need, not a lot of words, didn’t read.  Babies are all need and they cry. Adults must calm them, and the minute we put them down, they start crying again.

“But after we do that a million times, the gap for how long they can tolerate not being held gets wider and wider. They take our love from the outside, and it becomes part of them on the inside… Love becomes actual equipment that you take in and walk around with.” [FN3]  I felt sad; I couldn’t identify.

But watch how my body reacts to the right research:

Cloud went on, “We can now do scans of the brain of older kids who were in institutions and were not held, comforted or soothed, and there are parts of the brain which are dark. There’s nothing growing in there — because nothing was planted; neurologically there’s literally no brain activity. But the kids who were held and loved, those parts of the brain are physiologically growing.”

I nearly drove off the 91 overpass at 70 MPH. It hit me in the gut the minute he said it. “Oh, S#$%”, I thought, “parts of my brain are dark!”  (Go tell that to the Marines at Seal Beach.)

It wasn’t until 2 1/2 years later when some guy named Perry put up his slides at UCLA in March 2013, that I saw the pictures. It was brain scans of two children aged 3, a normal brain in grey, and one labeled “extreme neglect,” parts of which were black. In that moment, I knew Cloud had referred to Bruce Perry’s work. [FN4]

As I’ve shown in previous posts, maybe 50% of Americans have some degree of attachment disorder, neurological areas which didn’t get Dr. Cloud’s “love on the inside.”  We don’t want to go around with parts of our brain dark.

Most Primitive  Brain Develops First

BrousBlog9c Perry Slide1 Brain 4 PartsDr. Perry says we’ve got to learn about the neuro-biological growth of the brain in order of time sequence from  conception to later development in infancy and childhood.

He calls this the Neuro-sequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT).  Dr. P’s “Four Part Brain” slide above shows the time sequence from the bottom up: first the brain stem develops (pink); then the diencephalon cerebellum (yellow); they make up our primitive reptilian “survival” brain.  Next develop the emotional limbic brain which only mammals have (green), and finally the thinking cortex (blue).

Why time sequence? Our entire big Einstein brain is an outgrowth of its most primitive part: the brain stem (the knob at the top of the spinal chord), and its spin-off, the cerebellum.

This “reptilian brain” is in the back of your head at the level of the ears. It maintains rock bottom survival such as body temperature, heart rate, sleep, and breathing – all the functions you never think about which if they didn’t happen you’d be dead. Not only reptiles have the same apparatus but so do pre-bony fish like sharks. That’s humbling: our whole brain starts with something that primitive.

“During development, the brain organizes from bottom to top, with the lower parts of the brain developing earliest,” Dr. Perry says. Reptile brain better hit the ground running at birth or infants don’t breathe; the rest of the brain can and does grow in later. “The majority of brain organization takes place in the first four years of life,” he says. “Because this is the time when the brain makes the majority of its ‘primary’ associations and core neural networks organize as a reflection of early experience, early developmental trauma and neglect have disproportionate influence on brain organization and later brain functioning.” [FN4 Op cit]

What goes wrong from “conception to 36 months” can fry our reptilian brain and put it in permanent fight-flight or freeze (dissociation shutdown). Then the entire brain can be thrown out of whack starting from its first cell divisions.

As the ACE Study has shown, this results in heart, gut, and many other chronic physical diseases throughout adult life.

“The brain is an historical organ,” Perry said.  “The NMT Core Assessment’s first step is a review of the key insults, stressors, and challenges during development. Intrauterine insults such as alcohol or perinatal care disruptions (such as an impaired inattentive primary caregiver) alter the norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine systems of the brain stem and diencephalon that are rapidly organizing. These early life disruptions result in a cascade of functional problems in brain areas these neural systems innervate.”

Think your thinking brain’s in charge? “Think” again – we’re arrogant about how much our thinking brain can do. Fact is, it’s the new kid on the block in the brain. It has a lot less influence than we imagine on the roiling instincts and feelings in the subconscious or “downstairs” brain, as Dan Siegel calls the rest of the brain below the cortex.  Siegel says the “downstairs brain” also  includes thick clusters of neurons associated with the brain stem that form around our viscera (heart, lungs, gut etc.).  Development of all that can go wrong from the hour the sperm hits the egg. It did with me.

“When a child has experienced chronic threats, the brain exists in a persisting state of fear,” Perry says. This “makes the stress response oversensitive, over-reactive, and dysfunctional due to over-utilization of brain stem-driven reactions. Such reactions become entrenched over time, and the ‘lower’ parts of the brain house maladaptive, influential, and terrifying pre-conscious memories that function as a template for the child’s feelings, thoughts, and actions.” [FN4]

“Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is great if you have a developed frontal cortex – but we’re talking about a five year old kid who’s so scared to death most of the time that it’s shut down his frontal cortex ’cause he just saw his mother get shot,” Perry told his UCLA therapist audience March 8. “You’re going to do 20 sessions of CBT and expect change?  B#$$%&! (expletive)  That’s a fantasy.”  (Wild applause).

Listening to him talk, I can feel things inside me resonating, probably things that didn’t develop right in the womb, and I can feel it healing because, finally, here is compassion for my situation. It’s a remarkable experience.

When I hear Dr. Perry and his colleagues identifying these issues, it hits me in the solar plexus and the gut. I feel like someone is telling me “You’re not crazy, this actually happened deep inside you, you don’t have to conceal the pain anymore. You can be understood, you can be accepted as who you are.

“You can say exactly how you feel for the first time in your life and we are not going to run screaming from the room. We are going to accept you, because we can say scientifically that this is the way your cells developed in the environment you were in.”

Once I feel accepted in this profound way, I literally feel the problem begin to heal.  Dan Siegel reports that it’s been proven by brain scans that this feeling of acceptance and belonging produces re-growth of damaged brain tissues. It simulates the missed environment of love, acceptance and “we’re glad you’re here” which the infant was designed to experience at birth.

“Born for Love”

BrousBlog9d Perry Slide2 Attachment,StressBruce Perry and his Attachment Theory and trauma specialist colleagues like Bessel Van der Kolk, Daniel Siegel, Allan Schore, and Mary Jo Barrett, are also overturning the American Psychiatric Association (APA) apple cart by calling this “developmental trauma.”  It starts in the womb and is continuous from there, going on in the pre-conscious years.

It differs completely from incident-by-incident based trauma such as assault, rape, school violence, or combat stress, which can hit at any age. These later “PTSD” traumas have been assumed to what trauma is, yet horrible as they are, they are just not all there is.

Many (like me) take a lot of damage in wrong therapy which treats developmental trauma as if it were incident trauma. The APA’s latest “what’s my disease” bible, the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5),” just out June 2013, doesn’t even recognize the existence of developmental trauma.

How to heal? Dr. Perry lays out the brain science behind Dr. Cloud’s idea of “getting love on the inside.”

“Attachment is when the baby learns by thousands of good experiences that stress is tolerable because it leads to reward opiates such as dopamine in our body, and that this pleasurable outcome is cathexsized to a person, Mom, who consistently attunes to it about this,” Perry said at UCLA. “When the baby feels distress, the attuned Mom feels distress and gets her own pleasure rewards by responding to the baby. So the infant brain weaves together the neurobiology of what interaction with another human being is, and connects it to stress relief, pleasure and safety, when this happens repeatedly. Ultimately, just seeing or hearing Mom makes you feel safe and pleasurable. Let a wounded combat soldier talk to his mom, and he’ll require 45% less pain meds.”

“Patterned, Repeated, Rhythmic Activity”

“Because the brain is organized in a hierarchical fashion, with symptoms of fear first arising in the brain stem and then moving all the way to the cortex, the first step in therapeutic success is brain stem regulation,” Perry said.  “An example of a repetitive intervention is positive, nurturing interactions with trustworthy peers, teachers, and caregivers, especially for neglected children who have not had the neural stimulation to develop the capacity to bond with others.

“Others are dance, music, or massage, especially for children whose persisting fear state is so overwhelming that they cannot improve via increased positive relationships, or even therapeutic relationships, until their brain stem is regulated by safe, predictable, repetitive sensory input.” An hour here and there of even sensitive therapy is rarely enough, he says.

“Children with relational stability and multiple positive, healthy adults invested in their lives improve; children with multiple transitions, chaotic and unpredictable family relations, and relational poverty do not improve even when provided with the best ‘evidence-based’ therapies. The healing environment is a safe, relationally-enriched environment,” he says.

“The only way you can move from these super-high anxiety states, to calmer more cognitive states, is rhythm,” Perry emphasizes.  “Patterned, repetitive rhythmic activity: walking, running, dancing, singing, repetitive meditative breathing.  You use brain stem-related somato-sensory network regulation, which make your brain accessible to relational reward and cortical thinking.”

Dr. Perry’s ChildTrauma Academy in Houston offers courses such as “Somatosensory Regulation Plan for Dysregulated Children” and “The Power of Rhythm: Music, Movement & Language.”  Somatosensory rhythmic programs at Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s Trauma Center in Boston feature yoga, drama, drum circles,  trampoline work, and more.

“If you want a person to use relational reward, or cortical thought,” he says, “they’ve got to be emotionally regulated first!  We must regulate people, before we can possibly persuade them with a cognitive argument or compel them with an emotional affect.  All our contingency-based models do nothing but merely escalate their negative arousal!”

Sound stupid, like your doctor saying “Scram and go cool off at the gym” ?  I thought so – until I tried it.  It works, big time. But what happened was so explosive, it’s another blog for another day.

The take-away is 1: Listen to Dr. Perry; figure out how your brain does work; see if anything he says resonates.  Call up the ChildTrauma Academy and get their materials and training on Somatosensory Regulation and the power of rhythm.

Or if you can’t wait, as I’ve said before, find a really empathic, loving therapist who knows trauma inside out, and bring him that Peter Levine book. [FN5]  That’s what I used to do somatosensory work before I heard of Bruce Perry.  You’ll need professional supervision when you do the exercises on the CD in the back of Levine’s book, and look out world.

Even if we’re 92, we can grow parts of our brain. Daniel Siegel did it with a 92-year-old lawyer using mindfulness practice. [FN6]

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Excerpts from Kathy’s forthcoming book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all and related research of attachment and brain science are posted here every Friday. Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from the rest of her book, in which she explores her journey of recovery and shares the people and tools that have helped her along the way.

Footnotes

FN1  Perry, Bruce D. MD, PhD, “Helping Children Recover from Trauma,” National Council LIVE, National Council on Behavioral Health, September 5, 2013; http://www.thenationalcouncil.org/events-and-training/webinars/webinar-archive/  Scroll down to September 2013.

FN2  Bruce Perry, Daniel Siegel, et.al, “Trauma, Brain & Relationship: Helping Children Heal,” (25 Minutes) www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYyEEMlMMb0 – an introductory video on Attachment Disorder. A new understanding of how trauma effects the development of the mind-body system, and how it affects children’s behaviors and social relationships. Copies at www.postinstitute.com/dvds.

FN3  Cloud, Henry, PhD, “Getting Love on the Inside,” Lecture, April 2002 (CD), Mariner’s Church, Newport Beach CA, www.Cloud-Townsend Resources.com, [Coauthor with Townsend, John, PhD, of “Boundaries,” Zondervan, 2004]

FN4  Perry, Bruce, MD, PhD, “Born for Love: The Effects of Empathy on the Developing Brain,” Annual Interpersonal Neurobiology Conference “How People Change: Relationship & Neuroplasticity in Psychotherapy,” UCLA, Los Angeles, March 8, 2013 (unpublished).
Dr. Perry’s latest research and key slides (otherwise hard to obtain)  are in his National Council speech in FN1 above.
Key videos, articles on Interventions, Trauma, Brain Development/Neuroscience, etc. are at: https://childtrauma.org/cta-library/
“The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics” by Perry, B.D. and Hambrick, E. (2008)  is  at: http://childtrauma.org/nmt-model/references/

FN5  Levine, Peter A., PhD, “Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body,” Sounds True, Inc.,  Boulder CO, 2005; ISBN 1-159179-247-9

FN6  Siegel, Daniel J., MD, “How Mindfulness Can Change the Wiring of Our Brains,” National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine, www.nicabm.com,  March 2011.  Check for the passage on a 92 year old lawyer code-named “Stewart.”

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The Greatest Study Never Told

#1 in my news blog series; original post August 30, 2013

BrousBlog7a ACE pyramid I’d heard of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study — but never asked why does their logo pyramid top with “Early Death? [FN1]  Then last week I stumbled onto a highly-informative website, ACEsConnection.com, social media site for the ACE Study, which has the story and then some. [FN2]

In the ACE Study, 17,337 middle class adults at an average San Diego HMO were asked during 1995-97  if they’d had bad childhood experiences, physical or emotional.  Results were shocking.  Two-thirds (64-67%) had one or more types of child trauma, and 38-42% had two or more types.  In 2016, the same survey in inner city Nashville showed that 71% had four or more types and 51% had six or more.  I believe a true national average would show some 50% of Americans suffer childhood trauma. [FN3]  Check your ACE Score here.

The ACE Study then compared ACE scores to whether subjects developed serious bio-medical conditions as adults – and found a major correlation.  As the ACE Pyramid shows, Adverse Childhood Experiences lead to impaired thinking, unhealthy behavior, disease, disability, and early death.

“Adverse childhood exposures showed a graded relationship to … adult diseases including ischemic heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, skeletal fractures, and liver disease,” study co-directors Dr. Vincent Felitti MD and Dr. Robert Anda MD reported in 1998. [FN4]

They also showed a “proportionate relationship between ACE score and the likelihood of developing autoimmune diseases decades later in adult life.”  Emotional disorders?  They found “depression, suicidality, chronic anxiety, amnesia, and hallucinations were directly proportionate” to ACE  trauma.

“It’s not about ‘them’ – it’s about us,” said Dr. Anda of these huge percentages and widespread lethal results.  ACEs are “the leading determinant of what happens to the health of a nation’s population,” says Dr. Felitti.

The ACE Study began in 1995 at Kaiser Permanente, the largest  HMO in California, jointly with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  But this rigorous research hasn’t woken up medicine and psychiatry, despite the fact that Felitti, Anda et. al. have published over 75 medical articles on it.  [FN5]

You’ve likely never heard of this, ‘tho we all should know about 20 years of official study on 17,337 citizens.  I never heard of it even as a Kaiser Permanente client in 2010-11.  So ACEsConnection is going to the grass roots, some states are doing ACE surveys, and social service agencies are training staff  in “Trauma-Informed Care.”

Dr. Felitti never dreamed of any of this.  He was an internist who fell into it all by accident. Kaiser had an obesity clinic, it was failing, and Dr. Felitti wanted to know why.  Suddenly, by interviewing people who quit, this data jumped into his lap.

Vincent Felitti

Now instead of retiring to the Bahamas after a long career, Dr. Felitti travels the world making speeches like “Why the Most Significant Factor Predicting Chronic Disease May Be Childhood Trauma” [FN6]

He insists that “contrary to conventional belief, time does not heal all wounds, since humans convert traumatic emotional experiences in childhood into organic disease later in life.” One does not “just get over” this, “not even 50 years later,” he says, without serious efforts and treatment.  [FN7]

Baby Casey: the Attachment Disorder ACE

This is not an academic issue.  Fifty percent of the American population has some degree of attachment disorder (see Blogs #1-4), and attachment disorder is a major component of many Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE).

Baby Casey fr video crop2On ACEsConnection.com, created by journalist Jane Stevens, the first thing I saw was a video of a baby in a Polish orphanage that turned me inside out (click here & scroll down page). [FN8]

This is what the physical pain of attachment failure looks like. Left alone for months in the Warsaw facility, Baby Casey did not get the “face time,” physical holding, emotional attunement, or any of the interactions required for an infant’s brain to grow. Humans from birth require a constant stream of “emotional, spiritual, psychological, and physical inputs” from another loving human, says trauma specialist Mary Jo Barrett — just as we require air, food, and liquid.” [FN9]

A child left without this input stream learns that its own hard-wired biological needs are terrifying.   “I learn that what I experienced internally and expressed externally with a cry, was met by a response that didn’t make any sense,” says neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Siegel. “I learned: it doesn’t matter what I’m feeling, because people don’t get what I need.  Ultimately, I’ll become disconnected, not only from other people, but even from my own internal bodily self. ”[FN10]

Babies are also hard-wired to be flooded with stress chemicals when those needs are not met, Dr. Bruce Perry explains. And the flood can go on for decades. [FN11]

The emotional pain and terror are so intense that the child will do anything to distract itself from those needs. “In states of distress I can only comfort myself in ways that are maladaptive – I bite myself, rock myself perpetually, so I’m distracting myself from my needs,” Siegel says.

The fight-or-flight stress chemicals flood the bloodstream at a level which feels so terrifying, that the baby would rather pass out — or even die — than to feel it. “The baby thinks it’s going to die,” as Dr. Nancy Verrier puts it. [FN12]  I saw this video and said, “That baby’s trying to knock herself out.”

Turning Gold into Lead

BrousBlog7c Gold into LeadLeft unhealed, all those stress chemicals and panic feelings begin to physically destroy  body parts.

“The ACE Study findings suggest certain adverse childhood experiences are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death in the US,” the CDC reports. “As the number of ACE increase, risk for the following health problems increases in a strong and graded fashion:

Ischemic heart disease
Cancer
Chronic lung disease
Liver disease
Skeletal fractures
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
Depression
Fetal death
Early initiation of smoking
Illicit drug use
Multiple sexual partners
Risk for intimate partner violence
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
Unintended pregnancies
Abortion
Suicide attempts…”

“The odds of having cancer before 50 among women increased twofold for those who had 2+ ACEs versus those with no ACEs,” confirmed a 2012 study of over 6,000 Britons born in 1958, “Childhood adversity as a risk for cancer: findings from the 1958 British birth cohort study,” published by the British Medical Council.

“This is the largest study of its type which has ever been done to examine the effect of ACE on physical health, over the course of a lifetime,” Dr. Felitti says. All 17,337 participants will be followed up for life.

“We’re asking, ‘How do you get from Here [slide above] to Here.’  From a newborn infant with total potential — to a man who is broken, bio-medically, psychologically and emotionally.

“We found that ACEs are remarkably common – what is uncommon is their recognition, or their acknowledgment. They are well-concealed by time, by shame, by secrecy, and by social taboo. They turn out to be strong predictors of what happens later in life in health risks, disease, and premature mortality. The combination of their high prevalence, and their great power, makes ACEs the leading determinant of what happens to the health of a nation’s population.”  [FN13]

“In no way could you dismiss this as a marginalized population,” Dr. Felitti says of his 17,337 patients. Most of them are white middle class; 47% had attended college; they all had jobs and health insurance; they were at Kaiser.

“ACE are the risk factors which underlie the 10 most common causes of death in the U.S. With an ACE score of zero, you have a very medically uninteresting population – no internist has a chance of making a living with that group,” he notes.

“Swiss psychoanalyst Alice Miller says: ‘The truth about our childhood is stored up in our bodies, and lives in the depths of our souls.  Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings can be numbed and manipulated, our perceptions can be shamed and confused, or our bodies tricked with medication. But our soul never forgets. And because we are one, one whole soul in one body, some day, our body will present its bill.’

“In this study, we are looking at it literally. The cost of this is truly enormous. Whoever would have thought that pediatrics is the breeding ground for internal medicine,” Dr. Felitti concludes.

Feel like you might have an ACE or two up your sleeve?

You can go to http://acestudy.org/faqs and take the ACE Survey, to see how many ACEs you might have. If you feel really awful, go to your family doctor, bring him this report, and tell him you want to see a specialist because you are a normal human responding to abnormal experiences. If you do not have health coverage, no matter what your age, you can contact the nearest children’s hospital or the National Children’s Advocacy Center’s local office and ask for help. At www.nationalcac.org/locator.html, I used my zip code and found four places right near my home, just so I could report to you that they probably have facilities to help near you.

To read more, join ACEsConnection.com, the community of practice “private Facebook” network designed to prevent ACEs & further trauma and to increase resilience. Just sign up, fill out your profile, and go to “My Page” to start adding information about what you’re doing or thinking about these issues. If you’re looking for others doing what you want to do, join a group, or start a group and invite people to join. I joined, and I formed a Southern California ACEs group; here’s my SoCal ACEs page: http://www.acesconnection.com/profile/399727599840151624

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Excerpts from Kathy’s forthcoming book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all  are posted here most Fridays, unless current events beg an interruption. Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from the rest of her book, in which she explores her journey of recovery and shares the people and tools that have helped her along the way.

Footnotes
FN1 CDC ACE Study pyramid: http://www.cdc.gov/ace/pyramid.htm

FN2 Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “ACE Study DVD Pre-View movie,” 3-minute version: http://www.acesconnection.com/blog/ace-study-co-founders-tell-story-on-dvd-here-s-an-intro

FN3  Dr. Felitti reports   67% of participants had one or more types of ACEs, and 42% had two or more types of ACEs. The CDC website states that 64% had one or more types of ACEs, and 38% had two or more types of ACEs; http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/prevalence.html    These percentages varied depending on when readings were taken as more subjects joined the study in the second “wave.”
Note: all these refer to “types” of ACEs. Thus, if 38-42% of the middle class Kaiser population had at two or more types of ACEs, each likely suffered multiple incidents of that type, be it abuse, neglect, or more.
In less privileged populations, far higher percentages suffer two or more types of ACEs as shown in Nashville, TN by The Family Center in 2016: http://www.familycentertn.org/our-impact

FN4  “Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study,” by Vincent J Felitti MD, Robert F Anda MD, et al,  American Journal of Preventative Medicine, May 1998, Vol 14, Issue 4, p 245–258
http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797%2898%2900017-8/fulltext#back-BIB65

FN5  Felitti, Vincent, MD, “Adverse Childhood Experiences” www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQwJCWPG478

FN6  Felitti, Vincent, MD, official speaker biography at www.apbspeakers.com/speaker/vincent-felitti

FN7  Stevens, Jane, “The Adverse Childhood Experience Study” — the largest, most important public health study you never heard of — began in an obesity clinic”  also published by Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jane-ellen-stevens/the-adverse-childhood-exp_1_b_1943647.html

FN8  Brooks, John, “Video of Baby Casey in the Orphanage,” Warsaw, Poland, 1991, from Brooks, John, “The Girl Behind the Door: An Adoptive Father’s Lessons Learned About Attachment Disorder,” at http://parentingandattachment.com/the-girl-behind-the-door/.  Baby Casey video at http://acestoohigh.com/2013/08/02/the-early-heartbreaking-rages-of-a-baby-with-attachment-disorder/. Original video at http://parentingandattachment.com/meet-my-casey/.

FN9  Barrett, Mary Jo, MSW, “How to Treat the Patient Without Further Trauma,” NICABM webinar June 29, 2011, NICABM.com.  She is a professor at the University of Chicago; founder and director of the Center for Contextual Change; co-author of “Systemic Treatment of Incest;” and co-editor of “Treating Incest: A Multiple Systems Perspective.”

FN10  Siegel, Daniel J., MD, “Early childhood and the developing brain,” “All in the Mind,” ABC Radio National, Australia.

FN11  Perry, Bruce, MD, PhD, “Born for Love: The Effects of Empathy on the Developing Brain,” speech at conference “How People Change: Relationship & Neuroplasticity in Psychotherapy,” UCLA Extension, Los Angeles, March 8, 2013. See also “Overview of Neuro-sequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT),” www.childtrauma.org, 2010

FN12 Verrier, Nancy, PhD, “Coming Home to Self: The Adopted Child Grows Up,” self-published, Lafayette, CA, 1993

FN13 Op Cit Footnote 3, Felitti 13 minute video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQwJCWPG478

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