This Is Gonna Hurt – It’ll Be Worth It

#2 in my ongoing book series; original post July 26, 2013

brousblog2a Mordor w.Frodo“Don’t Try This At Home” takes you along on the journey to the center of my brain, tripping down what felt like my old New York City apartment building’s incinerator shoot, blind and alone, after the first professionals I saw called the wrong shots. I discovered, with no desire to do any of this, the realities of Attachment Disorder in a world half sick with it – unbeknownst to all but a few of the 3.5 billion folks involved.

Some 50% of Americans have some form of Attachment Disorder, also the average worldwide. This story is meant not to depress you, but to inspire the 50% of us in this reality to recognize it, respect ourselves and our injuries, and seek serious healing – because it can happen. This mess can even turn out to be a blessing; but you won’t believe such an ending could come about until much, much later.

So bad news first, then good.

The bad news is way bad: this is really gonna hurt.  Healing is impossible without feeling the boatload of emotional pain hiding frozen inside us.

Attachment Disorder often involves “developmental” injury to the brain stem in the womb or before age 5, which no one involved ever knew happened. We just walk around all our lives feeling hyper-sensitive to feelings. I couldn’t believe how bad it hurt when I first got in touch with this “baby pain.” When I say pain in my chest or gut, we’re talking knife-stabbing level pain. Some days it felt like crawling across Mordor, except on my belly, butt naked.  Frodo at least had clothes.

The emotional pain is so bad, that the brain stem actually knocked us out into oblivion whenever it was first experienced, to protect us from feeling it as a helpless kid in the first place. It’s the same biological mechanism that takes charge when we see a mouse pass out as the cat picks it up, often called “freeze,” or technically, “dissociation.”

brousblog2b PterydactylIt’s a raw instinct of fight or flight, and when that’s impossible, freeze, which goes back to the advent of bony fish. The fish doesn’t have time to debate “should I freeze now?”  It just passes out.

Trick is, we’ve got to un-freeze the frozen pain from those early months and years, and feel it – to release or “discharge” the stored-up stress energy deep in our muscles and viscera. And feeling our feelings, I learned, bad as they felt, can never kill us. It doesn’t even harm us in the slightest. In fact, afterward we feel better, though it might take a while.

It’s when we refuse to feel this stuff that it silently eats at us from the inside, first emotionally, then by generating enough stress chemicals to physically destroy body parts. That’s what actually kills many of us.

Attachment Disorder stems from any disruption to an infant’s attachment to the mother, and unfortunately, babies are very easy to damage. It can start as soon as the sperm hits the egg, or at any time in the next 45 months, since a baby requires solid, calm attachment from conception to 36 months, for the brain to develop in a healthy way. Any stress to a mother carrying a baby is a warning sign. Recent studies show it is prevalent in underprivileged areas, orphanages, alcoholic homes, or any home where mom is under existential stress. Neuroscientists in a recent book call it the “hidden epidemic.” [FN3]

But Attachment Disorder also occurs “in the nicest families” due to factors as simple as a mom smoking while pregnant as did moms of many baby boomers. Unwanted pregnancies (however wealthy the home) are at high risk. Neonatal incubation and adoption deeply damage attachment; only recently have remedial treatments been introduced. Infant or childhood surgeries or any medical trauma are a red flag. Mothers who as kids had little air time with their own mom and thus are tone deaf to others’ emotional state, unwittingly pass the damage on to their infants.

Many health professionals today did not adequately study attachment during training, if at all. It goes unnoticed in schools, medical systems, and houses of worship, all the places where hurting people go for help.

This makes a chunk of our population an emotional health time bomb. It may account for much of our 50% divorce rate and the work productivity crisis draining our economy. The top trauma specialist for the Pentagon says it’s one reason Congress can’t seem to function. [FN4]

brousblog2c Death Valley Lots of RocksNo, I’m not sitting on the brink of Mordor  – but it is Death Valley.

The good news, however, is so good: healing is worth the fight.

As I move further into my own healing, I feel so much better than I ever have in my life. This may be difficult to believe until you experience it.

I sure didn’t feel this way when I first started contemplating all those layers of pain — but I got through it.

You will never trade how you lived before for how you’re going to be able to live now, the fullness of feeling everything wonderful you haven’t been able to feel all your life, freedom from all that raging anxiety deep inside, which kept you as frozen up as that conked-out mouse or fish.

Trauma specialists compare recovery from AD to a religious experience of God or a metaphysical awakening to enlightenment, the relief is that profound. [FN5]

Whatever the words, it’s a transformation which can make us feel so loved and full of life and relief that weeping for joy can become a bad habit. The feelings of sheer gratitude have put me on a first name basis with God, and He’s a really nice Man.

Since most of this book is going to tell you in graphic detail how bad it feels when we first discover Attachment Disorder and walk through the necessary early stages of pain and healing, there’s no reason not to believe me about the happy ending.

And I’ve even got clinical proof.  Never in my wildest imagination (and that’s saying something) did it occur to me to even address the various medical issues “we all develop” after 40. Just by addressing my emotional pain, feeling it, and finally releasing it, the oddest results began to materialize in my body.

During the first 18 months of this purely emotional program, my cholesterol dropped 35 points, my kidney disease numbers dropped way back into the “lots better than normal” range, a nearly crippled foot simply healed itself, and the list goes on. Just wait, it’s all in Chapter 14.

These days, my family doctor looks at my annual check-up lab results and asks “Do you plan to live forever?”

Meanwhile, my friends have to put up with hearing me repeatedly blurt out, wherever we go: “I can’t believe how much better I feel than the last time we were here!”

This is from the Preface 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 Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

3. Lanius, Ruth A., MD, Vermetten, Eric, Pain, Claire, Editors, “The Impact of Early Life Trauma on  Health and Disease: The Hidden Epidemic,” Cambridge University Press, 2010.  “Early Childhood Adversity, Toxic Stress, and the Role of the Pediatrician,” American Academy of Pediatrics,  2012 (New York Times 1-7-12), and many more.
4. van der Kolk, Bessel, MD, “What Neuroscience Teaches Us About the Treatment of Trauma,”  June 6, 2012 webcast, National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine  (NICABM). Dr. van der Kolk said the US Congress is “dissociated,” or they’d feel the simple human compassion to know that sending youth to war brings back a flood of PTSD suicides.  (To me that means more than 50% of Congress has attachment problems, which is why they made a career of trying to control others. )  See footnote 9 in
5. Levine, Peter A., “Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body,” ‘Sounds True, Inc.,’ Boulder CO, 2005; ISBN 1-159179-247-9

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7 responses to “This Is Gonna Hurt – It’ll Be Worth It

  1. What a godsend to finally find your site. I am so intrigued and frightened. I’d been hoping that my issues were much less weighty than they are. The more I explore my issues the more work needs to be done and I often feel buried under rubble. Plus now I’m on isolation row; it’s too bleak. I always knew I had something wrong with me. At age 13 I had attachment panic from silly break ups with boys; it got worse until I’d be suicidal after a break up–always with unavailable men. I didn’t realise it was me who is unavailable, because my sister and parents don’t do emotions. Finding the right treatment in Ireland is very hard. I’m terrified of being like this forever and being alone forever – due to horrendous pains I can’t even access. It’s overwhelmingly frightening. Do you think schema therapy, which I’m offered for BPD, is good for attachment disorder? I’m also starting inner child work. I guess I should stay single til I’m done. Bleak. But your work is a great resource, you are kind to share all this.

  2. I see you were commenting on Perry’s work in the article and that his focus is kids; i stand corrected. Great article. Do you have an idea of how he might respond to my complaints? I’d want to ask that in his work with kids and publishing it, he would take pains to make clear that this work is needed with adults too and that the same condition, with worsening after effects plagues adults because work like his was not and still is not being done for them.

  3. I read your article on Bruce Perry after clicking on a link in a mail list discussion (postmodern therapists group). Your article is interesting and clearly written, but I was haunted by a question: Why does it only refer to helping children? I was a child welfare social worker for 25 years and child sexual abuse therapist for 17 years, and i confirm: even in places which exist to help TRAUMATIZED kids, trauma is never mentioned in psych evals and diagnoses, as if it doesn’t exist. It’s as if there is a determination to keep it under the rug.
    The non-mention of traumatized adults who also need primitive brain and neurologic treatments touched this same nerve in me.
    It hurts, i’m frustrated. Stop sweeping us under the rug, adults living with the effects of attachment trauma! I am reacting emotionally because as a clinician and social worker working with traumatized kids and their traumatized families, and as a victim of complex child abuse myself, i never heard of what you are talking about here until a few months ago, i stumbled on it googling PTSD child abuse in adults: complex post traumatic stress disorder, CPTSD.
    I see you have chosen the term attachment disorder. Experts who specialize in CPTSD, struggle with juggling the numerous terms used to refer to it. Is there a reason people can’t come to a consensus about what to call this? Van der Kolk discusses this diversity of terms, DESNOS, developmental trauma, CPTSD, adjustment disorder, and expresses frustration with the refusal of the American Psychiatric Association to even acknowledge CPTSD as a diagnosis. What is wrong with them? Why do they protect their existing categories and leave diagnosticians with only inappropriate diagnoses to cram people into, people who don’t meet the criteria but yet something is clearly wrong. Is it to protect the pharmaceutical industry? Is it to protect the insurance industry from having to provide coverage for this very widespread disabling condition? i can’t think of a well-motivated reason they would refuse to include CPTSD as a legitimate psychiatric diagnosis. I’m angry about it. By being silent on the reality of this condition, by being in denial of it, the authorities are keeping clinicians in ignorance of it with the result that when a person seeks therapy, they will be unlikely to find a therapist who knows anything about it, and who, in their ignorance, may employ interventions that trigger traumatic experiences in such clients. Unaddressed secondary trauma in such clinicians may lead to counter-transference that can cause the therapist to relate to the client in ways that are actively hurtful, as the therapist reacts with their own frustration with the client’s “resistance” to the therapist’s efforts to feel successful.

    • I’m sorry you’ve had the same experience I had and for your pain. I agree 99.9% except for a minor error. You read my article about Bruce Perry’s work on what happens to human brains at birth. His clinics focus on children so when I write on him, I report his work. But as for me, my entire focus IS adults.
      If you look at my website, I’m focused on healing adults. My main tag word is Adult Attachment Disorder. I’m focused on attachment disorder because that’s exactly what happens with developmental trauma. Bessel van der Kolk, MD, has done the ultimate documentation and we don’t need all those other terms like C-PTSD (too vague) anymore. His proper term is developmental trauma because it has content: something was damaged in the nervous system, mind, body and emotions during the very development of the brain and the personality from conception. Show me most cases of a child or adult with multiple traumas as a child and if we look, their whole family lived in trauma so the mother was traumatized carrying them and they started with developmental trauma at birth.
      If you read my blog linked above on van der Kolk’s work on developmental trauma, or if you talk to my friend Dr. Vincent Felitti, MD, co-director of the ACE Study, they tell you why the APA and the profession are sweeping this under the rug. Yes there are issues with $ from pharmaceutical companies but the worst part is the entire training, self-image and persona of all these “experts” is threatened by the new research we are talking about. Now that we’ve learned that 50% of the entire population, including the adult population, has significant childhood trauma, they are traumatees as well. Now they have to look inside themselves, and they don’t want to.
      Yet if we don’t heal the adults, not only will 50% of our adult population live in pain like you and I — but these trauma-laden adults will keep traumatizing children.

  4. The therapist I worked with for the ACOA stuff recommended an older workbook, Repeat After Me, which was very helpful in overcoming my dread of thinking of my childhood family experience. After a couple of years in ACOA I was doing some painting in my house when I noticed myself feeling something unfamiliar. Using my new and limited ability to practice mindfulness I identified these feelings as contentment and gratitude. I know I can feel better about being. Becoming aware of adult attachment disorder and finding hope in this is an example of the good fortune that also has been and is present in my life.

    • I was moved by your comment on Facebook, that while programs are growing for children with trauma, there seem to be few programs for us adults who had child trauma long ago.
      AA, Al Anon, ACOA and the “anonymous” programs have been helping adults for a long time; they just didn’t realize they were treating our child trauma. Turns out their “Steps” are also needed to treat childhood Attachment Disorder. Step 1. Admitting we are helpless to change reality alone, also means: we sit down and accept we can’t change the reality that we didn’t get love in past. We just sit with it and mourn. 2. Getting vulnerable and sharing our messiest feelings in a meeting then starts to give us some of that love we need — because we can see people accept us mess and all, just like a mom accepts a baby no matter what.
      I did all those meetings for 2 years and it was healing. But my childhood Attachment Disorder was severe enough that I had to also deal in detail with my personal grief. There just wasn’t enough time for all my grief to be heard with a 3-6 minute egg timer running in a 20-person meeting.
      That’s why I’m writing my book on how I dealt with it – starting with the Grief Recovery Handbook. I got be heard for an hour a week every week for 3 years:

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