Asphyxiating Toxic Cycles

As a childhood trauma survivor, I learned some years ago that we often hold our breath. It’s a way of not feeling when so much of what we feel is bad. It’s a way of disconnecting from our body because our bodies were hurt and abused. For me, it was due to incest, terror, humiliation and more.

Breathing has been recently highlighted in horrific ways including Covid killing nearly 4 million people by turning their lungs into cement, the breath being snuffed out of Black men by police officers, and the continued destruction of our coral reefs, rainforests, and oceans that are the lungs of the plant.

What can we make of these global messages on breathing from so many sources?

Breath denied cuts us off from ourselves, even from life. We have polluted parts of this earth to the point where people have great difficulty breathing there. I saw it in the slums of Kenya where many have eye and lung problems from the huge dumps like Dandora and Kibera. As director Peter Sellars has noted, we see the state of injustice is so bad that breath itself is denied as in the cases of Eric Garner and George Floyd, along with those unfilmed. Child abuse traumatizes us to the point where we deny ourselves breath — just enough to stay alive but not enough to feel or be in our bodies.

This pandemic ‘time out’ we’ve been given isn’t looking like it’s going to make as much of a difference we might have hoped when it began. We seem incapable of breathing together, of realizing we need to work together, of loving together. But love, work together, and breathe we must.

I don’t have the answers, but I do know that when we make the choice to heal ourselves and our family line, to break toxic familial cycles, it matters, it makes a difference. It can mean one less incest survivor, fewer child abuse victims, which leads to fewer problems down the road for all of us.

To break these cycles means facing your own shadow and we humans are generally loathe to do that. As a society, we’re even worse at telling ourselves the truth about the atrocities of the past. This means first we must tell the truth which violates Rule #1 of a dysfunctional family: Do Not Tell.

I never said any of this would be easy. Most of it is hard as hell.

These are some of the things that helped me break the cycle for me and my children:

  • Make the decision to do things differently, not perfectly, just better
  • Tell the truth
  • Do your shadow work
  • Breathing exercises will strengthen your diaphragm and intercostal muscles that have likely been underused. This can be triggering, so proceed with caution.
  • Learn your triggers
  • Get trauma informed therapy and try different approaches for what works for you. EMDR works for some, not others.
  • If you cannot afford therapy, read Pete WalkerPeter Levine, Bessel van der Kolk, Stephen Porges, Pat Ogden and others or watch them on YouTube. There are also interesting episodes on This Jungian Lifepodcast.
  • Return to your body: somatic work, yoga, breath work, grounding, qigong, etc.
  • Try medication and be aware you may be hypersensitive to it, so discuss this with your trauma-informed psych. There is no shame in medication.
  • Eat clean and exercise
  • Sound baths
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Explore support groups online or as things open up, in person, including 12-step, DBSA, Survivors of Incest Anonymous, RAINN, and more
  • Journal
  • Do something to improve society, whether it’s getting out the vote, cleaning up a beach or park, food drives or something else. It feels good to help others, get out of yourself for a bit, and it can keep you from ruminating
  • Realize the shame belongs to the perpetrator

I also have spent much of the past six or seven years writing my trauma memoir — after a couple of years of trauma therapy and more years off and on in regular therapy — which allowed me to see recurring patterns, including dates, ages, anniversaries of events. I was also finally able to see my parents more fully as damaged people — in my mother’s case severely damaged — at a time when there was no trauma-informed therapy or medications. They were mostly reactive rather than relational. Writing BAGGAGE CLAIM was the hardest thing I have ever done and I pray that it helps others.

Instead of holding our breath, instead of suffocating each other metaphorically or in reality, let’s instead cut off the oxygen to bad behaviors of all kinds. If we reduce child sexual abuse by only 5%, that is over 2 million people. 2 million who will have a better quality of life with better mental and physical health. There are similar statistics for the environment and social justice. We all benefit, but we will have to give up some comfort and considering the current political discourse, we will have to give up a lot of fear.

Traumas Public and Private: What if the Inner Child Grew Up?

Is it time to give up all hope that this pandemic and its mandatory pause might help us build a better society? Seems like it. We’re literally coming out of this pandemic guns blazing in the United States. 45 mass shootings in 30 days. Then today, Kenosha and Austin, with Austin mere hours after Ted Cruz ranted on Fox that “Biden wants to take your guns.” Meanwhile he rakes in hundreds of thousands in gun lobby money. Station KHOU-11 reported, “…during the 2018 election cycle Ted Cruz was the biggest recipient of money from gun rights backers with $311,151. For comparison the next highest recipient was Martha McSally in Arizona who got just over $228,000.” OpenSecrets.org reports he was the third highest all-time recipient with $749, 317. Mitt Romney was first with over $1M. The top 20 recipients of gun lobby money are all Republicans. When a politician is interviewed about an issue, we could at the very least put the total dollar amount they received from pertinent lobbies on the damned TV screen.

This week also meant another Black man, only 20 years old, killed by a police officer about ten miles from the Chauvin trial in Minnesota. A 13 year old boy with his hands up shot dead by a Chicago police officer. And the interconnectedness cries out for our attention. As The Sparrow Project pointed out, “George Floyd’s partner was Daunte Wright’s teacher. US Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario’s uncle was Eric Garner. Fred Hampton’s mother babysat Emmitt Till.” We keep saying, “Enough is enough,” but clearly that is not the case.

In examining my own outrage, I’ve discovered something that is tied to my own trauma. It’s easy for those of us who grew up with a lot of trauma to get incensed over injustice. We experienced our caretakers not taking care of us, causing pain and chaos instead of protecting and nurturing us. Childhood trauma is massively unjust and unfair. But what I’ve seen in myself — the past few years especially — is my use of the current political climate to quench the primal need to ride the adrenaline storms I experienced as a child in a traumatic, unpredictable household including the crash that comes with not being able to do anything about it. With social media, I keep riding that roller coaster. I cannot always get my adult to stop the ride. Outrage, anger, helplessness… it’s a familiar cycle and profoundly unhelpful without meaningful action. It doesn’t solve anything and it keeps me too distracted to work on the problems or pay attention to what I actually need. Emotionally, it keeps me mired in the past. Many of us are the embodiment of the New Yorker cartoon that noted, “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.” Perpetually so.

This realization arose during the thrice weekly conversations I have with a close friend. We each came from households with quiet, passive fathers and caustic, abusive mothers. Our current working solution (in addition to longer social media breaks) is to concentrate on small acts of self-love and on the inner work with the hope that it makes a difference in the outer world. And she had the insight of coaxing the Inner Child (IC) to grow up. She’s on to something. My IC was sexually, physically, and emotionally abused and is often sad, hurt, withdrawn, angry, and sometimes in collapse. My IC can also be sassy and joyful and fun and spontaneous. But bottom line is my IC should not be running the show. Or staying on that roller coaster all hours.

What if my Inner Child grew up within me to match where I am now? What if I lived a heart-centered life instead of my old coping mechanism where my head tries to figure out everything in an attempt to feel safe? What if my IC grew to feel safe and not have the same repeated reactions wielding the same unconscious subterfuge in my life? What if I didn’t spend all that time flooding my adrenal system with outrage, no matter how justified? I might even discover enough bandwidth to consider how to help with the societal problems.

I don’t have answers. Not yet. I just know that what I’ve been doing individually and what we’re doing collectively isn’t working. We need to consider new possibilities, new viewpoints, new questions while we still can, beginning with an act that is radical for trauma survivors: self-love.

Flash Fiction

The Green Bench

Originally published on September 14, 2010 by The Citron Review, nominated for Pushcart, and adapted into an award-winning short film in 2016

by Diane Sherlock

Listen to him barking in the night. Fear shifts on the bed next to you, hogging the covers. Stare at the ceiling and wonder what to do. Forget his birthday. Forget he is forty-two. Forget the phone call from Berkeley twenty-one years ago. Forget about the happy little boy with the smooth tan skin and the big green eyes. Those eyes that see things that aren’t there, at least not in this dimension. Forget all the tears. Don’t think about the years you tried to talk him into leaving the garage.

In the morning, exhausted, make his favorite breakfast: honey nut oatmeal, mango juice, a poached egg on an onion bagel, and strawberries. Use only paper plates and bowls with plastic utensils and put it all on a sturdy cardboard tray. Buy them in bulk. Don’t appreciate the color arrangement of orange and red punctuating beige and white. Look at the low bench that you have placed outside the door to the garage, the one with a fresh coat of forest green that you made look new again because at least that was possible. That is the mark you will hit. It is twenty steps from the house to the detached garage. Detach.

Open the back door and walk outside. Gently leave the food on top of the bench and move quickly back inside the house on silent feet and lock the door. Don’t knock, don’t make noise, don’t do anything to disturb the performance, to shatter the illusion of normalcy. True, the police would finally do something, but he might end up on the street after a 72-hour hold and you might end up in the hospital.

Consider sprinkling olanzapine on his food, but then consider that he might taste it and then what? Wonder how someone irrational is supposed to make rational decisions about treating his brain chemistry. Don’t bother about fine ethical points. Anything for him to be okay again, for a bit of happiness, for a full night’s sleep. Listen to the crashes and screams from the garage, muted by two layers of closed doors and windows. The neighbors don’t even look any more. Check to make sure your doors are locked, then take a hot shower and get dressed.

It is quiet. Peek out the window and see that the food is gone. Nothing ever comes back out.

Go to a meeting. Go to lots of meetings, at least once a week for fifteen years. This time, when the new faces point out that a judge might see things differently, that you might be seen as endangering him, that you could be seen as abusive, sit with your hands folded and do not speak. Think of yourself, they say, take measures. Know that they don’t yet understand that all you can think about is him. Tell yourself that they will know what it’s like in another twenty years.

Go back home to your bed and pull the sheet of despair up to your chin and stare at the ceiling and wonder how you will summon the energy to take measures. Shift slightly when fear puts its chilled arm around you and holds you against its hard ribcage until it’s time to get up and make the dinner you will leave on the dark green bench outside the door to your garage.

Ignore The Shadow At Your Peril

On January 6, 2021, Georgia moved us closer to democracy than autocracy.

On January 6, 2021, the Confederate flag flew in the United States Capitol. 

On January 6, 2021, there was an attempted coup to subvert the election certification process in advance of Joe Biden taking office on January 20. Eleven Senators, led by Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, both presumably vying for the next GOP presidential nomination, said they were going to challenge the process. Three of those Senators thought better of it as the day’s violence unfolded. Trump spoke to the Proud Boys and other fanatical followers gathered at his request saying he’d won by a landslide (demonstrably false). After the rally, the mob stormed the Capitol Bldg. One of these followers, a woman from San Diego was killed as she forced her way in through the glass door they’d broken. The cop on the other side shot her in the chest. She died later at the hospital. Nancy Pelosi called the DoD to ask for Nat’l Guard assistance. They said no. Shots had already been fired and reps and their staffs evacuated, fearing for their lives. The Speaker of the House asked for assistance and was turned down. The National Guard was finally deployed later.

Twitter and Facebook shut Trump down, at least temporarily. He’s dangerous because he’s cornered and has nothing to lose. He knows SDNY awaits. The Cabinet is discussing invoking the 25th amendment to keep him from doing more damage in the next 13 days. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s soon on a plane to Moscow, but maybe Putin, too, has had enough.

When he was elected, I said the only way Trump would leave the White House would be in handcuffs or a body bag – not that he’d be killed, but that the shock of reality finally intruding on his formidable defenses would result in a heart attack or stroke. He’s been shielded from consequences and failure by family, money, and enablers for all of his 74 years. Mary Trump shed light on the family dynamics in her book. He wasn’t going to go quietly or voluntarily, at least not without overwhelming pressure to do so. He is who he has always been. There should be no surprise in any of this.

Many of us saw this coming years ago, especially those of us who had an abusive narcissist for a parent.

Our policies over the years and our refusal to deal with our shadow as a nation – the ugly events and racism we’d rather gloss over – have brought us to this point. I’m preparing a talk for Creative Mornings on the importance of coming to terms with childhood trauma and the shadow with regard to creative work. Nationally, there is far more at stake. In a time when we need to wear physical masks to protect each other during a global pandemic, there has been a great unmasking. Racism is out in the open. All of this because we elected a Black man and full disclosure, I voted for Obama.

As others have observed, this was not the darkest day in American history. There have been too many horrendous days for those enslaved, those oppressed, and those slaughtered for their land. We must rewrite our myths and we must come to terms with our shadow. Continuing to ignore it means continuing the cost in human lives, including Emmett Till, George Floyd, and far too many whose names have been obscured. To continue to ignore our shadow will kill democracy itself.

Here is the link for the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the election.

Here is the link for info on the 10 Senators expelled in 1861

Tragedy upon tragedy

Every year since 9/11, I’ve paid tribute to these two men who died in the Twin Towers. I nearly skipped this year because I’ve been focused on the numbers of Americans who’ve died in the pandemic. Covid deaths dwarf those lost in the attacks, over 200,000 to date, but that doesn’t negate what happened 19 years ago. What happened then was awful and what is happening now is awful. Again, we have a national reckoning.

It’s a difficult time, but that’s been the norm throughout history. Wars, pandemics, and human cruelty have always existed and we are at a tipping point to decide if we have the heart and stomach to pursue a more just, kinder, more equitable society. At least it is clear where people stand. In that respect, 2020 has been a great unveiling on every level. The brief unity we had in the days after the 9/11 attacks is a distant memory, but that doesn’t mean we cannot return to a nation unified to solve its problems as impossible as that looks at the moment. We owe that much to ourselves and those lives lost both in the pandemic and on 9/11, including these two men:

Robert  John Halligan
Robert Halligan, Age: 59
Residence: Basking Ridge, NJ
Two WTC, 99th Floor
Aon Corporation, Vice President

ROBERT HALLIGAN

From the NYT (11/15/2001) SHOPPING ACROSS THE POND

To a proud Englishman, America is a country of vexing insufficiencies. Its supermarkets know not of H.P. (House of Parliament) sauce and tins of steak and kidney pie. Marmite, sadly, remains a mystery.

Several times a year, London-born Robert Halligan, 59, a vice president at Aon, an insurance brokerage firm, would cross the pond to stock up on such indelicacies. He would cheer on his beloved Tottenham Hotspurs, visit his sprawling family, including five adult children, and drop by a specialty shop to add to the locomotive steam engine models he had been collecting since his trainspotting boyhood. Every weekend he brought the old country to his wife, Jerrie, and their son, Trevor, in Basking Ridge, N.J., by cooking a lard-loving British breakfast (sloppy bacon, fried bread, eggs splashed with grease) and Sunday lunch (roast, two vegetables, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding).

Yet for someone who clung to his British identity, Mr. Halligan flourished in America, where he moved with Jerri, his American wife. He gardened here, played golf and danced beautifully. He was a kind, solicitous grandfather of 10 with a knack for joke- telling. And here he celebrated the holiday he loved even more than Christmas: as a citizen of two countries, Robert Halligan adored Thanksgiving.

***

raja.ehtesham
Ehtesham Raja, Age: 28
Place of Residence: Clifton , NJ
TCG Software
WTC

Ehtesham U. Raja of Clifton, NJ was 28 years old when he died in the World Trade Center. He’d gone there for a conference and was in Windows on the World. He was a 1996 graduate of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia. He had his MBA from Goizueta Business School at Emory. His nickname: Shamu, from his friends in Pakistan.

His parents, Raja Aftab Saeed and Begum Asmat Fatima, donated the land for the Arifwala Hospital, a 40-bed facility, fully equipped with diagnostic and curative services, inaugurated on January 19th, 2009. The hospital is dedicated to their son, Raja Ehtesham Ullah, who lost his life on 9/11. All medical equipment was funded by LRBT America. We have also pledged to fund the hospital’s annual operating budget. (note: the hospital is in Pakistan and fights blindness)

From the Emory Goizueta Memorial site (Ehtesham Raja ’98MBA):

“He was a very kind, caring, compassionate, loving, and intelligent person,” says his mother, Asmat Fatima. “He was respected and admired by those who knew him. His talent and sense of humor made him standout in any crowd. But it was his loving and caring attitude that always made me proud.”

Raja, born in Lahore, Pakistan, worked for TCG Software in Bloomfield, N.J. After graduating with a bachelor of science in industrial engineering from Columbia University in New York City, he worked as a security engineer at Citibank on Wall Street, then, according to his Goizueta Business School application, he returned to Pakistan to work for Citibank Lahore, take the GMAT, and apply to business school.

“He was in the best years of his life,” says Fatima. “Everything seems to be going in his favour. After years of dedication and hard work he finally achieved this status. He had all the plans to pursue his career in finance. He was full of hope for his future.”

Raja also enjoyed sports. He was a swimmer and played cricket, squash, soccer, tennis, and polo while at Columbia.

A memorial service was arranged by TCG Software. “They were proud to have him working for them,” his mother says.

“It is still very hard to believe that he is missing and lost forever,” she continues. “I have to be emotionally strong as Ehtesham has a younger brother, who is at a very impressionable age.

“[Ehtesham] knew life and lived life. His time was limited but in that time he touched so many people. . . . May peace be with him now and forever. He will stay in our hearts and memories forever.”


Rest in peace, Mr. Halligan and Mr. Raja.

Mining During A Pandemic

For the past few years, I’ve focused on healing my relationship to money and of course the initial reason is never the reason. Money is a symptom of a self-love/care/esteem issues. It’s meant to flow – currency after all – and we experience problems individually and as a society when it doesn’t.

In the drill down, I expose what Julia Cameron might call a vein of gold. The rock formations of my protective mechanisms give way. The miner is a bit of wisdom that arrives from a friend: why other people do what they do is none of my business. At first I want to reject it, but these days I’m letting these things have a seat next to me. Quarantining will provide space for this if you let it.

Photo by Nicolas J Leclercq on Unsplash

With childhood trauma, one of the things I did to try to keep myself safe was to figure out why the adults around me were doing or saying the awful things they were doing or saying. If I could figure that out, then I might have a strategy to keep myself safe. It worked for a long time as a coping strategy. It’s great for writing and preparing as an actor. It’s also perfect training for codependency. A Frenchman once called me “Madame Psychologie.” It wasn’t a compliment.

It hit me in the shower yesterday as I was fighting the habit of deciding why a friend hasn’t been responding to calls, texts, or emails. The old scripts of combing through what I might have done to offend, what was going on in their life, what could they be thinking, etc. were running in full force. What if I stopped? What if the miner was right and the thoughts and actions of my friend were none of my business? What if I spent no time at all in this old familiar storytelling?

What the hell am I do going with all of this new free time?!

While this was going on, the answer to a question I hadn’t asked in years regarding a former friend’s behavior hit me: I’d triggered her in a massive way. I was so hurt by her rage, I couldn’t identify it for a long time after the friendship ended.

When I stopped asking, the answer was given to me. God has a funny sense of humor.

This kind of mining is one gift of the pause, of the time we all have now as we shelter in place. Time moves differently. There were at least a hundred days in March and there will be at least that in April. Or maybe April will feel like seconds. We don’t know. There’s a lot we don’t know. Such as what others’ are thinking or why they do the things they do. I don’t know yet how this factors in my relationship with money, other than it’s time to listen in silence instead of spinning stories about the whys.

It feels like an antivirus has cleaned out a lot of my mental hard drive. Irony alert. As Richard Rohr says, “When we are willing to be transformed, we stop wasting time theorizing, projecting, denying, or avoiding our own ego resistance.”  

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Tragedy, trauma, turning

I’ve been thinking about 9/11 and Covid-19 and the difference between the deaths of each of my parents. My father was gone within 24 hours from a heart attack and my mother had a long slow farewell until she died of congestive heart failure and stroke at 90 (my grandmother’s was even longer one at 101). My father was in another state and I didn’t get to say goodbye. I made the drive from L.A. to San Diego every month to see my mother, largely unaware of the lifelong effects of her abuse on me.

Photo by Jesse Mills on Unsplash

9/11 was traumatic and horrifying but there was no warning for the general public. Bam. A plane into a skyscraper, and another, and the Pentagon, and one down in a field. Shocking, horrible, then the eerie silence as all the planes were grounded. Cities full of stunned people. Now we have cities of quarantined people with a sense of dread: how bad will it get, where’s the next hot spot, will I get it, will a loved one, and will we survive. It’s already touched the families and friends of friends. As I write this I get a text that my son may have it.

Dread. That’s one of the controlling methods in an abusive household. Someone (and I’m sorry I didn’t make a note of who) on Twitter noted, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be in a relationship with an abusive man, you are with this president. Mixed messages, denying reality, telling you something then denying it later. I grew up with that. It’s familiar. It’s going on in individual households, but it’s also playing out on the national stage. It’s alcoholic behavior and that of a “dry drunk” who exhibits the behavior without the actual booze.

When they start pulling up semi trailers to haul away the bodies, those tactics fail. There’s nothing like the human body to bring us back to reality. Dead or alive.

Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

For your own well-being, listen to your body. Everything is stored there and it is the source of much wisdom and all your intuition. I know I’ve taken a dark turn, but these are dark times. We don’t need sugarcoating. We’ve had way too much of that. So take care of yourselves. Stay healthy. Raise hell with your reps for Covid testing and mail ballots and tell damned Jeff Bezos to accept EBT from all states for Amazon and wave the Prime fees for low-income users. Let’s come out of this a more compassionate society that cares for more than the bottom line.

Love – and don’t sideline – one another: CPTSD in the time of SARS-CoV-2

All over the world, we are seeing what it’s like when people withdraw into their homes. Some are homeschooling and parenting, some working full or part time, some having to do both. Many have lost their jobs. Some are alone, some with roommates they may or may not know well, others with family. An unknown percentage are with abusers of one form or another. Globally, there’s a big step back and it’s affecting our mental health with many complaining about cabin fever and going stir-crazy. The good news is there are lots of resources online to help, from therapy to exercise. Obviously, it’s also affecting economies. I’m in the U.S. and we haven’t seen the worst of it yet.

Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

You are seeing what a lot of us who have CPTSD, or are otherwise neurodiverse, have known most of our lives. When you have the stigma against mental health along with child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and other traumas, some of your brightest and most gifted citizens are sidelined. For some of us, it is through self-isolation from anxiety, a flight/flight/freeze response essentially stuck in the On position, and fear. I’ve been in DBSA rooms and seen people under-treated or unable to get adequate treatment. They are neurodiverse and they are also brilliant. We could use their gifts, their observations, and wisdom. Not to mention what Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday in his briefing: this is not who we are – we need to value every single life, regardless of whether they can contribute to a way deemed economically useful. Every single person has inherent value. Or they should in a compassionate and just society. As Americans, we are a ways off from that. We can talk a good game, but we don’t back it up with real care. Trillions was not a problem to bail out companies, but with regard to making a real difference to the neurodiverse, the damaged, the chronically ill, the disabled, it was seen as too much money. State disability payments are far too difficult to get for the neurodiverse. You have to have the fortitude to fight three, four, five times over. Judges, politicians, and many doctors lack understanding about the aftereffects of trauma, of the debilitating effects of depression, of what happens – including the structural changes in the young developing brain – when you are utterly demoralized as a child.

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

We have the opportunity to make real changes in ourselves and our communities. But we must get dark money out of politics and embrace the values of empathy and compassion, to live up to the values we espouse. As Ed Fong writes in How The Pandemic Will End, “One could also envisage a future in which America learns a different lesson. A communal spirit, ironically born through social distancing, causes people to turn outward, to neighbors both foreign and domestic.” We’ve been given a timeout, a pause. We can come back better for it.

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

Maybe my CPTSD can help you in the time of COVID-19

I’m calm. That might be annoying if you’re not during this pandemic. I’m trying to work out why I am and how that can help others who aren’t.

First, why am I calm? I grew up with a lot of abuse: incest, ridicule, public humiliation and so on, primarily from my mother. As a result, I have Complex PTSD and that means life-long hypervigilance. I’ve always been on high alert for danger around me, scanning the environment, other people, you name it. It’s exhausting, but it’s second nature. It also means I’ve been imagining worst-case scenarios all my life. I’m 63 = sixty years of thinking about what to do if everything goes to hell. Let me put it this way: THE ROAD was my go-to long before the book was written.

In my trauma recovery, I found the videos from NICABM helpful. Here is their latest. There I discovered Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory and more. I’d already read Pete Walker’s Complex PTSD and Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score (both excellent and highly recommended).

So what are some keys in addition to what’s already out there about limiting your news and social media exposure, structuring your days, getting fresh air, and building community online?

* Stay in your body. Use grounding exercises – there are thousands on YouTube. Some are more woo woo and some are more concrete ones if chakras and cords aren’t your thing. Watch Donna Eden’s energy work. Try her 5 min routine to start your morning and see if it makes a difference for you. The key to my trauma recovery was to learn to reinhabit my body after decades of dissociating. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is.

* Stay present as much as possible. This is where mindfulness practice shines. When you eat, take your time, take extra time! Use all of your senses when preparing and enjoying your food from the sound of bubbling, maybe the sun through a window shining on your plate or candlelight, the smell, how many different tastes you can identify, the feel of different textures. Suggested reading or viewing: SALT FAT ACID HEAT

* Breath work. This helps with grounding. If you’ve had trauma, especially over time, chances are you hold your breath a lot. Breath is key to so much in the body and polyvagal theory explains the benefit of the long slow exhale.

* Practice limiting negative self-talk and runaway thoughts. You can literally say STOP when you notice it happening or you can go the other direction and set a time for 3 or 5 minutes and let yourself fully indulge, but you must stop when the time goes off.

* Journal. Get out your worst fears, worries, irritations, frustration on paper. Balance it out with an equal or greater amount of gratitude.

* More gratitude. If you are sheltering in place with others, go around the table and say three things you’re grateful for at dinner every evening. You can only use food-clothing-shelter once, maybe the first day, then stretch yourself! If you’re alone, set it up online or by phone with friends. If for some reason that’s not an option, yell it out your window. I’m not kidding! There was a guy singing something at the top of his lungs – at first it sounded like a fight was starting up the street, but he was alone with headphones on. No judgment (cut down on the judge-y stuff while we’re at it) – do what works (at least six feet from the rest of us).

* If you do not love yourself, this is the time to learn how. If you have pain in your body, ask it what it is and why it’s there, then sit quietly and listen. There are lots of self-care lists out there. Pick on and do one a day. Repeat until the self-hatred loosens. Act as if until you can feel it for real. Do your shadow work: read Robert Johnson’s book. Do your Inner Child work. Change the stories you tell yourself about who you are and why you do what you do. If you’ve been blaming others for a long time, it’s going to be difficult. Do it anyway.

* Give to others as much as you can. Money is going to be tight for awhile. If you’re in a good position, donate to your local food bank or favorite charity. Send takeout or a grocery order or Amazon gift baskets to your local hospital for the health care workers. They cannot get out often to get fresh fruits and veggies and when they do (see the teary nurse on Twitter), markets may be sold out. If you cannot give money, give encouragement, give wisdom, give advice. You have an expertise so offer it up! If this continues for a long time, people are going to need advice on how to pivot, how to redo a resume, how to keep going, how to homeschool, how to garden, can fruits and veggies, cut their own hair, trim their pets’ nails, how to dance! and more.

That’s it for now. I’m running around after my 11-month-old grandson full-time during the week and he’s gone back to waking up during the night now and then. Will be back when I can. 😴

photo Diane Sherlock

Part 10. The Genesis of My CPTSD: Mother As Home Base

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

from Jasmin Lee Cori:

The message associated with this is “I’m here for you.” When you really take that in, then even in adulthood you will reference Mother as the place you can always come back to for refueling, comfort, or support. When the world beats you down, when your marriage falls apart, when your feelings are hurt, you can always turn to Mother.

and this:

If Mother is not consistently available, is self-absorbed or absorbed elsewhere, is erratic and unstable or unable to be emotionally present for the child, then we don’t experience her as home base. There is no Mother’s lap. This may show up in adulthood as difficulty establishing a sense of home.

from The Emotionally Absent Mother

There’s nothing easy about having a narcissist for a mother. Probably no picnic for her either. We never lived up to her expectations or filled the void inside of her.

There was no mother’s lap in our house. If she was sitting, she was knitting or doing other handwork that was not to be disturbed under any circumstances. The only sentient creature allowed in her lap was a miniature dachshund.

The last time my late brother saw her, he drove nine hours out of his way to visit, bringing his son along. After ten minutes of her not saying a word to them, he got up, took his son and left. When she was dying, I asked if she wanted me to call either of her sons. The answer was no. After decades with her children having no sense of a place for “refueling, comfort, or support” she knew they were unlikely to come in any case. We always think we need to point out others’ flaws and limitations. In almost every case, people know their failings very well.

It was lonely for her partners and children and lonely for her. No home base leads to wandering through cities, countries, relationships. For years, I found my sense of home either on sets or stages or on the road. I felt most myself while traveling. A sense of possibility opened up. Sets and stages provide a temporary sense of family, sometimes functional, sometimes not.

I was able to give my children the home base I did not have and in turn experienced a sense of reparenting. It is yet another piece of how to break toxic generational cycles. If you have or suspect you have Complex PTSD, please read Pete Walker’s book about it. Consider the innocence of your child self without the shame and blame around abuse and then embrace them and give yourself the sense of home you did not have growing up. As Walker says in one of his other books, The Tao of Fully Feeling, “Many survivors suffer intensely from a lack of love without knowing that it is lovelessness that causes them so much pain.”

Every child deserves to have this kind of joy:

Photo by jesse ramirez on Unsplash

That’s all for this series. I haven’t forgotten about my father’s role in all of this, but that is still in process. I am preparing to launch into a new phase in a new city as I finish up a book, so posting may be light for now. Thank you for your support, especially on Patreon. [books links above are affiliate links]