Sunday, August 30, 2020

My Little Runaway

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder creates a disregulated stress response in many of us who survived Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). These responses often look overly dramatic to the outside observer. They might even seem "out of nowhere" when they're a sudden burst of fight or flight.

I've come to realize that these autonomic responses present in a myriad of sometimes subtle ways. Sure, the dramatic get the attention of onlookers, but the quiet attacks deserve a full understanding. It's the set up to the climax.

When lay people (like me) write about their experiences, we often try to piece together our mental state from self help self observation. We get some information on how what is conventionally called "fight or flight" and try and fit that into how we have managed our trauma states.

In real life practice, fight or flight has 2 overlooked components of freeze and appease. And many reactions of the 4 kinds of panic, may get overlooked without an awareness of how they manifest.

Lets start with a fight reaction to stress. An obvious first look shows that a panicked person can literally fight with another person or object. I once punched someone after a car accident. I apologized but I never saw the reaction coming.
Another manifest of fight can come in the form of argumentative actions or primal screaming that may seem out of context. Often vengeful thoughts can go unnoticed in their quietness.

Some will fight with inner thoughts and take actions like self abuse. Self harm may be a fight response.

Now, we'll examine the flight response. We run from that which scares us. We might also laugh or cower or cry.

Freeze can look like a lot of different actions such as going quiet, fainting, feigning sleep or hiding. Looking back at my past, I realized that when things were more than I could handle, I would sometimes faint. I heard people talking around me, but I just slipped away to get away from the pain.

When a traumatized person uses appease, they may bargain and distract with accommodation acts like food preparation for the person creating the stress. Appeals to authority like police or social services can be a stress response. Faithful people might pray or do other rituals in appease mode.

So sorting a lifetime of "panic attacks" may come down to sorting events that didn't seem to make sense at the time. Was it a stress response? Can we "see it coming" more in the future? If so, can we have a tool kit for how to respond?

Watch for tips and tools in future posts. Kind Comments encouraged.

Additional Resources: 

Fight or Flight response - Psychology Today 

Resilience to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) - Minnesota Department of Health

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - Wikipedia

Thursday, January 16, 2020


Intrusive thoughts keep me awake. Sometimes they have a passing woosh, like a stinky wind. Other times, they come and sit on my chest, making it hard to breath.

Some of them come from an action I've taken. Like, that one time I dumped soda all over a friend of a friend or lost my shit and screamed at my ex's best friend. Accident or overreaction, still I feel as though I "ruined everything."

My family lacked the skill to teach me how to make mistakes or resolve disputes. Now as an old person I struggle with these occasional gaps in who I am. I find more grace as I put things in perspective.

Letting go of the fantasy that the past could have been different comes with some struggle of itself. I've read that children blame themselves for problems in a family as a way to try and control the situation. If you are at fault, you can change yourself and help fix things.

Embracing serenity of sorting what I can control and what is outside my abilities helped guide me to a better place. When I dig deep for the courage, wisdom and acceptance, things go much smoother.

I also realized that thought energy rarely goes away. My best efforts to silence a nagging voice may keep it at bay for a time, but eventually it breaks through and starts screaming.

I found another way to handle feelings or memories that gives them a place of honor. I can move most of the energy outside my head and into an event journal. I've also had good success with drawings that depict my inner workings.

Rather than continue to remember an incident (recent or long ago) I can put it down in a thought ledger. If the event comes into my mind, I can gently remind it that it has a place to live.

Always be kind to your thinking. It IS trying to work things out and trying to help you. Remember that it was taught by the same people who created the gaps that make you struggle with life.

Like a little kid learning to use a tool, it'll make plenty of mistakes in the process. Keep the serenity mantra foremost in your mind. Accept what you cannot control, dig for the courage to control what you can, and search for tools enact the wisdom to know the difference.

Kind comments encouraged.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Counting Falling Stars

(modified post from July 2014.)
For a couple of days I've contemplated what to write about next. I know I've written about topics like this idea before. Though a quick search didn't turn up the exact previous post.

Telling my story over and over, seems to substantially lessen its impact. I've mentioned that I have started to see the value of confession. Not as a telling of one's own sins, though that I feel has value. What I'm talking about is confessing one's flaws installed by outsiders.

I feel that they're weirdly the same thing. It feels like a recounting of facts. A kind of "for the record" acknowledgement of what happened. I've come to realize that so much of what one views as reality ha as much to do with perception and perspective.

I don't know much of the motives of people who hurt me. My perception that some of their actions were "crazy" comes from other people's reactions to my story.

While it's true I do have some ego tied up in what happened to me, I've come to realize that understanding it builds me up more than it tears me down. With each "confession," I learn a little more about the power I have inside. You'll have to ask my husband if I tell the stories less the more I sort through their value.

I think of it as counting falling stars. Though much of the material burns up in my "atmosphere of examination," some of it just grazes and doesn't fall. It comes back in some other guise and sparks another fiery event.

Although my experiences come down like meteors  I can choose how I react to them. I choose to recount the story. I speak what I saw and consider adapting my version if I hear a different perspective that seems valid. Many family members refuse to speak with me and I try and be understanding.

How do you count your falling stars? If you don't, and it works for you, I''m glad. Confessing what made me, me, seems to improve my life.

Kind comments welcome!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The More We Get Together

(Written in August, 2014 adapted Nearly August, 2019.)

New years eve I participated in a twitter #ideaparty hosted by Barbara Sher. She suggested for finding local friends. Boy did it work good.

It never occurred to me that atheists would have a meeting local to me. When I saw them on that list, I felt elated. It's exactly "my thing."

Faith and church felt like alien concepts to me. I thought about going to one just for the fellowship aspects. Then I realized that would be so hypocritical and very uncomfortable. I know me, I would say something about inconsistent interpretations of biblical teaching.

What I understand of Christ makes me think that he had some interesting things to say. I have no problem with discussing his philosophical point of view. I know less about Mohamed but I bet he has some intriguing concepts as well.

How other people choose to navigate the social landscape has little to do with me. I ask lots of questions about that which I sense around me. These observations lead me to a conclusion of random happenstance.

Should some evidence of a higher power show in my sensing of data, I would adjust my world view. Until such time, i remain skeptical of the notion of god.

As a small child, I don't remember ever feeling valued in church. My sister loved it and felt the fellowship that comes from participation. I'm not sure how much this had to do with the way I was treated or if the lack of faith was innate in my mind even that early.

The faith came from my family tradition. I don't know how other churches treat children. I felt as though I was a nuisance to everyone there. Plus I was forced to go. I don't suppose that makes for positive memories. I like having choices.

My family didn't want me. That's why my sister and I were living with the devout lady. She didn't want me, she wanted my sister. When she beat me up in church, I felt that no one in the congregation cared. I felt like they thought I was "bad."

I remember Sunday School, but I don't remember learning anything or enjoying any friendship or acceptance there. It's not being different, as my sister has albinism just like me.

I guess I'm strangely grateful that they were unkind. I might have been seduced by friendship and acceptance. I like being an atheist. I like asking questions and chatting with others who question things too.

The more I think about faith, the more I find I have no need for it in my real life. Though it may be a bit of a challenge to find people who think as I do, they do exist and do value my company. Just as important, *I* value my company.

How other people run their philosophical life is none of my business. If someone has a deep faith, I can respect that to the point they don't bother me over it. Some have crossed that and I wish them peace and let them go. Life's way too short to worry over being judged by someone.

It's just an untestable theory, but I suspect I could hang with Christ. I suspect he would discuss things with me, but let me make up my own mind. At least that's my interpretation of his attitude. In a way I am the leper and he hung out with them.

Who do you hang out with and why?

Kind comments encouraged.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Let it Go!

I don't have kids unless inner children and a cat count. For some reason, I picked up on parenting tips from TV because it really seemed weird the way I got parented.

Not just because of all the surviving abuse bit. But that every day how to be a human stuff that adults are supposed to show their kids. Mine missed a lot of that.

That seems to be a generational trauma symptom. If your parents are fighting their own demons, they don't have time to teach you how to brush your hair. At least they don't know how to do the little things without a struggle.

Some of us were left to figure it all out on our own.

So as an adult, I kind of obsess on parenting guidance. There used to be a reality show called Super Nanny where a well meaning child expert showed up to observe parents try and handle their kids. She reminded me of a much kindlier and far less magical Mary Poppins.

Though I can say she did do magic. Practical conjuring that encouraged the parents to be consistent and helpful. She taught them that children WANT consistent rules that get the same reaction every time.

Most often she taught parents to meet chaos with calm. That if they could calm down and give everyone in their family as much of what they needed, things would run smoother. She trained them to see a noisy fussy child as an unmet need rather than a chaos demon.

That helped me see the feelings inside me as the same. Some piece needed something. Most of those noisy radical feely demons, just needed to be helped.

Super Nanny excelled at helping kids get to sleep. She taught the parents to create a calming ritual at bedtime. Every night the same routine chosen by the parents. Something like washing up, brushing teeth, a story then lay down.

For the first couple of nights, parent would sit inside the room with their back to the child. Then outside the door where the child could see them, again with their back to the child.

If the child was old enough to get out of bed, they didn't say a word. No extra lights, just gently put the child back into the bed. On the first try, reminded the child that it is bedtime now. No extra words, no arguing.

Sometimes this took a while for the child to get the message that they needed to do what they were asked. Eventually, the parents could simply ask the child to wash up and read them their story and they would go to sleep on their own.

I decided to try similar things with the children inside my head. We have sleep rituals like I think up a story for them to hear and we end up rested.

Anxiety can run loose at times not related to rest. Like a frightened child, it responds to anger and irritation with more fear and acting up. Those feelings manifest into invisible monsters. Such feelings are only contained with calm, peace and love.

I give them freedom inside a place of their own. I write about them in a journal and let them play with my stuffed animals. I encourage them to draw, and sing and twirl during their special time.

Then, when it's time for them to rest, I gently put them to bed. If they get out, I remind them it's bed time and gently bring them back.

I heard that in recovery to hug your demons or they'll bite you in the ass. I say hug them because they're frightened needy parts of you that need your help.

Kind comments encouraged.

Friday, November 16, 2018


I wonder where I bonded with trauma from my childhood? I know that I get a kind of weird excitement when telling a story. I still think those stories need telling, though I'm wondering now how to take a step back and take the heat off.

Psychologists have been talking about trauma bonding for a while now. It's prevalent when people have survived abuse within families where we are dependent upon them for our basic needs. Hard to leave a husband who convinces you that you'll starve without him.

A friend's dad told her a horrific story about a place to keep her from going with me. I found out later he was abusing her. I offered a thought pattern that would have challenged his authority.

Even though she and I could see the abuse and avoid the love and honor our parent delusion, we both did fall into what I call drama bonding.

Our families taught us that drama brought attention to something bigger than the abuse they were engaged in. My mother told me that "The big bad world is going to eat you alive, little girl." While I didn't believe her, it did take my focus away from the reasons I wanted to go out in it.

I found telling my story gave me some attention and did help a little. Yes, it's dramatic, sad and depressing. Some people walk away from me. Part of me likes that. It feels like I have a power over them.

Drama stories push people away and draw others in at the same time. They obscure and reveal too.

I know that drama also saps energy I could use for other things. It also feels like a stage of recovery. Maybe it's a kind of step down from trauma bonding.

I figured out I had to let go of the fantasy that my mother could be anything other than who she was. Part of grieving, I know, but there's more to it. Seeing her as a whole person.

So many words define my mother. At first the ones I used were things like selfish, cruel and absent. As time goes on, I think things more like hurt, abused and lonely. Still, she could also be called smart, funny and capable.

Bonding with my mother didn't quite happen because I bonded with my older sister instead. Yes, we can bond with more than one person, but my mother and I just didn't get that. At least i the mother/daughter sense.

She did pass on the drama bonding, though.

Troubles were never because she made mistakes or did something wrong. My dad was often the blame for any misfortune. Later, she trauma bonded with other abusers.

I feel I drama bonded with most of the partners I dated. My ex could be the hero comforter when I told the stories of my troubled childhood. They were drama bonded to their mother. I could see that bond as stifling.

When I went to loosen the ties that bind, my ex found another to drama bond enslave.

It takes lots of effort to move out of drama mode. And I see it as a necessary step. I need to get to all the feelings, before I can sort through the ones to change.

Keep the joy and let go the sad and angry.

Kind comments encouraged.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

My Heart Belongs to Me

As a survivor of abuse, so much emotional distress can come from political news. The #metoo movement, rape culture and abuse culture being all over the news can set me into a place of panic.

These feelings leave unseen marks on my being. The panic shows in quiet fitful sleep moments. I do talk about it out in the open AND I keep it to myself. At the same time.

Been thinking about all the Keep Calm and Carry On strategies I employ silently. We just recently saw the documentary about Mr. Rogers and I've always loved his thinking on "look for the helpers." Sometimes there is only me. I am a good helper to others and myself.

I like that about me. This blog, other places and to myself, I can help. I can mother my unruly inner children. I can remind my stuffy adult self to remember moments of perfect beauty and pure laughing joy.

Saw this video by a counselor where she says that the goal is to get to where we think "this shitty thing happened," but we don't curl up in a ball and cry every time we think of it. Lots of my story is like that. Just history. (her story)

Lots of times I have to employ a "strategy" to get to the shitty thing because it's a shitty thing rolled in broken glass and cactus needles. To "deal" with them requires special gloves and a plan.

I own some lovely dishes that depict iris flowers. When putting them away on the open shelf, Murry sometimes puts them with the flower facing away. To him, they're just dishes. To me, they're a piece of art that happens to be useful.

I can turn my past to face the flowers to the outside. Displaying the mosaic that is me in the best light. Seeing the "broken" bits as just a part of the pattern, rather than the whole of the thing.

Such reframing takes a lot of effort and the right kind of gloves. I've spoken before about feeling pain so deep that I wished my life was over. For a real long time, my strategy was; "I'm too much of a fuck up, I'll just end up worse off." While that is slightly still there, I found that I want to also see the future. Way better.

So taking the broken glass and prickly bits out and filling the cracks with gold. I've been an artist for longer than I even realized.