I hate mindfulness dogma!

Some mindfulness proponents tell us we don’t have trauma if we just live in the present and “let the past go.” When it comes to Developmental Trauma, this is shaming and incorrect!

Unresolved trauma prevents us from living in the present. It is a nerophysiological response to threat that becomes fixed in the body until it can be resolved. It’s not about “letting go” but of slowly reorienting the nervous system toward safety and connection. This is not merely the responsibility of the injured person, but of their whole community. It takes a community to create Developmental Trauma and a community to heal from it. Mindfulness is a huge help, yes, and it can also be used to harm!

This is a serious problem with mainstream mindfulness culture. Even Eckhart Tolle skirts the issue of Developmental Trauma with a handful of mumbles. Mindfulness dogma is shaming of trauma survivors. It is just as awful as the Christian dogma and the psychological dogma. It is HARMFUL to trauma survivors. HARMFUL. It needs to stop. Now.
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I was a teenage sex slave

Victim SandwichThe moment I became a teenage sex slave. Each drop of blood signifies one month of that abuse. It began several weeks after my 15th birthday. A 25-year-old acquaintance, on hearing about my mother’s worsening mental illness and abuse, offered me a safe place to stay and said he could help me find a job. Instead, he tricked me into domestic and sexual slavery. He isolated me and used physical and psychological abuse to keep me under his control.

After grooming me for a few days, Stephen R. DeNutte of Manchester, NH, was satisfied that I was scared, needy, and vulnerable enough to make a good target for his perverse predatory predilections. My parents had prepared me well. Like the previous rapist, he came in the room while I was asleep and did what he wanted. He did not have to immobilize me because I was already petrified. I felt nothing. 

He isolated me from any kind of support and constantly shamed, threatened, and coerced me. The sex slaver made me read pornography. He spat on me, humiliated me, shamed my body, physically forced me, and subjected me to physical restraints. He repeatedly told me, “You are my sex slave!” He also gave me alcohol and pot. However, after a while, he told me I was not allowed to drink anymore because “You like it too much.” I did like it! It was a temporary escape from the nightmare of my reality. An escape he did not want me to have.  Like my first abuser, he enjoyed making me the recipient of torture, but his mode was far more caclulated, protracted, and repetitive. It was as if he designed it for maximum terror, to keep me on the edge of death as long as possible. 

When I found my fight and began to resist, he pinned me face down and twisted my arm behind my back until my elbow made a loud “POP!” It hurt for months afterward. 

His family and friends acted like it was normal, like he was just my boyfriend, like boyfriends do these things to their girlfriends. My mother never called the cops, CPS, or came to see me. She abandoned me to that slaver. In fact, she had actually trafficked me twice in the year before. 

I didn’t go to Child Protective Services because they had placed someone I knew in a home where the foster father raped the child. It was safer to be raped by the predator I knew than the one with which the CPS roulette wheel might land me. 

My relationship with the sex slaver was similar to the one I had with my father. He was cruel, contemptuous, controlling, had power over me, and enjoyed causing me pain and harm. I was miserable, but it felt familiar. If you’re going to be with a predator, it’s better to be with the one who isn’t your father. 

As my strength to resist increased, the sex slaver realized I was no longer a good little victim. He told me to call my father and “go home.” 

My father came to pick me up. He saw where I had been and with whom. He made it clear that whatever happened was my fault and I should shut up and pretend nothing was wrong. Also, he subjected me to his continued verbal and emotional abuse. I had no reference point of normalcy. I thought everything that happened was my fault and I deserved it. Because that’s what my environment reinforced every minute of every day. I suffered in silence as I went back to school and tried to function. But I felt like I had been through a kind of war I could not describe, like I was from a planet nobody could know. 

Some months after my return to my father’s domain I became intensely suicidal and planned my death in detail. Only a small miracle caused me to quit that plan and swear to myself I would never take my own life. 

I often shamed myself for not fighting the sex slaver when he pinned me, and for not escaping sooner. But recently I discovered it was actually a smart defense and not a character flaw. From Dr. Pat Ogden I learned that the “feign death response” is powered by the dorsal vagal system. When the dorsal vagal nerve is stimulated everything slows down. The body starts to shut down and the muscles go limp in response. When sympathetic tone drives the body in an unsustainable way, physiology demands some respite and it often comes in the form of shut-down. Dr. Ogden noted, “These instinctive responses are innate, but if we suffer from unresolved trauma we’ve usually formed habits like default defensive responses.” 

Now I realize a part of me knew if I hadn’t frozen it probably would have made my perpetrator more violent. Instinctively I knew not to use any of the other defenses because he was bigger and stronger. Also, I now know that the shut-down response is my default when I’m overpowered or overwhelmed. My father set the pattern when I was very young. Looking back I can see that both of my parents prepared me for the year of slavery. It is a difficult reality to face. But I do it one breath at a time.

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The night I learned to fly

Night I learned to fly- whole“The Night I Learned to Fly” is the latest in a series of paintings that answer the question, “How did I survive?”

By enduring unspeakable terror early in life, I learned to dissociate so well and so easily I could enjoy a lovely flight over the city while he raped me. 

I don’t know where my mother went, but I suppose she was with a man somewhere else in or on that building. We were in Mexico City, had been out at the bar, drinking, and met these guys. I was 15. I never told anybody because my mother made it clear I was responsible for my abuse. My mother passed on to me what her mother made clear to her. 

Fortunately, I learned to fly.


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What the f*** happened to me

Rockford Center for Behavioral Health, July 5, 2018You know how you feel when you come out of a movie at midday? you blink and you realize that you had forgotten there is this other world out there. You see it in a new way. At least for a little while.
That’s how I felt two years ago today, after I was unnecessarily kept in this place for a week. This is Rockford Center for Behavioral Health degradation.  There I endured a protracted ordeal that included: confiscation of personal items, strip search (can you say “tramatic”?), heavy medication, electronic beacon on the wrist, violation of patient rights, neglect, abuse, filthy conditions, horrible food, underqualified “group therapy leaders,” NO treatment plan and NO individual treatment, as well as threats to commit self-admitted patients who wanted to leave before their insurance coverage ran out.

Two years later I still struggle to recover from their #PsychAbuse. I went in because a doctor at ChristianaCare assured me I could find help for my Complex PTSD ( janked-up nervous system). “It’s a gateway to services like a psychiatrist and expressive arts therapy,” he promised. But I came out with a MORE janked-up nervous system, plus several weeks of withdrawal symptoms from the imposed polypharmacy. The “care” I received from the system set me back a great deal and affected my physical health, as well. It’s impossible to participate in activities or exercise regularly when been flattened by trauma upon trauma upon trauma, with far too little time or assistance to recover. 

Rockford Center is owned by Universal Health Services (UHS), which “operates 26 Acute Care hospitals, 328 Behavioral Health inpatient facilities, and 42 outpatient facilities and ambulatory care centers in 37 states in the U.S., Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom.” According to the Buzzfeed News investigative report, “What the Fuck Just Happened?,” UHS owns about 25% of the facilities in the US and “more than a third of the company’s overall revenue — from both medical hospitals and psychiatric facilities — comes from taxpayers through Medicare and Medicaid.” UHS turns a 30% profit by cutting staff and services, tricking people into coming, keeping them as long as possible, and milking medicaid and medicare. THIS IS AN OUTRAGE! They harm people every day. But this is apparently A-OK with Delaware and pretty much everyone else. I’m here to help #MakeItStop


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3 Gateways to Presence

Interoception, Exteroception, Proprioception. My Alexander Technique instructor and friend, Imogen Ragone and I discuss how “awareness of our inner self and bodily sensations (interoception), of our position and movement in space (proprioception), and of the stimuli coming from outside ourselves (exteroception) are key gateways to being present – something we are in great need of when we are stressed. In my sixth conversation with trauma awareness activist Shay Seaborne, we discuss these three concepts AND give tips on how to cultivate each one. All three are important to our wellbeing, giving us key resources that help us build resilience in the face of both trauma and the everyday stresses of life.” View the full series. 

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PTSD Awareness Day: Trauma-Informed Care is Vital

Trauma Un-Informed Psychologist

To the editor of the News Journal: PTSD Awareness Day is June 27, an occasion to acknowledge the vital need for Trauma Informed Care (TIC) training for frontline providers. As the pandemic continues and PTSD diagnoses rise, many will needlessly find themselves aboard the Trauma Train Express. They will suffer even greater harm simply because they ask for help from trauma-uninformed and thereby harmful providers.

When I turned to monolithic ChristianaCare for help with Complex PTSD from Developmental Trauma, the organization and its providers were unprepared and short of resources to deliver necessary services or appropriate care. The corporation has been a danger to me as a trauma survivor.

ChristianaCare denied the pharmacogenetic test that would have prevented the prescription toxicity issue, ignored my words and needs, retraumatized me, and recklessly funneled me to Rockford Center.* I experienced eight nightmarish days of retraumatization, followed by several dreadful weeks of polypharmacy withdrawal. ChristianaCare’s maltreatment set back my progress by two years so far.

The absurd lack of response from ChristianaCare’s Patient and Family Relations and leadership exacerbated my distress. The corporation neither offered or allowed repair, which impedes resolution of the trauma caused by its systemic failure.

This outrageous experience propelled me to become a trauma awareness activist-artist. I emphasize that, without high quality TIC training–such as that offered by the non-profit Zero Abuse Project–ChristianaCare and other providers will remain uninformed and ill equipped for the fast-rising tide of trauma survivors. They have and will needlessly cause additional great harm to countless highly vulnerable people. 


*Rockford Center for Behavioral Health, owned by America’s largest psychiatric hospital chain, Universal Health Services, or UHS. “A yearlong BuzzFeed News investigation — based on interviews with 175 current and former UHS staff, including 18 executives who ran UHS hospitals; more than 120 additional interviews with patients, government investigators, and other experts; and a cache of internal documents — raises grave questions about the extent to which those profits were achieved at the expense of patients.”

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Why We Need Trauma Informed Care (TIC)

Why We Need Trauma Informed Care

The trauma survivor’s Red Alert system is stuck on “HIGH,” but the trauma-uninformed psychologist has no clue. This one, at ChristianaCare thinks he is The Well And Knowing Doctor Who Bestows His Wisdom And Thereby Health Upon The Broken Patient. He can’t see the raging monster that chews her up. He has only a hammer called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Sadly, CBT can be a disaster for a trauma survivor. Her prefrontal cortex is largely inaccessible due to the trauma, and she needs her therapist to help her build a sense of safety before her brain can calm enough for CBT. An uninformed provider can and often does cause great harm to trauma survivors. His focus on “make better choices” is not only unhelpful and harmful, it pathologizes and shames the trauma survivor. This. Must. Stop.
Artwork by Shay Seaborne. All rights reserved.

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Remembering the man to whom I owe my life

Granddaddy On this Father’s Day I wish to recognize and honor the man to whom I owe my life, even though I only had a short time with him. That was my Granddaddy, my maternal great-grandfather. He was the only grandfather figure I knew. He managed to give me enormous gifts during the two or three weeks my mother, siblings and I lived with him and my great-grandmother. I loved going to Santiago Elementary School, but time with my Granddaddy after school and on weekends made me especially happy, because when I was with him everything was okay. 

I felt safe at my great-grandparents’ house, in part because my father was on the other side of the country. That time away from my monster and with my Granddaddy gave me a sense of safety, even if transient.

Granddaddy gave me pure love and acceptance. I felt it in my body when I held his hand and walked down the sidewalk, palm to palm. The tender skin of age and youth pressed together in a communion of the heart and spirit born from deep abiding love for a child. My granddaddy gave that to me and because of that, I have it in me. 

My great-grandfather changed my life because he showed me safety and connection with his touch, with the wrinkles in his eyes, the softness of his hands, and the firmness of his fingers around my own. His heartfelt kindness gave me a tiny spark of hope, love, and comfort to hang onto.

Granddaddy was the one adult who showed me tenderness, love, protection, and a reflection of my true worth. Without these, I would not have survived. Those few hours I was with my Granddaddy turned out to shape my life in countless invisible ways that sustained me through unspeakable cruelty and contempt. He helped me be stronger than all of that put together. 

My great-grandfather’s love, magic, kindness, tenderness, and steadiness became something I could hold on to. Granddaddy showed me my instincts were right. Part of me knew that life couldn’t just be hell; there had to be some safety and love in it. He confirmed that. Even though I felt some degree of safety with other people sometimes, there was nobody else who was so lovingly there for me. Granddaddy showed me we all need to be lovingly there for each other.

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The freeze response

The freeze response is one of the most primitive and life-saving. It is used in situations the body/mind considers life-threatening. When a person can’t fight, can’t run, and feels they are going to die, they freeze or collapse because those are the only options. The freeze response  conserves resources and numbs psychological and physical pain.

To freeze lets a person put energy into surviving the event with the least possible impact on psyche and ability to function. However, the brain and nervous system can be over stimulated and trained to overreact to lesser situations. This is generally the result of chronic unpredictable toxic stress, particularly in early childhood. That becomes the way you are wired because you never get the chance to express that traumatic energy. It becomes stuck in the body.

A freeze response is actually very helpful for a child who is in grave danger from a terrifying parent. The freeze response can help the child emotionally protect. For instance, an alcoholic parent who becomes violent when drunk. If the young brain has witnessed or experienced sporadic and repeated violence it will learn to be much more fearful of life and peole than that of a child in a healthy environment.

The traumatized brain and nervous system can be retrained to fear less, although this takes great time and effort. I work each day to resolve a tiny bit of the trauma that could not be released because a highly toxic developmental environment disallowed completion of the trauma response cycle. My body became stuck on red alert because there was no resolution. Unresolved trauma is cumulative and compounded, so it’s far easier to not jank up the kid than to unjank the adult. This is why we need a #TraumaAwareAmerica


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Posture, Body Language, Stress, and Trauma

Alexander Technique instructor Imogen Ragone and I discuss “the implications and impact of posture and body language on people dealing with stress and trauma, and what neuroscience is telling us about this.” Imogen dispels “some common myths (and potentially harmful advice) we so often hear about improving our posture” and gives a quick tip “with a different approach that is both more physically comfortable and more sustainable.” View the full series. 

This video was originally broadcast live from Imogen’s Facebook Page:

Find out more about Imogen and her work at: https://imogenragone.com

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