Tapping Into Your Body’s Intelligence to help with Stress and Trauma

Alexander Techinque is my primary go-to tool to relieve stress and take a break from the distress cycle. It is simple, portable, reliable, easily adapted to any lifestyle, and, with practice, can foster profound positive changes. This was my first Facebook Live event, and I so enjoyed this conversation with Imogen Ragone, so there will be more to come!

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When does the trauma stop?

After I experienced medical abuse and neglect last year and the year before, on top of a lifelong pattern of trauma I asked myself, “WHEN DOES IT STOP?” My self replied instantly, “When I make it stop!”

Last fall I decided to teach trauma awareness and prevention to frontline providers because they have the greatest potential to help or harm. I increasingly talked about trauma and Complex PTSD to inform my care providers. I created a 1/3-page trauma-awareness handout I ask to have put in my file when I meet potential new members of my healthcare team. It informs them of my specific needs, the needs of trauma survivors in general, and info about the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study.

I switched to a more holistic medical practice and found my new PCP’s office quite receptive to the idea of trauma awareness for staff. That led to my first online presentation, “Intro to Trauma Awareness,” a 20-minute art-driven Zoom session that seems to have opened the way.  Recently, BrainShapeLLC owner Tamera Siminow invited me to be a guest on her podcast to discuss”Resilience in the Time of Covid-19.”

What does it take to become a trauma-awareness activist-artist? It takes a lifetime of struggle against the ravages of the early-onset neurophysiological disruption greatly ignored by our culture, including the medical community. Making it stop takes immense courage and fortitude. It also takes some luck and unexpected support.

Nobody made the trauma stop for me and I want to help make it stop for myself and others.

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Stop the cycle of cruelty and contempt

Every child deserves to grow up in a safe environment that encourages connection. That’s part of our human birthright, what we’re designed for, what we need in order to reach our potential.

Too many children experience lack of safety and connection. That puts them on a nearly unavoidable trajectory of additional trauma, dysfunctional relationships, mental health problems, social issues, school and employment problems, substance abuse, and the onset of chronic disease at midlife, followed by early death. Early death is the silver lining, the relief. Without necessary aid to resolve the trauma, abused children grow into greatly disadvantaged and vulnerable adults.

Traumatized people are easily retraumatized. The most traumatized often are the most despised by society; they end up on the streets, in rehab, in prison, or dead. Their relationships are troubled because they learned poor attachment from their parents and can’t change the pattern without help. They have more health problems than unabused people, may have seemingly bizarre symptoms, and are easily misunderstood by medical personnel, most of whom have no training in trauma-informed care.

When an adult child of developmental trauma walks into a doctor’s office they are often already on Red Alert because of the power differential. They are hypervigilant about being abused again by someone in power. This can disrupt the doctor-patient relationship, particularly if the doctor holds the common medical system view, “I am the healthy doctor who can heal you and you are the sick patient who needs to be fixed.” That’s bad medicine, and especially bad for people whose neurophysiological processes are beyond the uninformed practitioner’s comprehension.

A trauma expert quipped that if Complex PTSD/Developmental Trauma were in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) the volume would be quite thin because almost every mental health problem would fall under it. Trauma experts say most of society’s persistent ills, most of a person’s ills, stem from unresolved developmental trauma. 

The trauma is unresolved because the person lacks the resources to recover. A person can’t recover unless and until they feel safe. People do not feel safe when on the street, addicted, in prison, or enduring abuse by yet another narcissistic partner or boss. They spend their life in a continuing struggle against the cruelty and contempt heaped upon them by caregivers when they were an innocent child. Most often, they unwittingly pass along the trauma to their own children, multiplying and perpetuating the cycle of cruelty and contempt. This is normal in a world that lacks trauma awareness and trauma informed care. We must do better. The wellbeing of our children and grandchildren and the future of humankind depend on it.

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“Resilience in the Time of Covid-19” podcast

As the pandemic rolls on I notice signs of chronic stress and even trauma in friends, family, and acquaintances. They describe symptoms like anxiety, panic attacks, depression, loss of hope, and more. I saw these are mild symptoms of chronic stress / trauma / PTSD. This is also just the beginning of the pandemic effect. Michael Osterholm, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, noted, “this isn’t about the next couple of weeks, this is about the next two years.’” Chronic stress/trauma is a continuum, so if we can focus now on protecting our nervous systems from further damage we can come out of the pandemic in as good a shape as possible. That’s my goal, as well as to empower as many other people as possible to do the same for themselves and each other. I recently discussed this with my good friend, Tamera Siminow, owner of the neurofeedback practice, BrainShape. This led the two of us to record a podcast for you, titled “Resilience in the Time of COVID-19.” In a period of seemingly great powerlessness.e hope our conversation offers you take-away tools that help you feel empowered, connected, and hopeful. 

LINKS:

Gateway of the Inner Body meditation audio by Eckhart Tolle
This recording is one of many tools you can use to help you become more familiar with your felt sense, the sense of the inner body, a vital connection. 

Hand Washing Without Stress video with Imogen Ragone
“Take the tedium and the anxiety out of washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with this practice. Each time you wash you hands you can not only be getting rid of those pesky germs, but also letting go of excess tension and stress so you feel more at ease in yourself!”

Healthy Mind Platter from Dr. Dan Siegel
Dr. Siegel’s website details the seven daily essential mental activities to optimize brain matter and create well-being: Focus Time, Play Time, Connecting Time, Physical Time, Time In, Down Time, Sleep Time. 

Flower/Candle breath exercise: Break the Cycle of Distress with Self-Regulation by Shay Seaborne
Self-regulation is a key ability for all people, one often disrupted by trauma, especially in those with earliest onset. These simple practices can help an anxious person down-regulate to a more positive and prosocial activation level. They are most beneficial when practiced in advance of anxiety so they are familiar as a go-to for relief.

Mindfulness, Mindsight, and The Mind: What Are They, and Why Do They Matter?” by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.
Dr. Siegel explores the areas of mindfulness, attention, and consciousness through an interpersonal neurobiology and mindsight lens. By looking closely at the history of mindfulness, a detailed understanding of the mind, and the neural structure that underlies the subjective experience of being mindful, we begin to understand how a mindfulness practice supports integration, health, and overall well-being.

BodyIntelligence and Alexander Technique
One of my biggest stress/anxiety tools. My personal study of the neurobiology of trauma and its resolution have shown me that Alexander Technique (AT) is greatly in line with the science that heals. Alexander Technique has become my go-to for noticing ease in even the most difficult situations. Imogen developed her own unique approach, which she calls BodyIntelligence, that “integrates mindfulness, posture and self-care, to give her clients practical and empowering strategies to relieve and prevent stress and tension.”

Tension & Trauma Release Exercises
Tension & Trauma Release Exercises (or TRE®) is a simple yet innovative series of exercises that assist the body in releasing deep muscular patterns of stress, tension and trauma. Created by Dr. David Berceli, PhD, TRE safely activates a natural reflex mechanism of shaking or vibrating that releases muscular tension, calming down the nervous system. When this muscular shaking/vibrating mechanism is activated in a safe and controlled environment, the body is encouraged to return back to a state of balance.

Prevent Secondary Traumatic Stress in Healthcare Providers
“Providers treating patients with challenging medical conditions can sometimes feel drained, upset, or frustrated. This may be especially true during times of increased workloads or heightened personal stress…The ability to identify, understand and manage one’s emotional reactions is paramount to preventing and/or managing secondary traumatic stress.” Includes warning signs and self-care tips.

 

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Things Nobody Wants to Know Are Part of Me

The amount and magnitude of cruelty and contempt I endured in my life is mind-boggling. If I described to you some of the events that were common in my childhood you would vomit or at least feel like it. Yes, things nobody wants to hear because they’re too awful. Few can hold even the idea of the things that happened, much less the details. Except me.  I hold them all! They are in me, part of who I am. So are the brilliant ways I survived them, what I did when I figured out what I had to do to survive that kind of terrorism. I thought two of my abusers were going to kill me. I was afraid they would and they liked that. And I wished they would kill me because death would have been easier than living with what they did to me. But they didn’t kill me. That wasn’t the point. The point was the sense of power they felt in evoking my terror. To nearly obliterate a child–to do to her what was done to them–made them feel big and strong, a victor instead of a victim. My abusers taught me to freeze because escape was impossible. The freeze is a kind of death, actually. Everything stops except the heart and the terror, and maybe the breath. Terror itself can squeeze the life out of you. This I know.

#HowDidISurvive?
#ACEstudy
#ACEscore
#Resilience
#DevelopmentalTrauma
#TraumaAwareAmerica
#TraumaAwareness
#TraumaInformedCare
#mentalHealthAwareness
#MentalHealthActivism
#NeurobiologyOfTrauma
#Resilience
#SurvivalToolsAreBrilliant
#TraumaAdaptiveNotMaladaptive
#psychosocial
#spoonie
#stress
#ChronicStress
#StayAlive

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The Coming Tide of Covid-19 PTSD

Increasing portions of our world now operate in PTSD land. People are chronically stressed by the constant threat of danger from something over which they have no power. I want to welcome you to my world. Yes, Covid-19 is a different kind of stressor from those I’ve experienced, but the traumatic effects are basically the same.

A friend said she and her colleagues at work are have difficulties with things like decision-making, anxiety levels, emotional outbursts. Signs of trauma that can develp into PTSD. We’re going to have a huge uptick in PTSD diagnoses in a nation with a corporatized “healthcare” system that harms instead of helps because it ain’t about health and it ain’t about care. It ain’t even about science. It’s about monetizing the most vulnerable people so a few can enjoy outrageous means. Things are going to suck way more than they do now. Unless! Unless we are able to take our mental health care into our own hands through use  of available empowering tools and resources that support human mental health, the core of our physical health. I hope to provide tools, encouragement, and inspiration for healthier brains, nervous systems, and relationships during this especially stressful time. 

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“Dance Therapy for Complex PTSD” podcast interview

Dance/Movement therapy is one of several effective somatic modalities for healing Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). In our “Dance Therapy for Complex PTSD” podcast discussion, Dance/Movement therapist Orit Krug and I discuss how Dance/Movement therapy can help us resolve trauma.


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Break the cycle of distress with self-regulation

If I could teach everyone in the world one thing it would be self-regulation. This is a key ability for all people, one often disrupted by trauma, especially in those with earliest onset. These simple practices can help an anxious person down-regulate to a more positive and prosocial activation level. They are most beneficial when practiced in advance of anxiety so they are familiar as a go-to for relief. 

The process below is a combination of calming techniques in one brief exercise. I learned these through my intensive personal study of the neurobiology of trauma and its resolution. These actions initiate physiological changes that tell the body it is safe. When practiced at least 5 times per day this can break the cycle of distress and help rewire the nervous system for calmness and presence. Through frequent small changes we create and reinforce new and healthier neural pathways.

  1. If standing, notice the support of the floor or ground under your feet. If sitting, notice the support beneath your sit bones. Take a moment to notice that support under you. Also, a moment to notice the support of the environment around you. 
  2. “Havening”: Cross your arms if you can and gently rub each upper arm with the other hand at whatever speed feels right. Often, slower speeds or deceleration especially help calm the nervous system. Do this for at least 20 seconds to savor the positive feeling. Alternatively, try the Soothing Self-Hold: right hand under left arm near the heart, left hand on the top of right arm near the shoulder. Notice the feeling of holding yourself. Keep the hold as you move to the next step. 
  3. Perform the Smiling Flower/Candle Breath: inhale through your nose like you would when you smell one of your favorite flowers. Imagine taking in the scent, smile, and savor it a moment. Exhale through your mouth like you would blow out a candle, a long breath out. Repeat the Flower/Candle breath at least twice more.
  4. Keep the hold for another few moments if it feels right. 

Use whatever aspects of this or other mindfulness practices help you feel calm. Practice through the day until it becomes a habit so it will be familiar and handy when you need it. In the meantime, you will build healthier neural connections. 

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How the number one health crisis in the world caused me to experiment on a living human brain

In the past 3 years I have conducted experiments on a living human brain. Mine. I necessarily studied developmental trauma, trauma theory, the neurobiology of trauma, and trauma resolution. This is due to the Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) I acquired from early, repeated, severe, unpredictable toxic stress from childhood neglect and abuse. My experiments focus on neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to “rewire.” I have worked to install new wiring that is positive and pro-social as I have let the old negative trauma networks dissolve.

My CPTSD exploded about a year-and-a-half ago, since I finally had a safe place to deal with it. I turned to the medical system for help and it swallowed me.  Due to the toxic effects of a medication, a negligent psychologist, and systemic failure of the massive local hospital system, I spent a week in the dank belly of the American mental health “care” beast. It was a kind of Cuckoo’s Nest lite, a mental hospital owned by Universal Health Services (UHS). According to a Buzz Feed investigative report, UHS is “America’s largest psychiatric hospital chain” with “more than 200 psychiatric facilities across the country.”

I experienced and witnessed the same kinds of abuse as detailed in the Buzz Feed report. It was easy to see that hospital staff “tried to keep beds filled even at the expense of the safety of their staff or the rights of the patients they were locking up.” The facility was understaffed, utilized clearly unqualified staff, neglected housekeeping and nutrition, and provided no individualized care, only mostly lame supposed group therapy sessions and piles of pills. Staff deprived patients of their rights and even threatened self-admitted patients with commitment if they tried to leave before their insurance benefit ran out.

Thanks to lots of journaling, plus support from family, friends, and an attorney, I managed to survive that unnecessary incarceration without going crazy. However, it took months to resolve the traumatic experience, during which the medical system continued to let me down and even re-traumatize me for a second time in seven months. Of course, one cannot recover from trauma while the trauma keeps happening, so these incidents greatly impeded my recovery from prior trauma as their effects are ongoing.

What I found was a system grossly unprepared and short of resources to deliver necessary services or appropriate care. This makes the system and its facilities a danger to trauma survivors. Fortunately, it seems the hospital system is interested in working with me to make improvements. I’ll soon have a meeting to find out how we can work together.

My experiences with the American model of mental health “care” convinced me to speak up on behalf of myself and countless others who have unnecessarily been re-traumatized by the medical profits industry, which especially monetizes the needs of the most vulnerable; those whose nervous systems were wired by trauma. Although CPTSD robs me of energy and abilities, I have slowly begun to work for positive change. This began with creation of a 1/3-page information card I hand to care providers and ask, “Please take a minute to read this before we begin.” It was my first attempt to inform healthcare providers about my condition and how they can, with just a little info and some thoughtfulness, avoid retraumatizing me yet again.

Developmental Trauma is the number one health crisis in the world, but America largely ignores it. I intend to spread awareness, help educate providers and the public, and push for positive reform. Therefore, the focus of my blog will be on topics like neuroplasticity,  CPTSD, self-care, the neurobiology of trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), somatic recovery practices, polyvagal theory, attachment theory, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, emotional and spiritual aspects of illness and healing, inflammatory diseases, chronic disease at midlife, whole foods plant-based diet, veganism, pharmacogenetic testing, honoring the process, expressive arts therapy, the importance of felt sense, the human need for community, and the value of play, kindness, and compassion.

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When your trust is unapologetically broken, forgive yourself

When someone breaks our trust we sometimes feel a sense of lack for having trusted, for having allowed ourselves to be cheated. It’s an element that is often overlooked, though it may have a deep effect.

After the sailing disaster of 2015, I discovered I have to forgive myself for my imperfections as part of releasing the emotional charge that binds me to an untrustworthy person. Part of the solution came from examining the beliefs I held at the time of the betrayal.

In the case of what happened that fall, I realized that I had put too much weight on my intent to keep my commitment. I had held fast to the belief that I should not let down the other person, even after he had put me in danger.

I realized after the events that there had been several points when I could have walked away from helping someone who lacked sufficient concern for not just my comfort, but also my safety. In hindsight, I recognized the importance of that first “sinking heart” feeling, which, at the time, seemed irrational. Indeed, there was no rational reason to feel that; it was my intuition speaking. But it was a beautiful day and I had committed to help, so I ignored it.

I kept ignoring the gnawing sense that things were not as they had been described, that the other person had misled me, and actually expected a lot more from me than openly requested.

I finally bailed, with some guilt, after I woke up at 3 a.m. with a screaming voice in my head that told me I had to get out of there “NOW!” It was screaming because I had not listened to the numerous whispers.

For a long time after that, I felt a mess of negative feelings, including anger and disgust, whenever I saw the other person or was even reminded of him, by, say, seeing a car that looked like his. I realized that I was somehow keeping myself emotionally tied to him. It was not affecting the violator at all, only me. It was like I was giving him free living space in my own home.

I considered what might be causing this. The other person was certainly guilty of bait-and-switch, disrespect, and disregard for my safety, as well as lack of remorse or any attempt at an apology. But what bound me emotionally was that I had continued to kick myself for what amounted to ignoring my intuition/instincts/inner voice. It was hard to recognize the extent of the damage I had done to myself (including significant financial loss) by sticking to my commitment even after the other person had shown me in numerous ways, small, medium, and large, that he had only his own self-interest at heart.

I determined that my resolution would require two steps: to confront him with the truth and forgive myself. The next time I encountered him, I looked him in the eye and told him his behavior was reprehensible and unforgivable, and it was best that he stay away from me.

The more difficult step was the second, where I forgave myself. As part of that, I had to learn from my mistakes. I needed to learn that a commitment is not signed in blood, especially when the other party expects blood from me and gives none of their own. I had to recognize again that my instincts have never been wrong, and I need to listen even more carefully to their wisdom. I needed to understand that true integrity is not keeping one’s word no matter what, but honoring one’s instincts, no matter what.

Only after that work did the emotional charge dissipate. And now I can see that person as not only a pitiful mess but as one who inadvertently taught me some lessons that will serve me well for the rest of my life.

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