Collective Trauma

I’ve been rereading To Redeem One Person is to Redeem the World by Gail Hornstein about the life of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. Frieda and Chestnut Lodge are the therapist and therapeutic community described by Joanne Greenberg in I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. That book was very important to me in my 20’s and 30’s, so I got a copy of the book about Frieda when it first came out. Rereading it, I notice things I didn’t see before. Hornstein talks about the difficulty that disagreements between staff that aren’t talked about become problematic behavior in the patients. (p272)  It’s clear that the patients pick up the energy and start acting it out.  We humans are interconnected in ways that our culture is in complete denial of.  It’s a little scary in terms of humanity finding a way to a sustainable future.

I got an email from Thomas Hübl about a course he’s teaching in working with collective trauma.  I read it, and the difficulty of working with it makes me feel discouraged.  Collective trauma traps us all in dysfunctional behavior.  We don’t know we’re doing it because we are not aware of the dysfunction that we are part of. I’m glad to know that Thomas Hübl is working on this problem and training others to work with collective trauma.

Hübl says “When traumatic events happen, we’re quick to point fingers. But we should examine how each and every one of us contributes to the ecosystem that brings these traumas forth. We are not merely separate individuals acting independently. We are ecosystemically interrelated. We always exist in interdependent relationships with the systems we are part of.” See link above for more.

It also explains why I am having such a hard time right now, feeling overwhelmed and unable to act in any kind of normal friendly fashion.  I’ve been badly cut off due to feeling completely unskilled socially, and empathically picking up on what other people are not letting themselves feel. I am still triggered by the social distancing of COVID and the fact that many people imagine it is over, and behave in ways that continue to spread it.

One good thing, my blog was chosen to be among the 80 best blogs about PTSD on FeedSpot, which lists blogs about many different subjects. Any of my readers who are interesting in more information about PTSD should check them out.

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“We Are One, We Are Home at Last”

it is the appointed date. we’ve been at Stonehenge all night and now the sky is growing pale. we stand in a circle inside the stones watching the horizon behind the heel stone. the stone is heavy on the bottom, pointed on the top, quivering in the air. the light grows until the sky is shaking with it. then a sudden flash in a notch on the planet’s edge. light splinters on the heel stone. i look at my companions’ faces and each facets like a jewel, many faces lie there, depth upon depth. i look at rhiannon and see a kindly housewife and a jolly schoolboy and an old wise woman. i look at merlyn and see a medieval scholar and an elfin girl and a powerful king. as ariel always was so each of us is now. then enlarging each member of the company as the flame enlarges the wick is a figure too bright to look at. our true selves greet one another with secret smiles (o yes we’ve known all along) then reach out hands to join in the dance. at the center blooms a new figure, many faceted, many faced. for the transparencies of faces are endless and deep, so many many individuals braided into the whole. the figure grows, towers . . . as one we look at the stars. as equals the stars greet us. there is no need to go anywhere. we are one, we are home at last.

This passage is the end of “The Company of Thirteen” which was a fantasy story I was playing around with, and decided to use in the left-hand pages of The Feminine of History is Mystery. There were thirteen characters, with names from Celtic mythology, Shakespeare’s Tempest, Tolkien, and other sources. Each character was described with a short piece of their story and also an image which was similar to a Tarot card. One of the characters, Ariel, was neither male nor female and constantly changing what they looked like. At first the characters are separate, then they begin to find each other, and gather into two groups. Each group is looking for the ship they left on the shore, can’t find, try to build. Finally the two groups meet. They are surprised by the meeting, and recognize each other. Some old memory is activated. One says “Now we can build the ship!” Ariel says “A ship to take us to the stars.” And to return to their home planet, which they have remembered once they connected. Then Cirdan, the shipwright, realizes that their technology is beyond that of a physical ship, they need a “transporter” to translate their bodies somewhere else. He says they need a “condenser and focus” and draws part of a circle open to a spot at a distance. They determine that there is only one position on land that has the right latitude and longitude for such a thing to work. It is the position of Stonehenge, and they recognize the condenser in the still standing part of the circle, and the focus in the Heel Stone. They have to wait for a particular date, and then they will be able to return to their home planet.

I don’t know what I imagined would happen. Somehow the company would be transported to their home planet. But that’s not what my hand wrote. I realized that the oneness was more satisfying, and that it also fit an unacknowledged theme of the book. That’s the idea of reuniting the separated fragments into a whole.

An earlier statement of that theme appears in a passage about Glastonbury, and the Chalice Well. This is slightly rewritten to fit my Audio-visual presentation “Sacred Sites of Ancient Keltia.”

Below Glastonbury Tor there is a spring, flowing with iron-rich water, the blood of the earth – the menstrual blood of the Great Mother, who is called Annis, Danu, Ishtar, Belili. Her blood is gathered in a great silver bowl, chalice of inspiration, cauldron of rebirth. And through the magic of time, by which all things change yet nothing is ever lost, the Cup of the Last Supper, and the Cauldron of Kerridwen have coalesced, run together like drops of quicksilver, and become that mystical vessel and chalice, the Holy Grail – that offers to each a very personal nourishment, that brings to each the possibility of reuniting the scattered fragments and being reborn as a whole person.

The “personal nourishment” is the idea that the Grail, when it appeared to Arthur’s Court, offered each person what he liked best to eat. One of the stories connected with the Cauldron of Kerridwen/Cerridwen was that the cut up pieces of a child were put in it and stirred, and the child came back together. Words used to describe both the cauldron and Cerridwen are “rebirth” and “regeneration.” For myself, the image of something that has been fragmented coming back into a whole being relates to my efforts to heal from trauma, which I had no conscious awareness of at the time I was writing this book. The image of the merging of the cup of the Last Supper, a Christian symbol, and the Cauldron of the pagans, is something else that came to me, I don’t know if any scholars have suggested it.

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Trying to Connect with Traumatized Baby

Read Erica what I had written.  She thought it was powerful.  We talked about the flavor of the writing.

Notes from the session with my therapist on November 21:

What I wrote was written from a “neutral/wisdom stance,” not from a trauma place, not neutral but beyond shock. I was not welcomed, but not pushed away, I was not seen at all. The neutrality of negation.

Erica asked “What of this is yours?”  What happened here? — Is this mine?Who else’s pain is here?

The pain is not in the writing, though I feel the pain when I read the writing. The landscape is a ghost town. It’s not discernible what happened here, speaks to the vacuousness. There’s nothing here to nourish the witness, there’s a hollowness.

The environment is missing nourishment & relationship, it is beyond despair, even despair isn’t big enough. Coming in touch with that level of despair.

Erica says “You’re deepening the journey you’ve been on.” I’m bringing language to the profound desolation of the baby. Putting into language feelings that the baby could never have expressed. The pauses, the spaces, neutrality can feel like compassion. This is the non-judging witness.

The baby has never been mirrored, so she can’t know herself. The sadness, the spaces, the neutrality give the baby space to feel herself.

The challenge of recovery from trauma — People crowd the one who needs healing by rushing, not giving them room. The result of trauma is a bunch of disconnected parts. They need to integrate, need to be given a holding environment, a space that’s not invaded.

Is there more that the baby needs to communicate?

Then I need to respond. What does this young energy want or need? What would attunement look like? How can I show you I am here for you?

The baby needs to know what’s possible. What does connection look like? What happened here?

Ask inner teacher for help.

Thinking about the Feminine of History and the passages that wrote themselves about being held by the circle and “we are one, we are home at last.”

I’m imagining carrying Baby Jenny in a sling on my front, so I can put my arms around her when I don’t need them for something else.

Notes from my journal for November 22:

Dear Inner Teacher, can you tell me about anything that would help my relationship with the traumatized baby or help me understand what to do for her?

Dear Jenny, holding her and reassuring her is exactly right.  “Held, not healed.”  Holding her in your love and caring is what is most important.  She must allow her own healing to happen.  Yes, just as in your book the fragments have to self-organize into a whole person.

“Held, not healed” is from Matt Licata.

J: What can I do then, to help the process take place?

I.T.: Collage would be excellent, as it’s fragments coming together.  I know this is hard for you.  You can also draw fragments, and color them or label them.  Movement would be good too.

J: I feel very doubtful of my ability.  But it doesn’t have to be beautiful.  I can at least make a start.

Even Gaza and Israel are fragments looking to be healed.  This work can happen on many levels.

Later, I checked with Baby Jenny, and she was angry at me for being mean to her.  I apologized profusely, told her I was not angry at her, but at myself, usually for not getting it right, and I can understand how Baby Jenny thought it was her.  I remember hitting myself to stop myself from crying.  I expect Mother hit Baby Jenny to stop her from crying.  Of course Baby Jenny couldn’t tell the difference between me and Mother.

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Social Distancing Desolation

Written in writing group on Monday, November 20:

Don’t know what to say. where to begin.  Standing at the door, looking out at the rain.  It’s been raining for days.  All the people are dead except me.  I don’t understand what happened.  The river has been high with all this rain.  Sometimes I see branches, or even tree trunks floating down. …  I wish there was someone to talk to.  Maybe I could walk.  I do have a raincoat and an umbrella.  I could walk down alongside the river.  I remember when there were flowers.  They were really pretty with bright colors.  I wonder what happened to them. …  The rain is tapering off.  That’s good.  I wonder if I’ll see the sun.  Maybe I’ll find something to eat.  I haven’t had anything to eat for days.  But I don’t feel hungry.  At least the river is here, so I have plenty of water. …  It did stop raining, but it’s still cloudy.  The prairie stretches flat in every direction.  I don’t see any trees or hills, just grass beaten down by the rain. …  When it got dark I lay down by the river.  The gentle sound it makes as it moves through the rocks is soothing.  I can’t see any stars. …  I wish I knew a prayer or a poem or something I could say to myself that would be comforting. …  It’s light now.  The sun must be up.  It’s too cloudy to see.  I wonder if I’ll ever find any more people. …  I’m tired.  Nothing is changing.  I’m not getting anywhere.  Maybe I’ll just sit for a while.  What’s the point of going on?    It’s three days later.  I’m still walking downstream.  I see something further down, maybe some buildings. …  But now I see that they are old houses, falling apart, falling down.  The people must have gone away.  I look through one of the houses.  There are paintings on the wall.  I find a kitchen with a stove, but there’s no food.  I wonder what happened.  I poke around.  There’s furniture and books, but I don’t see any clothing.  I open a book, but can’t read the language.  I wonder if I’ll ever find out what happened. …  I go on down the river.

I think this describes very well what a baby might feel when it is left alone, what I felt when I was left alone. Except of course a baby doesn’t have any words. This may be how my mother felt as a child, I don’t suppose Granny was there for her any more than she was there for me. I can see how feelings like this could lead someone to drink. On the other hand, I can see how one could experience this without much emotion at all, just casually walking through the emptiness. Writing it, and then when I woke up this morning, I felt utterly desolate, abandoned by life. I finally had to very fiercely say to myself “I don’t believe that grey empty world is reality.  It’s just a painful place I get stuck in, probably connected to things that happened when I was a baby.”

I reach out to comfort baby Jenny, to comfort Mom, and then to everybody who is feeling like this. “There, there, dear.  It’s a terrible place to be.  It’s not real, it’s just how you feel when you’ve been alone too much.  Human beings were meant to be in community.”

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Gretchen Schmelzer: The Wisdom of Respite

From Gretchen Schmelzer’s blog for August 23, 2023: The Wisdom of Respite. Gretchen is a trauma survivor and a therapist for people suffering from trauma.

Respite is noted to be a break from something difficult. And it’s true that we feel the need for respite the most when we have been through something hard, or when the stress has been relentless. It is like a deep thirst, not for water, but for energy, for renewed hope, for a solid center.

Oh the desire for energy, for renewed hope, for a solid center. I don’t have any of them right now.

The irony is, of course, that even though respite is often called a ‘relief’—when you are healing, it doesn’t always feel like a relief. Sometimes it does. 

But sometimes you actually have to put effort in to not working—you have to be disciplined about sitting still. Why? Because when you sit still you are more able to see the work you have been doing. You are more keenly aware of the loss or sadness that may accompany the change. So, sometimes respite may be a relief from one thing, but not another.

Having to put effort into not working. Like when I try to sit still, and not get distracted. Sometimes so uncomfortable to sit still. This is often the feeling that drives me to do a digital jigsaw puzzle. I think I’m getting a break, but it’s only a distraction. In fact I’m almost addicted to it. I have good enough discipline to stop myself frequently, and using my right hand that way has been exacerbating a difficulty with my right shoulder blade. But after doing a puzzle, or two or three, I don’t feel renewed. I have to force myself to do yet another task.

But mostly, like all the emotions of healing, respite has an intermittent quality. You feel the relief, the slowness and you can finally breathe again. The rest allows your system to calm down and you notice your brain starts working better again: You can think! And then you get pulled down. Your heart aches. The anxiety comes back. You look around for a way to distract yourself. And the discipline is to stay and breathe. Stay and rest. Do what you need to really feel respite. The difficult feelings might bubble up, but they aren’t all of your feelings, they won’t take up all of the time. And you need the rest. You need the respite.

I wrote this in my journal this morning:  Gretchen’s blog talks about the need for respite.  Respite not distraction.  I realize that when I turn to a puzzle I’m looking for distraction.  Respite from trauma may feel uncomfortable.  Right now I am overwhelmed and badly triggered.  There there dear, I am sorry that you are having such a hard time.  But the truth is that you’ve been alone too much and there hasn’t been enough support.  Sharon & Bob have been eating alone, Judith has had friends visiting, writing group hasn’t been meeting and Erica is away.  The upsurge of COVID has caused some of this.  It is not that you are worthless, but that’s what’s been triggered.  Your friends have been unavailable, not because they don’t value you, but because of things that have nothing to do with you.  I can tell myself this, but I don’t believe it.

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1995: Permanent, Pervasive, Personal

Seligman talks about the pessimistic worldview which sees that problems are “permanent, pervasive, and personal,” and describes the “ABC technique” for dealing with each element one by one.

From my journal for December 21, 1995

I had a bad night last night.  I was able to get to sleep, but woke about quarter of one feeling just awful.  It was hard to tell whether it was physical or psychological.  I felt a degree of irritability that’s beyond anything I’ve felt before —  I tried to do the ABC technique, but I concluded that I didn’t know what was causing my feelings, so I couldn’t convince myself that it was temporary.  I see that illness is pervasive, that’s not a belief, that’s a reality, it does significantly undermine most other areas of my life.  And as for whether the cause is external or personal, that’s hard to tell too — do I feel so awful because I’m coming down with flu? because I ate potatoes for dinner? because I’m too pessimistic?  I forgot to add menopause into the equation.  I also see that illness is an experience of being attacked by one’s own body, so it feels like something about me that I can’t change — permanent, pervasive, personal.  No wonder I have such a hard time with being sick!  And it’s a vicious circle if the pessimistic feelings affect my immune system in a negative way.  

It’s interesting that the belief that I have caused something gives me the illusion that I can make it stop, but it also restricts me to what I can do and what I know about. Then I say that illness is an “experience of being attacked by one’s own body” but I seem to have no idea that the body has healing powers of its own.

This morning it was more clear that I was “just sick” instead of eternally damned, I had a headache at the back of the head, a slight sore throat, and was more ache-all-over than irritable.    I went to talk to Dana, and all my horrible feelings just bubbled up and boiled over.  He was a little upset that I was so upset, talking about stopping eating etc, and also annoyed with me for talking so fast and compulsively that he could hardly think about what I was saying.  But he was able to bring a more balanced viewpoint to the ABC format and that helped a lot.  On the score of permanence, he said I’m just sick, it’s a different virus because the symptoms are different, I’m often sick, vulnerable to many illnesses, but I’m not always sick, I do have times of feeling better.   I see that a belief comes into play that if I don’t know what’s causing it, if I don’t know what to do to make it better, then it won’t get better.  I have no faith in any process other than my own active intervention.

“Stopping eating” is one of my methods for committing suicide, still a possibility. The other method, a little interfered with by global warming, is to walk into the woods on a freezing night and just lie down in the snow.

On the score of pervasive, it’s true that illness affects every aspect of my life, but it’s also true that that’s only for today, I don’t know about tomorrow.  I see that one of the painful things about being sick is that I feel sick so often, have so little energy, that most of the things I can do I’ve already done.  I have no book to read, I’m tired of writing, typing into the computer is painful, etc.  It occurred to me that I could work on the 3-D puzzle today — that would be fun!  Perhaps I could intersperse it with short bits of work organizing my desk or reshelving books.  I can’t remember what we said about the personal/external dimension, except for uncovering the belief that if I don’t do it, it won’t get done, which certainly makes any problem to which I can’t see the solution look permanent instead of temporary.  Dana suggested focussing on today: “Today I’m too sick to go to Montpelier” and not even thinking about tomorrow.  Good advice.

The belief that “if I don’t do it, it won’t get done” goes back to my parents refusal to help me with anything I was trying to do. My father told me “If you didn’t know how to do it, why did you even try?” I remember thinking “what happened to if at first you don’t succeed, try try again?” but didn’t realize the power of a parent. I think this contributed to the pattern of “concluding I can’t do it” when something went wrong with a process I was trying to complete.

The 3-D puzzle was St. Basil’s Cathedral. After I completed it, I used it for a centerpiece for a program of Russian dancing.

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1995: Pessimistic World View

From my journal for December 20, 1995

Seligman [the author of The Optimistic Child] suggests that people are able to deal with setbacks in a more optimistic way if they are living for something bigger than themselves.  In the past, people lived for their families, for the Nation, for God — but these have become meaningless for many in modern times.  Families are abusive, extended families have lost cohesiveness, Nations are oppressive and racist, God has disappeared behind scientific explanations. So I wonder, what am I living for?  My first take is that I live an entirely selfish life, completely absorbed in my own comfort, and I’m depressed because I wallow in my own inner process all the time.  I notice that the first thing I do with this new idea is make myself wrong.  But yesterday I was thinking “How would I live my life if I had a belief that there was something larger than myself to live for?” and what I felt was a great sense of relief, that I was a participant in the human experiment, that I was doing my share just by continuing, each day, to do the little bit that has been entrusted to me: to take care of my health, love Dana, support Lynelle, walk the dog, feed the birds, wash the dishes.  This is what I can do, this is my contribution.  It doesn’t matter that I haven’t been able to “save the world,” other people, with better health and more confidence in themselves can work on the bigger tasks of “saving the world.”

As I get older, most of my energy has to be spent on keeping myself going. There’s very little left for more interesting activities. This is painful, because “just taking care of myself” isn’t much to live for. Where is the meaning?

The question of “self-involvement” — I think I seem so “self-involved” because my life is so narrow.  I don’t have the energy to keep up with more “outside” pursuits.  So I devote my intellect, my questioning mind, my passion to understand, to the territory of psyche, and my own psyche in particular because it’s right here, doesn’t take a lot of energy to get to.  Sometimes I think of all this writing that I do here as valuable research into the human condition.  Then it seems too bad if it doesn’t get published because no one will ever be able to make use of it.  What’s the good of research if no one ever finds out?

And as for “family” — I do spend considerable time and effort on my family, it’s just that they’re not my blood family.  I include Dana, Lynelle, Shenanigan, Beverly as family, and Sybil, Alice, Lucy, Christie, etc as “extended family” who I try to help when appropriate — and am learning to let them help me.  For “Nation” I substitute community.  I think political entities are unhealthy and refuse to support them.  On the other hand, in teaching circle dance and building Neskaya, I am making a major contribution to my community.  As for “religion” or “god,” although I “believe” in a divine foundation for all life, I don’t experience it very often.  It’s not a belief that gives rise to appropriate feelings of safety or connection or worthiness.  I think in fact my “belief” in God would be better stated as “I’m sure there’s meaning here, if I could only find it.”  This is an interesting form of the pessimistic world view — I’m essentially blaming myself for not being able to find meaning in my life.

I was thinking recently that this way of blaming myself is a child’s way of trying to take control in a chaotic environment. or maybe a way to try to make sense of a chaotic environment, in which what I do does not have the results I had hoped for a lot of the time — in an inconsistent and confusing fashion so that finally I stop trying to look for evidence in the environment for why something didn’t work.  I see that this continues to function in my assumption that it’s always “something I ate” when I feel bad.  I discount environmental stressors such as air pollution, and external stressors such as listening to Lynelle’s pain.  The notion that I am helpless, that I am at the mercy of a chaotic and unpredictable environment, is just too scary, certainly was too scary when I was a child, and is still pretty scary now that I’m an adult — still at the mercy of external forces, though the environment is actually much more orderly and predictable than what I lived with as a child, and I have now some adult coping strategies that actually work.

[I list the strategies for dealing with the noise of the planes. I can’t say they work very well.]  And I can see why — any setback in either my health or a creative project offers an opportunity for sabotage by pessimistic self-talk which is reinforced by the learned helplessness from uncontrollable noise.

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“In the Marrow of Our Bones”

Clint Smith, Black man, talking to Krista Tippett. He is best known for his 2021 book, How the Word Is Passed. He talks about going to places where horrible things happened to Black people. He wants to know the truth of what happened and he wants his children to know it too.

Clint Smith — What We Know in the “Marrow of Our Bones”

“I want my children to recognize that. I want them to hold that. I want them to sit with that, not in a way that’s meant to overwhelm them, not in a way that’s meant to cause them despair, but in a way that is meant to help them accurately situate themselves in this sort of long lineage [of slavery]

“And that does not come at the exclusion of or the expense of joy, and love, and laughter, and levity, but part of what I think about all the time is the simultaneity of the human experience, how our lives are both defined by that love, that joy, that laughter, but also defined by anxiety, fear, despair. And somewhere between those is, I think, a responsibility: both recognizing the truth of our past and all that has preceded us, not in a way that’s meant to paralyze us or overwhelm us or trap us in a sense of despair, but in a way that is meant to help us recognize and remember our own agency.

“I want all of us to understand that what our lives look like are only because of people who’ve created the circumstances that have given rise to our lives today in ways that are generative and wonderful, and in ways that we’re grateful for, and in ways that we recognize are profoundly unjust, and in ways that are profoundly unfair, and in ways that should not exist in the way that they do. And I think it’s about holding and recognizing and sitting with both of those and figuring out how we move forward collectively.”

Krista and Clint talk about their travels in Germany, and visiting the sites of Concentration Camps.  She talks about what he says about Angola:

“I want to just raise up this very stunning and shameful reality that you also have lifted up in the context of this discussion — that Angola prison, which is also a place of pilgrimage for you, I would say, is built on the land of a former plantation. You have pointed out in the book, if in Germany today there were a prison built on top of a former concentration camp, and that prison disproportionately incarcerated Jewish people, it would provoke outrage throughout the world. This is not something that is in American awareness.”

Being very moved by this conversation, I thought about my own history. There’s so little I know. I think my great-grandfather died defending the city of Richmond, Virginia in the Civil War. He may well have owned slaves. My parents were upper class and wealthy, but they were also alcoholics. I was the oldest of five children and was given far too much responsibility for them. I felt like an unpaid servant. What happened to me had more to do with the systems we all live in. I believe I was traumatized because I was born in 1942, my father was a soldier in World War II, so my mother was alone and utterly unprepared for the 24/7 care of a baby. I think she left me alone too often and too many times, and a baby can be traumatized by being left alone. Both my parents were alcoholics. My father was probably medicating PTSD from the war. AA had just barely started, and my parents’ social set all drank. My parents failed to teach me many important things like social skills, but fortunately they also failed to teach me prejudice against Jews or Black people. Fortunately I was able to go to good schools, I learned that I was intelligent, and began to see that I might be able to do good in the world. In fact my first motivation for majoring in physics was so that I could teach “them” — meaning poor people — so they could get good jobs and improve their lives. I never believed that people were poor “because they were lazy.” Unfortunately the early damage made that plan impossible. I started seeing a therapist in my 20’s, and spent most of my life in therapy. Fortunately inherited money paid for therapy and also helped me get into Kendal, or I would probably be dead. Sometimes I feel like a Fortunately-Unfortunately story.

Clint Smith talks about “love, joy and laughter” with his children. Something I never had with my parents.

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1995: I Need a Floor

From my journal for December 15, 1995

I went into the session with Karen feeling completely hopeless.  I didn’t know what else to do, so I lay down on the bed and kicked and kicked and cried and shouted “No!”  I stopped after not very much because I seemed to be feeling better — things lightened up inside — though I distrusted my sense that anything had really happened.  Later I realized that what was new was a strong sense that it was OK to say No, OK to kick back, OK to express my discomfort.  I think something else that helped was the sympathy and sorrow that I saw on Karen’s face as I told her about the body memory (if that’s what it was).  I told Karen how I had sat on Robin’s table crying with the words “My whole life!” going through my mind and how quickly another voice came in to say “You can’t say your whole life was ruined by this incident.  You still have blah, blah, blah…”  I see only now as I’m writing it how I don’t let myself have my pain, how quickly I step in to invalidate it.  I also see that the phrase “my whole life” meant not that my life was “ruined,” but that I’ve lived my whole life in the fear of that shadow.

The “body memory” was of someone (male?) feeling my labia. I have no idea if it refers to a “real” experience.

I told Karen how I had found myself talking to Mother recently.  “I’m not coming home again.  You hurt me badly in the past, and you’ve hurt me every time I come home.  I won’t see you again.  I’ll come home for your funeral.”

I found that I was in that neutral place again.  At first it felt OK to be there, then.  I could feel a judgmental presence, probably mother.  So I asked to do the “letting go” exercise again.  We piled up the pillows and got out the towel.  I let go very gently.  It felt good to let go — I didn’t cry as I have before.  But I felt the anxiety come back in pretty quickly — I’ve got to have something to hold on to.  So I grabbed the towel again, pulled myself up until I felt the tension in my body, and let go again.  I did this several times, finally realizing that I wasn’t trusting the floor to hold me up, so I ran my hands over the carpet, remembering the dented/wounded cedar floor.  Karen suggested that when I had let go of all the old injunctions from Mom, I still needed something to hold on to.  I think actually that if I could trust the floor, I wouldn’t need to hold on.  We talked about that neutral place — how it was “good neutral,” a place to stay in not run away from.  Karen reminded me that I had never felt safe enough in my childhood to experience “good normal.”

“I wasn’t trusting the floor.” Years later, after I had begun to do Somatic Experiencing, I did experience a floor.

I think I first began to feel “good normal” when I was here at Kendal.

So I lay there on my pillows and began to make sound, first the noises of a baby comforting itself which then developed into a deeper stronger richer voice, actually into my “Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah” song which I think of as being my song, almost a warriors song.  It comforts me to have it, as it comforts me to have my death chant (“Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world…”)  After singing, something had changed, there was a feeling of finding my voice.  I realized that I hadn’t dissolved in tears at the idea of a baby left alone to try to comfort itself.  So I write down SINGING as something I can do to self-soothe.

I don’t remember the first song.  I can still remember my “death chant” and its tune.  The words are from Buddhism.  “Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world
A star at dawn, a bubble on a stream
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud
A flickering lamp, a shadow, and a dream.”

On the way back to Franconia, I felt pretty good.  It felt like I had accomplished something real in therapy.

Posted in Journal, Spirit, Trauma | Comments Off on 1995: I Need a Floor

1995: Learned Helplessness

From my journal for December 16, 1995

Dana got me a book, The Optimistic Child.  It was written by a man who worked with “learned helplessness” and put together a team to figure out how to help kids who are at risk for depression.  He talks about “explanatory style” which is how we explain to ourselves the meaning of success of failure.  An optimistic style is specific and behavior based, a pessimistic style is global and shame-based.  Falling into depression seems to be very much related to whether or not one can see/think/feel that there is something they can do that will make a difference.  If you find that no matter what you do, it doesn’t have any effect, you will give up, like the dogs subjected to electric shock in the experiments.  In order to develop persistence and resilience in the face of setbacks, a child needs to be allowed, or helped, to learn by increments that are not too challenging.  I can see how growing up in an alcoholic family would create a depressed child, because no matter what I do, how hard I try, sooner or later I see that nothing makes any difference, and there is no one there to tell me that it’s because the situation has nothing to do with me.  I also see that in my family, neither parent took the time and trouble to help talk me through a difficulty.  I was expected to “just know” what to do, and made wrong for not knowing.  I remember how much I suffered in social situations because no one had ever bothered to teach me the forms — I think of that embarrassing dinner party when I was “hostess” and didn’t know that I had to be the one to start eating.  I had always just waited for someone else.

The author says that self-esteem (real, not spurious) is not based on feeling good about oneself, but on doing something well.  Learning to do something well can be a difficult process, needing support, helpful feedback, practice of basic moves or easier versions.  I think none of this happened consistently (I was shamed, abandoned, and then praised inappropriately) until I was in school, where my natural intelligence had a chance to function.  But I see that now, as I try to move into realms that are unfamiliar, like learning to do creative projects, that my intellectual skills don’t help, and I don’t have any persistence or resilience in the face of setbacks.

Once my father said to me, when I was having trouble with a project: “If you didn’t know how to do it, why did you even try?”

I can also see how my constant struggles with my health are also conducive to depression (besides the component that comes from toxins affecting the brain) because it’s a situation where mostly the things I do don’t make much difference.  I know that I have to do certain things, like yoga and walking, just to maintain some degree of health, but when I’m feeling sick, and there’s nothing I can do to make it better, I have no sense of efficacy or mastery with respect to my health.  A shame-based, trauma-based, pessimistic world-view doesn’t help either.  In fact the author says that pessimistic children have more health problems than optimistic ones, which doesn’t surprise me.

Posted in Depression, Journal | Comments Off on 1995: Learned Helplessness