If You Really Want to Heal from Childhood Trauma, Focus on NOW

Over the years, through friendships and listening to others in various fellowships, I’ve gotten to know hundreds of people who had crappy childhood crap that affected them. Of those who try to get better, I’ve noticed two distinct groups — one that focuses on what happened in the past, and one that focuses on their actions and attitudes right now. 

The first group (the “past” people) sees the exploration of the past as therapeutic. The more they talk about it, the more they remember, and a lot of sadness and anger often fills them at that this point. With faith that excavation will lead eventually to freedom, they seek to grieve, feel their feelings, and take measures to maintain a sense of safety (a few may also seek to confront those who harmed them).

The second group (the “now” people) also explores the past, feels strong emotions, and learns to set some boundaries that weren’t there before. But this group more quickly accepts that the childhood harms have ended. They are aware that their problems today lie within themselves — the choices they make, the way they react to things, and how they treat people.

The “past” people often find a lot of love and support from others dealing with their own childhood crap, and form tight friendships. They are courageous and honest about facing whatever darkness may lie within fuzzy old memories. But in years of observing them, I’ve noticed that they tend to recover slowly, if at all. Many appear to be stuck, with lingering sadness and anger driving them to an excessive self-focus, resulting in spoiled relationships and limited fulfillment in work.

The “now” people, on the other hand, face their own risks. They sometimes seal their hearts in a shell of denial or busy-ness or “look-good-itis.” Their unacknowledged anger can be expressed as health problems or passive aggressive behavior. And God knows, it can be hard to change even when you try your hardest. But in most ways, the “now” people reach a far higher level of recovery, far more quickly, than anyone else.

Everyone wants to feel better, but what sets the “now” people apart is that they accomplish this by doing better. They recognize that feeling one’s feelings is good and part of being alive, but is not an end in itself. They seek to admit their own role in present day troubles, and to change that. Because their present day attitudes and actions — and not the past — is the only thing they can change.

It’s impossible to do anything constructive at all when you’re throttled by childhood PTSD, specifically, a disregulated brain that alters your focus, your emotional balance and ability to perceive reality accurately.

But when you learn to re-regulate your brain (and re-regulate again every time you slip), you can then move on to tackling your “Inside Traumas.” That’s what I call those flaws and habits so common in those of us who had a crappy childhood, that tend to re-traumatize us and bring our lives down. Call it “a broken picker,” an “addictive personality,” a “slow metabolism,” an “Irish temper” or whatever you want: Inside traumas are things like problems with drugs, alcohol, overeating, romance, money, health, parenting, boundaries, authority, responsibility, and connecting with people or acting in our own best interest.

These problems do affect all kinds of people, but they are WAY more prevalent in folks who had a crappy childhood. This sucks, because the path to a happy, meaningful and love-filled life is utterly dependent on healing from these problems. We start at such a disadvantage!

But there’s a way forward. It demands that we are extra-vigilant, extra-committed, and extra-brave in facing what is still holding us back, and making changes. It’s the path of becoming a better person.

It was very early in my recovery that I became deeply, zealously interested in cleaning up my life. I knew the general direction to go but I had no idea about the actual actions to take — the specific, step-by-step means to get from where I was, to where I wanted to be.

I set about on a mission to find out. And it worked! I will be sharing what I learned in the coming posts, which I’ll release once or twice a week, followed by some video-based courses. More about that soon.

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Thanks for reading!

Anna

 

 

 

What’s The REAL Cause of Depression and Anxiety? (Hint: It’s Rarely a “Chemical Imbalance”)

The last time I was truly depressed was 23 years ago, yet almost every time I see a doctor, they suggest I take antidepressants.  They push them for everything from stress to headaches to foot pain to insomnia to hot flashes, even though I tell them, again and again, that (short of imminent death) I wouldn’t dream of taking them.

I treasure my brain chemistry. After a radical recovery from depression and anxiety in 1994, I know how precious and delicate it really is. It allows me to know things, to have intuition, to sense when I have made a mistake, when I’ve been wronged, and when something good is in front of me. I trust my brain, and I stay busy showing other people how to develop inner trustworthiness as well.

There are many simple, proven strategies to treat depression and anxiety, yet the myth that depression is caused by a “chemical imbalance” has driven three decades of progressively growing (and not very effective) mass-medication of the population.

More than a quarter of middle-aged women in the U.S. are on antidepressants, and more than one in seven people overall! Even little kids are on pills — more than 10% of them. I am not a scientist, therapist or doctor. And I do know that for some people, medication has been a literal lifesaver. But this many people taking that many drugs cannot be a good thing.

***

The explosion of antidepressants started in the late 80’s when Prozac hit the market, followed by a long series of ever-more-profitable rivals. The new drugs arrived just as health insurance plans began to cut mental health benefits, creating demand for a quicker, cheaper fix than long-term therapy, which had previously been reimbursable to mental health providers, but now, was not.

And, psychoactive meds are not without benefits for many people; it feels good to help to suffering people feel better. So the incentives for liberal prescribing began to pile up for clinicians who might once have been reluctant to suggest mind-altering pills to SO many people.

At first this shift from face-to-face care to pills caused a public outcry, but soon we all embraced this thinking too. We started to see beautiful families in colorful gardens, advertising antidepressants on TV.  First we all laughed at the machine gun dislclaimers at the end of each ad, warning us of diarrhea, tremors, dry mouth and sudden death. But soon, we tuned it out. We just accepted the idea that millions of us just needed “a little tweak” to be “our best self.” It sounds so right, so plausible, so normal.

But here’s the thing. We’re talking about drugs with less-then-great effectiveness and serious known side effects (suicidal thoughts/attempts, loss of libido, and rapid weight gain, for example), and a slew of possible correlations with things like mass-shootings, road-rage, relationship failure and a contaminated water table.

Again, I want to acknowledge that some people really do have serious depression, anxiety and other mental health problems, and that medication is life-changing and life-saving. I know many such people, what with living in Berkeley, which is something of a Mecca for the mentally ill. All the same, the medication epidemic is having a terrible effect on us overall — specifically on our culture, and on our understanding of how to meet life’s problems, to sense our effect on others, and to develop our own capacity to live meaningful and joyous lives.

It is my experience — in myself and the hundreds of others whom I’ve helped in my non-professional calling as a childhood trauma “fairy” — That most depression and anxiety (and many physical health problems for that matter) stem from guilt, shame, resentment and fear. These spiritual toxins have a physiological expression, and poison our thinking, our behavior, our physical health and yes, our brain chemistry. Whether outside people and events had a hand in damaging us like this, they can’t fix it now. It is we who have the opportunity to face what was done to us as well as what we have done, and how this has affected us, and to beginning cleaning up our lives.

For me, it started with a daily practice to get some calm in my heart and mind. I explain that here. In the coming weeks, I’ll explain more getting free from poison emotions, recognizing self-defeating behaviors that make depression and anxiety worse, and rebuilding your life.

Thanks for reading!

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Anna

 

 

 

The Unexpected Healing Power of NOT TALKING About Your Trauma

Many years ago, I found a dead body. It was a man I had been dating for a few months, who had turned out to have even more problems than I knew when I met him. He showed up at my house high on something one night and I made him leave. I told him we could talk about it in the morning and locked the door, unplugged the phone, went to sleep. In the morning I stopped by his apartment as promised. The door was unlocked so I went in and found him, face down.

As I write this, my heart is pounding, my hands are going numb and my mental focus is Continue reading “The Unexpected Healing Power of NOT TALKING About Your Trauma”

Tough Love Truth #1: You Can’t Rely on Anyone Else to Fix Your Childhood PTSD

Childhood trauma is trendy right now. Grant money is flowing toward fascinating treatment possibilities involving brain wave alterations and drugs like Ecstasy and specially adapted yoga.  Mental health conferences are making it the topic of the year, and every kind of healing professional is finding a way to tie “trauma informed care” into their services. This is all positive!  In fact I can hardly believe that, at last, the world is beginning to get it about this insidious condition that sucks the life out of millions of people. And there is hope!

However… Continue reading “Tough Love Truth #1: You Can’t Rely on Anyone Else to Fix Your Childhood PTSD”