I was 29 and clueless!
The sad part of the story is that I didn’t know how to get help. I didn’t know I should get help. I didn’t know there was help…for people like me.
I didn’t know my life could be different.
The thoughts that were swirling in my head were about survival, shelter, and food. There was no consciousness about the future, a home, a family, an education, or a life!
My brain had no room for planning, no special wanting, no Self…just survival.
All I could think of back in that car was “How can I sleep with one eye open, so I can see when ‘they’ come for me?”
“They” were always after me, grabbing at my neck. I could feel “them” right behind me, like a shadow hovering over me, ready to devour me and take me off this earth.
Somehow I had learned that I was bad, that I had done something bad, and I was going to pay, as soon as “they” got a hold of me. So, I kept on running, running away…from me.
I kept wondering whether I was really here. I didn’t feel my body. All I knew was that it had to be mine, because, wherever I went, there it was, with those same legs and arms.
I felt no sensations in my body, so, if I didn’t see my arm, I couldn’t sense where it was.
I can still remember the feelings of “floating around, detached, clueless and alone” like a buoy without an anchor, drifting with the current, and helplessly at the mercy of the waves and the weather.
I saw my fingers and couldn’t stop biting my nails. I saw my legs and couldn’t stop picking and scratching. I couldn’t see my face and constantly scratched and picked at it as if that were the appropriate way to know it was still here, that I was still here. My life became about hurting myself so that I would know that I was still here.
When I looked in the mirror, I felt a painful tension in my body followed by disdain, “Oh, my God, who’s that…me? That’s what I look like? That’s what I am? What is that?”
Why do we get this low? Why do we lose our Selves? Why do we lose our sense of value, our sense of deserving, our sense of belonging? Why do we lose our “knowing that we matter”?
Through all the recovery work I have done – talk therapy (aka “analysis paralysis”), cathartic breath work, you name it – I would fall back into the trauma again and again and again. It’s how I’ve come to understand that exploring the “why” has not been helpful for me. The “why” has kept me stuck for years!
To identify with an “I am” statement that amounts to a negative label does not move me forward. To own the fact that I have a few character traits I need to adjust has been much more helpful…to me!
Yes, my story, your story needs to be validated. All of us need validation!
And then, once our story is validated, we all need to let go of it and leave room for a new story.
Every day we are re-creating our story to tell. So I encourage you to make it a good one, something that helps you feel good about you, who you choose to be, and how you share your gifts.
If I look at my past experiences as the cause of me being damaged, disabled, and mentally unstable, (“alcoholic”, “autistic”, “bi-polar”…whatever label du jour fits my fancy at the moment), I will create a story that fits that description.
If I look at my past experiences as a series of character-building moments, and the cause for my integrity, strength, and empathy (owning my stuff, survival powers, and ability to resonate with others and hear their pain), I will create a story that fits that description. My choice!
Same for you…your choice, too!
What is it going to be?
Make it a story that fits who you want to become, who you are, in fact, becoming.
Your story matters greatly. You matter greatly.
If you want to know more about the BEAM LiFE process and how it can help you choose your story, visit www.EvaAngvert.com
Photo by Aaron Burden
What is it that makes it so hard to enjoy the holiday spirit? People are smiling and getting ready for family and friends. And I just want to crawl into bed and wake up when it’s all over.
Or do I?
At this time of year many of us struggle with feelings of loneliness, depression, even despair.
Or, should we just call it “The Blues”?
Why do The Blues show up during the holidays? How does our story affect our ability to enjoy them? And how much do we allow our story to interfere?
Personally, I feel the pull, the draft from the rabbit hole, to let go of the effort to celebrate and, instead, to fall into The Blues.
My childhood was filled with depressing and tense holidays, nothing to celebrate, just the imperative to be “seen, not heard”.
After I left home, I didn’t celebrate Christmas for more than 15 years. I made sure I stayed drunk during that time and didn’t have to feel the pain from the memories.
Then, I had children. Good reasons to celebrate…right?
December 1, 1990 was the day my husband and I turned off the life support for our two-month-old baby girl, Kristina.
One more reason to pull the covers over my head and stay in bed.
We had two more girls. More reasons to celebrate, right?
However, the fear of losing them dampened my ability to feel joy and lingered over me like the fog rolling in over the San Francisco Bay Bridge.
I used to sit on Baker Beach with my two wonderful girls, 2 and 3 at the time, and look at the bridge as the fog rolled in. I remember it as if it were right now as I’m writing.
The paralyzing feeling in my body, pressure in my chest, the closing of my throat, the bite in my jaws. I would look at my girls without being able to engage, just staring at them and feeling so lost, scared, and inadequate.
Every year between October and January, I would fall into the rabbit hole and be heavy, depressed, and unavailable for the girls.
I cried to my sponsor, “I don’t want to be depressed again; I want to be there for my girls. I don’t want to feel like this.”
Her answer threw me for a loop. “Then don’t!”
As if I had a choice! I was so insulted.
How could she be so unkind, so mean, with such lack of compassion for me…poor me, who was working so hard just to survive the day. I couldn’t help myself…right?
I was a prisoner in my own head, a victim of an emotional and mental strait jacket.
I was told, regardless of my “issues” with the holidays, my children deserved happy memories.
And that was true!
We as parents must not dump our issues on our kids.
But we do…until we don’t!
I had a choice: I could stay on Baker Beach and complain about the cold and the fog.
Or, I could put some effort into packing it all up, getting into traffic, driving across the bridge, and on the other side…enjoying the sun. Because, there is a sun. Regardless of the weather, there will always be a sun!
And I can find it. If I am willing to do what it takes!
That sponsor shifted my belief system, shifted my victim mentality, shifted the way I saw future possibilities. She was my first wake-up call to a life without blame. To a life that includes hope!
Hope, that oxygen that gets you out of bed in the morning.
So, do I really want to crawl into bed until it’s all over? Not really.
I have a lingering sensation in my body, a fog, a combination of sensations that sends the message of pain, a body memory of pain, of “bad weather”.
If I don’t watch it, this cluster of physical sensations will rise, pick up speed, and travel via my spine to reach my brain stem, my reptilian brain, the one that acts without thinking.
Alerted, the reptilian brain starts moving, motivated by reactive instincts, looking for danger, and sends the message of “danger” and “pain” to my “fight/flight” station, the “amygdala.”
My amygdala processes the message in a nanosecond and signals to my “emotional brain” that there is pain.
The emotional brain, with its bias and own interpretation (based on my story), sends the message to my frontal lobe, the so-called “executive frontal lobe”, the “thinker”.
Dependent on my self-awareness at the time, the thinker will interpret the emotional message, look for a thought that fits, and off I go!
“Oh, it’s that time of the year,” “It’s going to be hard again,” and my brain can flood me with memories that fit the emotions and sensations that have traveled up and are now securely embedded in my brain. Within the time it takes to blink my eyes, I’m thinking: “It’s going to be a hard day. Everybody is happy but me. I am depressed!”
But am I really?
Or, is this just a familiar “state of mind and body” that I can shift away from? If I want to!
Here is the real issue: Do I want to stay here, in this comfortable emotional gutter, warm and fuzzy, and familiar like an old blanket?
Or, am I willing to exert a little effort, and get out of it, get across the bridge?
And by choice, find the sun and have a good day. Because it is…a choice!
When I hear my brain say, “I’m depressed,” I can answer with, “I have a thought that says, ‘I am depressed.’ However, that’s not me! It is only a thought!”
And that is the secret to my ability to feel joy! The question is: Do I really want to?
Or, do I really want to pull the covers over me? No, I don’t!
I want to live! Feel alive. I want to feel joy, regardless of the time of year.
Today, I will have a good day…by choice.
If you are interested in learning more about getting unstuck from life-limiting habits or my BEAM LiFE program, connect with me on my website at: www.evaangvert.com or email me at: Eva@BeamLifeCoaching.com.
By Eva Angvert Harren
I wake up! And my brain woke up before me . . . again!
Every morning it seems as though “it” beats me to the time of awakening. And every morning it has some startling message to bring: your husband’s going to die, your daughters don’t love you, nobody loves you, you have cancer, your business is failing, you’re failing, and on and on it goes.
This morning as I found myself awake, my brain was already preparing for the day by forecasting the disasters waiting to manifest themselves.
I dropped into my body and felt the familiar grip in my chest and a slight discomfort in my stomach; I had a lump in my throat and a little heightened difficulty breathing. There was a tightness all over, as if I were wearing a scuba suit, and someone had grabbed the back and twisted it. Every part of my skin felt too tight.
In my world, if I don’t watch it, these sensations trigger the emotion of fear, a sense of doom, including an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, as in: “Here it is again!”
These sensations and emotions, in a nanosecond, send the message to my brain to “watch out,” “get ready,” “find protection,” “something bad is about to happen,” and at the bottom of it all, “I’m going to die!” Or, even worse, “my husband or daughters are going to die.”
A hundred forms of fear float around inside me, and depending on yesterday’s events, or hopes and fears projected for tomorrow, my brain will find the appropriate, rational, and possible thought and meaning to attach to the body sensations . . . and off I go!
Consequently, without body awareness, I would fall into the loop of “what’s wrong today?” and start preparing for imaginary disasters. I would be stuck in the infinite loop of thought and emotion, thought and emotion, my Doom Loop, with no way out.
I might have had the wherewithal to try the “replace it with a positive” method, and fight it with a positive thought such as, “No, my husband will live today,” or “I will be okay.” In that way, I could try to take control from a hopeful place of possibilities.
However, I would quickly run out of gas and be pulled into the familiar land of anxiety and panic. At that moment, it would feel like a surprise – un-expected again – and hold me hostage for hours, with another day’s gauntlet of worries mixed with manic behaviors and small children.
Despite the scenario I just described, I want you to know that there is hope!
With some practice, I have succeeded in creating a distance between my brain and me. I have created a gap big enough to give me a break from the loop, and so can you.
This gap in time is long enough to help me realize that my brain has grabbed onto a thought – just that, a thought.
This practice was part of my coaching training years ago. At that time, I didn’t know what was “wrong with me”. I just felt crazy. My thoughts were my reality, and my reality was scary.
I would sit for 20 minutes every morning and do nothing! Just watch my thoughts. That was the first time in my life I experienced a space between me and my thoughts and could get a glimpse of how it would feel to have peace of mind and body, to sense the freedom of choice.
Here is where I found the beginning of understanding the difference between reacting and responding.
Our brain has a bundle of thoughts, realistic, rational, or not – it doesn’t matter. The brain is interpreting and collecting a plethora of thoughts!
As the saying goes, “You are not responsible for your first thought. However, you are responsible for dwelling on it.”
Without that helpful gap, I do not remember that these are just thoughts and fall into the gutter of collective negativity. This gutter, and the hundred forms of fears it is hosting, becomes my reality, and my world is – again – a scary place. “My family will die!” “I suck!” “I can’t do anything right.” “See, there, I did it again . . . screwed up . . . again!” And on and on and on.
But, with the gap, there is a way out!
This morning, for example, I had body-awareness and that gap between my brain and me. What freedom!
I felt it all starting up! I noticed the loop taking form like clouds in the sky forming to block the positive rays of the sun.
However, I used the “Stop. Drop. Check.” method and dropped right into my body. Once I was there, I asked, “What am I feeling in my body?” The familiar sensations that used to create fear started to emerge, but within another exhale of surrender, and allowing space for the sensations to be there, I saw them subside and dissolve. What freedom!
This practice is like watching an old, once-upon-a-time, fierce bull, now old and tired, trying to plug into his once raging fighting spirit and start a fight. But . . . realizing he is old and tired, and sick of fighting (here is the gap), he slowly lies down to rest. The effort just isn’t worth it anymore.
The gap helps me to remember: It isn’t worth it anymore, that energy I used to waste in the inner landscape of fear!
Then, and only then, can I experience the wonderful feeling of true connectedness to my body. My brain and body have formed an alliance again, and I have the clarity, confidence, and courage to be . . . Me!
Remember . . . Freedom Is Only A Breath Away!
If you want to know more about Stop. Drop. Check. and the BEAM LiFE process, and how it can help you choose your story, visit www.EvaAngvert.com
Social Blindness is not a Life Sentence. Social Ease is possible!
After years of dealing with anxiety and panic attacks I have found a place of peace and comfort. What I can say about that journey is that it was unnecessarily long.
Had I known then what I know now about body-awareness, trauma, and healing, I could have reached peace in my Bodymind much sooner. I call it Bodymind for a reason.
In my world, my mind is residing in my body. Everything I do, say, or even think, starts in my body first. The beginning of my anxious thoughts, the beginning of my anxiety shows up as a reptilian reaction to a sensation in my body, a ripple of threat, or a sense of lurking doom below my consciousness.
If I don’t catch it there it continues to take form through my emotions, I get a sense of fear, like “something is wrong” that is forming a “sense of doom” fueled by fight/flight, and by the time it has become a thought that can reach my consciousness it’s too late. I’m already down the rabbit hole.
Down there, in the rabbit hole there is only pending doom, fears, and panic, no rest, no peace, and no solutions. There is only this vicious spinning of anxiety, tension, and worse scenarios. Down there it will take so much more effort to shift the course, see positive options, and release tension.
However, there is a way to catch the downward spiral in time.
I mention the Stop. Drop. Check. technique as one tool that helps me catch the forming of the anxiety much earlier, and shift it before it gets momentum. I use the Stop. Drop. Check. technique to find my core and become centered so I can release the pain and discomfort that creates the anxiety. It works wonder.
Stop = Scan your environment. Ask yourself, “Am I safe?” If the answer is no, remove yourself and find a safe place. If the answer is yes, move on to ”Drop.”
Drop = Exhale into your body, into yourself. Surrender, not to the situation, surrender to your internal Self. Let go and sink inside. When you notice your next exhale, keep your attention deep into your body and move on to “Check.”
Check = Ask yourself, “What am I feeling in my body?” “What sensations can I feel?” Keep your attention on your sensations and notice how you feel. Allow whatever is there to just surface. It bubbles up and dissolves.
The more we can allow the body whatever is going on, the faster we can release the pain that creates the anxiety in the first place. We do not need to rehash the story; we do not need to go back to the trauma. This is about here and now. How can I feel okay with a sense of ease and comfort? Now!
Bottom line, that’s what has been important in my life. Raising two children while “living in an earthquake,” locked up in a mental and emotional straight-jacket hurts, especially the children.
At that point, “what happened” is not as important as how to feel better now! Had I known that back then, my recovery time would have been greatly reduced.
When you seek help to deal with your anxiety, anger, or addictive behaviors, make sure the person you decide to trust has training in Body-awareness. And I personally recommend to seek help from a seasoned Somatic Experiencing Practitioner. Your recovery will be so much faster . . . and enjoyable.
Go to my website for more information: www.BeamLifeCoaching.com
The verdict is still out on what causes addictions and substance abuse, and how we can best provide support and treatments that offer true healing. We can suspect our genes to have some impact on our future. However, the environment is also responsible for providing conditions beyond any human beings ability to cope. I argue the point that addiction originates from some kind of trauma. I build my case referring to five studies and two books on the subject, as well as my own experience.
Also, to argue the importance of this issue, I share thoughts about how we as a society are participating in the vicious cycles of abuse by not offering sufficient support to those who are victimized. After years of studies on trauma, addiction, and abuse, I would dare to claim that addictions, of many different kinds, are complex family issues that need to be exposed. They run rampant in our society, often impossible to discover until years later, too late for many. The fear and desperation in the eyes of an addict were initiated decades ago, often in a helpless child, traumatized by its environment.
Therefore, to prevent generations to follow a similar path, we have to offer healing for the addicts and their children, not just treatment…healing back to wholeness. We have to create a safe place for our children to grow up; and to be successful we have to start by healing the parents. In doing so, it is imperative that trauma is included as a cause for addiction. I often refer to Peter Levine and Gabor Mate’ who are both trauma specialists, to argue my point that treatment programs must offer a holistic approach. Without offering specific healing from trauma, a large portion of the addicts’ conditions are ignored and a path back to wholeness is out of reach.
For that reason, I use research to show the convincing evidence that, especially for women, trauma is most commonly originated in abuse, and more than likely the main causes for addiction.
Also, for women with a history of abuse, more often than not the abuser was a man. With that in mind, it becomes pretty clear that the treatment programs need to be gender specific. I show an example of such a program, and argue for a long-term support system with a structure similar to treatment programs for chronically ill; a place where families get involved as part of the recovery. Because, I would dare to state that trauma, especially childhood trauma, is a family issue.
In other words, we are all in this together. One way or another, you will come in contact with a person, maybe even family member, who is suffering from some type of trauma, or addiction. Either directly or indirectly this will affect your life. Knowing about trauma and how to lend a hand to people who are imprisoned by their addictions is as useful as knowing about First Aid. You can help a person in additional ways. With the right encouragement, the suffering addicts can find their way back to wholeness, and support the next generation to do the same. The addicts, instead of being considered a burden on society, they can find opportunities to develop a healthy sense of self, and be participants in the solution for our communities.
So, while the experts still argue, I will present my evidence to show a strong connection between trauma and addiction, and with the experts help, expose a pattern that can no longer be ignored. I argue that trauma can finally be recognized as the prominent cause for addictions and substance abuse.
Granted that some scientists still do not want to commit their studies as being evidence for addiction, the studies can still be used as strong probable causes. And if we consider that studies have shown that traumatic events have the likelihood to be a strong suspect in the potential development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), we need to realize that PTSD has been connected with addiction and alcoholism. Stay tuned…..
Joseph Volipicelli (2000, p. 256) and his research team, came to the conclusion in their study “The Role of Uncontrollable Trauma in the Development of PTSD and Alcohol Addiction,” that PTSD can develop in people who have experienced one or more life-threatening situations where they were unable to protect themselves, or control the outcome of the traumatic event. Childhood abuse is an example of a continuation of such events. Their study also gave reason to believe that alcohol addiction could be a logical end-product of PTSD.
Put another way, the study says that symptoms like depression, irritability, and anxiety stem from trauma. Volipicelli also informs us that while the trauma occurs, the brain increases the endorphin level to sustain a numbing effect for the organism’s emotional and physical agony. As the trauma arousal lessens, the endorphin level decreases and has the potential to create a sense of withdrawal that can be physically and emotionally charged (2000, 256).
Since the side effects from decreasing activity in the endorphin production can be replaced with alcohol, drinking seems like a logical way of medicating the withdrawals. If we take away the alcohol and do not supply the addicts with any other support or solution to cope with their lives, we leave them with no choice but to go back to what they already know, self-medicating with alcohol. Volipicelli’s study illustrates the viscous cycle effecting addicts without extended support. The BEAM LiFE Process is one example of treatment which can support the alcoholics to learn how to live in their body and with themselves without alcohol.
As an example, we can read about Margret, a woman who comes from a dysfunctional family with alcohol and physical abuse. Her experience after a few days without alcohol left her vigilant about her environment, often irritated and jumpy. Margret would overreact when ignited by the slightest reminders about her past trauma, which included severe beatings and sexual abuse, two identified causes for PTSD.
In her desperate struggles to stop using, Margret had made ten attempts towards treating her alcoholism. Although at the age of thirty-eight, she had not found a solution to cope with the memories and nightmares that haunted her in sobriety, and each time retreated to drinking. (2000, p. 256) If Margaret’s diagnose does not go beyond alcoholism, and if the needed healing for her trauma is ignored, she will only be treated for her physical addiction.
Therefore, Margret will continue to have these conditions in sobriety, which without specialized support will become too overwhelming to cope with. She will more than likely go back to numbing the withdrawals, memories, and nightmares, and once again anesthetize herself with alcohol. Using drugs and alcohol to sooth the pain from adverse events makes absolute sense for people who see no other options. Margret’s case is a perfect example of maltreatments of alcoholics who unmistakably have suffered trauma and developed symptoms of PTSD, a valid evidence to support my argument. More on this on Fri.