Welcome to Dana’s Blog- “No More Secrets.”
December 5, 2015
Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. Truth is holiday’s can be stressful. Sexually abused as a child I felt guilty. Guilt and shame kept me quiet. It was easy to fake it for a while. I think I looked and acted normal. Then puberty set in. Rebellion and apathy surfaced. It was like the secrets inside my heart were vomiting. The pain had to come out somehow. Since I couldn’t face the truth with myself, or others I tried escaping. I discovered a lot of emotional escape routes. Tunnels like alcohol. It became my best friend. It was always there. It didn’t talk back. It gave me confidence I didn’t have. False confidence, but I didn’t care. This route is a dangerous one. Just like the illegal substances discovered along the road with drinking. Physiologically, these substances are dangerous because they disarm the alarm part of our brain. That’s why people do crazy things when they’re drunk, or high. The alarm part of your brain is there to alert you to danger. When it’s disarmed you are unprotected. This lead to trouble.
Trouble like, promiscuity, abortions and jail. Through it all I looked fairly successful. Working in Hollywood on big budget movies as a production coordinator I could have passed for normal. But hiding from the truth takes a lot of precious energy. Pain like a mountain buried any hope in my heart. I gave up. Life was just too hard. I couldn’t breath. Cognitive distortions are when people think about situations inaccurately. My biggest distortion is referred to minimization. I minimized the truth. The truth that I was addicted. The truth that I was abandoned by my biological father right after my birth. The truth that I had been sexually abused by people I trusted as a child. It takes courage to look truth in the eyes. I hid. It wasn’t until 31 I caved in to the emotional pain. Ready to end life I cried out to Jesus, and He heard.
He gave me the courage to see a counselor and go to AA meetings. He gave me Hope! Hope that I could do life a different way. My ego and pride laid down. This allowed Him to lead the way. The journey hasn’t always been easy. Change is a slow process. But He’s given me a life more wonderful than I could have ever imagined. He’s real. He’s not just some idea, or story. We’re physical, emotional, social and spiritual beings. Be all you were created for. He loves you. Now I want to help others. His love gave me the idea for F.R.E.E.W.A.Y. – 7 Steps to healing and wholeness. I’ll share about that next time.
As a survivor of childhood trauma I always looked at what I wasn’t instead of all that I was, my inner beauty. This is why I’ve created the Beautiful: Healing from the Inside Out 3 part event series. Society tells us to “man up.” That we should just “get over it.” They don’t understand that childhood sexual, emotional and physical abuse, neglect, abandonment, having an absentee or abusive father, or not knowing our father creates misery. It can feel like we have holes in our hearts. To fill up the emptiness, guilt and shame we often turn to toxic relationships, food and/or drugs and alcohol with no lasting satisfaction. Our culture spends so much advertising enforcing the lies that we need to be thin, young, good looking, smart, successful and have the latest iPhone to be happy. So we spend our precious energy trying to live up to the high expectations society silently places on us only to find ourselves depressed, overwhelmed and stressed out because we never meet them. We’re trained to look at all we don’t have instead of what we do have; like our inner beauty and the workings of our hearts and minds. These things no one can take away. But hurt and pain throw mud at the lens we look through. That’s why the view of ourselves, and the world is often distorted. It’s hard to see the truth, the truth of our inner beauty.
Keeping my sexual abuse a secret for decades and hoping that what the world told me would make me feel better was true – I went for it. Moving to Los Angeles, working in Hollywood with celebrities on movies, having money for clothes and things, living the party life and all that it includes did not numb the pain. It only increased. Finally seeing the truth with the help of a friend, the mud began to slide off my lens of the world and myself. I began to see the lies I had held onto. Finally realizing no girl or boyfriend, no job or drug could keep the pain away I stopped trying to run away from the hurt and face it. It was then I began the healing process. Uncovering hidden hurts and unforgiveness the inner beauty was revealed. The more beauty I accepted within myself, the more inner peace I experienced. Having peace in my heart is living the good life. Being in control of my emotions instead of them controlling me is living large. This is why I’ve created the Beautiful: Healing from the Inside Out 3 part event series. They’re daylong events where you’ll I’ll share psychological strategies that have been helpful for me and will hopefully be for you as well. First in the event series of 3 is Restoring. Second is Renewing and third is Reviving. If you want to turn your suffering into success come join me in this safe environment where you can spend day relaxing and reflecting discovering more of the beauty that’s in you right now.
15 May 2014
Children and teens that have experienced trauma, or neglect often have feelings of intense anger. Many people suffer with it. Some people yell and scream to release the anger only to feel guilty afterwards for their actions. Working with children I often refer to anger as a big feeling. They immediately get this. Big feelings can be scary. That’s usually because we feel out of control. And very few people like the feeling of not being in control. This is especially true for survivors of abuse and neglect.
The anger can come on so quickly we don’t realize what’s happening. It’s like the anger takes over. We react. We let it have its tantrum. That’s because it can be difficult to rein in. This is because it’s hard to think when we’re angry. The neo cortex of our brains where higher thinking takes place shuts down. It’s located behind our forehead. Anger comes from the primitive part of our brain, the cerebellum. It’s located at the top of our spinal cord just above the back of our necks.
Experiencing trauma can decrease the neural pathways from the cerebellum to the neocortex. This is why it can be hard to think when we’re mad. We just don’t have a road, or neural pathway to get to the neocortex so we can think and calm ourselves down. How do we control our anger instead of our anger controlling us?
Anger is most often considered a secondary emotion. This means anger is the outcome of something deeper. The deeper issue would be the primary emotion. But this is much debated. Some believe anger should be considered a primary emotion since so many people struggle with it. In my book, Holding My Breath – Letters to the Father I Never Met I wrote, “Anger is the bodyguard of our fear.” If you’ve experienced trauma, or neglect you’re probably very hurt and sad. Anger can be sadness turned outward. Hurt can cry out in anger. When we’re feeling vulnerable we can get defensive and angry. That’s because we’re scared of getting hurt again. Anger can be the result of shame, or betrayal. But there’s another side.
Our culture silently says it’s not okay to get angry. We’re not supposed to talk about our feelings of anger. We’re supposed to act like everything’s okay. The truth is human beings get angry. It’s how we demonstrate it that can be problematic. If we don’t allow one another to have feelings of anger it can manifest into bitterness and resentment. Keeping it buried can create emotional and physical problems, like not being able to sleep. Trying to bury anger never works. So how do we demonstrate our anger so we have less of it?
The Bible says:
“Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”- Ephesians 4:26, NASB
The Bible supports science here. It’s telling us it’s okay to get angry, just don’t sin. Maybe the sinning piece of it can be things like hitting, screaming, or using excessive amounts of alcohol, or drugs. This verse supports also supports science by directing us to resolve our conflicts, or anger within 24 hours (don’t let the sun go down on your anger). Cortisol releases in our bodies when we get angry. Released repeatedly it can damage our heart and arteries. Expressing anger in healthy ways needs to be okay in our society in order to heal. If angry behavior is allowed to release in positive ways the pressure diminishes. The next time you sense your body’s cues getting upset describe what you’re feeling and then let it go.
Like I said last week, it’s all about relationships. We need people to talk to. Talking with a friend decreases anger. Someone you trust that is safe and caring will listen to what you have to say. If you don’t have a safe person to talk with connecting with a mental health professional is the next step. The counselor, or social worker will validate your anger. If you’ve experienced trauma or neglect you have many reasons for feeling angry. Being allowed to express these big feelings will release the more of the pressure. You’ll be able to see your progress by keeping a monthly chart. You can put a red x for days where you experienced an angry outburst negatively (hitting, alcohol, or drugs). Soon you’ll see there will be fewer and fewer red x’s on your calendar.
In the 7 Steps to Wholeness you’re directed to journal. Writing down how we’re feeling when we’re upset helps remove the problem from inside our heart to outside. Externalizing the problem releases built up pressure. Our bodies give us physical cues to this pressure. These cues let us know when you’re getting upset. Pay attention to these. They’ll help you know to take a breath, stand up and rock back and forth on your legs while standing. The rhythmic motion will help in regulating your emotions. If you can take a walk it’s even better. Our brains love rhythm. Bicycling, swinging, horseback riding and running helps decrease our angry emotions.
There are a couple of treatment models used for survivors of trauma using horses. One that I provide as a mental health professional is called Trauma-Focused Equine Assisted Psychotherapy TM. The rhythm of riding the horse to various tempos of music coupled with problems; like keeping the horse on the wall, or going around barrels in the center of the arena making the number 8 patterns, can help build neural pathways from the cerebellum to the neo cortex. So the next time you’re angry you can tell yourself you don’t have to get angry. It’s all about what we’re telling ourselves.
Starved for attention? Do you feel that way sometimes? Well, it’s normal if you’re suffering from trauma, or neglect. The term is often used regarding children. But it’s doesn’t just affect children. If we haven’t received the love and affection we needed as a child we can grow up feeling deep emptiness. Dr. Bruce Perry referred to it as a poverty of relationship at a conference I attended last week. Thousands of children and adults experience a poverty of relationship. Due to this deficit our relationships can be challenging, or non-existent. It may even be difficult to keep a job due to relational conflict in the workplace.
Children need consistent love and care. When they’re not getting what they need it activates the brains stress response system. Due to neglect or trauma this stress response system may have been overused. Some stress is okay. But we’re not made to be under constant stress. When we are it can create emotional problems as we develop. One of these may be experiencing a feeling of poverty in our relationships. This poverty can feel deep emptiness. How do we decrease this pain? By increasing our relationships with one another.
If you’ve experienced trauma, or neglect it may be difficult to trust others. But there is probably one person in your life you believe is trustworthy and safe. That’s all you need, one person. This can be a teacher, doctor, coach, or person you admire. Spending time with a friend, or friend(s) is important. That’s because when we’re enjoying people it affects the pleasure/reward part of our brain. It’s the same with eating potato chips and ice cream. Each of these stimulates the same part of the brain. This is why we grab the chips or ice cream when we’re feeling lonely or upset.
The fatty foods make our brain feel better which affects us emotionally. This is why it’s a hard cycle to break. The worse we feel the more we eat. When we eat we feel better for a few minutes. Then guilt. Then the pain surfaces again. It’s a cycle. Treats are okay, just not in excess. A lot of sugar and fatty foods are not good for our bodies. We may not even be hungry but eat to satisfy the reward/pleasure part of our brain. It’s the same for a glass of wine, or drug. How do you break the cycle? Instead of reaching for the ice cream, or glass of wine call a friend.
When we have fun being with people it stimulates the same part of our brain. Maybe there’s a sports team in your community you want to join. Is there an art, or music class you’re interested in? Do you want to go back to school? Participating in things you enjoy has double benefits. It decreases depression and provides opportunities for building relationships. Finding others that have the same interests as you is a good place to start. Maybe there’s a dog shelter, or food pantry you want to volunteer at. You’ll be building relationships while you’re helping others. We’re made to help others. It makes us feel better.
Looking at the week ahead on make a plan. Who do you want to hang out with and when do you have time for it. Building relationships takes time and effort, but it’s fun. Invite them to have coffee, or go for a walk. Just a 30-minute walk with a friend decreases depression. Exercise and relationship are a great combination for your brain and your heart.
Live richly and call a friend today. The answer is never in the refrigerator. Have a super week.
No More Secrets
Keeping wrongs that have been done to us, or that we’ve done to others secret creates pain. Hidden hurts affect us holistically. Physically, emotionally, mentally, socially and spiritually secrets breed misery. Wholeness comes by bringing light to what’s hidden. This happens through sharing our secrets. Fear can hold us back. But the freedom truth brings is priceless.
Remember you’re mom asking you to clean your room? Overwhelmed we stuff the dirty laundry and half eaten sandwiches under the bed. Psychologically we can tend to do the same thing with our secrets. What we don’t want to look at we hide. But a few days later we smell something. It’s the half eaten sandwich. We push it further under the bed.
The next week we can’t take it any longer. We find the hidden sandwich. Now it’s molded and disgusting. It’s too gross to touch. So we move it further under the bed. Decay ensues. The room becomes unbearable to sleep in. The stench permeates the rest of the house.
The sandwich signifies the secret in this analogy. Not wanting to feel the pain of our incident(s) of abuse, or neglect we hide from it. But why do we hide? What’s the risk? Maybe we’re worried the police will be called. Perhaps the person who hurt us will get in trouble. Maybe they’ll go to prison. I’ll be responsible! Lie. The person who hurts us is responsible for their imprisonment – not the victim.
Nationally statistics state that 1 out of 5 female children experiences sexual abuse. Childhood sexual abuse happens to 1 in 20 boys. The most defenseless time in a child’s life is age 7 to 13. Sadly, in 3 out of 4 children abuse takes place by someone they know well. The earlier abuse is disclosed the better they’re chances are for a healthy adulthood.
Maybe we’re scared of our family’s reaction. We may feel guilt or shame. Maybe it involves a family member. Or, we might get in trouble. Maybe we think we’re the reason it happened in the first place. The person who hurt us may have threatened us. They might hurt us worse than before, or our family. The longer we hide the greater the amount of emotional distress. There are risks in telling the truth. Do the risks outweigh the shame? We have a choice. One choice makes us sick and one makes us well. What’s yours?