There is A Solution – To Complex Trauma
I suffered from my own active alcoholism for over twenty years and found a solution to my alcoholism via the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and their 12 step program of recovery. A program of recovery I still, for a large extent, follow today. I generally trust God, clean house and help others, the three basics.
This program has not only saved my life but helped me acquire a new sense of self and a way of life and manner of living that I never knew existed.
I have added to my program of recovery by coming to understanding my disorder of addiction as one of emotional dysfunction.
I have difficulty identifying, labeling and verbalising emotions and this can lead to impulsive behaviour, poor decision making and at times distress via undifferentiated emotions. In other words, I am not always sure what or how I am feeling.
I often need to discuss my emotions with others so that I can cognitively process them and identify them as feelings.
It is in identifying what I am feeling that then leads to rational goal directed behaviours rather than distress based impulsive decisions and behaviour. Processing my emotions, so that I actually know what I am feeling, helps with subsequent emotion regulation so that I do not emotionally react as much I used to, I do not need to react as much via ego defense mechanism, I do not need to have a life shot through with fear and resentment.
I can now say this situation or person made me feel like this, e.g. they upset me and I can then act accordingly and adaptively rather having rampaging revengeful thoughts fueled by resentments and reactive behaviour.
These are some of the reasons why I have ten years in recovery, I have learnt ways, coping skills for dealing with me and my emotions, usually my negative emotions.
Via this new attitude and behaviour my brain I believe has changed for the better, via neuroplasticity prompted by the adaptive behaviours of more mature emotional regulation, as opposed to immature emotional responding, the regions of my brain that control emotional response have altered and recovered.
My brain is now wired in such a way as to encourage more effective emotion regulation. Even when i do take something personally it does not last a mere fraction of the time it used and the intensity of the negative emotional reactions is so small compared to early recovery and the succeeding years. I can now live life on life’s terms a lot better (although far from perfectly).
However, regardless of all this improvement in my brain and behaviours, in my stress and emotion regulation, there have been several times when my recovery has been threatened.
Six years into recovery I thought I was going to relapse. I did not want to drink but I was so distressed emotionally that it seemed inevitable at one point. The more distressed I got the more my brain was screaming at me to drink. I was understandably shocked and dismayed, frightened and upset by coming so close to relapse.
To learn that I have a brain that will lead me to drinking alcohol when I have not desired to drink again ever! I showed me what could possibly meant in my case by the Big Book when it states “the alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink” !
The distress that led to me having scant mental defense against the first drink was not prompted solely by my alcoholism. It was my alcoholism, which is it seems a parasite that feeds on motivation and emotion, was feeding like a parasite on the distress caused by unresolved complex trauma from childhood. In fact the distress in this instance was at Christmas and I could not stop thinking and feeling very emotional about my parents, who are now both sadly deceased.
It was more than grief, however, it was traumatic distress I now understand.
Why was I so distressed. It was this distress that was so active and apparent in my alcoholic drinking, the unbearableness of this distress prompted many a drinking spree.
It took six years of recovery to realise that I was still very effected by something profound to do with my parents. I then in later months became aware of the fact I often dissociate in a variety of ways. So badly that I can almost return to real childhood experience, or rather the somatic re-experiencing of being a traumatized child.
On one occasion I was so worried that I had inadvertently hurt the feelings of some one in AA that I was convinced it would lead to their relapse and I kept saying to my wife that I thought this guy will relapse and die because of me and what I thought I had done, which was a minor incident blown up to extreme madness by my catastrophic and paranoid thought processes. It became evident that this minor episode was a trauma trigger to another incident in childhood, still unresolved in my psyche after decades.
My reactions were not actually about this guy in recovery who was fine and oblivious to my mad thoughts or even what my crazy mind had convinced me I had done to hurt him. This smallest of triggers propelled me experientially back through time to early childhood experiences
Interestingly, what I thought at the time and what I now know to be true is that a misconstruction of what is going at one point in time can be internalised as the truth and live on in our bodliy and mental responses to similar episodes decades later. The past quite literally lives in our bones.
My miscontruction by which I mean I perceive or build up a picture of what is happening now based on what I have pictured in my mind as happening in similar episodes in the past.
Over the next few months and through year 7 of my recovery I was steeling myself to start therapy again. Then my wife had a car accident and ended up suffering PTSD herself. I then shelved my own treatment plans as my wifes’ condition needed more urgent attention. For the next year and a half I helped my wife recuperate and get steadily more mentally well.
She used this therapeutic process that I had read about called EMDR and which after much research I recommended to her although I wasn’t really sure it would work. It was more hope than faith.
Miraculously it did seem to work, in fact it seemed way to good to be true. The effects were so profound.
My wife would say that she felt like some vital part of her brain had been “plugged in again”
She had felt the trauma had pulled some plug out in her brain and it had led to a whole assortment of psychological difficulties such as hyper-vigilance and perceptual distortions, e.g. seeing Bees as flying zeppelins, or constantly seeing errors every where. She felt she had lost her mind, as life seemed to overwhelm her, there was too much information somehow which she struggled to mentally filter.
The part of the brain that supposedly deals with these things is called the cingulate cortex, mainly the anterior cingulate cortex, wedged between the neo-cortex and the limbic regions of the brain. it deals with among other things, attention, stress and emotion regulation, emotion processing, with monitoring error in the environment.
It seemed to have been overloaded and compromised by her trauma and the reactions of her brain afterwards to that trauma. amazingly for her and for me the EMDR therapy seemed to put it all back in place, got her broken brain working again.
I thought this amazing but remained cautious and at times skeptical about ti it. To be honest, part of me did not want it to be true, as it meant I would have to give it a go myself at some stage.
I researched and researched trying to find some holes in this miraculous therapy. All the studies universally said it worked well, that the patient outcomes were positive and long lasting.
Damn I thought.
How could reprocessing memories from the past lead to such a profound alteration in one’s consciousness. The cingulate cortex is also said to be the seat of consciousness in the brain.
How could this be? All that was really happening, to me at least, in her therapy sessions was a therapist moving her finger from one side to the other while her eyes tracked these fingers, and while simultaneously thinking about a trauma experience from childhood.
The therapist also supported this process by prompting her to talk about what she was feeling in relation to whatever came up in her mind in relation to this bilateral stimulation.
There is so much to this therapeutic process than this I can assure you but I don’t want to go into details now – if you want the technical stuff please go to http://insidethealcoholicbrain.com/2016/01/14/how-the-brain-reacts-to-emdr/
to see what happens to the brain etc during EMDR.
Here I want to describe how it makes you feel and maybe even suggest how it works.
The reason I am disclosing all of this, the inner workings of my traumatized and healing brain is simple – this EMDR does seems to be miraculous in it’s healing potential
Admittedly I have only had one bilateral stimulation session but i think I had good results already.
I have been a thirsty man for psychic healing for nearly 45 years so you will have to excuse me being so overwhelmingly grateful and overjoyed to have finally found a solution to the problems I had years before alcoholism and addiction and which not only fed into these disorders but which could actually prompt relapse in these conditions.
I left the session thinking what came up in our therapeutic exchange prior to the bilateral stimulation touched on things I had heard a thousand times before from the mouths of hundreds of people in AA meetings.
Are the majority of us in AA actually traumatised? If not by childhood or other traumas but by the trauma of addiction itself, having addiction or having had to live with addiction?
Is trauma the main reason people relapse?
All these questions have become increasingly pressing and urgent.
What is the bilateral stimulation like? Well originally you think what the hell is a bit of finger and eye moving going to achieve but I have to say that, under my therapist’s expert guidance I seemed to go back and find roots of some of my traumas, the roots of the self loathing and low self esteem and concept, the reason for not thinking I am lovable, some of the reasons why my family grew into the thorny bush of recrimination in the way it did, out of the rough ground of our shared family trauma.
All from sometimes singular events.
In revisiting and re-experiencing one particular trauma that involved my sisters and i it suddenly occurred to me in my heart why everyone in my family grew up to be how they are, how they were amazingly based to a large extent on how they reacted to the actual trauma incident. We all reacted to trauma in different ways and this could have led us to have views about ourselves in the present that are steeped in reactions from the past. It showed how brain mechanisms conjure neural ghosts that haunt us decades later.
Echos of the past are materialised in jaundiced perceptions of ourselves in the succeeding minutes, hours, days and decades, throughout the rest of our lives.
It is a startling insight.
How reacting to an event leads to a distress so powerful that flows around in the brain memory networks to fester in our psyches ever since. It is like a splinter that one knows is there but can’t quite get at.
The splinter, the more you try to get at it, the worse it festers and day on day it gets worse and worse, more poisonous. It pollutes how we feel about ourselves, for years and years.
All because of not emotionally processing what was going on at the time, in a time long long ago. How profound is that?
When you are tracking the fingers as they move, and thinking about a trauma it feels like your brain elevates as the brain is super stimulated by all the activity – one can almost feel like one is free falling to quote Tom Petty , free associating and free falling through the past to childhood. Or it is coming up the other way?
Either way, one is suspended in lived experience, the amgydala has been hypoactivated so it is not as stressful as it could be – the brain is not cognitively imprisoned in the moment but letting the brain free to be how it is. It felt like the Matrix losing it’s coding script.
I returned to events prior to a major trauma and left my amazingly fractured memory of the trauma to come to the surface of my mind. As I did so I discussed the emotions I was feeling, being mindful of the sensations, seeing the past in a new light.
Taking out or allowing the emotional poison to be poulticed. In scientific terms I was properly processing the emotion, exorcising the emotional ghost.
It is the negative emotion, the traumatic distress which screams it’s echo through our lives. In taking the sting out of the emotion and the emotion out of the memory, we can not only silence the scream but put it to bed.
As I left the therapy session I remembered what my wife had said about some part of her being plugged back in again. I felt that some part of me that had been replugged that hadn’t been plugged in properly plugged in for 45 years.
Is this not the root of my troubles when it comes to relapse risk – this trauma.
Should we not treat co-morbidity as soon as possible in addicts with co-morbid conditions? Do the high relapse rates reflect also untreated co-morbid conditions and the effect this lack of treatment has on relapse.
Alcoholics and addicts often relapse due to distress or overwhelming negative or crippling negative self concept, most of which are exacerbated by co-morbidity.
Doesn’t this co-morbidity simply makes one’s addictve behaviour more chronic more severe?
I left the therapy on cloud nine, all strangely at one and attached to the world and it’s people. It was a very similar feeling to the feeling I had after doing my step 5 when I had confronted some of the damage of my past by admitting my wrongdoing to another person. It had that same cleansing feeling. That feeling that something was being or had been put right.
It turns out that marvelous feeling was on the surface of one layer of this onion called me. No doubt there will be more peeling of the onion to come, more tears and more wonderful days like today.
I have a way to go for sure. But I have that wonderful precious gift of faith that this will work, that I will one day get past my past.
I walked for miles afterwards stopping to have full blown conversations with people I know and haven’t seen in years. The sun shun on our conversations.
It felt like my emotional thawing is well under way.
I noticed the majestic clouds you get when you live by the hills which roll to a seaside. I was fascinated by clouds in early recovery. And there they were again – floating past like great fluffy elephants, great to be looking up, not always looking down, your downward gaze heavy with the past.
So far so good. I am energised today, I thought I would be exhausted – I may be tomorrow but that will be another day.
Wrapped up warm tonight in bed with the knowledge there is a solution! Like in the early days of recovery when the Big Book, near by sleeping head, reminded of that fact too.