Filling in the Hole In the Soul


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The Light at the End of the Tunnel is You!

Just got back from EMDR therapy and thought I would write this right away as I will be very tired over the next few days.

A fundamental difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD is that Complex PTSD also addresses the consequence and effects of emotion dysregulation (the impaired ability to process and regulate negative emotions ) and insecure attachment to a primary care giver.

PTSD can happen in those with secure attachment and adaptive emotion regulation abilities and often relates to specific events or a one off event.

Much of the therapeutic work that goes into PTSD is about reprocessing a particular trauma and the related or associated feelings of guilt, blame and fearful helplessness etc that can result from that moment of traumatic powerlessness over a particular re-experienced traumatic event.

C-PTSD is more complex in it’s treatment as the trauma meshes with wider issues,  in my case, of emotion processing deficits (like alexithymia) and as a result emotion dysregulation.

We need to identify emotions in order to process then cognitively as feelings – we need to find words to put to the emotions before they become feelings – before we can properly regulate or control these feelings and whatever action we take in relation to these feelings will be the direct result of how these emotions are represented in our brain and mind.

If we have difficulty with representing these emotions as feelings then it is because the emotions are not labelled accurately (i.e. remain undifferentiated from other emotions) and do not become specifically represented in our brain and mind as particular and distinct feelings.

If we are not fully aware, cognitively, of emotions then we do not represent them as feelings to act on but act on these undifferentiated emotion states via impulsive and compulsive behaviours as if they are distress states. We act in relation to undifferentiated emotions as if they are distressing, like an emotional white noise.

I often act in an emotionally and experientially avoidant way. Most of my life I have avoided my emotions via maladaptive impulsive/compulsive behaviours.

I need to know my feelings in order to “self soothe” but as I could not “read” my  feelings my attempts at self soothing have normally been external to me in the form of susbtance use and abuse or in behaviours like gambling

The problem of “self soothing” thus is a legacy of emotion dysregulation but it is also a legacy of insecure attachment to my mother which resulted in an avoidant attachment style which can become disorganised when distressed.

This attachment style, I realised today, deep in my mind during bi-lateral stimulation, is partly  because I never learned to self soothe.

I was never taught it from my primary care giver and she did not appear to be able to do it either.

I never learnt to process and regulate emotions from my primary care giver either. So when I,  today, was attempting to  to investigate the horror of that fearful helplessness of watching my mother attempt a “cry for help” suicide attempt by trying to force pills down her throat I did not expect to suddenly understand the interlinking connection between all these things.

I expected to return to the horror of this most distressing scenario. I didn’t return to the horror emotionally but I did return to the scene and saw and felt that it was definitely a cry for help and not a serious attempt to kill herself – not completely otherwise she would not have made such a drama and spectacle out of it and had an audience to observe it.

I saw doubt in her eye, and shock at our reactions, a sudden realisation of “what the hell” am I doing here?

However, as she slumped to the floor, she, to my memory anyway, said it was all too much, that she wanted to die that she had had enough.

To us fearful children this  meant she had had enough of everything including us. That we were not enough, not good enough or not reason enough to keep her from wanting to die.

When asked to describe how I felt, I, to my surprise, had this massive feeling of a huge hole in my soul, as if someone had blasted the biggest hole in my chest with a double barrel  shot gun.

A hole that my alcoholism, addictive behaviours and traumatized self seeped from.

I was asked to act as an adult in this scene and immediately consoled the younger me, then my mother.

I asked mum to reassure the younger me that it was nothing to do with him/me, that she loved me. She did so.

Slowly but surely over ten minutes my younger me became united to my mother and then my sisters, and then my father. We all at on the bathroom floor, in the sunlight, holding each other and reassuring each other of our love for each other and that things would be alright.

My mother told me how she struggled on afterwards, through years of addiction and mental health problems, out of her love for me and my sisters. That this was not my fault, that I was not bad and it was not my fault – she was ill and couldn’t help it just like I could not prevent my own addictive illness.

It was the way it was. The way it is. We had to accept this.

Imperceptibly I could feel a membrane stretching and growing across my chest, over the circled edges of my hole in the soul.  Like a healing.

It is a start, a great start.

The inner child stuff I have often I have thought  a useful idea but not a reality until I married this psychological idea to something  called the resonance circuit in neuroscience. It is the emotional circuit in the brain through which the effects of insecure attachment resonate decades later.

It is like a frequency via which trauma and insecure attachment vibrates when distress in our everyday live strikes this fear circuitry. It may be as real as any neural circuitry in the brain.

Today I felt for the first time at a profound level that this resonance circuit is how the inner child communicates his distress. It is still  a “live ” part of me. A part that requires me to soothe it. To have compassion for.

I suddenly realised this is what healthy people do, they look after themselves, they self soothe. It is a part of emotion regulation.

They do so by having a compassion for their own suffering. They put their emotions and then their feelings first.

Today I experienced the benefits of self soothing, of realising that emotions were not to be avoided but discussed, shared and clarified and that I could eventually have a secure attachment with myself.

This is the main awakening. That the most important relationship is the one I have with myself.


Trying to Find the Horror


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In most traumatic events there is an accompanying feeling of terrified helplessness. Whether it’s a soldier looking on helplessly as his fellow soldier gets killed or a fireman seeing person burn in a fire, just out of reach or someone looking on as a loved one tries to kill herself.

There is that feeling of falling into an abyss.  A moment of true wordless horror. This the moment of trauma that leads to a life of post trauma, to PTSD.

A moment that is so unbelievably bad and terrifying, that the brain and heart struggles to comprehend the extent of it, fails to process the magnitude of it, fails to lodge the event in their long term memory and script of their life. Instead it makes you roam your life like an emotional Steppenwolf, scared to ever return to the warm of common humanity.

It is like an explosion that detonates in the brain and blows holes in stress systems and lives on in fragmented, fractured memory and in heightened fearful emotional responses to the world which are somehow not explainable. They require post hoc and retrospective explanation because they seem inordinately over reactive to events that prompt them.

This event will haunt the future and appear to  live on in one’s very bones. It has not been exorcised so lives on as a neural ghost haunting one’s reactions to people, places and things.

I know what my explosion is but not the intimate details. I have asked one of my sisters to help me piece together the broken pieces and scattered  debris of my memories of the event but she has struggled to.

First she was sure she was right in describing it a certain way and now has changed her mind to describe it a different way. With a different sequence of events and characters. It has been frustrating not being able to transport oneself back in time and simply look at a previous event in one’s life but there are so many self defense mechanisms making that process extremely difficult.

Either way, we are still not convinced about the aftermath of the event. We seem to be looked at a charcoal penciled sketching of pictures of the past which often get scrubbed out and started over. We have tried desperately, for hours this weekend, to piece and glue our scraps of memory together to make a bigger, more fuller picture, like a collective collage.  We might do this for weeks and still not get a definitive picture and memory of what truly happened.

I spent a few years, many moons ago, trying to write fiction. In fact I wrote about my family and this incident but purely, I believed, from my imagination but mixed with some historical signposts. Looking back, this writing from the heart may be more accurate that our attempts to rescramble our collective memories?

I and my sister have been trying to get to the moment of horror. To look at it again as adults not children, traumatized children.

We are convinced that it happened only once, thank God but that it has had major consequence and repercussions on all my sisters and I.

It would not be outlandish to suggest that all our lives took a major redirection that day. I, when talking to my sisters, see now that the huge similarities we seen to have are all because we are traumatized by the same event. We have post trauma personalities.

How we reacted to the same trauma seems to have frozen us into certain personalities.

My sister who ran for help is still running, in her personal life she continues to trust no one.

My eldest sisters still pretends, that it did not happen  as she may have dissociated from the actual event when it was happening – not wishing to believe that it  could be happening.

My third sister still bristles with anger and hostility at my “scary monster” of a mother who scared the life out of her children over forty years ago by attempting to swallow a phial of pills.

I am not sure what tablets she tried to kill herself with or if she even consciously tried to kill herself but to her assembled children that is what it looked like and that is what it felt like.

It is hard to describe what this level of rejection  and devastation felt  like. I will try to explore it again tomorrow in my next EMDR sessions.

The problems with asking a sister to help you remember is that you not only view the same scene differently, depending on gender, emotional loyalities, age etc but that the effects the traumatic incident had on you still affects how you recall it.

For example, my sister who ran to get help, talks about the event in a skimming, superficial, running through it type of way. She still doesn’t want to delve deeper into it as it is still  too scary. She is still running with the ten year old shaky, adrenaline fueled legs that took her to my uncle’s house to get help, not knowing how bad her mother was and whether something monumentally terrible had and was occurring.

I was left with my mother after she had taken the pills, slumped on the bathroom floor, without an adult to tell me things were going to be okay?  God knows the feelings I had, being so helpless? The despair I must have gone through in this few minutes between my mother throwing the pills down her throat and my sister returning with help? It must have felt a bit longer than eternity?

I will find out more no doubt tomorrow

Interestingly I would say decades later that one of my major weaknesses in life is my ability to tolerate uncertainty about future events and to handle distress adaptively.

It has been the greatest issue in my recovery, it is tempting to speculate that this behavioural response started as the consequence of not knowing the future prospects for my strewn mother, lying with tablets dribbling out her mouth on the bathroom floor?