I suppose because the 18 years of severe abuse I suffered was so bad and nearly without reprieve, and because I had nobody who noticed, nobody who cared, nobody to help me and nobody to love me, my healing journey has had to take me down pathways of learning that very few people have had to travel down to find what they need to make sense of their past and present experiences.
But it is not just my ‘past experiences’ that I struggle to make sense out of. I struggle, as many early chaos and trauma survivors do, to understand HOW I experience my life every moment and WHY things that happen within me do not seem to happen within other people.
Most infant and child abuse survivors experience what society-at-large can simply refer to in some general way as ‘anxiety’ and ‘depression’. Now that I understand that ‘depression’ IS an ‘anxiety disorder’ I can begin to learn how my experiences rest upon a common ground.
I also know that traveling from common ground down to bedrock — as I link how my body interacts and reacts to situations in my life today to one another like placing pieces of a puzzle into their final resting places in my understanding — means that I now understand that my brain is a part of my Central Nervous System (CNS) that was deeply affected during my most formative stages of early development before my age of two by severe and continuing TRAUMA.
This fact cannot be separated on the bedrock level of my body from the trauma-caused changes to the development of my Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), my vagus nerve system, my stress reaction-calm reaction system, or from the development of my immune system. EVERYTHING about my being in a body in the world was affected by the severe stress and distress of repeating chaos and severe trauma.
It is easy to see that nothing in our ‘analog’ system of medical sciences is grounded in HOLISTIC thinking or healing. In western worldview everything can be split apart into increasingly smaller bits and pieces as if these parts exist as separate pieces of the whole.
We are interactional beings on all levels. Viewed in this reality — which is the TRUE reality — there could not have been any way for me to stay alive without the WHOLENESS of who I am being impacted and changed through exposure to insane and brutal abuse.
Underneath all changes it is the fact that my entire early (through age 18) human attachment environment was based on evil and hurtful actions toward me. I therefore HAD to come out of that mess as an adult person with an insecure attachment disorder. For my purposes today I write about MINE – although there are degrees and names for these degrees of insecure attachment patterns.
Mine is an attachment disorder down in the listing of severity named ‘Disorganized-Disoriented’ insecure attachment. Dissociation is built fundamentally into this pattern of being in the world quite simply because chaos is not a stable factor in building a little person.
When I write about ‘trauma triggers’ it is important to think in terms that have NEVER been simple for me to visualize or to understand. THRESHOLD is a word that I imagine as if I am thinking about a doorway threshold.
When people say “So and so has a high threshold for pain,” for example, or say “So and so has a low threshold for pain,” (or for stress, or for whatever) I have a hard time figuring out what the MEAN!!
If I see a HIGH THRESHOLD I see a doorway whose opening is decreased. I see a person having to step UP over this high threshold to enter or exist a space.
If I see a LOW THRESHOLD I see this doorway as being virtually nonexistent so that a person can simply breeze across it without having to step up over the threshold.
So a HIGH threshold decreases the amount of anything that comes in? Not quite. A high threshold for pain means, then, that the person having the pain is not as likely to FEEL it or to be bothered by it as is a person with a LOW threshold for pain.
Pain of emotional distress, including deep grief and sadness of depression is very real. But for the moment I also want to mention what STRESSES and DISTRESSES a person in life — an experience having to do with what some so simply CALL anxiety.
Do I have a high or a low threshold for anxiety?
I am puzzled every time I try to think in these terms. I would say I have a LOW threshold for anxiety because I feel LOTS of it. Anxiety seems to stream through great open doorways into my experiences of life with no problem at all!
But then I would also say I have a very high threshold for handling anxiety I feel smoothly and easily? In other words, my effectiveness for preventing and coping with anxiety must attempt to come over a threshold that is so high it very nearly fills the doorway of “Gee, no big deal here at all, I can easily handle such and such!”
Skip the image of threshold. I prefer apple cart images. “Tip over the apple cart.”
OK, so it does not take much stimulation from my environment to ‘disorganize-disorient’ me and SPLAT there go my apples all over the place. Easily tipped over apple cart, that’s me on the range of ‘how much anxiety can I easily handle’?
I am ALWAYS and continually trying to monitor my environment for trauma triggers that to normal people do not even exist. Social demands, too much noise, detecting TOO much information in the environment (hyper vigilance and hyper perceptibility), etc.
Solutions? Yet to be determined. Now if I have a well-built apple cart, solid with wide wheel base and great wide wheels — and then only put one or two apples in there — good for me!
If I have a rickety, shaky, frail old applecart with skinny, tiny wheels and one GIGANTIC load of apples in there – well, not so good. Over everything is likely to go — and ‘disorganization-disorientation’ is very likely to consume me.
My right imaginal brain hemisphere can, if I let myself pay attention to it, absolutely delight itself with all kinds of combinations of various carts and loads of apples trying to cross through doorways with all kinds of high and low thresholds — but I stop myself right here……
None of this is FUN! None of this is EASY for survivors of severe and chronic chaos and trauma during their earliest body-brain formative years. We could not predict anything stable in our lives. Normal variations on ’cause and effect’ did not exist. We did not get to learn about life while we were kept safe and secure by those who loved us.
But now that I have found the bedrock of how that MESS in the beginning of my life translated into trauma changes in me as I formed physiologically at the start of my life, I can now begin to understand that I have to pay very, very close attention to that beginning intimation, the first CLUES that I get that I am risking becoming ‘disorganized’ and ‘disoriented’.
Usually it is too late to sidestep these reactions once they are upon me. I have to try to see into the future so I can be prepared to sidestep before the ‘disorganization’ and ‘disorientation’ hits me.
It is too late when I am in mid conversation socially in a stressful environment and there I am — one question is asked, one more person joins the conversation, one LOUD unexpected noise demands my instant attention once my hyper startle response is alerted — AND — my brain seems to stop.
I suddenly see faces before me with mouths flapping around while I vaguely in the distance here a stream of sound that I SHOULD be able to translate into words — but I cannot. I cannot THINK in anything like a normal way at these points — because something else is happening to me.
I won’t go into any more detail about what these dissociation moments feel like. We survivors of severe chronic early traumatic stress already know this kind of a scenario and millions of other related ones.
All I need to say at this moment is…………..
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