The title of this post is one of my all-time favorite quotes! It comes from the 1999 absolutely DELIGHTFUL movie, “Galaxy Quest,” which I consider one of the greatest feel-good movies of all time!!
A blog commenter asked me yesterday if now that I know the truth about how the severe early trauma from abuse (birth to age 18) affected my physiological development (leading to Reactive Attachment Disorder, PTSD, depression, high anxiety, etc.) – have I ever felt like GIVING UP?
First of all, I doubt there is an adult the globe over who hasn’t at one time or another ‘felt like giving up’. However, those of us who are survivors of early relationship traumas – ESPECIALLY WITH OUR MOTHERS FROM BIRTH FORWARD – have a star role to play in the ‘give up or not to give up’ tragedy-drama.
I am not glib with this sentiment. I am ‘deadly-lively’ serious!!
Of COURSE there have been times I have felt like giving up. Being in this state is NORMAL at times!
AT TIMES!! This does not mean ALL OF THE TIME!!
I told the commenter yesterday that I needed to think before I could respond to her question. Here is my response:
I was born with the capacity to be STUBBORN!!
I was born with the capacity to be DETERMINED!!
I was born with the capacity to be able to LEARN!!
Combining these qualities so that I could/can ‘go on being’ (a statement developmental neuroscientists use to describe an infant faced with the ‘unsolvable paradox’ of having to remain alive when there is nobody to help it but rather caregivers who harm it) is how I survived – and how I SURVIVE now.
I am motivated to LEARN how to be STUBBORNLY DETERMINED!!
The most clear example of the fight I fought and have so far won regarding ‘to give up or not to give up’ happened five years ago right about now when I received the grim diagnosis of having advanced aggressive breast cancer.
I often say that for those people who have NOT experienced severe relationship trauma/abuse, it is most certainly that moment when a person receives a cancer diagnosis that the EXPERIENCE of trauma is made REAL for them – for anyone – for all of us – and it was real for me (even though I have known from the moment of my birth what trauma is).
THE DIFFERENCE for me?
At the moment I received this diagnosis I was faced with one of my deepest reality states: “I am now forced to make the decision to live when I DO NOT WANT TO BE ALIVE in the first place!”
This was a terror-able day.
I have three dear, dear adult children. I will not know in this lifetime if I decided to go through the treatments and surgery so that I am still here for myself – or for my children. I believe it was for the latter.
Going back to the start of ‘the story’ – oh, which reminds me of a thought I want to include here – so please consider this a sidebar for newer blog readers……
What ALL of us severe early neglect, abuse and relationship trauma survivors are after that reflects our deepest healing is this –
Insecure and unsafe early attachments to caregivers – ESPECIALLY when there is NOBODY else available to whom we can bond to or form a safe and secure attachment with – takes from us the ability to LIVE or to TELL what is called in adult attachment research – A COHERENT LIFE STORY.
As I describe below what I wish to say next, please keep this is mind. Learning about the reality of our entire life and being willing to dare to begin to make sense of OUR OWN PLACE in OUR OWN LIFE – creates healing at our core!
This is a task only we can do – and there is absolutely NO REASON not to do this work!!
Researchers know that the inability to tell a ‘coherent life story’ is the NUMBER ONE SYMPTOM of adult insecure attachment disorders – any and all of them!!
We can make ourselves competent to do the task of straightening out our trauma-infested life – and it is of paramount importance that we do so even when we can only take baby baby steps toward this goal.
Giving up. Back to this idea – and my stubborn determination!
I look back as far into my abusive infancy and childhood as I can safely see and I know that I NEVER let my abusive sick mother WIN.
She was psychotic. Much of her terrible abuse of me happened over things she perceived in her psychosis that DID NOT HAPPEN.
I never GAVE IN! I am not crazy. I have always known the truth. This was because inside of myself I NEVER bought mother’s twisted perceptions as real. I COULD NOT. It was not in me to do so.
I also NEVER cried – no matter how hard or how long or how often she beat me! NEVER cried. My siblings used to say to me, “If you cry when she hits you she will stop.”
Nope. Again, not in me.
Mother could NOT control my tears. She had control over what she did to my body as far as how she could hurt me – but my TEARS were my own – as were my perceptions of what happened and what did not happen as those things involved me.
Now, there’s more……
What is commonly known as the ‘stress response’ system is actually different than how it is described to us.
Our stress response system has two ends: One is as we conceive of it – the obvious fight/flight/freeze stuff. The OTHER and more important end is about CALM connection to self, others and the world around us.
As I have written many times on this blog, an infant who was healthy in the womb and is born to a healthy mother in a healthy (NOT TOXIC) environment is given what it needs to build at the exact center of its body-brain – in its nervous system, in its immune system, in every biochemical system it has – a center point that is where its balanced equilibrium lies (and where once stressed it can return to easily) – of PEACEFUL CALM.
Early abuse, neglect, trauma survivors who had no safe and secure attachments could not POSSIBLY build peaceful calm into the center of their being. This is what developmental neuroscientists refer to as our SET POINT.
Survivors end up being like blown up balloons that someone has let go of the end of – flying at high speed willy nilly through a life we do not comprehend and are not equipped to deal with.
We are also like helium balloons that someone has let go of. Up into the air we are sucked drifting helplessly according to what currents of air in the environment capture us.
When it comes to our stress-calm response system (as I have said before) – the purpose of safe and secure early attachment is to build for people a body whose powers throughout their lifetime allow that person to be – AUTONOMOUS!!
What a concept. This is NOT a reactionary state of being. This is a state of considered choice on all possible levels. This is a state where there is MAXIMUM ability to respond to an ever-changing world with competence and confidence – successfully.
This is a FLUID rather than rigid state of being. It is maximally adaptable.
Survivors have all kinds of successful ways to adapt to trauma. But those ways have built our body. They lie in the FAST response arena, the automatic response arena. They do not often lie in the arena of CHOICE on a conscious, self-aware level.
STARTLE response – something unusual, good or bad has happened that has changed our normal state of peaceful calm into alert/warning
We assess the ‘change’ – let’s say it is harmful/threatening
We can act from our informed competence and confidence with coping abilities that solve the problem so that we can immediately return to our peaceful calm center set point of balanced equilibrium
But we do NOT GIVE UP!
Next comes what is commonly called an ‘anger’ state – which I see as a high energy determined fighter/doer state. We search harder for a solution – and we try to apply it to solve the problem.
Then comes a surge of FEAR!!! We search HARDER – through every known possible response to solve this problem that we can possibly FIND!
STILL DOESN’T WORK?
Enter grief and sadness. NOT A BAD THING!
Actually, from my informed vantage point of being nearly 61 – I can CELEBRATE sadness. I have to in lots of ways because it is the perpetual bottom-line of my existence. THIS is where my set point was put from the time I was born.
OK, knowing that, understanding that – what are the beautiful bounties present in this state of GRIEF AND SADNESS?
Now, we DO determine what happens next here – no matter how we got into this state!!
We can CHOOSE what we are going to do because we can CHANGE what we understand and accept about ourselves and about this very natural stage on the stress-calm response circle of being alive.
THIS is the most important state of human existence! Why? How?
This is the state in which we are FINALLY willing to admit that all we know from solving problems in the past DOES NOT WORK with our current problem. WE NEED TO LEARN SOMETHING NEW!!
Our species would sure not be here if we lacked the capacity to learn something new when new problems appeared that we did not have the solutions to! We have to honor and CELEBRATE this stage/state.
So the not-too-short response to the comment I mention is that I am too STUBBORNLY DETERMINED TO LEARN something new to give up!!
Thinking about it, remaining perpetually sad at my core does not stop me from learning at least something new every moment of my life. I can chip away at making the sadness smaller – and even at times feel joy and relief in the process. (Alas, a temporary experience for many early trauma survivors – and often one that happens at the same time we are feeling some other ‘negative survival based feeling – but so what?)
Personally, I know this life is temporary. I know my soul can grow here as it should according to what I choose to ‘feed’ myself. I can always try to learn more, to be kinder to myself and to others, to ask God for assistance and forgiveness – etc.
Learning something new and good and better is the destiny of the human race. That some of us actually got to build a peaceful calm center set point where our balanced equilibrium can return us to once we solve a problem is marvelous.
That some of us were born into a life of nearly insurmountable PROBLEMS given to us by our early caregivers means that for us – we will ALWAYS be faced with unique challenges.
I would say – no matter how we FEEL at times – we are up to moving forward with our superhuman courage – with every breath we take!
We will not find solutions if we are not open to the search! Perhaps sadness is the humblest state humans know. In this state all new possibilities are open. It is our job to go after them.
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