How Did This Happen To Me!

Posted 2/22/2010 8:20 AM CST on livestrong.com Community

I am a survivor of childhood abuse. I fell into substance abuse (alcoholism) as an adult, made it into recovery and have been sober for nearly 4 years. I stared down death a couple of times during this dark period of my life. Today, I feel very fortunate that I am alive and standing on solid ground. I cannot put into words how grateful I am for the unwavering support of my family, friends and psychotherapists. I have been on a journey of recovery and self-discovery for the past four years and could not be any happier with my opportunity to live a more enriched life, going forward.

I estimate that I have put over 200 hours into reading, researching and studying science and medical papers on the subject that I would like to share in this post. I find it tragic that with all the recent discoveries in neuroscience and the associated links to addiction and substance abuse; the medical community and, peripherally, the addiction treatment community, have yet to gain any sort of deep understanding that would allow them to adapt and deploy treatment options.

There is an age-old debate whether alcoholism is a disease. I ponder the thought that any evidence of this claim has not been found conclusive. With all the research money and time spent by drug companies, employing molecular biologist to hunt for genetic markers tied to alcoholism, it seems likely that any evidence would have emerged by now. I have read that drug companies have invested in excess of a billion dollar hunting for any sign of genetic markers that show a link to alcoholism.

To me, it seems more likely that some sort of “psychological stress”, seemingly leading to a wide spectrum of mental illnesses, is more aligned on a path that is conducive for substance abuse and addiction. I have read that there is an undeniable association of childhood stress, or varying degrees of abandonment, that link those who predominantly fall victim to substance abuse and addiction. In my readings, abandonment defined is a trauma experienced in the developmental years of our youth. Examples noted were childhood abuse, broken homes, domestic violence, molestation, incest and so on.

There are many forms of childhood abandonment that I read about. Pertaining directly to me, I was physically and emotionally abused by my father. I grew up in a corporal punishment environment that many times, went beyond spanking or your garden variety head slapping or ear flicking. For as long as I can remember, tracing back through my youth, I always had my guard up. I lived in a hyper-vigilant state of always being on guard. After much work, that internal churning is now gone. Free at last, after 48 years!

I have read a great deal about the devastating impact that a constant state of arousal (hyper-vigilance) can deliver to a developing brain. I learned about the HPA-axis, also called the “negative feedback loop”. The HPA-axis defined, is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis that is part of the endocrine and autonomic systems within our body. In a nutshell, the HPA-axis gives us that “fight or flight” ability by producing the necessary amounts or more of adrenaline and cortisol hormones that will move us away from any real or perceived threat. There is evidence linking the constant state of arousal to mental illnesses that will never completely leave us. Here is an excerpt that I pulled from a study done on the neuroendocrinology of stress.

* Comprehending the mechanistic of the stress response and the increasingly serious sequelae of its deregulation is pivotal to recognize and combat any abnormalities in the stress system. To overcome pathologic hyperactivity of the stress response, it is essential to protect juveniles from trauma and abuse. The more secure the environment, the less likely an individual will experience a stress-related illness. A secondary measure is training stress-prone patients to improve their coping skills, minimizing their reactivity to future stress. In-depth understanding of the neuro-circuitry of stress has provided novel tools to manage hyperactivity of the stress system. Hundreds of original articles and many laboratories have repeatedly implicated corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) in enhancing the organism’s sensitivity to nocuous stimuli and in mobilizing almost the entire cascade of the stress response. By virtue of its broad interactions with the endocrine and autonomic systems, CRH virtually influences every cell in the body. Hyperactivity of CRH is a serious condition that is likely to underlie the pathophysiology of melancholic depression, anxiety, psychosexual disorders, diabetes mellitus, and functional gastrointestinal disorders.

Serotonin is important for adequate coping with stress. Aberrant serotonin function is implicated in the etiology of major depression and anxiety disorders. Dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis, involving raised corticotropin-releasing hormone activity, also plays a role in these stress-related illnesses.

I use to have a terrible problem with giving presentations to an audience or even just impromptu talks in front of a group. My problem and symptoms went well beyond the normal nervousness and presentation anxiety that are often present before speaking. The physical symptoms that I experienced were rapid heart beat, abnormal sweating, shortness of breadth and an overwhelming sense of confusion. My autonomic system went into overdrive. One day, after describing this scenario to a psychiatrist, he prescribed the drug Inderal to see if it made an impact toward combating my symptoms.

Inderal is a beta-blocker that temporarily shuts down the adrenaline response. The impact was profound. When I take a very small dosage (5mg) before public speaking, I no longer have any problem nor suffer any of the symptoms that I once did. My “pathologic hyperactivity of the stress response” (but of course) is under control today, thanks to the drug Inderal. I just wish I would have figured this out 20 years earlier in my sales career.

Furthermore, during a routine CT scan of my abdomen, for an unrelated matter, doctors discovered that I have an adrenal cortical adenoma (huh), (benign tumor..oh!) on my adrenal gland. I have read evidence that an adrenal adenoma can develop as a result of over stressing the HPA-axis due to the constant hyperactive and prolonged exposure to cortisol. I believe that the environment that I grew up in had something, if not everything, to do with this adenoma.

Referencing a paper prepared by The Office of Trauma Services, Maine Department of Behavioral and Developmental Service’s State House Station, gives further illustration to the harmful and lifelong impact of childhood abuse:

Childhood abuse can result in adult experience of shame, flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug use, feelings of humiliation and unworthiness, ugliness and profound terror. (Harris, 1997; Rieker&Carmen, 1986; Herman, 1992; Janoff-Bulman & Frieze, 1983; van der Kolk, 1987; Brown & Finkelhor, 1986; Rimsza, 1988)

Adults abused during childhood are more than twice as likely to have at least one lifetime psychiatric diagnosis almost three times as likely to have an affective disorder almost three times as likely to have an anxiety disorder almost 2 ½ times as likely to have phobias over ten times as likely to have a panic disorder almost four times as likely to have an antisocial personality disorder (Stein et al, 1988).

It appears conclusive that child abuse affects the neural pathways of a developing brain. The resulting effect appears to be damaging to the neuro-circuitry that can no longer efficiently carry the neurotransmitters that travel the connected network of the brain. In the neuro-circuitry, three mono-amine neurotransmitters cited as being affected were serotonin, dopamine and nor epinephrine….neurotransmitters that play a significant role in depression and anxiety.

On a personal level, I have worked with two doctors to come up with the right mix of therapy (Cognitive Beharioural Therapy – CBT) and medication. Currently, I go to therapy sessions with a Psychologist and I have a Psychiatrist that has worked with me to prescribe the right mix of medication. I take the antidepressant Pristiq, Deplin – which is a prescribed “medical food” that helps regulate all three mono-amines neurotransmitters, a GABA supplement, a highly concentrated form of Omega-3 supplement and a high-potency multivitamin supplement. All pills are directed at improving brain function as it relates to neurotransmitters. In addition, I exercise daily, manage my nutritional advice and make sure that I get plenty of sleep. It’s not easy. Working this regime has been a challenge. But, I am committed to it.

The results so far have been awesome. I have never felt better in my life and I have been depression free ever since going on the regiment that I described above. As I travel my sober journey, I look forward to living each day knowing that I am doing all the right things to support a healthy mental balance. I also take part in maintenance visits for psychotherapy, which I highly recommend adjunct to medical treatment.

* Neuroendocrinology of stress by Habib KE, Gold PW, Chrousos GP. Clinical Neuroendocrinology Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA. habib@codon.nih.gov
Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am 2001 Sep; 30(3):695-728

Something Personal to Me!

Posted 12/5/2010 9:22 AM CST on livestrong.com Community

I would like to share something that is deeply personal to me. It serves to illustrate what you can do when you work hard at getting the “yuck out”, and your life is given back to you.

I have a goal, or a “higher purpose”, as the folk’s in AA say. My higher purpose has been a guiding light to get sober, stay sober, and also serve as inspiration to reach outside of myself and give back in a small way.

Prior to falling off the rails and into alcoholism, I became involved with helping a child abuse prevention center get off the ground and running. Sadly, at a time when they needed me most, which is always the case in a non-profit, I resigned from my volunteer post. I did that because it was getting in the way of my drinking. We can all fill in the blanks in some way on that one!

Now here’s the good/fun stuff. I am getting back involved with my child abuse prevention interest and have found an even greater capacity to help, having walked through the trail of tears myself. That’s the good news!

The fun, is a video that I’d like to share with you that sums it all up. I made reference to this the other day. I am a big fan of Mary J. Blige. Not only because she is a great talent, but because of her own struggles with addiction and abuse that she has overcome. So, enjoy the music and lyrics if you care to take a look.

Go to http://www.vevo.com. Type in Mary J Blige at the Search and scroll down to the song “Each Tear”. There are multiple versions of the song but I am partial to the one that includes the Italian singer. So look for Each Tear (Italian version). May it inspire you today! I have no personal or promotional interest btw…other than fun and inspiration. Godere!

It’s a Progressive Illness

I was a weekend beer drinker. Until that is, a few beers suddenly became a became a six-pack at every instance. Then a six-pack became a 12 pack, which in turn became an excuse to get home later and then…when I chose.

Somewhere along the way I found Ketel One vodka. What a relief that was. No more beer for the burgeoning beer gut! In no time I was off and running with Ketel One. Yep, one martini became two martini’s, and two martini’s soon became tee martini’s and, on and on. Then I would hop in the car and drive home!

I remember the first time I drank a whole bottle of Ketel One. I proceeded to throw it up. Without missing a beat, I was struck with thought – “hey, I can drink again”. And so I did!! About that time I self-diagnosed myself as a “functional alcoholic”. That worked! My new label had a certain ring of self-control and dignity to it. Order was restored. Truth be told, my self-respect was beginning to wane. I was aware of it and by giving myself the “functional alcoholic” label, I seemingly could better cope with this awareness.

I know things were starting to look a bit out of control, but I still had a few basic rules that I was abiding by! For one, I never started drinking before 7:30am. But as soon as the family pulled out of the driveway for work and school (always at about 7:30) I was mixing a drink. Toward the end of my drinking, I would put away one bottle before noon, take about a two-hour break and then start in on another bottle. Of that bottle, I would leave about an inch so that I could have enough for an “eye opener” the following morning. After my “eye opener” I would wait around to about 9am and then hit the store for more booze.

My prodigious drinking had crossed that “invisible line” and I was completely unaware. I was physically and mentally addicted to alcohol. I had lost the power of choice. I was no longer in control. It didn’t matter how much feeling and belief that I put into my thousands of pledges to stop drinking, I would always break that pledge no matter what. Despite adverse consequences, which were occurring on a more frequent basis, I would always return to the bottle. I could no longer take it or leave it, for “it” had taken me!

Alcoholism is a slippery slope. It is a progressive illness. And it’s damn sneaky too!

About Me

“Experience has taught us that we have only one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental illness: the emotional discovery and emotional acceptance of the truth in the individual and unique history of our childhood.”

– Alice Miller (from her book The Drama of the Gifted Child)

For many years, I worked hard to build a charmed life. I had been living that life to the fullest until I took a precipitous fall into the abyss of alcoholism. Unwittingly, I claimed my family as hostages and took them right along with me.

I survived addiction and have been in recovery since February 9, 2007. Since that time, I have been working courageously, and sometimes not, to face the trauma/emotional pain that caused my addiction and ripples through my life today.

Writing My Story has been revealing and cathartic.  Glad that you stopped by!

 

Finding the Right Therapist

 I’m sure that you are aware that sobriety is a lot more than quitting alcohol or drugs.  Newly sober, it seems our human nature wants to make everything right as quickly as possible.  From my experience and from observing many others, I don’t believe that it is humanly possible to fast track recovery.  I tried to carry that out with all the strength I could muster and, in hindsight, I might have been better off by going down to the beach to try to stop a few waves from breaking.  This takes time!  And for me, it also took a village!

 And of course, as someone who is prone to addiction, it is completely foreign to seek help or to allow others to step in and row the oars for a bit.  But taking “contrary action” is critical.

 I have had good and bad experiences with therapy.  While chemically dependent, my experiences were mostly ineffective – go figure!  As I gained strength in sobriety, through time and effort, my experiences with therapy became more rewarding.

Here is what I learned.  Your therapist is critical.  I would focus less on one that has addiction counseling experience and focus more on finding one that has a good understanding of their own self.  Of course, if they have both, then you’re probably in good hands.  The best way that I know how to describe what I am referring to is to direct you to the website of Alice Miller, a wonderful psychologist and author.  The website address is www.alice-miller.com

I have found Alice Miller an incredible source.  Enter a search on her home page for “enlightened witness”.   That description would be my recommendation of how to find the right counselor.  Her book “The Drama of the Gifted Child” has changed my life.

 If you’re newly sober, my one caution would be that getting too deep into this material (with so much going on already in early sobriety) would be putting the cart WAY, WAY before the horse!    It has been my experience that tackling the subject that Alice Miller addresses is something that is better received when you have had some sobriety under your belt.  I was well into my third year of sobriety before I was able to fully absorb her material.  Before that, I was just too broken and too mentally weak. 

Strength in sobriety comes the old-fashioned way – by putting in the time.  And sometimes that’s just being sober and letting time heal you.

Our Nations Shame

What Can Happen to Abused Children When They Grow Up –           
 
If No One Notices, Listens or Helps?

  For purposes of this document, abuse and trauma are defined as: interpersonal violence in the form of sexual abuse, physical abuse, severe neglect, loss, and /or the witnessing of violence. 

Prepared by The Office of Trauma Services,Maine Department of Behavioral and Developmental Service’s State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333 Phone: 207 287-4250, TTY 207 287-2000, fax 207 287-757  January, 2001

 If no one notices, listens or helps, childhood abuse can lead in adult years to:

 SERIOUS MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS

The mental health system is filled with survivors of prolonged, repeated childhood trauma:

·50 to 70% of all women and a substantial number of men treated in psychiatric settings have histories of sexual or physical abuse, or both.  (Carmen et al, 1984; Bryer et al., 1987; Craine et al., 1988)

 ·As high as 81% of men and women in psychiatric hospitals with a variety of   major mental illness diagnoses have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse. 67% of these men and women were abused as children (Jacobson & Richardson, 1987)

 ·74% of Maine’s Augusta Mental Health Institute patients, interviewed as class  members, report histories of sexual and physical abuse. (Maine BDS, 1998)

 ·The majority of adults diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (81%) or  Dissociative Identity Disorder (90%) were sexually and/or physically abused as children.  (Herman et al, 1989; Ross et al, 1990)

 ·Women molested as children are four times more at risk for Major Depression as those with no such history. They are significantly more likely to develop bulimia and chronic PTSD. (Stein et al, 1988; Root & Fallon, 1988; Sloane, 1986; Craine, 1990)

 ·Childhood abuse can result in adult experience of shame, flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug use, feelings of humiliation and unworthiness, ugliness and profound terror. (Harris, 1997; Rieker&Carmen, 1986; Herman, 1992; Janoff-Bulman & Frieze, 1983; van der Kolk, 1987; Brown & Finkelhor, 1986; Rimsza, 1988)

 ·Adults abused during childhood are:- more than twice as likely to have at least one lifetime psychiatric diagnosis- almost three times as likely to have an affective disorder- almost three times as likely to have an anxiety disorder- almost 2 ½ times as likely to have phobias- over ten times as likely to have a panic disorder- almost four times as likely to have an antisocial personality disorder  (Stein et al, 1988)

 ·97% of mentally ill homeless women have experienced severe physical and/or sexual abuse. 87% experienced this abuse both as children and as adults.(Goodman, Johnson, Dutton & Harris. (1997) Continue reading “Our Nations Shame”

Goodbye Blue Sky

“Look mummy, there’s an airplane up in the sky”

Pink Floyd, The Wall

 Have you ever listened to the lyrics of this song and wondered what they meant.  The melody is so soothing but the lyrics are anything but that.  The confliction reminds me of my childhood in a lot of ways.

 For most of my adult life I suppressed all notion of having anything but a happy childhood.  When certain unpleasant childhood memories did breakthrough the phalanx of my suppression, I played my own little game of “trump that”.  I just reached into my memory bank of abuse stories that I had collected, all ranked as being worse than any abuse that I suffered and I sought solace in knowing that others suffered worse abuse.  Like the woman who told me that eleven broken bones as a child is her badge of courage.  Or the man who told me how he, as a child, endured blows from a ball-peen hammer when he failed to memorize math formulas that his father had given him as an exercise.  In my mind, those were all worse cases of abuse.

 Today, I know that no rating scale for abuse exists.  If your soul was pierced as a child, you most likely have a deep wound that, unless addressed at some point in your life, will never properly heal.  A soul sickness will remain.  That has been my experience. Continue reading “Goodbye Blue Sky”

Alcoholism’s Gift

I experience internal conflict when I state that quitting alcohol was the easy part.  There is nothing easy about putting down the bottle and getting sober.  It is the journey that awaits you that is also very difficult; in fact, I found it a lot more difficult.  I believe it is that way because we are now going forward in life sober and not numbed out to the world around us!  I wish someone would have given me a heads up about this because it was a rude awakening that I did not find inviting when I started to make this connection. Continue reading “Alcoholism’s Gift”

Three Years!

1,096 days, 42 minutes and 94694685 heart beats, so says the sobriety calculator.  I say that it’s good to be alive and celebrating 3 years of being alcohol free – today!

Graced!  That is how I feel today.  I don’t think of myself as being any sort of deeply religious person, but no better word describes how I feel.  I now realize that taking alcohol out of my body placed me at the starting line of life.  Not a new life, but one that has given me the opportunity to learn who I am.  It has given me the opportunity to put my “false self” behind me and to bring my true and authentic self to the forefront.  At three years into this journey, I am overwhelmed with elation and I look forward to every day in front of me.

Reflecting back three years, for a moment, I have found this journey to be the most difficult thing that I have ever met in my life.  At year one, I was “happy” for the most part.  I was on a ski trip with my daughter for that anniversary and I knew that our trip would not have been if I was still drinking.  What I didn’t realize at the first year mark was that I was still in an unconscious state!  The full impact of the guilt, shame and remorse for the lives that I had affected, while drinking, had yet to wash over me.

 On my second anniversary I was completely paralyzed with fear.  I was definitely conscious and I was hurting.  My critical thinking skills had returned to me and I was seriously questioning the ideology of AA.  I wanted to move in another direction but found myself conflicted with the AA slogan that “this (AA) is the last house on the block.  Only jail, institutions or death await you if you leave AA” brainwashing!  Above all else, I didn’t want to run my life into the ground again.

Full of fear, I struck out on this journey of “self discovery”.  With the help of a great counselor and the love and closeness of my family and friends, I made that journey out of darkness.  I learned to forgive myself (that was tough) and I have found a wonderful life that makes me want to stay sober each and everyday.  I also discovered that all that fear I felt in my second year – it was really courage!  So that was an added bonus.  I now know that courage does not mean that you are walking forward without fear.

If this post apply’s to you in any way, it my sincere wish that you will be able to find your place as a sober person and that you will be able to, or are already taking, an amazing journey of your own!

The Drama of the Gifted Child

All text is © Anita Roy 2004. All rights remain with the author.

Alice Miller’s book The Drama of the Gifted Child is such an affirmation of my belief that what we are modeled to as children – and what we model to our children – is the key to future happiness. When Alice Miller says “gifted” she doesn’t mean academically gifted, but rather the natural gift that we have as children to survive, to find a way to survive when we are confronted with pain, humiliation, anger and sorrow that we cannot express, because we are not safe in doing so. As children, we are neglected and abused in varying degrees, despite the best intentions of our parents. We have nowhere to escape to and so have no choice but to consider our situation a normal life. It becomes our reality as adults unless we become conscious of the process.

As children, we need our parents to survive physically, for food and shelter, and when they cause us pain and suffering, we cannot express ourselves honestly lest we lose those who can meet these most basic of needs. We grow to love our parents because we have not known any other reality, and the ties, the connections, are profound. We are bonded to them and the reality they present us, even if that reality is painful.

We survive by taking the happy times and suppressing feelings about the bad times. We focus on the good times and sometimes, glorify them. The bad feelings don’t go away however, they go underground, and later surface as compulsive behaviors and grandiosity. My father vacillated between delusions of grandeur and depressed alcoholism. These were the recurring themes in a man who was otherwise intelligent, generous and charismatic. He had not had an easy childhood. Being the oldest son of an East Indian family, he had alternately been doted on and pressured into inappropriate responsibilities.

We suffered as children because we were walking on eggs not knowing how he might be mood-wise at any given time. There was a tacit understanding that we had to keep up the illusion of being a successful family. My mother, the enabler, would be equally unpredictable. She was the steadfast backbone of the household, but sometimes, regularly, she would fall apart, emotionally, and lose herself in despair and grief. Loving though she was, she didn’t give the love we *needed*, but only the love she knew how to give, which was to be affectionate and to care for us. She did not see our pain, as no one had seen hers when she was a child. She was looking in all the wrong places for the love she never got from her parents. She was hoping for unconditional love from her husband, but he didn’t know how. The one place where she got close to that kind of love was her babies, but babies aren’t supposed to give their parents the love they never had. Babies have their own needs.

When I realized all this in my personal work I spent a lot of time being pretty angry at them. Furious actually. Both my parents were victims in their own right. It was an edifying time in my life when I realized that my parents were just people who happened to have made babies, and not perfect humans who understood everything. Nevertheless, I had been wounded and I needed to take care of myself.

Paraphrasing Miller, if we don’t become *mindful” of our pain and what happened, then we are condemned to repeat the pattern and make our kids suffer. This is not an easy path, it is fraught with pain and sorrow, but that is the only way to become conscious of which we are. It is “lonely work” and we have to deal with some pretty scary demons. Alternatively, we may look for parent figures in an authoritarian church, political party, domineering husband, Alcoholics Anonymous, or corporate career, so we can exchange personal power for protection just like when we were babies. That protection may be valuable, for a while, until we are stronger: a holding pattern to build courage. But in my experience, at some point, we can no longer stay away from seeking our true selves.

 Quoting Anais Nin:

“And the day came when the risk (it took),to remain tight in the bud was more painful, than the risk it took to blossom”.

All text is © Anita Roy 2004. All rights remain with the author.