Weathered by My High ACE Score

1.

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We are deep in one of the worst winters on record.

 

When the winds pummel my house and the ocean flows through my basement what am I thinking is, “I’m so glad I have flood insurance.” What I am feeling is help. I scaredI want my mommy. I want a daddy.

 

It’s hard to admit as a middle-aged woman (and feminist) how much the idea of rescue appeals. I have decades of experiential knowing that wishing is futile.

I know my craving for the present, stable and loving parents I never had is like wanting to snort, stab a needle, drink too much or inhale food. I know not to dive into the craving but I can't pretend desire is gone.

It comes and comes back. Always. Even when it goes away it returns. Usually when I’m tired, sick or afraid.

2.

I live in a small cottage near the ocean. It’s my sanctuary. I’ve lived here for 15 years, the longest I have ever lived anywhere. After my divorce, I learned to manage solo - emotionally, financially and even practically. The pilot light doesn't scare me. I have a snow thrower and even installed a motion detector light by my porch. I got a new roof, a dog and a cat and didn't consult a soul. I'm a grown up. 
 
Still, when my tween is an adult I want her to have a singular image of home. I want it to be a feeling of being safe and loved that comes with an actual street address. This one.

 

As a child, I moved often. My mother married three times. Houses changed. Schools changed. Even the men we called “Dad” changed.

Childhood was a train ride that moved at dizzying speed. I didn’t control the brakes or have my hand on the wheel.

I don’t want my daughter to feel she is running, on the run or in danger of being run over

 
She deserves stability. A garden. A hammock. Solid ground.
 
But then we flooded and I saw three feet around my entire house and heard it flowing through my basement. Now I hate my house.

3.

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I'm rattled by all the severe weather. The flood and snow drifts taller than me surrounding my home. Today, we got a blizzard warning for the coast where I am and who knows what's coming next.

 

My once sanctuary no longer feels safe or warm. 

When my home feels cold and unsafe I feel cold and unsafe. The warmth is escaping.

It’s not that I can’t see how beautiful the snow is or how powerful Mother Nature is. Those things I know. What I feel is threat and fear.

Looking out at the ice on the ocean I think, "If that comes over the sea wall and down the street, we're screwed."IMAG00026_BURST01

Dread during storms isn’t unique to survivors of childhood abuse or trauma. Everyone is worried about ice dams and more snow, getting to work or losing power. 

But last night while the wind howled I thought, "No one will rescue you. If it gets bad you will be on your own." I’m in survival mode. It’s automatic. My hyper vigilance is on high. It's more extreme in extreme weather.

This doesn't happen by choice.

4.

Now that I know about the long-term health impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACE), I wonder what the worry does to my body? Is it the corrosive toxins that hardens arteries, increases anxiety or wears away my immune system?

 

Is old pain like spilled oil which which came in with the flood water? No one knows the source so it can't be cleaned but the house and the wood hold the stink. It's not even my spill and I have to deal with clean up and call the DPW and Department of Environmental Protection. Oil is a taste I can't brush from my teeth and tongue even though the oil was washed away with the tide. I can get it cleaned, "But it might still smell when it's warm," one expert tells me.

 

What I notice is how sleep is more difficult. I crave carbs and feel grumpy, sad and empty.  It’s familiar, primal and bad. Not in a way that disrupts my day on the outside but in how I feel on the inside.

 

These thoughts rarely make it into sentences or conversations. I may seem distracted but otherwise no one would even know I've gone away and am back in the fight. The fight is internal and the battle is with my body.

 

Am I heart attack or stroke waiting to happen?

5.

I survived childhood by learning to ignore needs, wants, bodily sensations, pain and observations. How do I make my body home now and feel it as temple rather than the scene of the crime?

 

How, when afraid, do I keep my calm center? Sometimes I don't even realize I lost it.

 

“Did you see the girl going around offering coffee to shovelers?” my friend and neighbor Margaret asked, adding, “I sent her your way.”

 

IMAG00119 1Uh oh, I think, feeling bad, remembering the me who greeted that girl with doubt.

 

I love coffee. I was out shoveling. But when I saw a stranger carrying a box of Dunkin Donuts cups I thought, “What does she want? Is she making money off the storm? Bitch. She’s not tricking me into drinking some and then charging me $5. I’m no sucker.”

 

She was giving the coffee away. For free. Just because. To be nice.

Kindness. It was a gift I haven’t learned how to receive. 

Later, I will like the photos neighbors posted to celebrate this stranger's warmth. I could see it too, in pictures, but only later.

 

In the moment, when I was cold and shoveling, I failed to recognize her goodness and warmth. Is this why dangerous people will feel more familiar - because kindness, even when genuine, is received and felt as suspect?

 

6. 

I don’t get anxiety attacks, flashbacks or nightmares anymore (YAHOO). However, I still go into this place where I know the world is cold and harsh and cruel.

 

I am tempted to give the finger to all the snowflakes that fall and think this: “You seem all innocent and pretty but I know you are up to no good."

 

I know that’s crazy town but it feels like I'm in a battle with Mother Nature who has the upper hand. Mother Nature can crush me to death. In other words, I’m taking the brutal winter storms personally. This means I’m not just stressed - I’m post-traumatically stressed. I am feeling abandoned and unloved by the earth, the cosmos and Father Time too.IMAG00014

 

Ancient feelings are as deep as bone marrow and impossible to shake. Even though I'm an adult. 

 

The past is a place impossible to move away from. Fleas from the old rugs get in the clothes and are carried to the next place even though I have new sweaters and furniture.

7. 

I go from being in my sanctuary to thinking bad things always happen. I chide myself, You got soft, cheery - weak. You forgot no one will prevent or protect or respond to tragedy. Stay alert and aware and keep down and low. You forgot anyone can stab you in the back. Everyone will throw you under the bus if doing so will save their skin. You'll be gutted like a fish if you are in the path of someone hungry or depraved.

 

That is what a tiny part of me is thinking, like a song in the background.

 

And also, at the same time, on the way to school, I say to my daughter, "People are good and helpful and nice. We are so lucky" because neighbors help one another shovel, offer to share driveways out of the way of water. We bond and exchange phone numbers and flashlights.

 

Does my daughter hear my words or feel my undercurrent or both?

The sunshine in my heart gets cloudy and overcast. Visibility drops to nothing. The wind is beating open all the doors of doubt and dread.

This is what being triggered actually feels like and there’s no trigger warning that prevents this.

There's no detector that beeps out that you're stuck in survival mode and in a stiff defensive posture against life itself. I'm not ducking into bushes hearing firecrackers after war. I'm extra busy, turn to a loner inside and am ready for a fight.

 

Writing helps me catch myself.

Writing helps me right myself.

8.

I remind myself that though the world feels unsafe - it isn't - at least not always.

 

"You won't feel this way when you don't feel this way," I say, which is my post-traumatic mantra. It doesn't help too much except that I have the memory of having said it before, which means even then, when I didn't believe it, it was true, so now it must be true as well.

 

If the house gets cold I can turn up the heat, go to the gas fireplace I had installed for just such a storm. If disaster strikes I can call the fire department. If our home floods we can crawl to the roof with blankets, cell phones and prayers.

 

But we aren't actually in a disaster and so I can stop living in the what if catastrophe. This is what I have to remind myself of.

 

I soothe myself in my journal, make a list of who and what I love and what I actually know to be true and can do - if I'm actually unsafe not only feeling unsafe.


Safety takes its time seeping back into my bones, breath and self.

Optimism and hope are like words stored on a page, legible, but sometimes trapped. I don't know how to turn them into music I can hear, tap my foot to and that invites me to hum or dance. At least not at will. 

"You can say 'I am safe now. I am safe in this moment," my friend Kathy reminds me. 


Art by Margaret Bellafiore

“That’s a good idea,” I tell her, and she's right but that doesn't feel possible, at least at first. The most I can do it get to the Double mint gum and chew. Chew. Chew.” Affirmations and assurances won't get in until I can get still and quiet and feel firm. 

 

My wisdom and warmth disappear when I'm afraid.

 

I'm learning to let love and loved ones help blanket me til the chill is gone. 

 

This, for me, is what healing is all about. This is the work of breaking the cycle. 

 

The cycle isn’t a wishbone that can be dried out and cracked once on a holiday. It must be broken over and over and over, in choices and by deliberately challenging old and faulty thinking.

 

Compassionately. With patience.

 

9.

What would help me feel more safe or less unsafe? I write that in my journal and search for the answer.

 

I hear a soothing voice from guided imagery and ingest and swallow and let words wrap me up. Self-care is a second language I am attempting and it still conversational more than fluent. 

Cheri Huber said how you talk to others is who you are and how you talk to yourself is how you were parented.

It rings true.

 

I borrow the kind voice of others until I can change my own. Belleruth Naparstek. Pema Chodron. Cheri Huber and Rick Hanson are kept in storage as though they are like clothes in a closet I can pull out and put on.

 

I feel helpless. I am not helpless. I am reminded of the past. I am not in the past.body language 5

It takes a while for my body to feel, know and believe I am safe while scared and rattled. Not because I’m stupid or can’t get over the past but because childhood lasted almost two decades. That marinade got cooked into the meat of my muscles and can’t be rinsed off under cold water. I  was tenderized with shame and salted with pain. There’s no undo or going back to raw to try to cook up another version of the adult I would have become had things been different.

 

There’s scrappy leftovers and new seasonings though. And I can write the words out of my body and see what is happening.

It takes energy NOT to sink into fighting for life mode. It takes effort not to see the world through the eyes of trauma. 

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10.

The remnants of being unmothered and unfathered remain long after we forgive or outlive our actual mothers and fathers. It’s not that we long to return to the womb or the safety of childhood. It’s that we live in a world where we never knew child safety.

The impact of abuse and neglect is not in the pain that was done but in the joy that was not.

We still carry empty holes we must fill or step over.

I crave the blanket I never owned which would have warmed me against the cold.

At least now I know I deserved the softness of receiving.

 

It is the absence of good not the presence of bad that makes adverse childhood experiences so brutally complex to recover from.

 

I can and will get up and buy ice salt and make coffee and get my daughter to her Dad's where there's a back up generator and no ocean. I will watch the news, have candles and hope we don't lose power.

Inhabits can be strong and stuck in structures or childhoods that are compromised. Both can be true and are.

The wind is ripping at my siding and shingles and psyche. Old pains are caught in the stiff neck muscles tired from shoveling the snow and getting out from under the past. I’m tired. Worn. Fatigued.

Sometimes even in the middle of a wonderful life suck soup simmers on the back burner with a smell as strong as skunk.

I'm close to 50. EVERYONE is experiencing this brutal winter. It's not personal. I'm not being punished. Mother Nature doesn't hate me. I know this now.

11.

The desire to be loved, hugged, wrapped and held in loving arms, by someone who wants to see and care for me may never go away.

 

I know I'm not alone and that others feel this too. 

 

I have an army of friends and family members I'm close to as well. I have a loving boyfriend. My neighbors are wonderful. Creativity abounds. This is all true in the now, in the present where I live. It does not cure or reverse the impact of the past.

 

But it helps.

 

And I am lucky to own a home which is a sanctuary almost always. I am grateful to be aware and awake. Or will be. 

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But how the old losses blow through my wintery bones and home as news reports warn of 75 mph winds and moderate flood risks.

At 3 a.m. when I'm alone and scared, I will take a box of Apple Jacks to bed with me because the act of chewing soothes me enough to go back to sleep. My own powdery cheeks will greet me in the mirror. 

Eventually, I will thank the storms for showing me what in me still needs tending to, nurturing and blanketing. But first, the storm will have to pass. First, I will need to feel safe.

 

Til then, the truth is the best I can do. I admit how it actually feels and seems and is experienced by me while I'm afraid. I will write the stress right out of my body. I can't change the past or even all of the impact but I can use the power of non-fiction to write a better ending.


Real. Honest. Without shame. Doing so will actually help me feel buoyant and resilient. Writing the hardest truths will turn the words into lyrics which will then search for a song.

 

This was originally posted on www.healwritenow.com

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Dear Christine,

 

Thank you for posting this!  It is such a moving and powerful account of the impact of childhood trauma.  You write beautifully with words that go right to the heart and soul.  I am in awe and grateful to have been let into your world through  your words.  

 

Leslie

Hi Cissy

I'm going camping tomorrow for a week; if I get time I'll do more on this tonight - but I might not be on email or computer for a week after this. 

 

But I do want to do something on here about your comment  "I'm wondering if there's a sub group anywhere for those with high ACE scores looking to reverse the impact of those."  Jane Stevens has done a terrific job of creating in-person support groups in cities where ACEsConnection is already holding meetings/very active.  But I don't live anywhere near any of these cities, and many people on here don't either.  A lot of us tend to live in isolated places and we know why!

 

So some of us on here are discussing creating a "Buddy Bench" online support group on ACEsConnection, where people in pain "now" can log in, and see if someone is online who can just be their buddy.  That means, ONLY compassionate listening. The buddy is just another damaged person like me or you, not a shrink, and won't play God by giving advice, may not say much. The buddy will simply BE.   BE here and be "hear" for us, so we feel seen and heard.

 

To set this up, I need a list of 3-5 ACEsConnection members who are willing to be "co-organizers" of the Buddy Bench support group.  I can't lead it; no one's gonna lead it; none of us are shrinks.  But if we get a list of 3-5 volunteers to co-organize, we can set it up and see if it works for members.  It will be a "we're all in this together" group, no one playing shrink. We'll be humbly committed to the truth that we're just creatures; none of us are the Creator.

 

So let me know asap if you want to be a Buddy Bench co-organizer.

 

And anyone on here reading this -- Let me know as well!

 

As to direct contact, please see my private "dialogue" message to you which has my personal email address. Please email me and I'll send you my phone. I find it hard to communicate on these public pages and don't want to post my phone.

This piece walked right straight into my heart. I've never heard the bleakness so powerfully described.  As a child who moved from place to place in the military, always the new kid, always off balance, I understand exactly that change of home trauma. And sometimes even long term married parents add to the wintery landscape. The picture of holes, chunks ripped out of the body, is exactly right. In adulthood many of us find a true love who fits like a puzzle piece. In fact, the rocks in their head exactly fit the holes in ours.  

Dear Robert:
Thank you for the information and resources. Clean Harbors did come in and have a look and a normal clean up (for me) is fine since the oil isn't leaking at my house and the ocean carried it out. We do have to find out the source of it though and that's still not done (though the Dept. of Environmental Protection and local DPW) is aware. The flood was fairly minimal (as floods go) and at least I have insurance. It was more the metaphor of it all, how deeply rattled me and made me and how primal the worry about the next one and the next one. My feeling of security and safety shifted in a way I needed to put into words to regain my perspective and understand what the heck was happening. I really am o.k. and have lots of people to lean in and on and who share support and info. 
Warmly,
Cissy

 

Originally Posted by Kathy Brous:

Dear Kathy,

I would love to talk some time. I've seen your site before as well and it's a wonderful resource. 

 

Tina Marie,

Maybe nothing at all is wrong with you but you are doing your job and can't feel it all all of the time. I also don't feel this all of the time and not every storm (flood or snow related or otherwise) throws me into the past. For me, it happens when my reserves are low, when I'm taxed and stressed in many different types of way and especially when fear gets involved. For me, it's an undercurrent as well. It's not like I'm going through my day saying, "This is so hard and calls up feeling abandoned as a baby," it's just that on some level, at a certain point, it feels bad in a deep and familiar way and I realize I'm not reacting only to what's happening in the now but carrying all this other stuff with me. My own defenses, reactions, patterns, etc. and they don't always serve me but sometimes I slip into them and if I didn't write or do yoga or quiet myself, I'm honestly not even sure I'd notice. It's not like a blaring loud speaker - it's way more subtle. But I wonder now that I know more about ACEs how my body is reacting internally. 

I'm still listening to radio shows, getting work done, in the carpool line and even enjoying Downton Abby or some cooking show. But there are also parts of me that fret in a frenzied wind is whipping at the core kind of way. 

And I will share that piece about what survivors needs each other. Thanks for the suggestion!

Cissy

 

I think one of the other blog posts, which addresses Mental health Worker "Burnout", "Compassion Fatigue", etc., may be relevant to the preceding post. I worry when my ACEs Compatriots and allies find themselves doubting themselves, seeming to be feeling "Numb", etc., and I remember having similar lack of feeling, before I trained in CISD (Critical Incident Stress Debriefing), and later learned CISD has its limitations, and a British study found its efficacy suspect with Automobile Accident survivors (I believed published in the Lancet). Trauma-Informed Intentional Peer Support seems to work better, at least for me, and from what I've heard concerning its efficacy. The On-Site Academy, which has a 5 day Crisis/Respite program-with EMDR clinicians, not only for "First Responders", but now for Human Services Personnel, also-- from anywhere in the world, also has "Trauma-Informed Intentional Police Peer Support" (from Boston and Cambridge, Mass. P.D.'s)...

Gosh, 

 

I am wondering if there is something wrong with me. I loved the blog and the story, but I don't really feel much emotion about childhood trauma anymore. It is as if I have been in the pediatric ICU too long. You start to get hard and cold.......or more realistically logical and strategic.....

 

Gosh darn it, Am I sick?

 

I consider Childhood Trauma to be a disease to educate others about so it CAN STOP NOW....

 

actually 

 

I just want the word out......

I want it to stop......

 

I think I have pediatric ICU trauma  metaphorically (i.e. seen too much for too long that it doesn't evoke an emotional response in me anymore).    It is more of a process....

 

Trauma causes this.....  lots of bad stuff in society and to people

 

Trauma is best prevented...... by all of us so the bad stuff ends

 

Hum.... I am feeling like a non person now..... because a real person has feelings and cries......

 

Wow maybe I am not a person anymore....

 

Great story though..... You should post the story why survivors need each other...

 

oops I never like saying "you should".  I just really liked that story too...

 

 

 

Dear Cissy,

I'm still sobbing reading your blog "Weathered by My High ACE Score."  And I'm from New York.

 "Real. Honest. Without shame. Doing so will actually help me feel buoyant and resilient.
Writing the hardest truths will turn the words into lyrics which will then search for a song."

 YOU SAID IT>  You blew me away with this.  I feel this way all the time.

 You're doing the same thing I'm trying to do. Please see my blog at  http://attachmentdisorderhealing.com/book/

Wan to talk by phone some time?  

Kathy

Christine Cissy White, I hope you're doing okay, other than your basement flooding, and fuel oil undoubtedly floating on it. Your local "Emergency Responders" (Police/Fire/EMT's) along the South Shore, may already be familiar with "CISD" (Critical Incident Stress Debriefing-a form of "Trauma-Informed Self Care" for Emergency Responders, as well as other types of "Trauma-Informed" care. Boston & Cambridge Police have their own "Trauma-Informed Intentional [Police] Peer Support", and other south shore emergency responders may also. "Clean Harbors" is a New Eng. regional Hazardous Materials clean-up company, that emergency responders may have already notified-especially if your basement is not the only one with a fuel spill...I hope my sharing this information will help mitigate any "feelings of helplessness", and leave you empowered to make what you feel are appropriate choices, and plans of actions (if the outside temperature doesn't leave you in "Freeze Mode" [It's quite cold in New England at this time!]).

While reading this, and thinking about some of my "Mass Casualty" training and work, of years back, I picked up my copy of Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security's FAMILY EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS WORKBOOK", turned to the Page on "Disaster Preparedness for Vulnerable Populations", and looked at the paragraph entitled: "What about my Special Medical Needs? Before a disaster, identify and contact your ["] support team["]. These are people who agree to check in on you, and help you during an emergency. These people could include your home aide, a neighbor you know well, a good friend, or a family member who lives with or near you. It is important to have at least two people on your 'team' in case one is not reachable. Talk to these people about your emergency plans and needs. You should also make an emergency contact list. This list should include your support team, family members, doctor, pharmacy, and local emergency responders."

A number of my "Trauma-Informed Intentional Peer Support Peers", drove to the armory in Manhattan/New York City on 9/11/2001, as part of "Project Liberty".

While I worked recording and transcribing minutes for an assortment of City committees (for our City Clerk's office), I had occasion to attend and record our Local Emergency Planning Committee, a number of times. They even had plans for moving Dairy herds along the Connecticut River (Vt./N.H. border) valley to high ground in the event of flooding, and milking them "on schedule". (I'll address more of this reply in a continuation later). 

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