Tag Archives: #Trauma

The Elephant in Your Brain

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Don’t think of an elephant! You’re thinking of an elephant, right? And no matter how hard you try not to think of an elephant, that elephant is still there, isn’t it? What if Bob Newhart shouted, “Stop thinking of an elephant or I’ll bury you alive with an elephant!” Didn’t work, did it?

What would I rather not think about? It’s a long list. But I’ll go with the most recent: I finally was going to see Morrissey in concert, and well, golly but he cancelled. I knew there was a chance he would, so I suppressed my anxiety and excitement. When he cancelled, I felt this rush of rage, and almost relief. I’m not in the depths of despair over all this. But I am a bit sad. That concert had been the elephant I was trying not to think of.

We all have those elephants we don’t want to think of. That big party to host. That phone call. Bills. That elephant grows in your mind until you pay attention to it. When we stop struggling to not think of it and give in, pay attention to it, and do what we need to, the elephant disappears.

Carl Jung, a pioneer of psychology and psychiatry, thought that we all had a conscious self and a shadow self that was the opposite of our conscious self. He encouraged his patients to find that shadow that drove them to unhealthy thoughts and behaviors, and let it out to play a little, so to speak. He used art, exercise, hallucinogens, dance etc to help his patients explore what their shadow was trying to tell them. So in a safe, relaxing, and supervised setting they paid attention to that elephant they didn’t want to think of, before it took over their lives. Enough of his patients successfully recovered through these methods that we still use them.

Sometimes the elephants were are trying not to think of are like the shadow selves of Jung’s patients. They can be terrifying, deeply sad, lonely, or enraging thoughts. But when we try to push them away, they only grow until you can barely not think of them. They are taking over.

What if you just made a little space for your elephant, shadow, thoughts and feelings? If you could calm yourself down, relax, and begin to feel safe around your elephant, what do you think could happen? Bad feelings are reminders to us to pay attention, just like good feelings are then our rewards.

The past, the future are the same in that they do not exist. The thoughts we have about them are like air. They cannot hurt us. Our brains are spitting up these thoughts because it really wants us to pay attention to them. Not by resisting, but by feeling calm and safe in the present enough to allow them to just be, do we win. The way to stop thinking about the elephant is by letting ourselves think of the elephant for a moment.

So, going back to my disappointment about the concert, my stressball of sadness had to be reckoned with. Little ticked. Mellow has been harshed. But I am not going to stop listening to my favorite singer/songwriter or his band. It’s some of my favorite music. So I put on my Smiths/Morrissey playlist, and did some Molly Ringwald dancing. I felt sad with the sad songs.Β  And was grateful someone sang these dramatic lyrics about everyday troubles with that swooning voice. I was happy. The elephant was gone.

That’s obviously a minor example. But if we truly learn to calm down, feel safe and in the present enough that we can make a little room for our big elephants. Then we can heal. Then we can entertain them for a moment, but then show them the door.

NamastΓ© you legends.

-JL βœŒπŸΌβ€οΈπŸ§‘πŸ’›πŸ’šπŸ’™πŸ’œπŸ–€πŸ€πŸ€ŽπŸ––πŸΌπŸŒ»

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Total Recall. Body Scans, Memories, and the Real You

Not that kind of body scan!

1990’s Total Recall, dir Paul Verhoeven is a mind-bending action film by one of the 80s-90s best action directors. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a man in the future who works a boring job. He visits a business called Rekall that implants memories of vacations within your mind. Something seems to go wrong in the process, and suddenly Schwarzenegger’s character finds himself living the life of a spy, and on an adventure that has him questioning his own life, and wondering what is real.

I have been going through an admittedly less awesome version of Ahnold’s journey. But I’ve finally figured out some important things about myself. Some I have never connected, but still form the basis of this piece here. Of me.

I have always said I felt like my trauma begins around three or four years old. But I never considered asking why. Why not? I dunno. Traumatic memories are often repressed as a defense. But the only way to heal is to find those memories, see them with compassion, and reintegrate them into your story.

And so I was filling out the childhood section of a life story journal, and the question was what where I lived as a child was like. So, I described what I remembered of this old Swedish built house in South Jersey. The dock on the creek, the black goat that stood on the picnic table and scared me. The endless rows of tall green-leafed tomatoes in our garden. Watching my brother walk the long lane to the school bus from what I guess was standing in my crib, and waiting for him to come back. And then a new thing I had to be very careful with, love and take care of, a sister.

And then I paused because 3 or 4 is when we left that house. I was in a car with my sister. My brother wasn’t coming. Neither was Dad. My parents patched it up after a brief separation, but I guess that was enough to shake the security of a child aware enough that her family was breaking up. That she didn’t understand. She knew that her sister looked helpless and dazed. That Mom cried a lot. That Dad was still there sometimes. That brother was gone. That she wanted everyone to be happy.

I feel ya Maxell tape guy!

That realization blew my hair back. I think I stumbled a bit walking from my porch into the house after writing that. Remembering that. And realizing how much a part of myself still existed exactly in that moment of fear, confusion, and guilt. I felt I ought to do something. That it was my fault somehow. Whatever kids think when parents and families split. And for once, I felt compassion for that little girl. Her and her big smile and bigger cheeks. Piggy tails.

I had a really sour stomach and was depressed for about a week recently. It was in my stomach, and just below. It was where I was holding my pain. I kept thinking something terrible would happen. It already had.

My social media, including this blog, was recently scoured as leverage over Stan. The parties even wanted to tell me or have Stan tell me to take down a post. Well, Stan being wise and self-protective, convinced the individuals concerned that was a poor idea. It felt like being trapped by my evil tickle-uncle who called me “wop,” “greaseball,” “dago,” you get the idea. One day I learned the word “NAZI.” But it was a violation.

And then there was Friday. Was that only just last Friday? The day I realized I had less rights than before. That I was not considered equal under the Constitution. Well, if you’re speaking of the original, we don’t get a mention. Enslaved black males get 3/5ths. But, didn’t Jefferson say something about how one shouldn’t wear his childhood clothes as a man, and so we cannot predict what future needs may arise for the law to address? Anyway, all I know is it hurt.

All those realizations sort of gathered in my stomach, until a body scan meditation found them. Then I was able to drag them out, name them, feel them. But bye-bye!

Leave me alone, I’m only writing.

It was powerlessness. Feeling like I didn’t matter. Worse, my voice didn’t matter. And what is an artist without their instruments? One unhappy tummied artist, I can say that!

But accepting that these things are just kind of there is fine. The memories have less power. The feelings become unknotted. *Mumble mumble* year old me can handle and understand far more than 3 or 4 year old me could. And those feeling don’t need to control me. I have my power. I have my own sense of meaning. I am moving closer to a more authentic me by letting all the monsters out, one by one. It won’t all be so simple. But at least I know this is real life. Right? This is it, huh? For realz? I dunno but here’s OK. The real is OK. I am OK.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’™πŸ’›πŸ––πŸΌπŸŒˆ

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The Gift of Fear. How Do You Defeat the Ghosts of Evil?

Officer Edwards testifies to the January 6th Committee.

As I watched the January 6th Committee, the ghosts of that day and the year that followed flashed through my mind. The assault that began that day continues to this, replaying itself in my dreams, my waking moments, across the country, and just next door.

I remember watching the towers fall on 9/11. The shock. The fear. The worry for friends. But that day was an assault from beyond the US. Watching the events of January 6th, 2021 unfold in real time was far more terrifying. The barbarians were within the gates, and they were fellow Americans.

What struck me most during Thursday night’s January 6th committee opening statements was Officer Edwards’ testimony. I immediately identified with her because she looks like me. Not physically. I mean her eyes stare like mine. Most people don’t realize that traumatized women do not blubber and weep. Weeping makes you look weak. Crying brings disdain. Instead, we have the hollow look of the veteran with the thousand yard stare.

Watching that woman testify to what she lived through and witnessed on that day — a day she had never trained for or anticipated — a day she should never have been forced to endure sparked flashbacks of my days of fear. Of what I have endured, before January 6th, 2021, and since.

Before my senior year of college, my father died after a long battle with cancer. My world shattered. I wanted to crawl into the grave after him. Living seemed impossible, and death was easy. I chased death for a long time before I had the courage to turn and face life. It came naturally for me to write that journal of an ambivalent Union Soldier. Like Officer Edwards, life had become a war zone.

I had begun trauma therapy by January of 2021. And it was still new and scary. But it was something I needed to do. I also began reading Gavin de Becker’s seminal book The Gift of Fear. De Becker taught me what I wish I had known long before my father’s death, the red flags of violence and abuse. How “sweetness” how gotten women killed and raped, and how listening to their fears and bravery had saved them.

Now, after a year of harassment and being swindled, led on, and used as a punching bag yet again by evil human beings. After abuse reached into my home where I finally had felt safe, after living in a war zone my entire marriage and after. I had developed that stare. I could sense a threat over miles, yards, feet, inches. And I could stare it down.

Yet inside, the pain and brokenness had not disappeared. The anger was still there. It is still here. I want my abusers punished as I want the rioters of January 6th who killed police officers they profess to embrace, and gave Officer Edwards her stare.

There is a reckoning coming. Inside me and without. I don’t know what the result will be. But like so many young people who never should have faced a war zone, I have embraced the warrior I was made to be. And I am reminded of the line in Full Metal Jacket, when Joker asks a helicopter door gunner how he kills women and children. “Easy. You just don’t lead them so much.”

And that is how much pity I have for those who harmed me, who harmed Officer Edwards, who harmed and still mean harm to the innocents of this country, and its fragile democracy. I don’t know if my ex-husband is alive or dead. I don’t care. His death would be a blessing for other women. But I will search down and face the demons that have harmed myself and others, and who do or seek to do harm.

How do you defeat racists, ignorant and evil human beings? Brutes and barbarians without Covid vaccines, type II diabetes, and two brain cells two rub together? Easy. You just don’t feel for them so much.

Save your love for you and yours, for the innocents, for those who never should have experienced the horrors of life. Love your values, hold them tight. Do not become the evil you despise, but fight it with the fear and skills of the warrior you have become.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’šπŸ––πŸΌπŸ”₯

PS- I have Covid at the moment. I’m fine. All vaxxed up. Stan is negative still.

Check out my Instagram!! And connect with me on Facebook here and here.

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