love poem to the monsters under my bed

I am trying to wrap my mind around an aspect of Adverse Childhood Experience Scores. Ace scores.

Raised in war or chaos or an addiction household or a crazy household, kids do their best to survive and thrive. I acknowledge that first. “You survived your terrible and terrifying childhood. You are amazing. You have crisis wiring in your brain. You had to wire that way in order to survive.”

And what does that mean? High alert, high adrenaline, high cortisol, reactive. One veteran says that the military loved him being able to go from zero to 60 instantly.

“Yes, and how is that serving you now?” I ask. “Do you want to change it?”

“No.” he says.

“Why not?” I say.

“Because I know I can protect myself.”

He can protect himself, as I can too. But being on the alert for a crisis, being good in a crisis, being able to fire up like a volcano, is that what I want and is that what he wants? If not, how do we change it?

I think of it as being able to see monsters. Other people’s monsters. My crisis childhood wiring is to pay attention to the non-verbal communication: what people do not what people say. The body language, the tone of voice, what the person is not saying in words, when someone is being polite but the body language is a shut down, a rejection, a dismissal, posturing, aggressive, they don’t like me no matter what the words are, belittling. But if I or my high ACE score patients respond to the body language and emotional feeling, we have named the monster. And the person is being “polite” and will not admit to the monstrous feelings. Those feelings are unconscious or at least the person does not want to admit if they are at all conscious.

In clinic I have learned to dance with the monstrous feelings. I don’t always succeed, but I keep leveling up. It’s a matter of delicacy, inviting the person to admit the monstrous. Some do, some don’t, some don’t the first time or second or third, but the fourth time the monsters are brought out. And they aren’t monstrous feelings after all. They are normal. All I do then is listen and say that the feeling sounds normal for what is happening. It’s like letting off a steam valve.

So how do I and my high ACE score folks learn to do this in social settings as well? When someone is talking to me with a monstrous feeling, meanly, I challenge it. Because I am not afraid of that monstrous feeling. But I have then broken a social contract and the person will like me even less then they already did. And maybe that monstrous feeling is not really about me at all. It’s about their own current life events and the feelings that they try not to feel, are ashamed of, are afraid of. It’s not polite of me to challenge that feeling in a social setting, I am not this person’s doctor or therapist and they didn’t ask me. It’s hard because I feel so sorry for the monstrous feeling and for the person feeling it. I am moving to compassion and love for that feeling rather than taking it as directed at me, taking it personally.

That is my intention. We will see how well it goes.

A natuopath told me to have the intention to release old grief. It’s not old grief though. It’s ongoing grief. Grief for all of the monstrous feelings that swirl around daily and the monsters that are not loved. Most people try to ignore them. I don’t. I love them, because someone has to and because they are so lonely and sad. They are crying. Don’t you hear them? That’s what love is, when you can love your own monstrous feelings and other people’s too.

And our own are the hardest.

ACE study: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/acestudy/index.html

I took the photograph in the Ape Caves, the lava tube at Mount St. Helen’s.

fall

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: fall.

Trigger warning: speaking up 2, to follow speaking up.

So: why do the WOMEN have to speak up?

Why don’t MEN speak up? Ok, gentlemen: every man who participated in a “train” or a gang rape or who had sex with a woman who they now are not sure consented or who has made more money than a woman in the office and knows it or who has sexually abused a child: how about YOU speak up. FALL ON YOUR KNEES AND SPEAK UP.

Confess. Pay reparation. We know you are out there. Are you waiting for ALL of the women to speak up? How about you step forward, bust yourself, bust the other men? When are you going to be MEN? When are you going to take responsibility?

Why do WOMEN have to speak up? Let’s see the MEN speak.

Our tears have been falling for years. It’s time for men to speak, to bust each other, to break the silence, to confess: speak up.

Speaking up

For yesterday’s Ragtag Daily Prompt: justice.

I keep hearing “Why didn’t she speak up sooner?”

I spoke up. I was 7. The abuser was a neighbor. Nothing was done. I thought it was my fault, that I was not a virgin, and that at age 7 I was pregnant. I did not understand puberty. I spoke up to my mother, who dismissed it.

So I did the only thing I could: I tried to protect myself and my four year old sister. I told her never ever to go near that neighbor. And I never went near him again.

I was taken for a well child check a month or two later. I didn’t say anything but I thought that surely the doctor would have noticed if I was pregnant, so I must not be.

I grieved on the school bus, thinking that I was the only girl who was not a virgin. I was wrong about the not a virgin, but I also was probably wrong about being the only girl.

I didn’t even realize that hello, I was seven, it was not my fault, I didn’t even understand what was happening. I didn’t understand until I was in college and heard a radio program about how women who are raped feel guilty. Here is a poem about that realization: The bacon burning.

So do you think I spoke up after that? Why would I? No one helped me and I was silenced. I learned this lesson: no one will help and I am on my own. I did speak up in medical school: Make a difference.

Where is justice? And do you really want us ALL to speak up now? About ALL of it?

When I was in my early teens, a friend of my parents french kissed me. He said, “I wanted to be your first french kiss.” Hello, I avoided him after that and did I want a french kiss from an old friend of my parents? He had a PhD but no boundaries, no emotional intelligence and poor ethics.

Shall I go on? In college I worked in two labs: both fruit fly labs. In one the graduate student was professional, courteous and quickly gave me a raise. In the other, I never saw the professor again and I was ignored. I went to resign from the second. The PhD professor said, “What do you plan to do after college?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Do you plan to get married and become some man’s cow?”

Oh, really? Do you Mr. PhD professor refer to all married women as men’s cows? Would you have the same conversation with a male student? I quit. I don’t like you or your lab and that sort of comment reinforces my dislike.

In medical school we had two female physicians on the faculty. One was married but no children. Residents joked about her, that she had the balls in the family, because they were both physicians. The other was not married, an OB-gyn. We asked her to speak to our Women in Medicine group about children and career.

“If you want to be taken seriously as a physician, you should not have children.” she said.

I asked, “What if we have a house husband?”

“No man’s ego could stand up to that,” she replied.

I have children and a career.

I had worked in a clinic for a year and another provider talked to me. “Do you know that they are paying the other physician (male) twice what they are paying you?”

Oh, really? I set up a meeting with the administration.

“Oh, the male physician is the clinic director, that’s why we pay him more.”

This was a lie. I had been in the clinic for a year and there had never been one word that he was clinic director. The next year they standardized paying us by RVUs: his salary went down and mine went up. And so justice was done, right? No, the male physicians are given jobs such as head of hospice or medical director and extra money. Do they work harder? The jobs are not offered to the women physicians.

A male physician at the hospital was made chief of staff. He asks me in the hall, “Do women physicians just quit because they want to stay at home with children?”

“Do you want a serious answer?” I said. He looked surprised. We went to an office and I discussed that almost all the hospital staff were women at that time and that they have a different relationship with female physicians than male physicians. Most of the administrators were male, white males.

So really, do you want all the women in the US to speak up? Maybe we all should. The above is not anywhere near an exhaustive list, it is a start. This is just from thinking about it for two days. I can fill pages…..

 

 

 

 

Make a difference

In medical school I made a difference.

I was with two women and two men from class. We’d had a lecture on rape that day. One of the guys piped up, “If I were a woman and I was raped, I’d never tell anyone.”

“Man, I don’t feel that way.” I said, “I would have the legal evidence done, have the police on his ass so fast his head would spin and I would nail his hide to the wall.”

He looked at me in surprise. “Um, wow. Why?”

I took a deep breath and decided to answer. “You are assuming that you would be ashamed and that as a woman, it is somehow your fault if you were raped. I was abused by a neighbor at age 7. At age 7 I thought it was my fault. I thought I might be pregnant, because I was a bit clueless about puberty. I made it stop and tried to keep my sister away from the guy. When I went to the pediatrician the next time with my mother, I decided that since he didn’t say I was pregnant, I probably wasn’t. When I started school that year, second grade, I thought sadly that I was probably the only girl on the bus who wasn’t a virgin.

In college, I heard a radio show about rape victims, how they blame themselves, often think they did something to cause it, are often treated badly by the police or the emergency room, and feel guilty. All of the feelings that I had at age 7. I realized that I was 7, for Christ’s sake, I wasn’t an adult. It was NOT my fault.

If I walk down the street naked, I’m ok with being arrested for indecency, but rape is violence against me and no one has that right no matter WHAT is happening.

And child sexual abuse is one in four women.”

The two guys looked at the three of us. After a long pause, one of the other women shook her head no, and the other nodded yes.

The guy shook his head. “I never believed it. I didn’t think women could be okay after that.”

“Oh, we can survive and we can heal and thrive.”

We had the lecture on child sexual abuse a few months later. My fellow student talked to me later. “I thought about you and — during the lecture. I thought about it completely differently than before you talked about it. I would deal with a patient in a completely different way than I would have before. Thank you.”

 

previously posted on everything2.com in 2009

for the Daily Prompt: release

sing for the girls

Sing for the girls who grow up in war zones.
Sing for the girls who grow up scared.
Sing for the girls who grow up abused.
Sing for the girls unprepared.

Sing for the girls who grow up with alcohol.
Sing for the girls who grow in broken homes.
Sing for the girls who don’t tell anyone.
Sing for the girls alone.

Sing for the girls who grow up beaten.
Sing for the girls who grow up raped.
Sing for the girls who care for siblings.
Sing for the girls who learn to hate.

Sing for the women who now look frozen.
Sing for the women who now look old.
Sing for the women who survived it anyway.
Sing for the women who told.

Sing for the girls who grow up broken.
Sing for the girls who break everything.
Sing for the girls who break the silence.
We are broken and breaking: sing.

I took the photograph at the US Synchronized Swimming Nationals in 2012.

Why care for addicts?

Why care for addicts?

Children. If we do addiction medicine and help and treat addicts, we are helping children and their parents and our elderly patients’ children. We are helping families, and that is why I chose Family Practice as my specialty.

Stop thinking of addiction as the evil person who chooses to buy drugs instead of paying their bills. Instead, think of it as a disease where the drug takes over. Essentially, we have trouble with addicts because they lie about using drugs. But I think of it as the drug takes over: when the addict is out of control, the drug has control. The drug is not just lying to the doctor, the spouse, the parents, the family, the police: the drug is lying to the patient too.

The drug says: just a little. You feel so sick. You will feel so much better. Just a tiny bit and you can stop then. No one will know. You are smart. You can do it. You have control. You can just use a tiny bit, just today and then you can stop. They say they are helping you, but they aren’t. Look how horrible you feel! And you need to get the shopping done and you can’t because you are so sick…. just a little. I won’t hurt you. I am your best friend.

I think of drug and alcohol addiction as a loss of boundaries and a loss of control. I treat opiate overuse patients and I explain: you are here to be treated because you have lost your boundaries with this drug. Therefore it is my job to help you rebuild those boundaries. We both know that if the drug takes control, it will lie. So I have to do urine drug tests and hold you to your appointments and refuse to alter MY boundaries to help keep you safe. If the drug is taking over, I will have you come for more frequent visits. You have to keep your part of the contract: going to AA, to NA, to your treatment group, giving urine specimens. These things rebuild your internal boundaries. Meanwhile you and I and drug treatment are the external boundaries. If that fails, I will offer to help you go to inpatient treatment. Some people refuse and go back to the drug. I feel sad but I hope that they will have another chance. Some people die from the drug and are lost.

Addiction is a family illness. The loved one is controlled by the drug and lies. The family WANTS to believe their loved one and often the family “enables” by helping the loved one cover up the illness. Telling the boss that the loved one is sick, procuring them alcohol or giving them their pills, telling the children and the grandparents that everything is ok. Everything is NOT ok and the children are frightened. One parent behaves horribly when they are high or drunk and the other parent is anxious, distracted, stressed and denies the problem. Or BOTH are using and imagine if you are a child in that. Terror and confusion.

Children from addiction homes are more likely to be addicts themselves or marry addicts. They have grown up in confusing lonely dysfunction and exactly how are they supposed to learn to act “normally” or to heal themselves? The parents may have covered well enough that the community tells them how wonderful their father was or how charming their mother was at the funeral. What does the adult child say to that, if they have memories of terror and horror? The children learn to numb the feelings in order to survive the household and they learn to keep their mouths shut: it’s safer. It is very hard to unlearn as an adult.

I have people with opiate overuse syndrome who come to see me with their children. I have drawings by children that have a doctor and a nurse and the words “heroes” underneath and “thank you”. I  have had a young pregnant patient thank me for doing a urine drug screen as routine early in pregnancy. “My friend used meth the whole pregnancy and they never checked,” she said, “Now her baby is messed up.”

Addiction medicine is complicated because we think people should tell the truth. But it is a disease precisely because it’s the loss of control and loss of boundaries that cause the lying. We should be angry at the drug, not the person: love the person and help them change their behavior. We need to stop stigmatizing and demeaning addiction and help people. For them, for their families, for their children and for ourselves.

I took the photo of my daughter on Easter years ago.

Chronic pain and antidepressants

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