Adverse Childhood Experiences 13: on gratitude

I saw a meme today about gratitude. It is saying that some people look at a garden and see thorns and weeds, but others see the roses. That we need to have gratitude. I think this is simplistic and papers over the trauma and grief that some people have. If they have endured a highly traumatic childhood, who am I to say they should focus on the roses? They may have a very good reason to see if there is something like a thorn that can hurt them before enjoying the roses.

I work with many patients with high Adverse Childhood Experience scores and mine is high too. I don’t tell my patients that they should have gratitude. I tell them “You survived your childhood. You have crisis wiring. Good for you. Some of your learned crisis survival wiring may not serve you as well now as it did when you were a child.” Then we discuss whether they want to work on any aspects and the many many different approaches. One example: a man who sleeps very lightly. He said that it was lifelong. When asked about his childhood he says, “We would have to leave in the night when there was shooting in my neighborhood. It was a very dangerous area.” I said, “I am not surprised you sleep lightly. You HAD to in childhood to survive. Is this something you want to try and change?” He thought about it and decided, no. Once it was framed as learned in childhood to survive, he stopped worrying about “normal”. He was satisfied that the way he slept was “normal” for him and he wanted to wake up if he heard shooting.

I think we have to ask why a person sees thorns and weeds in a garden before we judge them. My first thought with a new and angry or hostile patient is always, oh, they have been badly hurt in the past. What happened? I don’t worry that the anger is at me. I know it’s not at me, it’s at the system or a past physician or a past event. Under the anger there are other emotions, usually fear or humiliation or grief. I have brought up Adverse Childhood Experience scores on the first visit sometimes. One person replies, “I am a 10 out of 10.” The score only goes up to 8 but I agree. He was a 10. He stated once, “The military loved me because I could go from zero to 60 in one minute.” Very very defensive and very quick to respond. The response may seem extreme and inappropriate to other people: but it may feel like the only safe way to be to my patient.

I grew up hiding any grief or fear in my family, under anger, because grief or fear would be made into a story told for laughs. In college, a boyfriend told me I was an ogre when I was angry. I started working on it then and it was difficult to tame that. The person who took the longest was my sister: she could make me explode until I was in my residency. Medical training was excellent for learning emotional control, at least, on the surface. After my mother died, I had to do the next piece of emotional work: open the Pandora’s Box of stuffed emotions, mostly fear and grief, and let them out. It was such hard work that my day where I saw the counselor for an hour was harder than my ten hour clinic day. I did the work, for two long years. Blessings on the counselors who stood by me while I worked through it.

I do not think we are ever done with that sort of work. I think, what do I need to learn next? What is this friend teaching me? Why is this behavior frustrating me and I have to look in my inner mirror. Why, why, why?

Blessing on your healing path and may you not be judged.

Link about ACE scores: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/about.html

Sometimes I do feel like a fossil, now that I am middle aged. For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: fossil.

Straddle this place

Straddle this place, where we look at history again and again, admit horror and mistakes and cruelty, and work together to build a future.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: straddle.

Adverse Childhood Experiences 12: welcome to the dark

Welcome to the dark, everyone.

When you think about it, all the children in the world are adding at least one Adverse Childhood Experience score and possibly more, because of Covid-19. Some will add more than one: domestic violence is up with stress, addiction is up, behavioral health problems are up, some parents get sick and die, and then some children are starving.

From the CDC Ace website:

“Overview:Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood. ACEs can include violence, abuse, and growing up in a family with mental health or substance use problems. Toxic stress from ACEs can change brain development and affect how the body responds to stress. ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood. However, ACEs can be prevented.”

Well, can they be prevented? Could Covid-19 be prevented? I question that one.

I have a slightly different viewpoint. I have an ACE Score of 5 and am not dead and don’t have heart disease. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about ACE scores and that it’s framed as kids’ brains are damaged.

I would argue that this is survival wiring. When I have a patient where I suspect a high ACE score, I bring it up, show them the CDC web site and say that I think of it as “crisis wiring” not “damaged”. I say, “You survived your childhood. Good job! The low ACE score people do not understand us and I may be able to help you let go of some of the automatic survival reactions and fit in with the people who had a nice childhood more easily.”

It doesn’t seem useful to me to say “We have to prevent ACE scores.” Um. Tsunamis, hurricanes, Covid-19, wars… it seems to me that the ACE score wiring is adaptive. If your country is at war and you are a kid and your family sets out to sea to escape, well, you need to survive. If that means you are guarded, untrusting, suspicious and wary of everyone, yeah, ok. You need to survive. One of my high ACE Score veterans said that the military loved him because he could go from zero to 60 in one minute. Yeah, me too. I’ve worked on my temper since I was a child. Now it appears that my initial ACE insult was my mother having tuberculosis, so in the womb. Attacked by antibodies, while the tuberculosis bacillus cannot cross the placenta, luckily for me. And luckily for me she coughed blood at 8 months pregnant and then thought she had lung cancer and was going to die at age 22. Hmmm, think of what those hormones did to my wiring.

So if we can’t prevent all ACE Scores, what do we do? We change the focus. We need to understand crisis wiring, support it and help people to let go of the hair trigger that got them through whatever horrid things they grew up with. 16% of Americans have a score of 4 or more BEFORE Covid-19. We now have a 20 or 25 year cohort that will have higher scores. Let’s not label them doomed or damaged. Let’s talk about it and help people to understand.

I read a definition of misery memoirs today. I don’t scorn them. I don’t like the fake ones. I don’t read them, though I did read Angela’s Ashes. What I thought was amazing about Angela’s Ashes is that for me he captures the child attitude of accepting what is happening: when his sibling is dying and they see a dog get killed and he associates the two. And when he writes about moving and how their father would not carry anything, because it was shameful for a man to do that. He takes it all for granted when he is little because that is what he knows. One book that I know of that makes a really difficult childhood quite amazing is Precious Bane, by Mary Webb. Here is a visible disability that marks her negatively and yet she thrives.

A friend met at a conference is working with traumatic brain injury folks. They were starting a study to measure ACE scores and watch them heal, because they were noticing the high ACE score people seem to recover faster. I can see that: I would just say, another miserable thing and how am I going to work through it. Meanwhile a friend tells me on the phone that it’s “not fair” that her son’s senior year of college is spoiled by Covid-19. I think to myself, uh, yes but he’s not in a war zone nor starving nor hit by a tsunami and everyone is affected by this and he’s been vaccinated. I think he is very lucky. What percentage of the world has gotten vaccinated? He isn’t on a ventilator. Right now, that falls under doing well and also lucky in my book. And maybe that is what the high ACE score people have to teach the low ACE score people: really, things could be a lot worse. No, I don’t trust easily and I am no longer feeling sorry about it. I have had a successful career in spite of my ACE score, I ran a clinic in the way that felt ethical to me, I have friends who stick with me even through PANDAS and my children are doing well. And I am not addicted to anything except I’d get a caffeine headache for a day if I had none.

For the people with the good childhood, the traumatic brain injury could be their first terrible experience. They go through the stages of grief. The high ACE score people do too, but we’ve done it before, we are familiar with it, it’s old territory, yeah ok jungle again, get the machete out and move on. As the world gets through Covid-19, with me still thinking that this winter looks pretty dark, maybe we can all learn about ACE scores and support each other and try to be kind, even to the scary looking veteran.

Take care.

even if

even if

I never see you again
you never speak to me again
you never love your bearish parts
you never let yourself get angry
you never let yourself get sad
you never let yourself feel
you tell yourself you are happy
you tell yourself everything is the way it should be

even if

I never see you again

I still love you
I still forgive you

I still love you

I hope that you truly do

find happiness

What do you see?

What do you see in this rock?

outfits inappropriate for work 3

Ok, maybe it is not inappropriate for work. But it would be a little weird for work… I was going in the woods with my oxygen tank. “Local doctor of 21 years found eaten by cougar, which then died because it couldn’t digest the oxygen tank.” Heh.

Listening to this, fabulous!!!

Liars and the lying lies they tell

This blog post: hanging from a telephone wire intrigues me.

Why do the liars lie?

I disagree with Ms. Kennedy.

The liars lie for the same reason that addicts lie. They are not lying to you or to me. They are lying to themselves FIRST. They want to believe what they say.

“My marriage is perfect.”

“I love all my children the same.”

“I never make an error.”

“I talk to my mother every Sunday morning because we are so close and love each other so much.”

“I can see right in to your head.”

“I don’t care about anything.”

“I am happy all the time.”

Whew. A totally easy list to come up with and I could go on and on and on…. and so could you. When someone says something like this… I am always (fill in blank) or I never (fill in blank)… stop. Think. They want to believe it. They might like you to believe it too. They might even kind of know that it’s a lie and very convincing one but the best liars have convinced themselves.

I saw it in clinic all the time. Over and over and over.

It’s the glitter that gives it away. When they come in all glittery and sparkly and their eyes shine and they are too beautiful for words and they charm your socks right off…. check your wallet. They are an addict or a manipulator or they WANT SOMETHING FROM YOU. And there are people who just do it automatically. They lie all the time.

Whatever. When someone reminds me of my mother or my sister… or the other extremely well trained enablers on the maternal side of my stupid family…. ooooooo. The person has my full focused attention. Which thing is the lie? What do they want? What are they going to try to get out of me?

When I trained in buprenorphine treatment, the guy (enabler) that I was dating was horrified. “You can’t treat addicts!” he said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“They LIE.”

I laughed. “ALL patients lie. There are studies. They lie about whether they are taking their blood pressure medicine. They lie about how much salt they are eating. They lie about exercising. The first question I ask if someone’s blood pressure is too high, is “Are you taking the medicine?” More than half the time I get a sheepish, “Yeah, well, no, I ran out of it two weeks ago.” “Yeah, well, then I can’t tell if it’s working or not, can I? And you’ll have to redo the stupid labs once you have taken it for two weeks and come back for another check.” “Ok, ok, I get it.” If you lie to your doctor, well, you might get hurt. Tell them about the pills your friend gave you, tell them about the supplements, and that infected toe? Might help if you tell the truth about it. Even though it was when you um inserted well we were just, like he has an infected um. That is important information and changes which antibiotics I use plus now I want to check for chlamydia and gonorrhea and same sex male so we gotter talk about HIV prophylaxis and this is a 15 minute clinic visit? I am now running late and annoyed. You need another visit in 1-2 days or else I gonna hospitalize yo dumb self.

And WHY do people, and especially people in addiction, lie to themselves?

Damage. ACE scores. Adverse Childhood Experience Scores. They wish that they were that close to their mother. They long for a perfect marriage. They were beaten in secret by the perfect father. The famous man, their grandfather, sexually abused them. The list is endless.

And how do we help? The person I just stopped dating told me that his children said to him “My picker’s broke.” Our pickers are not really broken. We are attracted to the people who can teach us.

In the book Passionate Marriage, the author writes about how we are attracted to the people who have what we lack. What we want to learn. What we are afraid of. What we need to learn. I needed to learn how to really look at anyone I date with my full on intuition right away and also that it is seriously Not Nice of me to get curious, activate my inner scientist and stick around. I recognize the projection on me at some point and then the scientist in me is intrigued. Really? The most recent one said that inside me there is a sweet innocent joyous tiny girl.

Well, I thought. No, not really. There certainly is a baby. But it’s a baby honey badger or a baby Iron Bitch Alien Lizard. Don’t care what you call it. But it is about as sweet as a pissed off porcupine or skunk. Polecat. Octopoggles done got us! Squirting ink and sliding into an impossibly small space and escaping from the acquarium over and over until the captors let me go…..

And that was actually the moment I should have spoken up. Calmly. Kindly. “Um, no. I was never a sweet innocent joyous tiny girl. I was bathed in antibodies to tuberculosis in the womb and no doubt alcohol and my parents were newly married and I came out saying, “What is happening now? Some new torture? Augh! Bright lights! Is there food? I am really really hungry. Feed me or I will eat YOU.” And then I lost my mother for nine months so that I would not catch tuberculosis from her and die. I didn’t really understand it. I thought people kept giving me away and that you couldn’t trust those evil adults.

In the end this is all actually necessary, says the Passionate Marriage author. WHAT? WHAT? Well, in a truly loving relationship, both people will withdraw the projection. The projection is the “falling in love” where the person is golden, perfect, your true love. No, they aren’t. But you love that aspect of them that you want/need/can’t do. True love is when you withdraw the projection and you see the real person and you love them.

It isn’t easy. But people do it. Birds do it, squirrels do it, trees do it, even elementary bees do it… let’s do it… let’s fall in love.

Free fall

I feel safest with the fallen

Everyone falls
No one is good

I am afraid
Of the people who
pretend to be good

the fallen
don’t pretend

We fell down down down
like an eternity
like it would never end

We were bad
depressed drunk addicted
liars cowards thieves

We held our arms out
There was nothing to stop us
Free fall

All we could do
was pray

We prayed
As best we could
With all our hearts
If we had no words

Falling angels
Caught us

Helped us
Claw our way back

Some people fall
Are still falling
Fall forever

Are they crazy
Or do they choose
To stay with the angels?

The people who say
They are good

We look at them

We know they haven’t fallen

They are lying to us
They are lying to themselves
They are lying to the Beloved
They want to be good
They want what they say to be true

But it isn’t

I meet the eyes of another fallen
Knowledge

I can see the memory
Of infinite free fall
In their eyes.

Yard Art

There is a fabulous garden in Portland, Oregon decorated with bowling balls.

i have decided to decorate with oxygen tanks.

if anyone has any oxygen paraphernalia, I want it, please.

This art installation is titled “Tethered”. Or possibly “Chained.”