Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2006 edition of Cutting Edge, the online newsletter of The Meadows.
History & Addiction
by Claudia Black, PhD, MSW
Like every aspect of mankind, addiction has its own history. Long before anyone understood the core problems of addiction, people became hooked on substances. The following is adapted from Claudia's videos The History of Addiction and The Legacy of Addiction.
Chemical dependency has plagued humankind since man first crushed grapes. Each millennium has treated the problems that addiction brings with a methodology unique to the times. Historically, society, as a way of treating those addicted, has imprisoned them, banished them, put them in mental institutions, religiously converted them and, in today's world, treated them.
What has not changed is the impact of chemical dependency, particularly on those addicted and their families. Herein lies the story.
The roots of addiction are deep and ancient, and the methods used to deal with addicted persons are historically bizarre. The Egyptians used to flog drunkards; the Romans created Bacchus, a God of wine and revelry; and the Turks "cured" drunkenness by pouring molten lead down the throat of the inebriate, perhaps the first example of aversion conditioning - crude, but effective. The Greeks believed that the use of amethysts, beautiful deep purple stones, would ward off drunkenness. They festooned their cups with amethysts, wore them when drinking, and even ground them up and put them in the wine they drank.
An example of an early addict we might recognize is Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia in 350 B.C. By the age of 31, he had conquered the world and, during all his mighty triumphs, had abstained from intoxicating beverages. However, after his great triumphs, in a short span of two years, Alexander became an alcoholic and ended his career in a series of insane escapades.
He burned cities at the request of a courtesan and killed his best friend, and his demise came in a contest of wine drinking. Alexander the Great was 33 years old when he drank himself to death.
Wine making and its export became the economic basis of the Roman Empire. With the collapse of the empire, religious institutions, particularly the monasteries, became the source of brewing and wine making techniques. It was not until the 19th century that the production of beer, wine and distilled beverages became efficient and cheap enough to supply inexpensive alcohol to the masses.
Throughout the 19th century and into the early 1900s, alcohol and various drugs - notably morphine, cocaine and chloral hydrate - were used in various combinations as medicines. These "patent" medicines were highly addictive; alcohol content was as high as 95 percent. By the mid-1800s, the problem of addiction was major and growing. A physician from Battle Creek, Michigan, traveled extensively and used charts to show the effects of alcohol, drugs and nicotine on the body. Today, you would most likely recognize him as the founder of Corn Flakes. His name was Dr. John Harvey Kellogg.
In the 1840s, the first large temperance group, The Washingtonians, was born. The origin of this movement was a drinking club that met nightly at Chase Tavern in Baltimore, Maryland. One night, 20 chronic drinkers, in a spirit of jest, sent two of the younger members to a temperance lecture. Upon their return, the two men presented a favorable report of the lecture, and an argument concerning abstinence began. This argument would last four days and ended when six of the members announced their decision to support an abstinence society. This became a huge movement, with a membership of almost five million Americans by 1845 -notable because it probably marks the beginning of modern-day addiction recovery.
Like Alcoholics Anonymous, the Washingtonians believed in the substitution of personal experiences for lectures, and they viewed the drunk as a sick person. Perhaps most significant, they also professed a singleness of purpose: to help the drunk. But politics became an issue and would cause the movement's demise.
America's most recognizable temperance leader may be Carrie Nation. In 1888, she began a campaign wherein she and her female followers destroyed kegs of liquor and sometimes entire saloons, using stones and trusty hatchets.
In the late 1880s and early 1900s, some bizarre forms of addiction treatment were practiced. The Keeley Cure began in 1880. Using bichloride of gold, the treatment involved withdrawing the alcohol or narcotic drug and restoring the nerve cells to their original unpoisoned condition, thus removing the craving for liquor. Enemas and laxatives then stimulated the elimination of the accumulated poisonous products. (Incidentally, Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was subject to this treatment in 1934.) In 1918, it was stated that more than 400,000 people had been treated by this system at various Keeley Institutes. (NOTE: Bichloride of gold did not exist.)
While not concerned primarily with addiction, the Oxford Group, a popular religious movement in the 1930s, was to play an important role in the future treatment of the disease.
But perhaps the most successful treatment for alcoholism has been Alcoholics Anonymous. Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson founded AA in 1935 in Akron, Ohio. Wilson was a drunk who, after being called on by an old friend and member of the Oxford Group, was admitted for his alcoholism to Towns Hospital in New York City in 1934. He remained sober, and his work took him to Akron, where he felt the need to talk to another alcoholic. He was introduced to Dr. Bob Smith, a prominent and persistent drunk. From this meeting emerged the basic premise of Alcoholics Anonymous: one alcoholic helping another alcoholic. The original meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous were held as adjuncts to the Oxford Group on Wednesday nights at Dr. Bob's house.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a spiritually based program, and its primer is The Big Book. Proposed names for the book were One Hundred Men, Moral Philosophy, The Empty Glass, The Dry Way, and Dry Frontiers. In 1939, 5000 copies were published. Today there are four editions of The Big Book - and millions and millions of copies. Alcoholics Anonymous exists in most countries, with meetings in just about every city in the world.
In 1950, Lois Wilson, wife of Bill Wilson, founded Al-Anon, the 12-Step program for families and friends of alcoholics. Alateen was started in 1957.
In 1951, the "Minnesota Model" was developed. The foundation for treatment from the 1970s to the present, this abstinence model is based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It has become the primary protocol for residential and outpatient treatment programs in the United States and in many parts of the world.
In 1952, the American Medical Association defined alcoholism, but it would not be until 1967 that it passed a resolution identifying alcoholism as a complex disease and recognizing that the diagnosis and treatment of alcoholism are medicine's responsibility.
While abstinence-based programs would become widespread throughout the United States, treatment in the late 1970s would focus on all chemicals, not just alcohol. The word "alcoholism" was gradually replaced by "chemical dependency." There would be a resurgence of interest in attending to the family, spouses, partners and children of addicted persons. There also would be heightened interest in both young and adult children of alcoholics.
The role of the private sector in treatment has lessened, with community-based programs taking on more responsibility. Today's recovery programs treat addictive disorders, recognizing cross addictions and the need to abstain from all mind-changing chemicals. In many cases, clients are treated for multiple addictive disorders, such as gambling, chemical dependency, eating and sexual disorders, and dual diagnoses, most commonly PTSD and affective disorders.
Addiction is a complex disease, a devastating disease and a terminal disease - yet today it is a treatable disease. History has left us a long and painful legacy of addiction. Today we are beginning a new legacy: that of the reality of recovery.
The Meadows of Wickenburg is proud to announce that John Bradshaw's latest book, Reclaiming Virtue, is now available for pre-order at Amazon.com. Bradshaw has written three New York Times bestselling books (Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child; Creating Love; and Healing the Shame That Binds You), and is a Fellow of the Meadows.
"John Bradshaw has written this book for the millions of decent, caring people who are struggling every day with painful choices, who are appalled- as he is- by the greed and shamelessness that plague our society, and who long for guidance for themselves and their children in an increasingly complex world." (Amazon.com)
With positive reviews from Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Common Boundary magazine, Reclaiming Virtue: How We Can Develop the Moral Intelligence to Do the Right Thing at the Right Time for the Right Reason will be released on April 28, 2009.
The Meadows Addiction Treatment Center is excited to announce its latest web project: DrugRehabFAQ.com.
The goal of the the new site is to clarify some of the basic questions relating to a patient's decision to enter a drug rehabilitation facility. In the future, the blog will also answer questions related to the experience itself, expectations and continuing care, which is a vital factor in long-term recovery success.
Some of those questions are:
How do I know if I need rehab?
How should I decide on a rehab facility?
Should my family be involved with my rehab treatment?
For the answers to these and other FAQs, visit DrugRehabFAQ.com.
Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2004 edition of Cutting Edge, the online newsletter of The Meadows.
We Are All Neighbors
By Peter A. Levine, PhD.
What has happened to our world? Why this large-scale killing, maiming and torture as human populations increase in number and complexity - and as their access to Ethernet information grows each year, seemingly in inverse proportion to their compassion? Even when competing for their most basic resources - food and territory - animals typically do not kill members of their own species. Why do we?
While there are many theories of war, post-traumatic stress is one root cause not widely acknowledged, even though it is the single most important instigator of the perverse cruelty of modern warfare. Mankind's history of war, xenophobia and genocide has generated a legacy of trauma-induced dysfunction fundamentally no different from that experienced by individuals, except in its scale. There remains, however, an enormously important question: Can recovery from trauma be replicated on a larger, societal scale, with similar healing effects? At The Meadows, this has become our living promise.
Let us review what happens when a person is traumatized. First, his internal system remains aroused; he is always on edge, unable to relax or tune down. He is constantly aware of a pervading sense of danger, suspicious of everything and everyone. Not knowing why he feels threatened, this fear and reactivity escalate. This, in turn, amplifies the need to identify the source of the threat. Propelled by a tremendous terror and rage lurking just beneath the surface, he is unconsciously driven into re-enactments to help regulate the ongoing escalation of arousal.
Imagine now an entire population of people with a similar post-traumatic history. In fact, imagine two such populations located in the same geographical region, perhaps with different languages, religions and traditions. What will happen? Croatian civilians are sawed in half by Serbian soldiers. Atrocities are committed, in turn, by Croatian troops. Dozens of truces are called, and each time the result is the same: The urge to kill and destroy takes over, and insanity once again prevails. The Serbs and Croats have been repeating their violent patterns as virtual instant replays of World Wars I and II. Middle Eastern nations can readily trace their wars to Biblical times. Even when wars do not repeat with the kind of ferocity and brutality seen regularly around the globe, suffering in the form of societal dislocation, child abuse and other forms of hatred will. There is no avoiding the traumatic aftermath of war; it reaches into every segment of society.
Transforming Cultural Trauma
Trauma is an inherent part of the primitive biology that brought us here, biology which cannot be changed without completely redesigning us, down to our very cells. To release ourselves from reenacting our traumatic legacy, both individually and as a society, we must transform it. We can do so only by addressing the problem at its roots: in our physiology.
Several years ago, Dr. James Prescott, then at the National Institute of Mental Health, engaged in some important anthropological research on the effects of infant and child rearing practices on the prevalence (and absence) of violence in aboriginal societies. He found that the societies in which child rearing was characterized by close physical bonding and stimulation through rhythmical movement had low incidences of violence. Conversely, the societies with diminished or punitive physical contact with their children showed clear tendencies toward violence in the forms of war, rape and torture.
As we know from the studies of Dr. Prescott and others, the time around birth and infancy is a critical period. It is then that the infant associates the states of its parents with basic security and ability to regulate arousal. When parents are traumatized, they have difficulty imprinting their young with this sense of basic trust and resource. And without this sense of trust, children are more vulnerable to later trauma. One solution to breaking the cycle of cultural trauma is to involve infants and their mothers in an experience that generates trust and bonding before the child has completely assimilated the parents' anxious state.
In Scandinavia, I am involved in some exciting work inspired by my Norwegian colleagues. This project uses what we know about this critical period around infancy to allow not just one individual, but an entire group of people, to begin transforming the trauma of their past encounters. This method of bringing people together requires a room, a few simple musical instruments and some blankets strong enough to hold a baby's weight.
The process works as follows: A group of mothers and infants from opposing factions are brought together at a home or community center. The encounter begins with this heterogeneous group of mothers and infants taking turns teaching one another simple folk songs of their respective cultures. Holding their babies, the mothers dance while they sing the songs to their children. A facilitator uses simple instruments to enhance the rhythm in the songs. The movement, rhythm and use of voice in song strengthen the neurological patterns that produce peaceful alertness and receptivity. As a result, the stuckness and fixation produced by generations of strife begin to soften.
At first, the children are perplexed by the events, but they soon become interested and involved. They are enthusiastic about the rattles, drums and tambourines the facilitator passes to them. When not provided with rhythmic stimulation, children of this age do little more than try to fit such objects into their mouths. In this situation, however, the children join in generating the rhythm, with great delight, squealing and cooing.
Because these infants are not blank slates, but highly developed organisms even at birth, they send signals that activate their mothers' deepest senses of serenity, responsiveness and biological competence.
In this healthy exchange, the mothers and their young engage in an exchange of mutually gratifying physiological responses that, in turn, generate feelings of security and pleasure. It is here that the cycle of traumatic damage begins to unravel.
The transformation continues as the mothers place their babies on the floor and allow them to explore. Like luminous magnets, the babies gleefully move toward each other, overcoming barriers of shyness as the mothers quietly support their exploration from a circle around them. The joy and mutual connection generated by their small adventure is difficult to describe or imagine - it must be witnessed.
The group then continues, with smaller groups of a mother and infant from each culture working together. Two mothers swing their infants gently in a blanket. These babies aren't just happy; they are completely blissful. They generate a roomful of love so contagious that soon the mothers are smiling and bonding with members of a community they earlier feared and distrusted. The mothers leave with renewed hearts and spirits they are eager to share with others. The process is almost self-replicating.
Once a group of people has participated in the experience, the group can easily be trained to replicate it. The impact of this experience is so powerful that participants want to spread it throughout their communities, and many of them do so. The beauty of this approach to community healing lies in its simplicity and effectiveness. An outside facilitator begins the process by leading the first group.
The experience offers a gentle alternative to the destructive cycle of trauma, suffering and violence by allowing the biological imperative for natural bonding and love to assert itself. Resistance to stress and trauma, the development of basic trust, and the capacity for enduring personal and peaceful relationships are forged during a critical period of life.
Developing physiological and neurological patterns give us the instinct of the animal and the intelligence of the human being. Lacking either, we are doomed to act out our hostilities. With the two working together, we can advance on our evolutionary path, utilize all our human capacities and bring our children into a world that is safe.
Non-traumatized humans prefer to live in harmony. Yet traumatic residue creates beliefs that we are unable to surmount our hostility and that misunderstandings will always keep us apart. It is imperative that we make every effort to discover and teach treatment modalities like the Scandinavian model I described previously. We must be passionate in our search for effective avenues of resolution. Not just peace, but survival, depends on it.
Nature cannot be fooled. Evolution happens as a result of forces that threaten to destroy the species. Trauma is one such force.
Cutting Edge Editorial Board comments in response to this article:
The theory of childhood development and immaturity developed by Pia Mellody and its application to the patients at The Meadows is a most encouraging demonstration of how post-traumatic stress can be treated and individual destinies turned to the path of self-knowledge and relational peace. And while The Meadows applies its processes of analysis and recovery to individuals, at its center lies a template that we must apply on a broader societal scale.
Victoria Munoz, M.C., LPC, Counselor at The Meadows of Wickenburg
Is pornography causing problems in your relationship? Does your partner disapprove of your pornography use? Have you found that you prefer pornography to intimacy with your partner? Pornography, specifically Internet pornography, can have detrimental effects in a person's life. Although our culture has often said, "Boys will be boys," the Internet makes pornography available 24 hours a day. It is affordable, often anonymous, and endless in its supply. As a result, many people have found themselves using pornography compulsively. You may find that you are using it more than intended, needing more to get desired effects, using it to relieve stress, and using it despite negative life consequences. In addition to the problems Internet pornography may be causing your relationship, it may be causing work and legal problems as well. You are not alone, and there is help.
The compulsive use of Internet pornography is treatable. You may find yourself unable to discontinue your use of pornography alone, and perhaps it is time to consider treatment. Maybe you are seeking treatment at the urging of someone you love, maybe you have long known that you have a problem, or maybe you are fearful of where your behavior is taking you on the Internet.
In treatment you can explore the questions: "How did this happen to me?" "What role does Internet porn play in my life?" "Why is my continued use of Internet porn no longer serving me as it once seemed to?" In addition, you can look at patterns you have developed to numb or escape from daily life. In treatment you can become free of this compulsive behavior; by exploring family-of-origin and adult patterns, you can identify how and why pornography has been so alluring to you. You do not have to continue living with feelings of shame and despair. There is a solution.
Note: This article was originally published in the January 2008 edition of Cutting Edge, the online newsletter of The Meadows.
The Psychological Impact of Traumatic Life Experiences
By Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD
Studying the psychological impact of traumatic life experiences helps to clarify many issues of human suffering. The legacy of traumatic experiences, particularly in childhood, is expressed in bodily reactions such as chronic physical discomfort and illness, unmodulated emotions, and failure to fully, physically and mentally, engage in the present. In order to gain a sense of control over one's physical reactions, it is necessary to mobilize the body. We must physically come to terms with the remnants of fear and defensiveness lodged in our physical reality; otherwise, the imprints of the past may permanently determine whether we feel at home in our bodies and whether we can be open to and learn from experience.
Mainstream therapy helps us by providing insight into the origins of our misery, often in the context of an understanding and supportive relationship. This understanding and support can give people the courage to face previously intolerable realities and give voice to what had felt unspeakable. Working with bodily states is relatively new to Western psychology. In contrast, many cultures around the world have ancient traditions, such as yoga and tai chi, that emphasize working with bodily states in order to affect the mind. These body-oriented methods hold in common the notion that, in order to change, people need to have physical experiences that directly contradict past feelings of helplessness, frustration and terror.
Neuroscientific research shows little connection between the various brain centers involved in understanding, planning and emotion; we simply are not capable of understanding our way out of our feelings. In fact, our logical selves tend to run behind our emotional urges, and function primarily to rationalize our loves and hates. Psychological conflicts, while often having origins in the past, become rooted in our internal sensations, which have become blunted, exaggerated or "stuck."
Hence, the process of psychological change involves regaining a healthy relationship with our internal feeling states. In contrast to understanding, paying close attention to one's internal life - the flow of physical sensations, feelings, internal images and patterns of thought - can make an enormous difference in how we feel and act.
Areas in the conscious mind that convey the sense of being in touch with oneself and one's bodily states (the medial prefrontal cortex and insula) are linked to the brain's emotional center (the amygdala) and arousal centers and, finally, to the hormonal and muscular output centers. In this way, working with deep sensations and feeling has the potential to achieve a sense of internal equilibrium and balance. Only after being able to quiet and master one's inner physical experiences does one regain the capacity to use speech and language to convey, in detail, feelings and memories.
About the Author
Bessel A. van der Kolk, Clinical Consultant for The Meadows and Mellody House, is one of the world's foremost authorities in the area of post-traumatic stress and related phenomena. His research work has ranged from the psychobiology of trauma to traumatic memory, and from the effectiveness of EMDR to the effects of trauma on human development. He is a professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and medical director of the Trauma Center in Boston, a Community Practice site of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. The Trauma Center is one of the preeminent training sites in the country for psychologists and psychiatrists specializing in the treatment of traumatized children and adults.
John Bradshaw is a Fellow of the Meadows Addiction Treatment Center. His newest book, Reclaiming Virtue: How We Can Develop the Moral Intelligence to Do the Right Thing at the Right Time for the Right Reason, recently had a positive review from Publishers Weekly:
Reclaiming Virtue: How We Can Develop the Moral Intelligence to Do the Right Thing at the Right Time for the Right Reason John Bradshaw. Bantam, $26 (528p) ISBN 978-0-553-09592-0
Bestselling recovery expert and motivational speaker Bradshaw (Family Secrets), presents an in-depth survey of human behavior from many angles in a probing exploration of our inner guidance system. Beginning with "magnificent moral moments" (a black girl integrating a school smiles at a woman who spat at her), he interweaves his own tangled life experiences: he obtained advanced degrees in theology and philosophy, yet lost jobs after alcoholic binges even after a 12-step recovery program; he still felt like he was "on the outside of life looking in" and set out to change the direction of his life. Inviting the reader to join him on his "personal journey to make sense out of the complexities and ambiguities of the moral/ethical order," Bradshaw divides his book into three potent and compelling sections: part one defines the nature of moral intelligence; the second section examines how to develop that intelligence. In the final pages, he outlines family goals and offers ways for readers to develop their children's moral intelligence. Bradshaw followers and many first-time readers will find this an extremely effective and valuable guide. (Apr. 28)
Reclaiming Virtue is available to purchase from www.johnbradshaw.com.
Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2007 edition of Cutting Edge, the online newsletter of The Meadows.
Understanding Sexual Recovery
By Maureen Canning, MA, LMFT
Sexuality is yoked with one's being - the body, mind and spirit. It is connected with one's identity, or essence. But as a culture, we have conditioned ourselves to experience and express our sexuality with a laser focus on physical gratification, the seeking of pleasure and release.
This is only a small part of what our sexual selves encompass. The totality of sexual expression is experienced through one's passion, creativity and life force energy. When we hear a moving piece of music; create art; connect with nature; lust after our favorite food, engrossed in its consumption; grow passionate about learning a new language or dance step, this is the expression of our sexuality.
This energy taps into the core of who we are. That's what makes sex addiction so powerful
and what sets it apart from other addictions. Our sexuality comes from the depths of our being, as does recovery. Examining and integrating healthy sexuality from this perspective becomes much more than just "mind-blowing sex." It becomes a spectrum of possibilities, a transformation of the whole self.
For several years, Anna has been working on her recovery from alcohol and sex addiction. Like most addicts, Anna had given up her most treasured hobby; it had been sidelined by the tumultuous life of her addiction. Anna had given up riding horses. Once an avid polo player, she had dropped out of the game and sold her animals. After several years of recovery, she was able to reconnect with her passion. Anna recently bought a new horse and is training several others. She rides almost every day.
"Maureen," Anna says in a somber tone, "I was riding my horse the other day, and I think I had a spiritual moment."
"What happened?" I ask.
"I had been rushing around yesterday morning, and, by the time I got to the stable, I was in a bad mood. When I got on my horse, she fought me, wouldn't do anything. She threw her head up and tried to buck me off. A friend watching me suggested that I stand up in the saddle and get myself centered, take a few breaths and feel her rhythm. I did what he suggested, let go of my stress and got in tune with her. When I sat down, she became calm. I rode in that ring and felt so connected to her. It was amazing."
What Anna is creating is connection, first with herself and then with life at large. She has come a long way in her recovery, and she is now reaping its rewards. Of course, it has taken time and a concentrated effort. For sex addicts, recovery can be a long and arduous but rewarding process.
Treatment planning for sexual addiction needs to realistically address the healing of one's personhood. In early treatment, the goals are focused and concrete: breaking through denial, surrendering to the addiction, acknowledging losses, making disclosures to loved ones, working the 12 Steps, getting a sponsor, going to meetings, etc. In this phase of treatment, the client is typically in crisis, emotionally overwhelmed, disoriented and experiencing withdrawal. Inpatient treatment is an intense process that can leave the client feeling inundated and emotionally fragile upon discharge. Patients often feel splintered, their ego state disoriented, their affect-management tenuous and their communication skills poor. The stress of re-entering life is, at best, a challenge and, more realistically, a trigger for relapse.
Extended-care treatment involves giving patients time to identify and integrate ego states, stabilize their emotions, grieve losses, begin trauma resolution, and implement treatment tools for relational development with self and others.
The profound shame that patients feel, and the slow but constant erosion of their personhoods, are the results of sexual addiction. The trauma and subsequent addiction result from a lifetime of ritualized behaviors and deeply embedded coping mechanisms. Patients run from their shame, using anger to act out and destroy any semblance of an authentic self. The recovery of the authentic self and the ability to live in one's truth must be extracted from the wreckage of the addiction.
About the Author
Maureen Canning, MA, LMFT, Clinical Director of Dakota and Clinical Consultant for Sexual Disorder Services at The Meadows, has extensive experience working with sexual disorders. She is a past board member of the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health, as well as past president of the Arizona Council on Sexual Addiction.
The Meadows Clinical Consultant Claudia Black recently took part in a TVOParents.org webcast panel discussion on the ways that drug and alcohol abuse affect children.
In "Parenting Under the Influence", Claudia and co-panelists Christine Sloss and Steve Hall discuss issues such as:
Visit the TVOParents.com website to view the webcast, along with Claudia's list of indications that a child may be living with family substance abuse.
by Support on 29. Jan, 2009 in Best Of The Cutting Edge
Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2005 edition of Cutting Edge, the online newsletter of The Meadows.
Dealing With One's Inner Sensations to Move Beyond Trauma
by Bessel van der Kolk
Studying the psychological impacts of traumatic life experiences helps to clarify many issues of human suffering. Understanding how the brain fails to integrate traumatic memories (Chapter VIII: Trauma and Memory. In van der Kolk BA, McFarlane AC & Meisaeth L: Traumatic Stress: the Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body and Society. NY Guilford Press, 1996.) helps explain the nightmares and flashbacks in combat veterans and rape victims or why a woman who was sexually molested might experience sexual contact as if she were raped, even when she loves her partner.
As trauma became better understood it provided a way to make sense of why many people with deep-seated problems were chronically anxious and afraid, aggressive or manipulative. Many of them had childhood histories of trauma. They are vulnerable to continue to behave as if their lives are in danger and expect to be hurt at the least provocation, including by the very people who care for them. The legacy of having been physically trapped and unable to protect oneself is expressed in bodily reactions such as chronic physical discomfort and illness; unmodulated emotions; and failure to fully, physically and mentally, engage in the present.
Unfortunately, friends, family and even therapists may fall into the trap of giving advice to those who were traumatized. This advice, of course, rarely works; because frozen bodies cannot generate their own action patterns, nor can they follow the suggestions of others. "Helpful" interventions all too often end up in "irrational" explosions of frustrated advisees or "guiding lights."
In order to gain a sense of control over one's physical reactions, it is necessary to mobilize the body. Unless we physically come to terms with the remnants of fear and defensiveness lodged in our physical reality, the imprints of the past may permanently alter whether we feel at home in our bodies or are paralyzed in our capacity to be open to and learn from new experiences.
Mainstream therapy helps people by providing insight into the origins of our misery, often in the context of an understanding and supportive relationship. When done correctly, such understanding and support can give people the courage to face previously intolerable realities and help give voice to what was felt to be unspeakable.
Working with bodily states is relatively recent in western psychology. In contrast, most cultures around the world have ancient traditions, such as yoga and tai ch'i, that emphasize working with bodily states to affect the mind. What unites these various body-oriented methods is the common notion that in order to change, people need to have physical experiences that directly contradict past feelings of helplessness, frustration and terror.
Neuroscience research shows that there is little connection between the various brain centers involved in understanding, planning and emotion- we simply are not capable of understanding our way out of our feelings- whether they are feelings of love, fear, deprivation or hate. In fact, our logical selves tend to run behind our emotional urges and may primarily function to rationalize our loves and hates. Our minds are much like talk show hosts on television who are trying to explain the day's events at day's end.
Psychological conflicts, while often having origins in the past, are now rooted in our self-relationships and to our internal sensations that have become blunted, exaggerated or "stuck." Hence, the process of psychological change fundamentally concerns regaining a healthy relationship with our internal feeling states. In contrast to understanding, paying close attention to one's internal life and the flow of physical sensations, feelings, internal images and patterns of thought (in short, working with the "felt sense" - the ebb and flow of inner experiences) can make an enormous difference in the ways we feel and act.
The pathway in the brain from the conscious self to the emotions (i.e., the only way that people can effectively influence how they feel) links areas in the conscious mind that convey the sense of being in touch with oneself and one's bodily states (the medial prefrontal cortex and insula), to the emotional centers of the brain (centering on the amygdale), to the arousal centers and, finally, to the hormonal and muscular output centers. What this means is that working with deep sensations and feelings has the potential of attaining a sense of internal equilibrium and balance.
Only after being able to quiet down and master one's inner physical experiences do people regain the capacity to use speech and language to convey to others in detail what they feel and "remember". Some choose to then tell the story of what has happened, while others just go on with their lives.
About the Author
Bessel A. van der Kolk, MC Clinical Consultant for The Meadows and Mellody House, is on of the world's foremost authorities in the area of post-traumatic stress and related phenomena. His research work has ranged from the psychobiology of trauma, and from the effectiveness of EMDR to to the effects of trauma on human development.