Writings

A Couple Tips for Getting Herbs and Supplements on A Budget

a watercolor image of a little elder white lady with long grey hair in a tunic type robe with a crooked stick wand making some leaves float and leaning on her cane with a white background

Ok, first, I want to make it really clear that this post isn’t a magic solution to the intense and complex reality of trying to source herbs, supplements and support with limited economic resources. I do wish I had that post. That would be the one celebrating the crumbled structures of white-colonial-capitalist-ableist economy and normalizing of poverty as an individual issue. May it be so.

In the mean time, the few things I have to share here are the result of collaborating with many folks through herbal consults on tight/fixed/non-existent budgets to try and get the most back for our bucks we could.

Sourcing herbs can be complicated, especially for those of us who are concerned about the process the herbs have taken to get to us. There are lots of considerations: where was this grown, on whose land, what chemicals may or may not have been used, how long has this sat on a warehouse shelf, were the herbs treated well during the drying/extraction process, were they treated well as they grew or harvested in eco-caring ways? Can I trust this larger company? Can I afford or source this local version? Supplements can be a similar struggle and while this post for sure isn’t about necessarily being able to answer these questions, being nutrient deficient and in pain/needing support doing the best we can with the resources we have, is great. Sourcing herbs in a culture that doesn’t actually value life isn’t easy. This post is less about those complications and more about how can we get the ball rolling when we are broke and need things to help us like supplements or herbal preparations because they have specific therapeutic supports we are seeking, which is a very valid place to start, specifically if managing multiple survival needs, health concerns, histories of trauma and/or marginalization, etc.

Before I get into the links to retail things (a few of which are affiliate/referral ones which are marked with *), let me share some free and low cost herbal clinic resources:

Herb Clinics:

  • Herbalists Without Borders has a herbal clinic listing page HERE which lists them by region, both Domestic and International, many of whom will supply the herbs during the consultation for a donation, low cost or as part of the clinic visit, most of which are not online but in person visits

  • The above list is not likely not exhaustive and it could be possible to email a local herbalist in your community and see if they know about what local stuff might not be easy to find online (I’ve actually sent people herbs because they asked, mostly folks in shelters when I had herbs to dispense).

  • The only student led-instructor reviewed free herbal clinic that takes online and phone sessions that I am aware of is The Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine (full disclosure I have done/will do again a short teaching intensive there and so have seen it in person) and these sessions include the first round of herbs and I think some supplements. I have referred a few folks directly there and have seen some great results.

Local:

  • Railyard Apothecary will take a formula from a herbalist, make it up and ship it out for pretty reasonable rates, especially if you need capsules made or two or three different herbs in one tincture bottle, etc. They can blend up teas and have some vinegar and glycerine extracts (kava!) as well. An herbalist does need to call in the order but then they get back to you and verify and confirm cost as well. Their extracts are often about or lower cost than buying them from larger retailers online. If you know an herbalist local to your area, they might be able to support getting a formula filled through them after a consult.

  • Farmers markets: at the end of the day there are usually the culinary herb bundles hanging out which haven;t sold. A few times have approached someone in a booth and asked if they would cut a deal for what they had left, and usually, since cut fresh herbs do not travel and keep well for later sale the answer has been yes. I’ve gotten thyme, rosemary, oregano, dandelion leaves and others for $0.25-0.50 a bundle or a bag full for a couple bucks. I usually say, “hey, if you are open to a end of day deal, I might be able to take some of these herbs of your hands.” They think about it and say yes or no.

  • Buy in bulk with friends/family if that is possible. It is a little extra work but can make things more reasonable

  • If you have been told to get bitter herbs for digestion and other things but need to be strategic/make some tough money choices, chewing a bitter green can be supportive of digestion and help stimulate stomach acid production, like a head of radicchio for a couple bucks: super bitter, you can chew it while prepping food to get the digestion a little more active

  • Many of us could use magnesium supplementation, here is a safe, DIY version that can be less expensive than store bought stuff

Buying stuff online:

Ok, here is the fun system that a few folks I have served and I started experimenting with. It involves using a combination of cashback apps/services and sale/promo codes. Again, not a magic wand for being broke but can be helpful if you need to invest in some things and I wish I had known about these earlier than I did! Hence, sharing.

Step One: Sign up to get cash back

  • *EBATES: How did I not know about this sooner? Ebates is a cashback thing, you sign up for it online and link a PayPal account or they can send you a check with your cash back. If you use my links you get $10 in your account after your first purchase I think. After you make an account, they send you an email with a link to download it as an app on your phone (totally optional) and to install a plug in for chrome which will tell you whenever you visit a site they offer cashback for. It’s pretty awesome. I started ordering cat food/litter online and got cash back! They have triple and double cashback days, etc. They have some in-store options too. They work with a lot of stores and Etsy as well (which has a lot of dried herbs in small amounts as well as herbalist-made products. I basically wait to get one of their emails that says a good sale is on and then I try to maximize it if I have the room in my budget.

  • EBATES for sure is my favorite but I also downloaded *Ibotta and *TopCashBack as well because all three offer cashback for Vitacost, which I mention below. TopCashBack usually hovers around 6-9% cash back which is awesome.

Step Two: A Couple places with the best online deals:

  • iHerb.com: My favorite thing about *iHerb is that they ship for free at $20. That’s the lowest free shipping I have found and means that if you only need one thing or just a couple (especially if you are avoiding amazon like me or don’t have prime) you don’t have to keep adding things to your cart to get to a magical number for free shipping. They also have little internal cash back program for your own purchases that you can use to a future purchase. Unfortunately, iHerb doesn’t work with the cashback apps but they do offer 5% off as a referral thing, which you can access using any of my links here or with code: NPR844 at checkout.

  • Vitacost: This online retailer is my favorite for a few reasons:

    • Their prices rival that of any of the online sites usually comparable to Amazon prices as well

    • They frequently send out certain codes which combined with cashback apps can really help cut down the total costs, my favorite coupon codes are the ones for 20% off a food order of $50 because it includes many Starwest Botanical bulk herbs as ‘food,’ 12% off your entire order, 20% off bulk herbs and supplements, etc.

    • Here are a couple examples of what combining the cash back and the codes can look like:

A screenshot from Vitacost showing the EBATES cashback option:

A screenshot from the TopCashBack which is offering 9% on Vitacost brands and 6% on all things, which means combined with any sale codes from Vitacost, our dollars can be maximized.

So many blog posts say that the CHEAPEST option for getting herbs you want is to grow your own. To that I say, you are obviously not marginally housed, in chronic pain or struggling with health needs that are greater than some teas can support. And, I also say, that if you have one little window that gets some light, picking a mint family plant to grow (many can grow from cuttings) in a pot and use for your own teas can be something special.

I hope this post offered a strategy or two to add to your own arsenal. Getting the things we need when we are choosing between various survival needs or cutting things close can be really stressful. If you have ideas that have worked for you or know of other ways I’d love to hear them!

xoxo,

g



Micro-Progressions and Re-parenting the Inner Critic

(Originally posted May, 2016 at crazyherbalist.com)

download a text only .pdf version of this post here.

progression (n.)
late 14c., "action of moving from one condition to another," from Old French progression and directly from Latin progression (nominative progressio) "a going forward, advancement, growth, increase," noun of action from past participle stem of progredi "go forward," from pro- "forward" (see pro-) +gradi "to step, walk," from gradus "step"

*Credit: I heard someone use the term micro-progressions in an interview about something a while back and began chewing on it in my mind, but I didn't write the source down at the time and totally can't find it. If you have heard this term or know who to credit it to, let me know! :)

"The slower you go, the faster you get there."

That's what my last therapist said to me during our second session together. My reaction? "WTF!?" I just wanted to know what to do to fix me. Just tell me. Because, like *every* trauma survivor I have ever met, I am hard working and desperate to figure out how to stop suffering. That statement, about going slow and getting there faster, really angered me: I HAD ALREADY GIVEN 36 YEARS OF MY LIFE TO TRAUMA. Go slow, he says.

But he was right.  Painfully so.

Because for those of us with complex trauma, big healing happens with lots of smaller inglorious victories. Like realizing you just asked for something you wanted, got it and it felt ok to receive it. Like feeling anxiety rise up in your chest and being able to talk yourself through it. Like recognizing that self-harm is a valid coping skill for unbearable overwhelm and having a profound sense of compassion wash over you. Like speaking up to your boss/lover/parent/other and saying your truth and then letting them deal with it. Complex trauma taught us a bunch of nasty crap that we are in a daily battle to survive, recognize, tear down and replace. And we do a ton of labor in this process. Hence the desire, the desperate desire, to know how to fix it. The isolation can be excruciating. I once believed that if my anxiety could go away, that I would be 'normal,' 'healed,' 'healthy,' .... 'lovable.'

But, it hasn't been the “healing” of anxiety that is helping me eradicate some of the deeper lies of the trauma, it has been the slow overturning of ways of being in my body-self that are extractive and abusive which lessens the load my body is carrying so I have more energy to withstand exploring the painful deeper wounds at the core. Slowly, the amount of energy going into physiological survival gets turned over into energy that can be rerouted into healthier or more restorative patterns.

The lies trauma instills in our body-selves build rigid walls. They build structures meant to keep us small and sheltered. Lies such as :

  • we are responsible for the emotional well being of everyone around us no matter what our needs are

  • we are not allowed to occupy our bodies, be who we are, feel our own boundaries

  • we are responsible for inciting the abuses against us

  • feelings, vulnerability, attachment, love and safety are illusions and to be mistrusted/avoided

  • we deserve how we were and are treated when it is painful and that we are being conned when it is loving

  • There are cultural lies which, for trauma survivors, often reinforce and deepen the wounds of the personal traumas:

    • your worth is you productivity

    • there is such a thing as normal

    • your body is a machine and if it goes wrong you need fixing, deserved it, aren't doing enough _______

    • you are the sole entity responsible for your well being

    • you deserve more power, visibility, and safety if you are: whiter, more male, more hetero, able-bodied, rational, neurotypical, financially endowed and/or monotheistic

All these lies build rigid structures within us that the inner critic uses as parameters for keeping us "safe." The inner-critic's definition of safe that is.

They become the building within, the walls which we slam against when we are trying to heal, change and live up to our own high expectations of ourselves. Finding ourselves repeating patterns, even when we can see them is a sure sign we have hit one of the walls built inside by trauma.

The cement is the legacy of our survival techniques. A monument to it. The rigid structures within us were only a useful survival tool during the onslaught of abuse. Wouldn't it be nice if there was an automatic demolition fairy that came to tear down these awful structures as soon as the threat has passed as opposed to us survivors navigating these ingrained patterns of survival in a culture which keeps puking up the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" myth? The inner critic LOVES that myth. But for now, let's just use it as a solid metaphor: trauma builds structures of lies within us and every day we are working to tear those fuckers down. My herbal practice is dedicated to the demolition of these structures. One piece at a time. 

I went into my therapist’s office wanting a big ass Las Vegas style demolition. BOOM! I'm ready! Let's tear this down!

But it isn't dynamite that brings the major pieces of that building down. It continues to be daily micro-progressions. We had to start with the fact that a building was even there, built within my own inner landscape (because I believed it was all 'character flaws'). And then look at it. And then go inside. And then take inventory of its immensity. And then look at what equipment I might need to chip away at it...and where I could get the equipment...and what was the safest way to bring it down without destroying the ecosystem I wanted to keep around me, and what I would do with the rubble...and what I would build (if anything) in its absence. It takes time. Time I didn't feel I had and time I resented having to devote to the process. Except that progressively, I was seeing changes....

Micro-changes.

 The pic I took that inspired this post. Long Beach, CA 2015.

The pic I took that inspired this post. Long Beach, CA 2015.

These make a more sustainable difference than dynamite. I have a powerful inner critic who would happily rebuild any internal structures I blow up quickly. I have to teach this aggressive and hostile part of myself new things as I tear down the very structures it calls home. The inner critic LOVES these concrete lies and borders and boundaries. They are firm, they give us a sense of power and control and edges we can feel, the limits we can identify. The inner critic loves security, so, a sudden big open field of emotional flowers and sky where once a concrete building stood is nothing short of terror-inducing to the inner critic: "HOW CAN I SHIELD YOU IN THIS DAMN BED OF FLOWERS VULNERABLE TO THE OPEN SKY?" it screams at me through my neurophysiology.

The inner critic likes the predictable forms of our concrete trauma structures, it thinks in dualism: this is good, that is bad. You are good, you are bad. It likes to force our relationship to ourselves to be very linear and consequence oriented:

  • "If I can just get good enough at_____ I will deserve______."

  • "I am bad/ugly/worthless and that will change if I just work/look like/become ____"

  • "If I didn't have so many needs I could be there for others and worthy of_____"

  • "I need to change ____, I hate myself."

  • "I should be/do/say ______ and I don't because I am bad/awful/lazy."

  • "If I can know all the details and all the things my mind would rest and I could too."

  • "If I were like ______ I would deserve ______."

  • "I can't be late/tired/off/hungry/emotional, or else _____ will see I am bad/needy."

  • "I hate me; I need to fix me."

  • "You don't really want that, you aren't good enough yet for that."

  • "I can't need/want  ______ because only weak/bad/superficial/lazy people need/want that."

  • “I shouldn’t ____, or should never have needed________________.”

It does not believe in micro-progressions or the complexities of multiple truths co-existing. It thinks in good and bad, safe and unsafe, loved or hated. Safe is better than vulnerable. Familiar is better than new.....

But, who is this inner critic to be building walls in my psyche? Why would a piece of myself limit or turn on me so?

We are wildly complex. We are worlds of amazing multiplicity within. All of us have "parts of ourselves," which make up the diverse and fluctuating core of our total beingness. One we have all become more familiar with through psychology speak is our inner child, a part of our self which co-exists with us, is us, and also is somewhat limited because they are not all of us, they maintain their own identity as a place marker for our child self(s): this part speaks for those needs, remembers feelings and fears and joys from that stage in our development and imparts valuable information about our needs and desires to us. There is within each of us, multiple parts of the self constantly in negotiation. These parts will have different needs and perspectives and when we have internal conflicts, it is usually because the needs of different parts of the self are having it out or presenting opposing demands which we cannot simultaneously meet. This is often behind the "I know I should, but I can't seem to" phenomenon.

Our inner ecology is beautiful. Growing. Seasonal. Wild. Curious. And like any ecology, works to maintain some dynamic equilibrium, balancing our multiple needs, desires, and experiences. For many of us, the inner critic is a dominating power hungry jerk who tries to control our inner diversity. In a robust inner ecology, an honest, calm and gently critical part of our self can help us tease out our own internal workings, balance multiple needs, look at the whys of our fears, and offer us honest feedback when we could improve or act in a way that is better than how we have in that past. This inner knower/inner parent can step in, having observed our parts out of harmony and begin an inner dialogue between them. it helps us continue to grow as beings through the various events we experience throughout our lives.

And that is the critical piece: the healthy inner parent/guide witnesses all of our inner ecology and parts: the good, the struggling and the funky. It knows us deeply. It is the wisdom of this part which can be called upon to shed light on our patterns of behavior, motivations and desires when we are feeling in the dark or come up against a sufficiently complex experience. This part of ourself can tell us things about us no one else can and can offer the loving gentleness and forgiveness when we mess up or need support. It holds space for both the fullness and wonderfulness of all that we are with honest reflection about places we have room for growth in. It is akin to an inner parent (if the parent was healthy). It's work is that of service to us, it helps us learn and to balance growth with limits, honesty with compassion, feedback and critique with respect. And to set good boundaries within and without. It understands and appreciates that we are always growing and learning, integrating new experiences with new depths of relating.

The inner parent, the inner guide was developing right along side of us through all of our formative experiences. It took incredibly accurate notes about how to treat us based on how we were treated. How culture treats/views us. How we have been defined by others, especially though our developing years is most often how the inner parent knows how to define us. Whatever it learned early on about what keeps us safe is what it continues to believe. Self-righteously. Overpoweringly. If we lived in/are living in environments where turning against our own body and feelings was what kept us safe then our inner-critic continues to believe that is the recipe for success. And if genuine inter-personal safety was something elusive to us as we developed, then that is shape of the walls within us.

The inner critic often becomes our own internalized abuser. Which really sucks.

This part of our self, capable of having forthright, genuine and vulnerable discussions with our internal ecosystem becomes a tyrant. Gaslighting us. It absorbs the lies we don't even know we are operating under and holds us to them forcefully. It is inner-parenting us from a place of desperate avoidance of vulnerability. When we grow up in homes with gaslighting, emotional neglect, the variances of violence and systemic messages that who we are and the desires which naturally occur within us are bad, we learn that we are either totally out of control of our reality or that we have to find ways to fit into these paradigms in order to survive.

It boils down to focusing the blame on ourselves. We might not be able to control these external forces but we can turn on ourselves and learn to control/blame ourselves. And so, in abusive environments, we erect towers inside so that we know where we can dwell safely. The cement making up our internal structures is a mixture of emotions and reactions to our abuse/trauma that had to be turned inward because it could not be safely launched into our external environments. We literally could not build structures around us to protect ourselves and so we built them within. Shame, panic, rage, dissociation, numbing, self-hate, perfectionism, attachment disorders............ *sigh* sadness arises within me typing this.

 Strong cold holy basil brew + a scoop of vanilla ice cream makes for a good trauma-post reading companion. :)

Strong cold holy basil brew + a scoop of vanilla ice cream makes for a good trauma-post reading companion. :)

Through our stages of development this was entirely appropriate: being in relationship with the outside world helps us navigate our relationship with the inside world. Learning new things about our inside worlds helps us navigate our adventures and experiences in the outside world. This is what's happening during growing up years. If what we experienced from the world outside of us repeatedly sends us messages that our internal world, who we are, our boundaries, what we desire and need are not respected then we have little choice but to build towers within to help keep those things from spilling out and being seen. Shame built these structures.

The inner critic becomes the landlord/ building manager/ tax collector/ maintenance person for these towers as we move into adulthood. Because it wants us to be safely housed.

Our goal then is to re-parent this well-meaning but incredibly misinformed beast. And that, like raising any little curious creature, happens daily, with many, many small, cumulative victories and discoveries and re-negotiations of boundaries.

Micro Progressions.

Of course, there are also the big, memory worthy ecstatic epiphanies and 'never-going-backs' and booming changes too. But those big shifts are sustained by the smaller, less seen and celebrated ones. Much like parenting ;)

The Inner Critic & Emotional Flashbacks:

If you have never heard of, or don't have an idea of what an emotional flashback is, I wrote about it here. Us trauma survivors, particularly in the case of complex and cultural traumas, have heightened reactivity to danger and power dynamics. We are extra sensitized to it and learn to even be sensitized to the anticipation of it. The heart and the amygdala are constantly scanning our internal and external environment to intercept what might harm us, looking for signs so we can anticipate what might be coming.

Many of the things which actually harmed us on all levels of our being we had no real control over. None. But, especially when trauma is happening through developmental stages, we seek to understand these terrifying and painful experiences and so, unable to control or prevent the violence against our being, unable to escape the environments they occurred in or to truly address the reality that our primary caretakers and/or the dominant culture are unsafe or incapable of meeting our needs, we look to control what's within us. That awareness has to go somewhere. The observant part of us that would be a reliable inner-parent as we become less dependent on our primary caregivers and emerge into adulthood instead witnesses our internal panic and learns from our abusers.

Our inner critic has trauma.

It comes at us from a well-meaning but very wounded place. It *interpreted* that needs, vulnerability, happiness, emotions, the desire for love or intimacy all the things that brought the abuse to us. Thus, it believes it is helping us when it rears up and unleashes loads of shame, fear, and guilt. It thinks those things will keep us tucked away safely in our internal cement buildings, unable to be hurt by the elements.

But, just as it watched and learned terrible lessons early on, it is also watching us as we do the immense unseen, undervalued and powerful labor of re-relating to our lives, our wounds and our desires. It doesn't trust this change...at all, likely. In fact, it will also try to use that against us when we are feeling the boundaries of our wounds. We can start these micro-progressions by witnessing this as a process it cycles through. By noticing. Slowly, we build up to talking back to it. Letting it know it has some outdated methodologies. This in no way is easy work, in fact, it might be some of the hardest, particularly when we are surrounded by well-meaning folks who don't have to do this work and have no idea how hard or lonely it is. Or, how rewarding. 

The inner critic may or may not respond well to big, dynamite driven epiphanies. Those ripple in and change our whole internal systems, but often, right after them, the inner critic responds with force, wanting to reassert its protective controls over us, which can look like dissociation, disconnection, shame, feeling like we are actually bad, too much, too something or not anything enough...that's the inner-critic whispering to our amygdala that we need a little 'reality check.' It senses danger. It thinks it knows best. It remembers when we felt big things that brought on terrible consequences.

It believes shame, isolation, guilt and self-hatred are useful tools to protect us.

No, it seriously believes this. The punch line in all this: the inner critic has the power *alone* to induce an emotional flashback. I mean, we are living with the voice/narrative of our original trauma right inside ourselves. These are the flashbacks that can be the most isolating, because if our own thoughts or feelings can trigger us, how can we ever, ever feel safe? If we can cause our own flashbacks, how can we have any self-image of ever being cement free?

There are far more sneaky and gnarly ways the inner critic maintains its structures around us. It often appears as a feeling. As an arousal state. That lurking shadowy feeling behind moments we are happy/ok. The ways we can lose ourselves in laughter, delight or joy for a moment and come back to a feeling of self-hate. The way a desire creeps in for something out in the world and we push it away, out of consciousness to focus on our work, to somehow earn the right to experience those things. If this sounds familiar, chances are, your inner critic watched your younger parts, heart open to delight and genuine connection get trampled on. It watched and it believes it is the need/desire/innocence and vulnerability of that younger self which seduced the abusive, neglectful or violent behaviors. It wants those parts in the basement. The inner critic is meanest to our most vulnerable parts of ourselves. It prides itself on being a good learner, and it studied the dominant culture and our abusers very well.

It needs re-parenting. It needs lots and lots of micro-progressions to shift its worldview and adopt/trust new tools. And I know, for those of us who didn't get great modeling of healthy parenting and safe vulnerability, this can feel like....stupid. It all begins to feel kinda stupid. Cause other parts of us are tired and don't want to have to be doing this work all the time. But trust me, it is listening even now. Each time we are able to interact lovingly with ourselves, it listens.

Micro Progressions are like adding a new blossom, a new petal, that stays on our tree through the seasons. 

 Magnolia tree, 2016.

Magnolia tree, 2016.

Re-teaching the Inner Critic:

 

For some us with complex trauma, trying to talk to our inner critic is like turning to the waiter and saying, "I'll start with an appetizer of shame, feast on a large bowl of emotional flashbacks and end with a delightful serving of cold, creamy anger and despair....oh, and please, charge me extra." But creating a bridge of communication between the inner critic and our daily operating inner voice is important, it is something we can begin to build upon, creating other bridges internally, opening up connections between the parts comprising our inner worlds. There is a place we might reach along our journey where the amount of kindness we can proactively offer our self will supersede the amount of abuse we have withstood. I believe that. I believe that place is a powerful mark along our paths. We get there through micro-progressions, not ‘deciding’ or ‘calming down’ or ‘fixing.’ 

 

I try to actively hang out with the part of me who understands my trauma patterns and who is allowed to feel good about myself. Like a hang out I would have with a friend or someone who I trust. Honestly, in the beginning, the real work has been actually finding this part of myself, believing they are real (inner critic can get triggered around this), and then getting to know *them*. Who is the 'me with healthier relational patterns' and what do they feel like? 

If you have read any of my stuff you know I am a huge Tori Amos fan. Her 1991-2001 works shaped me profoundly. I used to mark the changes in my life by what Tori album I was listening to and saw her live several times in my early to mid-twenties. When I would see her in concert I would access parts of myself I didn't know how to in my daily life. In the loudness of her roaring, singing every lyric with the other 30,000 fans in the audience I found a way to inhabit my deepest feelings, unlike any other way I felt in normal life. I felt power. I felt seen. I felt real. I had emotions. For someone with intense dissociation, feeling real was the most pleasurable thing. In those moments I had access to energy and insight into my life I didn't have any other ways of accessing (yet). But I knew I felt something, something that let me feel like I actually existed on this planet. Throughout my twenties and thirties and still today, I play key songs, especially the live ones, when I need them AND as a secret tool of inner connection to the me who needs to be reminded that they are real.

What I thought is that it was she who created this experience within me. I thought the desires to be alive, strong, vocal, passionate and aware of my own worth even amidst my struggles was something she had and she was the source of. But, as on-stage Tori, she midwifes that for any of us who also has that same burning self within. But she was never the source of that within me. She provided the opportunity for me to touch my inner badass. That was in me. That "when we shine brightly we help others to shine brightly too" thing. Alone in my kitchen singing Tori, I got to learn how the me who inhabits my body and deserves to have anger and is successful and vocal feels in me/as me. I get to know that future me, one I am every day getting more familiar with, in these moments. I recognize her in my body when she visits and I hear her advise when moments of fear and vulnerability come up. I use that feeling when the inner-critic comes in, when it wants to obliterate any worth I may have.

It’s just one tool that helps me, as an example. I use music as a way to feel different self-states in my body-self. To get familiar with them.

So many of the messages we get about trauma centers 'healing' as if there is this magical place we will arrive t. It's great marketing but I think it is when we have a relationship with the us who we really like, who we look up to, who gets to come with their experiences and their context of having been totally cemented over that we can begin to celebrate some success. That inner relationship can only step forth if we let them take up space in our inner ecology, slowly easing out the landlord of our old structures. Finding the energy to devote towards this work is exhausting, it really is tearing down a building with bare hands.

Here are some of the ways I practice this as much as I can:

  • I noticeably appreciate and affirm that any work or energy I invest in this is actual work and takes energy and resources

  • I look for moments when I feel badass, or in my body, or aware of something larger and more empowered than how you usually feel and then say out loud, "I like feeling this.”

  • I find small, regular amounts of time to privately summon this ok self and then recruit my imagination for a few minutes of play, like while cooking I put Top Chef on in the background and pretend I am a trained chef, the imagination is powerful 

  • I listen critically to what the inner critic tells me we cannot be/do/say/need/desire and wonder where I learned that or what makes it true

  • And during emotional flashbacks, I have a saying I use to remind me that that it was it is, I say “the feelings are real but the context is old”

  • I actively observe healthy interactions among friends, on episodes of shows I like, and study them

“We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.”
— Ursula K. Le Guin

This is labor. This will brings stuff up and the inner critic might try to convince us that this kind of taking up internal space and dreaming about a self that has a safer inner ecology is for other people, 'healed' people, 'gooder' people. Expect that. Greet it when it arrives: Hello walls, Hello building. I see you.

We have the right to our internal realms. We have the right to spend time with the us we want to experience. We have the right to find them within us and create space for them in our internal and external realities. We have the right to name abusive dynamics even if they are springing up from old buildings within.

Deepening our relationship with the part of ourselves that we love and have positive regard for forces the inner critic to witness new things. Watching us have compassion for ourselves changes the power balance internally. It provides a source of felt experience to draw on when the inner critic goes on its tirades. It gives us company/an ally when we need to tell the inner critic, "Thank you for asking me to ______ so that we can appear safer. Thank you for trying your best to protect me from things you fear, but I need you to trust me now, I need you to take some redirection and learn new things."

Microprogessions.  

They add up. For those of us with complex trauma, it is often not the big dynamite, "I am never going to feel/do/be/say _____ again!" moments that create permanent shifts, but the more daily, private and powerful internal dialogues of negotiating new space that summon lasting changes. Where is the 'there' being referenced in 'the slower you go the faster you get there?' A healthy re-balancing of the inner ecology so the inner critic can't get away with stuffing us in old buildings so often. Something like that. :)

Here are a couple of recent examples of how the inner critic shows up in my own life that I thought I would share in case examples are helpful:

1. Uglyness. The month before I moved to Portland (so, March and right now it is May), I decided rather stoically that I had done enough trauma work to gamble seeing my mother, whom I haven't seen in a couple years. I really did do a good job of preping but the visit was painful. There has been no change for her in how human I am allowed to be and how much blame I am supposed to carry for my own abuse. I can see progress for myself as I didn't have flashbacks after the visit. Instead, a strange new phenomena gripped me: I really, really felt the full weight of the visit. Like I literally felt it. I didn't dissociate, pretend it didn't hurt, or throw myself into the woes of wanting it to be different. Because of that, I really, really felt the pain of being blamed, of being expected to have no self. And it hurts. Real, real bad. In present time. As a response to this hurt, and my inability to really effect any change on our relationship, the inner critic popped up with a new technique: for a few weeks after the visit I would look at various parts of my face, ways I would laugh, hand gestures, facial expressions, etc. and very suddenly feel immense hatred and deep feelings of ugliness. Especially if I caught myself in a reflection. I felt it and decided to just observe it without giving the weight of being truthful. I knew it had to be a trauma response and so I decided to try and observe it. Soon, I was able to identify that everything I was labeling as ugly were parts of myself that reminded me of my mother. Which led me to realize that I felt powerless to make a change between us, which led me to look at how deeply I actually miss her and wish she was a safe part of my life, which led me to begin the grieving process. The immediate and sudden seeing/feeling/knowing myself to be hideously ugly is definitely not the way I treat myself now and so I was able to catch it better. A few years ago it was my reality. In this case, the inner critic was routing a feeling of intense hate (which ultimately is pain) onto myself since I am unable to get it resolved in another way.  

2. "Taking one for the team."  I let something that meant something to me out, shared it, and it ended up no longer really being mine. I shared work I was excited to be doing with someone who I thought was a colleague who then thefted my work and made it their own. That was the last thing I expected it to happen and so my guard was really down. Though, my intuition was pretty loud in certain moments and I downplayed it and ended up in a situation where I feel like I got some wind taken out of my sails. As I have come to see and accept that this happened, I feel very angry. Anger with someone I am close to still gets very confusing for me. I grew up being told that my anger was always wrong, that I don't see things clearly, that I feel too much and that as a female I am always to prioritize the needs of the male/other. They get more space. Their intent outweighs my boundaries. The inner critic sneaks in like this: I feel anger at something that happened in the context of a relationship. I see where I could have made different decisions and decide to take all of this as a 'lesson,' as surely I will do better next time. Surely I can put use to this loss and be better. And, I decide all this without even considering that I would set the boundary with the other person or name my grievances. Because ultimately, when I think of actually holding ground and giving my anger merit, I get a bit triggered and don't trust me. So, its easier to blame me and romanticize all of this as a cosmic lesson about how my actions lead to my suffering. My inner narrative sounds  like, "well, this is a lesson to you: you have to be less open. Less trusting." You brought this on. Sneaky jerk my inner critic can be, tricking me into prioritizing self-blame over naming that which has provoked the anger and making it clear that a boundary of mine had been crossed. 

Everyday, micro-progressions and re-parenting our inner critics...

xoxo!

Here are the original comments left on this post, I so appreciate them:

Triggers And Trau-minos

This is post #3 in a series of posts that are designed to help illuminate WTF is going on in a life/body that has been shaped largely by neglect, personal and/or cultural traumas. I look back on how lost, how scared and how alone I was before I understood what was happening in my mind and body and there are things I wish some of the professionals I asked for help from would have told me: like how normal my reactions were given the things I had been through. When my massive anxiety and the rolling thunder of flashbacks and triggers took up the bulk of my days, I wish a professional person leaned in closely and said, "you know what? All that electrical fire bursting through your veins is power. You are damn powerful. Would you like to know what is happening inside you?"

Maybe no one I consulted could do that. Maybe it’s too far outside of the therapeutic/doctor/social worker expert-client models of interaction...or maybe I just didn't get the right help...And certainly, in a pathology paradigm, where we look mostly at symptoms, education between professional and client aren't necessarily the focus. Getting ‘fixed’ is. I often felt like professionals looked across the room at me puzzled, trying to figure out how to help me. It was very isolating. What I didn't know was that I didn't know how to trust anyone. So maybe they knew I couldn't receive what they wanted to say anyway.

That's one of the reasons I love being an herbalist. My primary offering is education. That's the portal through which the plants rumble through me. I get to explain which herbs and why they may have an impact on a specific body wanting to feel something different. In these posts, I get to build things that I would want to tell someone I am working with into one long ass post and then recommend it as part of my herbal protocol. How cool is that?

Today, we are going to talk about triggers. TRIGGERS. I'm going to do my best to summarize what is happening inside us and also how not alone we are.

'Trigger' is a widely used term now in the mental health and activist realms. It basically indicates something that can set off a powerful chain reaction inside of us, including flashbacks, panic attacks, outbursts, stored body sensations, dissociative episodes and more ambiguous or unsettling feelings which can be hard to identify.  Having unresolved trauma in our minds and our bodies is like living in a minefield. Until the triggers are identified and disarmed, we are hyper-vigilant warriors mistrusting every step. The really frustrating and scary thing is how simple or small a trigger can be, creating a reaction which seems disproportionate to both ourselves and those around us. Have you ever had someone stare at you unsure about why you are reacting so strongly to what seems to be a small thing? Or feeling immense amounts of shame because you believe your own reaction to be out of proportion?

The fragmented memories of the traumatic experience(s) are stored in the body/mind/spirit. These are bits of information stored in various places, as opposed to a single file cabinet like space in our brain. Trauma gets stored like a kaleidoscope throughout the whole person and not as a whole piece. Often pieces will be linked together but not fully, like you may remember an audio sound that also makes your stomach upset, but you can't quite access the emotional content or the exact event....or maybe you get the emotional content but no other part of the memory gives you context to where the feelings come from. Or maybe you totally relive a whole traumatic experience, but lose yourself so fully in the present that it is almost impossible to process what you just re-lived. These unprocessed trauma fragments stored within us have HUGE energy stored with them. When we are not triggered, they are being held in place, but knock one ever so slightly with the right force and BOOM! The energetic potential is released and the trauma fragments make themselves known.

This guy explains it best. Think of each domino as a piece of a traumatic experience stored within our minds or psyche. Watch the power of "gravitational potential" do its thing:

BOOM! LOL

Ha, when he says, "Let's see it in slow moooooooo." 13 Dominos. Two Billion times the energy from the start to the finish. That's the process happening when stored trauma is released into action through a trigger. Learned experience is a powerful force. I know it might not feel like that when we are drowning in the after effects when something set off our internal traum-inos (omg, I just laughed and almost peed a little. TRAUM-INOS! I have to put that in the title.)...where was I.....so yeah, I know it doesn't feel that way. But from one survivor to another, we are some of the strongest people I know. Look at all that energetic power we are holding just to make it through every damn day. Just wait until we can reroute that energy to other things which bring us benefit. In the words of our scientist friend above: BOOM!!!!!

A couple things about 'being triggered:

  • It is a real, physiological and psychological process that is indicative of unresolved traumatic experience(s)

  • Trauma survivors are, in each person to a unique degree, re-wired to experience the world as less safe, and, after talking with many trauma survivors (myself included), the world is literally less safe because we have learned how to often identify the larger cultural causes of our traumas which we have even less personal control over changing to the degree that it impacts us

  • Unresolved trauma and the constant fear that we can 'get triggered' literally increases the allostatic load our minds and bodies are carrying, which in turn means we have far less physical and emotional resources to navigate the land mines of daily life. This in turn leads to increased internal tensions and the ability to be triggered more quickly and with greater frequency

  • Triggers set off flashbacks. Flashbacks don't always look like what we have seen in a movie like where a war vet is reliving a full scene in their mind. They can be so much more subtle and harder to recognize, particularly emotional ones and somatic ones with no context.

  • Developing a relationship with our triggers can help diffuse some of their intensity and is really challenging work

A little about memory:

 

                           Playing around on photoshop. 

Memory is not really a "thing" and neither are our "memories." Memory is much more of a 'process' than a 'thing.' There are several types of memories and neuroscience is learning more and more information about how complex the process of memory and re-membering is. Basically, ‘remembering’ is the retrieval of important information from various parts of the mind/psyche/body. It quite literally is putting these pieces together to form a coherent whole, ideally having the original time and space context attached to them. Experiences which overwhelm our processing systems are stored like fragments in multiple places within us, but they are frozen in time, suspended. A flashback, the process that happens when we are triggered, happens not because we are re-membering the trauma typically, but because there are parts of us that are reliving it floating through us without attachment to space and time it actually occurred in. That is a key distinction. These stored traumatic experiences are released from their frozen state and re-experienced. If they remain largely unprocessed or stuck in a loop where the external environment prevents the integration of the trauma, it can happen over and over again. Our triggers can then sort of become ‘true’ when they repeat over and over again.

Re-membering these fragments is a process of exploring the various pieces, stored away from conscious awareness together with the parts that are in conscious awareness (if there are any) and then creating a whole truth, a whole experience, a whole narrative which includes the when and where parts.

We move trauma stored as implicit memory into explicit memory, and through that process, uncover new meaning about our traumas, ourselves and how we can use that meaning to honor our lives in the present.

EXPLICIT memory is largely conscious (able to be recalled, thought about, we are aware of it):

  • Declarative memories are sort of feelingless, data related memory. The "shopping lists of the memory world" as Peter Levine calls them. This is like remembering that laundry detergent goes in the washing machine, that your key opens your front door, that the gas pedal is on the left. There role is largely to communicate information that is mostly factual and procedural. It is information which we build learning and knowledge about things we do and it is largely created and stored in the cerebral cortex. These are the most 'concrete' and widely recalled memories that we use, and it is these type of memories that most people presume is largely how memory operates.

  • Episodic memories are conscious memories that are infused with feelings and/or tones. These are largely autobiographical memories which can be narrated with a beginning, middle and end and placed into the right context of where they happened in the course of lifespan. They are a little less conscious than the declarative memories we use everyday, but can be recalled deliberately or arise spontaneously often due to an external reminder (which is really a trigger). Now, this is a very important part: Episodic memories can evolve, change over time. Think about a break up you experienced with someone. At the time it happened, you only had a certain amount of understanding about it. As years have gone by, as you tell the story, you are able to add layers of understanding about you, or your partner, or what was happening that you were unaware of at the time, to the story of the break. The memory is able to evolve and grow as you do. This memory is capable of being enriched, and as it is, it helps us constantly reorient ourselves to where we are in space and time. And, as they are updated with new information, these memories allow us to believe that we are capable of growth, of discovering new things and that there are various outcomes possible in situations. <--- that last part is important.

We also have IMPLICIT memory, which is not so conscious and accessible, it lies below our thinking self:

  • Emotional memories are necessary to store very important information about survival and connection based information. As social creatures/mammals, information about social connection is essential to our survival and thriving as both a self and a species. They help us signal information to ourselves AND others what we need, how we feel and the context of our internal worlds. IT IS IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THAT EMOTIONAL MEMORIES CAN BE/ARE STORED AS PHYSICAL SENSATIONS IN THE BODY. Emotional memories are generally triggered by the context of a present situation with similar characteristics. It is important to note that emotional memories are not the same as emotional flashbacks. The emotional memory can be one of getting excited by going to the movie theater because your emotional context of watching movies on the big screen is positive, it evokes something positive you enjoy repeating. Emotional flashbacks are definitely accessing emotional memory, but unlike the movie theater above, the flashbacks access traumatic experience that is outside of linear time. Emotional memory evolves and changes based on new information about our experiences.

  • Procedural memories are the body sensations. They are the learned motor skills, the emergency response systems of fighting, freezing, fawning and/or fleeing, and the somatic intuitions of approaching or avoiding something instinctively. These body based memories are our deepest ones, and play a huge part in the storing and releasing of traum-inos. Procedural memories are powerful sources of information and when they are able to be experiences, explored and trusted, can empower us to integrate knowledge on the deepest levels. These memories, at the deepest levels of the brain stem, which largely is called the 'reptilian brain,' thought to be unable to make decisions which have implications about safety and relationship are a core part of healing traumatic experiences. Procedural memories are the least conscious ones, meaning the information they have to tell us isn't stored in language or narrative but in sensation. Sensation, for us survivors, can be terrifying.  

Things that trigger us cause a repeat of stored emotional and procedural memories which are stuck, outside of time and space.

They are usually recalled as fragments, like the body sensations are not stored with the the emotional context, or the emotions are not stored with the details of what happened, etc. which makes them less likely to become episodic/autobiographical memories which can grow and change over time. Traumatic memories are buried, frozen, scary little bombs waiting to go off in us with their huge stored energy. When they do go off, our defense mechanisms can get activated causing a flight, fight, freeze, fawn or "fucking push everyone I love away because I am broken" response. That last one was my favorite since it was so effective.

Unprocessed trauma maintains a high state of arousal in our bodies, meaning we are more likely to perceive incoming information as a threat to our being and are carrying a really high physical and emotional load. This state of being hypervigilant, hyper-aroused, frozen, exhausted contributes to how fast and strong we might react to something which triggers us. It is like we are walking around with the finger already on the domino, vulnerable to the conditions which knock us off balance.

A story:

This is an event which occurred when I thought I was getting somewhere with my triggers even though I was still dealing with the daily effects of feeling unsafe, broken and disconnected from my body. I had started a job in a non-profit serving low-income youth....the culture of this workplace was seriously weird. I felt deeply uncomfortable and somehow disempowered by many of their expectations, interactions with leadership, things other staff would say, etc. But as a new employee with what I would come to discover was CPTSD, a history of panic and a serious need to have food and shelter income, all I knew at that time is that I needed to hide these feelings and "be normal," After all, my rent and food and car payment depended on it. I also wanted to prove to myself that I was/could be 'normal,' and could hold a job past the point of people discovering I had a 'panic disorder.' So you could say I had a lot of internal pressure on myself.

One day we were having a meeting led by my boss's boss. He is a tall racist, white dude, an asshole, used authority as a weapon, hid his ineptitude behind power dynamics and largely got away with these things because he was very calculating about letting them show and laughed and smiled a lot and bought people things. It was really fucked up. Before I knew all of that about him, I knew that I felt sick around him. I saw myself freezing as soon as he would walk into a room and I would compensate by acting overly cheerful and 'nice.' Each interaction left me feeling...familiar....nothing I quite knew how to name. Just somehow less present, less in my body, less something.... after many of our interactions I would feel a vague shame and would stare off blankly for a while, dissociated.

So in he walks to my first big staff meeting about a month into my employment and wants each of the employees to do a small presentation of where they were at in their job duties. Panic rolls through my body like thunder. I almost stood up and left (I mean ran out of the room in a panic) but at this point I had been dealing with panic attacks for over a decade and so I knew that as long as I could stay seated and tolerate the physical pain of panic and terror, that I could simply read what I wrote on my report and survive. But I was sure that this was the moment I was going to crack and be destroyed forever. I somehow fumbled my way through it or I talked really fast. I don't remember.

Motherwort, Leonorus cardiaca, can sometimes be a great friend at the onset of a trigger.

What I do remember were the feelings of toxic shame and the loss of trust in my own body that followed. After each interaction with him I would have a day of intense self hatred and loathing, often followed by a period of superficial cheeriness about how I am going to get it right the next time and "be normal." But, I proceeded to get worse and worse working there until I got mental health support from a therapist who believed me when I came in with my library books and said I thought I had  CPTSD. I grew up in a home with a racist, homophobic, dominating, power wielding, patriarchal man who resented me for being smart and absolutely hated emotional expression/needs and connection. He did the best he could, after his own traumas, to see all that abuse as an expression of love. And how I was allowed to show I was a good daughter was to empathize with him and assist my mother in the co-dependent management of the home life around his needs. If I had needs or was pointing out how fucked up things were, it was me who was framed as being the problem.

So, here I am at this job, with no money in the bank and a desperate need to stay employed. You could say the work environment was replicating my childhood home, where I had to perform in order to get my survival needs met. I was unaware that I was dealing with the natural processes of complex trauma yet. I was living with intense fluctuations of "everything is good and so I am good" to "everything is bad, so I am bad." In comes this authority figure which I am unable avoid but I could not seem to uncover why I felt 13 around him. Being put on the spot to perform for him in the meeting created enough internal conflict and triggered me into a flashback of deep unsafety and internal conflict. I wanted to flee.....but my survival and my own internal pressures of how "good employees/normal people" react would not allow me to. I was stuck, unsafe and reliving something very, very familiar. This would be the first of many, many panic attacks, emotional flashbacks and disempowering experiences I would have there. I really thought that it was my inability to cope that was at the heart of the matter. It took some serious digging to unearth why he triggered such a powerful reaction in me. But once I identified that it was not just that he 'reminded' me of my paternal person, but that the learned through developmental trauma rules I have around this kind of person make it so that I am not allowed to see them as bad/unsafe/asshole or else I am bad/unsafe/asshole.

Layers of implicit and procedural memory was having a tug of war within me.

Triggers are the set up, the catalyst, the instigation, the right set of circumstances to tip over the dominos stacked inside of us. It is important to understand that the trigger is simply that push against a traum-ino that starts the process. We are susceptible to "being triggered" when there is unresolved traumatic experience being stored, typically outside of our conscious knowledge, in our minds and bodies.

Triggers come in varieties:

  • Emotional/Relational triggers can be some of the hardest to identify and understand. Basically, if the context of our traumas happened in relationship to others (emotional, physical, sexual abuse and/or emotional or physical neglect) then relationships are going to be a nesting ground for triggers. Possibly with everyone, possibly with types who remind us in some way of the abusive person. Usually, there can be varying degrees of being triggered by relationships. And because we are driven to connect with others as social beings, these types of triggers can be very, very, very painful and isolating. Folks with relational triggers can often have periods of being fine and open in a relationship until some tipping point happens in which there is a sudden need to push the self or the other away, often very dramatically, only for the heightened state of the trigger to pass and the person tries to draw close again. All those states of being are very real. And scary and confusing.

  • Inner triggers are seriously a pain in the ass. Our very internal landscape of emotions, feelings, needs, and wants can set off an internal volcano of fear, shame, panic and dissociation. It is like the inner critic takes a dose of steroids and decides to beat us up. These triggers are a bit harder to identify, but usually they come from one part of us having feelings or needs that are deemed "bad," and the inner critic, whose voice is loud and large and abusive takes over, sending us into deep and fearful states of shame from which there feels no escape. They are similar to relational triggers above, but here it is the relationship we have with our self which can be a trigger. This is often a result of a internal part of us replaying out ways in which we were treated by folks we depended on for our love and safety. Some part of us, early on, had to identify with this abusive voice to establish a map of the world internally. and as we grow up, that internalized abuser can stay with us.

  • Place/location triggers can arise when we have traumatic memory which involved a specific type of place or setting. This can arise from single event traumas as well as ongoing traumatic experiences. Place related trauma often causes clear avoidance patterns, such as not getting into any elevators after a traumatic experience in one, or having a dimly lit bedroom evoke fear so the person sleeps with the lights on....the fear of specific places, like an elevator, can evolve over time to become more generalized, such as also now avoiding smaller rooms or closets, narrow hallways, etc....often making the person experiencing this feel crazy, and like they are losing more control. The response then is simple physics: I feel like I am losing my grip so I try and grip harder...I try and avoid even more things so I don't feel out of control.

  • Somatic/sensory triggers are body sensations related to our traumas. They can be touches (any type of touch), emotional experiences, places on our bodies which hold fear or pain, the actual feelings of fear and anxiety, shifts in our body-state such as fever or temperature, blood sugar levels, blood pressure levels, heart rate, need for or rejection of food and hunger, headaches, hormonal fluctuations, sexual arousal or lack of arousal, smells, certain food tastes.....basically, anything that involves our five physical senses can also trigger them. Somatic triggers can be really hard to identify as they are often lacking language, story and a sense of time and can tell us things about our traumas that talking about them usually will not.

As I was typing this, I had a vision of the first time I can remember biting and picking at my nails. I was young, really young (7? 8?), and had just come out of a very chaotic and intense set of circumstances....I would sit on top of the stairs at our new apartment and stare off, spaced out, picking my cuticles until they would bleed. The pain brought me some comfort and grounding into my body. I really didn't recognize the sensation as painful. I always thought I sat there on those steps and did that because I was bored. Sitting here, now, knowing where I am in space and time, I decided to spend a few minutes being with that girl, on the top of the steps. I feel safe right now, not triggered by this memory (meaning it is not creating a set of circumstances in me which are firing off a replay of past emotional states of being), so I can go be with her fully for a few moments. I imagine myself sitting next to her on the steps. I see her picking her hands. I feel into her. I accept that I am her, her knowledge lies within me. I focus on my breathing, slowly letting myself feel her feelings. What I discovered was that 'boredom was a surface level sort of 'cover-up' for what was actually a much larger feeling I didn't quite have the skills to name or process. I was LONELY. I felt truly, utterly alone. It was the moment, as a young person, that I accepted being alone as a 'true' state of being that I could not change. It was the beginning point for many dissociative behaviors to follow. I wasn't bored, I was aware, for the first time in my conscious awareness of what it felt like to be totally alone, and that reality was too much for me to comprehend at that age. it was also an unsafe reality as I still depended on adults for my food and shelter.

Damn, I love that resilient little girl, stubby ass nails and all. She found ways to ground when the circumstances were beyond her control and the world was cold and scary. I was 7 when I first felt truly alone in the world. Now I know.

One more trigger type:

  • Time related triggers can include "anniversary reactions," where there is an involuntary reaction to a time around which something traumatic happened (a death, an accident, a break up, when something happened to you). This can be as wide as a time of year or a specific season (holidays, anyone?), a month, etc. and as narrow as a specific day or a time of day. I would certainly include regular time intervals such as 'meal time,' and 'bed time.' as well. While we would think these would be the most recognizable ones since there would be an obvious pattern or frequency they would occur, truthfully, the pattern may not present itself as a pattern and the connection to why "bath time," or "christmas" or "when the days get shorter," might be very buried in the body and unclear

What I really want to make sure we understand about triggers, is that they have exceedingly more and more power when we are in states of internal conflict and disempowerment. Which, for many of us is how we live everyday: managing and surviving the internal chaos that we have come to know as our normal. Our way of surviving. It is EXHAUSTING. Especially within the vapid culture of systemic racism, colonialism, capitalism, etc.

The ‘healing’ or lessening the impact of triggers, then, is the ongoing process of eliminating the internal conflicts which prevent us from being fully in the present and able to process, in the present, what is happening within, around and to us. When big stuff comes up, but we are able to stay in our minds and bodies in the present, we have creative and adaptive responses to the big stuff, often helping to prevent it from getting stuck inside as stored trauma. But when we are constantly operating from a place of symptom management, economic and psychological survival, our ability to respond to internal and external stress creatively and adaptively seriously disappears. Like seriously. Triggers are only triggers because we are unable to fully process the whole of our realities in the moment, but instead are shot back into some other place where trauma happened and we were stripped of our control, our authority, our safety, our power. Our responses in the present are restrained to whatever skills/knowledge/autonomy/power we had when the original trauma occurred.

The hard part of diffusing triggers in our current culture is having access to the time it takes to explore these layers of being and fully feel and grieve/process them, having the financial resources to take that time or pay the support team of knowledgeable folk  which can help hold us through the process and the ability to transcend the trap of financial survival.

Triggers shoot us straight back to the same set of super-powers we had when the original trauma happened: survive.

The way to dis-empower the trigger then, is ultimately to fully explore it. To create a container, slowly, and only as fast and safely as we are able (with no judgement on the process please), to hold all the information that the trigger has to show us. We don't get triggered because we are broken, we get triggered because we are whole, we have parts of ourselves who are still sitting on the steps wanting to tell us the secrets of our hearts and our bodies and our truths. We get triggered because there is some mighty fucking force in us that is willing to withstand the complexities of these traumas. We get triggered because we are not dead, and we can therefore still shift something, still find balance, still transform what has not been known into what can be known: in our minds, in our bodies, in our hearts, in our lives.

Take the example I shared about asshole-boss and his perverse leadership. I didn't stop being triggered by him until I was able to sit with my real feelings about how I was treated by my own paternal person who behaved similarly. It was when I discovered that even though I could say to someone, "yeah, my paternal person was an asshole," I was not allowed to feel like that inside. I was unable to react or make decisions about my own personal safety around him or else I was considered a terrible daughter, hysterical and an ugly selfish person. Only when I could see that internal paradox was I able to see why I was so out of control internally when I was around my boss. I had a set of deeply ingrained beliefs formed by traumatic experiences and emotional neglect which were too terrifying to consciously know, so I demanded internally that I feel and behave a certain way when it was in direct opposition to the reality that my boss and my paternal person were both assholes. Once I could see the pattern, I had to do the harder work of letting it sink in that nothing I could have done could actually change my paternal person into a not-asshole person. I never had that power. So, I learned to withstand the feelings of seeing my paternal person as an asshole AND the simultaneous feeling that I was a good daughter...and to grieve the loss of having a loving and safe paternal person in my life. The hardest part of being triggered by my boss was the paradoxical feelings that I really disliked him and yet, still wanted to be approved of, liked, seen.....

It took lots of digging at those layers to understand what all my internal voices were saying and to cut through the inner chaos so that I had the ability to sit in a meeting and totally feel in my body, how much of an asshole he was, and to not be triggered by my own internal conflict.

 DID YOU KNOW RE-PURPOSING DOMINOS IS A THING??? This one  is on Etsy .&nbsp;

DID YOU KNOW RE-PURPOSING DOMINOS IS A THING??? This one is on Etsy

Is this making sense? The triggers have powers not because we are defunct or permanently broken, but because these shards of trauma are wanting to be freed from their prison of the past and the implicit realms of the self to the realms of explicit memory. To become a conscious and well placed part of our autobiographical self, our mythos.

Traum-inos:

Only a goof off Sagittarius would write about this as if it was actually fun. *Bear with me.*

So, you know how in the video above, the tiny little domino knocks over each bigger and bigger domino? Well, those dominos are all our pent up, ready to be made known on some level, stored traumatic experiences. The trigger is the force which knocks the first domino over. I imagine that uncovering our truths is like removing a domino.

Sometimes we uncover something that is just the tiny little first one. But the other ones remain, ready to be knocked over..it will just take a bit more starting force. Sometimes, we uncover something big, something huge!!! And it may be like the last, hundred pound one is removed.

This is sort of what’s happening in a therapeutic relationship (ideally). Some folks have a community of friends, family and/or partner who can support the process by talking us through stuff without judgement/fixing so that the deeper knowledge can present itself. Some of us have exercise practices which drop physical stress levels enough so that stored knowledge can emerge from the body and the mind. Some of us have trance/prayer/spiritual practices which give us access to inner states which can be receptive to allowing memory to surface and be examined. Some of us walk in nature and let the trees and plants shift our nervous system into receptive states of being. Some of us might be barely hanging on for survival and asking questions of our trauma can be so scary that all of this traum-inos talk sounds like crap. <--- at the height of my panic and despair I likely would have thought, still, that being triggered was mainly epic proof that I was a bad person. It’s a real thing the trauma teaches us.

Some guidelines for this game:

  • Safety always comes first. If exploring the past, feeling sensation in our body or remembering things evokes panic, there is no medal for pushing our self past what feels safe, in fact, when we respect our own needs, we develop an internal sense of trust and safety with our self, which is seriously the fastest way to healing.

  • The slower you go, the faster you get there......one of the hardest lessons on my own personal journey. Often, we can make huge, huge strides in knocking out some traum-inos by paying lots of attention to the small things. Messages that our bodies send us throughout the day, cues as to when we are feeling a bit anxious or 'not ourselves,' or when our guts are trying to get our attention. The "let me lie on the couch and replay my deepest secrets and terrors" approach does not make healing happen faster if you are unable to then handle the after effects of retelling/experiencing such traumatic stuff. Re-playing is not the same as 're-membering,' to re-member is to put the pieces (truths) together into a new whole which is in our conscious awareness. There could be good reason why the conscious mind is trying to hold something out of our awareness: because it is terrifying. Going harder doesn't mean healing faster.

  • No matter what happens in the game, love you. Like really, LOVE you. Perfection is bullshit. You are allowed to freak out, fuck up, push people away, make new friends, say no, say yes, laugh and be human, we are learning, in this process, to trust that every incident has an opportunity for healing and that we can love our self along the way. Everything we do or that happens is simply a communication about what is real in that moment. The goal, when we trust that, is to then discover what those truths are communicating.

  • Begin to notice levels of arousal throughout your day, set an alarm on the phone (one with a nice chime, lol) for every 4 hours or so, or 2, and do a five minutes sensory check in: how am i feeling in my body? Am I holding any tension? What is the predominant emotional state I am in? What catches my eyes right now? Do I smell anything? Is what I am wearing comfortable? Is it pleasing? Do I taste anything? would I like to? Do I hear anything? How far down into my belly is my breath going? Does it make past my lungs area? Being in the present moment is a muscle. This helps strengthen that muscle so we can more readily orient ourselves to the present when triggers happen. Also, this might be too much as well. If this exercise feels aversive, it is ok to trust that.

  • Have fun. No seriously. You only live once. If there is even the smallest part of us, after a trigger passes and we come back into our self or the present, that can say, "well, shit, that was a wild ride," with a little private grin, we can activate important processes of rewiring your own relationship to the state of being triggered. I do not say this in a 'new agey' think positive kind of way. I mean it in a like, you are your own best friend and you can have a sense of humor about how damn chaotic and wild this being a human being is. It is your journey. Why not see some humor in it. I mean, I almost peed myself and ran out of a damn meeting in a panic because I was unable to hold asshole boss + good employee in my psyche at the same time! I should have peed on the table. That would have been fun. Pleasure is one of the absolute strongest medicines there is for a hyper-aroused nervous system. Whatever brings you true pleasurable joy, no matter how small, bring that in, more of it.

So how do we play traum-inos?

It is gonna be a bit different for each of us, but basically, we want to find safe ways to allow the parts of ourselves that were limited by past experiences to share their truths, explore them, release the pent up body + emotional energy stuck in the experiences into the present, transforming it from implicit awareness to explicit, allowing it to become a slice of our autobiographical pie. It is a long, layered, challenging, wild, chaotic, frustrating, ecstatic, life changing quest. And every new thing we discover about how we really feel/felt, what we really know and what are story is builds on the former. Like momentum, even if in the beginning it doesn't feel like it.

Keeping track of our triggers and finding ways to explore them safely is the key to creating a relationship with them. I am going to offer a set of questions below which can be useful to use as a journal guide to help build that relationship. I like to talk some of the questions aloud when I am doing the dishes as a way to explore them, because I am very auditory and have trouble with journaling and writing things out. Do what works for you, but this is a place to start. There is no right or wrong way, skip any ones you don't want to answer and spend as much time on one as you like.

We can do this process often to help uncover patterns for the same or different triggers. Please only do this process when you are feeling safe to explore and have some tea or food in your belly or things that make you feel cared for. Give yourself some time. Doing it on the bus right before work like I used to is not the smartest, lol....stuff might come up and I want you to have the privacy and time you need to let it out, dance it off, shower it away, cry it out, call a friend, etc. Think ahead of time what helps soothe you if you do begin to feel triggered in the process.

The first step in helping to address triggers is knowing that they are even happening, so see if any of the following applies: (Oh and also, our strongest survival mechanism is to store trauma in a place that makes it hard to know, so if this process seems hard, that isn't because you aren't doing it right, that is because of how brilliantly designed we are for survival)

  • Your reaction to a situation seems way more intense than you or others who you trust think is appropriate or usual

  • During the reaction it feels like a tidal wave comes over you and you cannot change the course of your reactions, even when a part of you is watching yourself

  • You have a defense reaction that seems familiar: fight, flight, freeze or fawn

  • You feel like you are watching yourself have the reaction or as if you are someone else, somewhere else while it is happening

  • You go on autopilot and lose connection to parts of yourself, such as your emotional or physical experiences

  • You are reacting to a situation you believe is happening when others point out that it is not

  • You dissociate

  • You manage to 'deal with' and encounter or experience only to have hours or days later a delayed reaction of being triggered

If any of the following questions seem familiar or like they apply to a set of experiences you are having, pick one you want to explore and try answering some of these questions about it. It is VERY FREAKING IMPORTANT to develop a sense of wonder and curiosity about the questions as opposed to a need to answer them right or feel like we "should" know the answer. Go slow. Be honest when the answer is "I don't know" and write that. You can even begin writing about how you feel that you don't know. Because it is damn frustrating. And this is a lot of work! If you feel like this process is overwhelming or unsafe, don't do it alone or do it all at once. Try just one question.

  • Where was I when I was triggered?

  • What was the circumstances I was in when I found myself to be triggered?

  • What occurred right before I noticed that I was triggered?

  • Are there any body sensations, mood shifts, etc that I remember? No detail is too small.

  • Do I remember what I was thinking about myself as the events unfolded? What was my internal dialogue (if any)?

  • Was the inner critic present or saying anything?

  • What is my relationship to any of the people involved?

  • Is there any part of you that recognizes an old pattern or feeling?

  • How did I cope with the trigger and make it through?

  • Are those coping skills ones I have used in the past with other people or experiences?

  • In your imagination, where there are no actual external consequences to any of your choices, could you image a different outcome or reaction to the trigger? What would it be? If you could react or do anything differently, what would it be? (Don't limit yourself here, if you want to say, "I would become Wonder Woman and use a taser gun to stun the dude on the bus who winked at me," go for it. Remember, you are liberating and giving voice to parts of yourself in this process)

  • Did any sensory information get observed as I got triggered? What was in my environment?

  • If I have to face this specific trigger again, what do I think will help me stay a bit more in the present context?

  • Does my inner-child, or my vulnerable parts have any needs from me?

  • Has any particular old memory or set of circumstances made itself present to be explored?

  • How do I feel right now?

  • Are there any emotions I want to feel or release? Grief, tears, anger....feel free to let the pen free write any thoughts without censoring

Throughout this process, I recommend checking in with our bodies, our senses, and your precious heart to the degree that feels easy or comfortable. Have tea. Make equal parts holy basil + rose + skullcap. Or Oatstraw + skullcap + lavender. With or without honey. Get some fantastic herbalist's heart tea blend or an elixir that makes you feel good. Eat something good if food is a source of pleasure or grounding for you. Play music which nourishes you. Move the self for like 90 seconds. The smallest detail or pattern that we can uncover in this process is significant. All manner of meditating on what is really happening for us in these experiences can help move things around, shrink the size of the traum-ino, etc. As you do this a few times, you might begin to see a pattern or ask new questions or feel more in tune with identifying the trigger.

Something important to note: I'm not a mental health professional. I share this information from my own research, my own life and experiences and what I see helps folks who are doing this hard work. I encourage you to adapt any of this your own way, take as much if this as you need and throw the rest out or to do none of it. You are, in any given moment, the best source of information on what does or does not work for you. As an herbalist, I work with plants as an aid in this journey, whether that is helping to increase vagal tone and bring down the physiological state of defensiveness in the body, helping to intercept panic as it rises, reduce inflammation levels, assist sleep, etc....other things might be a portal to what feels liberating to you.

I wonder what traum-inos are waiting to be knocked down, removed and re-purposed into some other great wonderful thing in your life your own way, at your own pace. Remember, we are defusing freaking mines here, so be really kind to yourself. Oh and one other thing! If anyone in your life tells you that triggers are all about "letting things go," and that you need to "just move on," or they send you some bullshit meme about life is all how you look at it, you have my permission to smile politely and walk away. This shit is not for the faint of heart and it certainly isn't about putting on a cheery face. It's about us reclaiming more of our life and our truths and our heart as sovereign territory. It’s our own personal game of thrones and it takes a bad ass to even consider knocking down some traum-inos! Play on brave heart-warrior, play on♥♥♥

xoxo! 

g

A little gallery of the comments left for this post at it's former website home:

Wild Geese, Emotional Flashbacks and Mnemosyne

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft body of your animal love what it loves.  Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile, the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, the deep prairies and the trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -- over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
~Mary Oliver

(This piece was originally written in Fall of 2015 at crazyherbalist.com I've such a greater appreciation between the interplay of emotional flashbacks and allostasis now.)

I mentioned in a previous post that I have CPTSD.

Emotional flashbacks are one of the pain-in-the-ass ways that unintegrated traumatic experiences emerge in current time. We are more familiar with the flashbacks most common to PTSD, where the person is suddenly reliving their traumatic event and re-sees/hears/experiences past events in present time. These are common to singular or periodic traumatic events which often the person experiencing them will know they have experienced, or have some clear understanding that it was indeed traumatic.

 Thistle hairs fancy kaleidoscope image made by me. :)

Thistle hairs fancy kaleidoscope image made by me. :)

By their nature, all types of flashbacks are intrusive and terrifying. They are the re-living of an event which has not been fully integrated or processed and thus transformed into something coherent. They are different than ‘having a memory’ because when we remember something, we can distinguish that is a recalled event that happened in the past. Memory has a clarity to its place in time: it is recalled from an earlier time and place. Flashbacks are re-lived. Our physiology doesn’t distinguish our experience of the recalled event as clearly happening in the past. It is literally re-occurring. Re-felt. Re-heard.  Re-known. And therefore, re-traumatizing. They pretty much suck. And they are scary. And make us feel vulnerable to ourselves, broken, unable to fully feel free at any point because the flashbacks can pop up and take over us.

Memory itself is a funny beast. There is no one place that memory is stored, instead, like a kaleidoscope, sensory input, meaning and emotional context for each of our experiences get stored throughout our physiology. Memory is stored in multiple sections of our minds, stored in the tissues of our hearts and guts, our muscles and movements. We are constantly processing information with multiple systems working together to make meaning and create context.

In traumatic experiences, the sensory, emotional, physiological processes are so overwhelmed that the information, the data, is stored scattered throughout our systems, unprocessed and not recorded with time and place integrated. And, unlike processed and assimilated memories, which slowly evolve over time (because as we add on new layers of ourselves, we are able to recall and extract new layers of meaning and detail), traumatic memory gets stuck, fixed like a fossil imprint onto our psyche, our bodies, our brains....these trauma-based memories are difficult to update with new information. In many ways, this is some of the rigidness of spirit and body we experience....traumatic memory arises like shards, fragments that insist they are real and reinsert themselves into the current time and space experiences were are having.

tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine......

So...emotional flashbacks, which can also be called somatic or relational flashbacks. These flashbacks often happen in the context of relationships, with self, friends, lovers, co-workers, as well as in environments and situations which evoke something about the context of the original wounding. I first learned about emotional flashbacks from a therapist who was noticing that every time I had a need or was not being completely 100% self sufficient, I would cycle into an apologetic spiral of shame and despair.

Emotional flashbacks are damn scary and damn confusing. Pete Walker, a published therapist and also person with CPTSD, explains emotional flashbacks as, "sudden and often prolonged regressions to the frightening and abandoned feeling states of childhood." Literally, instead of your auditory or visual processes being hijacked and a scene being re-lived, we get pulled into a familiar FEELING state that is confusing and terrifying. The emotional state often does not match the external circumstances and provokes outbursts, shame and/or despair. AND THEY FEEL VERY, VERY REAL. And sometimes they do not seem to be linked to recognizable events, so we then ascribe the overwhelming feeling state to whatever may make sense of our current surroundings: somebody will betray us, abandon us, somebody needs to be pushed away, we are awful/ugly/horrid/bad, my needs or boundaries are the problem....the brain will work really hard to make sense of the sudden emotional overwhelm.

These emotional states arise seemingly out of context, are extremely confusing,  feel very real and replay false narratives, narratives that were survival mechanisms in abusive and power-over relationships, especially childhood. Our self esteem is suddenly demolished: we no longer can think (or feel) complexity, everything moves to good or bad, safe or unsafe and specifically, we turn in on ourselves as wholly bad, lacking anything redeeming. Or the other (lover/friend/boss/etc..) becomes all bad and you must shield yourself from them, abandon them, save yourself from them, etc.

"When fear is the dominant emotion in an emotional flashback, the individual feels overwhelmed, panicky or even suicidal. When despair predominates, it creates a sense of profound numbness, paralysis and an urgent need to hide. Feeling small, young, fragile, powerless and helpless is common in emotional flashbacks."  ~Pete Walker

Emotional Flashbacks:

  • Are a sudden arising of feelings/emotional states which overwhelm the present moment and hijack the amygdala

  • Are literally a replaying of internal felt experiences and the accompanying stories (I am bad, unsafe, ugly, unworthy, etc.) previously experienced in abusive and neglectful relationships

  • Possess us and take over, allowing the feeling state to dominate and shut down critical reasoning and the ability to access other perspectives/nuanced information (I'll explain below), a sort of dissociation from the present

  • Involve a highly evolved inner critic who is the primary defense system, allowing us to hate ourselves before others have the chance to and demanding nothing less than perfection from ourselves in the context of relationships and performance or else we will be in utter despair/on the streets/alone/dying/fired, etc.

  • Often go unrecognized as flashbacks because emotions are not understood to present as flashbacks the way single event traumas replay themselves

  • Can cause havoc in our lives and relationships when these are not understood to be flashbacks or related to previous trauma because no one has any idea why we respond so intensely and suddenly at times, often seeming out of character to those who love us

  • Often occur when things are going well, too good, we are too happy, too calm, too trusting or at peace <----- that's super sucky and totally confusing and cost me many opportunities, memories and relationships in my life

meanwhile, the world goes on.....

These takeovers of our internal safety and connection to the external world, including those we love and know, are terrifying and often result in self-loathing, shame, hatred and immense confusion. We don't trust our own inner worlds. What really begins to damage is when we see ourselves have these emotional flashbacks, push people away from us, then look in the mirror, standing alone in the bathroom and resolutely decide that no matter how we were treated by others, OBVIOUSLY WE MUST BE THE COMMON THREAD. Because we must be bad/unlovable/unworthy/out-of-control/too-emotional/needy/juvenile/whatever toxic beliefs were forced upon us during traumatic experiences of emotional abuse and neglect (whether or not that was also coupled with physical or sexual abuse). I mean, if we are feeling these things in the present moment, they must then be true, right?

We think: Everyone else is getting on with their lives and thinks I should too. Everyone says I am over-reacting, I am over-dramatic, I am....hysterical. Emotional flashbacks are isolating. It is part of their charm and ultimately, what they excel at. Because deep down, at their root, is an experience which forced us to locate ourselves, or our desire for intimacy as the root of the problem. We learned via experience that someone we love or care about will shame us, hurt us, destroy us. That ultimately, we are truly only worthy of being alone and unloved. And for those of us with CPTSD, that is a real experience. Someone who was supposed be good enough to not hurt us and hold our best interests in mind was instead very fucked up. We learned that reaching out for that person makes things worse. Sometimes life-threateningly worse for our minds, bodies and/or spirits.

And what really sucks about emotional flashbacks, is that they often occur when things are going well, when someone or something is bringing us joy.

When everything on the outside says we should be riding high, happy, healthy and embracing the rewards of companionship or success. But that is exactly what can trigger the regression. Because if people and emotional comfort can't actually be trusted, then getting happy is like pulling an emotional Thelma & Louise in the amygdala.

Think of it like this: Thelma and Louise represent the conscious + unconscious parts of ourself, and the internal dialogue that is happening when a threat arises. Note that within the threat (like the movie) are both real assholes and someone who wants to help. But the only solution that seems to offer some solace is escape completely, take all the fall and the consequences on ourselves...this is the pathway of an emotional flashback that devolves into a shame spiral: our state of being gets hijacked by overwhelming internal circumstances and off the cliff we go.....

a light blue car heads off the grand canyon to its doom with a beautiful blue sky behind

Suddenly, someone we know to be a non-threatening person who genuinely (to the best of their skills) wants to be our companion gets demonized because they were late/forgot something/put us in a position of needing to trust them or forgive their humanness and we respond as if it is the fatal sign that they are destined to destroy us. Or, we panic at our inability to provide such trust and see them as all good, all giving and we are the bad one, unable to be loved. Also, it is entirely likely that we can be in a relationship that is not healthy and these flashback states are an indication that you have been here before, but they are so shame-inducing that we see ourselves as the root of the problem and prop the other up as the one who deserves praise for tolerating us/loving us/not abandoning us.

Basically, someone becomes the good one and someone becomes the bad one. More often than not, our inner critics remind us that we are the ultimate in unlovableness, that we are all bad and destined to be discovered as such by anyone who tries to care for us.

In these moments, in the actual moment this emotional flashback is arising, the ability to access complex thinking and context cues disappear. Because these feeling states are actually based on historical experiences. So being able to discern something like, "it is ok if I am running late because I am usually on time" is impossible. Or "I don't really think of myself as completely unloveable/untouchable/ugly/worthless...." The overwhelming feeling state that takes over us dissociates us from complex thinking, current beliefs and the ability to examine these arising feelings: we are no longer accessing the present or all of our capacities and inner self. We are consumed by the experience of these overwhelming, familiar and terrifying feelings wuth the same skill levels/emotional ages we first encountered them.

Instead, what is present is a profound sense of shame in our ineptitude and a deep belief that the other person will hate/abuse/shame/abandon us. Or, strong feelings of being unable to talk to or get our needs met by other people because they are all good and we are all bad. So when we are wronged, even slightly by another, or they were unable to telepathically know one of our needs, we demonize them as all bad and push them away or shame them to protect ourselves. Or we shame ourselves for having needs before even allowing another to possibly meet or not meet them.

you do not need to walk a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.....

One of the primary factors in developing these emotional flashbacks was being in a prolonged relationship containing emotional neglect and power over dynamics. These kinds of relationships turn normal needs into triggers for shame and self-hate. To need something from someone who refuses to provide it and often shames us for needing it creates an internal world fraught with self-blame and self-hate and chaos. I will not play that down. I will not downplay the utter destruction of a parent/lover/caregiver that smiles at you one day and refuses to engage your humanity and validity on another.

Here's what happens: long-term neglect from a primary relationship, particularly through childhood and development years forces us to do one of two things with this caregiver:

  • either we have the advanced ability to see that the person we have needs from is incapable of meeting those needs and so we develop a web of other healthy relationships capable of meeting our needs, which is impossible under power dynamics and developmental ages where we can’t identify that as a resource
  • OR we begin to merge pieces of our inner self with the inner critic who demands we be perfect and meet all of our own needs or else not have any needs by driving us into a state of rigid perfectionism, service and pleasing for survival

The second response ensures that we constantly play out the real feelings of anger and hatred or betrayal appropriate for the caregiver on ourselves every time we are less than perfect and then cycles us down into states of panic that we are going to be abandoned because of our less-than-perfectness or our 'neediness.'

Just having needs can trigger a damn emotional flashback, even when no one else is present. In fact what many of us do is learn to put on a mask and take care of everyone else's needs, even smiling and convincing ourselves that that is what we want to be doing, and then falling apart privately and having overwhelming periods of shame, self-hatred and despair for our own feelings, having needs, or not being a super-person. Like, you know, I was on the floor just three weeks ago doing that very thing....

Honestly, CPTSD is essentially an attachment...I won't use the word disorder....it is a profound struggle to create and understand healthy attachments and relationships, including the one within us.

Often in this process, we don't even know that we have needs other than the ones we tell ourselves we have. We operate partially emotionally shut down and disconnected from ourselves in the external world, fall apart privately and then when we are brave enough to let someone in, cycle between periods of generous giving and openness and everything is ok to extreme shame, self-hate, and disconnection.

Meanwhile, if we have folks who love us witnessing, we usually have to also manage their: "WTF?" while we don’t even have the language or frameworks to help explain or make sense of it. Isolation x2.

Cycling between perfectionism/hypervigilance and emotional flashbacks are key characteristics CPTSD, made worse by layers of systemic oppression which can instill similar patterns via very real dangers, aggressions and reduced access to resources.

meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again....

Mnemosyne. She's an ancient Greek goddess, a Titan really. Born of Gaia and Ouranos, Earth and Heaven, born along with the other Titans: Kronos (Time), Themis (Law), Rhea (the Flowing One/the Ground), she is Memory. Not the goddess of memory, which is a very important distinction. We are talking about more than reciting type memory here, we are talking about the active storehouse of all of creation from the time of its birth as a sacred source that can be accessed through dreams, through ecstasy, through imaginal realms and through gnosis.

Mnemosyne is the mother of the 9 muses: poetry, history, music, lyric poetry, tragedy, hymns, dance, comedy, and astronomy. 

The memory we are referencing here is more complex than the way we would think of "having a memory", as a product of the mind, pulling individual experiences forward....or reciting information/words mechanically...we are talking about deep recall that moves through us forcing up and out from us great works of art, great poetry that illuminates our human conditions, the kind of memory that weaves into something epic and insightful.

 I just love this pic of roses.&nbsp;

I just love this pic of roses. 

Mnemosyne is the living cosmos and accessing her gives the seeker the ability to access the flowing memory of our metaphysical world, the truths which emerge through us in new shapes and sounds and forms but which all point back to something great and big and divine. It is she that moves through the reciter of the Orphic hymns, or later we can think of the living essence moving through Bards reciting stories or those who sing the songs of the plants and the stars and the peoples who have come before us. Like spoken word, like figuring out the stunning workings of the universe, like hymns that give us goosebumps, like works of art that leave us speechless....Mnemosyne is the divine structure and the feeling that restores something in us, literally re-membering something in our consciousness: that our very existence is divine and inspired and epic to itself.

Mnemosyne oversees one of the 5 rivers in Hades, one that allows the seeker/the initiate to remember the deeper quest the seeker is on. But, first, the seeker must drink from the river Lethe, one of forgetfulness in order to let go of and dis-member all that the seeker thinks they know. Only then can they drink from the river Mnemosyne presides over in order to re-member, put together again, what they are truly seeking. In our quests to become whole, there is a dance that happens between forgetting and remembering, and in the deep remembering that happens during an emotional flashback, we are possessed by the mythology of our own becoming, our own inner cosmology.

What Mnemosyne would have us re-member are greater truths than the deeply unsustainable ones created by traumatic conditioning: we cannot be as bad/unlovable/dirty/shameful/disgusting/failure as these emotional disruptions would have us believe. It simply is not possible. In order to harbor these negative beliefs about ourselves, we have to keep drinking at the river of forgetfulness, because they are in direct contradiction to how absolutely worthy, wonderful and lovable we actually are.

In the emotional flashback, we have been offered a drink from Mnemosyne's spring as she moves through us, working to re-member, put together again, our inner cosmos by showing us one of the stories which grip us. She does not promise a painless visit.

Emotional flashbacks are an eruption in our own space-time continuum...they are the chance to see a pattern that does not fit and examine it. I suggest not trying to do it all alone. I suggest making an altar to your own Mnemosyne you can visit and start asking questions like why the poop am I still dealing with this? What is the fundamental story of these flashbacks? What am I trying to prevent or manage in them? What is the story(s) it is operating on?

The very, very first step in healing these eruptions is to know that they are happening. Step one in the re-membering of ourselves is to discover when we are being visited by somatic and emotional states that do not fit into our other daily patterns and often emerge suddenly and overwhelmingly. They can look like:

  • sudden or overwhelming emotional states that arise coupled with shame, self-loathing, and/or fear

  • emotional states that arise when you have needs from yourself or another which trigger fear, despair, retreat and/or fawning (fawning is abandoning yourself to align with the needs of the dominant or the abuser, living in their reality or needs instead of being able to independently have your own)

  • feeling overcome, panicked or like you need to push someone close to you away

  • preventing yourself from getting too close because a similar emotional pattern repeats itself and you feel like you can't control that pattern

  • intense feelings of being worthless/unlovable (you are so lovable BTW)/BAD/gross/dirty/etc...that seem to come in and take over you and eventually cycle through you, leaving you with feelings of shame and relief

  • being immobilized when you need something from someone so much so that you cannot think about how to get your need met and instead cycle into an emotional spiral of self-hate

  • trying to be everything to your key relationships for as long as you can then suddenly switch gears and have needs, which when they go unmet cause you great emotional distress

  • feeling like you are empowered when you don't need anything from anyone and feel utterly panicked when you do need something

  • experiencing a situation as dualistic and catastrophic when others are reflecting back that it ‘isn’t that big of a deal’

  • having feelings about yourself that contradict your core beliefs about others, such as believing during an emotional flashback that you will be hated for being late or speaking too loudly or forgetting to call someone... when you would not hate another for doing the same thing

  • having emotional episodes that make you feel like you are having a break from reality or that you are idealizing self-harm as a way to break the grip of the emotions

  • periodic reactions and emotional episodes that others tell you are out of context (or that you feel are out of context) based on what you are reacting to, such as someone being late and you cycle through feelings of intense abandonment and betrayal (this is not to invalidate the very real feelings as they are experienced, but often real events that can be managed when the trauma reaction is not present can set us off into trauma-based emotional reactions that seem "blown out of proportion" to others)

  • feelings that there is one and only absolute truth that can never be changed because they are totally true and you just have to face them and resign yourself to your awfulness

you do not have to walk a hundred miles in the desert, repenting. you only have to let the soft body of your animal love what it loves.....

If any of the above scenarios are ringing true for you, DAMN I AM SORRY, You too, huh? Will you trust me if I said that there is hope? That, while there is power in discovering their motives, their insights, their origins. 

Your very first resource is yourself. If you are still reading this, all the way down here, you probably resonate with some of the above and have something moving through you which stirs up some toxic feelings, allowing the inner critic to rain down on us. It is a process of remembering. IT IS NOT THE TRUTH. These feelings, though they feel like the absolute and only truth are simply the replaying of an old survival mechanism, and the intensity of them can help indicate how strongly you might have felt betrayed or abandoned when the original wounding occurred. The sheer emotional power of these flashbacks can be harnessed and placed into other fulfilling inner worlds and stories. But it takes work and support. And each of us has different things that can help support us based on what feels good, our economic means, cultural ways of healing, etc. And, as we are healing and working with Mnemosyne's visits, what we need will shift and change. Even our relationship with her will change.

No matter how exhausted, how frustrated, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -- over and over announcing your place in the family of things, in the rivers that run through you.

some resources that have been helpful in my journey:

  • When I first started tracking emotional flashbacks I carried a stone with me to pull out and focus on which I had deliberately decided was for that exact purpose: so even though I was in a flashback, I could look at this external symbol that reminded me they were real and that they would pass. A symbol can be a powerful tool for moving us out of ourselves. An amulet with herbs, specific scent or another special item can be an external reminder to us that the flashback is happening and will pass.

  • Often free or low-cost counseling can be found through Universities and local centers...though be vigilant and ask good questions, ask if they have heard of emotional flashbacks, ask any relevant questions about their experience or beliefs that you need to know in order to feel comfortable like:

    • Have you worked with CPTSD/Emotional Flashbacks before?

    • Have you worked with someone of my ancestry/gender identity/sexual orientation/neurological diversity/disability/political badassness before?

    • What does the therapeutic process entail?

    • I don't trust you yet are you ok with that?

    • What resources can you help me procure and create to manage my emotional flashbacks?

  • Here is a link to Nationwide LGBTQ centers which can help you locate your closest one

  • Here is the Breathe Network, which links survivors of sexual assault with sliding scale healing services

  • Tell a trusted friend that you are discovering this process and create a keyword they can give you that you will recognize when they notice the emotional flashback pattern in you or that you can give them when you are in crisis

  • Work with a trusted herbalist to create some potions for you: there are plants which can help bring the panic down and plants which can help strengthen our systems and ability to release tension and feelings. These are different for each of us, there are not universal flashback remedies because our bodies are all unique and how memories and trauma show up in our bodies is also unique to each of us....but having plants as allies in this process can also be very powerful♥

 

Emotional flashbacks suck, but you don't. You're part of Mnemosyne's kaleidoscope. 

Snapshots of comments from the original posts' page: 

The Bear

An interesting note about this poem, 3 years after writing it:

One day, October 17th 2015 to be specific, sitting along the water and running sand in my toes, I decided that I would approach my body differently than I had been taught to by adults I had trusted as well as various professionals I had encountered as a person struggling with physical and mental health stuff for several decades. It was a personal declaration, a way of integrating and grieving the many attempts I made to trust others' approaches to 'help' and 'healing' etc. which made things worse. Without realizing it, I was also making a promise or commitment to asking different questions and trusting my intuition moving forward. Sadly, a person wrongly assumed this poem was about them, specifically. A person whom I had only a peripheral experience with and didn't even think knew who I was. If you find your way to this page, please know that you are wrong about this poem referencing you specifically and I hope you get the support you need to determine why this poem would strike strong defenses in you individually. I forgive you for your private and public slander because I know to well how unresolved trauma moves through even those who claim to have expertness in it. In fact, it can be our ‘expertness’ which deludes the resolution.

And now, a poem which means a lot to me:

a square image with a light teal border of a beige teddy bear with its back to us sitting along a still pool of grey water surrounded by dried winter or fall like stalks of grass. The background or scene is a slight dark grey

a love poem for anxious folks

Waxy. Sterile.

Waxy is how it feels,

not slimey,

not  silky,

but kind of stiff and thick and gross is how it feels.....waxy....

When you use that reductive story to teach me something of my nervous system,

"you see, fight and flight evolved to help our ancestors run when they encountered a bear in the woods....."

Waxy that shit is. Clogging up the ears in my heart and oversimplifying the highways of fire in my beloved body.

Don't insult the bear.

Don't insult my ancestors.

Don't think for a second that story (which emerges from privileged and fragmented academia) is a basket that holds water.

Because,

1.

In the hundreds of thousands of years my species and the ancestors of my species have roamed through forests, surely,

THEIR SONGS, THEIR LAUGHS AND LOVES AND HUNTS AND ACCIDENTS AND TRIUMPHS also informed the evolution of the autonomic nervous system

2.

Am I not reflected in the bear? Does the bear not also give pause on its first glancing of me? In this modern cultural context with its insults to 'primitivism,' we assume we would run from the bear, but,

WHO SAYS MY FIRST INSTINCT WOULD BE TO RUN?

3.

Forever ago and ahead, the meeting of oppressive conditions has been far more terrifying.

A bear can at least offer me a wild and honorable death.

Capitalism does not. Slavery and trafficking do not. Patriarchy does not. Transphobia does not. White supremacy and Racism do not. Colonialism and genocide do not. Heterosexism does not. Ableism does not. Neurotypicality does not. Ageism does not. Rape and Pedophile culture do not. Materialism and environmental degradation do not.  

Don't tell me my ancestors evolved only to run from bears. Because their songs reflect far more relationship and curiosity.

Waxy and thick and cloudy is how I hear your teachings, so I go within and tune you out.

And, in my visions, I see millions of shiny canaries

and

coal mines like the ones my ancestors worked, anointed by soot, fire in their bodies as their colonized hands labored for their boss's stolen through genocide, ivory handled silverware.

The wild ones are the canaries in the coal mines, bodies on fire, pointing to what needs transformation. Pointing to the need to visit the forest and the bear for restoration.

....returning to your reductive story, which coats my truths in a stiffness hard to wash off, I realize that our somatic experiences of powerlessness give rise to the constant calls to war harbored in our bodies,

the battle cry also known as anxiety, panic, social fear, certain depressions....

HYSTERIA SOUNDS OF CANARIES.

A perfectly adapted melody to the suppression and control of embodied pleasure. DEPRESSION harmonizes beautifully with the tyranny of happiness we are encouraged to seek. PANIC is the hymn of materialism and 'mind over matter'-esque fallacies. SOCIAL ANXIETY humms the deeper truths of our disconnection, leaving so many of us still hungry for consensual intimacies.

Collectively the canaries are calling to the bears.

So, tell me a different story, healers. Physicians. Clinicians. Pharmacists. Friends. Lovers. Teachers.

Tell me one of how brilliant the highways of fire work in my body. Tell me that I have deep magic in me.

Ask me if I remember the first time I held my breath. Ask me if I remember when I discovered that hiding my truths, even from myself, ensured my survival.

Then sing hymns to me of how I am truly wired to recognize myself in the eyes of the bear, in the presence of terror that is actually the ecstasy of recognition and being treated like I am real. Tell me this is my birthright and assure me that my nervous system remembers the moments before I first held my breath and hid my truths.

Teach my canary self to see the cages.

This would feel less waxy, more silky.

More true.

CPTSD, Allostatic Load and Giving No F*cks

a light blue grey square with black text that reads originally written for crazyherbalist.com in October 2015 and having crossed the bridge in my journey this post celebrates I now have so many new cares to give. There is a graphic of an orange cat head peaking up at the bottom with some rosemary leaves behind it

A Fall, 2018 update: 

This was the first piece I wrote publicly. Still, three years later, it has been the most frequently visited page (tied maybe with the Motherwort one). It’s amazing to read it looking back, there are shifts to the way I talk about CPTSD now, about the ways culture sustains traumatization, about the central nervous system and its role in allostasis. I have a more nuanced understanding and critique of mental health language and frameworks. Over these last couple years, my love of allostasis as a framework to work with trauma has gotten more committed. As I moved this writing from its spot on crazyherbalist.co to this site, I left most of it unchanged despite having better language/frameworks for some things now, as the heart of the post, that understanding CPTSD via allostasis can help alleviate how much it feels like a character issue stands true.  Thanks for coming by, for visiting this piece and being wonderfully you. 

Download a text only .pdf version here


I have CPTSD.

a square pic of me a white nonbinary with shoulderlength red hair in this picture and wearing a white and blue striped summer dress holding a chicken in a firends garden while yelling something so my mouth is wide open and there is lots of tall green corn stalks in the background an odd photo I know nut i love it
 

Well, basically I have that diagnosis, and diagnoses are sort of just a tool to explain in short hand some of the ways we experience life but that's a whole other post...we are more than a sum of our diagnoses, so.....

This post is flavored by my own journey as well as the amazing ones I get to witness with folks whom I  serve as an herbalist. And because I can say 'I have CPTSD,' now as opposed to most of my life where it would have been honest to say that CPTSD had me, like had me in its fucking teeth, you may notice a slight irreverence...it's all part of the charm, or tension release....

I have the distinct honor as a plant loving herbalist of getting to work with folks who share big, private and sometimes scary things with me and I wanted to write a post for them, and for others who might have heard of CPTSD or serve folks who have self-identified early and chronic trauma as a part of their life. 

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) is not (yet?) formally recognized in the DSM (the handbook of accepted diagnostic criteria used by mental health professionals and researchers)..it can also be called Complex Trauma or Developmental Trauma Disorder. These diagnoses are attempting to describe a wide and wild set of patterns that clinicians are seeing in folks whose trauma(s) were chronic (think long-term and happening multiple times) and inescapable, as opposed to traumas resulting from a single event or from a series of experiences that can be clearly identified.

CPTSD acknowledges that there are some inherent differences in the way trauma can disrupt a life for folks that don't really have a clear "before the trauma."

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a diagnosis developed around and designed to explain the intrusions of anxiety, flashbacks and other pain-in-the-ass repercussions from experiencing an event (or more than one event) that was traumatic and which can typically be identified.

PTSD typically will include the following:

  • traumatic experience(s) which can be short or long lasting
  • persistent reliving the situation by flashbacks, dreams or circumstances resembling the traumatic event
  • actual or desired avoidance of things which are reminders of the trauma (triggers) which was not present prior to the trauma, i.e. the avoidance is a new behavior
  • an inability to recall all or some of the trauma might be present
  • hyper-arousal which can look like sleep disturbances, anger outbursts, trouble concentrating, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, changes in eating and struggle to meet basic needs such as eating


Folks with CPTSD, or if it is called Developmental Trauma Disorder, typically have very similar symptoms as listed above and are often diagnosed initially as PTSD if and when they can point to a single set of circumstances that are traumatic. Often, however, CPTSD folks will get a PTSD diagnosis but not have clear help in redressing some of the underlying differences present in CPTSD. Especially when we are lost in the maze of mental health services.

Essentially what differentiates the diagnoses is that CPTSD includes: 

  • repeated traumatization, typically during childhood and developmental years, but also over adult years for some
  • a real or perceived sense that one cannot escape, totalitarian control, authoritarianism, power over dynamics
  • capacity to be fully acquired by emotional and/or narcissistic abuse alone


In CPTSD the repeated traumatization and multiple types of traumas impact the developmental domains:

  • attachment and co-regulation <-----huge
  • neurobiology & physiology
  • emotional regulation and processing
  • core identity of self can become fragmented and incoherent
  • cognitive and behavioral regulation becomes challenging
  • also huge: CAN BE CAUSED BY EMOTIONAL NEGLECT ALONE <--- which often prevents a person from getting help or identifying any trauma in their lives as we have yet to fully explore neglect as commonly as more clearly identifiable traumatic 'events'

Flashbacks often present as "emotional flashbacks" or "somatic flashbacks" without the reliving of a memory through visual or auditory sensation.....these are scary and confusing and less discussed than the flashbacks we usually hear about or see played out on TV
The 'self' literally developed within pervasive trauma/neglect and lack of ability to escape these conditions which makes separating oneself from the trauma freaking hard and complicated and scary. There is no 'before the trauma' for us.

Folks with CPTSD can often exhibit the outwardly signs recognized with PTSD such as anxiety and avoidance behaviors, but we have literally developed our identities within the containers of trauma, neglect, and were unable to make external changes to our environments to bring relief. Because there was an inability to create external changes to protect or remove oneself, the person learns to make deep internal changes, often absorbing as fundamental truths the insidious lies of the traumas in order to survive.

Because of this, relationships can be some of the most challenging and terrifying things to navigate as they are the actual battleground where the original traumas occurred. The ways I learned to understand myself, what I can expect from others and my role in the world was shaped through neglect, gaslighting, manipulation, shame, physical,  sexual and psychological boundary violations and isolation. At the core of CPTSD is the very real struggle for trust, especially trusting yourself which includes managing confusing physiological and emotional responses, shifts in the nervous system and heightened distress states even when external environment reads as 'safe.' The primary relationship that is most damaged in ongoing developmental trauma is the relationship we have with ourselves AND it is the one we have to fight the hardest to get back.

With CPTSD and chronic developmental traumas, the stories shaping how we see ourselves are all emerging from seriously fucked-up-ness. There typically isn't a pre-traumatic event place/self to refer to. So we just think we are crazy. And bad. And we operate to a high degree on beliefs and assumptions about safety that we don't even know we have.

we carry a huge psycho-spiritual load.

A rose I captured on a walk one day as I was trying to move through some intense stuff and shared here because trauma sucks and roses usually don't. This one is quite lovely. 

Let me digress into some exploration about allostasis/allostatic load for a minute, stay with me ☺

Allostasis is a cool ass thing. It is a term used to describe the 'dynamic stability' of our physiology, that is, maintaining a sense of stability through changes in our physiological systems (think digestion, adrenal, hormonal, neurological) as we encounter varying conditions.

Allostasis is the process of meeting changing needs and challenges efficiently, rerouting energy supplies, storing energy for future use, responding to the wide ranges of experiences and regulating the whole system to BE PRESENT. Allostasis is the process of being dynamically in the now: if you suddenly need energy, the body responds; if you have less access to food or nutrients, the body adapts, if you are under a period of high stress, the body shifts its focus to meet those needs.

But there is an implicit dance: high energy demands require the body to mine energy from somewhere. The resulting crash and fatigue or need for greater nutrients is an adaptive response to replenish the mined energy. Conversely, there might be a decreased need for food and sleep for a short period of time to address a period of high intensity.  Whatever the exchanges are that are happening in the body, the dance of these exchanges are called allostasis, and it is a dance designed to allow us to effectively respond to things in the present as well as our needs to recover from them.

The name for that total recovery need is allostatic load. This is the cumulative amount of mining we are doing on our bodies' energy reserves. It is the amount of physiological changes and adjustments that have been made to operate on a given set of internal or external conditions. Internal is included here because, yeah, stress and stories that are not rooted in good psycho-spiritual health steal shit from our bodies and spirits. They take. They pilfer. They are every bit as damaging as the cultural expectations that we are supposed to be happy all the time. Productive all the time. Machines. To understand allostasis is to understand that periods high energy demands require periods high of restoration and replenishment. When we neglect or are unable to do the restoration, we eventually can no longer meet the demands.

It is often in this process of meeting the high demands without the sufficient restoration (restitution I think is also a good word here) that a certain rigidity occurs. Somewhere in the process we stop being in the present as we are constantly trying to re-coup. We stop hearing our bodies requests and needs to restore itself. We can't be in a state of needing restoration and continue operating in ways that are not restorative and still be in the present moment. Instead, we keep having the same demands on our energy but develop stories about how we are "too tired," and we "need coffee/exercise/to eat better" or we are "weak/too shy/not good enough/strong enough/something enough." The story becomes one that says there is something inherently bad about us, not the expectations we are trying to live up to, or the adaptations made under decreased capacity for restitution. So we try to address our energetic deficits by making us 'better' in some way. It is when we need one thing but have a story that tells us we should be something else that we leave the present and begin operating off of deficits in physical and psycho-spiritual energies. Like taking out a loan from our life force. One we swear we will pay back.

Modern culture and systemic injustice demands most of us operate this way.

It says we are machines. That there is a superior way to be. That we are built for production and the creation of material capital. It says humans are outside of and destined to rule over nature. It places logic over emotion. Material over experiential. Lightness over darkness. It says there is a primary (better) way of experiencing the world and minimizes divergence. It works in binaries: male and female, good and bad...it suppresses pleasure and prioritizes sex for reproduction or consumption. It tells us we will reach some platitude if we work hard enough and then we can have/deserve restoration to our depleted energy.

It is nearly impossible, without being born into some amount of wealth + socio-political privilege, to escape the effects of capitalism on the body. Capitalism and Patriarchy and White Supremacy are just some of the abusive stories which consistently demand we earn our keep, prove our worth, operate as if we are independently responsible for our success and gas light our cries for a more connected, meaning filled, diverse and restorative way of existing/relating.

The central nervous system, capable of touching all the cells and systems in our body is a primary mediator of these demands.

And usually, something in us, if we are holding ourselves up to the demands of these modern stories, burns out. Our energy production. Our digestive functions. Our immune systems and its coordinated responses with neurotransmitters and inflammatory processes. These are the canaries in the coal mines of our bodies and they are the places we mine our energy reserves from. Non-physiologically supportive stories, personal and cultural, create a very heavy allostatic load. Often we don't even know when we are stuck in the plots of these stories because they are so pervasive and so much a part of what we understand reality to be. (And that is exactly how abuse distorts the reality of someone whose identity was formed under chronic trauma and neglect). As the central nervous system habituates to these stress loads, other peripheral systems get taxed: the HPA axis, endocrine, and immune systems, circulatory systems...these all require efficient communication between each other and coherent narratives about what we are experiencing and what might lay ahead, which breaks down under sustained extraction.

Getting back to CPTSD......

Like I said earlier, we CPTSD folks carry a high degree of psycho-spiritual allostatic load. We totally carry it in our bodies too, and I am going to assume in this post that they are understood to be inseparable. CPTSD in adulthood, after developmental stages have primarily been lived through, is the continued mining of our bodies' life force by fucked up stories (personal and cultural) we learn under traumatic conditions.

  • That the world is inherently unsafe (because it totally was/remains to be)
  • That people are unsafe (because they were) and isolation is safer
  • That shame and self-blame and inherent lack of self-worth are TRUE reflections of our unworthiness (we were shamed for natural feelings and needs)
  • That we are inherently BAD. Unavoidably, unfixable BAD (because it was unsafe to see the abusers and neglect as bad during developmental stages so it is internalized and redirected at the self)
  • That we cannot trust our self or there is no actual self to trust
  • That these realities cannot be changed but instead need to be hidden or conquered through becoming better/more worthy/more likable


Sustained emotional, physical and sexual abuses damage the core connections with self. The stories arising from these violations and neglect can be so ingrained, and so pervasive that we don't even know when they form the basis of our reactions and decisions. Our own emotions/emotional needs are experienced internally as a threat to the whole of the system.  We become restricted in our beliefs about ourselves and we get stuck operating in paradigms which we cannot outsmart by working harder to prove our worth, doing everything for everyone because we have to earn affection, avoiding or having conflicting reactions to positive emotions and achievements because they feel foreign and fake and threatening to our nervous system, mistrusting safety because safety isn't really proven to exist.......and when we do have periods of growth, the stories pull us back in through relational flashbacks, self sabotage and self harm.

We stop having a coherent present because it is unsafe and we never feel truly safe. That is our primary story.

Consequentially, the restoration needed to offset the cost of these traumas cannot be obtained. If I cannot trust others and I cannot understand/trust my own emotional needs then I cannot receive the deep restoration and safety which comes from relating: loving and safe friendships, intimate partnerships, community involvement and most fundamentally, deep love and connection with self.

2015, Picture taken at the Alberta Botanical Garden. I relate very much. 

The "healing" of CPTSD, then, involves the rooting out of these stories. Finding them, their origins, their lies, the way they shape our current modes of operating in our bodies and lives.

This requires some form of safety: a safe relationship, survival needs being met and exceeded, time and energy available to do the work. It involves reconnecting to the body, learning to see the self as having inherent worth and listening to the body, discovering somatic experience as safe.

It is pretty common knowledge among mental health practitioners at this point that healing trauma requires a multi-faceted approach, more than just talk therapy, but also things that connect the psyche + soma, bringing together language and non-language oriented parts, the gut, the reproductive centers, the heart......

CPTSD is evolved one new, liberating experience that gets integrated at a time. Sometimes in wild bursts that cause huge changes, and sometimes quietly, when what once would have been a trigger is easily recognized and processed in the present as simply whatever it is. In the process we become less rigid, less beholden to a set of ideals or beliefs that we are operating on unconsciously. We develop a core set of stories that feed us and allow us to detect when we have come into contact with beings and behaviors and feelings that compromise us, that require too high an allostatic load because they deplete more than they restore.

The value in any therapy is the ability to learn to trust and engage with the self safely and in the context of a safe relationship. Connection and new relating also comes in many forms outside of therapy which usually involves discovering some realm in which we are safely able to explore the self and make new stories. (Ahem, nature............ ☺)

EVERYTIME WE UNCOVER ONE OF THESE STORIES OR MEMORIES, PROCESS THE EMOTIONAL IMPACTS, DE-THRONE THE STORY FROM BEING INHERENTLY TRUE AND REPLACE IT WITH A TRUTH THAT EMERGES FROM OUR CORE, WE REDUCE OUR PSYCHO-SPIRITUAL ALLOSTATIC LOAD. WE FREE UP ENERGY FOR RESTORATION.

And suddenly, at some moment in the process, you might learn to give no fucks.

Things that once were beholden over you and great sources of psycho-spiritual pain become things you no longer care to offer any of your precious life force to. Sometimes the pendulum swings a bit wide into give no fucks territory when that power is first unleashed. Sorry about that. It is a learning curve we are making up for after an entire period of life where we gave so many unbalanced cares about all the terrifying things that could possibly reinforce the internal terror of believing you are so inherently bad or ugly or worthless or stayed in abusive relationships or avoided intimacy all together......the pendulum will swing back into moderation.

And when it does, the deep pleasure of finding some, often small, internal freedoms from these tyrannical old stories is so rich and so restorative that giving no fucks to anything that even hints of codependency, abuse, emotional vampirism, self harm and cultural oppression of self and others takes on a momentum; it becomes our new story. It becomes natural for the first time to start moving past psycho-spiritual and physical survival-mode and embrace the dance of life, of giving and receiving. We move closer to restorative frameworks of relating, prioritizing restoration and health.

It's a long ass process. Life long. Cyclical, non-linear. It is some of the hardest work I have ever done, learning to trust me. ME. To be in the present with myself and discover that there is inherent worth and that I am capable of taking care of me. And it is so damn worth it. Even on the days I howl angrily that it is something I have to do.

Living in the purgatory of old stories metamorphosizes like plants pushing through the cracks along sidewalks and within walls, not be beholden to a city's oppressive desire for plant-free walkways. Nor will we be forever bound to caregivers' abuses, traumatic events and cultural stories which seek to extract from us. There is fertile soil under that rigid cement. There is so much energy to be freed for the dance of our lives, whether you are healing from trauma or saying you will no longer be the subject in the modern industrial story that you are a machine separate from nature and that your adrenals will output forever.

We are still situated in the present cultural demands/oppression, which already extracts in differing levels depending on our places of privilege. There's no 'boot-strapping' it away. Our ability to push back and find private restoration increases dramatically when we have tools and resources to explore our trauma/CPTSD, dismantling incorrect stories, restoring our relationship with self and returning to the dance of the present: allostasis. ☺

The reduction of any form of allostatic load frees up energy to both seek restoration and address other causes of high allostatic load. So when we are able to sleep/eat/digest/process things better physiologically, we have more energy to address things psycho-spiritually and vice versa. Plants really can help us reduce the effects of high allostatic loads. Internal use of plants can often help shift tissue states and emotional states which have inflamed or stagnated or become rigid... When I work with someone I am often collaborating less on their symptoms and more on their restorative capacities, the reduction of allostatic load that can come from well matched plants with individual needs. Nature is restorative and relational.

Sitting with a plant, listening, admiring and talking to to it is one of the most understated forms of herbal medicine. Plants can help us fall in love, into genuine places of connection with other living (non-human) beings....sometimes when we find that one that moves us so much  we remember we are alive and that connection can feel really good and is worth fighting for. They can be a gateway for us to explore relating as a skill. Finding plants that can help us shift our internal states restores some feelings of control and power over our experiences, a feeling that is often taken away when we experience anxiety/dissociation/flashbacks, etc...and, it returns that power and sense of autonomy in a way that feels less isolating. Aromatic plants, when sniffed or burned help cleanse and shift space so that we can loosen our energetic state of being when it is feeling rigid or dominating. Plants teach us and communicate through non-language based means and therefore help us connect to and be with those more somatic and tacit parts of ourselves. Plants can be fun and fun as a state is incredibly important, yet often terrifying for many of us with CPTSD.

So, dear ones, plants. CPTSD. Allostatic Load. You. Me. Kicking Ass. Changing tired, old ass stories and replacing them with restorative, deeper truths rooted in nature and empowerment.

I fully recommend periodically assessing your allostatic load. We can get curious at any point about:

  • How much restorative sleep am I getting?
  • How are my energy levels?
  • Am I getting enough calories? Am I digesting? Pooping well?
  • Have I had restorative interactions (restorative defined as not draining, but fulfilling) with my primary relationships, including myself?
  • Notice on the last question I said including myself? Yeah, how am I feeling about myself right now?
  • What systemic injustices am I navigating?
  • How is my anxiety level?
  • Any depression, freezing, dissociation?
  • What support, if I could have anything I wanted, would I call in?
  • How much have I laughed, played, had pleasurable experiences recently?

Assess if your demands are equaling your restoration and if not, be kind to yourself. Letting this awareness sink in can help us be compassionate towards the inner-critic driven narrative that we aren’t supposed to be needing anything or that there is some magical us that can find the perfect formula to outwit the weights of these extractions.  

Trauma sucks. CPTSD sucks. But we don’t. We ride those allostatic waves in our courageousness.

 

Xoxo,

cursive teal blue text which reads gwynniebird
 

I'm so, so grateful for everyone who commented on the original post! To honor your words and kindnesses, here are the original comments uploaded as a gallery of images. 

 

Blood Roses

Fall 2018 update: This was originally posted in August of 2015 at crazyherbalist.com. Since sharing this potion I have received emails sharing that it has helped support 6 divorces, 9 job changes, at least 7 breakups and some quite pleasurable experiences as well. AWESOMENESS :)

download a text only .pdf of this post here.

Most of my potions teach me something new.

I would love to say that I totally understand my formulations before I make them and that they are specifically made for 'such and such'. I usually formulate that way when I do custom formulations after consultations. But, for magical and non-planned potions,  when I get that pull to put some plants together, it usually begins with a silence that takes over my mind. My awareness drops from the thinking self, through my heart, through the bright light of my gut and into the warmth of my womb. Then I usually begin to humm as I pull the plants together. I listen. 

 Isn't it gorgeous?

Isn't it gorgeous?

That's how it was with this potion. I knew it had a specific relationship with the heart, with fierceness: feminine and receptive and bright... It began with me sitting on my little deck, in 90-degree weather eating the sweet organic cherries you can only find this time of year. I saw the juice as blood on my hands and it sent me into a place of introspection. About being flesh. About sacrifice. About birth and death....and I got up and began blending plants, humming an unremembered tune.

I knew it was going to be special. I could feel it. But I really didn't know what it was going to teach me. Something about blood. Something about movement and resistance and power. And so I waited. I listened carefully after the usual 2 weeks passed and it said, "not yet. Not ready yet." It was on the 21st day it said, "I'm ready." And I got a taste.

Often, when we work with plant medicines, whether internally, or sitting next to the plants, the sacred text of what they are teaching can be found by watching where our mind wanders: where our thoughts go, what images arrive, what daydreams show up? What urges develop? What desires make themselves known? Discovering this potion's teachings was no different. It has been timely, showing up just as I needed it. Just as I had the day previous made a declaration at my altar to no longer be serving agreements which ask me to be smaller.  

blood roses, blood roses......back on the street now.....

I tasted and re-tasted this potion. Listened to it. Paced. And then the music began, initially in the back of my head, until it was so loud I could do nothing but pull up youtube and play, over and over, a song that had been an integral part of my life, many, many moons ago. And I sang it. Over and over. (My poor neighbors.)

It was on maybe the 4th replay that my personal attachments to the song made themselves known. I began to see clearly a few beliefs I have internalized that are erroneous. I re-embodied the way I felt disempowered and let the anger wash through me. I realized that beneath the righteous anger was a boiling desire to be free. To be released from a pattern which asked me to be smaller in order to be safer. FUCK THAT. 

This potion has a lot to say about all the times we tone ourselves down to fit in or be safer: in relationships, roles, cultural standards...all the places we play small for whatever reasons and how often that leaves us wanting, lonely and angry. It wants to help us engage our deeper desires and the emotions around being asked to conform to standards which are not our own in order to be safer. 

Cause that is happening.

To those who practice earth magic. To people of color/women of color/transfolk/indigenous communities/neurodivergent folks/survivors/children & Earth herselfBetween intimate partners

The resistance is happening as well. It's building. It invites our ever deeper participation. 

when chickens get a taste of your meat girl, when chickens get a taste of your meat, yes.....

There are many reasons we may play small. We may let pieces of us go unseen by those we love or hide parts of ourselves from our communities. Maybe we learned when we were younger to not shine 'too bright', be 'too smart', desire 'too much attention'. Maybe we learned to receive love by being smaller, nicer, cuter, good enough, more 'normal'. Maybe we have internalized the oppressive norms of white-male-hetero-capitalist-able bodied-'normal functioning'-reductive cultural standards because who/what we are is dangerous to all that. So we have learned to temper our sexuality, gender expression, skin color, spiritual expression by putting extra energy into fitting in or finding ways to draw less attention to ourselves.

Maybe we simply were never exposed during our developing years to someone who stood in their power and showed us, through example or proximity, that it can be done. That it is worth doing. That it feels good to experience the fullness of our self despite those who seek to take it away from us. That the most sacred of all relationships is with your own deep experience of ourselves in our fullness. 

you gave [them] your blood and your warm little diamond.....

And so we have these moments where we are compromised. Giving pieces of ourselves away or having them taken by force. Minimizing our grand complexity and power. Sometimes it is because we don't know there are options available to us. Sometimes it is for emotional and physical safety/survival. We may do it to others, asking them to be smaller around us to indulge our comfort zones. This can become a dangerous feedback loop in a relationship, especially if one partner has unrecognized expectations and greater socio-cultural privileges.

my pale hand holding half a cherry whose red juice is dripping down my palm. there are green leaves in the background

All relationships are a dance of communication and power and desire. All of us bring the parts of us that soar and the parts that struggle. But when we settle into a pattern of giving parts of ourselves away or hiding ourselves to appease another or to receive social acceptance/safety......we bleed. It's painful, that pattern. Eventually, we grow angry, lonely, numb because the need to see and be seen is a healthy desire. It is an essential part of our personal and collective growth. It brings us joy. It is our birthright.

Without the ability to be seen and safe we may turn our anger outwards where we are able (road rage!) and/or turn it inwards on ourselves (most likely). We may begin to ask others to perform the same sacrifices of self that we are performing for someone else so that we can feed on their sacrifice. I grew up in that pattern. 

And in those moments that we play smaller than we want to, when we 'dumb ourselves down,' let someone else's standard of us rule, get forced into a cultural standard that is not our own, we feel it. You know it by the feeling of having taken a step back outside of yourself energetically, while outwardly you smile or agree. You know it when your stomach falls low into your gut and you feel alone, nodding affirmatively outwardly anyways. You feel it when you lose yourself in a moment of self-expression and the lens through which the other looks at you deflates your balloon. You know it when fire shoots across your chest and you do not dare to express your hurt or disempowerment. You know it when you wear something different, walk a different path, remain silent, etc. in order to increase your safety. 

I shaved every place where you been boy, I said I shaved every place where you been yes....

These compromises cause a profound level of suffering. It can create unconscious agreements and we begin to bargain. Normalize.

 I guess I have to be _____ in order to get ______. I have to give _____ in order to experience _______. I am worth ______ if I do/be _______. 

We may begin to accept the blood loss. We become the sacrifice someone or something else feeds from. This is how privilege works. This is how capitalism ultimately works. This is how disempowering/abusive relationships work. They enforce the sacrifices of self, of complexity, of diversity and multiplicity to the to feed powers which do not serve us. FUCK THAT.

At least when you cry now, [they] can't even hear...

This is a potion for that place. Those moments. Those injustices. This is a potion which will ask you where you are making those choices and if you wish to continue to. It will ask you what you have left to sacrifice. It can not guarantee safety when leaving these patterns behind. It does however, inspire self-love and movement. It is an ally in the process of reclaiming the fullness of your expression, the depth of your desires and the ability to name your experience. It can help spark movement. Initiate your transformation. It is a witnessing of your sacrifice. It can be the blood you offer instead of the precious pieces of yourself. It can help connect you to the sacrifices of others. 

ROSE shows up to open the heart and increase the depth of our spiritual intimacy with self, helps strengthen our defense systems. MEADOWSWEET blossoms help invoke Blouddewedd's daring and call for inner love and intimacy. HEATHER blossoms help with the fertility of our desires and are initiatory to the self who wishes to be congruent and in harmony. SCHISANDRA berries remind us we can enjoy ourselves and help us find a new balance of power. AMLA reminds us to be cool and nourished, to approach changes and surges of power with clear intention so as not to burn or harm needlessly. HAWTHORN berries increase our heart's strength and ability to speak the truths within our hearts and help us grant death to things which no longer serve should we ask for help. SHATAVARI helps us go easy on ourselves. HIBISCUS invites us to remember the pleasure of lust and brightness of satisfaction. VANILLA bean to help restore the energy and joy in doing powerful work. CHIPOTLE pepper to rev our fires and help move our desires from being tightly wound in our core, out into the tips of our tongues and fingers and into the world. CHERRIES to remind us of the flesh that all moves through.

It's anti-inflammatory. Anti-oxidant. Nourishing. Stimulating. 

Carry it with you to prepare for moments you will engage the struggle. Take it internally or over your heart as you journal about your desires to be known and seen. To live in communities that are safe. Use magically as you meditate, visualize or will into existence a new opportunity to manifest your highest, biggest self. Share in meetings with allies engaging the struggle against oppression. Take in moments you are nervous to express your needs, your desires (as long as you are not in danger of violence or abuse). Take as a part of mourning the violations of oppression. Let it help remind you how sacred our resistance is. 

come on, come on , come on come on.........

You don't need this potion to do any of that by the way.☺

This potion is a tool, a prayer to the plants for them to help fortify us on our path. But we always already have within us the ability to call in help from our guides, ancestors, deities, nature Herself. Should you want to work with uncovering and changing the agreements you no longer feel serve you, try a version of this that suits you:

Read from the list of plants above and pick one or more that resonates with you and that you have access too. Or another herb you have a relationship with. You can also work with the receptive qualities of pure water. Brew a cup of tea with it/them. Sit in a quiet space, possibly under a tree or at your altar space. Invite any guides or helpers you wish to be a part of this process with you. Initially, you may be connected to the emotional pain or struggle of the places you have been compromised. Let those emotions flow freely, whether water form your eyes of fire through your belly, let whatever needs to be released or seen move through you. Begin breathing in the steam from the water or tea. Breath deep, holding the cup close. Inhale support from these beings: the water elements, the herbs. Exhale tension and resistance. As you begin to relax, as you can begin to feel the support showing up to help you, begin to visualize yourself growing larger. Growing more solid. Allow yourself to be seen, wholly by your own divine self. Whatever has been asking you to be smaller, be less than, feel it growing smaller. Farther away. Go as deep into this process as you need to. As you reach a place of joyful empowerment, big and bold and solid and whole, inhale deeply, and exhale thanking your guides. Sip your tea, bringing in the cleansing and strengthening powers of the water and the plants. Offer any prayers or sentiments which come from the heart. 

I visit this exercise often while I'm transforming a difficult pattern or relationship or doing activist work which asks me to hold a vision for our community which is not yet present. Remember that we are never solely accountable for all that we experience: the myth that we are separate from our surroundings, each other and Earth is inaccurate. We are always in a dance with creation. What we must remember is that we are partner, we are co-creators on the dance floor. So if you need to, change it up. Try a new move. Pick a new partner or song. Join a band. Do the running man. Or the cabbage patch. Or make your dance more ceremonial. Just keep dancing your vision and your desires into being. Don't look back or judge your previous steps, just keep dancing your divine self into fuller being. ♥

sending you big, green, uncompromised plant love♥

mini glass bottle with a cream colored label that reads blood roses in red letters and has a black top. The potion sits in a small black cast iron cauldron with some dried pink rose buds and ashes for dramatic witchy effect and the background is just a white wall
 A couple comments from the original post, thank you!

A couple comments from the original post, thank you!