* The following article is a guest piece written and shared per my request by recent podcast guest, Suzie Gruber. Thank you, Suzie, for sharing your insights, wisdom, and beautiful light with us!
ACEs as Life & Death by Suzie Gruber, M.A., SEP
We tend to think about life as the basic functioning of our body. Am I breathing? Is my heart beating? Can I see and hear? But there’s another measure to life. Am I fully alive? Am I living my dream? Am I following my heart? Not my physical heart. My emotional heart. Do I let myself do something for at least a little while everyday that I truly love, that makes my heart sing with joy. Something that’s all mine. For me more and more the answer to this last question is yes. I intend to do something everyday that makes my heart sing. My life certainly wasn’t always this way. Until I was in my forties, I had no idea what an intention even was. I lived by the seat of my pants, living the opposite of being fully alive, living in daily crisis and anxiety and feeling very dead on the inside.
What’s the opposite of being fully alive? Being among the countless numbers of living dead. Those of us who learned through Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to shut down our hearts, stuff our feelings, stop following that brilliant orange butterfly, and instead swallow our words and desires. ACEs lead us to grow up as a shell of our true selves. Why? Because in order to stay alive back then, in order to survive, we had to mold ourselves to our caregivers’ desires in order to minimize rejection. We developed a variety of survival strategies, ways we have of playing small and invisible in order to minimize harm and maximize connection with our caregivers.
Fast forward and we carry these survival strategies into adulthood. Many of us procrastinate, self-sabotage, and relentlessly criticize ourselves. Ask me how long I put off writing this blog post and how much I shamed myself for it. Some of us overcommit, work until we drop, and overachieve. It cuts both ways: we shut down and/or overdo it. Many of us very much prefer to take care of other people before we even acknowledge, never mind attend to our own needs. Sound familiar.
Isn’t that ironic? The strategies that we developed to keep us alive in those difficult environments are killing us now. We need to be visible and to speak up confidently in order to live authentically.
ACEs create what I call death by the double bind. There’s how to be and how not to be rather than who we truly are. We become living dead when survival strategies dominate and when as adults we continue to live as if we are still in those old environments. This creates an internal conflict, a pull between how we learned to be to survive and who we truly are. Here are some examples of these double binds. This first one I struggle with constantly: a) I learned not to speak up for myself back then and b) I love to write and I want to share my work with the world. Or how about a) I learned to help other people first and b) I really need help in order to grow my business. Or a) I learned to tolerate what other people did to me as a child and b) I need to speak up and have healthy boundaries in order to have healthy relationships.
These strategies are extremely persistent. Why? Because inside us they are tied to our biological survival. They literally kept us alive. Think lizard brain. Consequently, they don’t shift easily. This is why it’s very unusual for those of us with ACEs to be able to just shift our mindset or use a behavioral strategy to truly overcome these double binds. We might feel better briefly and I am all for that. I have my own very full toolbox of cognitive and somatic tools that I can pull out even in the grocery store line.
However, what if I told you there’s a way to really work with these old strategies, a way to get at the root of what’s driving them so that you can turn down their volume substantially? I want to introduce you to the NeuroAffective Relational ModelTM (NARMTM), a top-down, cognitive and bottom-up, somatic approach to helping people recover from ACEs. What I love about NARM is that it truly gets to the heart of the matter by helping us uncover what’s keeping us stuck right now in our lives, usually a type of double bind like I mentioned above. We focus on the specifics of the internal conflict going on inside us rather than telling our ACEs stories yet again. We can’t change the past but we can change our relationship to the past, see what’s unfinished and why on some level we are still caught in survival mode.
I am here to tell you that whatever it was that happened to you, you already survived that. I know because you are reading this blog post. You are no longer trapped in that house, in that family and in that situation. What do you notice right now as you consider what I just said? Differentiating the past from the present is a significant part of healing from ACEs.
Dr. Laurence Heller, the creator of NARM frequently reminds us that what we fear most has already happened. What many of us fear most is being rejected. Consider for a moment that those of us with ACEs were rejected over and over in big and small ways by our family of origin, often on a daily basis. We already survived that. Can you let that reality in? There might be some emotion that comes along with this experience. See if you can let it be here.
You can do the work necessary to live fully alive in spite of ACEs. It takes persistence, a constant connection to the part of you that knows without a doubt that you can heal, that you no longer want to just survive among the living dead. Sometimes it’s messy and even painful to resolve but from my perspective it’s totally worth it. Feel that primal urge inside you to come alive and live authentically whatever that means to you. Back then you had to compromise to survive. Now it’s time to fully live.
Suzie Gruber, M.A., SEP., holds advanced degrees in chemistry & psychology She spent 15 years in biotechnology before returning to her first love inspiring people to transform their lives. A personal development coach living in Ashland, OR, Suzie also offers workshops and webinars designed to provide a trauma-informed lens through which service providers and leaders can better serve their clients and staff. Additionally, Suzie is a training assistant and the Research Director for the NARM Training Institute.
This series will focus on the benefits of being persistent along your healing quest. I will, again, be speaking from experience. Some practical advice mixed with sprinklings of raw truth (those “This sucks and I really want to give up” moments).
This will work best if you have a journal, pad of paper, or Word doc dedicated to this exercise as I will be asking you to keep notes which you will need to refer back to as we progress.
Subtopics will include:
What does persistence really mean?
How do we define positivities?
A checklist of positive outcomes.
Habits and hurdles.
Encouraging one another.
I look forward to embarking on a Positivities of Persistence journey with you!
I was honored to have Dr. Greg Williams join me for a powerful conversation about his upcoming book release “Shattered by the Darkness: Putting the Pieces Back Together After Child Abuse”, his mission, personal story of triumph, and more!
Per Greg’s website: “Dr. Gregory Williams has written a new book that chronicles his lifelong journey of child abuse and its aftermath. It has taken Dr. Gregory more than 30 years to begin unveiling the horrors of what happened to him throughout his entire childhood. His book recounts the sexual exploitation he endured at the hands of his own father for 12 years.” https://shatteredbythedarkness.com/
Be sure to check out these articles, highlighting Greg’s story, posted in the ACEs Connection community:
I want to share one coping strategy a month. These are strategies I use (or have used) in my own life as I travel the healing journey. I hope they bring you tranquility, as well!
Create a safe space for yourself.
This can be a safe space in your mind where you can go when feeling anxious. Mine is a cozy little nook, surrounded by books and filled with a snuggly bed with lots of pillows and blankets, looking out a ceiling to floor window over a brilliant blue ocean, with a calming breeze flowing through the room, and sunlight streaming from behind a lone white cloud. Use as much detail as you can muster. What does the space smell like, what’s the temperature, what’s there in the space? Are you outside or inside? Remember, this is YOUR space. Fill it with you and everything that makes your heart happy.
Or an actual space. Filled with all things comforting, supportive, love-infused, and joyous. Make it about you and your needs. What makes your soul happy? Fill YOUR space with THAT.
(The following article comes from borrowed snippets from a conversation thread in the ACEs Connection community in response to my asking for guidance regarding Exposure Therapy)
“Prolonged Exposure (PE) is the most researched treatment for trauma related disorders around. It is also a “gold standard” treatment – meaning its efficacy is top of the line. Dropout rates for trauma treatments are statistically the same for all approaches. Part of the symptomatology of PTSD is avoidance. That is (the) basis for the prolonged exposure, to have the client face what they are avoiding, especially the more disturbing aspects of the traumatic event(s) as measure by subjective units of distress (SUDs).
PE involves having the client relive the trauma over and over again until SUDs begin to go down. Your homework would include listening to recordings of your sessions outside the treatment room. You may also be assigned to expose yourself to anxiety provoking stimuli outside of sessions based on a hierarchy of fears and anxieties working on the most anxiety-provoking antecedent first. As previously stated, the goal of therapy is to reduce your SUDs level to a manageable point. Even though SUDs were developed by a behavior therapist (the “B” in CBT which is the general classification of PE), the late psychiatrist, Josepf Wolpe, SUDs are also used in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT).
The research indicates there is no statistically significant (difference) in any of the approaches with the exception of EFT, which doesn’t have a significant research base, though the relatively fewer studies indicate EFT yields promising results.
It made my heart happy to sit down with my friend Krissie Myers to discuss her program directors roles with Milestones, Inc. – an equestrian achievement program – and Kentucky Intensive Family Services foster care agency. You can find out more about Milestone’s wonderful programs and volunteer opportunities on their Facebook page or on their website.
Information on Kentucky Intensive Family Services can be found on their website:
“As a small, non-profit agency, KIFS takes pride in the ability to provide intense, therapeutic, in-home services to foster families and the children placed in their homes. We are very proud of our high success rate of helping children reach permanency, reducing the lingering effects of trauma due to abuse, neglect, and family crisis situations, and enhancing the over-all health, well-being, and life experience of our most vulnerable population.”
Thanks for joining us! If you are enjoying these podcast, please be sure to leave a comment on iTunes or provide feedback on Blubrry or my website.
And, as always, a reminder to be gentle with yourself.
I was thrilled to have Lucia Giovannini join me for a beautiful and enlightened conversation about her upcoming book release in the United States, her life mission, soul work, animal advocacy, and so much more! Be sure to check out the quiz on her website! Thank you so much for joining us.
“Lucia Giovannini is a former Italian supermodel turned best-selling author, spiritual teacher, transformational coach, environmental & animal activist, and author of 13 books. Her best-selling book, “A Whole New Life”, was first published in Italian and is now translated into eight languages, including an English version published by Hay House India. Her book has sold thousands of copies around the world and will be debuting in the US in March 2019. Growing up in Africa, Lucia often caused her parents’ hearts to skip a beat when she befriended the wildlife, from lizards to crocodiles. Till this day, she remains a passionate animal rights activist. She is a Master Fire-walking Trainer, an NLP and Neuro-Semantics Trainer, and a recognized international Life Coach.”
I have been taking a little social media post-holiday hiatus. Catching up on life and such. Then today put life in perspective in a huge God-therapy way so I had to share.
Sammie was working her therapy dog gig this morning when a child was brought into the room. His tear-filled eyes captured my heart and Sammie instantly worked her therapy dog magic . . . kisses and hugs and snuggles and more kisses. She wouldn’t leave his side for nearly an hour. He and I chatted and chatted while Sammie loved him. With the purest love possible. Just heart to heart.
Afterward I discovered the horrific tragedy that had befallen this child only hours prior. I cried the entire car ride home. My sweet dog helped this little guy smile when smiling seemed an impossibility for these circumstances. She gave him an hour of reprieve from his heartache and trauma.
What a wonderful connection of souls and like-minded philosophies I experienced during this interview with Elizabeth Sullivan, founder and CEO of Empower Survivors. Please join us as we discuss surviving sexual abuse, Giving Voice, empowering survivors, and so much more.
As shared on the Empower Survivors website:
“Elizabeth is the founder and CEO of EmpowerSurvivors, child abuse survivor, facilitator, speaker, activist, survivor coach and mother of three who has made it her life mission to support survivors on their healing journey’s, educate communities on child abuse, and aid in the prevention of child abuse and adverse childhood experiences.”Their mission is “To support adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse , educate communities, reduce the rape and molestation of children, and break the silence that allows childhood sexual abuse to go on for generations.”
You can contact Elizabeth and the Empower Survivors non-profit agency using the following links:
Before diving into step 8, a reminder about resilience: it is defined as the ability to overcome adverse conditions; with healthy bonding relationships, guidance, support, and compassion as the catalysts. Basically, it entails having the capacity to bounce back from stressful or overwhelming experiences.
What are some steps we can take to ensure we are building resilience in our lives?
Focus on the positives.
Seek out and nurture supportive relationships.
Utilize self-care strategies.
Take action steps to create positive change.
Work on healthy habit formation.
Find a guiding hand to hold.
Learn to become our own hero.
Be gentle with ourselves.
Today we will cover Step 8: Be gentle with ourselves.
I had two moments when I first transitioned onto a healing path that stand out as life-altering. My therapist at the time had mentioned to me, “Just notice” during one of our sessions, in the midst of a pretty intense flashback when panic attack symptoms were overwhelming me. Allowing myself the opportunity to just notice those sensations without judgment created an incredible shift in their power over me.
The other shift-inducing incident involved a friend suggesting to me, “Be gentle with yourself, T.” It was one of those smack-to-the-head moments. Be gentle with myself? What the heck does THAT mean? How do I even do that? I realized in that brief exchange that I had been so incredibly hard on myself about my trauma history and attempts at recovery.
I want to share with you a few of the steps I took to learn a more patient and loving approach with myself:
Forgive yourself: If you are holding onto any blame, shame, guilt, or a burden of responsibility for anything that happened to you . . . give yourself the gift of forgiveness. Write yourself a love letter releasing you from that weight. For decades, I carried a self-blame banner when it came to certain incidents in my life. If I hadn’t been drinking so much then I wouldn’t have put myself in that vulnerable position to be taken advantage of by a man. If I had just told my parents what was happening. If I hadn’t been so needy. I stopped all of that blame and shame talk. Remind yourself that you were not to blame. Know this on a soul level. And forgive yourself for burdening you with that heavy load. You are so very worthy of the resulting peace.
Practice being gentle with yourself: I started to utilize the idea of being gentle with myself throughout my day. If I noticed any negative self-talk, such as, Why can’t you just get over this, I would remind myself, Something is surfacing, Teri. Just notice is. What is being triggered? I then would meditate or journal about it, but continuing to not judge any of it. Just gentle observation.
Give yourself the gift of self-love: Sounds simple enough, but, wow, can this be tough. Especially for those of us who experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Practice positive affirmations by repeating mantras such as, “I am calm. I am beautiful. I am peace. I am loved.” The gift of time is a precious self-love commodity, too. Allow time to pursue your passions – whether that’s a stroll in nature, absorbing the beauty, or creating art or taking a new yoga class.
Be patient: As you continue traveling along this healing journey, there are days when you’ll be baby-stepping along oh-so-carefully, other days where you will be leaping into new discoveries, and others when you turn around and retreat. That’s okay. Again, this is a journey, an exploration into sometimes scary territory. Gently remind yourself you’ve got this. Continue to ask, every day, What is the lesson I am learning with this? You are allowed the opportunity to learn in those set-back moments.
Reward yourself: I recently visited a classroom with my registered therapy dog, Sammie. We met with forty-two 4th grade kiddos. One of the questions asked during our Q&A session was, “How did you train Sammie?” I took this opportunity to discuss positive reinforcement. Sammie learned her needed therapy dog skills through classroom instruction along with positive reinforcement outside the classroom. Lots of “good girl, Sam!” and treats. The same goes for us as we learn to live a life free from trauma burdens. A “Way to go!” or “You got this!” goes a long way toward building our confidence.
Coming up next month: New series – Positivities of Persistence