my mom greets me like a small child. Her eyes light up and she is filled with such love for me.
This is what flowed beneath the layers of suffering that was my mom- that was our relationship.
I hated her a lot. And I believed she hated me the same.
We must be careful who we deem unworthy of love but worthy of hate and abandonment. We must not dismiss a family as dysfunctional or a person damaged and leave it there as if it/they held nothing else.
I really know this.
For there were many necessary years I felt anger and betrayal- sometimes rightly so- and the only way I could function in our dysfunction was to protect myself.
And yet, now…
I feel I am a good daughter for sticking with her- for staying in the process, the journey that is ours.
I understand I needed to love her but couldn’t and wouldn’t and instead exchanged vulnerability for codependency (unknowingly of course).
I continue to play this out within my marriage.
And yet, now
I see the possibility that what flows beneath the wounds of my suffering might redeem me
The dominant culture, which is mostly reactivity from unprocessed trauma, tells us that we aren’t supposed to let people hurt us. But the truth is people do hurt us.
My mom hurt me today. And there’s been plenty of other days as well. As her young child I was constantly hurt. I learned to cope and self-protect through a variety of ways. As a child, it was through art, music, books and my imagination. As I grew older, other ways were through perfectionism, OCD and controlling behaviors and the big one: codependency.
Today, I stopped taking her hurt. I set a firm boundary. And then I let myself be hurt. When our mothers hurt us it’s the ultimate betrayal. If the hurt is constant and consistent, we will learn to betray ourselves. We will make choices and create an entire life and get involved in relationships from this deepest wound.
If we are brave and committed to change, we will begin to awaken to our life built from self-betrayal, and we will feel shattered. At the very least, bruised. And, this is the place where we learn self-love, self-compassion, and forgiveness of self and others. It is a deep and holy space of grief, surrender and heart opening. We will learn self-love and begin, little by little, to create a life for ourselves painted from the womb of our rebirth and our deepest reckoning with ourselves.
We will recognize that we no longer need to protect ourselves from hurt. We will come to experience our heart as strong, worthy, willing and ready to feel feelings and remain stabilized. We will learn the difference between self-betrayal and self-love. We will see setting boundaries and making conscious choices as our gateway to creating new experiences, experiences based and waged in self-love.
To continue on this self-love journey, my self-reflective practice for the month of November is this….to explore, experience and learn:
What does self-love look like in my relationships…..
Beyond relationships, what does it look like for me in my life…. How do I paint and create my experiences through self-love?
My first and foremost curiosity is: How are all of you doing?
This afternoon, my daughter said she felt off. Tired. Unmotivated. Had no inspiration. Didn’t even want to put on makeup— had tried several looks that weren’t working. The makeup part is unusual for her. She is an esthetician and a talented makeup artist.
She asked me if I was feeling off. I told her no. I went on, “You might think mom is being woo-woo, but a veil has been lifted for many of us right now. This veil protected us from certain realities and allowed us to live in illusion.”
I went on, “For some this is an incredibly difficult time. For others it is a time of celebration. I am celebrating. And, it makes sense that you are feeling off— you’ve gone through some big changes.”
Weep, and then smile.
Do not pretend to know something
you have not experienced.
There is a necessary dying…
Very little grows on jagged rock.
Be ground. Be crumbled,
so wildflowers will come up
where you are.
You have been stony for far too many years.
Try something different. Surrender.
~Rumi, A Year with Rumi, Coleman Barks
Btw: Rumi is a fucking gem! If you’ve not read his poetry, find some. If you have, find it again!
Currently, I am not engaged with a large circle of people, but from my small circle, I can tell you EVERY SINGLE PERSON I know has made seismic shifts in the last few weeks. I am also hearing from fellow therapists and social workers that clients are coming in with an unusual amount of challenges and traumas.
For myself, during this time, I’ve faced the deeper, if not the deepest, psychological wound within myself. It is a wound made from neglect. A wound that has caused incredible suffering, and has been passed down to my daughters, and was passed down to me. It is the generational trauma of neglect, which so many of us feel. Which so many of us endure. It is silent. It is insidious. It is ours. Many don’t know it is there. But now is the time to surrender to our childhood, generational and historical traumas. To bear witness to them. To feel the pain, fear, and sadness they hold. To understand them and their message. To release them and be transformed. These traumas need not stay in our minds, our bodies, our souls any longer.
These traumas wreak havoc and prey upon EVERYTHING— from our relationships to the countries we live in. For example, President Trump has an entire closet (and then some) full of unprocessed trauma that is damaging the United States. But, in this post, I am not going to go into that. The focus for this post is to report that the FUTURE IS HERE. The new paradigm, the cosmic shift, the new reality— that some of us have been talking about for a while— happened. In a very real sense, we made it AND there’s more to come.
For July’s Soul Report the message I am sharing to help assist us is: Slow Down & Surrender
June’s Soul Report was also about slowing down, slowing down in order to sense the subtleties of energies, patterns and dynamics. This was to help us prepare for this big shift that has now occurred.
July’s slowing down is about getting clear now that some internal debris has been lifted. It’s about commitment and being conscious participants in our ongoing personal growth and transformation. It is about creating our own Bodhi Tree (under which Siddhartha Gautama became enlightened) moments. These moments are glimpses of insight about who we are and who we are not. These moments build upon each other to become a lighted chain that leads us to greater awakenings of who we really are.
The root of suffering is attachment.
As I reflect upon my own journey thus far, it is indeed true that the root of suffering is attachment. How I experience attachment comes from a psychological perspective that has to do with attachment trauma. As infants and small children, if we did not securely attach to an adult, we have already made our first step into suffering. If a secure adult did not answer our cries for nourishment, protection and affection, we attach to this trauma. If a secure adult did not answer our questions about life or we were reprimanded when doing so, we attach to this trauma. If we were exposed to a caregiver who was addicted, we attach to this trauma. The list of traumas are many.
As adults we now have attachment trauma. We feel neglected, abandoned and empty. We put out our feelers, literally our feelings of fear and insecurity, and find our fix- the thing to fulfill us. Mine was, and is, a 32-year codependent relationship. For others it can be anything: shopping, success, drugs, gambling……….and the list continues. The cycle also continues. And I, who have spent my entire life living and processing my attachment trauma, want to do whatever I can to help and assist others as many have done for me.
And that my friends, was a tangent, but apparently a needed one.
And brings me to what occurs as we process our traumas: space. Space in our minds. Space in our bodies. Space in our souls. This space allows for generosity for ourselves and every living thing. This space allows for greater efficiency so that when new traumas or challenges come, we can process them more quickly and easily. This space allows for our natural desires and tendencies to surface and create a more satisfying, deliberate and peaceful presence. This space allows us to see, perhaps for the first time, what our burning desire is— that blue flame inside us all that keeps us going and brings us everywhere.
What once kept me going was the desire to fill my empty space. But this was only part of the journey and leads me to discover what actually is within that empty space. I am here now, and I celebrate and anticipate its unfolding.
I am here to process and hold space with any of you moving through these shifts and changes. I am here to answer any questions you might have about this month’s Soul Report.
My latest Mental Health article at The Volk magazine.
“It is in the homes and in childhood that the wreckage of human life begins.”
The above quote may seem harsh to some, and to others validating. For me, it is validating. At 15 years-old, I understood I had an issue with intimate relationships. I found out in my early twenties that issue had a name: codependency. I read a book called Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie. My copy of the book is full of fading purple highlights. Melody gave what I experienced a framework and language. Often codependency has its roots in the house of a child with at least one caregiver experiencing addiction. This was true for me. My mother had a drinking problem, later prescription drugs, and was in and out of treatment centers much of my childhood. My mother also has a mental illness which was not diagnosed until a couple of years ago. To put it simply, in my home life was unstable; the only predictability was the unpredictability and chaos that came from my mother. I spent three decades sorting most of this out.
Today the number of people experiencing mental health issues is staggering. According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year. For youth, ages 13-18, 1 in 5 will experience a “severe mental disorder at some point during their life.” Specifically I’d like to discuss two common diagnoses: PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). Diagnostic criteria for PTSD are exposure to traumatic event(s), recurrent and distressing memories of the event(s), avoidance of stimuli associated with event(s), and various changes in mood and behavior, which can include hypervigilance, problems with concentration, and sometimes disassociation (DSM-5).
According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) “Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” Approximately 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event in their lives and 8% have PTSD (PTSD United).
ADHD is termed as a “heritable brain disorder,” where symptoms include inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and can cause anxiety, boredom, and/or mood swings. One in nine U.S. (6.4 million) children is diagnosed with ADHD (Ruiz, R, 2014).
I focus on these two disorders due to emerging research which questions whether attention issues and the overall increase in ADHD diagnosis may be due to trauma. One of the reasons this matters is treatment. Seventy-seven percent of children diagnosed with ADHD receive treatment while thirty percent are treated with only medication (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). From what I understand, ADHD medication will not help a child who does not have ADHD: therefore, having an accurate understanding of a child and their history, particularly trauma history, is important. From this research, this need is becoming clear.
One study of particular importance was done by Dr. Nicole Brown at Duke University. During her residency she began to notice that many of her patients were being diagnosed with ADHD. These patients were living in low-income neighborhoods, often characterized by violence. She conducted a study of 65,000 children. The parents of these children were questioned about the ADHD diagnoses along with any Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs. These experiences can include physical and emotional neglect and abuse, caregivers with mental illness and/or addiction, or who were incarcerated. She found that sixteen percent of children diagnosed with ADHD did have at least four ACEs. There were only six percent diagnosed who had no ACEs. The recommendation from this study, according to Dr. Brown, is “We need to think more carefully about screening for trauma and designing a more trauma-informed treatment plan.”
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who is a pioneer in the ACE’s study and was just named California’s first Surgeon General, is calling for developmental screenings of Adverse Childhood Experiences much like we do already for mental health when we visit our doctor. The ACE’s study showed that the more adverse childhood experiences we have, the more it impacts our overall mental and physical health well into adulthood. This brings me back to the quote I shared at the beginning of the article. We are witnessing, and many of us are experiencing, the wreckage of human life.
To point to our childhood homes as the root of this wreckage, again, may seem harsh. I must also state that there are systematic inequalities that can induce and enhance this wreckage. The truth is many of us grew up or are growing up in harsh conditions. This harshness can create trauma, which impacts us in a variety of ways through behavior, mood, relationships, and our experiences. To recognize this isn’t to blame our caregivers. It is to understand ourselves and, essentially, humanity. Understanding leads to a greater capacity for healing, growth, and compassion for ourselves and others. It is important to remember that we are our best resource and often what troubles us has solutions within. For those of us who commit to this, understanding will create less harsh conditions in our homes for our children. Specific to a diagnosis of ADHD or PTSD, it is important to be professionally screened, recognizing that symptoms of inattention can also point to a trauma history. Below you will find a list of resources—websites and books— that further this discussion and offer education on trauma and ACEs, including a site where you can find out your own ACE score.
The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
The Deepest Well, by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D.
Nikki DiVirgilio is a Licensed Social Worker and writer. If you’d like to contact her with questions, comments and guidance in going deeper, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more from Nikki, visit her blog at www.nikkidivirgilio.com