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How do you write about something that people are afraid to see? How to you expose an undermining, but insidious, practice? How do you change peoples’ minds? How does a civilization heal from the wounds of abuse?

The following is courtesy of David Baldwin , licensed Psychologist practicing in Eugene, Oregon.

“Traumatizing experiences shake the foundations of our beliefs about safety, and shatter our assumptions of trust. Because they are so far outside what we would expect, these events provoke reactions that feel strange and “crazy”. Perhaps the most helpful thing I can say here is that even though these reactions are unusual and disturbing, they are typical and expectable. By and large, these are normal responses to abnormal events.

Trauma symptoms are probably adaptive, and originally evolved to help us recognize and avoid other dangerous situations quickly — before it was too late. Sometimes these symptoms resolve within a few days or weeks of a disturbing experience: Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. It is when many symptoms persist for weeks or months, or when they are extreme, that professional help may be indicated. On the other hand, if symptoms persist for several months without treatment, then avoidance can become the best available method to cope with the trauma — and this strategy interferes with seeking professional help. Postponing needed intervention for a year or more, and allowing avoidance defenses to develop, could make this work much more difficult.

We create meaning out of the context in which events occur. Consequently, there is always a strong subjective component in people’s responses to traumatic events. This can be seen most clearly in disasters, where a broad cross-section of the population is exposed to objectively the same traumatic experience. Some of the individual differences in susceptibility to PTSD following trauma probably stem from temperament, others from prior history and its effect on this subjectivity.

In the “purest” sense, trauma involves exposure to a life-threatening experience. This fits with its phylogenetic roots in life-or-death issues of survival, and with the involvement of older brain structures (e.g., reptilian or limbic system) in responses to stress and terror. Yet, many individuals exposed to violations by people or institutions they must depend on or trust also show PTSD-like symptoms — even if their abuse was not directly life-threatening. Although the mechanisms of this connection to traumatic symptoms are not well understood, it appears that betrayal by someone on whom you depend for survival (as a child on a parent) may produce consequences similar to those from more obviously life-threatening traumas. Examples include some physically or sexually abused children as well as Vietnam veterans, but monkeys also show a sense of fairness, so our sensitivity to betrayal may not be limited to humans. Experience of betrayal trauma may increase the likelihood of psychogenic amnesia, as compared to fear-based trauma. Forgetting may help maintain necessary attachments (e.g., during childhood), improving chances for survival; if so, this has far-reaching theoretical implications for psychological research. Of course, some traumas include elements of betrayal and fear; perhaps all involve feelings of helplessness.”

Tami Boehle-Satterfield, MSW, LCSW-C, NBBCH, HTP, a licensed psychotherapist in Boulder Colorado at attentiontoliving.com has challenged herself in 2016 to post weekly about the unpopular topic of abuse. Learn more about Tami at attentiontoliving.com

 

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Photo Credit: Suki Dalury in Anjaneyasana, by Zoe Zimmerman for Sundara Studios 2013

“There is so much fear out there right now.” That is what we say. That is what I say. I say it to normalize the trepidation a person might feel, I say it to soothe the anxiety someone is experiencing, but maybe I say it, maybe we say it, as a defense to feeling the fear. After all, fear feels scary.

A friend finally got back into enough of a routine to work yoga back into her weekly regiment. She told me that it wasn’t to long after she had her coat on and mat in hand that she felt the fear. “Oh, yeah. I forgot,” she told me,  “Yoga scares the bejesus out of me.”

In class on her mat the fear came in waves. She was fearful of being seen. She was fearful of doing it wrong or, more accurately, of being wrong. And what if she was seen?  What if she was wrong?  “Well, then,” she paused and said, “I would be a bad person.”  She looked funny.  She knew it made no sense, but still it was what she feared. “Wait,” she then said, with some sense of an epiphany. “That is a child’s way of thinking.”

Next week on the mat she breathed.  I mean really breathed.  With intention and with purpose, intending and purposing self support.  She stood tall out of her spine and decided to let herself really get to know fear: as she stretched and struggled to maintain a pose; as she fell out of step with the class; and as she misunderstood a pose. She bore witness to her own reflection in the seemingly unforgiving mirrored wall.

She discovered that it wasn’t really the fear that made her feel dreadful, it was the anticipation of fear. She noticed that once she allowed herself to cross the threshold and step into her fear, that fear itself was small and vulnerable. She held the fear in her mind as if she was blind and felt it without expectation. “It was soft and fragile”, she said.  “It easily broke into sadness,” she told me.  “Holding Anjaneyasana, I breathed into the fear and let the sensations of it fill my body. There were tears and fear was released. The fear of yoga, but also the the other things I had been fearing.”

Propensities towards child-like thinking can inhibited our growth. My friend was ultimately grateful to be stretching her body, mind, and spirit.  She found gratitude in the expression and release the fear to the realization of her profound strength. My friend’s story is good reminder to check in with our thoughts, our feelings, and our physiology from time to time. We might just learn that we are not really as afraid as we thought we were.

Would you like to learn more about living mindfully?  Schedule from all around the world with Tami at attentiontoliving.com or call and talk with her today at 410-382-0518.

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LONDON — SIX years ago I was struck down with a mystery illness. My weight dropped by 30 pounds in three months. I experienced searing stomach pain, felt utterly exhausted and no matter how much I ate, I couldn’t gain an ounce.

I went from slim to thin to emaciated. The pain got worse, a white heat in my belly that made me double up unexpectedly in public and in private. Delivering on my academic and professional commitments became increasingly challenging.

It was terrifying. I did not know whether I had an illness that would kill me or stay with me for the rest of my life or whether what was wrong with me was something that could be cured if I could just find out what on earth it was.

Trying to find the answer, I saw doctors in London, New York, Minnesota and Chicago.

I was offered a vast range of potential diagnoses. Cancer was quickly and thankfully ruled out. But many other possibilities remained on the table, from autoimmune diseases to rare viruses to spinal conditions to debilitating neural illnesses.

Treatments suggested ranged from a five-hour, high-risk surgery to remove a portion of my stomach, to lumbar spine injections to numb nerve paths, to a prescription of antidepressants.

Faced with all these confusing and conflicting opinions, I had to work out which expert to trust, whom to believe and whose advice to follow. As an economist specializing in the global economy, international trade and debt, I have spent most of my career helping others make big decisions — prime ministers, presidents and chief executives — and so I’m all too aware of the risks and dangers of poor choices in the public as well as the private sphere. But up until then I hadn’t thought much about the process of decision making. So in between M.R.I.’s, CT scans and spinal taps, I dove into the academic literature on decision making. Not just in my field but also in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, information science, political science and history.

What did I learn?

Physicians do get things wrong, remarkably often. Studies have shown that up to one in five patients are misdiagnosed. In the United States and Canada it is estimated that 50,000 hospital deaths each year could have been prevented if the real cause of illness had been correctly identified.

Yet people are loath to challenge experts. In a 2009 experiment carried out at Emory University, a group of adults was asked to make a decision while contemplating an expert’s claims, in this case, a financial expert. A functional M.R.I. scanner gauged their brain activity as they did so. The results were extraordinary: when confronted with the expert, it was as if the independent decision-making parts of many subjects’ brains pretty much switched off. They simply ceded their power to decide to the expert.

If we are to control our own destinies, we have to switch our brains back on and come to our medical consultations with plenty of research done, able to use the relevant jargon. If we can’t do this ourselves we need to identify someone in our social or family network who can do so on our behalf.

Anxiety, stress and fear — emotions that are part and parcel of serious illness — can distort our choices. Stress makes us prone to tunnel vision, less likely to take in the information we need. Anxiety makes us more risk-averse than we would be regularly and more deferential.

We need to know how we are feeling. Mindfully acknowledging our feelings serves as an “emotional thermostat” that recalibrates our decision making. It’s not that we can’t be anxious, it’s that we need to acknowledge to ourselves that we are.

It is also crucial to ask probing questions not only of the experts but of ourselves. This is because we bring into our decision-making process flaws and errors of our own. All of us show bias when it comes to what information we take in. We typically focus on anything that agrees with the outcome we want.

We need to be aware of our natural born optimism, for that harms good decision making, too. The neuroscientist Tali Sharot conducted a study in which she asked volunteers what they believed the chances were of various unpleasant events’ occurring — events like being robbed or developing Parkinson’s disease. She then told them what the real chances of such an event happening actually were. What she discovered was fascinating. When the volunteers were given information that was better than they hoped or expected — say, for example, that the risk of complications in surgery was only 10 percent when they thought it was 30 percent — they adjusted closer to the new risk percentages presented. But if it was worse, they tended to ignore this new information.

This could explain why smokers often persist with smoking despite the overwhelming evidence that it’s bad for them. If their unconscious belief is that they won’t get lung cancer, for every warning from an antismoking campaigner, their brain is giving a lot more weight to that story of the 99-year-old lady who smokes 50 cigarettes a day but is still going strong.

We need to acknowledge our tendency to incorrectly process challenging news and actively push ourselves to hear the bad as well as the good. It felt great when I stumbled across information that implied I didn’t need any serious treatment at all. When we find data that supports our hopes we appear to get a dopamine rush similar to the one we get if we eat chocolate, have sex or fall in love. But it’s often information that challenges our existing opinions or wishful desires that yields the greatest insights. I was lucky that my boyfriend alerted me to my most dopamine-drugged moments. The dangerous allure of the information we want to hear is something we need to be more vigilant about, in the medical consulting room and beyond.

My own health story had a happy ending. I was finally given a diagnosis of a rare lymphatic vessel condition, and decided that surgery made sense. Not the five-hour surgical intervention that would have left me in bed recovering for more than three months, but a much less intrusive keyhole surgery with a quick recovery. I chose a surgeon who wasn’t overly confident. I’d learned in my research that the super-confident, doctor-as-god types did not always perform well. One study of radiologists, for example, reveals that those who perform poorly on diagnostic tests are also those most confident in their diagnostic prowess.

My surgery went well. The pain subsided, the pounds gradually came back on. I am now cured.

With brain switched on and eyes wide open, we can’t always guarantee a positive outcome when it comes to a medical decision, but we can at least stack the odds in our favor.

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Outside, snow fell from the dark Midwestern sky and added to the gray street slush. Inside, men’s slippers filled our shopping cart, each shoe bound to the other with a strong, thin, white string so that when father tried them on for size, we saw that he was a prisoner. When mother was satisfied, she took the soul-less brown, vinyl shoes with the Scotch plaid lining, indicating a bedroom purpose, from his feet and threw them in the cart. She paused, her eyes shifted sideways to the left, remembering Grandfather and some uncle. She reached for two more pairs, tossed them in the cart, and then for good measure, tossed in another two. “Just $4.96 Each At Your Savings Store, Christmas 1974, Where Your Dollar Buys You More.” Richard Milhous Nixon was not a crook, but even so, Gerald Randolph Ford clumsily stepped in with the distracted burden of keeping too many people’s secrets.

Father hardly noticed. He was a dreaming man. “Daughter,” he said. “Imagine,” and his hands gestured, creating waves through the harsh blue, fluorescent light illuminating the expanse of what appeared as pirate’s booty. Kmart was a rich and exotic land with street after street of products inspired by organic polymers produced at a high molecular mass.

Father directed my attention to row after row. Men’s work boots, women’s dress shoes, children’s snow boots followed by steel rounders of turtlenecks spilling into more rounders of slippery polyester bathrobes and floral, flame-retardant flannels, found just three years later to be toxic. All on plastic hangers. I knew that farther back there was a wonderful world of toys. Just last Friday, allowance in hand, I shopped the shelves and purchased myself a Craftsmaker Paint By Numbers of an orange kitten playing with a big, red ball of yarn. Somewhere behind us God spoke and the drove chased a portable, blue police light set atop a wheeled cart. The light circled the attention of the Kmart Shoppers to the sporting goods department. In the news, Patty Hearst, toted an M1 Carbine and the Second Amendment Foundation was established to promote our legal right to bear arms. Kmart didn’t miss a beat.

Despite the blue light cattle call, Father had my attention. He had my full attention, like he was pulling rabbits out of a hat. He asked me to imagine that we were in the back of a semi-tractor trailer, just the two of us, and that this was all a movie. The slippers, my mother, my sisters, the Blue Light Special, all the Kmart Shoppers, the cold ham sandwiches with shaved lettuce in the deli cases. All of it, the coveted red, frozen, carbonated drinks known as ICEES piled richly in red, white, and blue paper cups, the smell of stale yellow popcorn, the international best selling Elton John’s Greatest Hits albums, the gold-tone electric ladies’ Timex watches, the talking Mrs. Beasly doll. The whole thing. Like Christine Chubbuck and Hank Aaron, he proposed something unbelievable.

“Girly, what do you think? This is all a movie.” His hands swept from front to back like he was swimming in lovely waters. “It’s just you and me in the back of a semi-tractor trailer and a big screen.” He looked me right in my eyes, the moment forever imprinted on my mind. He dared me to disobey. A greater question was asked. Had he trusted me with the secret truth of the universe or was he slipping under a great wheel and taking me with him? I looked around Kmart. I looked back to him. My eyes not seeing him, but imagining a nightly news story. He had a far away look. “Yep,” he said resigned, looking out as if there was no escaping the walls of Kmart. He walked ahead of me, preaching, to no one in particular. I picked up my pace. “Its all an illusion,” he shook his head, “and the only real thing is you and me and the tractor trailer.” His voice trailed off and he pointed to traces of trash on the floor. I struggled to make a tenuous connection between fact and fiction. Father walked off still prophesizing, walking away, stealing any sense of security I’d ever had. Kmart parted in his wake, like the Red Sea, troughs to his right filled with the likes of plastic baby bottles and Playtex 18-hour girdles and to his left the gutters had their fill of snow scrapers and Turtle Wax. In 1974 pigs were feeding everywhere.

Things went a blur in the watery waves of confusion. I think I staggered, or maybe just dodged a shopper, my sailor legs trying to keep up with Father. The distance between us growing. No perfunctory courtesy would bring us closer together. I knew there could be no deliberation. I swallowed my fear and cast out all doubt. Disciples don’t hesitate. One skip over, and I jumped forward, all my trust in that fifth wheel hitch. Adrenaline, a hormone often responsible for poor judgement, fueled my childish imagination and I saw Father as Sonny Pruitt.

Ahead a sign read, Double Cheeseburger, Onion Rings And A Coca Cola, All For Just 88 Cents. Father led us into the temptations of the K-Cafe and I thought I heard the hum of the big rig beneath the elevator music of Merle Haggard singing Movin’ On. And then, as we stowed our cart, wild and stubborn with a wheel going its own way, I was sure I felt the moveable tandem of the 18-wheeler adjust. Father stood right, aside Mother as she ordered, placing his hand just behind her left shoulder. My sisters missing the moment as they messed with the majestic, red, velvet rope that led us to the place we had always been heading.

I read a message inscribed across the bottom of the big menu board above the counter. The message from above read, Kmart Is The Saving Place. I felt sure it was a sign that I’d done the right thing, that it was all coming together, that my confidence could be fully restored. Then, someone shoved me from behind, knocking me hard and taking a bit of the wind out of my smooth ride. I looked to Father to make sense of it, but he’d taken a leave. His eyes weren’t anywhere near the road of redemption. It seemed he had completely abandoned me. Perhaps the earlier lurch was a large pot hole, smack dab in the middle of the road and he’d been knocked silly. His full attention was now with the red-faced boy in the aqua polyester uniform penciling our dinner order onto a small paper pad. When the order taker finished taking orders from Mother, Five Coca Colas, 3 hamburgers with pickles and mustard, a cheeseburger with tomato and lettuce, a double cheeseburger with the works, 3 orders of french fries and an order of onion rings, Father rejoiced, “That’s a big 10-4 good buddy.”

It was to be my last supper with Father in which there was a remnant – a mustard seed even – of pure, unadulterated trust. On recollection in the following days and with greater consideration over the coming years, I would learn that it was a very dangerous thing to completely trust an imprisoned man.

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Dare I ask,
May I live?
N o.

C a n
I
l i v e ?

In the space
Sheltered,
Between rocks?

Or at the soft, fuzzy place
Where the edge of darkness
B l e e d s light?

Between my childish
Anticipation of
And the expectation for?

Can I bear the desire,
The longing
For what I imagine I need?

Dare I say
No?
NO!

I am not a lover
Worshiping
the romance in suffering,

Stuck in moments,
Like traffic
Going nowhere.

I am l i v i n g
In the fluid, watery space
Between two green banks.

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The stellium in Aries (Mars) is in full effect now, squared by Pluto in Capricorn (Saturn), and aspected by Saturn in Scorpio (Mars). This Mars/Saturn combination is dynamic. Be mindful. Notice the dynamics in your interpersonal relationships and use this powerful energy strategically. Set aside your fear, get clear about what you want and utilize this energy to set in motion that which you would like make into reality.

The key here, is being present to notice the opportunities in the obstacles.

Oliver in a Winter Wonderland

“I love that old man,” he said
And hunched over swinging his arms and picking up his feet,
Looking like an elephant muppet.
Flippity flop, flippity flop,
He showed me how you moved across the floor and out the door.
Like a puppet in a curly white coat,
Feet made of mops,
Off you went.

We calculated you were nearly 98 years old
When you didn’t come back.
We called and called for you
And we called others
To call and call for you.
Searching the yard, the road, the woods;
making a wide berth around the river,
Your favorite morning drink.

From the street I heard
The great moan of a tree just before it lays down.
I ran, knowing
Before I ever descended down that hill.
The earth quaked up out of me.
The trees picked it up and the early January sky filled
As the river valley echoed it back to me.
This drowning wake I came to know as ours.

And the other,
Dressed for handling papers and pens,
Squatted on the muddy bank and
Agreed to be keeper of time, witness of grief,
Pulled us from what was becoming our own etheric, watery world
And helped lift you from the gentle drink you rested in.
So peaceful looking.
I couldn’t help but notice.

Your beautiful tendrils of hair afloat like that of a mermaid.
Your body relaxed in the cold, clear Gunpowder River
And for a moment it all made sense.
You, that lovely, graceful creature.
In the flow of life.
Setting off.
Floating away.
F l o a t i n g o n b y.

By the tree, where you had minded over a decade of laughing kids,
Barking and nipping at their untucked shirts as they defied gravity from a tire swing.
And the boy, who is now a man,
Came flying through the field of beasts of burden.
Still and wide-eyed, they watched, bearing witness to our drama.
And down that hill
He fell to his knees and cried “No!” at seeing you so still.
And I heard her cat cries as they broke into sobs of sorrow from miles away.

I imagine
That everyone in the river valley felt our grief that morning
Vibrate through their kitchens
As they poured coffee.
For a moment and in a moment,
They paused,
“Did you feel that? What was that?”
Hymns of the Greek Chorus.

He carried you up to the garden where all before you lie.
And the earth was kind and opened easily for you.
We placed you in a bed of forgiving dirt.
Forgiving us
For our human tangle of doubt and fear.
Our clumsy words,
Flippity flopped, flippity flopped,
Absorbed into the soft clay hole of our hearts.

And like the earth,
And the river that morning,
The night sky opened to the Heavens.
A sailor’s paradise.
Jupiter sat right above your grave.
Stars and planets shivered in revery as you passed,
Curtseying and bowing to your greatness.
And he and she and he and I stood on this earth and waved goodbye.