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October 10, 2011

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Self Sabotage

October 6, 2011

Just a Reminder

September 20, 2011

The worst prison is a closed heart.

– Pope John Paul II

Addicted to . . . Everything

September 15, 2011

Addiction.  When you hear that word, you probably think about substance abuse or gambling or smoking, but those are merely the vehicles for addiction – not addiction. What does this have to do with you? Well, abuse survivors are often people who live in extreme ways and have behaviors that could be characterized as addiction.

It may not be liquor or drugs, but there are many behaviors that survivors struggle with to the point that they become addictions. Food. Shopping. Sex. TV. Facebook or Twitter. Video or online games. Texting. Self Injury. Work. Sports. Working out. Hobbies. On and on the list can go, but the common feature is that a behavior becomes intrusive and often destructive. 

For any addict, the problem isn’t the behavior, it’s the addiction. New research by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) found a link between brain dysfunction and addiction – regardless of what that behavior is. The behaviors are considered symptoms – the brain dysfunction is called addiction. So let’s unpack this and take a good look at the behaviors you might practice in such an extreme way that they interfere with your life, your job, and your relationships.

One reason that abuse survivors often struggle with addiction is the impact of trauma on how the brain functions. The study cites that “psychological and environmental factors, such as exposure to trauma or overwhelming stress, distorted ideas about life’s meaning, a damaged sense of self, and breakdown in connections with others and with the transcendent (referred to as God by many, the Higher Power by 12-steps groups, or higher consciousness by others) influence how addiction develops.”

This makes abuse survivors prime candidates for developing intrusive addictions. It explains why so many of us struggle with compulsions and addictions that require every ounce of energy we possess to refrain from acting on them. The ASAM recognizes that this is a “bio-psycho-socio-spiritual illness characterized by (a) damaged decision-making (affecting learning, perception, and judgment) and by (b) persistent risk and/or recurrence of relapse . . . The bad behaviors themselves are all symptoms of addiction, not the disease itself.”

If you find yourself in the endless cycle of addiction – be it with heroin or credit cards – you need to know that you’re dealing with a brain dysfunction – a reward system imbalance – that must be addressed holistically. See your doctor, find a recovery program, get support to maintain your sobriety, take steps to maintain accountability, and enlist your spiritual resources – such as prayer, meditation, participation in a faith community, or Scripture study groups. As anyone in recovery will tell you, the longer to you remain abstinent from your addiction, the more you have an opportunity to re-wire how your brain makes decisions. Every healthy choice you make re-adjusts the reward system imbalance and gives your soul the opportunity to prosper and grow.

(If you’re interested in reading the entire story, go to this link.)

Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom – Abuse Recovery Solutions – providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

You boss loses her car keys. You feel responsible to find them. Your neighbor’s cat is stuck in a tree. You feel responsible to rescue it. Your community center needs painting. You overextend your credit card to buy the paint.

Abuse survivors are notorious for taking on responsibilities that aren’t necessarily theirs to assume.

There’s a fine line between being a passionate and compassionate helper and carrying the weight of the world as if it’s yours to carry. Yes, sometimes we help people and causes because we genuinely care and want to make a difference. That’s a positive legacy of being neglected and abused: you’ve got a lot of empathy and want to help others. That’s noble and we need more people like that!

But if you haven’t done that important interior work of sorting out WHY you want to help, you can find yourself used, exploited, and burned out. If you’ve got an unhealthy need to be needed, or if you help others in order to create a debtor relationship, then you’re helping for unhealthy reasons that will eventually consume you.

The darker side of this tendency is when you not only take on responsibilities that aren’t yours to assume, but you actually FEEL responsible for anything that goes wrong. You believe it might somehow be your fault that your boss lost her keys or that kitty got stuck up a tree or that the community center is in need of repair.  For many of us, it can actually create a sense of horrific panic.

For most abuse survivors, the pressure to take on these tasks AND also feel responsible for anything that isn’t right goes deep. It stems from having to navigate across the constant shifting sands of an environment where abuse was possible. The way people cope when they’re threatened varies, but the one thing we all have in common at such times is our desperate search for ways to control the uncontrollable.

When you’re in an unsafe and exploitive environment, you’re scrambling to do everything you can to protect yourself or protect others you love. You do whatever it takes to accommodate, avoid, or overpower the abusive person. At very deep levels, you believe that if you hide enough or fight enough or run fast enough, the abuse will stop. Of course, that’s rarely the case, and when you discover your limitations, it feels like you could have – should have – would have done more . . . and then things would be different.

If you’ve been reading my thoughts for any length of time, I’m a firm believer in getting mouthy with false beliefs once you recognize them as false. The way you get to that point of recognition involves using pain as an ally (an archived series from last month.)

Being a kind, compassionate, and merciful person is a beautiful quality born from a pure heart willing to love and serve others. Feeling responsible for everything that goes wrong and trying to be all things to all people is born from a heart full of fear – old fear – that must be understood in order to become healthy.

The funny thing about doing the deep interior work of abuse recovery is that – on the outside – it may all look the same. You may still help your boss find her keys. You may still get the cat down from the tree. You may still help paint the community center – but not by overextending your credit card (but you might lead a community fund raiser to pay for the paint!). 

The difference is that you help and serve because you’re a caring person, not because you have internalized responsibility for these circumstances. You help – not because you hope you can make unreasonable people happy – but because you can help. There’s a sliver of distance between these actions, but there’s a world of difference between these motives.

You’re not responsible for everything that goes wrong. Yes, there are times when we are all responsible for messing things up – and when that happens, well  . . . that’s yours to claim and make corrections. The next time you feel that deep seated panic that you’re somehow responsible for things that go wrong, take a few minutes to really examine those thoughts. If that’s not the case, then do what you can to help – but not because you have to . . . because you want to.
Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom – Abuse Recovery Solutions – providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

I’ll never forget one of my monumental melt-downs I had many years ago. On the outside, I looked together, competent, and healthy. The inside was another story altogether. I felt a bit like one of those lava cakes that blows up and then collapses with messy goo inside. I was a master at hiding the messy goo – at least most of the time, but the damage from the sexual abuse I suffered through as a child was overwhelming me and I wasn’t able to hold it together like I needed to.

It all came to a head one day at the grocery store. I had honestly been oblivious to everything around me – lost in flashbacks and depression. I somehow made it to the check-out line, counting down the minutes until I could get out of there and explode into tears. Hold it together, Sallie! Hold it together. But then, it happened. The tipping point that exposed all that goo inside me.

The poor grocery bagger asked me, “Paper or plastic?” I look at the pimply faced kid as if he’d just asked me to explain quantum physics. That meaningless little question was just too overwhelming for me. Sweat poured from my skin. I couldn’t breathe. I was icy cold and nauseous. Alarms and fog horns were deafening me in my head. I was at DEPCON FIVE and couldn’t reason my way through the horrific decision of whether I wanted my 15-items-or-less groceries in a plastic bag or a paper bag. I had my much anticipated meltdown about ten minutes too early and I felt as exposed as when I was that little girl, stripped naked in the corner of a room.

It was a horrendous moment for me, but it was so ridiculously over-the-top that it helped me to continue on my journey beyond abuse. Once I survived the shame of emotional exposure and mental chaos, once I got out of that grocery store and into the safety of my car, I knew I still had a lot of work to do. It was in doing that continuing hard work that I discovered how incredibly normal I was. Yep! Me . . . NORMAL!!

One of the most important steps in abuse recovery is to recognize that your experiences and your reactions to abuse are not unique. Of course, most of us don’t know that – especially at first – because secrecy and false shame keep us isolated. When you suffer alone with abuse and its damage, you have no way of knowing that almost every abuse victim feels the same way you do, or that there are others who have been through similar experiences.

I’ll never forget the incredible relief I felt when I began working through my abuse issues. I discovered that I wasn’t my abuser’s only victim – and while I wasn’t happy that others had been similarly exploited, I realized that it wasn’t my fault. It was my abuser’s fault. As I learned more about sexual abuse, I learned that it’s common for victims to experience a degree of pleasure, that kids often sexually act out with others as they try to make sense of what is being done to them, that secrets are kept because of emotional and psychological manipulation – not just physical threats, and that self-image is formed around exploitation, shame, secrets, and fear.

No wonder we struggle with depression, anger, self-hatred, and addictions (to name a few issues). No wonder we are plagued by self-doubt and irrational phobias. No wonder we are easily overwhelmed, resistant to intimacy, and unable to trust. This is the damage – and it’s common and normal.

This week, take some time to write down the issues that you struggle with. That list will help you to see yourself accurately. It is also probably the same list that virtually every abuse survivor could make. You see, you’ve experienced normal reactions to very ABNORMAL experiences – the experience of being abused, exploited, and violated.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at a few of the normal issues that abuse survivors struggle with: (1) Expecting the other shoe to drop; (2) Feeling responsible for everything that goes wrong; (3) Addicted to . . . everything ; (4) Secret sex; (5) Food; (6) Self-destruction; and (7) Fear and loathing. This information alone is an enormous piece of the abuse recovery puzzle that will help you in your journey beyond abuse.

ps – I now carry my own reusable cloth bags to the store. It’s good for the environment and it’s one less decision I have to make in public!

Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom – Abuse Recovery Solutions – providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

Just a Reminder

August 23, 2011

Be thine own palace, or the world is thy jail.
– John Donne

Just a Reminder

August 16, 2011

It isn’t the mountain ahead that will wear you out, it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.
-Robert Service

Just a Reminder

July 26, 2011

You have to choose whether to love yourself or not. – James Taylor

http://myemail.constantcontact.com/It-Doesn-t-Matter—Oh-YES-it-does–.html?soid=1101382691979&aid=dxc6tEXBnGA.