I have been very blessed to have come upon some answers that I have been seeking. My journey is totally a spiral that spins slowly as I ascend my path. I have been stuck for a while in a holding pattern that has not been very pleasant and was getting to be incredibly frustrating for me. I discovered something and I always think I have come upon something so wondrous I have to share. In truth, this is nothing new. It just is sinking in. For me it has been a real big ah ha. I have put together a concept and it makes so much sense to me. And as I have also been told, the answers come when you are ready to hear them.
I started this entire journey without the realization that it was going to be a journey. I went in August of 2012 to see a Physical Therapist for relief for my ankle and other chronic pain. He practices a therapy called Associative Awareness Techniques. John explained continually what he was doing and the theory behind his work. Here is the link to his page http://rochesterptwellness.com/ if you want to find out more. I am going to explain it a bit simpler because this is the first piece to understanding my connection. I am also referring to information from a book called Hardwired for Happiness. The author, Rick Hanson, PhD., gave a webinar recently that I participated in and the connection was made for me.
We have an area of our brain that controls fight, flight or freeze. I have written about this several times. As man has evolved, much of the components of our brain did too. The area of the brain that controls fight, flight and freeze has not. It works much the same way as it has for thousands of years. Input comes in and the system fires off a warning to the body to prepare for war. This is a simplistic explanation and there is a lot of reading you can do to learn more about this. Anyone who had PTSD should read and understand this system.
This was the piece I needed to connect to move to the next level. The system fires and the body reacts. Often I am not aware of the firing until I am in a full freeze. For me, the freeze makes my body stop functioning. My chronic symptoms is I breath very short breaths, my muscles contract for a prolong period of time and my digestive systems stops. But this was something I was watching and could not connect why it happened and why I could not stop it from happening. I have full blood labs done every three to four months, sort of as a science project on myself. I went back and looked at the last year and a half and discovered something that was scary. My labs fluctuated as my stress did. There are many chemicals that are secreted to help the body prepare for threats. Glucose is used for energy and cortisol is used to pump the systems up. That is a cheap explanation, but it will do for my purpose. My glucose follows a very definitely a rise and fall as I am stressed. What I am speaking about has nothing to do with diabetes as I fall within the parameters for normal most of the time. The chemical that is more dangerous is cortisol.
I am not going to go into a biology lesson here. I am going to relate how this has impacted me. Cortisol is not supposed to constantly flow into the body. Small shots of it are designed to produce a response to help the body be more “strong”. Think of it as a natural steroid. In a normal situation, the threat dissipates either by leaving the target alone or killing it. That is natural. Through time, man has learned to receive input and then react, which keeps him/her safe. When the system is subjected to repeated onslaught of threats, the system basically gets stuck in “on”. The body does not have a chance to remove the chemicals from the system. So they build up. Cortisol turns to fat and that fat is deposited on the abdomen to protect the organs. That is a very simplistic explanation and I am purposefully keeping this short. I went back and looked at my labs and my triglycerides definitely track a reflection of what was happening to me at the time. All my labs dropped right after I returned from the River this summer. Matter of fact the doctor asked me about what diet I had been on. I certainly did not diet during my vacation. I relaxed. Last year, I had been and was faithfully participating in Weight Watchers and actually gained weight. It was so confusing to me I went to three nutritionists at work who also were stumped. But this was the time I was unearthing a lot of my history and working on the traumas. This is not about dieting, this is about how much our systems control us and we need to learn to reprogram them.
The other thing these chemicals do is cause inflammation and they will in time shut down the immune system. The more stress I face the more in pain I am. I was looking at it completely wrong. I was blaming myself for all this. My resolve was that I caused the pain I live with because of something I did and you know what? It only made things worse. Because I WAS prepared to make this all my fault, I was never going to get out of this rut. It is a rut I have been deeply entrenched in again these past months.
So here is the kicker. We are hardwired to accept negativity. It is that warning system that keeps us safe. Instead of looking at a possible threat and not heeding it, the brain automatically fires “Danger Will Robinson” and off the systems go. For me and others who have been exposed to an abundance of threats, the systems are hyper-vigilant. That means basically we have hair triggers. The littlest of threat sets off the systems. And threats are subjective. What sets me off may not set you off. That does not matter. What matters is that they go off. And what also matters is it was a brilliant part of my survival. I did not fail, I kept myself safe. That is crucial to understand that there is no failure here. And for someone like me who is uber-sensitive, I pick up threats, perceived or real, very easily and without awareness. This is also not a failure but I gift I need to learn to use better.
The next step is going to be a challenge and required the piece of information I did not get before. The resolve or remedy that people have prescribed to me has not worked because I could not grasp the last part of what I just said. There is no failure. It is what it is. I have been beating myself up for the last 18 months because I thought I was the cause of all my issues. And instead of understanding and releasing the blame, it was snowballing into a serious guilt trip. Try to imagine what it feels like when you are threatened and realize you are the threat. Your mind should be picturing a cat chasing its tail because that is what it has felt like. And when the cat catches its tail, it only bites itself.
With the understanding now that everything I have done to keep myself safe was for my highest good, I can let go. It is not a quick drop because there are a lot of years, like over fifty, of living in a state of a threat of some sort. I have to add this piece I got from Dr. Hanson. The immediate threat may be very small, but the body seeks to connect from history which will impact the resulting release of chemicals. In other words, like a junkie, I need more chemicals for less threat. The littlest of infractions will set off a huge response. That was such a relief to read because I thought I was going nuts. I could not understand why I was reacting to things that others would allow to roll off. I would have moments of explosion and crying and I could really feel all the chemicals flowing through me. The aftermath would be physical pain and of course confusion and remorse. AND then the cycle would continue because I was not really removing the last dose of chemicals and would be on constant alert. In other words, I would perceive threats that were not there because I was “high” from the last situation. I would spiral out of control and it is an awful feeling when you hit bottom and realize what has happened. The result was shame and that feels terrible. How do you dig yourself out a cycle like that?
I will tell you what most people say and it does not work. “Positive attitude.” WRONG. It does not work like that. You cannot flip a switch and just tell your brain to be happy. It does not work. And this was the connection I needed. Much like the neural pathways that were created to keep me safe, I need to create a new system of pathways that will program a different response. Just being happy does not cut it unless the chemistry follows. That is the piece that is missing with most programs and why they fail. We think we can think our way into happiness and joy and we cannot. We have to train all of our systems to do that through the brain. And the rub of course and why it is so hard is because I have been living in a state of threat that has conditioned me to respond more to negative stimulus than positive. We all are programmed that way. Some of us are stuck. But we can get unstuck.
That is where the difference is than just saying “have a better attitude”. I do not have a reserve to draw on to know what that feels like. According to Dr. Hanson and others, we take in negative input very easily and we hold on to those feelings longer and then we put them in storage to draw on. My storage is very full of negative responses. He goes on to say we move past positive responses automatically because our brain has been preprogrammed to do that. His explanation is that if we do not automatically do that, we would not perceive danger for what it is. We would walk up to the big kitty to pet it not realizing that the tiger is sizing us up for dinner. My autopilot has kept me safe, but the danger is not here anymore. I can relax my systems and become more real with my experiences and react better.
This was made me decide how critical this is to do. I AM the only one who can do this for me. I am slowly killing myself with the chemicals that are coursing through my body constantly. I am very aware how much I am physically deteriorating lately. It is exponential to the stress I am subjecting myself to, which is exponentially growing in reaction. I am spiraling out of control, and a control I do not have.
And the remedy is so simple but was beyond my grasp because I was too busy being thinking this was all my fault and I had failed. I did not fail at all. I was a warrior who survived a hideous battle at times. It was my war and mine alone, and no one can judge it because they did not live it. I kept this all tightly bottled up inside because I thought people would think I was a victim and failure and criticize me for not snapping out of it. Be happy and saying “Just be” was never going to work for me because…… I was “just being me.” But I allowed the judgment of others to influence that because I wanted to be happy and “just be.” But it was their “just be”, not mine. I know this now. The way I am was and is not my fault. No failure here at all. I am only human and this was my protection, my armor. The shield and sword needs to be set down now and only used sparingly. The vulnerability of this is mind blowing.
The next step is the training. I need to treat myself better to experience better responses. It is going to be a program of drills much like a warrior would do. This is where my work is going to take me. I literally need to stop and really smell the roses. I need to SEE the color, SMELL the fragrance, FEEL the air around as I am enjoying the rose, and SENSE what is going on in my body at that moment of pleasure and imprint it. And I need to do this a lot. I need to step away from negative situations faster. I need to spend more time doing things that bring me pleasure. I got away from doing that again. I was doing it this summer with the garden. In truth, there were times when I would make myself sit in my garden chair and I would fight with myself internally because there was always something else I should be doing. Chores are always, always there. But if I keep going like this, I am not always going to be here. I do not relax. Those who know me will agree to that fact. Again, it is a response from my past. But in my reading and working with people, I know now I must allow my systems to heal and rejuvenate. Down time and play is essential to well-being. Just like sleep is required for optimum performance, so is pleasure and joy. They are generated from experiences that transmit and program our brain to know what that is. Depletion of those things will kill you as much as anything will.
This work is not a switch on the wall. It is not like there is not an abundance of joyful and pleasurable things to experience. The key is to be mindful of them. It is going to take a concentrated effort to reprogram. Fortunately for me I have a strong connection with nature which always brings me joy. But I am not ready to share my intentions here.