Neurofeedback Helps Military Family Struggling with Suicidality, Depression

“I want to see as many troubled families and individuals as possible have access to neurofeedback. It has changed our lives by changing our brains. I grew up in a horrific situation, never able to trust being safe. Stress would take me back to that childhood place of feeling terrified. Neurofeedback helped be become more rational, as my brain was trained to function with less stress. Now that I am not in constant panic, I can see the parts of our lives that are not going the way we want them to go and can look at these challenges with clarity and openness instead of fear and blame, shame, or guilt,” says Stacey Breitmann, trauma survivor, mom, military wife, and neurofeedback advocate.

Stacey Breitmann, trauma survivor, mom, military wife, neurofeedback advocate and coach. 

Todd Breitmann, USAF Retired, with daughter Hallie, practicing neurofeedback  – brain training – in the family’s brain training room. 

For the Breitmann family in North Georgia, the last few years have been intensely stressful. Todd, a Lt. Col. in the Air Force for 24 years, retired in 2012, and fell into depression and anxiety when his military career came to an end. In an attempt to change the mood by changing the focus and location, the family bought a farm. Sold it. Tried life in a Winnebago for a couple of years, homeschooling their daughters on the road. Finally, when they settled in North Georgia in 2016, family stresses and Todd’s depression became so crippling, he became suicidal. Residential treatment seemed to be the best option.

In Todd’s absence wife Stacey did what good military wives do: she ran the household – as the mom and the dad. Only for this home-schooling mom, the stress and overwhelm of being left behind this time were life-threatening for her too. Her fears that Todd might take his life during treatment drove Stacey beyond depression and overwhelm. She, too, was suicidal.

“His being in treatment 30 miles away was harder than his being deployed overseas. I was worried on so many levels, about our marriage, his depression, his suicidality. I worried about our daughters and how all of this was affecting them. It was as though I always had way, way too many tabs open on my brain. It was a computer that was freezing up and crashing as I tried to do homeschooling, care for a big house and property, figure out what was happening with my husband and my marriage,” said Stacey.

The Breitmann’s 16-year-old daughter carried heavy load of stress as well. At an early age Hallie was diagnosed with Asperger’s, which is on the Autism Spectrum. Homeschooling had helped, but her wanting to be around other young people now was creating social anxiety. She had fallen behind in school and was taking three medications to help with depression and anxiety.

Meanwhile the older Breitmann daughter was clashing with her parents over wanting more and more freedom. She was also on antidepressants. She knew she had deeply disappointed her parents by moving out and walking away from school, her church, and her family. Stacey worried about the relationship this daughter had with an older man. The hostility between father and his firstborn was palpable, sparking her decision to move out, which added to his sense of loss, depression, hopelessness.

A break in the family tension came when Stacey decided to take Hallie for neurofeedback training in a nearby town. “I spent a fortune, but I knew after 10 sessions she was better,” said Stacey.

Hallie continued the training and completed twenty sessions. By the time she was finished, she was off of all medication.

Stacey wanted to learn more about neurofeedback and consulted a physician friend who told her about the neurofeedback system she was checking out for home use. As soon as Stacey learned about the system, she ordered the hardware and software package herself.

“I bought our system when Hallie was almost finished with her sessions. Her improvement had been miraculous. She was back at grade level. I decided it was time for me to give neurofeedback a try, so I began training on myself with the Brain-Trainer system in April of 2018. Within nine sessions I could tell a major difference.

“It was as though all the obsessive thoughts and anxieties that had been swirling around in my brain slowed down, drove into a garage, found a place to park, turned off the engine, came inside, and relaxed in a warm bath while I listened to spa music. It wasn’t that I quit being concerned about the challenges. It was that I was able to come out of overwhelm. With the anxiety and depression gone, I started to think clearly. I could tackle tasks without dreading them. My mood brightened. I felt better about myself. I was not terrified about what would happen when Todd came home, because I knew that if neurofeedback could help Hallie and me, it could also help him, and our oldest daughter,” said Stacey.

By the time Todd was home to stay, the family was in a completely different place emotionally. Their oldest daughter had also started neurofeedback, and was enjoying her visits home for the training. She, too, was tapering off of antidepressants.

“Coming into a happier family, after having been gone for almost nine months, was an incredible relief. I had done a lot of healing on my journey. And the work Stacey had done, with her own counseling and the neurofeedback, helped her to be more open to my coming home, to our being on the same team. Now she doesn’t assume the worst. Together we can process the facts and if things get a little tense, we can take a break instead of hurting each other. The differences in her, in her confidence and problem-solving abilities, are miraculous.

“Seeing Hallie literally blossom into a happy teenager who doesn’t have to take medication for anxiety is an answered prayer. It used to be that we would need to push her out the door. Now she is engaged in what she loves; seeing her interact with people – with so much less fear – is wonderful,” said Todd.

It didn’t hurt that Todd, too, had started neurofeedback. And that he was soon hired for a job helping other veterans with securing healthcare benefits.

The homeschooling mom has become a strong advocate for neurofeedback, explaining that neurofeedback, which has been in use for 50 years, literally helps the brain build new connections at a higher level of functioning.

“This is the brain helping the brain,” she says with conviction.

Having invested hundreds of hours into research and her own training, seeing neurofeedback help transform her family, Stacey now has what she would call “a healthy obsession with the brain and neurofeedback.”

She explains, “There is nothing going into the brain. Neurofeedback simply measures brainwaves while the brain is engaged in processing what is seen and heard on a computer monitor.  When brainwaves measured are not fluctuating wildly, or in a ramped-up zone where anxiety is likely, music and visuals on the computer screen during training continue. If the brainwaves become erratic, or too fast or too slow, the music and the visuals stop. In this way, for the brain to receive what it wants – the visuals and the music (which can even be a movie, something from Netflix, or cat videos as the person receiving therapy chooses) – the brain trains itself to function at a more efficient, less erratic level,” she said.

Brain waves are measured by sensors on the scalp, in sessions that are planned with the help of a QEEG (quantitative electroencephalography) exam, the standard for use in measuring brainwave activity and planning a neurofeedback protocol.

Stacey explained that the program she is using is more than traditional neurofeedback, as it also uses another training modality.

“We are also using training to help increase blood flow to the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the planning, decision-making, follow-through area of the brain that is overridden in importance and function when the brain goes into the survival ‘flight-flight-freeze’ mode. Increasing blood flow to the prefrontal cortex seems to be helping with ‘executive function.’ It helps us slow down and express ourselves more clearly and appropriately.”

Stacey has become such an advocate of neurofeedback that she has written a training manual she believes can be used by anyone, and recently gave a talk about her experience with neurofeedback to a group of women in Florida. It was inspirational weekend where she was the featured speaker.

“I want to see as many troubled families and individuals as possible have access to neurofeedback. It has changed our lives by changing our brains. I grew up in a horrific situation, never able to trust being safe. Stress would take me back to that childhood place of feeling terrified. Neurofeedback helped be become more rational, as my brain was trained to function with less stress. Now that I am not in constant panic, I can see the parts of our lives that are not going the way we want them to go, and can look at these challenges with clarity and openness instead of fear and blame, shame, or guilt,” she explained.

From military wife, homeschooling mom, and Sunday school teacher to neurofeedback advocate isn’t a far stretch, Stacey explains, saying, “When our brains are functioning better, we function better. It is that simple. There is so much stress and negativity in the world, it is little wonder that so many people feel anxiety and depression; that so many people also contemplate suicide.

“Neurofeedback is a solution that lasts. It helps people get off of costly medications that also come with unpleasant side effects. Neurofeedback has been around for 50 years. It’s been proven safe and effective. I found that I didn’t have to know anything about neuroscience to do this. The training plan that comes with the equipment we chose tells you exactly what to do. It is like following a recipe. I trained myself and it was miraculous,” said Stacey.

Todd continues the praise for neurofeedback, saying, “I cannot say enough about what neurofeedback has done to help our family. I look forward to continuing my training. I am as excited about this as Stacey is, and am eager to see other military families dealing with depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide have access to this miracle, too.”

While Todd and Stacey used to guard their privacy, they now welcome the opportunity to tell others about neurofeedback. In the months since interviews for this story began, Stacey opened a business to help other parents secure neurofeedback equipment. She also coaches people as to how to learn how to follow the recommended protocols to train themselves and their family members.

The system they use is called Brain-Trainer. More information on it can be found at Brain-Trainer.com.  

According to Noeani Viloria, Biofeedback Specialists, Board Certified in Neurofeedback, at the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco, CA, other systems in use at treatment centers across the U.S. include those by:

Eeger.com https://www.eegstore.com/node

BrainPaint http://brainpaint.com/

Mightier https://mightier.com/

Noe is enthusiastic about the results of NFB done with family involvement, saying, “More often than not, the child is the identified patient and the primary participant in treatment. However, we know that a key factor in protecting against or reversing the effects of toxic stress on a child’s developing brain and body is by having a responsive, buffering caregiver. Neurofeedback can help children and teens learn how to better self-regulate by gently nudging the brain out of old habits and teaching it new patterns and ‘tricks’. However, it is also important that these new patterns and tricks are reinforced in the home. We cannot only depend on the newly regulated brain of a child to hold strong if he/she then returns to a dysregulated household or family system. Engaging both child and caregiver in multidisciplinary services will have the most impact. Brain training for the family opens up the possibility for co-regulation, as well as a shared language and understanding of brain function.

Explaining more about the effectiveness of NFB, Noe adds, “Research has predominantly focused on the effectiveness of neurofeedback in the treatment of ADHD, epilepsy, and substance abuse. There is now a growing body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of neurofeedback with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. In my experience, neurofeedback can also be a helpful way to engage the child or teen who is not ready or open to therapy.”

 

 

 

 

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Trauma-Informed Money Management: ACE Score of 7+; Gaining Clarity in My Third Act

 

 

I almost felt slapped in the face – a wakeup slap; not a punishment – when I read Cissy White’s groundbreaking post describing her joy in finding out her “ACE score.”

Her elation at learning about the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study and questionnaire was an unintentional throw-down on her part. As I read her post I was compelled to reframe my shame, fear, and overall sense of dread about my own high ACE score. (Cissy has given me permission to use her name and to mention her writing.)

For Cissy, learning her score helped explain her depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Prior to reading about her happiness in learning about ACEs science, I had run from my own ACE score of 7+. (The score represents the number of “yes” answers one has on a 10-question test. Most Americans have a score of 2, representing two “childhood traumas.” The greater the number of childhood traumas experienced, the higher the score.) The test is central to a groundbreaking study of more than 17,000 Americans done by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente. Among the big takeaways from the study? The correlation between a higher ACE score and the increased likelihood one has for chronic illness, addiction, divorce, and premature death.)(acestoohigh.com) CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study

Perhaps I ran from my score because I didn’t want it to become an excuse. Or I didn’t want to own it. Or I didn’t want to think about what my adult children would say their scores were, despite my dedication to giving them what I hope will be viewed as a pretty stable childhood.

On a call with Cissy several days after reading and marinating on her post and what it meant to me, we shared a bit about our respective lives, and Cissy said something that hit me hard. She said financial instability was a factor in her experiences and that her mom had started borrowing money from her when Cissy was just 12 years old. The alarm bells went off in my head.

Cissy said that her mom, who had a high ACE score, had never managed money well. I heard empathy and love in Cissy’s voice when she said her mom grew up in a lot of chaos and trauma and didn’t really have a childhood.

I’ve been around long enough to know: Most of us who didn’t have much of a childhood as children do some childish things as adults.  I felt my cheeks get hot with shame as Cissy shared more. Some of what she said was information about “adult children of alcoholics” and trauma survivors that I’d read and written about for years. Yet this time there was a bigger “aha.”

“Do you think, possibly, that people with high scores who have money issues could be spending money quickly because we think, on some deep level, we might not live to see the next day?” I asked.

I heard the words come out of my mouth, and realized I was not asking about Cissy’s opinion of ALL high ACE scorers with money issues. I was asking about myself.

It was a soul-searing moment, as I let what I had asked sink in. The resulting pain and my awareness of it led to the realization that I needed to do more work on my trauma issues and start managing my finances in a “trauma-informed” way, as I realized, on a deep level, that I have been a fear-based spender and under-earner most of my life.  How to get to the solution? Sometimes we have to look backward to go forward.

I was born into a lot of trauma. My dad could have easily been prosecuted for a violent act he committed just before I was born had his family not had a bit of power in my hometown: more power than the man he’d almost killed. In pictures of my mother and me when I was a newborn, she looks completely shell-shocked. She is thin, almost gaunt. She is far from being a happy young mother.

I didn’t learn until I was an adult that her mother had died just six weeks after I was born. My grandmother had come to help take care of me, gotten sick, and died of endocarditis. I recently pieced together the fact that mother had gone back to work just six weeks after having me. So here she was, in fear of her hard-drinking and violent husband, trying to care for and arrange care for a colicky infant, and having to go back to work just after losing her mother, whom she absolutely adored.

It is an understatement to say my mom was stressed, tense, and fearful a lot of the time when I was growing up. She might have been able to breathe at choir practice and when she was gardening.  But having brought my brother and me into a violent world left her terrified and riddled with guilt and shame. She worked hard, saved her money, and contributed to her community. All the while secretly enduring violence and humiliation at the hand of my father. Finally, when I was 14 and threatened to leave home if she didn’t make him leave, mother divorced my dad. That brought more shocks when my brother left to live with my father, causing my mom to be even more depressed, and to lash out at me. We were depressed together. And we were clueless as to how to connect and heal in the face of so much anger and despair.

I believe she was afraid of my depression, afraid that I might hurt myself or end up “running with the wrong crowd.” So instead of allowing met to hit bottom or learn to deal with my own pain, she often bought me something to “cheer” me up. Or gave me a “little something” so I could “go get something new.” Or bailed me out financially. She did it out of love, fear, and pride, and probably self-protection. It started when I was just a little kid at the checkout line at the grocery store, and escalated when we were both in that post-divorce dark place. I believe she would have died of shame, pain, and embarrassment had I gone off the deep end. And I know she was doing the absolute best she could do. This is no indictment of her; she and I talked through a lot of this before she died. And those talks helped me take a look at the root cause of my money mismanagement (spending, debting, underearning, hoarding). Using money as a drug helped me avoid pain. The deep pain of not being enough.

Some people might have been able to accept the gifts my mom shared and not become wired to need some type of “buy high” to avoid the pain of loss or disappointment. Others of us learned to use a little “money fix” the way some people use food or sex or alcohol to achieve a chemical change in our bodies. Her gift or bail out would calm me for a while. But then when the calm wore off, there was usually more damage to deal with than there was before, as I almost always spent more than I had. And the need to soothe myself with externals instead of learning how to accept disappointment just made that wiring stronger and harder to break.

I am not alone. I’d love to compare the percentage of people with an ACE score of four or more who have severe stress around money management with the same criteria for the general population. I know the percentage of “four-plus ACEs” having issues with unemployment is 2.5 times higher than that of the general population, and that 90 percent of us are on antidepressants. If I wonder how many of us are compulsive spenders – spending money to feel better; or under-earners – people who don’t value their skills and talents realistically or have the self-confidence or motivation to secure and keep a job that pays them fair market value for their skills and experience?

As an under-earner I would supplement a low salary – and avoid looking for another job if I didn’t get anticipated raises – by using money I’d inherited to make ends meet. Of course I could have lowered my standard of living, but other aspects of having a high ACE score involve depression, denial, and people pleasing. Depression keeps us stuck. Denial is avoiding reality. And people pleasing in the form of spending more on rent so the children were happier and safer? Guilty as charged.

So I am plowing new territory here to use my experience, strength and hope to to learn about and help raise awareness of what I will call “trauma-informed money management.”

Trauma-informed money management looks like learning how to be and being proactive and prepared. If and when there is the urge to react to negative input of some type, being able to feel the discomfort of disappointment and disruption, rebalance the nervous system using breath work, consciousness, mediation, and prayer to endure the upset, and setting some boundaries with ourselves and others about not hurting ourselves financially. In fact, I believe overspending is kind of like cutting oneself with money instead of a blade. Psychically, living in a constant state of lack and stress cuts the soul. It is not the vibration that attracts joy and prosperity.

I cut myself for years, wasting thousands of dollars on fees and high interest and paying for things that could have been free. The emotional costs of living through two failed marriages (both failing, in large part, due to different financial issues with the same root cause of financial insecurity) and one very special and dear relationship which failed in large part because I was afraid to share my financial flaws. The problem with finances also led me to try to save money ($300 a month!) by switching to a generic antidepressant. The consequences of that switch affected me slowly but searingly. It was the equivalent of my brain being hit by a slow-motion chemical busload of fear and depression. I didn’t know why I was so depressed and didn’t want to reveal how far down I had gone it to him as I didn’t want to cause him pain, or risk being rejected. So I ran. I couldn’t accept myself in that state, so I didn’t believe anyone else could either. Trauma survivors, I have learned, will do anything to try and control a situation. Even if it means destroying themselves and something they hold dear. Even if the pain almost kills them. In avoiding pain, we oftentimes create more pain.

My solitude forced me to deal with the reality of multiple losses I’d glossed over during the previous 36 months by being busy with children (they’d become adults and moved) my ailing mother (she’d passed away) a failing marriage (the divorce had been final three years earlier) a job layoff from a job I’d loved (no guarantees) the death of two long-time friends and mentors (women I adored) a failed business (I jumped into it way too quickly) running out of savings (BAM: that was a huge trigger) the election (the win by someone who traumatized people at every turn, and got away with it, was a constant zap to my fragile psyche) and the loss of a beloved canine companion of almost 15 years. On top of all of it was the self-imposed loss of this relationship, a bright spot I’d treasured.

I am grateful I made it through those dark months. And to have pushed the hell out of my doctor to get the brand anti-depressant approved for me when I finally found out, online, that many other people have had a similar experience when switching from brand medication to generic. (I will write more about this soon.)

In the depths of the depression I joined a recovery program with multiple tools and structure to help plan and track spending. Coming out of vagueness did help with the depression, as did following the daily disciplines to manage money. I gained a sense of greater personal efficacy, something else that had been sorely lacking.

The depression also sent me back to ACEs literature, to see if there were clues there to help me feel better. That is where I found Cissy’s post, and had the idea that if Cissy could feel better by knowing her ACE score and using the information to become a healthier human and a better parent, so could I.

In this round of exploring ACEs resources, I realized that there is a need for more information about trauma-informed money management. We high ACEs scorers need solutions that will help us know when we are spending from a place of fear and people pleasing, or from a place of debting ourselves because of a sense of inadequacy. We need a place and a way to connect on this topic.

The ACEs and other communities dedicated to truth and healing are vitally important to people who’ve survived trauma and are recovering from addictions. The spiritual aspect of our collective courage is restorative. It is healthy for us to connect. Even if our connections are “virtual,” there is still communion, the chance to be fed and not eat alone.

At age 61, I know my a high ACE score makes me, and others who join me in having a high score, likely to die 20 years earlier than people with lower scores. I may already be on borrowed time. So to help myself heal and be of service to others committed to having a great Third Act, I am going to do what Cissy says to do and “write to heal.”  I wrote my first book on parenting to teach myself what I needed to learn to re-parent myself, to be able to model self care for my children. While there was a chapter in that book on spending money, time, and energy wisely, I believe a deeper dive into trauma-informed money management will be a help for me, and I hope it will be helpful for you.

In short, a new layer of my lifelong challenges with managing – or not managing – money has been revealed. Stress and grief have propelled me into greater awareness, honesty, openness and willingness to track my spending and breathe through the fog of past overcommitting, mainly on education and medical issues.  With help I can be realistic about the losses and pain caused by my stress-induced spending. And I can plow my way back to solvency, as I know millions have: one day at a time.

I know this today: building the resilience that will afford us a Third Act does take a village. It takes our being checked into the collective energy of a group of people who are dedicated to truth, self-care, and healing.

Without this help we may well die early due to stress and the resulting disease states.

With this help we may remember to breathe, eat healthy food, exercise, sleep eight hours, pay our bills, connect with others, and have some fun.

Without this support we may end up in a deeper mess than the one we were born into. And we may take some people we love down with us.

With this help we can reframe almost anything, turning problems into challenges and opportunities to connect and succeed, instead of problems leading to blood pressure hikes leading to heart attack and stroke.

I might have been born of trauma and into it, lived in it through childhood, and created it for myself in myriad ways. But today a new level of healing begins by claiming my ACE score, truly joining this ACEs Connection “village” of people dedicated to helping prevent and heal trauma, and practicing a new level of financial, emotional, spiritual, and physical self care. I hope I’ll open a path for others to share about their challenges and solutions, to see if we can’t save younger ACEs some of our pain. And help heal ourselves in the process.

How has trauma affected you and your finances? Have you been triggered to spend and regretted it? Would you like to know more about “trauma-informed money management”?  Please post your comments in the comment box or email them to me at csipp@me.com

 

 

Resources:

https://www.centerforhealthjournalism.org/2017/03/17/how-facing-aces-makes-us-happier-healthier-and-more-hopeful

 

Continue reading Trauma-Informed Money Management: ACE Score of 7+; Gaining Clarity in My Third Act

Childhood trauma leads to lifelong chronic illness — so why isn’t the medical community helping patients?

NOTE: REPOSTED. I DID NOT WRITE THIS PIECE. C.  Unless there is an explanation such as this preceding a post, you are safe to assume the material are reading is original content by Carey Sipp.  This is the second of two pieces I posted on this site, but did not write. Thanks!

 

Childhood trauma leads to lifelong chronic illness — so why isn’t the medical community helping patients?

via Chilhood Trauma & Lifelong Illness — Daya- Coaching For Life

Troubled moms and dads learn how to parent with ACEs

REPOSTED. I DID NOT WRITE THIS PIECE. C.

ACEs Too High

Afamilycenter

A father in county jail is ordered to take a parenting class, but isn’t too enthusiastic about it. As part of the class, he learns about the ACE Study, and does his own ACE score.

“Oh my god!” he announces to the class. “I have 7 ACEs.” His mother’s an alcoholic. His dad’s been in and out of jail. He himself started dealing drugs at age 11, and doing drugs at 14.

“I’ve got two kids at home experiencing the same things I did,” he says. The light bulb goes on.

A few days after a woman who’s ordered by the court to take parenting classes learns about her ACE score, she quits smoking.

“I’ve been smoking for years,” she tells the class. “My ACE score was one of the reasons.” She quit, she says, because she decided smoking wasn’t helping her children.

Another parent of three kids was saddened…

View original post 2,229 more words

Preventing Medical Error Takes Big Courage for Children of Alcoholics

Mon 16 Jul 2012 19:56:56 | 0 comments

By Carey Sipp

Almost nine years ago, over the course of four days, I let my doctor send me home from his office three times before I almost died of pneumonia. I spent two weeks in the hospital; it took many months to fully recover.  It was a life-changing experience, and I continue to learn from it.

About three years ago a physician’s assistant skipped a basic, obvious test for a 17-year-old with swollen glands. Twelve hours later, in the emergency room, physicians glanced at my daughter, diagnosed mononucleosis, and confirmed it shortly thereafter with a “spot mono test.” The greater danger though, came from a severe reaction to antibiotics, medication my daughter would never have taken had the mono test been done at the doctor’s office. The horrifically painful reaction could have killed her.

Despite the fact that I’ve helped in marketing and fundraising for more than a dozen medical entities, including a hospital safety consultancy, in my 30+year career, it’s taken years of a different type of recovery to realize that no physician has what it takes for me to care for my family and myself.  That requires the self-awareness, trust in my own intuition, and courage to risk evoking anger in someone in “authority” by calling them into question, if need be. That type of courage comes from becoming an emotionally healthy adult.

As a person healing from abuse, I must work doubly hard to stay in the moment and not let fears from the past keep me from doing “the next right thing.”  An overwhelming fear of authority, desire to “people please,” and a sometimes crippling self-doubt can prevent me from questioning others, especially if I am not taking great care of myself; if I am not “living in the moment.”

“I am a real bulldog when it comes to advocating for my mom,” I said to the staff at the infusion clinic where my mother was to receive three pints of blood recently.  The staff wanted to give her all three pints on the same day. My gut told me that at almost 87, my mom, who had just lost her husband to Alzheimer’s the night before, and has been weakened for years by an autoimmune disorder, did not need to be in that clinic for 16 hours straight. When, three days later, we received her diagnosis of congestive heart failure, the doctor said we’d made a good choice to stretch the procedures over two days.

My mother, daughter, and I survived each of those medical crises. I wonder, though, had I known more or followed my intuition earlier when my daughter and I were sick, if our outcomes could have been better.

By the time we got to my mom’s situation, I knew that relying solely on medical professionals does not ensure the best care. More important was learning how to trust my instincts and speak up. This is equally important for the millions upon millions of addiction and abuse survivors. We, especially, need to remember these bottom lines:

1. We need to practice “extreme self-care,” and try to stay out of the hospital; our health is already compromised by the stress of “adverse childhood experiences.”

2. If we do go to the hospital, just like everyone else, we need an advocate friend or family member to help us watch what’s going on – right down to asking hospital staff if they’ve washed their hands before we’re touched. We must value ourselves and have the courage to ask for help.

3. If you yourself are filled with the self-doubt, insecurity, and fear of authority that can come from growing up in addiction and abuse, these emotions can keep you from getting the best care for yourself and your loved ones. This is a good time to learn more about emotional healing that can help you, and your loved ones, learn how to speak up and become healthier on all counts.

There is not a surgical procedure that can cure the more than 30 million children of alcoholics who live, as I do at times, affected by some or all of the characteristics called the “Laundry List” of 14 characteristics of adult children of alcoholics.  If there were such a surgical procedure, it could save our health care system literally billions upon billions of dollars from family addiction and abuse passed on from generation to generation.  Addictions to alcohol, food, drugs, cigarettes, and harmful behavioral addictions to sex, gambling, spending, pornography, and toxic relationships, cost our health care system more than any other single condition.

The most amazing thing? One of the most effective treatments for these addictions, and the co-addictions suffered by the family members, is free. It just takes the courage to find a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Overeaters Anonymous, or the like. Again, the meetings are free. You can even call a toll-free number and attend meetings in complete anonymity, via a conference call.

Nine years ago,  had I not prayed for the strength to stand up and ask for what I believed I needed – a surgical procedure to remove fluid from my lungs – I may well have died.  I had to trust God, and my own God-given intelligence and courage to speak up.

The big lesson: recovery really does save lives, one day at a time, whether we’re in the hospital, or at the kitchen table.

Carey Sipp’s first book, The TurnAround Mom – How an Abuse and Addiction Survivor Stopped the Toxic Cycle for Her Family, and How You Can, Too, guides fellow “children of chaos” to create the kind of sane and loving home life that helps prevent next-generation addiction and abuse. Her book is available here.

 

RESOURCES:

 

 CDC Adverse Childhood Experiences 

Cost of Alcohol and Drug Abuse

There is help for Children of Alcoholics at

nacoa.org

(National Association for Children of Alcoholics)

and

adultchildren.org 

(Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization Worldwide, Inc.)

Read more articles by Carey Sipp here.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

What I know: This disease wants us to believe we don’t have it.

Carey Sipp Childhood Trauma Prevention Advocate
Carey Sipp
Childhood Trauma Prevention Advocate

Sun 03 Jun 2012

(NOTE: The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that each year approximately 40 million debilitating illnesses or injuries occur among Americans as the result of their use of tobacco, alcohol or another addictive drug. Addiction and substance abuse is not just an individual problem, but one that affects families and communities. NIDA estimates substance abuse costs the United States an estimated $484 billion per year.)

Once again, I am in a throwdown with God, and things won’t be easier until I do this: Surrender to all the control I want to have, the approval I hope to gain, the fear I hold onto (fear of angry people and people in authority are the big ones), the perfectionism and procrastination I cling to that causes me to be late on timely commitments. I surrender. There are other character flaws I can add to the list, but I am powerless over wanting to do everything all at once, so I give up, too, on completing that list.

It’s time to turn in work and I am afraid. Truly, there are probably 10 pieces I’ve already written that would be good and good enough. But as the child of an alcoholic, even though I am 56 years old, I still feel overwhelming self-doubt and fear when I am not practicing the kind of self-care I know I need.

As one of almost 30 million children of alcoholics (COAs), I know I am not alone in having this deep-seated fear. When my fear overpowers my faith, I start trying to run things, and “forget” to practice the self-care that helps me remember that I am not in control.

(Note to self: remember that trying to control things means I need to take a deep breath, ask God for help figuring out how to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. ACTION: I take a break for 1.5 hours to attend support meeting. It is no coincidence that the topic is giving up control. God sure gives me what I need when I admit I do not have all the answers.)

My fellow co-addicts and I developed unhealthy relationship patterns in response to growing up with alcoholics or others addicted to substances or compulsive behaviors. I call what we have an addiction to “toxic intensity.”

Despite years of humbling work in therapy and support groups, if I become fearful, angry, excited, or arrogant, I can flat-out find a way to recreate the toxic dysfunction I knew as a child. Denying that there is a part of me that still has that childlike fear will kick my butt every time I forget. What is even more amazing is that when I am in that fear, I will attract others who are in their fearful, child-like states, and together we can make a monstrous mess that may take years to untangle. There are plenty of us around (again, there are 30 million children of alcoholics; further, one in four school children says alcohol or drug use causes trouble at home).

Whether at work or at home, on a phone call with a customer service person in India or Indiana, those of us affected by the chaos of addiction can trip and trigger and bring out the very worst in each other. The spiral continues. And widens. The disease, which is really the devil, really loves that. We can become the very people we do not want to be instead of the peaceful, productive, mature people we are.

When I am triggered, I have to stop and do what I wrote about in my book, the book I would love to rename as simply “TurnAround Parenting,” because I am not “THE Turnaround Mom.” I am one of millions of parents/people affected by the alcohol and drug abuse of others. There are many millions more, too, affected by the behavioral addictions of others: overeating, overspending, addictions to sex, pornography, and work. We are all part of a tribe of humans who seem to feel fear, guilt, and shame at a deep, toxic level. Feeling these feelings so deeply, we hope that if we are blessed with children, that they will be healthy, and not debilitated by the family legacies that may lead us to act out the very behaviors we swore we would not repeat, or to marry into families where those behaviors are present.

I am a mom who prays that I have done enough self-care, boundary setting, support system building, peaceful time seeking, toxic intensity avoiding, healthy relationship building and such that maybe my children won’t have the central nervous system wiring I inherited that makes me forget self-care, struggle with setting boundaries, forget about the sane people who love me, and sometimes succumb to the toxicity of “the dark side”: fear-based judgment, control, procrastination, etc.

It is so easy to abandon self-care right now: though my stepdad is in end-stage Alzheimer’s, it is my MOTHER who just went into hospice. He took care of himself, working out, eating well, doing rewarding volunteer work. She took care of him and everyone else. The irony is rich and sad and the lesson is right in front of me and my fellow children of chaos: we caretaking and controlling children of alcoholics or other dysfunction can be triggered into old behaviors by situations big, such as the illness of a parent, or small and every day, such as the early return of a loved one (YIKES! I’M NOT FINISHED CLEANING!). We can know how to care for ourselves and still end up killing ourselves trying to save others, attain perfection, control situations, justify abuse, make decisions, deny reality.

Denial wants me to forget that I cannot do it all. Fear wants me to freeze and stay in indecision while decisions are made by others. Denial wants me to believe that situations in my life that are NOT normal ARE normal, and that situations that ARE normal are NOT. Fear wants me to obsess about all of this, and miss being in THE moment, so there are even more regrets.

It’s like a giant game of whack-a-mole. Every toxic mole hit is replaced by three more, so there is no way to win. The only way to win is to put the hammer down and walk away from the game.

So the lesson learned is the lesson that may not have to be repeated: I surrender.
Today the healthy part of me – the part that is winning in this woman-against-self struggle – knows God has it under control.

If I will just take care of myself, and pull the plank from my own eye, I won’t have to kill myself trying to take the spec from anyone else’s. And we will all be happier, healthier, and less likely to become toxic.

There is help for Children of Alcoholics is at nacoa.org (National Association for Children of Alcoholics) and adultchildren.org (Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization Worldwide, Inc.)

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Children of Alcoholics: Addiction and the Immune System

Addictions and the Immune System: A Toxic Relationship

Wed 13 Jun 2012

It’s estimated that there are about 30 million adult children of alcoholics in the US, and that today, one in four school children (or 13.5 million children ages 5 – 17) lives in a home where there is alcoholism or drug addiction. If you add in addictions to food, spending, the Internet, sex, codependency, and what I call “Toxic Intensity,” or the addiction to self-generated angst, it is likely that a far greater percentage of children — and adults — are living with the effects of addiction.

You see, addiction of any type has a negative impact on every member of the family, not just the addict. While the statistics below are about children of alcoholics, as revered pollster George Gallup, Jr., points out, “any type of addiction makes parents unavailable to their children and is damaging to them in other ways as well. The resulting neglectful and abusive behaviors are most often unintentionally passed on from generation to generation, perpetuating cycles of addiction and abuse.” The stress and insanity of living with addiction attacks the immune system of every member of the family.

I can speak to this damage on two levels, first, as an advocate for children and children of alcoholics. According to the National Association of Children of Alcoholics (NACOA), “children of alcoholics experience greater physical and mental health problems and higher health care costs than children from non-alcoholic families.” NACoA reports that for children of alcoholics:

Inpatient admission rates for substance abuse are triple that of other children.
Inpatient admission rates for mental disorders are almost double that of other children.
Injuries are more than one-and-one-half times greater than those of other children.
The rate of total health care costs for children of alcoholics is 32 percent greater than children from non-alcoholic families.

Speaking on this from the second level, as an adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA) myself, I concur. I spent a lot of time in the doctor’s office as a child, and have had, over the years, some of the typical health and depression issues detailed in the groundbreaking report: The Health and Social Impact of Growing Up With Adverse Childhood Experiences, The Human and Economic Costs of the Status Quo by Dr. Robert Anda, MD, MS.

I know that my immune system requires extra help in the form of supplements and self-care. And, I must be mindful of my addictions to toxic intensity and sugar.

Addictions succeed when they are making their addicts, and those around them, sicker. My addictions want to compromise my immune system by having me yield to rushing, over-committing, eating sugar, worrying, not being in the present. The result can be a bad cold, a bout of bronchitis, a sinus infection, or saying and doing things I will regret.

The greatest defense against my immune-busting addictions is my own spiritual immune system – my internal Jiminy Cricket conscience/judgment – that tells me when I am headed away from healthy actions and toward unhealthy actions such as rushing, over-promising, and that urge to please people at almost any cost. My strongest weapons are two words: THANK YOU and NO.

When I am at my best, the thank you comes the first thing in the morning – thanking God for rest and the hope of a new day. Then I make a gratitude list for the blessings in my life. This is an immune booster of the highest order, generating joy, helping me plan my day, and helping to keep negativity away. (Negativity is another addiction that wants us dead. If you are a child of chaos, you’re familiar with negativity, and know how seductive it is. To steer clear of negativity, it’s best to limit exposure to negative people and stay in gratitude.)

Gratitude helps me plan my day so I can use the NO to stay away from the unimportant but urgent time wasters and stress makers that can push me/my immune system toward overload, and away from health.

These are important lessons for this adult child of chaos, who is grateful, today, to continue moving away from chaos and disease, and toward life and health.

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Grief Stricken to a Fault…

Grief-stricken to a fault: forgiveness equals surrender

Fri 23 Mar 2012

Brilliant, funny, dear, kind, sensitive, and grief-stricken to a fault.

Many alcoholics – and the people who love them – are just plain terminally grief-stricken. Not the healthy form of grieving we go through when we’ve lost someone we love. I am talking about an all-encompassing grief for self.

I only know about this because I have been there myself. Right now, someone who is in this grief is in my prayers.

Her grief is palpable. Her grief over her past. Her future. Her failures. Her successes that weren’t enough. Her having had some sobriety and losing it. Her losing her sobriety and not being able to get it back. Her relationships going south.

So I watch her family ride the grief roller coaster – soaring to unbounded heights of joy and anxious expectation when she is sober. Then all plummeting again six feet under, when she drinks. She finds, in her drink, momentary comfort and the next reason for self-loathing. They find greater ammunition to doubt her ability to ever succeed. Their fear feeds her fear; her fear feeds their fear. It is a cycle. A downward spiral.

Guilt also runs this spiral. Guilt and shame and blame. They are all based in fear – a lack of faith that God forgives and wants us to forgive ourselves – that keeps this tragedy circling. We, as humans, remember, and torture ourselves, taking others with us while God keeps forgiving and yearning for us to forgive each other, and most of all, forgive ourselves. God forgives, plain and simple. Asking for and allowing that forgiveness means surrendering control; it means surrendering our own self-important “pride in reverse” of obsessing about how horrible we are. When we spend our time beating up on ourselves, it is still self-will; it is still self-centeredness.

This is big stuff: allowing that forgiveness and having the faith to allow it means there is no need to dredge up the past. God forgave it. No need to get anxious about the future. God has it. No need to stay focused solely on ourselves: God wants us all to help each other. There is someone for everyone to help.

Others affected by this grief are in my prayers: A dear friend called yesterday to tell me that her father – a longtime drug and alcohol abuser – had succeeded in this, his most recent suicide attempt.

His God, in his mind, could not forgive his infidelities, failures, and relapses, his not measuring up.

His God, in his mind, was not big enough to love him no matter what; not big enough to embrace his humanity; not big enough to allow him to trust the therapists and medications and treatments that would have helped ease his depression (anger turned inward) and terminal grief. He did not believe that somehow, somewhere, there was someone who could have benefitted from his incredible sensitivity, compassion, and talent as an artist. I have no idea whether or not he ever asked for forgiveness, or trusted that he was forgiven. I just know that she is having a hard time explaining grandpa’s death to her children.

And so my friend is grieving the for-real death of her dad, who, despite glimmers and shimmers of being present, sober, and healthy through the years, had been, in many ways, dead already by ongoing returns to alcohol, drugs, and self-grief. She and I will visit soon; we’ll do some grieving and some celebrating of his life.

Springtime brings a bittersweet grief for many. As life is bursting from every inch of earth, many feel despair over their own lack of life, youth, rebirth. Springtime is a big time for suicides and relapses. It is also a time for turning old earth under; asking for new life. Giving up our own ego-driven self-remorse — self-grief — to allow all manner of forgiveness to give way to a new way of life. It is possible. I know. I have seen it happen thousands of times.

If you have an addiction challenge, Alcoholics Anonymous has been a source of help for millions upon millions of people, worldwide. Online meetings and information are available at http://www.aa.org

If you are affected by the addictions of others, Al-Anon, a support group for family and friends of alcoholics, is also a source of experience, strength, and hope for millions of people worldwide. Visit http://www.al-anon.alateen.org

You, and the people who love you, deserve at least a chance at a life free of self-grief. People who once thought that they, too, had nothing to offer, are very willing to help you and yours take the first step.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Stop Emotional Concussions

Stop Emotional Concussions

Mon 18 Feb 2013

With all the news about concussions: the long-term impact, cumulative impact, risk versus reward in letting kids play football and crash into each other versus experiencing teamwork, hard work, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, I believe we, as parents and people who love children, need to think about another type of concussion, one different than the crashing of heads in football helmets, or the smacking of the frontal lobe as a soccer ball is header by a teenaged Mia Hamm wannabe.

Please consider, if you will, the EMOTIONAL CONCUSSION.

If parents, sporting equipment companies, school systems, pediatricians, neuroscientists, researchers, journalists, and others in this debate would think about the emotional concussions suffered by children in homes run by addiction, abuse, and dysfunction, I believe we could help a lot more children.

I am talking about the one-in-four school aged kids who live in a home run by alcohol and drugs. If you add in the children living in homes run by some other type of dysfunction – addictions to food, sex, pornography, spending, gossip, religion, and control, plus those who live in homes where there is physical, emotional, sexual, or spiritual abuse, the percentage of children affected goes way up.

The life-in-dysfunction emotional concussion is a day-in-day-out brain bludgeoning by stress-induced hormones of adrenaline and cortisol. It wires developing brains for flight-or-fight. It desensitizes kids to insanity and violence. It sets people up to continue a family legacy of dysfunction.

These ongoing emotional concussions set up a cascade of disasters. And there’s no coach or trainer on the sideline holding up three fingers or checking for dilated pupils before sending the anxious child back into the game. Kids living in the abuse of constant emotional concussions have to stay in the game. There is no time out. There are no rules forcing them to sit out the next two or three games. The ongoing stress of emotional concussions is their way of life, wiring brains for hyper vigilance; arresting development; stunting emotional growth.

Like leopards born with their parents’ spots, these children are marked for re-dos of their parents’ lives. Think about it: the family with the single mom whose mother was a single mother, whose granddaughter becomes a single parent. The family with three or four generations of alcoholics. The family with suicides.

I speak for the children when I say that as much, if not MORE, attention needs to be dedicated to the study of EMOTIONAL concussions, and the PREVENTION of emotional concussions.

If the politicians supporting Pre-K education (which is a noble endeavor) truly want to make a difference, we have to start teaching parenting education to children when they are children. And then teach it all the way through school. And bring the parents in when the kids are young and teach the parents how to take care of themselves, so they are more likely to model sane and loving behavior to their children.

Taking these “drain the swamp” measures could truly help solve the $80 billion a year problem.* Helping people KNOW better and supporting them can help them do better, and help their children do even better.

If a parent saw the brain scans of a child stressed by a family addiction and abuse versus the brain scan of a child living in a relatively peaceful home, it might make a difference. It might help them realize that to care for their children they have to care for themselves. It might help them stop inflicting their own emotional concussions via addiction and other self-destructive behaviors.

This is a much saner fix than having emotionally concussed kids end up in treatment facilities, prisons, dead or able to access guns.

Hurt people hurt people. To stop the cycle, we’ve got to stop hurting people, especially the most vulnerable among us.

Cost Study Calls for Continued Focus on Innovative Programming Based on Estimates that Child Abuse and Neglect Costs Nation $80 Billion Per Year

Resources that may be a help:

Alcoholics Anonymous
Al-Anon
Adult Children of Alcoholics
Prevent Child Abuse America
National Association for Children of Alcoholics

©2013 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

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Carey Sipp Childhood Trauma Prevention Advocate
Carey Sipp
Childhood Trauma Prevention Advocate