Call A Plumber
With a raised voice my therapist reminded me, ” But he drove drunk, he put your life in danger!” This was in response to me brushing her off by saying, “But everyone drove drunk back then!” She persisted saying, “But because of your father’s irresponsibility, you now are missing a leg.”
I began to feel the familiar shut down happening in my body. The mind coming in with all the rationalizations. I knew this response all too well and was able to reply honestly, “I just checked out.” Her skilled sensitivity knew when to press and when to back off.
In that moment, I wasn’t quite ready to open that Pandora’s Box. Even though my therapist gave me every indication she would remain present for the unpacking of this trauma, I still had to navigate my hardwired expectation that I would be dropped. I had to wait for my nervous system to tell me when I was ready. When I was, a few weeks later, I unpacked it in the safety of her compassionate support.
Last month I addressed the physical conditions and ailments one can develop in later life due to adverse childhood experiences. (See: Every Wound Has It’s Own Logic). I detailed how on many levels, we remain frozen in the trauma, and the toll this can take on one’s health. However, there are psychic and emotional scars that run deeper that are not as obvious as physical conditions.
The overwhelming psychological and behavioral impact of an adverse childhood is the fear that someone might know you need help. This fear even causes us to resist getting the help we so desperately need.
I’ve been there, and almost every client I’ve had who experienced childhood trauma at some point has said some version of, “But it wasn’t that bad. Others have had it way worse than me.” They often go on in detail how other trauma is worse than how they had it. This comes out of the mouths of my most traumatized, abused and psychologically injured clients.
The ones who were abandoned and neglected say this. The ones who were brutally beaten say this. The ones who had lit cigarettes put out on their young arms say this. The ones who were horrifyingly sexually abused say this. The ones who were emotionally messed with for decades say this. And yes, the ones who were in dangerous accidents say this.
As mind boggling as this can sound, as irrational as this can be to the logical mind, it delivers a strong message. One of the lasting side effects of trauma is it makes you believe that you are unworthy of care – of someone having your back.
Feeling you are unworthy of care brings the isolating feeling and belief that you can not rely on anyone, that you have to figure it out all by yourself. You are all alone and left to your own devices. Those devices can be a crap shoot into either chaos or mastery, self-loathing or compassion for yourself.
During High School my personal anthem was Simon and Garfunkel’s I Am a Rock. I wore out that track on my Sounds of Silence album, playing it over and over again. I was proud to be called resilient, independent. It never occurred to my parents that perhaps I needed comforting arms around me. The unspoken agreement was that the more I could figure it out for myself, the less they had to do for me. They liked it that way, and I learned not to expect anything from them. Unfortunately, every child who comes into the world is wired for attachment, so when we are forced to self-regulate before that skill set is fully developed and fully online, what you have instead is a jaw that clenches, a belly that tightens, irregular breathing patterns, a spine that is tense and a heart that aches.
So I suffered full-blown panic attacks by myself in my room, often laying awake until 3:00 in the morning feeling like a deer caught in the headlights.
When I finally reached out for help in my late twenties, it wasn’t because of anxiety, or health concerns, it was because I was in a crummy relationship and I didn’t know how to be in a good one! It was then I began to understand the far-reaching effects of trauma in my life.
When I began my therapeutic practice, most people, like me, did not enter because they had a sense that there was any kind of trauma history in their family. They came in because they were having a problem right now, such as hating their job or troubles in relationship. But invariably, when I took them through my Releasing Process, traumatic memories would come to the surface making it easy for them to connect the dots to how past trauma affects our life in the here and now. More people now seek me out for trauma-related events because of my reputation for effectively neutralizing the effects of trauma.
The self-improvement industry is a $10 billion per year business in the U.S. alone. I don’t know when self-sufficiency became the moral imperative in this culture; a testimony of your strength and character that compels us to take extreme measures to prove we are not needy. When did asking for help become hooked together with shame?
I am often reminded of a fond memory when I was visiting my friend Marianne back in the Bronx in the early nineties. We were out in her backyard enjoying Sunday brunch. Every once in a while the sounds of our laughter and conversation would be interrupted by the sounds of hammering from her neighbor’s house next door. Finally her neighbor came out and over the fence, Marianne introduced me. She asked, “What’s your father working on now.?” “The bathroom,” he responded. Marianne turned to me and explained that her neighbor’s father was a talented ‘Jack of all trades’ kind of guy. “See that fence? He built it.” The son chirped in, “Yeah and that arbor and deck as well.” Being married to a contractor I found myself sitting there admiring the man’s handiwork when I heard Marianne ask, “Wow, your father is quite a talented guy. Is there anything your father can’t do?”
Without skipping a beat in that NY way I love, he responded, “ Yeah, call a plumber.”
It still puts a smile on my face when I think of it now. In fact when I came home and shared the story with Hugh, we not only had a good laugh, but it has become our ‘go to’ phrase with one another when we catch ourselves walled off in independence, one of us will look at one another and say, “Maybe it’s time we call a plumber.”
No matter what brings a client into my office I know the biggest hurdle they have to overcome is calling the plumber, that someone can help them fix something, trusting that someone knows how to be there for them, that they won’t be dropped. Feeling alone and isolated with the fear and pain is even more difficult than the traumatic event itself.
Regarding adverse childhood conditions, I’m not talking about a one event kind of situation. I am talking about repeated adverse conditions, where you had no access to the kind of support you needed. It was either partial, undependable or non-existent.
The pain gets tucked away inside us. If there is no one there to model for us how to hold pain, it inhibits our ability to do that for ourselves, thereby giving birth to rocks, islands and acquaintances who are love-averse. Unfortunately, the culture makes some kind of ideal out of this mis-guided self-sufficiency. I bolstered myself with that conditioning, even telling myself that it even gave me character – until it broke me.
As different theories began to develop and evolve in the therapeutic community, I had the good fortune to work with many who were on the cutting edge of this movement. Each held a piece that contributed to my healing, and this ignited my passion to help others even more.
My work is now seeing where the pain and fear got tucked away and love it into the light. Liberation occurs when you understand trauma can be a portal to the wisdom of your soul, infusing your life with purpose.
As always, if this post resonated, provoked thoughts, feelings, questions, please leave a comment.