Posts Tagged ‘addictions’

trauma1sm

How Do Disturbing Events  Effect Thoughts, Feelings, and Memories?

The brain is constantly gathering filtering and storing information.  Some of this information is explicit (it is intentionally and consciously being processed, and accessible ) and some of the information is implicit (it is unconsciously gathered, and inaccessible) .  Most of the information it receives gets resolved and integrated as it processes through the mind.

Trauma information – shock, upset, or highly charged disturbances – is processed differently.   When life-threatening experiences, or experiences that physiologically set off stress hormones,  hit the brain, the normal processing channels are shut down and ‘trauma processing’ takes over.   The body goes into survival mode.   When this happens, the left (logical and explicit) brain shuts down and the information streaming through the senses is captured by the right (implicit, creative) brain with the worst of it (most traumatic) being stored in the lower regions of the brain.

The body/mind goes into fight, flight or freeze mode.

The problem is that after the disturbance stops the brain carries the memories of the disturbance long into the future.   Those memories are associated with disturbing images, unpleasant angry, sad, or fearful emotions, anxious body sensations and disparaging thoughts about the self.  They are stored in the amygdala and hippocampus as hardened, fractured memories .  These memories have no sense of time,  order,  or space, so that when triggered the memories are experienced as if they are happening in the present.  These memories are stuck  in the limbic brain and while they are hard to get rid of they are easily triggered and they get replayed over-and-over.   Because they are locked in the implicit memory,  there is usually little or no awareness of what is happening; that is,  the feelings seem to come from no where, they make no sense,  and they have no sense of  being from the past.  Even with awareness, there  is a disconnect between what the sufferer knows to be true and the emotions or thoughts that accompany situations that unknowingly trigger reactions to the disturbing events.

To add to the problem, these stored mal-adaptive memories may get connected to other more adaptive neuro-pathways.  So that when the traumatic memory is triggered by images,  emotions, and  body feelings, smells, or sounds,  the brain associates these triggers with the traumatic memory  and everyday activities, sleep, and relationships become hijacked by the fight, flight, or freeze mode.   Once  hijacked, the brain is no longer thinking logically.

‘Talking-about-experiences’ helps but all too often it doesn’t  do enough.  Prescription drugs such as anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications can help you cope with symptoms even though they don’t solve the underlying problem.    Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to help but  on an explicit level.

Illegal drugs and alcohol can seem to help but they merely masks symptoms, which slowly over time can become debilitating.  EMDR is the most effective at processing trauma on all levels.

How does EMDR work?

What is EMDR?

EMDR stands for “Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing”    It is a well-researched and highly developed way to work with people who have experienced disturbing events in their lives that disrupt their emotions,  thoughts and memories.

With EMDR, the therapist works with the client to access the disturbances and reawaken the images, emotions, body sensations and negative feelings about the self.   Bi-lateral stimulation (eye movements or tapping) are used to allow the brain to re-process the stored emotions, negative thoughts, images and body sensations.  When that happens, the brain has a way of re-encoding the trauma information and it becomes resolved and integrated; which means,  the disturbing memories and information is no longer emotionally charged.   The facts, memories, and reactions to the trauma can be accessed while the  unpleasant feelings, body sensations, negative thoughts, anxiety, fear,  and depression that were once associated with the experience are desensitized.

    trauma7xsm amen

 

I am an advocate if art as metaphor. I tend to pay more attention to the experience of creating art and the experience of sitting with a piece over time than the actual content of the piece. I also lean toward the abstract, finding the ambiguity and possibilities in a piece to be an invitation to learn more about myself or the observer.
This piece got me thinking about the process of uncovering the past and trauma work.

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This piece began as a compilation from older collage. After months of staring at it, I decided it was time consider its possibilities. I was looking for something a little more peaceful with suggestions of water and land.

To do this I masked several strips to resemble trees on a shoreline or reflections in water. I decided it was easier to mask off the figures I wanted to appear in the foreground areas rather than attempt to create a background layer around vertical collage strips.

Masking is a process in which artists use tape or something similar to block of a part of a painting to protect an area from paint or bleeding. (Just as house painters do to protect trim).

After putting the tape in place I sloshed my paint over the bottom third of the collage in horizontal brush strokes. The painting looked messy but experience reminded me that once the masking was removed that would change.

Trauma and Unfinished Business

When undergoing stress or traumatic events coping can be like masking. In some cases, on a neurobiological level, the brain in a sense masks over an event as a form of protection. This neurological response can be a natural necessary mechanism that allows the individual some amount of protection for at time. It is effective in allowing someone in trouble or pain to survive and get through difficulty. As a result events may never be fully processed and can account for gaps in memory, loss of positive memories, feelings of being undone, or ill ease. Neurobiological responses to stress can become troublesome when the flight or fight responses become overactive. Troubles such as: addictions, depression, anxiety, phobias, rage, heart disease, PTSD and relationship problems are often associated with responses to stress.

The Art of the Unmasking, and Respect the Uncovering Process

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Timing is important when removing the masking (in this case masking tape) from the art piece:

Stripped to early and the paint would bleed and run.

Stripped to qu ickly or to late and the piece would be damaged.

My experience with this piece, being a collage, was even more tricky. It was built with layers and layers of stripped paper and I found it was extremely difficult to distinguish the masking from the collage strips. In some areas I had completely covered the masking tape with paint, so it was not only hard to find the tape but a messy process as well. In my hurry to see results I at times began picking at collage strips exposing raw canvas. More tools were necessary, using a knife, a wet sponge, feedback from family, and repairing and retouching the raw areas, I felt good about the results.

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Before uncovering the past when pain or trauma is involved the following concerns are common:

What is ready to be uncovered?

Where do I start?

Can I trust that I will find something valuable underneath?

What happens when I uncover something raw?

Will I lose who I am if I start the process?

Where does it stop will there be any of me left when the process is through?

Why uncover what is covered, what can I do about it?

Why open an old wound, it will just bleed everywhere?

How long will it take?

Why It Matters

The masking serves a purpose, for a time. Over time, painful memories, unfinished business (shame, guilt, un-forgiveness) or trauma left unprocessed become troublesome. Maintaining the protective layers, rather than processing what lies beneath can be related to:

lost sleep
worry
avoidance
fragmented relationships
Nightmares
avoidance of activities
detachment from others
restricted emotions
angry outbursts
difficulty concentrate
lack of enjoyment in activities
 

What Can I Do?

 
Remember masking serves a purpose, and it may still be a necessary element of coping.
Recognize that care must be taken to respect masking.
Get help, find safety, remember there is hope.
Find support, support groups, agencies, books, organizations, supportive people, professionals
 
National Hotlines

 
If you or someone you know would like to explore this area of healing, consider professional help.  Affordable effective treatment is available.  
 
If you would like more information or a free consultation with a therapist please fill out the form below: Your information will be used solely for this purpose.