Roots of PTSD, Codependency, and Addiction

3291628045_03efb76f53_zMy 33rd year of recovery from alcohol addiction began Nov. 24, 2009. Needless to say to anyone living a spiritual quest, many emotions are stirred up during an anniversary.

In taking another 5th step, I realized that I had recreated the home of my childhood.  I had the good mommy role and my husband was the bad daddy. As I have stated here, he acted out his misery by having an affair and leaving me.

This experience has led me on the path of healing my childhood wounds. I was the oldest child–or rather–I was the youngest parent in that home. I took my duties so seriously that I taught myself to deny myself anything that would challenge my mother. In return, the power connected to this role of being the boss was my first addiction. One that I am only now giving up. That is why I call codependency the addiction of power. And I believe all addicts must go through this 2nd recovery–the recovery of codependency. I will always be codependent. It is about loving too much. But I know my pattern now and know when I need to redefine my boundaries.

What is PTSD? HelpGuide. org defines it:

“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop following a event that threatens—or appears to threaten—your safety. Most people associate PTSD with rape and battle-scarred soldiers—and military combat is the most common cause in men—but any event (or series of events) that overwhelms you with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness can trigger PTSD, especially if the event feels unpredictable and uncontrollable.”

“PTSD can affect people who personally experience a threatening event, those who witness the event, or those who pick up the pieces afterwards, such as emergency workers. PTSD can also result from surgery performed on children so young they don’t understand what’s happening to them, or any event that leaves you emotionally shattered.”

In reading about Iraq veterans and PTSD, I identified immediately with the social isolation. I have done this all my life. Although I am a loner and am suspicious of anyone not content being alone, extreme isolation leads me to paranoia and discontent. I am learning a balance finally because I have now freed myself to talk about these feelings.

I have also identified the brain chemistry associated with my codependency. I have a separate blog about Codependency Recovery. Codependency recovery basics are: having healthy boundaries, learning assertiveness, identifying your core issue, finding out what hooks you, knowing that caregiving is a control issue, developing compassionate detachment, adding self nurturing activities, using relaxation techniques, developing mindfulness techniques to live in the moment, and identifying your triggers.

So I have begun learning how to reparent myself. I have created a separate blog about reparenting: The Free Road: Reparenting Ourselves.

I was thrilled to find Dennis Thombs’s book, Introduction to Addictive Behaviors. What I identified with was his belief that we used our addictions to combat feelings of anxiety (fear) that we never learned to process.

I will continue researching PTSD, codependency and addiction as I know that my addiction began when as a child. I didn’t l know how to deal with anxiety and fear. Instead I used feelings of power over people to feel better myself. Therefore, I believe codependency to be the addiction of power. By feeling control over others’ lives, I felt better able to control my own.

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How Are “The ACA Laundry List” and PTSD Symptoms Similar?

“The Laundry List” was written by Tony Allen in New York City in 1977. He helped to begin the first ACOA (which became ACA) meeting. It was started to address the healing needed for those of us born as children of alcoholism. I have found grief and loss issues about the child who I could have been. But I live with what Maya Angelou said: “We all did the best we could. And when we knew better, we acted better.”

Tony A. included his list in his book, The Laundry List: The ACOA Experience.

The list is:

a. We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.

b. We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.

c. We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism

d. We either become alcoholics, marry them, or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.

e. We live life from the viewpoint of victims and are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.

f. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. This enables us not to look too closely at our own faults.

g. We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.

h. We become addicted to excitement.

i. We confuse love with pity and tend to “love” people who we can `pity” and “rescue”.

j. We have stuffed our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much (denial).

k. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.

l. We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.

m. Alcoholism is a family disease and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of the disease even though we did not pick up the drink.

n. Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.

In the past few years, PTSD which has been long recognized as a byproduct of war and severe trauma, is now being used to define some long-time less severe traumas. Last year, at the age of 70, I realized I have lived with PTSD since I was about 5 years of age. I have based most of my major emotional decisions on the core belief that if I don’t expect much emotionally, I can’t get hurt. The reality is that other people are going to do what they choose to do.

For excerpts from 3 PTSD experiences, read What is PTSD and How Do I Know if I Have It? Also here is a PTSD test.

The symptoms for PTSD are generally considered to be:

From Mark Goulston: PTSD Symptoms: 7 Signs That May Signal PTSD:

1. Feeling Bulletproof:Prior to the trauma, they often felt invulnerable as if nothing could harm them (the way a very wealthy person who can buy anything — and sometimes anyone — can feel all the way to a freshly trained soldier before they enter battle).

2. Horrendous Trauma: There is usually something horrific about the trauma. Horror has a way of destabilizing the acting, feeling and thinking parts of their brains so they can no longer work together. This may explain the use of the expressions: “Wigged out,” “Coming unglued,” “At wit’s end.”

3. Raw Vulnerability: As bulletproof as they once thought they were is as vulnerable as they have turned out to be. There is a belief that they don’t know how they survived the first trauma and an unconscious belief that they wouldn’t survive being re-traumatized. One of the reasons for anniversary reactions.

4. Brittleness: Not being able to find peace outside or inside their life or inside their psyche, leads to a brittleness where anything can set them off. This leads to the heightened startle respond common to people with PTSD.

5. Terror: Inside there is a deeply held belief that any re-traumatization will cause them to shatter and fragment and there is an feeling of impending inevitability that it will happen which creates a state of terror, difficulty sleeping, heavy self-medication (which also dulls ones rational thinking).

6. PTSD Symptoms: Most of the symptoms of PTSD from withdrawing to alcohol and substance abuse to not sleeping (since the experience of and fear of nightmares adds to the terror) are attempts to avoid re-traumatization.

7. Fragility: Feeling on the brink of going from brittle to shattering, fragmenting, losing their mind and never getting it back can cause a person who needs to be in control to take desperate measures. That is because to such a person, losing complete control is a fate worse than death.

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What is PTSD and How Can We Recognize It?

2359749660_372b69b9ce_b“Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what. Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful.”  -Mark Victor Hansen

1.From Mark Goulston: PTSD Symptoms: 7 Signs That May Signal PTSD:

1. Feeling Bulletproof: Prior to the trauma, they often felt invulnerable as if nothing could harm them (the way a very wealthy person who can buy anything — and sometimes anyone — can feel all the way to a freshly trained soldier before they enter battle).

2. Horrendous Trauma: There is usually something horrific about the trauma. Horror has a way of destabilizing the acting, feeling and thinking parts of their brains so they can no longer work together. This may explain the use of the expressions: “Wigged out,” “Coming unglued,” “At wit’s end.”

3. Raw Vulnerability: As bulletproof as they once thought they were is as vulnerable as they have turned out to be. There is a belief that they don’t know how they survived the first trauma and an unconscious belief that they wouldn’t survive being re-traumatized. One of the reasons for anniversary reactions.

4. Brittleness: Not being able to find peace outside or inside their life or inside their psyche, leads to a brittleness where anything can set them off. This leads to the heightened startle respond common to people with PTSD.

5. Terror: Inside there is a deeply held belief that any re-traumatization will cause them to shatter and fragment and there is an feeling of impending inevitability that it will happen which creates a state of terror, difficulty sleeping, heavy self-medication (which also dulls ones rational thinking).

6. PTSD Symptoms: Most of the symptoms of PTSD from withdrawing to alcohol and substance abuse to not sleeping (since the experience of and fear of nightmares adds to the terror) are attempts to avoid re-traumatization.

7. Fragility: Feeling on the brink of going from brittle to shattering, fragmenting, losing their mind and never getting it back can cause a person who needs to be in control to take desperate measures. That is because to such a person, losing complete control is a fate worse than death.

2. From Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health: More than 3,000 survivors of the WTC attacks experience long-term post-traumatic stress disorder:

“PTSD risk was greater among survivors who experienced serious life threat as defined by location in the towers, time of evacuation initiation, or dust cloud exposures,” said Dr. Laura DiGrande, DrPH, MPH, Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health doctoral degree recipient for this research and first author of the study. “As one would expect, individuals who were exposed to several of the most troubling and life threatening events during the disaster were at the greatest risk of PTSD.” Only 145 or four percent of survivors had no symptoms of PTSD.”

“As the long-term effects of the WTC disaster emerge the results from this study suggest that some survivors of the WTC disaster will continue to report psychological symptoms years after their exposure to the events of 9/11. The implication of this finding is that the impact of terrorism on survivors, particularly those in low socioeconomic positions, could be substantial, as PTSD is known to be co-morbid with other disorders and harmful behaviors that affect daily functioning, wellness, and relationships,” noted Dr. Sandro Galea, MD, chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and study senior author.”

3.  From  helpguide.org: “The difference between PTSD and a normal response to trauma“:

When your sense of safety and trust are shattered by a traumatic event, it’s normal for the mind and body to be in shock. It’s common to have bad dreams, feel fearful, and find it difficult to stop thinking about what happened. For most people, these symptoms gradually lift over time. But this normal response to trauma becomes PTSD when the symptoms don’t ease up and your nervous system gets “stuck” and fails to recover its equilibrium.

The latest research shows that the brain has three ways of regulating the nervous system and responding to stressful events:

Social engagement is the most evolved strategy for keeping yourself feeling calm and safe. Socially interacting with another person—making eye contact, listening in an attentive way, talking—can quickly calm you down and put the brakes on defensive responses like “fight-or-flight.”

Mobilization, or the fight-or-flight response, occurs when social engagement isn’t appropriate and you need to either defend yourself or escape the danger at hand—such as in a natural disaster. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina and speed your reaction time. Once the danger has passed, your nervous system then calms the body, slowing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and winding back down to its normal balance.

Immobilization occurs when you’ve experienced an overwhelming amount of stress in a situation and, while the immediate danger has passed, you find yourself “stuck.” Your nervous system is unable to return to its pre-stress state of balance and you’re unable to move on from the event. This is PTSD.

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What are the Signs and Symptoms for Secondary PTSD?

Secondary PTSD is not a recognized mental or emotional illness but it is real to those who are living with a PTSD survivor.

1.  From Brannan Vines, founder of Family Of a Vet– a great reference post entitled Secondary PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder):

“The signs, symptoms, and effects of Secondary PTSD are just as varied as the ones exhibited by Veterans with “primary” PTSD.  It really is hard to explain, unless you’ve lived it.  However, I’m going to try!”

“Basically, when you’re living with a veteran who has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, you become his (or her) caretaker.  You slip into a role, without even noticing it, that has you constantly watching for people or circumstances that might “set him off.”  You’re trying to make sure everything stays in line – that nothing aggravates or upsets your vet – that everything is “perfect.”  Despite your best efforts, you’re still getting screamed at and berated by the person you’re trying to help on a much too frequent basis. ”

“Your vet is not emotionally “there” for you.  When you’re upset or happy, angry or sad, you have to deal with your emotions on your own.  You begin to feel ignored and unloved and start “protecting” yourself by treating others – especially your vet – the same way.”

“You’re also probably handling all household chores, childcare, financial management, etc. You get no help (or very little) from your spouse.  You’re the cook, chauffeur, secretary, accountant, yard guy, child care provider, laundry service, etc., etc., etc.  Everything in your family feels like it’s up to you.  It is a 24×7 job at which you constantly fail.  It’s not humanly possible to do everything – or to prevent PTSD from creeping in.”

“This cycle takes its toll on many spouses.  You lose yourself.  It’s impossible to tiptoe around your vet, day in and day out, while taking care of all of life’s other duties (duties normally shared between two people), without feeling the strain.   And that strain soon transforms into… ta da… Secondary PTSD.”

“Secondary PTSD may make you feel overly angry, depressed, exhausted (but, alas, unable to sleep), overwhelmed, and just plain unhappy with the world around  you.  I can honestly say there have been times when I found the idea of folding a load of laundry absolutely impossible.  I felt like I could not do anything right.  I cried a lot and was really, REALLY pissed at the world.”

2. From Living with PTSD and TBI: “Secondary PTSD and Me“:

“When you are seeking information regarding PTSD you usually come across the term of “Secondary Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome” or “Compassion Fatigue”. I have read on Family of a Vet, (a site in which I haunt quite frequently) about this subject and the author/owner of the site has a special way of describing things on an every day person’s level. Another words, it’s simple, to the point, and in no way must you have a Harvard degree or be a psychologist to understand any of it. If you are a caregiver or spouse for your veteran with combat PTSD, definitely check out her site along with her description of Secondary Post Traumatic Syndrome. Now I didn’t go out to seek out my mental problems nor did I think in anyway I am going nuts…but I admit that I have had some problems here as of late.”

“My last doctor visit my blood pressure was really high…enough to be put on medicine for it. Tension/migraine headaches can sometimes be debilitating to the point where now I have a special med that is a kick ass Tylenol mixed with Zanax for nerves. Let’s add in the anxiety pill that I take as needed, and the medication for depression which is really for my Rheumatoid Arthritis (I promise I am not 80!) and helps combat the battle of the blues in the process. So the two or three bottles of meds have now increased to 11 and I was forced to get a pink old lady pill box daily reminder for myself all before my 35th birthday which is quickly approaching! It’s quite depressing really because I still feel young, still feel somewhat sane, and embarrassed I should have to admit to anyone I am taking so many pills. My doctor made a comment that I could be suffering from Secondary PTSD so I have been looking at it a little closer now that she has brought it up.”

3.  From Beth Ellen McKinney writing in counseling. Suite101.com: “Secondary Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder“:

Secondary PTSD Risk Factors in the U.S. Military

“Respected researchers such as Figley, Pearlman and Saakvitne have been documenting cases of secondary PTSD in psychotherapists since 1995. Figley, who refers to the condition as “compassion fatigue” notes that empathy is an important part of a therapist’s role, but acknowledges that it can have a cost. Pearlman and Saakvitne, who describe this condition as “vicarious trauma” state that sometimes “the therapist’s inner experience is negatively transformed through empathic engagement with clients’ trauma.” The result may be Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder (STSD).”

“However, anyone who gives care to a traumatized person is susceptible to STSD, including children and spouses of active duty military personnel. It seems to be more likely to occur among people who have experienced prior traumatic events themselves. People who have other types of mental illness may also be at risk. However, social isolation or a lack of inner resources, such as a strong spirituality, can cause anyone involved in the care of a traumatized person to be debilitated by STSD.”

Symptoms of Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder

“People with STSD may experience the same symptoms as the traumatized person. These symptoms include depression with suicidal thoughts and feelings, as well as feelings of loneliness and betrayal. This condition may also lead to substance abuse. Many people with STSD will have difficulty carrying out regular tasks at work and home. In some cases, their ability to cope will be severely impaired.”

“Family members of traumatized persons will often develop hyper-vigilance. Since they are impacted by the traumatized person’s emotional crises, they become sensitive to small mood changes or other risks to stability. Eventually they may find it difficult to relax and feel as if they are “walking on eggshells.” This may also make sleep difficult.”

“If the stress continues over a long period of time, mental health professionals, caregivers or family members may eventually develop negative feelings toward the traumatized person. They may become unwilling to provide care. They may even become verbally or physically abusive toward the traumatized person. Therefore, it is important to treat STSD as soon as possible.”

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Learning How to Live With PTSD and Have the Life You Want

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In 2009 I discovered that PTSD had controlled my life for over 60 years. Yikes! I learned to not have flashbacks by not living my life. I kind of checked in and out for short periods of time. I am a loner, read a lot, love to research, and am also a writer which requires solitude. Not that I am complaining. I like being with me. I am a lot of fun and have a rich inner creative life. We each have four emotional energies: grounding, creative, logic, and relationship. I am almost zippo on the relationship energy but I work at it because I know how good I feel when I feel connected to another person. Nothing like it.

I gave up my antidepressant in October 2012 after 20 years of taking one. Wow! What a new world. For a while I felt that I was in the body of an 18 year old male. All I thought about was sex and/or food. And I was 72 at the time. Thank God. Best of both worlds. So I am learning how to live with PTSD and handle all my emotions as they come. And they do. But the emotions are like a river. They don’t stay—they move on.

I love reading about PTSD survivors and how they live. I learn so much from them.

  1.  From Michael Bailey: “PTSD Can Turn One Thing You Love Into the One Thing That Scares You to Death”:

The hardest thing to cope with is the things that you don’t expect.  The smells of burning diesel, or cooking pig, the sound of distant gunfire, or pops that sound like them. These things can pop up at random.  Even movies that you once enjoyed may remind you a little too strongly of events that happened.  I used to love the film “Midway”, unfortunately there is a scene where Charlton Heston’s son (in the movie)  gets hit, and his plane catches on fire.  I can tell you those screams are a little too real for me to deal with.  Getting pulled over by police is also a hazard.  I have learned that the flashing lights do not bode well for me.  I usually cover my eyes as much as possible, but if I’ve had a few, and the Designated Driver (DD) gets pulled over, the effect is crippling, and I feel the urge to run.  This has happened to me twice.  Both times did not end well.  I understand why they have the flashing lights, but there is just something about them at night that really disturbs me.

If you are a Combat Veteran with post traumatic stress, I would tell you figure out what your triggers are.  What makes the experiences come back, and find some coping strategies that work for you.  Keep a journal, and track your progress.  You would be amazed how far you come in just a few short months.  Remember life will not be the same as it was before the war.  You need to deal with that.  You’re not crippled, or infirmed, you’re just going to have to deal with this.  Life is worth fighting for.  Don’t give up because the days seem hard, and the nights endless.  You are not alone, and you can get through this.

  1.  From Havi Brooks: “Friday Chicken #226”:

Hey. So. Those of you who can read between the lines have probably figured out that this has been a rough year for me, with the past few months getting progressively more rough.

I can’t talk about it here, partly because I’m not at liberty to discuss most of it and partly for other reasons. So I apologize for being cryptic, and yes, things have been pretty hellish for me, and I am waiting for a lot of different situations to resolve themselves.

In the meantime, I am using — and living by — the stuff that we practice and play with here. And that’s what is helping me with this challenging experience. So thank you for playing with me and being here while I go through this.

What worked?
Canceling appointments.

I canceled everything this week and was a hermit!

This was good. I didn’t even know how much I would need this, just acting on a hunch. Past-me is a genius. Again.

Ritual.

Using the things that I taught at my Crossing the Line retreat. Over and over again.

Going to the cafe. Getting my pot of harmony. Sitting in the same chair.

This was steadying and grounding.

Bouncing it up.

I kept dancing. When in doubt, dance dance dance and then dance some more.

This is not the right thing for everyone, but it is very much the right thing for me.

Next time I might…

Change the setting. Have even more snacks stockpiled.

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