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TV psychotherapist Benjamin Fry: new treatment for trauma

I might be able to relate to this article. Just a little.

TV psychotherapist Benjamin Fry was devastated by depression. Then he discovered a radical new treatment | Mail Online.


a piece of my soul

So I sit down to blog tonight to process. I’m aware that something in me deeply wants to tell a story, and understand my reaction, and have someone get me, because I need to get me, and the only way I can get me is to share it with someone else.

I think this is a principle fundamental to my recovery, and sorely sorely lacking in the provincial mental health care that I have experienced, generally speaking.

It’s the transformative effect of deeply sharing and deeply witnessing. It is this effect I have witnessed in the circle practices I have been blessed to be exposed to, that I have found most helpful in my recovery from a life time of suicidality. I find that with most of my contact with provincial mental health care, the person is somehow trying to halt, suppress and/or minimize my inner experience, in the effort to “treat” it.

I am a survivor of childhood emotional neglect and abuse, and a member of the 12-step recovery program for Adult Children of Alcoholic and Dysfunctional Families (ACA for short). My fellow ACA members would all most likely have similar reactions to anyone telling them that they “use dramatic language,” and especially someone at the other end of the line at a CRISIS RESPONSE UNIT telling them that this is written in their file.

Because of my experience in ACA, I will venture to generalize here, and say that most survivors of neglect and abuse in childhood have been told all their lives that they are “dramatizing what happened” or somehow made to feel that what they are feeling is inappropriate and inaccurate, and that they are not perceiving reality. I will also venture to say here that his recurring message causes almost as much damage as the trauma itself, if not more.

ACA is a program for people with childhood trauma, abuse and neglect, with literature that speaks of the importance of feeling the feelings we never felt, and how difficult it is for us to a) recognize when we might be in danger, b) reach out for help and c) talk about our feelings. To be told I use dramatic language justifies my fear in doing all three of those things, and re-opens many aspects of pain, fear, self-hatred and hopelessness in me.

I was deeply and adversely triggered by this contact with the CRT, and the idea that every person who works there  is going to see that statement when they open my file. I stayed on the line for nearly a half an hour and thanked the woman at the end of the call, feeling strangely confused; went numb and dissociated until I arrived at an ACA meeting that night. In speaking what had happened, I became very angry, and left for the second part of the meeting.

The ACA welcome speaks about how we, as Adult Children, grew up with the rules of “Don’t talk, don’t trust and don’t feel,” and how the goal of our meetings and our recovery is to break those rules.

Pertinent words from the ACA text book, which have brought me great clarity, validation and healing from experiences like the one I am writing about:

“Every adult child has unexpressed grief, which is usually represented by the symptoms of depression, lethargy, or forms of dissociation. Grief is loss that is stuck beneath denial, willful forgetting, and the fear of being perceived as dramatizing the past. … If we sought help before ACA, our childhood loss was usually diagnosed as depression and commonly treated with ineffective methods.” – Page 199

“Identifying our feelings and talking with others about how we feel is a critical step in breaking the isolation we have lived with for so long.”

“We are seeking a full remembrance of the childhood … With a full remembrance, we revisit the feelings that came with the abuse or hypercritical behavior of the caregivers. We remember the event, and we remember the feelings. By seeking a full remembrance, we break the “don’t remember rule” of the family.”   – Page 34

“…uses dramatic language.” When I hear that, I interpret that my language is not appropriate or accurate to the reality of the situation. I am hurled back into the confusion about what is real, doubting what I am feeling and what is really happening, and the isolation and shame in that confusion that I have felt all my life. To me, this statement invalidates what is real for me, and implies that I am exaggerating my experience to get attention. Actually, I am trying to put words to it, to name it, to make it real so that I can heal from it. I am trying not to isolate, and not to hide or minimize my feelings.

How am I using dramatic language when I say that I am scared and trying to be pro-active about finding myself alone in a big house, and have often felt dissociated and suicidal in this situation? How am I using dramatic language when stating the fact that I haven’t eaten a meal in 3 days since my last therapy session, and have stayed home for several normal parts of my routine, and I have been feeling residual parasympathetic shock that I am just starting to come out of?

Can you handle the word suicidal? How about depression, or sadness. Or here, how about I tell you I’m feeling “off,” and completely leave out all of the above?

Are you going to tell someone who calls in and says they’re feeling suicidal that they are using dramatic language? Oh, yeah, that person isn’t really feeling suicidal; they’re just being dramatic. They’re just wanting attention.

I’m not sure if you could have invalidated me or re-triggered me in a bigger way. It’s taken me 2 years of recovery while not working in order to be able to recognize when I might be in danger, and be able to take action and reach out before I harm myself. Minimizing the drama of that is hazardous. Putting any negative judgement on what I share when I reach out, especially that implies I am exagerating, is also very, very hazardous to my recovery.

I feel like never calling the crisis line again. Several of the professionals I have been in contact with in the provincial system, as well as the beliefs and programs that structure its care (such as CBT, positive psychology, etc.) seem to want to help me to minimize the pain. While I can understand how this is a very logical desire when someone is in pain, it doesn’t lead me to the cut on my leg that the pain is trying to tell me about, and that would take away all the pain if healed well; and most importantly, it directly re-triggers the very thing that damaged my sense of safety, self-worth, stability and identity in the first place.

Who is the Crisis Response Team there for? Because it certainly doesn’t seem like they’re there for survivors of childhood neglect and abuse, or whatever the f#@k I survived that has brought me to this healing path.




dialectics, again + confirmation: i am not faking it. i am not a fraud.

enabling vs. support

isolation vs. time alone to feel

relaxation vs. laziness

overcoming fears vs. entering unsafe situations and betraying ourselves.

extraordinarily gifted vs. disabled and less-fortunate

young woman or old hag

young woman or old hag (unknown artist)

the trigger

I spent the weekend with a group of fellow ACA members (Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families) at a ski resort several hours away from where I live.

Having known several of these folks as an off-and-on member of their recovery group for the past year, I didn’t think twice about spending several days with them in a remote location.

They were safe, they were friends and fellow survivors; and as such, their friends were my friends.

I had what could be called by the psychiatric profession an episode (?). I yelled and swore and sobbed hysterically for over an hour, and was left alone in this state, but in clear ear shot of the 9 other members in the house.

I had become exhausted skiing and had not headed my instinct to rest. I had then become over-stimulated and gone into a state of extreme shyness, insecurity, social phobia.

Unable to join the group at dinner upstairs, I stayed in my bunk downstairs after a nap and phoned a friend with trauma and ptsd experience. I didn’t feel able to hide what was going on for me, but I also didn’t know how or if to share it with the group. She helped me identify that I was approaching a potential crisis state, and we decided that I would call up to the woman who had invited me to be there that weekend and ask if she would bring me some food in my bed.

The crisis became full blown when this request triggered the woman who owned the house to come storming down to my bedroom and inform me that there was no room service in her house. When I told her I had a medical condition that prevented me from coming up to the living room area, she demanded to know what it was, saying she had a right to know because it was her house. When I told her, she said that I should have thought twice about coming there in the first place; that her house was a place of joy and community. When I asked to speak with the woman who had invited me to the weekend, the owner of the condo said that she would not allow it, that she would not allow her friends to be burdened with negative feelings while they were staying in her house. That I could come up and join them when I felt ready to be in a positive space.

In the midst of all that, I had began to cry, then sob, then yell and swear at her through my sobbing, while covering my face and curling into a ball before becoming completely inaudible in my efforts to defend myself.

She personified my initial wounding. Then, the rest of the group personified it by the fact that despite my loud and uncontrollable sobbing went on for over an hour, no one came down to be with me. I was left alone, in shame and exile for how I was feeling. I phoned my ptsd friend again, and we decided that I was not in a safe place, and that I needed to find a way to get out of there as soon as possible, all through the sobbing, the whole conversation quite audible to the rest of the group upstairs if they had stopped to listen. I have no idea. From the snippets of sound I was hearing from them, it sounded as if they had simply continued with their evening, laughing and joking and being the happy recovery family. I then called my CoDA sponsor, who was sympathetic and actually in shock to hear what was going on with this group of ACA members, but completely stand-offish when it came to action, such as driving to pick me up or speaking with another member there at the house with me. She told me I would have to call on my higher power like never before to endure and survive and reminded me that I was physically safe.

When the rest of the group left to go tubing down the hill that night, I was alone in the house. I called two more CoDA people, who made me laugh and start to feel like myself again. I tried to find out if there were any shuttles out of there sooner than my ride with the others down the hill the following afternoon, but to no avail. So I packed up my things from the common living space and prepared to spend the next 12 hours in my bed, reading, writing, listening to music and anything else to forget where I was.

When the group came home, there was not privacy. I was sleeping in a bunk with one other, tucked in a passage way from the boot room of the house to the basement stairway. By now, I had calmed down and was able to accept the reality of being there, having to honour myself and my experience and relate to the others in the way that the situation needed me to in order to survive it. Two women ended up in my room with me, and after I joined into their banter about what had happened on the tubing hill for a few minutes, they asked me how I was doing. I told them that I was ready to go, simply passing the time until the next day when I could go home; that I did not feel welcome in this home. I told them what had happened for me, and that I had never lost it like that in front of others (in retrospect, I don’t think I’d actually lost it like that, period). They fostered the viewpoint of objectivity, understanding and non judgement, and encouraged me that everyone else was also of that mindset and that they would be happy if I was able to come up and join them for the evening.

And so I did. Without betraying my own reality, and with a bubble of protection from those I had spoken to on the phone, I was able to be present with myself and with the others. I endured until the next day and made it home.

In the car, it became clear that no one was going to bring it up. That if I remained silent and removed for the rest of the trip, that was going to be how it would end. So, I came out and asked for a clearing about what had happened and they engaged willingly.

They identified that the condo owner had been triggered, which had disrupted the interaction of me asking for help, and expressed sadness that I had had a traumatic experience this weekend. They told me that the condo owner had witnessed the woman I’d asked to speak with in a suicidal state, codependently wrapped up in other people’s dramas, and that this was a life-time pattern of hers. They said that if I had included in my request for some food, the reason why I was requesting it, that the exchange would also have gone quite differently. That when there was no explanation for why, it seemed strange, and they didn’t understand. The unspoken general response from the group became that I was being manipulative for attention, and that appeasing my request would be an act of what the 12-step community calls ‘enabling.’ In the 12-step sense, enabling describes the situation of bringing a six pack of beer to an alcoholic, in essence, enabling the dysfunction to continue. So to their minds, their response (or lack of) had been coming from a loving and compassionate place.

In that clearing in the car, another member related to the state of intense social phobia — the intense feelings of shame and shyness, and feeling unable to be around people. Her response however then went into how she had learned that if she was able to find the strength to ‘fake it until she made it’ she was almost always fine, and the fear diminished.

In the moment, I said nothing. My face glazed over and I stared far out into the distance through the car windows.


Since I’ve been home, I have been sleeping very little and processing a lot, alternating between empowerment & revelation and overwhelm & shame.
I feel like an outsider of the world.
Faking It

Faking It (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Part of my digestion was also around this notion of ‘faking it ’till you make it’ and realizing that once again, this approach is the opposite of healthy for me. I faked it till I made it in every moment of living for the first half of my life, and did it so well as to land myself in situations of impossible and unsustainable expectations. ‘Faking it ’till I made it’ betrayed myself, so long that it became a trauma in itself. I was untrustworthy. I was untruthful. I became exhausted, increasingly depressed, increasingly disconnected from myself and others. The greater the disconnect, the greater the over-compensation. My sense of self disintegrated and all that was left was a hollow shell and a scam. I was living a lie.

‘Faking it …’ is a death potion to me. The ultimate rejection of Self, a kind of suicide. That my strength must be real and authentic, or not at all, is a matter of life or death.

This process of radical honesty in order to heal means being at times awkward — strange — inappropriate. My understanding of 12-step fellowship was that we can accept this about each other and not react with suspicion or avoidance as others who are not in recovery often do.

In our pain, fear, confusion and over-compensation, we can hurt others just as we have been hurt ourselves so long ago. And so the initial wound lives on, passed on, from one wounded soul to another.

'Cracked' by Stephen Kline

‘Cracked’ by Stephen Kline

There’s a basic human instinct that tells us to help someone who is in distress. Of all the places I’d expect that to be missing, ACA is the last. Ironically, I don’t think anyone in CoDA would have left me to sob loudly and hysterically for an hour while carrying on jovially. Nor would they have pretended like nothing happened for the rest of the weekend until I asked for a clearing about it in the car. Even then, I don’t feel they got it. They felt proud of how their little recovery family had handled the situation because no one had acted codependently. no one had rescued anyone else. No one had been enabled.
If a man is dying on the side of the road, do we expect him to ask for help as we pass by? Are we enabling his dysfunction by helping him without his direct request?
So in the attempt to end codependency (and enabling), we can become the source of the initial abandonment and shame for others. And so the legacy continues, the wide pendulums from one extreme to another that bounce and ricochet down the tree of generations.
My trauma friend says that her and many of her peers have experienced this with 12-step groups — the hyper -vigilance and -discipline that can re-traumatize someone in trauma recovery. People in her trauma treatment program avoid 12-step work for the very experience I have had — the tragic and ironic absence of basic human compassion and caring that is the reason we are all here in recovery.
In the effort to rid ourselves of addiction, the heart gets thrown out with the bath water.

In recovery, it takes a lot to love ourselves. It is our life’s journey in getting well. And just as it isn’t easy to love ourselves, it is sometimes just as hard to love each other.

And yet, this is our only hope. If we cannot love ourselves and each other, who will?

I am no longer sure of the right healing place for me to be. I’m not sure if ACA is a safe place for me to be. I am floating in the ether.


9_fence_posts (unknown artist)

enabling vs. support

isolation vs. time alone to feel

relaxation vs. laziness

overcoming fears vs. entering unsafe situations and betraying ourselves.

extraordinarily gifted vs. disabled and less-fortunate

We live on these fence posts because of the split that our dysfunctional upbringings created in us. The chronic doubting of our own impulses and inclinations, the questioning of what is real, the unrelenting base of confusion, the existential angst that rots our foundations like a termite. We abandon ourselves and each other. Mistrust ourselves and each other.

From the perspective of my diagnosed illness, this situation is a stellar example of it. That I can have that kind of experience — externalized or not ,– that I can lose control of my emotions to such an extent, and then talk about it so sanely and with such clarity is an illustration of the split in me between my mind and my heart.

I believe it is a distinct characteristic of my illness.

It is an illness because it confuses people. It confuses me.

I get mis-diagnosed and mis-understood.

People think I am being manipulative for attention.

And in my own confusion, I feel like a two-faced fraud.

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+HAZARDOUS WASTE DISPOSAL from Alchemy at Stop the Storm

This is fu***g brilliant:

(strong trigger potential)

What are the negative messages you received as a child that became core beliefs? (listing positive aspects of yourself is a good counter measure / practice of balance, and the word “disposal” is THE operative word here)


With big love from Underground.