Human beings are violent creatures so exposure to traumatic events which leave an unspoken legacy is nothing new. What is new is 24/7 web browsing, social media, TV and online streaming creating multiple exposure and repetition, and endless cyber avenues of escape from a painful reality.
According to Nicholas Carr in The Shallows, not since Gutenberg invented printing has humanity been exposed to such mind-altering technology.
Different people react in different ways to similar events – not all people who experience the same traumatic event will be severely disrupted. It is estimated that 80% of those in rehab for addiction in the UK and US have been traumatised at some point.
If what happened has been forgotten or silenced, memory and feelings can live on, and be passed on down the generations. These emotional legacies are generally hidden, encoded in myriad ways, from gene expression to everyday language, playing a far greater role in emotional and physical health than has been realised until now, since discoveries have been made thanks to the revolution in neuroscience research.
Trauma with a capital “T”
Post-traumatic stress disorder expressed by war veterans and their families is familiar to the lay person outside the medical field. Severely traumatic events are a staple of novels, movies, comics and video games as they make for great viewing. Sexual abuse, police brutality, bullying and domestic violence are popular tabloid fodder, triggering sensationalist emotional headlines to draw in readers and boost sales.
A question that has been asked of Game of Thrones as long as the HBO series has been on air is: Why so much sex and violence?
With 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide because of ongoing wars and catastrophic natural disasters, of which 10 million are stateless, the walking traumatised are set to become an ongoing feature of 21st century political debate.
Trauma with a small “t”
A ten-year-old boy old acts as a human shield to protect his mother and sisters when his father gets home drunk and raging. Eventually, he escapes to his room and plays CodeWars, soothing his fear. Some years later, the adolescent will add a spliff to the equation as he plays his favourite video game.
A ten-year-old girl watches from the doorway as her father directs a stream of alcohol-fuelled vitriolic insults at her tearful mother who has just returned home from an operation in hospital. Eventually, she raids the cake tin in the kitchen, taking a large slice of orange drizzle cake, soothing her angst. A few years later, the adolescent will pour some Poire Williams over the cake and relish the warm feeling as she guzzles.
Fast forward: out of control behaviour and yelling along with sleeplessness, bouts of depression, and in some cases suicide attempts, are the new normal. As is self-soothing with booze, puff, pills and whatever else comes to hand to numb internal discomfort and distress – backed by a “Fuck you, I’m alright, Jack,” attitude.
Small “t” developmental trauma leaves a black hole in the soul and in the psyche.
For centuries, creatives in the arts, literature and entertainment have attempted to expunge trauma. Edvard Munch’s The Scream being an obvious example. Along with Toni Morrison’s Beloved which charts the brutalities of slavery.
In The Body Keeps the Score, the psychiatrist, author and educator, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, shows how trauma reshapes both a human body and a brain impacted by overwhelming traumatic events. The biological effects of psychological trauma on the limbic and autonomic nervous systems sculpt threat perception and affect the stress response. His innovative treatments – from neurofeedback and meditation to sports, drama and yoga – involve desomatising memory.
Claudia Black’s latest book, Unspoken Legacy, is ground-breaking in the way it looks at “the often powerful, often subtle interplay of trauma and addiction. Visit an online bookstore and you can easily find books on addiction and on trauma. But little is available on the interaction of the two and on how that interaction profoundly harms human beings. There is even less available on the process of recovering and healing from their combined effects. I wrote this book to fill that gap.”
A pioneer in the field of trauma, addiction and the family, Claudia Black is the author of fifteen books, and is a senior fellow at The Meadows in Arizona where she works with young adults. She will be speaking at the forthcoming iCAAD conference at 6pm on 7 May in London. There are still some tickets available HERE
Comprising eleven chapters, Unspoken Legacy is packed with excellent and concise information for the reader, both professional and layperson. Self assessment pointers are made, helpful when seeing a therapist; along with suggestions for grounding and the seven layers of healing. Written in clear, accessible prose, and with human stories illustrating key points, it is an illuminating, bittersweet and holistic read.
The Shame Monster
The opening chapters, Getting to Know Trauma and What we know About Addiction intersect in Addiction Trauma and the Family and Generational Reverberations: The Long-term Effects. Adverse childhood attachment patterns, habitual hiding of needs and feelings in order to ‘fit in’, and chronic abuse which cause memories too difficult to bear, nightmares and fears, can lead to addiction, the hallmark of which is loss of control and damaged relationships.
“[Addiction] is about the continued practice of an activity or the continued use of a substance despite painful consequences that significantly interfere with the person’s life. Lots of people drink alcohol, but there is a profound, essential difference between the social drinker and the alcoholic.”
After experiencing trauma, close contact with other people is crucial in order to begin healing – emotionally, psychologically and bodily. Ironically this is what sufferers dread the most, so they shut down internally and self-soothe by using, usually backed by belligerent denial when confronted.
Trauma begets trauma and addiction begets addiction and each tends to beget the other
“Why do some people become addicted? And others do not? The answer is complex. Some people are generally predisposed to addiction, but researchers are quick to say that a predisposition is not fate or predestination. It just means there there is a higher probability that addiction may activate under the right or, more accurately, the wrong circumstances [. . .] Childhood trauma is the single greatest contributor to such a predisposition.”
Addicts will give myriad reasons for wanting to escape life, boost or change intense and confusing feelings of discomfort, in order to feel less anxious and relax. “Nobody knows better than those who grew up with addictions how damaging it becomes. Yet they are the most high-risk group to become addicted.”
Swig, snort, screw and spend: trouble is, everything gets worse not better. As a conspiracy of nervy silence takes hold, everyone is sucked into a vortex of secrets and lies.
Daddy isn’t yelling angrily at mummy, he just has a headache and is irritable like he always is. Mummy taking valium and mogadon because of her cancer surgery, and asking twelve-year-old Julie to massage her neck and shoulders every night before lights out is perfectly normal.
“Many trauma responses are delayed, emerging weeks or months after a traumatic event. Often they appear so much later that the person experiencing them doesn’t connect them to the trauma.”
Childhood trauma can have a lifelong effect and worsens over time. An Australian study of over 21,000 survivors age 60 and older reported a higher rate of failed marriages and relationships. Trauma and addiction will “reverberate throughout a family system and get passed down to the next generation and then the next, if unaddressed . . .”
The second part of Unspoken Legacy gives guidance on how to repair a broken life – from going to rehab and attending support groups, to recalibrating relationships and navigating family dynamics in a different and more balanced way. There are useful exercises for creating constructive internal narratives to help reframe, refocus and redirect stressed, emotional thinking.
Clear, succinct and refreshingly free of pink-cloud writing, Unspoken Legacy is an essential reference point for the public and professionals alike.
Claudia Black, Patrick Carnes, Pia Mellody, Rokelle Lerner and others are modern-day healers working miracles on the front line of psychiatry, psychotherapy, psychology and addiction therapy. Some of them will be speaking at iCAAD’s leading conference on behavioural, mental and emotional health in London, 6-8 May 2019. The full programme and tickets are HERE
Unspoken Legacy by Claudia Black | Central Recovery Press| January 2018 $17.95 230pp PB ISBN: 978-19420945622
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