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Rebirth at Age 65: Watching the Trauma Heal

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Date : November 28, 2016

My father died fifty years ago, this month.    I am sixty-five years old and I am going through a rebirth experience.  Most of my life I have believed that my father didn’t love or approve of me.  During the past fifty years, I was locked into a belief system that he despised me. Now because I have experienced proof in photos and written words to refute that belief, I have been feeling his love along with the beat of my heart.


I now understand the amygdala’s powerful role.  The amygdala is part of our brain and its purpose is to protect us from danger.  It is key to our survival if a car is barreling down on you while walking on the sidewalk.  It will become activated and spread adrenaline throughout the body.  It will give the impetus to jump out of the way of the careening automobile.


It is not so helpful in the middle of the night when you have a memory about being emotionally hurt by your mother.  This memory will also kick in the fear response complete with the adrenaline rushing through your arteries.  The amygdala cannot tell the difference between a stressful memory and a situation where you are in danger of being physically maimed.


The trauma of my father’s death at age fifteen along with other disturbances activated my amygdala to focus on the negative and not allow the positive to light up my psyche.  The suddenness of losing him to a stroke triggered this part of my brain to expect danger twenty-four hours a day.


Most of my life upon arising in the morning, I would feel aches in my stomach and knots in my shoulders.  The general thought was, “Some disaster is on the way and I am not prepared for it.  I wasn’t prepared for my father’s death and I will be damned if I will ever be so unguarded again.”


The amygdala gets fired up instantly and before I know it, I am scanning the environment for threats to my being.  It could be triggered by the perceived rejection of a friend, loved one or acquaintance.  It could be ignited by me feeling that I didn’t try hard enough to help someone.  It can be activated that by believing that I didn’t do the right thing at the right time.  In other words, there are infinite ways to bring the amygdala to life.


This continual worry cycle takes its toll on the self-esteem.  I came to believe that since I experienced the sensation of fear quite often, that I must have done something awful to cause this high anxiety. Therefore, I ascertained that I was a bad person and not deserving of happiness, success or any of that good stuff you hear about.


I certainly experience more than moments of fun, connection and hope, but the angst has been overwhelming at times and now I am ready to move past it.


I think about the teenage trauma I encountered and I can now understand why my amygdala feels like it must be on the job most of the time.  My father was losing his mind at the time he was dying.  He was physically and emotionally abusive towards me because his mental health was failing him.  Nobody tried to help him.  Organized religion discarded my family.   The health system failed us miserably.  No one could reach my teenage trauma and I felt all alone.  My girlfriend broke up with me and that felt more devastating than losing my dad at the time.  My teachers and counselors informed me that I was too stupid to attend college and that my presence in high school was taking up space that another could benefit from.  I felt like I was an inch away from falling off a cliff forever.



All these life episodes caused my amygdala to be overly active and I never learned how to interrupt its activity. When I wake up in the morning, the amygdala is activated and the fear kicks in.  The Question of “How could this hurt me and what can I do to protect myself?” gets answered by an escalating spinning of “I can do this, no I can do that, no nothing will work because you are not deserving of happiness.”  It becomes a never ending internal struggle that doesn’t get resolved.  The spinning ends when I am totally exhausted or when the next fear incident kicks in.


The amygdala will always kick in.  It took me years to learn that the work here is not about trying to put a choke hold on the amygdala.  It feels it is protecting me when the adrenaline which is experienced as fright flows through my body.  I should be thanking this part of my brain instead of trying to figure out ways to destroy it.


I try to remember that my method of dealing with anxiety and the triggering of the amygdala has been in process for fifty years or so. It will take time to change my reactive habit of responding to the fear. This habit of searching for immediate answers to calm myself creates increased an endless anxious spin.  These “answers” tend to provoke more fear instead of calmness.


My new strategy is to not react to the fear that can come from any change in thought, sensation, or mood like sudden fog shrouding the outside of my apartment. Instead, I thank the amygdala for keeping me safe.  I then say to myself, “I got this.  I am a good person.  I had a great guitar lesson this morning.  I really helped a friend who was struggling.  Several of my clients learned new ways to cope with their conflicts. My wife and I had a wonderful day at her school.”


I realize that I have hardly ever given myself positive affirmations and I must be patient and practice regularly.   “Oh yeah, I just wrote this fabulous blog on dealing with the fear response of the brain”, I said.

Please share your experiences here   Thanks!!!

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Letting Go of Grief
Move Your Body to Rock and Soul

Letting go of Grief: Move Your Body to Rock and Soul teaches you how to work through your losses. These losses could be the death of a loved one, the end of an important relationship or other trauma. Grief is an evolving process and you will learn what the term acceptance means. It means that you will always have the option of honoring your loss, but you don’t have to be continually consumed by it. In this book, you will learn to find a landing place in your heart for grief. You will learn to embrace the pain instead of being afraid of facing it.


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