June 2019Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via eMail Share on LinkedIn

From the Editor

Welcome to our June edition of Breaking Free, a monthly newsletter that features helpful articles, stories, resources and news of interest to adult survivors, supporters and community members.

This month our lead article builds on that in last month’s newsletter and the link between childhood trauma and addiction. It draws on findings from the pivotal Adverse Childhood Experiences Study and the work of Gabor Maté, a physician who is expert in childhood trauma and addition. This is presented in relation to the new film Rocketman, about Elton John and the impacts of childhood trauma on his life.

We also feature our Fact Sheet for survivors called Towards Recovery and a call to support our EOFY campaign and Survivor Workshop program. Importantly, we additionally call for volunteers to support our upcoming national awareness day, Blue Knot Day, to be held this year on October 28th.

Our self-help article this month focusses on different ways we can try to help ourselves feel grounded. 

As always, if you have comments about what you have read in this issue, contributions for the My Story section, or topic suggestions for future issues, please be in touch by emailing newsletter@blueknot.org.au

With warm regards,
The Blue Knot Team.


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My Story - A Poem


Trigger Warning


Warning: This article may contain content that could disturb some readers. If reading this story causes you distress and you need support, please call the Blue Knot Helpline on 1300 657 380 (9am-5pm AEST, 7 days). Calls that cannot be answered directly will be returned as soon as possible, so please leave a message with your phone number, and state of residence 


“From the outside looking in, you can never understand

From the inside looking out, you can never explain

Sometimes I feel I am not enough 

But other times I feel we are too much” 

 

*Name withheld on request


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SELF CARE RESOURCES

In this section, we will review self care/help resources our Blue Knot Helpline counselling team collects to share with people who call the Helpline. We are delighted to share these ideas with our Breaking Free readers. What is helpful for one person may not be right for someone else so please experiment, explore and find what suits you.


Factsheet suggestion from Blue Knot Helpline

Fact Sheet Profile - Towards Recovery


This Fact Sheet has been designed for people who have experienced childhood trauma including abuse. If you were abused or traumatised as a child this Fact Sheet can help you understand more about what happened to you, how it might have affected you and some options for what you can do now.

Based on the latest research, it includes information about childhood trauma and abuse, its different forms, and how it can affect people. It also describes the ways people respond to stress and the coping strategies some survivors use. 

The Fact Sheet is one of a suite of resources to support survivors on their healing journey.


We hope that you find the information useful yourself or can share it with someone you think may benefit from it. Should you wish to speak to a counsellor please call our Blue Knot Helpline to speak with one of our Helpline counsellors on 1300 657 380 or by emailing helpline@blueknot.org.au 



Blue Knot Foundation makes every effort to provide readers of its website and newsletters with information which is accurate and helpful. It is not however a substitute for counselling or professional advice. While all attempts have been made to verify all information provided, Blue Knot Foundation cannot guarantee and does not assume any responsibility for currency, errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the information provided.


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Blue Knot Day - 28 October 2019



Our 10th annual national Blue Knot Day, a day on which Blue Knot Foundation asks all Australians to unite in support of adult survivors of complex trauma is fast approaching.

 

If you'd like to donate your time to volunteer to help coordinate a Blue Knot Day event in your community, please email events@blueknot.org.au for more information.


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IN THE NEWS

CHILDREN ARE OFTEN THE SILENT VICTIMS OF FAMILY VIOLENCE

The following article explores the impacts of growing up in a domestic violence situation, and its effects on children and on the adults they become. Told through the voices of survivors who courageously speak out, it acknowledges that children are often the silent victims of family violence but offers the possibility of hope and healing. Read more here.


 


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CHILD ABUSE SURVIVORS KEEP AND BREAK THEIR SILENCE

The article reveals some of the reasons why it can be so hard to talk about the abuse one experiences as a child. Again, through the honesty of survivors, speaking out to highlight the issues, this article speaks to the importance of being heard and reaching out for support. Read more here.


If you are in need of support and would like to speak to a counsellor at Blue Knot please call our Helpline between 9am and 5pm AEST seven days a week on 1300 657 380 or helpline@blueknot.org.au 


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Understanding trauma, coping strategies and resilience


Many of our readers will have heard of an ongoing study in the United States called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study or the ACE Study. This study has helped identify how common trauma early in life is (Felitti, Anda et al, 1998; 2010), as well as how such trauma can affect us not only in childhood but also as an adult.

The ACE Study shows that adverse experiences in childhood can have an effect on our physical and emotional health and wellbeing. It also shows how the coping strategies we often adopt in childhood to deal with overwhelming experiences can become risk factors for ill health later in life. This can happen if the underlying trauma is not resolved or, in other words, if the person has not found a path to recovery.

It is important to know however that even severe childhood trauma can be resolved. This is called `earned security’. It is also important to know that hope and optimism about the possibility of recovery is not just `wishful thinking’. Rather it has been proven by clinical and neuroscientific research, as well as survivors’ stories of resilience and healing. The brain is neuroplastic; that means that it can change in both structure and function. 

We also know that supportive relationships and healthy interactions play a big role in any process of recovery – these are relationships with friends, family, neighbours, colleagues as well as professionals. And that just as negative interactions can be detrimental, positive interactions can assist healing and repair.

`That even those whose sense of self has been most brutally shattered can learn to reunite the broken parts of themselves and thereby heal, is a lesson that gives hope and wisdom to us all’ (Steinberg, 2001).

In our last edition of Breaking Free our lead article asked the question: “Is there a link between childhood trauma and addiction?” It detailed how addictions of all sorts are types of coping strategies people adopt to help soothe their distress and angst. The struggle of addiction related to childhood trauma has been depicted on screen in the recently released biopic about Elton John. Elton, a well-known celebrity had experienced abuse at home and the divorce of his parents. In a quote from the film, Egerton who plays Elton John says, “I'm Elton Hercules John and I’m an alcoholic, cocaine addict, sex addict, bulimic, shopaholic…”, that is… a whole range of addiction.

The following article talks about the ACE study and the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and addictions, as well as chronic pain in relation to this film.

Dr. Gabor Maté, who is quoted in the above article is a physician who specialises in the area of trauma and addiction. He believes that all addictions are grounded in trauma and emotional loss. Maté has developed a theory of addiction related to childhood abuse and its effects on the ability to process chemicals in the brain. According to Maté people become addicted as a replacement for the brain chemicals their own bodies fail to process.

Gabor, in his book In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction defines addiction as “any behaviour that a person craves, finds temporary relief or pleasure in but suffers negative consequences as a result of, and yet has difficulty giving up.” The story of Elton John shows his struggle with many addictions.  

While the ACE study focusses on 10 different categories of childhood trauma, including abuse, neglect, family violence and growing up with a parent with a mental illness or their own addictions, it is now apparent that the situation is still more complex. This includes the compounding impacts of adverse community experiences such as poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunity, community disruption, violence (Ellis and Dietz, 2017).  Adverse childhood experiences and adverse social and community environments can interact to exacerbate trauma and affect resilience.

In Gabor Maté's article, he speaks personally about his own trauma, not one of which were ACEs but which impacted him all the same and were passed onto him across the generations. 

Recent research “has not only chronicled the existence of intergenerational trauma but has demonstrated some of the epigenetic, molecular, and biochemical mechanisms responsible for such transmission” (Levine, 2015: 161)

Trauma can be transferred from the generation who directly experienced or witnessed the trauma to the next. This is intergenerational trauma. Trauma can also be transferred not only to the next generation but to subsequent generations (Atkinson et al. 2010) and is known as transgenerational trauma (Atkinson, 2002). 

For example, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, transgenerational trauma extends well beyond the person and their family and includes the historical and ongoing effects of colonialism, dispossession, racism and the Stolen Generation.

As Gabor Maté highlights, whole groups of people (e.g. holocaust survivors, refugees and asylum seekers) also experience collective and transgenerational trauma. Collective trauma is trauma which happens to large groups and which can cross generations and communities. 

Regardless of the origin of the trauma it is possible to find a path to healing and building resilience is paramount. This involves finding a sense of safety - both for each individual and for parents and their children, communities and groups. This can be fostered through safe healthy relationships and making sense of one’s experience over time so each person, and each family and community, can build a story which captures their experience and their path to recovery. 

Judy Atkinson captures this well speaking in the context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities: ‘‘the creation of safe places for sharing where the unspeakable can be given voice, where feelings can be felt, and where sense can be made out of what seemed previously senseless’’ (Atkinson J, 2002). As relationships grow a sense of connection and belonging can follow, and so too a sense of agency and empowerment – for each person and their communities. And always holding onto the hope that it can and will be better for you, and for those you care about… and when you can’t hold the hope to reach out and connect with someone who can support you along the way. 

To find support and possible referrals call the Blue Knot Helpline on 1300 657 380 between 9am and 5pm AEST seven days or email helpline@blueknot.org.au 


 


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Survivor Workshop Appeal


It’s not too late to donate to our annual Survivor Educational Workshop appeal, if you haven’t already. Many of the people who Blue Knot Foundation supports have experienced complex trauma in childhood – abuse, neglect and the impact of growing up with other adverse childhood experiences. In fact, 1 in 4 adult Australians have experienced childhood trauma, abuse and neglect.


This appeal highlights the need for and value of workshops which provide information which helps survivors understand the connection between what happened to them in the past and their current struggles, while providing strategies for their everyday lives.

Blue Knot Foundation provides these workshops around the country at no cost to attendees. We hope to raise enough funds to deliver 8 full-day workshops for up to 30 attendees each, for adults who have experienced childhood trauma, abuse and neglect – one in each state and territory. 

If funding permits, we will also extend 4 workshops, free of charge to family, friends and loved ones. Because those supporting survivors on their journey also need their own information and support. If you are supporting a loved one on their healing journey you might find the information here useful.

If you’re in a position to make a contribution to this appeal please see details here. Thank you for your support for fellow Australians in need.

 


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What can we do to help ground ourselves when we are feeling stressed or spaced out?


People who have experienced repeated trauma, violence or abuse can find themselves responding to triggering situations in different ways. This can vary from being hyper-aroused or agitated, anxious and easily startled to being hypo-aroused or numb and shut down.

When these responses occur, our thinking and problem-solving brain shuts down and our ancient reptilian brain takes over.  Much of the trauma that we have experienced is stored in our body. The tone of a person’s voice, a smell, a sound or a feeling might trigger us in a way that sometimes doesn’t make sense.

There is a zone which we call the ‘window of tolerance’ which is a space where we are able to manage what is happening around us in a way that allows our frontal cortex (thinking and problem solving brain) to stay engaged.  The optimal way of travelling through life is to be able to stay within our window of tolerance, as this enables us to function as well as we can.

One of the main techniques in helping us to stay within, and return to, the window of tolerance is called grounding techniques.  These techniques are used to help us move to the present moment and back to our bodies.

For this reason, we have developed the following suggestions for you to gently explore. As we are all unique and have different needs, we also all find different techniques useful. We hope that some of the following exercises will help support you to feel calmer and more present.

‘Grounding’ is the act of connecting more deeply and completely to the body, strengthening the feeling of being inside the body and connected to the ground or earth.

Being grounded is important for feeling centred and connected with your world. Some people find that grounding can help them feel less anxious or more present. The following exercises can help foster connection between the mind and body. You might find one or two that work for you, or you may choose to come back to them later on, if now is not a good time for you to focus on them.

As you explore the grounding exercises suggested here, remember, only to use the exercises with which you feel comfortable.

• Stop and listen to the world around you. Notice and silently name what you can hear nearby and in the distance.

• Stamp your feet. Notice the sensation and the sound as you connect with the ground.

• If you are sitting, feel the chair under you and the weight of your body and legs pressing down onto it.

• Focus on your breath - notice your in-breath - count as you exhale, and repeat. Be aware of your body relaxing.

• Look around the room and notice familiar objects and name them. 

• Have a special object on your bedside table - something soothing. Perhaps a photograph, memento from a holiday, a piece of nature…something that has a special meaning to you that is soothing. Look for this when you wake up and recall why you selected this object and how it makes you feel.

• Lying down, feel the contact between your head, your body and your legs. Notice where they touch the surface on which you are lying. Starting with your head, notice how each muscle feels, all the way down to your feet, on the soft or hard surface.

• Hold a mug of tea or hot drink in both hands and feel its warmth. Don’t rush, take small sips and take your time tasting each mouthful mindfully. Notice how you swallow and enjoy each sip. 

• Get up, walk around and take your time to notice each step as you take one then another.

• Clap and rub your hands together, hear the noise and feel the sensation in your hands and arms.

• Step outside, notice the temperature of the air and contrast this with inside. Feel the surface on which you’re walking, is it soft (grass, sand) or firm (concrete, pavers or bitumen)?

You might find it useful to record the sensations that you notice. If you engage in an activity it might help to reflect on that activity and notice how you feel. Do you feel calmer or more connected with your body? If you don’t or if you feel more stressed, leave this activity, for now. 

This activity has no right or wrong answers. Keeping a record or a journal writing down your observations may be useful and provide you with some activities you can revisit and also some observations that might assist you with understanding what works for you and what doesn’t.

What do you use to help ground you? 

What do you find helpful? 

What did you notice about yourself when you did these activities?

It might be a good idea to make your own list and keep it handy for those moments when you might need reminding. Some of these exercises are good to do anywhere when you start to feel triggered. Others you might want to do at home or in the right space. It does take time for these to start having a benefit. Like anything it is similar to exercising a muscle - it takes repeated efforts for it to grow strong.

If you’d like to read more about available support resources, you’ll find Fact Sheets, Videos and Book recommendations here.


 


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Disclaimer - Blue Knot Foundation makes every effort to provide readers of its website and newsletters with information which is accurate and helpful. It is not however a substitute for counselling or professional advice. While all attempts have been made to verify all information provided, Blue Knot Foundation cannot guarantee and does not assume any responsibility for currency, errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the information provided.