Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: Ten Tips to Help You Weather the Storm

Sandy is a big unsexy monster ready to pound the East Coast. Here are some tips for surviving the storm and its aftermath.

1) Don’t be afraid to get help! This is no time for pride. NGO’s and government assistance programs exist to help people in need. Helping in emergencies is a core function of government (and your taxes) and, indeed, a mark of a civilized society. If you wait too long to get help you may end up inconveniencing and/or endangering yourself, those around you or those who can help you. It’s really OK. We all need assistance some time in our lives. Maybe it’s your turn.

2) FEMA is a great resource. Many states along the Mid-Atlantic and the East Coast have shelters open in response to Hurricane Sandy. Search for an open shelter by texting SHELTER + a zip code to 43362 (4FEMA). You can also download the FEMA disaster app for the device of your choosing here:

3) RED CROSS (NGO) is over 130 years old and helps approximately 70,000 people a year survive and thrive after disasters. Be prepared: From your mobile phone, call "**REDCROSS" (**73327677) and they will send you a link to download the app to your phone or you can download them directly from the iTunes or Google Play app stores. If you don’t need them, great. But if you do, you will have their information at the ready! Use them; you can always make a donation later.

4) Know where your local homeless shelter is. Up and down the East Coast homeless shelters have been expanding services. If your home or apartment becomes unlivable during the storm, go there! Here is a link for all the homeless shelters in the state of New York:

5) Find a church. Any church. Whether you are a believer or not. Churches have been gearing up for this storm for days. They don’t care about the state of your belief or non-belief. They just want to help. Let them.

6) Make sure you stay on any and all medications! If you run out or something happens, get more at your local Emergency Room. When I worked on the no-name storm (aka Perfect Storm) one of the biggest problems was people who had lost or gone off of their medication. You can become disoriented and ill quickly going off some medications suddenly. Set timers and be sure you stay on schedule! Time gets wonky when there is a big storm or emergency happening. If you have to evacuate suddenly, make your medications a priority in packing!

7) Keep yourself busy and happy. Storms bring unexpected bonuses in terms of companionship, comraderie, time off, clearing of pollution, quiet, relief from inane media, and neighborliness. In the no-name storm, people who ventured out onto the beach after the storm found hundreds of flash-frozen lobsters ready for the picking!

8) Check on your neighbors – especially those who are infirm, elderly or who have children. You might become somebody’s patron saint!

9) Don’t do work beyond your capacity (be a foolish hero). There is an abundance of emergency workers on call for power outages, health emergencies, etc. Let them do their work as professionals. You do them the biggest favor by staying out of their way and keeping yourself safe.

10) Don’t panic over material goods. There are many resources available to help you build your life and home back after the storm. One of these is the Small Business Administration. According to their website: “The SBA provides low interest disaster loans to homeowners, renters businesses of all sizes and private, nonprofit organizations to repair or replace real estate, personal property, machinery & equipment, inventory and business assets that have been damaged or destroyed in a declared disaster."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Halloween: A Tough Season for Ritual Abuse Survivors

Ritual Abuse. Yes, it’s real. Yes, I know there are many of you white knuckling your way through October. Hang on!

For an unfortunate but larger than you might think number of Americans, Halloween is a time that activates ritual abuse memories and/or programming.
I know nobody talks about this. Therapists have been running scared since the sham lawsuits and harassment of the last two decades by the now discredited False Memory Foundation.

But I’m here to tell you , it’s real. And I feel for all of you who have been hurt in this fashion.

Ritual Abuse (RA) survivors have a unique set of triggers. Because so many are abused in rituals around Halloween (Satanic and Witchcraft ceremonial time) these triggers can get very activating. In some cases, there may be programming to return to the cult for ceremony. These internally installed prompts may be conscious or, more likely, unconscious especially for those who are still under cult control and connection.

If you think you may be a ritual abuse survivor, you may want to check out this page of Ellen Lacter, Ph.D.’s comprehensive RA survivor website,

If you know you are, here are some reminders:

~ know that Halloween programming and compulsions will pass right after the “holiday”

~ surround yourself with safe friends

~ plan to make extra appointments with your therapist

~ go on a media fast until the end of the month

~ take extra good care of yourself and your “littles” this month

~ affirm your own inherent spirituality unrelated to any rituals

Know that there are many of us out here wishing you safety, healing and freedom. Take good care of yourself!

Monday, October 8, 2012

ACE (Adverse Childhood Events): The Most Important Trauma Study You’ve Never Heard About

In order to understand why his obesity patients were dropping out of a successful weight loss program, Dr. Vincent Felitti dived into their medical records and interviews for clues. What he found launched a several year study that has enrolled more than 17,000 people. These patients were talking about incest, abuse and neglect, extreme adversity in their childhoods.

The Centers for Disease Control and Dr. Felitti with Kaiser Permanente launched a study to look at adverse childhood events and their effect on health and longevity over the lifespan.

What is an adverse childhood event? For the purposes of the study it is:

- sexual abuse
- physical abuse
- emotional abuse
- physical neglect
- emotional neglect
- a home where the mother was treated violently
- substance abuse in the home
- mental illness in the home
- parental separation or divorce
- one or more parents imprisoned

Count up the categories that apply to you. That gives you your ACE score. Anything above 4 predisposes people to substance abuse, dysfunction and health issues among other things. People with the highest scores died on average 20 years earlier than people with low ACE scores. (For more information about the mechanisms of these effects see my earlier blog posts on the HPA Axis.)

You can check out more information about the study here. Highly recommended reading for everyone: those of us who suffered difficult childhoods, caregivers, treaters and public policy setters.

This can feel overwhelming as we delve into the truth. The good news is that we are beginning to finally come to terms with the widespread effects of trauma and PTSD and the need to heal from it!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Help! My Partner Has PTSD: Seven Strategies for Coping as a Couple

If you are partnered with someone who is struggling with PTSD or you both have PTSD, you know your life together is challenged in some very profound ways. Fights can be explosive, resulting in fireworks or endless stony silences. Misunderstandings can abound. The non-PTSD partner may start to develop secondary or vicarious trauma just being exposed to the intense PTSD in their loved one. Life can start to feel very unpredictable, like threading one’s way through a minefield. It can be easy to start walking on eggshells or conversely getting fed up and moving away from each other. Love and connection are harder to feel. PTSD challenges couples like nothing else. Waiting it out doesn’t work and neither do threats or force. What to do?

1) Educate yourself. PTSD is a whole body process that affects every aspect of the human being. It has predictable stages (see my book, The Trauma Tool Kit) and effects on the person and the partnership. You would educate yourself if your partner had a major medical illness, right? This is no different. Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes.

2) Set some clear boundaries around behavior in the relationship. Just because someone is suffering does not give them the right to be abusive. The anger/fear response is hardwired and amped up in full-blown PTSD. Often people with PTSD dissociate when they are angry and don’t even realize what they are doing. Sit down with your partner, ahead of time, and set rules for what is tolerable and allowed in the relationship and what is not. These can change over time depending on where each of you and your life circumstance. For instance, shouting might be OK if it is just the two of you, but if you have a child in the next room, shouting can become off-limits behavior. Violence or abusive behavior is never to be tolerated under any circumstances.

3) Learn to take time-outs, or, as we call them around here, amygdala resets. Your amygdala is the part of your brain that is the crisis response center. When it goes on red alert it highjacks the brain to deal with threats, whether real or perceived. With the amygdala in the red zone, people are very close to being out of control or they are out of control. Taking 20 minutes, the average reset time, to reboot the brain for both parties, will lend itself to a more peaceful and safe outcome. Either partner should be able to call time-out at any time. Be sure to make it a time out not an end to the discussion. Always come back together to resolve the issue at hand. If it is just too explosive get into couple’s therapy. Which reminds me…

4) Get into couple’s therapy! More research is showing that couple’s treatment can be very helpful in coping with PTSD. Individual therapy is great, but couple’s issues are complex and require their own special interventions. Not all therapists like to do or can do couples’ work well. Look for someone with previous education and training or with a degree in family work, who also is knowledgeable about trauma. Even a few sessions can make a tremendous difference. If you are worried about money (and who isn’t these days) know that there are many organizations that provide these services for low and no cost. If you are a veteran or married to one, you may be even more eligible. If money is still on your mind, remind yourself of how expensive divorces are, as long as you both shall live.

5) Study triggers together. Big rages and emotional swings are almost always brought on by triggers to PTSD. A trigger can be anything at all. I worked with a couple whose partner was an Iraq war veteran. He became severely triggered one afternoon by three events happening in close succession: he saw someone in the parking lot of the restaurant with camouflage clothing; he got a freeze headache, and he got closed in when more people joined his table. The clothing and feeling of being trapped are obvious triggers, the freeze headaches not so much. But it turned out he’d had a number of them in the desert, and it had become a trigger. The more triggers you figure out together, in the calm times, the easier it becomes to avoid setting the PTSD partner off, or resolving it more quickly if you do. This is an empowering step that often brings couples closer together. In this case, the couple avoided, what would have been in the past an angry meltdown on his part. His partner then could respond with concern and compassion.

6) Make healing PTSD a joint task in your relationship. Strategize together. Discuss medical options. Open up lines of trust and communication. Often a spouse or partner is the only person to tell one’s story to with complete safety and trust. Don’t avoid the issues just because your partner wants to. Avoidance is part of the disease of PTSD. Don’t collude with it.

7) Join together in mental and physical fitness. Develop couple’s routines around calming down the mind and body on a daily basis. This could be through prayer, meditation, tai chi, yoga, or long walks. The evidence is pouring in daily about the beneficial effects of calming techniques on PTSD. You will both be better for it!