In 2015 selfies killed more people worldwide than Mt. Everest. I might put selfies and climbing Mt. Everest in the same category: legendary pursuit of personal epicness probably in an effort to fill the gaping emotional pothole in our soul. According to research on adverse childhood experiences in America, which is limited to the hurtful events recognized by dominant culture and properly reported, roughly 70% of the population has experienced some form of childhood trauma, though I would suggest this percentage is higher; a limited and exclusive estimate, but it’s a start. The official study, conducted by two smart, privileged white men identified the ten most qualified ways a child can be hurt. In no particular order the offenses are: parents who get divorced, die or abandon us in some way, having a parent with a mental illness, having a parent who’s a drug addict or alcoholic, watching our parents abuse each other, being physically or sexually abused, being emotionally or psychologically abused, being emotionally, or physically neglected or having a parent who does not pass go, does not collect $200 and ended up in jail. Not considered in the original study are poverty, childhood medical traumas like cancer, the death of a sibling, exposure to community violence (I’ve seen a mailbox used as a weapon. Just sayin.) war, discrimination, oppression, disability, fame or anything else that might otherwise terrify, invalidate, exploit or ignore the essence of the tiny person you were and what you needed to feel safe and loved in the world. The study goes on to explain these tragic events cause us to run wild and adopt risky behaviors which makes us sick and then we die long before our time. It goes on to offer hope suggesting as a result of our collective awareness we can tap into inner strengths both as individuals and communities, heal our hurts and break generational (I’d love to add systemic) chains of dysfunction. My stepfather once asked me if people eat Suzy Q’s, watch porn and smoke pot not because of trauma but just because they like it and it feels good. He’s in a long term relationship with cigarettes and I’m very, very jealous. Sort of. I’m addicted to control; my spirit animal’s probably a boa constrictor. The truth is, being stubborn in either extremes is deadly so we both win. The answer to his question, according to me is no. I’m inclined to believe every behavior we choose serves to protect our ego or sense of safe existence in the world, even if it happens to come with giant warning labels, huge price tags because in some way it replicates or reproduces the experience of secure attachment, also known as love.
When we’re born and our mother is bonding with us both of our brains are releasing vasopressin, a specific hormone that regulates bodily fluids, induces powerful feelings of protection and prevents diabetes. As if that weren’t enough, the presence of vasopressin disrupts our dad’s testosterone levels, making him want to be part of the love fest between baby and mom. The more he responds to the chemicals being released, the more he wants to stay faithful to his partner and protect baby. Similar studies have been done in same sex parents and the relational cocktail is essentially the same. Vasopressin is sometimes called the monogamy hormone because it produces a potent desire to remain committed to that one special person, always and forever. Guess what else stimulates the release of this very important, protective, nurturing, balancing hormone? Smoking cigarettes. This is just one of many chemical releases we can get from drugs or behaviors we might use to replace our need for human or spiritual connection. I’m inclined to think we’re wired to prefer the quality of one over the other which could explain why we can never get enough of the fix we chase to replace being loved. Philip Morris doesn’t want you to know this and neither do his advertisers cause I’m about to give away another secret. Ads for products we don’t need like designer alcohol, diamonds, sports cars, Jimmy Choo’s and fast food intentionally create messages that light up the oldest, most vulnerable part of our brain; the part where our primal self lives which is called our reptilian brain. The only thing our inner lizard wants to know is, can I eat it, get pleasure from it or will it kill me. When we’re born it’s all we have. This part of our brain is the Me, our naked, vulnerable, unloved, super needy, immature, cold, primal Self. We come into the world a blank canvas that eats and poops. Interaction with and being cared for by our parents from the day we’re born is what helps calm and satiate our primal brain, allowing all the other parts to grow and develop. We begin life with a Me brain, as in it’s all about Me. Then between grade school and high school our We brain is slowly being cultivated. This is the part of us that notices and begins to consider other people in relation to our self because by now if we had healthy, loving, protective caregivers for roughly 18 years we can start thinking about, maybe even care about the needs of people who are not us without being told, asked or praised for doing it. Great job sharing, Mason! You get a treasure. It’s also the part of the brain vulnerable to catching feelings which, if we’re insecure or unsure is why we prefer to objectify Tinderellas rather than risking rejection. Understanding this helps make sense of The Breakfast Club, homophobia, racism, prostitution, lying, genocide and The Super Bowl. Our brain stem is very basic and likes clearly defined rules and simple explanations: Boys pee here. Girls pee here. What the heck is a unicorn? Until we mature as either an individual, group, community or culture we attempt to win in some kind of way so as to secure our position and access to the majority of available resources. The available resources our primal brain are motivated to seek are pleasure, food and belonging-which has culturally manifested as visible symbols of staus (so we can be assured we get pleasure and food, power). Soccer Mom of a Harvard Kid. State Champs. Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybeline. Ignite Something. He went to Jared. Have it Your Way. They’re Grrreat! King of Beers. Alive with Pleasure! Finger Lickin’ Good. I’m Lovin’ It. Be All You Can Be. Just Do It. It’s not until our mid to late 20’s that our See brain is fully developed if it’s been prompted to grow by safe, consistent caregivers, teachers, appropriate physical touch and congruent, culturally reinforced messaging. What I call the See brain is where self-control, planning, the ability to set and execute long-term goals, conscientiousness and objective thinking live. If our basic needs aren’t met, we’re mistreated, harmed or unable to bond with a safe caregiver we may not fully develop these other parts of our brain. Our grown-up brain also turns off when we’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired. That’s H.A.L.T to my 12 steppers. If we live in a family or community where selfishness is the norm and scarcity is perceived act now! we might learn to lie, cheat, steal, manipulate and hoard as a means of ensuring our survival, the same things a cute toddler does to deflect parental rejection but still get the cookie. Don’t worry. We aren’t powerless to the whims of our brain stem. Though we prefer it: aka I can’t adult today.
I should clarify this isn’t about blaming addiction on parents, though I wish as a whole we valued living beings more. It’s not about blame at all. It’s about trying to understand why so many of us are screaming like we’re on fire out of a seemingly chronic, increasingly insatiable need to matter and feel safe. I’m personally finding hope in the places where science and faith run into each other like two unsuspecting would-be lovers on a Spring day in the park. Science has now proven meditation, yoga, prayer, spending time in nature and even certain musical notes grow, re-generate and strengthen the part of our brain where higher consciousness lives, even if it’s been damaged. By higher consciousness I mean our inner, responsible, confident, non-violent, creative problem solving, reality-accepting grown-up who can wait patiently in line, save money and think before acting or speaking. Since my anorexia relapse I’ve noticed a pattern; when I feel a request for help, understanding or reassurance is rejected or I can’t see a solution I want to smoke, go hungry, withdraw and otherwise punish myself for having needs I don’t know how to manage. Becoming invisible, useless, needless and numb has always been the seductive hook of shrinking. Well, that and the super power to reject food, detach from feelings and become painfully skinny. I know I’m guilty of being more attached to my weight than people. In the absence of a reliable person, myself included, dying has felt like a reasonable option. The disease shuts down your appetite not just for food, but for life too. Turning myself on always led to terrifying thoughts of reckless consumption or performance failure of some kind that would thrust me back into poverty, danger. Starving is like an emotional seat belt. When I look at the world I see a mind-less hunger for love driving behaviors and choices which never seem to fill us up. In many ways, even the best loved among us are set up to fail, at least in westernized cultures where capitalist media has a presence and continues to send the message that without the image they’re selling us we’re pretty worthless even when we really, truly are ok. Instead of going down to self-destruction and reacting to perceived rejection let’s go up. Maybe getting high meant starving, winning, people pleasing, power tripping, insert your fix here. In healing and recovery getting high means accessing our higher brain and a higher power; someone to love us when we might be struggling to love ourselves. From a place of compassionate mindfulness we go above a limited perception and instead of trying to shrink or expand our self we learn to shrink the problem, become aware of new choices by rising above whatever it is. Our self and the world become simultaneously expanded and more manageable, as do our needs and wants. Borrow the will of divine love and never go hungry.
Edward’s swing and Mabel’s table They asked for nothing and gave everything Because He loved us first