What happens between generations when we don’t self-regulate with compassion? – February 2014
The recent publication of research done showing that the offspring of mice that have been administered cannabis are in turn more vulnerable to choosing to use other drugs (oh lord) might have you wondering about 2nd generation effects of all kinds of things. Yes, apparently marijuana is a gateway drug, it only takes the birth of the next generation to open that gate. That’s part of what I’m thinking about this week, having spent the last 6 years watching substance abuse eat one of my family members whole.
Our human brains are born to live in warm community. Our whole bodies relax when we are understood. When we undergo difficult or painful events but are in relationship to supportive others, our bodies register far fewer and less intense stress reactions. Hills are less steep, electrical shocks don’t give us as much pain. (See the marvelous research of James A. Coan to see how this is being investigated and demonstrated.) When we grow up alone, without a sense of being supported, or when our family is torn from us, it’s like part of our own brain is missing. Humans were not created to function well as solitary units. And yet, everywhere we look, we see isolation rather than community, neutrality and efficiency rather than warmth, conversation about facts rather than about emotional experiences, and bewilderment about how to make things different.
I’ve spent today trying to figure out how to get my son into a different high school due to unavoidable complications, ricocheting from administrator to administrator. All of them have been quite warm, but until the last, all have been bewildered and have simply said no. I have been reduced to tears in some offices, have managed to keep things together in others, and have been calling my friends on my cell phone in between meetings and offices so that I could keep going. Finally in the last office, the woman said to me, when she heard that the district office had turned me away, “I can’t imagine how hard it must be to do this without the district.” She made clear recommendations for action no matter what happened with my petition. My body relaxed for the first time since the issue came to light. There was a way to look into a comprehensible future. And receiving this combination of warmth, acknowledgment and advice (such a lovely integration of being and doing), I had an inkling that maybe my case deserved advocacy. This felt a little revolutionary. I sat with the unusual feeling of having some solid ground under my feet, and was heartened to reach back out to the district with another appeal. This time they took the matter out of my hands. It turned out that with my persistent journey I had unknowingly met their prerequisites for providing support. And I would never have made it back to them without the kindness along the way, the phone care from my friends, and the sweet combination of presence and advice from the last woman on the path.
When we don’t know how to negotiate our way through a system with its own rules and protocols, we can feel very small and ashamed. We are inadvertently returned to the powerlessness and bewilderment of childhood. If there was alcohol or substance abuse in our home, then the bewilderment of the child trying to find his or her way through is even more intense, and there may be epigenetic effects to work with as well as old trauma. If we can get caught up in old confusion like this, we may need the support of our own home community to keep persisting, and to be able to stay self-regulated enough to continue to act, rather than dropping into the dorsal vagal “Freeze” reflex of hopelessness. If we don’t have warm community support to regulate us as we move through life, and to receive us with acknowledgment and healing in the aftermath of trauma, then our other option for regulation is to repeat the choices of previous generations and use substances or behaviors which often lead right into addiction.
Some time ago I received a request from a member of this extended IPNB-interested community to focus specifically on alcohol and the effects of growing up as the child of an alcoholic, and create a sort of IPNB-inspired ACoA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) teleseminar. I have put it off many times, trying to understand how to approach it. After thinking about it for a year and a half, I finally feel like I have enough solid ground under my feet to attempt to talk about the interweaving of alcohol, self-regulation, epigenetics and multi-generational trauma that most of us have somewhere in our family background.