How Childhood Trauma Fuels Enlightenment

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
--Mathew 5:3

Writing about childhood adversity, often a depressing topic, appeals to me because I know recovery is possible. What’s more, I believe those of us from traumatic backgrounds are well positioned to approach what spiritual disciplines call enlightenment (or realization, awakening, etc). This may sound surprising, but I’ve seen evidence for it in myself and others.

My younger years felt poisoned with dissatisfaction,...


When Childhood Drives Us to Drink

It’s hard to get enough of something that almost works.
--Vincent Felitti, MD

Adverse childhood experience (ACE) grows out of a family system. No member escapes unscathed. Thus it’s not surprising that my older sister, Janice, suffered trauma’s aftereffects along with me.

As a boy I admired Janice. Her concern for me softened the impact of hardship. Unfortunately, in adolescence she gravitated toward risky habits. She drank alcoholically and took so much LSD she suffered a psychotic...


The Creative Response to Trauma

Suicide is, after all, the opposite of a poem.
--Anne Sexton
We’ve become accustomed to celebrities dying from self-destructive behavior. Media commentators often ascribe the tragic end of young, promising lives to the temptations of sudden fame and wealth. However, there may be a darker story behind such deaths. British researchers have documented a relationship between childhood adversity and the demise of music stars.

The romantic notion of the passionate, unstable artist captures popular imagination....


From Misery to Mission

To ease another's heartache is to forget one's own.
--Abraham Lincoln

Despite interests that included writing, ecology, and neurobiology, in my early twenties I decided to enter a helping profession. Given my history of adverse childhood experience (ACE), this choice was predictable. Those from traumatic backgrounds often favor helping careers. For instance, nursing students report greater ACE history than those in unrelated fields. For many, including myself, clinical work engages caretaking habits developed during chaotic childhoods.

Eventually, I...


Recovering from Childhood Adversity

Note: The following essay was initially written as part of a fourteen article series for the Center for Post Trauma Wellness (CPTW) website, where most of the pieces are already online. The CPTW site is new and has yet to build up much traffic. In the interest of both finding a larger audience for this project and also giving CPTW some exposure, I am going to post the series here. Although the world is full of suffering, it is...


Letter from the Brink of Sanity

How to tell a story that has no beginning and no end? A tale that was ongoing before you were born and continues to this day?

Choose an episode that pressed your first footprints on some new path. Like the time you landed in a mental hospital. Not the first time, when you were bent on squeezing the life out of your sad, broken body, but the second. The time you saw God, or...


The Shocking Truth of Suicide?

You publish something online about feeling suicidal, and you quickly realize the topic upsets people. After the last essay, posted both here and on my personal site (WillSpirit!) I received many kind emails and comments, which was sweet and gratifying. But I also heard some expressions of alarm.

Since suicidal depression has haunted my life since my mother died in a psychiatric hospital when I was six, it hardly shocks me. But the...


Dying to Stay Alive

Standing in the morgue, looking down at the chill steel slab, I see my own face. It looks exactly like me, the way my sister's looked exactly like her when I viewed her body eighteen months ago. Exactly the same, but utterly alien too. Not her, not me at all.

Lest anyone believe me fully healed, beyond the reach of misery, know that a week ago I felt closer to suicide than at anytime in...


I Think, therefore I Feel?

We suffer for our ideas. Here are some of the concepts that can make me miserable: "I haven't lived up to my potential;" "I don't have enough friends;" "I'll be alone in old age;" "No one takes me seriously."

These thoughts are prompted by my personal history and situation, but they amount to vague and ungrounded fears. (How is potential defined? How many friends equals enough? Can I be sure about the future? How would I...


Where Mindfulness Fails

Over cups of coffee a few days ago, my friend Larry Berkelhammer and I discussed mindfulness meditation. For some reason, I felt moved to criticize Western mindfulness instruction as "derivative." Larry served as a good foil to my rant, since as explained in the 'About Dr. Berkelhammer' section of his website, he has a long, distinguished history of practicing mindful meditation and teaching it to those with chronic illness.

Let me...