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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

My last boost covers something I don't think many consider when discussing childhood trauma. It alters the way the brain develops, the way it functions, and the way the entire body of the child operates. Approaches that are helpful to those who are not formed by toxic childhood stress can be actively harmful to those of us who are.

Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

In my case that was further layered by my autistic experience. I had to navigate a dangerous, chaotic, hostile world while at the same time desperate to be seen, to be accepted, to be loved.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

Too many discussions not only treat autism as something somehow distinct or separable from the autistic person, they treat masking or camouflaging as a fully conscious and volitional choice. Neither of those basic assumptions are true.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

Autism is the overarching label we use to describe the way my brain works, the way I experience my body and the world around me, and the way I interact with it. It's pervasive and intertwined with everything I can label 'Scott'. It's not a distinct condition the way celiac disease is. It simply describes how the way I am in the world is different from most other people.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

Masking or camouflaging, especially for a child like me at a time when autism was hardly known at all and the ways recognized autistic children were treated were especially horrific, are also internalized efforts to try to manage and mediate the reactions and responses directed toward us by all the people in the world with whom we interact.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

The end result of trying to find a way to be accepted is that we end up camouflaging everything that generates a negative response, anything wrong or broken, anything that appears to be a barrier to at least being unnoticed.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

And if we are also experiencing trauma, those reactions and responses go in the same bucket, which means they are often partially hidden from us as well. I experienced that and I've heard others describe similar things.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

People described a default human state as at least reasonably calm and relaxed when not reacting to anything specific. So early on, I took the default state of my body, labeled it calm and relaxed, and layered on the appropriate expressions, tone of voice, and body language I learned went with that state.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

And that meant over time, I couldn't see much of the effect of trauma in myself. Unless I lost control and became overwhelmed in a way I could not hold in, which I became better and better at avoiding, at least where anyone could see, I not only looked 'calm and relaxed' I *believed* I was on some level.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

But I never was and I mostly managed it by cutting out the signals from my body, especially when they became overpowering. I sought that sort of awareness, that practice my whole life, but my own defense mechanisms kept it from me.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

Imagine a moment of intense fear and panic. Try to remember the way your body felt in that moment.

Then imagine that your body never really leaves that state. It varies, but that's your normal.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

Now someone asks you to do something intended to make you *more* mindful of your physical, mental, and emotional state in an eternal moment.

What's the obvious result of that?

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

There is no easy path out and I'm still very much working on it. I had to understand that I was autistic, I had to identify the things I was camouflaging associated with autism. And finally I could see there were a lot of things left that were something else.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

But even doing that left me no way to stop my constant inner stress responses. Techniques and methods only help if you have time to recognize what's happening, select a strategy, and actually do it. I could often maintain my outer mask, though not always completely, but I had no such opportunity. In many ways, when triggered, I was no longer present.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

My mind deflected and defended me against attempts at mindfulness and exposure didn't happen because I could talk about things without feeling my body at all in controlled situations. It's why psychological evaluations and even therapy could never penetrate to my inner truth.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

And *I* wasn't even aware my mind was protecting me. I've always sought meditative practices as young as 12-13. Transcendental Meditation. Taoist meditation. Christian contemplative prayer, centering prayers. The list over the course of my life is endless.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

As all of that came to light, my therapist recommended a colleague to try EMDR. It's the first thing to ever make a dent. And even that has been unconventional.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

First we took a history, and mine is lengthy, then worked on 'safe place' which was very challenging for me. Remember, my body *never* feels safe.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

The first real EMDR attempt began with my first memory of trauma since that's the normal approach. In my case, those are the same as my first clear memories.

And those are the memories of 3 year old me being thrown across the kitchen into the handle of the refrigerator breaking my left femur, the trip to the hospital, the room where it was set, lying in traction, and finally walking in a full cast.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

I can normally recount it calmly. EMDR broke through my deeply layered protections, an undifferentiated wave of emotion broke out, and that immediately induced a full-blown panic attack. As in a can't breathe, feel suffocated, need to escape panic attack.

It "worked" but outside a safe therapeutic environment with someone with a lot of experience with trauma, that would have been disastrous.

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Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

@tmorizot wow yeah I think that's why I disliked some of the mindfulness meditation stuff I've done.

Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

@Laura_I And when you're autistic, you also often have the added complication of sensory hypersensitivities. Becoming more aware of the sensations and environmental input you're constantly managing can be overwhelming even absent traumatic stress reactions.

Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

@tmorizot Yeah sensory hypersensitivity is definitely the biggest part

Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

@tmorizot

Damn.

“The end result of trying to find a way to be accepted is that we end up camouflaging everything that generates a negative response, anything wrong or broken, anything that appears to be a barrier to at least being unnoticed.”

That got me. Your entire thread is something I could have wrote. Wow. It’s so incredibly cliche, but it is so powerful to not feel alone.

Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

@madisonlmc Yeah, it really is. For most of my life I didn't just see myself as broken, I felt *uniquely* broken. And that was hard in ways that difficult to articulate.

It's wonderful to feel less alone at the same time it's heartbreaking that other people truly understand and have felt what I feel.

Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

@tmorizot In therapy, if I am meant to bring up anything that I normally camouflage, I often go into a full shutdown. I’ve tried to explain it her as, “I don’t have a program in my mind built for this.”

It’s horrible and embarrassing and powerful, and I really truly don’t have a program for it, so I’m trying to figure it out. Especially, as noted bringing attention to your state of being which is stuck in trauma is horrifying.

Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

@madisonlmc Yes, I've done that plenty, especially in couples therapy. Not my explanation. I just get overwhelmed. And then feel shame over my failure to hold it together, that I can't even do therapy 'right'.

Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

@tmorizot this is imo a HUGE issue with conflict resolution and communication. I usually think about it in terms of student/teacher but I see it a lot just in like, social media squabbling. Language isn't universal and as individuals we fill in so much meaning between the lines without thinking about how differently others might color the same outlines.

Trauma, abuse, complex childhood PTSD 

@Jewbacchus Yes, very much so. As an autistic person, I'm deeply aware how much I miss and how many things are ascribed to me that bear no relationship to anything I think or meant to convey.

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