Horror Jingle Bells: A Holiday Special

Guess what! It’s almost Halloween! And after that–It’s Christmas! This is the time of year with the best holidays. I love them both so much, and I honestly can’t decide which I like better.

However, I do not like to mix them . . . much.

This Chuck and Beans cartoon from Shoebox Blog is too funny!

But one thing Christmas has going for it is music. There is some awesome Halloween music, but none of it really the kind you sing while trick-or-treating or partying. The two lines in Chuck and Bean’s Halloween jingle bells inspired me to write a full version . After all, why should Christmas be the only holiday with group songs?

So, for your pleasure, I give you Horror Jingle Bells:

For true chilling effect, the song should be sung with the voices of the children from Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas

For true chilling effect, the song should be sung with the voices of the children from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

Verse 1:
Dashing through the woods
With monsters on my heels,
Or hiding in my bed
From unseen hands I feel.
Chilling laughter rings
Across the darkest night;
Neglected toys and dollies spring
Into vengeful life.

Chorus:
Oh! Jingle bells, open hell,
Demons come to play!
Run and hide from chainsaw guys,
But don’t go in that place!
Hey!
Jingle bells, midnight knell,
Vampires roam the street.
Eye of you in witch’s brew.
It’s Halloween this week!

Verse 2:
A day or two ago,
I thought I’d take a ride,
But soon a phantom guest
Was seated by my side.
The horse was mean and gaunt;
Its eyes were red and crazed.
It rushed into a haunted mine
And vanished in the haze.

Chorus

Verse 3:
A day or two ago,
Confession I must make,
I visited a long-lost friend
And raised him from his grave.
The voodoo spell had worked,
But now I pay the price.
He is not what he used to be;
I’ve raised a demon wight!

Chorus

Verse 4:
The night is dark and young.
Enjoy it while you can.
No trick has yet been sprung,
And treats are in your hand.
But take my kind advice–
Don’t tempt your fate too much.
Don’t drink, have sex, or stay alone
Until the season’s done!

Chorus

 

Advertisements

Supporting a Loved One Through PTSD or Panic Attacks

This cartoon (from Robot Hugs), in my opinion, illustrates the perfect way to handle every PTSD or anxiety episode. If I could actually live inside a blanket fort forever, I would.

Unfortunately, flashbacks, panic attacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, memories, triggers, and all those other lovely things that survivors have to live with don’t have the courtesy to always wait for blanket forts to be available.

It’s scary for the person experiencing the attack, but it’s also scary for any loved ones who are trying to comfort and support someone through an attack.

This post is for the supporters.

Often in the midst of the episode, the distressed person doesn’t necessarily have their full vocabulary and can’t articulate exactly what they need in that moment. Afterwards, they may avoid talking about it out of embarrassment, fear, or a desire to preserve the peacefulness of the present.

So how do you learn what is helpful?

If you’re like my partner, mostly through trial and error. However, this cartoon inspired me to draw up a list of tips, taking from my own preferences as well as those of some friends. They’re not universal, but they’re a starting point, I think, for the right mindset.

Safety

Usually when someone is having an episode, they’re not actually in danger. Their body just thinks they are in danger. The first step to helping anyone is to remind them of their safety. It seems obvious, but just telling them they’re going to be okay can alleviate some of the stress of what’s happening.

However, please note that reassuring someone they are okay is not the same thing as minimizing the trigger or their response. Making fun of the trigger, ordering them to stop, scoffing at their response—those will exacerbate the situation rather than help it, and you may find yourself on the do-not-trust list in the future.

Anchoring

Someone who is experiencing a flashback or panic attack needs to have something to hold onto, to bring them back to themselves, and to put them in the present moment.

Jess M. mentions that shuffling cards, counting toothpicks, and other similar tasks helps her.

Dani, in her post from Friday, writes how important breath is in grounding. “Tell me to breathe, and then deliberately breathe for me so I have a rhythm to focus on and match.”

To be honest, telling me to breathe would probably make me swear at you. I prefer to have the “first aid box” that my therapist inspired me to create.  It’s filled with a range of things like incense, pictures, or slips of paper with quotes on them. Depending on what my trigger is, different things will speak to me at different times.

Obviously, these anchoring techniques differ from individual to individual and from situation to situation, but the goal is to gently engage the senses in a way that brings them back to the “here and now.”

Touch (Use with extreme caution!)

Touch can be one of the most beneficial ways of supporting someone through an episode, or it can be one of the most impairing. Touch is going to be incredibly specific to personal preferences and situations.

Dani states, “Sometimes it grounds me and gives me a point of reference. But I need whoever is with me to pay very very close attention to my body language when they touch me. Often I’m not able to speak to tell you whether where your touching is okay, and probably the only hint you’ll get that your touch is bad is that I’ll tense up all over.”

I like to be touched for the most part, but if touch brought on the panic attack (someone hugging me from behind or touching me without permission), then touch makes me practically feral. Sometimes I like to be cocooned in my partner’s arms so that I feel like nothing else can get to me. Other times, I desperately need to feel like I’m not trapped.

If you’re close to the person you’re trying to support, chances are you know whether they prefer touch or not. If you don’t know the person all that well, it may be better to just avoid touch altogether.

However, regardless of whether you know them or not, it’s always best to ask permission before touching. “Is it okay if I put my hand on your back?” “Is it okay if I hug you?” “Is it okay if I hold your hand?”

This is particularly important for anyone who has a history of sexual trauma or abuse since touch has so often been used to hurt.

Recuperation

Once the storm settles down, there are still residual effects. Don’t expect things to jump back to normal immediately. Fatigue usually follows, both physically and emotionally.

Some people, like Dani, will prefer spectator activities that don’t require much engagement. Others, like Angela and Jess M. prefer absorbing activities like reading or organizing. I tend to go for animated movies with happy endings or card games. However, Keith, John, and Jess D. all expressed that quiet was important for their recuperation.

Dani highlights the importance of providing simple options to choose from and of introducing those options slowly. Perhaps start out with some quiet sitting or some calm music, then in a little while suggest a few non-taxing activities that the person typically enjoys. Blanket forts are good here if you can build one.

Talk

Like touch, talking can be either good or bad.

Carol P. tells me that questions make things worse for her.

Machelle expresses that, “Sometimes I go deep inside of myself and I don’t come out until I have ‘it’ figured out. Other times I need to talk, talk, talk it all out.”

It’s a good idea to ask if they want to talk about what they’re feeling, thinking, or experiencing. Give them a lot of space to speak up because it can take a long time for someone to work up the courage to talk about their anxieties or traumas.

But don’t push.

It’s not necessary for you, the supporter, to know what is going on in order to lend support. Sometimes, the fact that you’re willing to sit there in silence, comfortable with not knowing, is enough to get someone to open up. It’s like a signal that tells them that you’re not going to push them for information they don’t feel comfortable giving, nor are you going to become so impatient with their process that you leave them hanging.

But even if they never tell you what was going on in their world at the time, that’s okay. They need that space, that right to keep their truth to themselves. It may feel like you’re abandoning them in their emotions, but respecting them in their choice not to talk is more supportive than forcing them to disclose.

Plan ahead

I hope that this post has given you some ideas of how you can support your loved one through crises, but the most important thing you can do to support someone is talk about it ahead of time. Let them know that you are interested in supporting them and ask them to articulate what they need in those times. Maybe even compile a first aid box together.

(And if you’re the person in need of support, don’t be afraid to send this post to your supporters and start a discussion of what the best way to support you would be).

Disclaimer: These tips are based on my own preferences as well as the feedback of several others who volunteered information for this post. They are not based on an official model of crisis management and should not be used as professional training. Their value comes from the direct feedback of those who are living with PTSD or panic attacks, but they are neither universal nor comprehensive. If you have a loved one with PTSD or panic attacks, I encourage you to get some educational books as well. Having more information will help you be a better supporter. 

This post is copyrighted. While I love it when others share my blog, I’ve come across several places where over half of this blog entry has been copied onto other websites without proper authorization or citation. I don’t think it’s been done maliciously, but it does violate my copyright. A sentence or two as a quote is fine as long as it clearly references Sometimes Magical as the author/source, but if you wish to use a paragraph or more for any reason (and linking doesn’t seem to suffice for your needs), my authorization is needed. I’m willing to work with other blogs or websites that wish to use my material as long as the proper form is followed with regard to credit and permission. You can refer to my Copyright policy if you have any questions. This blog entry represents alot of hard work, both on my end and on others’. Please respect me and those who contributed to this post by not stealing or misusing our words. Thank you! ❤

Trauma Addiction: Freud Would Be Proud

There’s a certain trauma theory that I’ve come across a few times in the last few years that disturbs me—trauma addiction. That’s not trauma and addiction. That’s addiction to trauma.

I’ve mostly seen it come from people uncomfortable with the pain of trauma when they make statements like, “Why do you insist on reliving it?” or “You need to just let go.” I’ve only encountered in in one professional therapist that I went to briefly.

Several days ago, though, I came across the theory of trauma addiction in Psycholotical Trauma by Dr. Bessel A. van der Kolk. I guess I had just assumed it was the expression of ignorance, but to find that it’s supported in some psychological circles was truly shocking.

As both a survivor and someone who is studying trauma, I feel very uncomfortable with this theory for a number of reasons.

For one, the theory seems to make some huge assumptive leaps. In the book, van der Kolk lists the following examples of trauma addiction to support his point:

“Voluntary reexposure to trauma is very common. Veterans may enlist as mercenaries or seek other dangerous occumpations; incest survivors may become prostitutes; abused children may expose themselves to dangerous situations or engage in physically self-destructive behaviors.” (van der Kolk, 73).

He later even refers to a study that he himself did (but didn’t publish) that found a significant number of war vets who watch war movies.

The problem is that he goes from describing behavior to determining motivation without any supporting evidence to show that the behavior stems from that particular motivation (an unaccepted enthymeme fallacy). How could he possibly know why all war vets enlist as mercenaries? Or why they watch war movies for that matter?

It seems that these vets are caught in a double bind. If they voluntarily continue with the occupation they’re trained in, then they’re “addicted.” However if they do something that countless other people are able to do without being pathologized (watch movies), they’re still “addicted.”

The second example bothers me even more though. It takes the assumptions a step further and assumes that prostitution is necessarily the same as rape. But a voluntary prostitute (let’s assume he’s talking about voluntary because the implications of him talking about sex slaves is even more disturbing) has complete control over the sexual encounter. She is the one who chooses her clients. She is the one who sets the boundaries. If she’s not, then she’s not really voluntary and I would consider the sexual “encounter” to be rape.

Contrarily, incest involves the violation of boundaries and non-consentual sexual violence. The only connection between rape and voluntary sex work is the involvement of sexual organs. If prostitution is seeking out and reliving trauma, then so is having sex with a spouse.

Lastly, the cutting.  Ugh! I’ve listened to so many psychologists try to explain cutting in a way that makes them happy. It’s always the one thing that seems to play into and prove whatever their pet theory is around depression, anxiety, or PTSD. However, it rarely holds much accuracy to those who actually do cut.

Although there are as many reasons for why others cut as there are individuals who cut, I think it definitely has strong connections to trauma. But the connection isn’t an addiction to trauma.

It is a conditioning of trauma.

In high school, my cutting and hitting stemmed from the belief that I deserved to be punished for my mistakes. It helped to justify the punishments I received from my parents. It helped to distract from the terrifying thoughts and memories that plagued me. It helped to give me something physical to actually cry about because it was horrible living with wounds that I couldn’t see, couldn’t name. It was a coping mechanism for trauma, and if I was “addicted” to cutting, then it was because I didn’t have any other coping mechanisms to fall back on, not because I was addicted to trauma.

Which brings me to my second disagreement with the trauma addiction theory—the definition of addiction becomes too broad to hold any value.

Yes, battered partners can fall into a pattern of abusive relationships. Children can fall into a pattern of self-destruction. A broken sense of self is hard to love and hard to nurture. Old scripts are hard to unlearn. New ones are hard to learn. And to some extent, the familiarity of a negative situation is going to feel more comfortable than the unfamiliarity of a positive one.

But if that’s addiction, then addiction becomes anything from relational or social schemas and models to coping mechanisms to conditioned behavior, which means it covers pretty much every aspect of human interaction and personality and, as a result, covers nothing.

Aside from the fact that such a broad definition isn’t fair to people who are actually struggling with addictions, it does a disservice to trauma survivors. It disempowers survivors by making them feel trapped into their behaviors. It makes them their own enemy by framing the behaviors that helped them survive as “bad,” and it diminishes their ability to change through learning new coping skills and redefining their relationship models and identity.

My final objection to the trauma addiction theory (and I think the most important) is its vast capacity for victim blaming. Addiction implies the abuse of something. So addiction to trauma implies that a person is . . . what . . . abusing trauma?

It leaves the door wide open to say that the victim is the one seeking out the trauma to feed a desire/need. Technically, the victim should know better and avoid trauma, except that their need for it is so strong that they seek it out to their own detriment.

It sounds so much like the rape culture mantra “she was asking for it” that my skin crawls just to think about it, especially considering that one of the largest traumatized groups is women and girls who are sexually and physically abused. Like Freud’s theory that women make up rape fantasies because of some masochistic desire, the trauma addiction theory has far too much potential for devaluing the pain of victims and diminishing what was or is being done to them.

Perhaps in Freud’s day it was unfortunate but understandable that the theories around trauma would be both rudimentary and subservient to the status quo (men who didn’t like women talking about their rapes); however, I would hope that we’ve come far enough in our understanding of trauma to no longer need the manipulations that Freud resorted to with his patients/trauma victims. There are other theories that do a better job of describing the behaviors, thoughts, reactions, motivations, and wounds of trauma survivors that don’t resort to unaccepted enthymemes, broad generalizations of specific conditions, and victim blaming.

Book Review: The Program by Suzanne Young

Trigger warning: discussion of suicide and suppressed memories

In a future that isn’t too different from our present, suicide has been declared an all-out epidemic among teens. In a desperate attempt to “cure” them, the nation has developed a treatment program that involves the involuntary confinement of anyone “at risk” of suicide (including those who know someone who committed suicide). The treatment involves altering the brain to remove painful, traumatic memories . . . or as Sloane learns, any memories associated with “dangerous topics.”

After Sloane’s brother commits suicide, Sloane and her boyfriend James (who was also her brother’s best friend) do their best to hide their grief in order to avoid being flagged. Unfortunately, their plan doesn’t work. Shortly after her boyfriend is taken into the Program, Sloane is deemed at risk and taken too. She emerges with her memory wiped of her brother’s suicide and of her entire relationship with James.

However, unlike what the Program promised, she’s not given a fresh start and a happier life now that her memories are gone. Instead, she finds herself overwhelmed with emotions that she doesn’t understand, a grief that seems to have no place, a love that seems to have no object. Her body remembers what her mind can’t, and it tortures her as she struggles to put the pieces together.

This is an intense book—so intense that I had to take multiple breaks from reading it. Not five-minute breaks. More like month-long breaks.

But it’s fantastic. I almost think it should be required reading.

Despite being set in the future, I feel like Suzanne Young was referencing more reality than speculation through most of the book.

Memory wipes, for instance, are already in the making. A couple of years ago, one of my psych teachers showed the class a video discussing the new “hoped for” treatment for PTSD that involved preventing traumatic memories from forming and blocking already formed memories. They had already even had a few test subjects.

I’m not sure if Suzanne Young based The Program off of this developing “treatment,” but she definitely understands the drawbacks to which the developers seemed to be blind. Memory isn’t just held in the brain. Muscles hold memories too. Even now, I can sit down and play songs on my violin that I can’t consciously remember the notes to because my fingers remember the way the movement feels.

And yes, my body remembers my abuse even when I can’t consciously recall the details. It’s terrifying and confusing to have my body react to something that I can’t see or even fully remember. My vagina doesn’t care if I can pull up an exact image of my sexual abuse or not. It spasms just the same. My bottom doesn’t care if I can recall how many times a belt was drawn across my bare backside; the muscles clench anyway when I’m exposed to triggers.

For someone who has spent over twenty years with patchy memories, the most terrifying thing I can imagine is a treatment that removes my memories. If I were to imagine hell, hell would be knowing something bad happened but not being able to remember it. People live that hell every day, yet science thinks they are offering a solution to pain by offering to put people in that hell.

But memory isn’t what drives The Program (It may be what drives the sequel, but I’ll have to wait to find out where she takes that).

Rather, the main thrust of the book seems to be about the way society responds to depression and suicide. Perhaps it’s exaggerated a little, but not a lot. Even today suicide risk is one of the things for which a therapist is required to break confidentiality. Friends and family members are encouraged to report if they believe someone is contemplating killing themselves.

And the response? The same! Lock you up; take away your autonomy.

Now if that isn’t a recipe for desperation and isolation, I don’t know what is.

In the book, Sloane and James are afraid to even cry in genuine grief. They have no one to confide in about their feelings except each other, and even then they have to be careful about where they confide to each other for fear that someone will notice them looking “sad” and report them. They have a school therapist, but the therapist is all but useless because…how can they trust someone who has the power and responsibility to flag them for what they are feeling?

The bottled up emotions don’t dissipate. They become stronger until even normal emotions seem overwhelming. They are drowning in their emotions, but it’s the only choice they have because the alternative is to lose themselves entirely.

The Program directors try to make themselves look good on the television and to parents, but amongst the teens it’s pretty well understood that the Program isn’t a cure. It’s an erasure. The “epidemic” of suicide grows because teens would rather die than be taken into the Program.

I felt as though Suzanne Young were pulling back the veil on our own societal stigma around suicide—a topic so taboo that most people can’t bring themselves to talk about struggling with it, leaving them to flounder in their emotions alone.

Those who do talk are given medication that may not erase memories but certainly deadens their emotional response. They’re shamed and treated like they have a horrible disease, often hospitalized whether they want to be or not.

And perhaps because we view depression as an illness that needs to be cured rather than something that should be worked through, we encourage people to assume that once “infected,” they can’t think rationally. They start to act as though they can’t think through their feelings, and it all becomes a rather tragic self-fulfilling prophesy (or group-fulfilling prophecy).

Ultimately, despite the lives that are saved by drugs and bed restraints, I don’t think our solution is any more effective than the Program is. We make suicide the problem rather than the symptom. We treat those who struggle with the desire to kill themselves as though they are broken rather than autonomous, rational individuals who are in pain.

In essence, we create a war against those we are trying to save. 

I think Suzanne Young wanted to make us think about what it would be like if, instead of punishing and shaming those who feel depressed and suicidal, we supported—genuinely supported—them with resources that empowered them to navigate their own emotions and thoughts constructively rather than locking them into a destructive pattern of fear and reaction.

Cult Spotting 101: Spying Unhealthy Spiritual Teachings

I came across this article the other day in my Facebook newsfeed and wanted to scream with rage when I read it. I honestly don’t know if the article is being true to the actual philosophy of Karma or if it’s just a botched up amateur version of a complex idea, but the amount of bullshit is astounding.

Once the rage settled a little, I realized it’s also a really good example of cultic thinking. I want to use it as a teaching tool–kind of like those practice sheets you get in English class that ask you to go through and circle grammatical mistakes. If you like how this works, let me know. I’m considering making it a series and would be happy to comb through more articles and videos to give you all some practice.

To test your cult radar, first read the linked article and see if you can pick out the cultic teachings, then come back here and compare your answers.

The laws given in the article sound sweet on the surface. They seem to promise people control of their lives, the ability to gain everything they want, and perfect peace and happiness.

It sounds almost like magic!

 Whatever we put out in the Universe is what comes back to us.

Except that underneath all that surgery positive speech are three warning flags for a cult: thought control, emotional control, and victim-blaming.

Thought Control:

If what we see is an enemy, or someone with a character trait that we find to be negative, then we ourselves are not focused on a higher level of existence. -Law of Humility

Sounds like a nice little admonition not to judge, right? Except that instead of just encouraging tolerance of differences, this law dictates outright suspending judgment in order to be “spiritual.” Critical thinking becomes a karmic sin.

If that still doesn’t sound bad to you, think about all of the times that you use your judgment to determine when someone is trustworthy or when someone is dangerous. There’s more involved here than merely letting other people live their lives. It doesn’t leave any room for using judgment to protect ourselves from the malevolence or destructive behavior of others.

But that’s not the whole of this law. What you can’t think about, you can’t speak about, so in addition to censoring thoughts, this law also acts to silence victims.

Looking backward to examine what was, prevents us from being totally in the HERE AND NOW. -Law of the Here and Now

Oh such a positive message about not getting stuck in the past! /sarcasm

I’ve seen this one floating around a little bit, and it never quite makes sense to me. It’s not only dangerous, it’s downright dumb. Our past is what got us to our present. It has lessons to teach us for the future. You might as well cut off your head because it doesn’t walk the road for you!

Looking back is healthy. It gives you a chance to assess your life, the good and the bad. It’s necessary for a healthy life. As with most cultic teachings, you can see a grain of truth in the statement. You do want to live in the present, but living in the present doesn’t require you to cut off your past.

Emotional Control:

If what we want is Happiness, Peace, Love, Friendship… Then we should BE Happy, Peaceful, Loving and a True Friend. -The Great Law

Initially, this one sounds pretty good. It doesn’t say anything outright about suppressing emotions. However, the implication is that these emotions (peace, love, happiness) are the only ones acceptable and that they have to be deliberately pursued. A limited range of emotions becomes the goal.

Why is that bad? Let’s take a look at the next quote.

When our focus is on Spiritual Values, it is impossible for us to have lower thoughts such as greed or anger. -Law of Focus

This one is more obvious about the emotional censoring. I could focus on the irritating way that they fuse a motivation (greed) with an emotion (anger), but I think it’s far more important to talk about “negative emotions.”

Grief, anger, fear, worry—they’re not fun, but they are essential to a healthy soul. Emotions are the psyche’s way of alerting us to what is happening. They are neither thoughts nor goals. They are merely signals.

Suppressing an emotion is like disabling the check engine light in a car because you want the car to be “healthy.” Just because the light doesn’t bother you after you disable it doesn’t mean that the problems aren’t there. If you disable the signal, you miss the chance to address the cause of the signal.

Can you see how this could be a means of censoring thoughts too?

Cutting you off from emotions cuts you off from your full human experience. Cults can’t keep and control members who are whole. They have to pare people down to the thoughts, emotions, and desires that keep them malleable, which means that fear and guilt are exploited (if you commit this karmic sin, you’ll have bad things happen to you) while anger and doubt are demonized. Whenever you see a “spiritual” message that says anything about cutting out an emotion or thought in order to be more spiritual, sirens should go off in your head immediately.

Victim-blaming:

Would you believe that it’s not just for sexism? 😉

Victim-blaming isn’t unique to cults, but it is their favorite tool. To make people want to change in such a destructive way, you have to first convince them that they are bad.

 Whatever we put out in the Universe is what comes back to us. -The Great Law

Remember this one from the beginning? Did you catch the victim-blaming?

This phrase could actually fit into the thought control category too because it requires some serious suspension of logic to believe that in a world of billions of people who all have free will, only your actions have an effect on you. However, I place it here because the more sinister message is that you cause your own circumstances.

So, if you happen to get laid off or get cancer, it must be because you are reaping your karmic payback. Or if you are raped, beaten, molested, kidnapped, caught in a tornado, or electrocuted by lightning, it must be because of something you did to attract that.

Whenever there is something wrong in my life, there is something wrong in me. -Law of Responsibility

Just in case the previous law wasn’t clear enough, they’ll throw this one in too. So again, if you get laid off or get cancer, it’s because you’re bad. If you are raped, beaten, molested, kidnapped, caught in a tornado, or electrocuted by lightning, it must be because there’s something wrong with you.

Not with your abuser. Or the economy. Or nature.

Just you.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of the problematic teachings in the article, so feel free to comment with another if you feel like that kid in class who is jumping out of his/her seat with a raised hand.

If you picked up on these without my help, good job! Make use of that perception. It will protect you from manipulative people.

If you were surprised to see that there could be any negative interpretation of these karmic laws, you might want to educate yourself a bit more on cultic or manipulative tactics.

As a disclaimer, I’d like to say that just because I used this as an example of cultic thinking doesn’t mean I think that the author or the site is necessarily part of a cult. The laws could just be ill-thought, overly simplistic, or badly written . . . or they could be a warning of something deeper. That’s why I’m giving you practice with spotting red flags, wherever you may find them. They are a symptom that should alert you to be careful and use your critical thinking (you know, the thing that was condemned in the Law of Humility).