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“When I have to get up the next morning and go to work, I have wicked hangovers, and I swear to myself I’ll never do it again. But the sadness just creeps up on me and then I have to have those extra glasses of wine and let the tears just rip. I used to cry that way when I was a kid, just cry and cry and rock myself to sleep. Maybe some part of me wants to be the little kid again and just lose myself in the tears. But oh God, is it ever lonely.”
The Craving for Arousal
Another aspect of this pattern develops as a by-product of the repetitive cycle of excitement. When a child or adult is in a state of arousal due to intense fear, rage, or heightened alertness or anxiety, the actual chemistry of the body changes. We all have experienced this phenomenon in situations of danger, when our adrenaline flows and we feel a strong sense of being in an altered state. When the child experiences these changes repeatedly, the biochemistry of the body changes permanently, so that it becomes more difficult for the child, and later the adult, to return to baseline levels biochemically (van der Kolk, 1987). The result in the adult is an addiction to excitement.
When the adult TRS victim is in a cycle of self-harming,
often the planning, the anticipation, the secrecy, and the activity
itself all create an experience of pain and excitement or arousal
that replicates the excitement in childhood abuse cycles. Many
TRS women report that when they stop their self-injurious activities,
they feel an intolerable emptiness, dullness, flatness, or depression.
They experience a terrible loneliness and sense of being disconnected.
It is no wonder that so many choose to return to their self-abusive
activities when there seems to be no other way to achieve excitement
and the illusion of connection.
Laura, another client, talked frequently in the
early stages of therapy about how her self-abusive activities
were charged with a certain thrill, an undercurrent of excitement
that reminded her of some of her childhood experiences with her
father. She talked about the way their interactions became like
the stalking of a hunter and his prey. Although he always “caught”
her at the end of this predatory dance, there was a certain
element of excitement, a charge of fear, that heightened
all her reactions. Her father often gave her lectures on being
tough, being able to take care of herself later on in life. When
she practiced her various methods of self-harm, she would think
about these messages and reexperience the old thrill of fear and
Reflection Exercise #5
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