Episode 104: Shoplifting: A Response to Psychological Distress with Alyssa Scolari, LPC
Shoplifting and stealing are typically thought of as simple, yet shameful crimes. However, these seemingly simple crimes can be more complex than meets the eye. Tune into this week’s episode to learn about the psychological components of shoplifting and stealing.
Check out the Light After Trauma website for transcripts, other episodes, Alyssa's guest appearances, and more at: www.lightaftertrauma.com
Want to get more great content and interact with the show? Check us out on Instagram: @lightaftertrauma
We need your help! We want to continue to make great content that can help countless trauma warriors on their journey to recovery. So, please help us in supporting the podcast by becoming a recurring patron of the show via Patreon:
You can also check out Alyssa at www.alyssascolari.com
Alyssa Scolari [00:23]:
What is up, everybody? Welcome back to another episode of the Light After Trauma podcast. I am your host, Alyssa Scolari, here with you today. We have also my dog Macy, who is chilling out with us, looking out the window in this little... I bought her this cat perch. So if you haven't been on my Instagram and you don't see pictures of Macy, she's a little seven-pound dog, and so she is super tiny and she loves to look out the window, so I bought her a cat perch. She's sitting behind me looking out the window on her little cat perch. And sometimes neighbors will walk by and she'll bark at them and they wave to her from the window. She's like the neighborhood watchdog. So that's where I'm at today.
Alyssa Scolari [01:12]:
It is Sunday when I am recording this and I have been having a pretty relaxing weekend. I'm feeling pretty antsy today, actually, and I have been reading this book, Where the Crawdads Sing, which I did not know this, but apparently is really trending right now and I understand why, because it is truly one of the best books I've ever read in my life. I am obsessed. I have not been able to put it down and I have like 60 pages left, and I am going to finish it today. I am so excited. It's been nice to be able to read in this ridiculously hot weather.
Alyssa Scolari [01:58]:
I don't know what the weather is like where you're at, but it is so hot here and it has been so hot with zero relief. Normally it gets really hot, but then you'll have thunderstorms at the end of the day and then things cool off for a little bit and the plants get a ton of water, but there has been no rain, no thunderstorms. It is just oppressive heat and humidity day after day, and it feels like... I honestly think that this is probably day eight or nine at least above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It's so wild to me because people say global warming's not a thing, but I remember being little and watching the news and people were making such a big deal of three-day heat waves. So if there was going to be a day where it was going to be 90 degrees or above for three days, I think that's what they call a heat wave. I remember people making a huge deal about that being like, "Oh man, three days. This is so dangerous. People are going to have heat strokes and get really sick and suffer heat exhaustion."
Alyssa Scolari [03:19]:
I don't think anybody imagined back then, whatever it was, 25, 20 years ago that today in 2022, we would have heat waves that last for literally 9, 10 days with zero relief. It's unreal to me. Even my plants are all wilted. No matter how much water we give them, my plants are like, "Fuck this, I'm out." They all look like they're dying and I feel so bad. I have no clue what I can do. So yeah, it is hot as shit outside and I'm over it. I like the summer, but come on. I need at least a thunderstorm. Give me a thunderstorm, because if not, I just have this heat and oppressive humidity. You walk outside and just start sweating.
Alyssa Scolari [04:18]:
Anyway, I digress. Today we are talking about shoplifting, which at first glance, you might be like, "Why are we talking about shoplifting on a trauma podcast?" And that is because they are related and they go hand-in-hand. Shoplifting or stealing and mental health are really closely related, and shoplifting, like borderline personality disorder that we did last week, is often stigmatized. And understandably so, right? It is a crime. It is against the frigging law to steal, but I think that this conversation today is going to pose an even greater question of how can we look at shoplifting a little bit differently and are we doing the right thing by simply finding these people or just locking them up? Is there something more that we could be doing to help these people? Because I have worked with a lot of people who have gotten in trouble for shoplifting.
Alyssa Scolari [05:27]:
Before I was in private practice and working for myself, I worked for a local police department and what one of my many jobs was at this police department was to help kids in the community to stay out of the juvenile justice system, so help basically rehabilitate them after they get into trouble. Now, as you can imagine, the majority of the kids that I saw usually got in trouble for some kind of theft or shoplifting, and it begs the question, why are these kids stealing? Because it's not just a fun pastime for these kids. These kids don't want to catch charges. They do not want to be caught up in the juvenile justice system. So what is going on with these kids?
Alyssa Scolari [06:23]:
Through a lot of my time, not just working with these kids through the police department, but also in going back in my own history, I have been able to put a lot of the pieces together as to what might be happening with so many of these people. And it's not just kids, it's also adults. And it's not just me. There are a lot of other professionals out there who have been exploring the other sides of shoplifting to try to understand what is truly going on. Now, of course we can assign poverty and lower socioeconomic statuses to stealing. I get it. It is impossible to live in today's age. It feels nearly impossible. So I totally understand that.
Alyssa Scolari [07:19]:
There's the poverty aspect, and then there's also other psychological aspects to it. It isn't just this simple act that we think it is. When we see people who steal, we write them off as bad people. Bad people. And again, yes, stealing is criminalized, but I don't know any one of us who have never broken the law. I don't know any one of us who have never broken the law in some way, shape or form.
Alyssa Scolari [07:53]:
If you've pulled out your phone to text while you're driving, if you've talked on the phone while you're driving, if you've never stopped or if you haven't stopped fully at a stop sign and you rolled through a stop sign, hey, you broke the law. If the speed limit is 65 miles an hour and you're going 66 miles an hour, hey, you broke the law. And for some reason, it's like we talk about when people break the law in vehicles or people are acting aggressive on the road and we talk about "Well, try to think of it differently. Try to think about that person who blew past the red light or is speeding. Maybe they have a loved one sick and dying in the hospital and they're rushing to get there." And so we try to reframe and find these ways to have compassion for people who are aggressive on the road. And I love that reframe. It's a great reframe. It helps. It helps those of us who are prone to road rage not be so ragey, but why can't we transfer this over to other crimes like stealing?
Alyssa Scolari [09:00]:
And I'm not talking about all crimes. I'm not saying that we need to have compassion for murderers, but I'm talking about like stealing. Why are there no reframes for that? Why is it that when we hear that somebody steals, we think that they should rot in jail or be fined or be shown a lesson and we want to send these kids to scared straight programs. Why aren't we looking at this any differently?
Alyssa Scolari [09:27]:
Luckily, I think that a lot of research is starting to look at shoplifting differently, and what we're finding is that it is a coping mechanism. It is a coping mechanism, just like addiction or gambling. It is something that can give people some sense of control, and it also can help them to numb out from problems or pain. And it also can be a cry for help. I wasn't a chronic stealer or anything. I have like two instances in my life where I remember stealing and both of them weren't from stores because I had too much anxiety for that. They were from other people. So one time I stole... I don't know if anybody remembers these candies, they're Warheads and they were really, really sour when you put them in your mouth and then they were super sweet. I'm talking about them now and I really want one. I need to go find them online and see if they still exist, because they were so amazing. But they were super, super sour when you put them in your mouth, and I remember stealing a few of these from, I cannot remember who, I just remember having them in my hand and looking down and kind of having this feeling of like, "Oh, I stole something."
Alyssa Scolari [11:00]:
At the time, I remember that feeling was like I didn't really even feel that guilty. I felt like I had a sense of control. I was really little. I was under, probably under seven years old. I was maybe five or six and I remember feeling like I finally had a sense of control over what was going on. I did this, I took this. This is mine. And that clearly is rooted in things that are so beyond the stealing itself. This is something that a lot of younger kids will do. They steal not because they're bad kids, and it's also not because they don't know right from wrong and it's not because we don't know consequences. We know that it's wrong, but what is more wrong are the empty feelings that we have inside of us or the chaotic feelings as a result of living in bad environments.
Alyssa Scolari [12:09]:
Kids who live in frantic, chaotic, and even sometimes violent and abusive households, they yearn for a sense of control. They desire a sense of control. And sometimes being able to steal something, being able to have something that is totally yours is a great way to feel like you're in control. It's a great way to feel like you're separate from your family for a little bit because you are the one who did this. You planned this, you did it, you have it, you succeeded. It is a great way to numb out from what is going on, regardless of the consequences. Kids aren't thinking about the consequences. Their brains are not developed enough. What kids are thinking of is, "Hey, how can I survive? And I know that I can survive if I find some sense of control," and sometimes that control lies within stealing.
Alyssa Scolari [13:06]:
And then I also stole something from my cousin. I stole a purse from my cousin when I was little. I cannot remember. I know I was under 10. Maybe I was like eight years old. We were at a Super Bowl party and I stole her purse from her. I totally got caught because what eight-year-old can hide a whole purse? And that, I felt horrible. I don't know if I really did it to have a sense of control, maybe I did, but I remember feeling so much guilt and I don't really even know why I did it. I remember being asked why I did it and I truly didn't know then and I don't totally know now, but looking back on it, I am pretty sure that I did it because I was just crying out for help. I was crying out for help. And that is also what shoplifting can be, a cry for help. I want somebody to catch me. I want to be noticed. I want to be seen. I want somebody to look at me and make me feel like I matter.
Alyssa Scolari [14:25]:
Kids and adults alike, sometimes when we go without this and we feel like we aren't seen or heard, we will make efforts to be seen and heard in any way possible, and that includes breaking the law. Now, luckily it was my family and everybody was super forgiving. I think, I assume so, because I still had a relationship with these people. I didn't steal from any stores, it was just people and it was awful. I gave it back and there was no harm, no foul, but still, it was terrible. It was terrible when I look back on it because I realize that I was in so much pain and so are many people who steal and shoplift. It's just a way to numb out, because in doing it, what happens?
Alyssa Scolari [15:25]:
Anybody who has stolen anything, I can imagine... I don't really remember feeling like this when I was little, but I can imagine that what you feel is an adrenaline rush. An adrenaline rush, anxiety and you're just so focused on not getting caught that you're not really thinking about anything else. Then when you get away with it, it's a dopamine hit for your brain. And it is very similar with shopping, buying things. When people are sad, they will spend money, call it retail therapy, and then they get it and they feel great for a few days or maybe a few weeks or maybe even a few minutes, depending on what you get, but that wears off and then you're left with those same chronic feelings of emptiness. This is very similar with shoplifting. You steal something and then you have this dopamine hit like, "Oh my gosh, I did it. I got away with it," and then all of a sudden that emptiness comes back and therefore you need to steal something again, so then you get that little dopamine hit in your brain again.
Alyssa Scolari [16:37]:
Sometimes all of this stealing can mount into a much more serious mental health disorder like kleptomania, which is where you just cannot resist the urge or the impulse to steal things, whether you need them or not. Just because it's there, you have to steal it. And sometimes that's what this can turn into. It still can be a cry for help. It still can be a reaction to psychological stress or trauma and that begs the question, are shoplifting charges good? Is that actually going to teach anybody anything, or do what we need to do instead is teach people better coping skills for how they can deal with their pain, or do we need to be looking at, if it's a child, do we need to be looking at what is going on in the home? Is there trauma? Is there abuse? Is there toxic stress on this child? Should we be checking off all of those boxes before we make the decision whether or not somebody's going to be charged with shoplifting?
Alyssa Scolari [17:52]:
I don't know. I don't have the answer. I know this is kind of tying into criminal justice reform, but here's the thing, even if you never got caught, that still doesn't mean that your shoplifting doesn't have a psychological impact or isn't rooted in psychological-based issues. It doesn't mean that you're not numbing out just because you've never been caught. If you have had a history of stealing or if you currently have a history of stealing, a lot of times people feel shame about it. And if you feel shame about it, this episode is really to help you put that shame aside and try to look at it from a different lens. Is it that you are a bad kid? Is it that you are a bad person or are you a person who is hurting and is coping by stealing?
Alyssa Scolari [18:57]:
Ultimately, I don't know the answer. That's something that you can only find within yourself, but I will say this, I have yet to meet a person, child or adult, who steals truly because they just love it as a sport. I have yet to meet somebody like that. Now, my sample size is biased because I see people that come to me for therapy so I'm sure people like that out there exist. In fact, I'm positive people out there like that exist, but those kind of people I don't think are listening to this podcast. So if you are listening to this podcast and you have a history of stealing, I think it begs the question, is there any kind of compassion that you can give yourself? And if you're still actively in your shoplifting or stealing phase, ask yourself what you need. What void is stealing trying to fill for you and how can you fill that void in a safer way?
Alyssa Scolari [20:09]:
I know for me, I never learned to fill the void, but I was lucky enough that shoplifting didn't become my addiction. Food, eating disorders became my vice, so I ended up filling that void in another way, but a dangerous way as well, but one that was more dangerous to me. So be careful not to fill, not to replace one vice with another vice. What do you need that is going to be healthy for you and the environment around you? I love you. I hope you have a good week and I will be holding you in the light.
Alyssa Scolari [20:58]:
Thanks for listening, everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com, or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram, we are @lightaftertrauma and on Twitter, it is @lightafterpod. Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So please head on over. Again, that's patreon.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you and we appreciate your support.
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Both includes three general lectures on the topics above. The 4-Session pathway is designed for existing neurofeedback providers. Details about each pathway can be found below. General Sessions September 22, September 29, and October 6, 2022 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM ET Additional Neurofeedback Session This session is designed for existing Nuro feedback providers to take what they learned in the first three sessions and apply it to their clinical work. We will discuss, in-depth, the theory and progression of working with clients and eating issues or disorders using neurofeedback. We will go over common qEEG findings and specific protocols. October 10, 2022 4:00PM - 6:00 PM ET This course entitles you to 6 or 8 CE credit hours if you purchase the CE add-on. You will be offered the add-on product when checking out. The number of CEs available will depend on whether you choose to sign up for the fourth session. Early bird prices are valid: August 19, 2022 to September 9, 2022 Check out the Light After Trauma website for transcripts, other episodes, Alyssa's guest appearances, and more at: www.lightaftertrauma.com Want to get more great content and interact with the show? Check us out on Instagram: @lightaftertrauma We need your help! We want to continue to make great content that can help countless trauma warriors on their journey to recovery. So, please help us in supporting the podcast by becoming a recurring patron of the show via Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/lightaftertrauma You can also check out Alyssa at www.alyssascolari.com Transcript: Alyssa Scolari: Hello, everybody. I am back. Well, I mean, I guess technically I didn't go anywhere, [00:00:30] but I know I've been putting out episodes every week, except the beginning of the month of August. I skipped because I was very overwhelmed and I was getting ready to go away on vacation. And then since then, I have been putting out pre-recorded episodes, so they are episodes that had been recorded earlier in the summertime, so it feels like it's been forever since I've actually sat down and recorded a podcast [00:01:00] and that is for a very good reason. And one of those reasons is that I, like I said, was on vacation. I went to Fiji, which I'm so excited to talk about. Alyssa Scolari: I know when I have talked to people here in my regular life, they're like, "Oh my gosh, that's so far." And I guess it is, or it isn't, depending on where you live in the world. But I live in the United States on the Eastern coast, [00:01:30] so it was really, really far for us. We crossed the International Dateline. It was like 30 plus hours of travel, just to go one way, so we were really traveling for two weeks. We stayed there for seven days, but between all of the traveling, we were really gone for about two weeks. And man, I really needed it. I don't think I even realized how [00:02:00] much I needed it until I went. Alyssa Scolari: It was a, I guess, six hour flight to get to Los Angeles and then it was a 10 and a half hour flight to get to Fiji. But then once we got to Fiji, we had to take, because Fiji is made up of, I think it's about 333 [00:02:30] islands, so you can go to any of the islands in Fiji. And so we landed on the main island where the airport is and then we took one of those little puddle jumper planes to get to the island and it was the coolest thing I have ever done. Alyssa Scolari: When I say a little plane, I mean it held six people. That was [00:03:00] it. And the pilot, I could reach out and touch him. He was sitting right in front of me and we were low enough that you could see everything and the water there is just the most beautiful blue I have ever seen in my life. It was the most amazing thing. Once I got over my fear of, "Oh my gosh. I'm going to die in this thing." Because I was fairly certain, I was going down. Alyssa Scolari: So we took a puddle jumper plane over to the island of Yasawa [00:03:30] and once we landed, which it's not like there's not an airport on this island. It's literally because the island that we stayed on I think is only about a mile wide, so there's in the middle of the jungle because the whole island is the jungle and the beach, there's just a little strip of grass and that is the landing strip. So, we touched down on this little strip of grass and [00:04:00] we then took a car ride, or a van ride, through the jungle, on a dirt road, to get to the resort. So needless to say, between layovers and just the distance, it was exhausting. But when I tell you it was life-changing, I don't even know where to begin. Alyssa Scolari: So many people have asked me when I've told them, like why [00:04:30] Fiji? If all the places you could go, why Fiji? And the answer to that is, I was always going to Fiji, one way or another. My whole life, my heart has been set on Fiji. Please don't ask me why. I have never seen a movie where I'm like, "Oh my gosh. I want to go to Fiji." I've never really seen anything that has made me want to go to Fiji, but for [00:05:00] some reason that has always been on my heart and I really wanted to go for our honeymoon, but we could not afford it in the slightest. So, we just decided, "Hey, this is my dream and we are going to save up and we are going to go." And we did. Alyssa Scolari: For those of you who don't know this, well actually I'm sure none of you know this about me. I am a massive tropical [00:05:30] fish lover. We had a tropical fish tank. It was like sixty-five gallons, I think. So, it was pretty big and we had all of the salt water fish. We had it for a few years. We had to get rid of it, unfortunately, and bring the fish back to the store because our house was just entirely too small and our dogs were a little too rambunctious and I was afraid that they were [00:06:00] going to run into the tank. But it is a hobby of mine, not necessarily keeping them. I do want to keep them again someday and I absolutely love it, but being in the ocean and being with the ocean life, I am not somebody who's drawn to the beach. I am drawn to the sea. I am drawn to the ocean. In my next life, I will be a marine biologist. I can tell you a ridiculous amount of knowledge about all of the tropical [00:06:30] fish in the sea. Alyssa Scolari: For me, it's always been a place where I have felt like I would be the most at home, even though I've never really been to a place like that. I mean, I went to the Dominican Republic for my honeymoon and we got to do some snorkeling there and it was really cool, but I've never been to a place like Fiji that is so completely untouched and yet there was something inside of me [00:07:00] that always knew that that was where I belonged. And man, I am so glad that I made my dream come true because I was right. It is exactly where I belonged. I have never felt more at home in my entire life than I did standing on that beach. Not even standing on the beach, but being in the ocean. Alyssa Scolari: The first day we got there. Well, really the second [00:07:30] day, because the first day we were falling asleep at the dinner table and then we went to bed. The next day, we went out into the ocean and we swam out to a bunch of big rocks out in the ocean and we climbed up on the rocks. When I say, we, I'm talking about David and I. We climbed up onto the rocks and we just sat there for what felt like forever, looking back at the island. The island is just mountains and mountains of jungle and trees [00:08:00] and then white Sandy beaches. And then we were looking down below us and the water is crystal clear and you could see fish of every color swimming below us. It, I mean, you could see just these bright blue fish that were swimming below us. And of course I was able to identify them right away because they were damsels, which are native to Fiji, and I was so excited. I just felt the most at peace, I've ever felt in my whole life. Alyssa Scolari: [00:08:30] I spent every single day in the ocean. Every single day, snorkeling. There was one day where we got on a boat and we were jetting out into the ocean and we jumped off the boat and just in the middle of the sea, and we were snorkeling, and there was a shark right below us. It was like a reef shark, so it wasn't massive, but it was still a shark. I've always wanted [00:09:00] to swim with the sharks and just the patterns on these fish, the colors of these fish, and not just the fish, the sand crabs, the sea turtles. It's everything. It's the coral reefs. The corals are neon. It was a world that I couldn't even imagine in my wildest dreams. I had always dreamed of this and I always looked up what coral reefs look like, [00:09:30] but it was nothing that I could ever possibly dream up. It was beyond my wildest dreams. Alyssa Scolari: There were days where we would do private picnics on private beaches, so they would pack a cooler for us and they would take us out on a boat, like 20 minutes away from our resort. They would drop us off on a private beach and we would just stay on a private beach, just the two of us, all day long, snorkeling. And you don't even have to go out far to find the fish because the area [00:10:00] is so untouched. The land is so untouched. The resort that we stayed at, maybe holds 40 people. It is the only source of employment on the island. There were no humans. There was nothing there and we didn't even have cell phone service. So, I mean, it was just a time of my life. I've never experienced anything like it and it was amazing. Alyssa Scolari: [00:10:30] I did a lot of healing there. A lot of healing. I made a lot of decisions about just things and changes I'm going to be making and things I'm going to be doing in my career, so I'm happy. I'm also happy to be home though. I missed my dogs and my mother-in-law watched the dogs for us and it was so great to have somebody that we love and trust, be able to take care of the dogs. [00:11:00] And she's awesome, so she did great with them. And yeah, now I'm back and I have a very big announcement to make, which by the way, if you want to see pictures of Fiji, you can head on over to my Instagram because I posted pictures on there. It is lightaftertrauma. Alyssa Scolari: And speaking of my Instagram, if you haven't... If you're on my Instagram, then you might have already seen this announcement. But if not, then this is going to be new to you. I [00:11:30] have launched my first ever online course and I'm so excited. I have been a little distant from the podcast lately. You may have noticed. I've been doing my best. But the reason for that is because I have been working since June on creating this course, or May, I think I've been working on creating this course and it is finally here and I am so [00:12:00] excited. Alyssa Scolari: The course is called The War With Your Body and I collaborated with Leanne Hershkowitz, who is a neurofeedback provider and a therapist as well. She was on the podcast to talk about neurofeedback and developmental trauma. This was probably maybe a year and a half ago, so you'd have to go back into the feed and find it. But we decided that we wanted to do a course together because there really isn't [00:12:30] a lot out there in terms of online courses where people can truly learn about intuitive eating and diet culture and how to ditch those things. Well, not intuitive eating, but how to ditch diet culture and how to let go of that feeling that you have to be on diet after diet. Alyssa Scolari: There's a lot of misinformation out there and there's certainly no [00:13:00] shortage of diet culture and I've talked about diet culture and eating disorders on this podcast, plenty of times before, and body image and health at every size. There's no shortage of bad information out there where people are promoting weight loss and diets and calorie deficits and over exercising and we glorify thinness in this culture. And if you live in a larger body, you are made to feel horrible about yourself. Alyssa Scolari: And so we [00:13:30] decided, you know what, we're making a course and we're going to talk about all of it. So in this course, we talk a lot about the diet industry, the weight loss industry, on all of the different ways in which the diet industry can come into your life without you knowing it. Alyssa Scolari: We talk about the diet industry and social media. We talk about why diets don't work and why the majority of people reach something called diet [00:14:00] burnout, which is where you're just so sick of doing all the diets and you just don't know what else to do but you physically cannot go on another diet. So, we talk about that. We talk about the different types of dieters out there and we talk about the alternative, which is intuitive eating. Alyssa Scolari: Now intuitive eating is another super trendy term, but there's also a ton of misinformation about [00:14:30] that out there, so we are breaking it down. Intuitive eating does not look like eating donuts all day, every day, and thinking, "Oh, Hey, I'm eating intuitively." A lot of people think that's what it is, especially people who are trying to promote their diets. Like, "Oh, don't do intuitive eating because they think you should eat donuts all day." That's not true. Alyssa Scolari: We talk about the different aspects of health and the stigma against [00:15:00] larger bodies that is even in our medical system, like what it can be like going to doctor's offices if you live in a larger body. Even so much as getting on an airplane. I struggled as somebody living in a larger body, to fit in one of the seats in the airplanes, going to Fiji, and I was really uncomfortable and really triggered and it just felt so unfair that airplanes aren't made for all body [00:15:30] types. So, we just talk about how ingrained fat phobia is. We talk a lot about fat phobia and really how to achieve letting go, ditching diet culture, becoming an intuitive eater. Alyssa Scolari: There's advice and direct tips in there for how to deal with loved ones and friends and family members and even doctors. When you're going to the doctor, to avoid having, if you don't want to get weighed, [00:16:00] or to avoid having to talk about weight. Or even tips in there for ways that you can deal with your children. If you are a parent and you are worried about your child being introduced to diet culture, this is a course that is absolutely for you. Or, if you're just somebody who's sick of dieting and you want to make peace with your body and you want to make peace with food, this is also a course for you. Alyssa Scolari: We also discuss eating disorders and we discuss the [00:16:30] link between food issues or eating disordered behaviors and trauma as well. So, that is an important piece. I'm not saying that every chronic diet, or every person who diets has a history of trauma, or has an eating disorder. I'm not saying that at all. But what I'm saying is, trauma has been found to be linked to the onset of eating disorders and disordered eating. And so we discuss that as well. Alyssa Scolari: Now, if you are a therapist and [00:17:00] you are looking for continuing education credits, you can also find that in this course. So, this course is either three modules or four modules, depending on what path you take. So, if you are a neurofeedback provider and you are looking to learn about how you can utilize neurofeedback to help clients with eating disorders, then you can sign up for all [00:17:30] four modules. If that does not apply to you, then you would sign up for three modules. If you signed up for the three modules, then you would get six credits. If you signed up for the four modules, then you would get eight credits. Alyssa Scolari: Now the exciting thing is, I will be teaching this course, live. So, if you want to come to the live teaching of this course, you can hang out with us. You can ask questions. I would love [00:18:00] to see you there. I have spent two years, two years today actually, talking to you all through this microphone and it would be an honor to get to see your beautiful faces. Alyssa Scolari: So, if you would like to attend the live teaching that will be held via Zoom, so it will be virtual, so anybody can attend, anywhere in the world and module one will be held on Thursday, September 22nd, [00:18:30] from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM. And module two will be held September 29th, also a Thursday, from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM. And then the third module will be held October 6th and that will also be 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM and that is also a Thursday. The fourth module will be held on October 10th, and that will be from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM. Now all of these times [00:19:00] are Eastern Standard Time. Alyssa Scolari: So, if you are looking to sign up, but you live in a different part of the world, please make sure you take that into account. If you would like more information about this, you can head over to my Instagram. It is lightaftertrauma or my other personal Instagram, which is AlyssaScolari and also you can look in the show notes. The link to sign up will be in the show notes, [00:19:30] so you can do that, and you can also learn more about the course. Alyssa Scolari: And then also there is an early bird special running until September 9th, 2022. So if you would like a discount, if you want the early bird rate, please head over as soon as possible and make sure that you sign up before September 10th. So, September 9th is the last day that you can sign up. Alyssa Scolari: Now, for those of you who are interested in the course, [00:20:00] but you're like, "You know what? I don't think that I can make all those times work." That is okay. All is not lost because these live recordings will be recorded and they will be stored and you will be able to access the course at any time. So you can go in, you can purchase the course, and then you can have all the modules at once. And that's the same, whether you are a therapist, whether you are a parent, whether you are just somebody who wants to [00:20:30] see the course for yourself. Alyssa Scolari: This course is awesome. I have worked really hard on it. There's a lot of knowledge in here that honestly, people are not talking about and is not out there in the public and I got my information from two of the creators of Intuitive Eating, so I know that what I'm talking about is really, really helpful. It's all legitimate and I [00:21:00] can't wait. I cannot wait. I hope that this course helps you. I have been working on it for all of you and yeah, I just thank you. I thank you so much for all the support because if I didn't have the support, I wouldn't have even thought that this was possible. But because of you, it is, and I am really looking forward to seeing where this first course takes me and takes all of us. Alyssa Scolari: So, thank you so, so much for your time. [00:21:30] I know this isn't much of a content-oriented episode today, but I feel like I had a lot to catch up on and I wanted to introduce you to this new course. I hope you have a wonderful week. I love you all so much and I am holding you in the light. Alyssa Scolari: Thanks for listening everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram, we are [00:22:00] at lightaftertrauma. And on Twitter, it is @lightafterpod. Alyssa Scolari: Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks, so please head on over. Again, that's patreon.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you. And we appreciate your support.
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Episode 107 Redux: Intimacy After Sexual Trauma with Dr. Nazanin Moali, Ph.D.
40:11We are reaching back into our archives this week for an episode redux with Episode 34! Dr. Nazanin Moali is a public speaker, psychologist, and sex and relationship expert. Dr. Moali is also the host of her own podcast, titled "Sexology", where she dives into the psychology of sex and intimacy. In this week's episode, Dr. Moali and Alyssa discuss the impact that sexual trauma can have on us as well as the hope that comes with reclaiming our sexuality and discovering pleasure again. Learn more about Dr. Moali and check out her podcast Check out the Light After Trauma website for transcripts, other episodes, Alyssa's guest appearances, and more at: www.lightaftertrauma.com Want to get more great content and interact with the show? Check us out on Instagram: @lightaftertrauma We need your help! We want to continue to make great content that can help countless trauma warriors on their journey to recovery. So, please help us in supporting the podcast by becoming a recurring patron of the show via Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/lightaftertrauma You can also check out Alyssa at www.alyssascolari.com Transcript: Alyssa Scolari [00:00]: Hello friends. I hope everybody is well. I have some exciting news. We are adding a mini episode to the podcast every week coming soon. This episode is all about you. When I say mini I'm meaning it's going to be about 10-15 minutes long and what this little segment is going to be called is Survived and Thrived Stories. After starting this podcast I started to get people from all over the world who were reaching out to me to talk to me about certain things on the podcast that I touched on, certain parts of my story, specific topics that they could identify with, and I realized that there are so many people who want to share their story and want their voice to be heard, but they don't necessarily want to be identified or they don't want to share all of their story, so I wanted to create this mini episode series called Survived and Thrived Stories where you can email in anonymously or if you want to sign your first initial or just your first name, however you want, and you can share as much or as little of your story as you want. Actually, part of why I really wanted to do this as well and part of why this is so special to me is because I realized that when I first started sharing my story, I did it in writing and I did it anonymously and I actually wrote into a podcast. I wrote into a very famous podcast called My Favorite Murder because I wrote in about a trauma that I experienced that I was a victim of a crime and that was my first kind of like, it was the gateway into me sharing my story and into me I think ultimately starting this podcast and helped so much in my recovery and I want to give all of you the same opportunity. If you are struggling with something, if you have been through a hardship, if you are experiencing PTSD or if you have recovered or you are in recovery, because I believe recovery is a lifelong journey, I want to hear from you. If there's something you want to share, send it on in and I will read it aloud on the podcast and then of course I will comment and offer any kind of support that I can. Yeah, I just think it would be a really exciting way for everybody to get their voices heard and for you to be able to inspire so many others and to reach out to others and let other people who are sitting in the darkness know that they are not alone and that they can get through this. Whether you want to talk about things that helped you to recover, whether you want to talk about what happened to you, you can send it on over. I want you to send it to the podcast email. That's [email protected] Again, that's [email protected] Again, you will remain anonymous. I look forward to hearing from you. I would be honored to share your story on this podcast, so looking forward to it. Stay tuned and send me your story. [Music 00:03:47] Hello all you beautiful people. Welcome to another episode of the Light After Trauma podcast. You know who this is. I am your host, Alyssa Scolari, and I am happy to be here this week with Dr. Nazanin Moali. Dr. Nazanin Moali is a licensed clinical psychologist and a, is it double A sect or AAS- Nazanin Moali [04:27]: AASECT. I know, it's a complicated name. Yes. AASECT. Alyssa Scolari [04:32]: AASECT, okay. All right. Certified sex therapist, her private practice is located in Los Angeles and she specializes in working with couples and individuals struggling with issues of sex and intimacy. She also hosts a weekly podcast called Sexology, introducing the most intriguing findings in psychology of sex and intimacy. Welcome. Thank you for being here. Nazanin Moali [04:59]: Thank you so much for inviting me. I'm very excited about this conversation. Alyssa Scolari [05:04]: This is absolutely one of my favorite topics to discuss. It's so difficult. I guess I'll just turn it over to you. Could you just elaborate a little bit more on the work that you do? Are you mostly in private practice in addition to the podcast? Nazanin Moali [05:21]: Yes. I have a private practice that I help people with all sorts of sexual health functioning challenges. One of the things that I'm very passionate about is helping sexual assault survivors, people who have experienced sexual abuse, to reclaim pleasure in their life because I know that this is something we will talk about, but one thing that breaks my heart, that at times people, they don't think they deserve pleasure after experiencing trauma or they think that their work is done when they process the horrible traumatic experience that they had, but I think it can be very important and empowering to cultivate pleasure back into our lives. That's one of the things that I'm very, very passionate about, supporting my clients to navigate. Alyssa Scolari [06:09]: You are living my dream. I love it and I can't thank you enough for doing what you do because it really is important. As somebody who is, I myself am a survivor of complex PTSD from a history of sexual abuse, and I'm also a trauma therapist and I've been in private practice for about three years now and one of the things that I see consistently showing up in my office for survivors of sexual trauma is, "How do I have any kind of semblance of sexual pleasure when I can't even be in my body? I have so much guilt and shame." You help people to be able to experience pleasure again, to be able to reclaim their sexuality and I think that that's amazing. It's amazing. Nazanin Moali [07:11]: Thank you. Back at yourself, that helping people with this processing of traumatic experiences of all sorts. I have lots of respect for people that are helping clients in early stages and all stages of processing the trauma. That's really rewarding but can be challenging work at times. Alyssa Scolari [07:30]: Yes. Yes, on both of our ends. It definitely can be challenging but so rewarding. So rewarding. In your experience what typically happens after people have survived any type of sexual trauma or sexual abuse? Nazanin Moali [07:49]: Well people kind of have different responses afterward when it comes to their sexuality, their relationship with their sexuality. It's my experience that some people can become kind of numb. They don't want to have any kind of sexual encounter with their partner or with themselves. They are in this continue to live in this fight and flight mode and sexuality is not a priority for them in that phase. I also see people that after experiencing assault, whether it's abuse, they start becoming more sexual. That they want to have more sex, they want to explore their bodies more, and both of those things are normal. I think it's important to think about normal meaning it's common, in a way. That's the common early phases of experiences that people have. Also we can develop all sorts of different challenges as a result of experiencing a trauma. Not everyone of course that they experience trauma develop PTSD, depression, anxiety, but for people who develop the depression and anxiety and all of those challenges, that also impact their sexual desire, their connection with their sexuality, and that can be another hurdle. Trauma can impact the way that we see our world and that can impact our relationships in our life, which can in turn impact our sexuality as well. There are a number of different ways that experiencing a trauma can transform us. Alyssa Scolari [09:25]: Yes, and have you found it to be even extra difficult for people to talk about because there's already so much stigma around sex and sexuality and experiencing pleasure, especially for women. Nazanin Moali [09:43]: Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Absolutely. First of all I think most people that I encounter, even whether in my office or outside, there are some level of discomfort talking about sex. At baseline many of us are uncomfortable and I think added to that, when we're experiencing sexual trauma, that can even complicate things as well because sometimes people receive these unhelpful messages from others, kind of blaming them for their experiences. Perhaps you were wearing something provocative that led to this. Alyssa Scolari [10:19]: Right, or maybe you were drinking or what were you doing at a bar that late at night? Or things like that. Nazanin Moali [10:24]: Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Absolutely. Like was the person in your home? Maybe then you welcomed them into your home, so what could you expect? All of these horrible messages. If you're feeling bad about sex to start with and then you experience some kind of negative messaging around us being part of what happened, which is ridiculous, so I think that also impacts how we're feeling about our sexuality, the experience. Additionally, for many people it's okay and it's common to experience some arousal during the experience of assault, during the abuse. It's your body trying to protect you. What if you're getting lubricated? All of those things are completely normally. It doesn't mean that you were asking it, it's just your body function of trying to protect you. I think that's also important for survivors to know. Alyssa Scolari [11:19]: Yes. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying this. This was the hardest thing and for me personally, as well as for the sexual trauma survivors that I work with, is the hardest thing for survivors to be able to integrate, is this idea of well during the abuse, during the rape I was aroused. Or even I orgasmed, and therefore I must have wanted it. That's not at all the case, as you're saying, because we can't control our body's physiological response to our genitals being stimulated. Nazanin Moali [12:09]: Right. Right. I agree with you and I think unfortunately many people internalize those negative beliefs of thinking about oh God, perhaps on some unconscious level I wanted it or I was okay with it or I gave them the message that it was okay. I love that you talked about yes that's part of the experience, it doesn't mean that you were giving anyone a permission to do anything. Again, it could be a part of your physiological response, as you mentioned. At times it's a way for your body to protect you, so there could be a number of different reasons that physiologically you had that arousal. Alyssa Scolari [12:46]: When you say part of a way for your body to protect you, meaning like in the sense of pretending to go along with it in order to protect yourself? Nazanin Moali [12:56]: Great question. One of the kind of common challenges that I hear from some of my clients that saying, from female clients, that "I was lubricated so perhaps the lubrication shows arousal," but lubrication is a way that your genitals trying to save you from experiencing tearing, all sorts of challenges. That's why they say that it's your body wanting to protect you. Alyssa Scolari [13:22]: That makes sense. That makes sense. Right, so lubrication again doesn't necessarily mean that you wanted it. That's your body's way of trying to protect from any kind of intimacy or sexual trauma. Your body is preparing itself, trying to keep yourself from having tears or whatever kind of other injuries. Nazanin Moali [13:43]: Absolutely. Alyssa Scolari [13:45]: That makes a lot of sense. Yes. I'm so glad that you touched on that because I think that that's so hard for people. As you were saying earlier, some reactions that we have or some people go into sexual avoidance and some people become hyper sexual and when people come into your office do they realize that they have sexual trauma or do people typically come into your office for other reasons and then discover that they have sexual trauma? Nazanin Moali [14:22]: Well majority of my clients coming in for sex therapy knowing that they did the first part of the work. Kind of like knowing that I worked through the early phases of experiencing, kind of working through those difficult memories. Now they're ready to explore their sexuality and sexual wellness piece. That's why they're seeking out a therapist. But at times I had clients that they're coming in to me to say, "I don't feel anything during sex. I have this numbness," and when we're unfolding and unwrapping different parts of their experiences we realize this is stemmed from their experience of being a survivor and not dealing with the completely treating symptoms of experiencing that trauma. Alyssa Scolari [15:10]: Yes. Could you talk for a few minutes about that experience of, this is something that I absolutely relate to, of the numbness around having sex? I know for a long time before I knew that I had sexual abuse I truly thought that I was broken so I would imagine that you have people that come to you that are just like, "I don't feel anything when I'm having sex." Could you talk about what that process actually is and what's happening? Nazanin Moali [15:38]: Absolutely. I feel like for many of my clients when they experience their sexual trauma or other kind of traumas at times, they learn to disconnect from their bodies. They're very aware of what happens in their mind, but sex is about sensation so it's important to connect with our bodies and it could be a common experience but it's something that people need to work through because in order for us to connect with our pleasure we need to be able to pay attention to sensations and all of those experiences we have in our bodies, so that's part of it. Again, it could be one way for you to manage working through those or experiencing those horrible experiences because sometimes during the traumatic experience you're going through something really, really painful emotionally, physically, so consciously unconsciously you're disconnecting from your body to protect yourself. Now that you are ready to embrace your sexuality and introducing pleasure, it's really important to do practices that helps you to connect with your body again and work through the numbness. Alyssa Scolari [16:49]: Yes, so practices that focus on grounding yourself and being in your body. Nazanin Moali [16:55]: And kind of being okay yes, and experiencing pleasure. Alyssa Scolari [16:59]: Yep. Yep, exactly. Exactly. How do you help people work through the shame and the guilt around sex? Some people feel like after the abuse that they endured that they're not even worthy of having pleasure. How do you help people with that? I know that's a very broad question. I think it's very individualized, but what are some things you might do? Nazanin Moali [17:31]: Well I think one important thing is to identify the beliefs that you develop because of experiencing, as the result of experiencing trauma. What are some of the core beliefs that you develop? What are some of the things that you, the messages that you have around your bodies, around relationship, around sex? Part of it is identifying those messages and also examining that. Are they serving you? Are these accurate? What else we can put in instead of this belief that would serve you better and is congruent with your values. The life that you would like to lead. That's part of it. Also equally important is seeing it as a way to get revenge on the person wanting to take away your sexuality. Alyssa Scolari [18:19]: I love it. Yes. Nazanin Moali [18:20]: That can be motivating for many people, thinking about this person, this experience didn't break me. Perhaps I can work toward transforming myself and my experiences and my sexuality as the result of that. One of the research that I've done in graduate school was around posttraumatic growth. That many people, when they experience trauma, after that possible to experience growth. Growth meaning that it's not you're going back to the even pre-trauma functioning. It's more about going beyond and cultivating experiences that's beyond what you were experiencing. That would be even if you had a mediocre sexual experiences before trauma, this experience can provide you with this opportunity to experience growth and change your relationship with sexuality, with people in your life. Kind of anchoring in that, that can help people to feel more motivated to work through that. I think the other piece of it, thinking about incorporating pleasure back in your life. Not only sexual pleasure, it could be all sorts of pleasure because when we're thinking we're not worthy then we're not taking care of ourselves, we're not paying attention to our physiological needs, to our pain, all of that. Working on incorporating pleasure inside and outside the bedroom is also part of it and really working on cultivating awareness around your body. [inaudible 00:19:49] that focusing on doing grounding exercises, number of different exercises I give my clients to explore their body and finally their sexuality. That also can help people to feel more grounded and they're going to have more experience of embodiment. Alyssa Scolari [20:07]: You start with non-sexual touch. Nazanin Moali [20:12]: Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Alyssa Scolari [20:12]: Which I think is so important. I follow this one person on Instagram. Her handle is My Orgasmic Life. Nazanin Moali [20:21]: Nice. Alyssa Scolari [20:21]: Have you ever heard of her before? Nazanin Moali [20:23]: No. Alyssa Scolari [20:24]: She's wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. She has these workshops and these seminars, it's called Body Sex, and she helps women to become more grounded in themselves and be able to explore their sexuality and tap into their sexuality but she starts with non-sexual touch. For many people, and I know especially for me, non-sexual touch was all I could handle for a long time. I think that that's important. Just even hand holding or even, and this is if you're with your partner, but there also can be non-sexual touch even if you're solo. Nazanin Moali [21:08]: Absolutely. I think definitely with partners, again kind of like checking in with yourself about your readiness on whether to introduce touch or not. At times we start as you said with hand holding or it could be caressing different parts of the body while you have the clothing on. We're not removing any clothing. That can take awhile and then after that when you're ready you can escalate things. Also as you mentioned, even when you are practicing solo, exploring putting lotion on different parts of your body and paying attention to the sensations, smells, all of those good things. You can practice this element of paying attention to your body. I think that's very important. Also breathing. Connecting with your breath can also be very powerful because when we're ready to be with a partner or we're ready to introduce solo sex, it's important to also to use our breath as a way to anchor ourself in our bodies. That could be one tool. Alyssa Scolari [22:11]: To use our breath as a way to stay grounded. Nazanin Moali [22:13]: Yes, and being focused in the moment because if we're connecting with people sexually, one common experience that many survivors have is they disassociate. They kind of leave their body and that's common and you can use your breath to anchor yourself back into your body. Alyssa Scolari [22:32]: Okay. That's really, really interesting and makes so much sense now that you're saying it. I had never thought of that before but yes, it makes so much sense. Nazanin Moali [22:41]: Thank you. Alyssa Scolari [22:42]: Such great, great tips and tools. I do want to be clear for the listeners out there that this is a process, which I know you can speak more on, that takes awhile. Nazanin Moali [22:57]: Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Alyssa Scolari [22:58]: We can't expect this to happen within a week. Nazanin Moali [23:01]: You're absolutely right about that and sometimes it means that it's not a linear path. Sometimes you're escalating things with your partner and it feels okay, and something happens in your life and then your body kind of goes a little bit back. You're no longer ready for sex or you're not ready to connect in a specific way with your partner, so that's completely okay. It's important to have this compassionate view of yourself and okay, as long as you're working on this and moving forward, that's what's important. Recovery is possible but it's important to take it with your own pace because if you are going too fast then that might lead for you to experience all sorts of sexual challenges. I see people that many survivors develop all kind of sexual dysfunctions because they either didn't address the main issue around trauma or their pacing wasn't quite right, so I think that's important to keep in mind. Alyssa Scolari [23:58]: Yes, I like that you pointed out that it's not linear because I think that that can be very frustrating for some people and certainly was frustrating for me on my recovery journey where I would be okay sometimes and then during maybe a high stress time in my life it would be like, oh this is not okay, and it would feel defeating because it would feel like well great, I'm right back where I was. But that's not at all the case. It just ebbs and flows. In the same way that I think, and you could speak more to this, that any sexual relationship would ebb and flow, right? Nazanin Moali [24:38]: Absolutely. That's completely okay as long as you are focusing on communicating that with your partner and focusing on experiencing having good enough sexual experiences. We are living in a society that we're all constantly bombarded with what's sex supposed to look like. That it needs to be this glamorous production and everyone else is having sex every day and you're left out. It's important to think about who you are and what kind of sexual experiences you want. It's a goal that can change in different phases of our life. Alyssa Scolari [25:14]: Yeah. It's important to know that it doesn't have to be ... Just kind of like you said, like it's glamorized. If you're with somebody and the relationship really is right, it has to be this mind-blowing, earth-shattering sex that's every day and it's like, this is not realistic. Everything works differently depending on who you are. Different strokes for different folks, basically. Nazanin Moali [25:39]: Absolutely. Yes. Yes, and I think people at times think about if they're not experiencing spontaneous desire and we're not climaxing the same time, it means that we're broken or we're not compatible. I think it's important to know that our sexuality can look different and that's okay. Alyssa Scolari [26:00]: Yes. Self compassion and allowing yourself to be where you're at without judgment. Now there's even more I think shame filled than having sex with a partner, I would say for trauma survivors I've found that learning how to engage in masturbation again I have found to be extremely, extremely triggering for trauma survivors. As a sex therapist, when somebody is trying to establish pleasure again into their lives do you recommend masturbation first? Like getting to know your own body first before they step out into exploring other partners? Nazanin Moali [26:53]: Well you brought up such an important point, Alyssa, that I think at times even especially with my female clients, there's some stigma around masturbation. Whether they experienced trauma or not, kind of thinking about that this is not okay, I don't want to do it, for a number of different reasons. And paired with experiencing trauma, that message can get amplified. I guess one thing I want for people to know that it's a wonderful way of exploring and seeing how ready are you to have sexual pleasure in your life and you have the control over your body and you can stop and I think that can be a really, really good way that you can gauge your readiness. You can incorporate different touches and explore that. I think that can be very, very useful. I think one thing that's really important to also keep in mind, that sexual trauma, sexual assault is a form of violence. It's not about sex at all. It's about the violence. Alyssa Scolari [27:52]: Yes. Nazanin Moali [27:53]: I think it's important to keep that in mind and separating that from your sexuality and sexual pleasure. I think it's important to keep that in mind, so actively turning your mind that direction. I think when it comes to masturbation I think it's important even if you haven't done it before experiencing trauma, thinking about it as a way for you to reconnect with your body. Even if you are not ready to masturbate to orgasm or you don't want to, you can touch and stroke different parts of your body, kind of exploring and being curious about the sensation. Being curious what feels good and what doesn't feel good. At times our pleasure and our arousal can change after experiencing trauma. I have some clients, and I know this is such a controversial topic, but they incorporate their sexual abuse experiences as part of their erotic template. Especially if that was something that happened early in life, and they have all sorts of different sexual play that might not be mainstream but it's healthy for them because it helps them to feel in charge, it helps them to feel safe in the consensual relationship and context. Alyssa Scolari [29:06]: Yep. In other words, people will incorporate part of their abuse during their sexual arousal because that's what makes them feel A, aroused, B, like they have some kind of control. Nazanin Moali [29:23]: Absolutely. Alyssa Scolari [29:24]: Yes. Yes. I was just going to ask, and you are saying that we want to normalize that? Nazanin Moali [29:31]: Yes. Yes. Again, I think it's important to differentiate are you re-traumatizing yourself with this behavior? Is this trauma reenactment? Or this is truly part of your erotic template now because now our fantasies, our erotic blueprint and our sexual behavior can give us this feeling of safety and it's important for us to feel safe during sex. If this particular play, power [inaudible 00:29:57] change, whatever you're into, it gives you that safety, then there's nothing wrong with incorporating that. Alyssa Scolari [30:04]: Yes, and by explaining it like that and saying that you are washing the shame away from people who may be aroused by types of sex or types of foreplay that aren't mainstream and it's okay in a consensual situation. It is absolutely okay. I love that you said that. Nazanin Moali [30:32]: Thank you. Alyssa Scolari [30:33]: So important. So important. I just have to go back to what you said, because you said this earlier and I love it. It's about when we talk about trying to help people come out of the shame and the guilt that they feel and reclaiming their sexuality and their right to pleasure as a way to get revenge. That is so important. I think that so much of the healing comes from reclaiming your right to pleasure because then you turn to your perpetrator, figuratively, not literally, and you say, "You didn't win," because the assault, the abuse, the rape, it's not about arousal. It's about power. It's about power and violence and when you reclaim your right to feel pleasure, whether it's with yourself, whether it's with another partner, multiple partners, that's when you take back your power. Nazanin Moali [31:35]: I agree. You say it much better than me. Alyssa Scolari [31:42]: I just feel so empowered by what you're saying and the work that you're doing and it's wonderful. It's wonderful. Nazanin Moali [31:50]: Thank you. Same to you. Alyssa Scolari [31:53]: Thank you. I have to ask, how long have you been working in particular niche, this field, for? Nazanin Moali [32:00]: Well I did tons of different research in trauma, so in trauma it's been around 12 years. Sex therapy the last five years because I felt that I love doing trauma work but specifically this is something that I really enjoy, helping survivors and also people with all sorts of sexual challenges. That's been a newer niche for me. Alyssa Scolari [32:24]: Yeah. Yeah. I'm sure it's so empowering just to help people claim their right to pleasure. This is something that I have over the last year or so have strongly been considering going back for my PhD in clinical sexology because I want to be able to better help survivors of sexual abuse reclaim their right to pleasure, and you're doing it and it's incredible. And you're a phenomenal writer. The article that you sent me, which to the listeners out there, I will link this article in the show notes. This is an article where you talk about you give different tips on how people can start to recover. It was the posttraumatic growth that you were talking about, correct? Nazanin Moali [33:12]: Yes. A part of it yes, I talk about that. Yes. Alyssa Scolari [33:14]: You're a phenomenal writer and then you have a podcast as well. Can you talk a little bit about your podcast? Nazanin Moali [33:22]: Well thank you so much for allowing me to share this. I have a podcast, as I mentioned, called Sexology. I've been airing weekly shows the last four and a half years. I talk about science of sex and pleasure because one thing that I'm very passionate about is giving people accurate scientific research-based information because I feel like when we have the right information it will empower us to make right decisions because there's just so many inaccurate information out there. At times they're interviews, and at times the solos podcast episodes. It gets released on a weekly basis on Tuesdays. Whenever I'm talking about a topic that's not necessarily within my specific niche I invite a researcher, scientist, another psychologist, therapist to come talk about it. It's called Sexology and people can find it everywhere that they're listening to the podcast, like Apple Podcast, Stitcher, all of those places. Alyssa Scolari [34:21]: I can't wait to listen. Nazanin Moali [34:23]: Thank you. Alyssa Scolari [34:24]: That's so exciting. You're doing incredible work. Where do you see your career going, because you're also five years into working in this niche. I'm sure you've got big dreams and big goals to continue on to do other things. What are some of your goals? Nazanin Moali [34:42]: Well thank you for saying all of these wonderful things. You're such a kind, considerate host. Yes I'm very excited. What I want to do is I want to do online courses specifically helping couples to connect because I feel like there's a limit on number of people I can see in my practice. I love serving individuals and couples but I feel with e-courses, online courses and programs I can reach a broader audience and I can serve a bigger audience so that's what I have in mind for the next phase. Alyssa Scolari [35:14]: E-courses, that's amazing. Especially because everything is online right now. Awesome. Awesome, so you've got big plans. Nazanin Moali [35:22]: Thank you. Thank you. The other thing is around sexuality, whether it's podcasts or e-courses, I think it's easier when people can do the work in the privacy of their home or listen in the privacy of their home because it's just tough to A, talk to a stranger about sex or going into the office can be another hurdle. Alyssa Scolari [35:42]: Yeah. Agreed. It takes being able to do this type of work from home and from the comfort of their own homes gives all people, but especially trauma survivors or sexual abuse survivors, a relief from the shame. I almost wish that when I was talking about my sexual abuse, I wish that it was online. I wish we were on Zoom because I remember quite literally hiding under a blanket at my therapist's office while I would talk to her because of the shame. I do think it's going to give people, it's going to make people so much more comfortable to be able to do it from the comfort of their own homes. Nazanin Moali [36:30]: Well thank you, and I'm glad that you had the opportunity to go in person because I think even going in person can be very, very powerful. I think there's benefit to all aspects, whether going in person or courses. It's a matter of just taking action. I think that's what's important. Alyssa Scolari [36:47]: Agreed. Agreed. There are pros and cons to both. I think the benefit of going in person is that you are able to say it in person and to see somebody not judging you, normalizing the things you were feeling. I'll never forget the time when lots of my memories of trauma were repressed and I was in the uncovering phase and I was just having all of these memories come to the surface and I was sitting in my therapist's office with my husband and I kept trying to say, "But it feels good." What we were talking about earlier, like this couldn't have been rape because in the body memories it feels good. I couldn't say it and the next session I remember my therapist saying to me, "I could feel what you were feeling yesterday and I know what you're trying to tell me is that you feel pleasure along with the pain and that's okay." To be able to have that experience face to face was incredibly healing. Nazanin Moali [38:09]: Right. Right. What a wonderful gift that you got, the chance to work with someone that was so attuned with doing this work. Alyssa Scolari [38:18]: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Well I thank you so, so much for coming on the show. Now if people want to find out more, I will absolutely link the article that you wrote in the show notes and do you have a website that people can go to as well? Nazanin Moali [38:37]: Yes. They can find my content, my podcast on SexologyPodcast.com. That would be a place that people can find me. Alyssa Scolari [38:47]: Perfect. I will link that in the show notes as well. Thank you for your time, for your knowledge, for your wisdom, your experience, and most of all for working in this type of field because it is so, so needed and you're making huge changes. Thank you. Nazanin Moali [39:05]: My pleasure and thank you so much for having me on your podcast. This was an absolute pleasure. Alyssa Scolari [39:12]: Thanks for listening, everyone. For more information about today's episode and to sign up for the Light After Trauma newsletter, head over to my website at AlyssaScolari.com. The really great thing about being a part of this newsletter is that not only do you get weekly updates on new podcast episodes and blog posts, but you also get access to the private Facebook community as well as access to all sorts of insider tips, resources and infographs that supplement what we talk about on the show. You also can connect with me and other trauma warriors. I'm super active on the Facebook community and I look forward to talking with you. [Music 00:39:52]
Episode 106: Don't Take It Personally with Alyssa Scolari, LPC
22:52When people hurt us or wrong us, we often automatically assume that the problem is us. We find ourselves asking "Why don't people like me?" or "What's wrong with me?" or "What did I ever do to them?" Developing the ability to depersonalize others' actions and realize that the things people do often have very little to do with you can be life changing. Check out the Light After Trauma website for transcripts, other episodes, Alyssa's guest appearances, and more at: www.lightaftertrauma.com Want to get more great content and interact with the show? Check us out on Instagram: @lightaftertrauma We need your help! We want to continue to make great content that can help countless trauma warriors on their journey to recovery. So, please help us in supporting the podcast by becoming a recurring patron of the show via Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/lightaftertrauma You can also check out Alyssa at www.alyssascolari.com Transcript Alyssa Scolari [00:23]: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Light After Trauma podcast. I'm your host, Alyssa Scolari, and I hope everybody is off to a good week. I am doing pretty well. I have been keeping up with my reading, which honestly has been helping me get through some difficult times. I just finished a book called The People We Meet on Vacation. Honestly, I do not recommend, unless you love a good rom-com, then you might like it. I just don't think that I'm a romantic comedy kind of gal, I didn't like it at all. I really expected it to be a little bit better in terms of like... The book is kind of like flashbacks of these friends who are on vacation in different parts of the world, and I just thought that I was going to get to feel like I was traveling with them, and that we were going to travel across the world with this book. But honestly, so much of it was just about sexual tension, and I swear to the lord almighty, if I had to read one more sentence about how he gently and softly swept a damp curl from her face and tucked it oh so softly behind her ear, I will vomit. It's just not me. It's just not me. No offense to the author. The writing is good, the wit is great, there were a few moments where I chuckled out loud, and I think that if you love romantic comedies, it's perhaps good, I was just not impressed. So I'm looking forward to my next book, which is going to be The Guest List by Lucy Foley. We will see. This one is, I think has murder in it, which I'm already much more inclined to like, and at the end of the day, I just don't think anything is going to top Where the Crawdads Sing. I'm almost sad that I've read it and that it's over, because I feel like there is no book that is going to top that. I'm sure that's not true, but right now my brain is still in Kya's world, and yeah, I just wasn't ready to leave that world. So anyway, I digress. I hope you're having a awesome, awesome week so far, let's get into it today. So, we are going to talk about kind of a somewhat difficult truth, and this is a truth that I have had to grapple with a lot over the course of my life, especially lately, and the truth of the matter is that not everything is about you. And I know that that can come off as harsh, and I probably shouldn't say it that harsh, because I have had people quite literally say that to me when I was a child, and it was really actually painful to hear, because I wasn't trying to make everything about me, I just was desperate for attention and help of some sort, so I shouldn't say it like that, right? It's not necessarily that not everything is about you. The nicer reframe for that is that you don't always have to take things so personally, because truly so many things that happen are not personal. And this is a really hard concept for so many of us, especially trauma survivors, because our brains are wired for protection. So our brains are always trying to seek out a threat, and we are trying to eliminate any potential threats before we end up getting really hurt. So when something happens, we just assume that that person meant it intentionally, or we just assume that that person hates us, and we assume that the problem is us. And we ask ourselves, "Why me? Why does this happen to me?" And that's us taking things really personally and assuming that people's behaviors are a reflection of who we are, and that is simply not true, and it really is one of the hardest things to unlearn. I mean, at least for me. I have had to grapple so much with this idea that people's actions and their behaviors and the things that they say are not about me, right? And let's talk about a couple examples, and I have a lot of personal examples about this, so I'm going to go to my personal examples. So for one, and this might seem kind of simple, but going to the doctors, right? As a fat person, going to the doctors is always a really stressful experience, because they almost always say something about my weight, unsolicited. And so I've gotten to a place where going to the doctors has become kind of like a anxiety-provoking thing for me, and I had a doctor's appointment just to get literally some vaccines, where I wasn't even going to be weighed, and I was driving there and I could feel my heart just pounding in my chest, and I'm like, "Man, what do I do about this?" And so I'm trying to talk myself through it and reframe like, "These doctors' comments to me about my weight is not about me. It is literally not about me." And you're like, "What do you mean? They're literally telling you to lose weight, it has to be about you." It is so not. It is about their own fatphobia, their own misunderstandings, or lack of being up to date about what actually makes somebody healthy, right? Because again, you can kind of look at my blood work and you can see everything looks great, and then you can just look at my body or the number on the scale and say, "Oh, well, you must be unhealthy." No, there are really no indicators that I'm not healthy. So this is about the diet culture, this is about the fatphobia in the medical system, this is about doctors not knowing, or really understanding, or really caring to learn about the Health at Every Size movement, it's not about me in the slightest. And so when I think about that, it helps me to shift my narrative from like, "Oh, I'm this, I'm that, I'm a bad person. Doctors don't like me, they don't want to work with me," or "They think I'm this, they think I'm that." They actually aren't thinking at all, really. They're doing exactly what their training has told them, which is "We see this number on the scale, we don't like this number, and we need to address it." That is literally what their training is, it's what their training has told them to do, it has absolutely nothing to do with me. And so reframing it like that has helped me to depersonalize it to the point where now I will go into a doctor's office and I will be like, "Hey, not getting weighed, and no, I'm not going to tell you what my weight is, unless I'm here specifically for my weight, or unless you need to know it for some medical reason, I'm not letting you know." And also I happen to have found a doctor at this point, at least a primary care doctor, who is amazing and totally, totally gets it. So that's just one example, right? People's behaviors are not a reflection of you, and I think that this is really important to remember with family members as well, right? Many of you know, I no longer have any contact with my family. It is not, and most likely is never going to work out with my family, unfortunately. And I have had to grapple a lot with the past, and with trying to understand certain behaviors and certain situations, but every time, when I'm in therapy or when I'm thinking by myself, my therapist will remind me so that I'm able to remind myself, "Their behaviors were never about you. Their actions are never... They were never about you." They were about X, Y, and Z things that quite frankly, I'm just not ready to share at this point. But let's say you have a family that you don't get along with, or you have childhood trauma and your family members were your abusers, and let's say you have parents who gaslight you, and when you try to talk to them about certain things that happened, your parents say, "That never happened, I don't know what you're talking about," or they say things like, "I thought you had a great childhood," or they try to guilt-trip you and say things like, "Oh, I guess I'm just such a horrible parent," very sarcastically. Let's say you have a parent like that, it can be really, really confusing and difficult for you to try to figure out what the truth is, because you have certain feelings and certain memories, but then somebody else who was there is also telling you something completely different, and so you are left feeling very confused and a little bit chaotic because you know what you remember, and it's very painful to not only be invalidated, but to have people tell you that your memories are wrong. And so it's really helpful in these moments to remember, again, it's not about you. People might tell you that your memories are wrong because they don't want to face it themselves. People might invalidate you because they don't want to have those feelings. They are running from feelings themselves. Some families will invalidate people or gaslight people, or say that things never happened so that they can keep their own secrets, so that they can maintain the appearance of normalcy and happiness and functionality. It has so little to do with you, truly. The same goes for, let's say you go to the grocery store to go grocery shopping, and you're checking out and your cashier is miserable. I had a cashier a few weeks ago, I went to the grocery store, and as I was almost finished, I had all these groceries in my cart, the cashier... Or actually the person comes on on the loudspeaker in the grocery store, and they're like, "Just so you know, our system is down and we're only taking cash right now." And so people were up in arms, because who carries that much cash on them? I feel like people rarely pay for groceries with cash anymore, certainly not me. So people were up in arms, people were leaving all their groceries and they're running out of the store, people are running to the ATM, people are screaming, yelling, and I actually didn't know it because I didn't hear it on the loudspeaker at the time. And so I wheel my cart up to the cashier and I'm standing in line, and she looks at me and she's like, "Hey, how are you?" And I was like, "I'm great, thank you, how are you?" As an aside, I was not great. I was having a terrible day, but I was like, "You know what? I'm going to be really nice." She was like, "You do know that it's cash only?" And I was like, "Just this lane, or everywhere?" And she was like, "Our system is down, we're not taking cards right now anywhere, so if you don't have cash, then you can't pay for these." And I was like, "Oh." She was like, "I don't know how you didn't hear that on the speaker earlier." And I was getting heated, let me tell you. Luckily there was a very kind man there who heard the way she was talking to me, and I don't even remember what he did, but he said something to kind of defuse the tension and I walked away, but I was fuming as I was walking away. And one of the things I had to keep saying to myself over and over and over again is "It is not about me. Her rudeness has nothing to do with me as a person, and I am not taking on that energy. That is hers to deal with. I am not absorbing that." And then I kind of do this visualization exercise where I picture myself almost turning into a rock, so that things will just bounce off me, so that I don't absorb it, because a lot of times I'm a sponge, so I got to turn into a rock. This happens even in stores when you're shopping, grocery shopping, whatever it may be. It also happens among friends or acquaintances, and I got hit with it hard a couple weeks ago, where I have this distant friend who's getting married and they... She has a shower that's coming up, and I am not going to be able to attend the shower, and so I wanted to send a gift. And so I of course did my due diligence and checked in with the maid of honor to make sure that I could reach out and ask for an address so that I can send this gift, and the maid of honor was like, "Yep, go right ahead, you can reach out," and so... Or maybe the maid of honor didn't say exactly that, but whatever the maid of honor said was pretty much like, "Yeah, go ahead." Like, "She knows, she knows about the shower." And so I just text her, and I just said like, "Hey, I'm not going to be able to make it to the shower, but I wanted to send you a gift. What is your address?" That is literally all of the information that I revealed. I didn't give anything away, nothing. Within like an hour or so, I get a text from one of this person's other friends, a person who used to be a friend of mine, but who I haven't talked to in years, and don't care to talk to, reached out to me and was like, "Don't say any more about what you're going to be doing and when, because this needs to be a surprise. We all want this to be a surprise and so does the bride," and it was just a passive-aggressive text message. And I was so hurt by it, because number one, I did my due diligence, I made sure that what I... I was very careful with what I said to not let anything slip. Number two, I don't understand, I texted one person, so why is it that that person that I texted felt the need to share my messages with somebody else, right? Obviously I know you're talking about me, obviously I know you have a problem with what I said, even though I don't know what I said, to the point where the person I texted, the bride, I asked for her address, she still hasn't gotten back to me. So I did something, I clearly did something, of which I don't frigging know, but this is exactly why I have chosen to cut ties with so many people in my life, because I don't put up with this bullshit, because it really got to me, and I started crying and I started saying to David, like, "I don't understand why people have to do this to me. I feel like people don't like me and I don't know what I did. I did everything I possibly could to not let the surprise out. I checked with the maid of honor. I just don't know, whatever." But I was taking it so personally until I sat down and I thought, and I was like, "You know what? This is actually who they are," because I've known these people for many, many years, and I've been around different groups and I've heard, they all talk shit about each other. Every time somebody so much as sneezes, somebody else knows about it. They all talk shit, they all gossip, they all look for something that somebody does wrong, and it just happened to be me. It just so happened to be me this time. I did something wrong, and instead of reaching out to me and saying, "Hey," I don't know, telling me what I did wrong, they're just going to ignore me or be passive-aggressive. Mind you, these are people that are way older than me. So it's just like, it's not about me. This is what they do. This is what they do for fun. They chew people up and spit them out for fun. And as soon as I was able to realize that, I felt so much better, and then I was able to just laugh it off and go, "Yep, this is what they do," and let it go, and didn't say anything, and realized, "You know what? I don't want friends like this, and we're done here." I also should say, I don't want that to sound like I have cut people off abruptly, because I haven't, and I don't recommend that. If you want to learn more about cutting people off versus talking to them and setting boundaries, you can look back in the previous episodes, but suffice it to say that these are people who I have decided just aren't good for me, and so these friendships are not going to go on. But it's not about me, it was never about me, and it was never about you either. How much angst and anger and frustration and tears do you think could have been saved if you remember that people's actions truly have nothing to do with you? How many tears, how many less tears would've been shed if you acknowledged that people, nine times out of 10, are just operating according to their own rules in life, and if those rules happen to hurt you, they're not really paying too much attention to that? They're not sitting up at night going, "How can I hurt this person's feelings?" They're just trying to make it through their lives, and that's not me saying that it's okay, it's not. But what I'm hoping that this does is try to take a lot of the pressure off of you to feel like you need to be better, like you did something wrong, like you need to change things. Listen, we all need work. We all need work, we all have things we have to change, but you don't need people to make you feel terrible, and you don't need to be personalizing people's actions in order to elicit change. People love to gossip, they live on it. People love to talk about other people because it makes them feel better. Families love to keep their secrets, because if we keep our secrets, then we maintain the system, then we don't have to deal with the pain and the feelings. Rude people out there exist because they're having bad days, and they project all over the world, and very little of it is personal. And the moment that you realize this and can continue to tell yourself this, that's the moment that dealing with people and being in relationships with people, friendships with people, becomes so much more manageable. I love you, I hope you have a wonderful week, and I will be holding you in the light. Thanks for listening, everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com, or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram, we are @lightaftertrauma, and on Twitter, it is @lightafterpod. Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks, so please head on over. Again, that's patreon.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you, and we appreciate your support.
Episode 105: When Weekly Therapy Isn’t Enough with Sarah Tatarski
46:39Mental health missionary Sarah Tatarski joins Alyssa on this week’s episode to discuss options for when weekly outpatient therapy just isn’t enough. Sarah discussed her experiences with alternative treatment options such as partial hospitalization programs, ketamine, and alpha-Stim. She also provides new perspectives on navigating some of the major flaws in the mental health system. Sarah Tatarski's Instagram: @vulnerableandnotafraid Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families Info on the Alpha-Stim device Check out the Light After Trauma website for transcripts, other episodes, Alyssa's guest appearances, and more at: www.lightaftertrauma.com Want to get more great content and interact with the show? Check us out on Instagram: @lightaftertrauma We need your help! We want to continue to make great content that can help countless trauma warriors on their journey to recovery. So, please help us in supporting the podcast by becoming a recurring patron of the show via Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/lightaftertrauma You can also check out Alyssa at www.alyssascolari.com Transcript: Alyssa Scolari: Hey everyone, this is just a quick note that Sarah wanted me to hop on and let you all know. Sarah's mom was not her abuser, so her father was an alcoholic and he was her main abuser when he was alive. Sarah and her mom have had an enmeshed relationship since she was young. Alyssa Scolari: That caused her mother to be a trauma trigger for her, so she just wanted me to come on and clarify that just so you can know who is who and didn't you know, think that somebody was her abuser when in fact they were not. Alyssa Scolari: So, I hope you enjoy this episode. Alyssa Scolari: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Light After Trauma podcast. I am your host, Alyssa Scolari, and we have a guest episode today. It is so rare that we have guests on the podcast these days, but there is a special person who I met just like Jennifer Burns, which Jennifer, if you haven't listened to older episodes, Jennifer is the woman who we talked about crystals, with and how crystals have been used and have helped her with her trauma recovery. Alyssa Scolari: I met Jennifer just because she was a podcast listener and we connected. And we started talking about a topic that we were really passionate about. And a similar thing has happened with today's guest. Her name is Sarah Tatarski. And I met Sarah basically, through the podcast. She was a listener of the podcast, reached out and we started talking via Instagram. Alyssa Scolari: Now, Sarah is an artist, an aspiring entrepreneur, a cat mom, and a mental health missionary. She recently graduated from college in May of 2021, and has been on a mission since then to work through her core wounds from childhood and early adult life. Alyssa Scolari: After four years of only doing CBT and feeling ready to be deeply challenged, she tried more intensive therapeutic approaches. These include trauma focused treatment centers, family therapy, EMDR, ketamine for major depressive disorder, and the use of a cranial electrotherapy stimulation device called Alpha-Stim. Alyssa Scolari: Sarah recently started a mental health focused Instagram called Vulnerable and Not Afraid, to share her recovery from trauma and educate people on other therapeutic options that have personally helped her. Now, we are talking about a really important topic today, and I know I say that shit every week. So, forgive my redundancy, but you know how I love all things, mental health. Alyssa Scolari: But I think that this is particularly, important because for the last two years on this podcast, we have spoken about therapy and treatment pretty much from like a standard outpatient setting. So, how to process things when you're going to therapy once a week or twice a week in your standard outpatient setting. And that isn't always enough. And there certainly, have been many times where it wasn't enough for me. And I know that there are many people out there that hasn't been enough for either including Sarah. Alyssa Scolari: So, we are talking about different treatment options for when you find yourself in a place where therapy once a week or twice a week is just not enough. So, with that said, I will stop talking and I'm going to turn it over to Sarah. Hi, Sarah, welcome to the podcast. Sarah Tatarski: Hello. I'm excited to be here. Alyssa Scolari: I'm really excited to have you. I know we were actually, supposed to record like a week ago, and then I had COVID and lost my voice and sounded like not even remotely myself. So, thank you for rescheduling and bearing with me. Let's start out by saying, or by me asking you, like, tell me what even makes you passionate about this? If you're comfortable, can you tell me about a little bit of your own experiences? Sarah Tatarski: Yeah, in regards to seeking mental health treatment or my trauma or all of it? What particularly? Alyssa Scolari: Yeah. I think, you have a lot of experience and knowledge on alternative forms of treatment. And so, I guess what my question would be is like, did you get to a certain point in your life where you were like, "Hey, just going to therapy once a week isn't enough for me?" How did you know what was going on in your life? Things like that. Sarah Tatarski: Yeah. So, I've had a couple different, I guess you could say breaking points in my life. The first one was March 2019, and I had to take a medical withdrawal from school, but I instantly, felt better not being in school. The stressors were gone. I said, "Okay, cool. I can manage this." Sarah Tatarski: And I trudged along December 2020 came, I had this dramatic memory that I didn't remember resurface. I was living back at home with my mom and I was just spiraling like crazy. And that's when my... The first time my therapist said, "Sarah, you need to go to this trauma center." And I said, "Eh, we'll see." I told her the memory finally. And then, I felt better again. Sarah Tatarski: And so, I just trudge along, trudge along and finished school. And then, I just completely fell apart because post grad depression is real. I don't think people talk about it enough. They're like, "It's so fun. Oh, my gosh, congrats." And I said, "I'm miserable. And I have no path anymore. And I don't know what the hell I'm doing." And a lot of my friends went through this too, especially us graduated in 2020 and 2021, we were so burnt out from COVID and the huge changes we had to go through. Sarah Tatarski: So, for me, I said, "Oh, I'm going to take a break." And that break turned into me, spiraling constantly. And it just got to a point in end of June where I was not really eating, I wasn't really sleeping. That same memory came nagging at my brain. And my therapist said, "You need to forego your income and just go to a trauma center." And I said, "Okay." Alyssa Scolari: Ah, that's a hard thing to hear. That's a really hard thing to hear. Sarah Tatarski: Yeah, it just got to the breaking point then. And I had moved back home again in May 2021 with my mom, which didn't realize back then, but she was a huge trigger, and I didn't quite grasp why she was. And until later after all these therapies I've done, but I was just absolutely miserable. And I said, "Okay, you know what? I'm finally going to do this. I have the ability to not work. I have really good insurance. I'm going to take advantage of this." Sarah Tatarski: And so, that was the line where I was, I'm just miserable every day in my life to the point where I don't know if I can lip. So, that was my breaking point in June 2021. Alyssa Scolari: So, you're saying like you were at that point where you were like, "I just don't even know if I want to be alive anymore? Like, my safety might be on the line? Sarah Tatarski: Yeah, I think we never struggled with SI, suicidal ideation much, but it was getting to that point where I just felt like, I don't know, can I go forward in life? And that's what motivated me to get different help and more intense help. Alyssa Scolari: Okay. So, I really appreciate that you said that, because I think it's very important to highlight that this country makes it seem like in order. I mean, I guess we can just also start out by saying that the system for higher levels of care, isn't the greatest, it's not the greatest. Alyssa Scolari: And so, on one hand, we shame people from talking about their suicidal thoughts, for fear of them getting locked up. But then, on the other hand, when people have suicidal thoughts, they are often told when they go to a hospital and they want treatment. They're often told, "Well, you actually, have to make an attempt," in order to be hospitalized or in order to not even just be hospitalized, but in order to eventually, get to a treatment center. Alyssa Scolari: So, I think it's really, important that you said, "You know what? I'm not necessarily suicidal. I'm not necessarily a danger to myself, but I'm not okay with the quality of life that I currently have. And therefore, I'm seeking alternative forms of treatment," because you don't have to get to a point where your life is on the line to decide, to seek different forms of treatment. I love that you said that. Sarah Tatarski: Yeah. And definitely, I didn't want to get to that point. And it was teetering between that. I've met friends at my trauma centers who are, have attempted, were attempting, got transferred from intensive care to where I was. And yeah, I don't think it's acknowledged enough that you don't have to be either attempt or actively, planning to seek help because I didn't want to get to that point. I never want to. And I hopefully, never will. Alyssa Scolari: You had mentioned a little while ago that you realized after different types of treatment, that your mom was a trigger for you. And one of the questions I have is, was it difficult for you to go to a treatment while living, because you had lived with your mom while doing some of this treatment, was it difficult to live with somebody who is a trigger while going to a treatment? Because I think a lot of people can probably, relate to that. Sarah Tatarski: Yeah, it was a whole another challenge. I'm in my trauma for, let's see, the first trauma center I went to, I was there from 9:00 to 4:00 p.m. I did therapy three times a week individually. We had groups all day, trauma groups, four times a week and relapse prevention, which was incredible, which by the way, I had no idea what relapse prevention was. And I said, "I don't do drugs." Sarah Tatarski: So, I just laughed it off until I got there and said, "Oh, I have a lot of toxic behaviors that are not related to alcohol or any kinds of other drugs." So, life changing. Alyssa Scolari: Yes. Sarah Tatarski: But just doing that all day and having the realizations that I was having. And then, I come home... And by the way, I didn't mention this. I'm in my childhood house where I experienced my trauma, and that is where I'm living right now. Alyssa Scolari: Oh, my... Okay. Sarah Tatarski: That's a whole another level of, I'm living with a trigger, I'm living in a trigger, and I came home every day and I'm like, "Ah." I'm like running around, like a chicken with its head cut off. I'm freaking out. I can't ground myself. I can't focus on my treatment. And the only relief I got was when I stayed with my friend for a whole week and I was like, "Oh." I can come back, and I just lay in bed. I'm like, "I'm so happy and relaxed." But it was extremely challenging. I don't recommend it. I recommend anyone doing what I did. Alyssa Scolari: Yeah. Sarah Tatarski: I mean, living with your trigger and living in the house you were abused. I recommend trauma treatment. Absolutely. Of course, I wouldn't be on here otherwise recommending it. But it made the process that much harder because there was a point, I told my therapist, I said, "I just want to be a prostitute right now. And move out of my house." And he's like, "Sarah, no." And I'm like, "But that's how I feel." And he said, "I'm not going to act on it." Sarah Tatarski: But that's how overwhelmed I am right now. It's like, I will do anything to get out of my house. Of course, I never acted on it. But that's the thought... Alyssa Scolari: Right. So, the point where... Sarah Tatarski: ... that happened. Alyssa Scolari: ... you're considering. Yeah, you're considering like prostitution or sex work to get out. You're like, "I will do whatever I have to get out of this place." Sarah Tatarski: Which is, there's nothing wrong with sex work. It's just not my... I have too much trauma to engage in that field sex workers. You'll do whatever you want. But yeah, that's just to the point. I was so vulnerable that that's what I was just willing to do. And that's not healthy situation to be in. Alyssa Scolari: I mean, right, exactly. It would be ideal. Again, like you said, there's no issue with sex workers. It's feeling like you're trapped and you're backed into a corner to the point where your only way out is considering an option that you know would be retraumatizing for you. That's when you know all the alarm bells are sounding, you're like, "Okay, I need to do something here." Sarah Tatarski: Exactly. Yeah, it was very intense. Alyssa Scolari: So, then can you talk a little bit about, I guess, let's go in specifically, like where should we start? What type of treatment did you start with? Because I know you've done a couple of different things. Sarah Tatarski: Yeah, there were a lot of things I've done the past year. So, I'll just briefly summarize. And then, if you want to ask more specific questions, we can go from there. But the first thing that I did was in July 2021, I went to a partial hospitalization program at a trauma center here in New Orleans called River Oaks, recommended fully. Sarah Tatarski: So, I wasn't living there. I was there from 9:00 to 4:00 like I had mentioned. You're just there during the day, you don't live in the hospital. It's scary inside. I would not want to... Not wanting to stay there. I did not want to stay there. But... Alyssa Scolari: Scary like hospital setting type like? Sarah Tatarski: Yes, it was cold and there were not a lot of lights, and you went outside or not a lot of windows, and you went outside for like 20 minutes a day. It was like jail. So... Alyssa Scolari: Yes, so many partial hospitalizations, like programs are like that. I've been to one myself and it feels like jail. And I'm like, "Why aren't these a little bit happier? You're trying to help people with their mental health, why do we feel like we're locked up?" Sarah Tatarski: Exactly. So, I did that. And then, once I was done with that program, I started seeing a therapist for EMDR. And then, in December 2021, I went to a residential treatment program called Innova Grace in San Antonio, Texas. And I was doing a lot of EMDR there. I used the [inaudible 00:14:40] bed. I used the Alpha-Stim, which I'm wearing right now, like I mentioned earlier. Sarah Tatarski: And after that, continued to do EMDR, that's what I'm doing with my therapist right now. I started ketamine for major depressive disorder. And now, I'm using the Alpha-Stim again. And forgot to mention on top of that, the past, however many months it's been since August 2021. So, nine months, I've been in family therapy. Sarah Tatarski: So, I'm doing 10 different therapies. And also, I recently, joined Adult Children of Alcoholics group and dysfunctional family. So, I've been going to that support group about every two weeks to every week. So, if you want me to expand on all of that, that's a lot of different treatments that I just mentioned. So, happy to talk about any of it in more detail. Alyssa Scolari: Yes, I have questions. I think the first question is, how did you end up getting involved in, especially in a post COVID world, in Adult Children of Alcoholic support group, because I think that there are many people out there who are listening, who would be very interested in that. Sarah Tatarski: Yeah. So, there are always meetings everywhere in the country and world at all times. And a lot of them are on Zoom now, too, which is great. So, you can just hop on Zoom at any time. And for me, I prefer in-person group. So, I go to the one at the church near my house at 5:00 p.m. on Sundays. Sarah Tatarski: And the way to get involved is to just go to their website, look up Adult Children of Alcoholic/dysfunctional families. And if you want to go to in-person meeting, you can just look up your town and see where it is. And if you don't want to go in-person, you can join literally any group, like from what I've seen online, probably, at least half of them are hybrid. Sarah Tatarski: So, you can go in-person if you want, you can go in Zoom if you want. But oh, when they read the laundry list, I don't know if you've ever read that. It's the 14 traits that you can have as an adult with having a dysfunctional family or an alcoholic. And I fit all 14 traits. So, that's when I knew I belonged. Alyssa Scolari: Oh, I don't think that I've ever read that before, but I bet it would be very jarring for me. Sarah Tatarski: You will be surprised. And when I say all 14 traits, I don't mean I have those now. I mean, at some point in my life, I have all 14 of them. So, even if you have one, I'm pretty sure, they're like, if you have one of these traits, you are welcome here. Alyssa Scolari: Wow. Okay. And for the listeners out there, I will link that in the show notes, the website that you can go and you can check it out because I think it's very important and I know that a lot of you can relate. So, okay, cool. So, thank you for that. Alyssa Scolari: So, now question about, so in terms of EMDR, I have, I think... So, I'm going through EMDR right now and I've been open about my experiences, both on my Instagram and I've shared a little bit on the podcast and we've also had people come on and talk about EMGR. Alyssa Scolari: I guess, the main question I have for you about EMGR because for those of you out there who don't know what it is, I talk about it in depth with a licensed clinical social worker. Her name is Melissa Parks on the podcast, and you can feel free to go and check that out. It is a really fantastic treatment for trauma that focuses on rewiring your nervous system, like your brain. So, for EMGR, did you find that was particularly helpful for you? Sarah Tatarski: It's definitely helped. It's not perfect. Of course, no treatment is perfect, but I've honestly, been only able to work on and am working on two memories. But the thing about these specific memories I'm working on is that, they hold a key to other things that I can't remember. And that's why, my therapist says we're going to keep working on these two. And I'm like, "No, I want to be done with them." Sarah Tatarski: But it's definitely, helped me to calm down in regards to my body not being as reactive. And I've noticed that the first memory that really resurfaced after about eight years and that drove me to get the help that I needed. My reaction to it has gone down a lot. Sarah Tatarski: My bodily reaction, I used to like throw up. I used to not eat. And now, it will come up and I'll be like, "Okay, deep breath. It's okay. You're safe like, that's not happening right now." We've talked... I've talked about it many times. I opened up to friends, I went up to multiple therapists. Sarah Tatarski: And so, I'm able to calm myself down. On the past, I literally, I would line around like running around my house. I don't know what the heck I'm doing. I'm scared, all this stuff. So, I significantly reduce my reactions while, and I don't want people to think that it gets rid of the memory. I think some people are like, "I want to get rid of my memories." And I'm like, "That's not how it works." But it reduces your bodily reaction to it. Sarah Tatarski: And I definitely notice, like I said, I'm not violently reacting, like I used to in the past. So, I found relief with it. My brain also likes to block me thinking about these two particular memories because there's some of the most intense memories I have. But as I continue to work on it, I'm able to be less reactive and process it with my therapist. Alyssa Scolari: Yeah, yeah. No, and I think that's ultimately, right. There's no such thing as a perfect treatment. But EMDR, I think is supposed to be beneficial at just like relaxing your nervous system. So, that like hyper vigilance isn't there as much. All right. So, can you talk about Alpha-Stim, and then there was one other... What did you say in addition to Alpha-Stim? Sarah Tatarski: I've been doing ketamine for major depressive disorders. So, there's that, in addition to the Alpha-Stim, family therapy, and then my trauma centers, and EMDR. Alyssa Scolari: Okay. Sarah Tatarski: Which is all like, they're all interconnected, anyway. Alyssa Scolari: Right, right. And can you talk about Alpha-Stim? Because I think that's a very new term. I'm not even familiar with Alpha-Stim. Sarah Tatarski: I am shocked at, I actually, spoke with a psychiatrist a couple of weeks ago. He monitors me when I'm doing ketamine. And I told him about it. He said, "I've never heard of that." And I'm like, "Whew, this is alarming." I'll go into details about it, but I'll give you a little bit of a history because I was wondering, why is this not talked about every single day? Why is this not open on the market? And I'll tell you this. Sarah Tatarski: So, I read about the history of Alpha-Stim. Yes, I'm a nerd. I read the little pamphlet that came with it. But so, the way that it works is, it uses biophysics and biophysics used to be taught in medical school up until the 20th century. And then, the chemistry took over and they stopped teaching biophysics. Of course, we know that pharmaceutical industry has a huge power over everything in this country. Sarah Tatarski: And so, I found that interesting that they used to teach biophysics, but now they don't. And that's probably, why it's not really mainstream as you would want to call it. But I'll just read you exactly, what they say from the website, because I don't want to give any misinformation to y'all. Sarah Tatarski: So, the way that it works is, it's cranial electrotherapy stimulation, and it uses small electrical currents to stimulate certain brain regions. And these currents mimic the electrical activity naturally occurring in the brain, which in turn regulates the electrical part of the brain's electrical chemical signals. And this is how it helps you to get piece of calm. It basically, regulates you without any drugs, just pure biophysics, which our body is... It's just a huge electrical network. Sarah Tatarski: And that's how they use the power of our body to heal with the Alpha-Stim. And you have to use it consistently, like every day over months to really get the full benefits. But you feel benefits within even like a day, because I hadn't used it in three months since I was at my last trauma center, and I got in the mail about two weeks ago. I put it on my ears and after, I was like, "I feel so much better already." And I forgot how magical this thing is. So... Alyssa Scolari: Wow. Wow. Sarah Tatarski: It's been incredible. I'm sleeping better. I've had one migraine the past 11 days. I usually, get them every single day of my life. So, I'm not making the stuff up whenever I would never tell anybody to go buy a medical device if it didn't work. But I just feel so much better. I feel more rested, because I have chronic pain due to my trauma, and I just feel a lot more content with the past two weeks, which is hard for me to say, usually. Alyssa Scolari: I mean, yeah, that's incredible is this. So, when you say like, I have this and I put it on my ears, like, is it, what is it? Are they just like little like sensory, like clips you put on your ears and you have like a little machine around your neck? Sarah Tatarski: Yeah, it's literally this small. Alyssa Scolari: Wow. Sarah Tatarski: Nobody can see it. It's about the size of like a palm, or like a hand depending on how big your hands are. I know, I have a little... I'm small. So, my hands are a little small, but it's about the size of my hand. And the way that it works is that, you put a solution on your ears, and then you clip the electrodes onto your ear. And it just sounds little, little electrical signal to your ear. Sarah Tatarski: And so, you feel this very mild little prick to your ear, but it doesn't hurt. And that's it. You use it at your house. You can use it on an airplane. You can use it wherever you want to use it. It's just like the size, even smaller than the iPhone. So, it's so easy to carry around if you need it to use it anywhere. Alyssa Scolari: And is there like, is it something that like insurance covers, or do people just buy it out of pocket? Do they have to go through like a therapist or a treatment center or anything like that? Sarah Tatarski: So, from what I know, the only insurance that covers it is TRICARE through the military. And only if you're active duty, will they pay for it in full, which is... Alyssa Scolari: Okay. Sarah Tatarski: ... annoying. So, without insurance, it costs $840. And while it sounds like a lot, the amount of money I've spent going to doctors asking, "What is wrong with me? Why am I in so much pain?" The amount of days I've missed work, the amount of days I've missed out on life, the $840 is beyond worth it. Alyssa Scolari: Yes. Sarah Tatarski: And some insurances may cover it. I don't have that answer. My insurance is really good. And they said, "No." They outright said, "We're not even going to give you money back." And I said, "That's really frustrating." And $840 is a lot for people. It's a lot for me. But I got to a point where I was just breaking down and I was like, "I can't do this. I cannot live like this every day of my life." Sarah Tatarski: And so, I took the plunge, I ordered it, I use it twice a day, and I just, I feel so much better. I can't even emphasize. I wish I could show data to show how much less pain I'm in. But like I said, they have a nine out of 10-success rate, and they've been studying this for over 40 years. So, this isn't something that's new to the market. It's not, "Oh, in 2020 we invented this device." It's 40 plus years of research. Alyssa Scolari: Yeah. And it's infuriating because it's also one of those things where it's like, like you said earlier, why is this not talked about more? And it's like, "Well, because it's so successful." And when it's so successful, who suffers big pharma because people require less and less treatment and medication. And therefore, if you heal, you aren't going to be paying as much money on other forms of treatment like meds. It's very, it's no surprise that it's one of those things that's kept hush, hush because... Sarah Tatarski: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because I'm not going to go too much on the tangent because then we would talk for hours. But the big pharma is based on a subscription model. They want you to be sick for your entire life. Why would they not want you to be? They want you to suffer. So, they make money. And that's why I think, insurances aren't going to cover it because they are very much tied into big pharma, of course. Sarah Tatarski: And so, I tell everybody since I got it the past two weeks, anyone that I meet or who was in my life, I'm like, "Pay the $840 if you can, it is worth every dime." And I would never tell anybody to buy something if I really didn't believe it, because that's not like a $100. That's 840. But... Alyssa Scolari: Yes. Sarah Tatarski: ... Like I said, I mean, I'm sure the amount of us who've been through trauma or even if you haven't been through significant amount of trauma, you probably, have some amount of pain from being on your computer all day. So, I just recommend it to anybody if you're able to afford it or, save up to get it. It's really, been incredible. And I'm so lucky that my trauma center, I went to in December to February had access to the Alpha-Stim for me. Alyssa Scolari: Yeah. That's incredible. And I will also link the website, the Alpha-Stim device on the show notes, so you can check that out. And then, so let's talk about ketamine because this is one that I am more familiar with, but I have not spoken with anybody who has gone through it. So, can you talk about like what it is and what your experience is with it? Sarah Tatarski: Yeah. So, I will say there are different kinds of ketamine treatment. There's the nasal spray, which I do. There's the shot and there's also IV. And I don't know which form is the most intense, but I know that the IV one is you get a very strong high and it's very strong, with Spravato, which is the ketamine that I do. Sarah Tatarski: I do two nasal sprays, one in each nose, and you can go up to three sprays or three doses. Sorry, I don't know how many sprays it is, but I do the two. Some people do three doses. I'm very sensitive to drugs in general. So, I was like, "Let's go with the lower one. I don't want to get too high." I would like to see how I feel first. Alyssa Scolari: Yeah. Sarah Tatarski: So, I started looking into do ketamine last fall and my insurance rejected me. I don't know how I don't qualify for it. I would just spent two months at a trauma center. I don't know how they... Apparently, they didn't want to cover it. I struggled with major depressive disorder. Sarah Tatarski: So, I felt really upset. And then, so kindly the clinic I went to called me and I said, "You know that the Johnson& Johnson Patient Assistance Foundation could help cover you, if you qualify, if you don't make enough money, or if you don't, there's some income bracket level that I'm not 100% sure what it is. And if your insurance denies you, they could consider covering you for up to year, and then renew you. Sarah Tatarski: And so, I applied. I'll be honest, I had been making $0. I'd just come out of a trauma center. So, I definitely knew I would qualify because one, my insurance rejected me. Two, my income was at zero at that point. Alyssa Scolari: Right. Sarah Tatarski: And they sent me a card, and for a full year they will cover it. And all I have to pay is, I think a $25 copay each time because out of pocket, it's like $250. So, I'm extremely, lucky that the J&J Patient Assistance Foundation was covering me. And yeah, I started going in March 2022. It's a big commitment, I will admit that. I don't know what it's like for, like I said, the IV or the shot. Sarah Tatarski: But with Spravato, you have to go twice a week for a month and you can't drive yourself there or back because you're too high. And then, the next month, you only go once a week. And then, after that is maintenance, if you choose. So... Alyssa Scolari: Wow. Sarah Tatarski: During the... Yeah, it's a big commit. During the process, you're just lying in a room for two hours by yourself. At least, that's how my clinic does it. So, I'm just lying there and I'm like, "Hi, hi is heck in." I'm just lying there. And it's a really, nice time to almost meditate or just reflect for two hours. I literally, can't do anything. I'm too high. I can't barely look at my phone. Sarah Tatarski: And it's been nice to have that reflection time, while I'm not exactly sure, exactly if it's benefiting me because it's hard. I had just come from a trauma center. I'm in therapy. I'm in family therapy. I have so many variables in my life that are helping me to heal that I can't exactly say, is ketamine helped me because there's just too many factors in my life right now that are helping me feel better. But that forced relaxation has been a challenge for me, because I struggle with relaxing and forcing myself to just exist in the world and just be... Alyssa Scolari: Right, as to many trauma survivors, yeah. Sarah Tatarski: Exactly. So, that's been one of the most healing aspects of ketamine is just being. I even cried during one session. I was like, "What are these emotions that are just suddenly coming up?" I was like, "This is healthy. What?" Alyssa Scolari: What is this? Yeah. Sarah Tatarski: So, it's supposed to help people who struggle a lot with SI. Again, suicide ideation for people who don't know the shorthand. But I have other friends who've done ketamine in different forms and they say, it has changed their life. Again, too many factors in my life are going on for me to give you a definite answer. Yes, it's helping me. Alyssa Scolari: Hard to say. It's hard to say, yeah. Sarah Tatarski: But just being in that community, going to clinic every week and seeing the psychiatrist and stuff, it's more nice to just like have a little community of little ketamine people and we talk to each other. So, that's been nice. Alyssa Scolari: And there are restrictions because ketamine is a drug. So, are there like, do they do thorough evaluations on like, drug abuse history? Because I would imagine that can be tricky. Sarah Tatarski: Yeah. So, I forgot to mention. Of course, I had to do an evaluation. They had to even diagnose me because technically, I mean, there's a lot of diagnoses that I have that are not diagnosed officially. So, they had to do that to make sure, and then send that evaluation to my insurance and be like, "Hey, she has major depressive disorder." Sarah Tatarski: As a former... If you're a recovering drug addict, you can still do ketamine, but you have to be heavily much more monitored than me for who doesn't have a history of drug abuse. But definitely, they're not just throwing it around and saying, "Oh, yeah, everybody can do ketamine." Even if you have major depressive disorder, they need to clear you to make sure that you won't relapse or that you're being monitored on different levels to know that you're okay throughout the process and not going to relapse into a drug addiction. Alyssa Scolari: Now, do you know like, okay, so EMDR helps relapse your nervous system. And similarly, do you know how ketamine is supposed to work like on the body? Sarah Tatarski: Yes. So, I was always thinking ketamine was a psychedelic, but it's not. It slows down the brain and that's what it does. It just slows everything down. You're like in a drunken state while you're in the room. And I think that feeling of, "Oh, I have time to really think and just exist in the world and relax and think about things in a different way. Instead of, with trauma, our anxiety is so high. Sometimes, we can't even think straight. We're just like, ruminating, ruminating, intrusive thoughts all the time. Sarah Tatarski: And yeah, that's how it worked. It slows down the body. And I should mention that, if you're on antidepressants, they want you to continue to stay on those throughout the process. They don't want you to get off of it. And personally, I'm not on an antidepressant right now, but I still qualified because I had tried two different medications and it didn't help me. Alyssa Scolari: Okay. Sarah Tatarski: So, if you have tried two different anxiety medications or depression meds and it didn't work, you can qualify. So, that's why I qualified. But they want you to stay on your antidepressants. And the other thing about Spravato is that, they say, "We don't exactly know what it does. We just know it helps." And so, welcome to big pharma, guys. They don't exactly know what happened... Alyssa Scolari: Yeah, you know it helps. Sarah Tatarski: But they say, "Hey, it helps." So, I'm not complaining. But yeah, you have to be on or continue to remain on your antidepressants throughout the process. They don't want you to cold quit in the middle of ketamine. Alyssa Scolari: Okay, yeah, yeah. I would imagine there's also still so much research to be done about it because I do think it is newer. Sarah Tatarski: Yeah, Spravato was approved I believe in 2019. So, it's very new... Alyssa Scolari: Okay. Sarah Tatarski: ... compared to other drugs. Alyssa Scolari: Yup, very new. And a lot of studies have been on halt because of the pandemic. So, we're still learning. We're still learning. Now, I do have one final question for you, if you don't mind. And this is partially, a question that I have personally, but also a question I think a lot of other people will have. Alyssa Scolari: So, in going to different forms of therapy, right? It sounds like you have had good experiences, but I know that there are so many people out there who have tried alternative forms of therapy and have had bad experiences and places that are poorly run, places that do more harm than good. I know that have certainly, been the experience for myself and many others. What is some advice that you can give people who I think are just feeling down and out about the quality of mental healthcare that they've experienced? Sarah Tatarski: You have to go in with an open mind because these places are run by humans. I mean, like I said, at the first trauma center I went to, it was almost like a jail. And I left, thank God at 4:00 every day, I did not have to sleep there. And there is some stuff that would go down at night, for sure. Sarah Tatarski: Everybody in there has trauma and things happen. So, I think for me, none of the places I've been to, none of my therapists have been perfect. Perfection actually, doesn't even exist in the world. So, doesn't want to say that. But, I mean, of course, if there's abuse going on, if there's emotional abuse or physical abuse from the staff and staff, I'm not saying, "Oh, go in with an open mind," just ignore it. Alyssa Scolari: Right. Sarah Tatarski: But I just know that if you go in thinking that everything's going to be exactly right, everything's going to run smoothly at whatever care center you're at or whatever treatment you do, the reality is that, it won't. And you'll probably, be disappointed. I mean, there are definitely flaws at places that I've been to. Sarah Tatarski: The place I was just at, called Innova Grace. I have had tremendous healing from them. But there's things that could be worked on. Absolutely, could be worked on to make it an even better program. But there are some things I just had to let go because I knew that doing therapy at Innova Grace twice a week and getting EMDR and I was in Texas. So, I was away from my mom. I was away from my childhood home. I was so grateful to be there, and to be able to have that help, that there are some things, if it wasn't overly concerning that I just had to let go in the moment. Alyssa Scolari: Yeah. Sarah Tatarski: And I would complain, I would speak up if there's something that made me uncomfortable and there were things that did change. And sometimes, it didn't. But I also think another thing is, people might be disappointed in alternative treatments because you put in most of the work, if not all of it, therapists are there to guide you. Sarah Tatarski: And I think that's something, I was naive in believing when I was younger, even probably, like two years ago, not even that long where I thought, "Oh, why isn't this therapist fixing me? Why isn't she doing this? Why X, Y, Z and all this stuff?" I was like, "Therapy only works if you're as honest as you are. If you are, if you hold things from your therapist, you're not going to make any progress. If you keep rejecting the way that you behave and act and that how resistant you are to treatment, you're not going to get better. You can't blame the treatment center. You can't blame your therapist. Of course, again, some therapists suck. I just had a really, awful one from September to December. She told me... I said... Alyssa Scolari: Gosh. Sarah Tatarski: ... "I just, I feel like I can't go in public. And I feel like I can't do things by myself. And I'm just, I'm so upset. I don't know what's wrong with me." And she said, "Just do it." Alyssa Scolari: Oh, wow. That's great advice. Thank you, I never thought of that before. Sarah Tatarski: So, again, I just want to restate, there are people that are super problematic and there's abuse in some of these places, there are. And I'm not saying to go in and be like, "Oh, yeah, ignore it and disassociate from it," which is probably, how you coped this long. Don't do that. But it is run by humans and it is how much you contribute. Sarah Tatarski: Because like I told you, before we started recording, one of my therapists, I told her, I said, "I'm really open." And she called me out and she said, "No, you're not, you're not open." And I'm like, "I got so guarded, and I'm like, whatever." And then, I thought about it and I said, "She's right." And that's how we proceeded forward. I was able to really, work with that therapist and get through so many deep things because I was just completely, honest with her and I let myself cry. Sarah Tatarski: So, that's my advice, be open minded, just know the process isn't perfect. If there are major concerns, voice them. If things don't change, then maybe you need to try a different area, like a different place, a different therapist. And you have to contribute your full honesty and vulnerability to it, or else you will not heal. That's something that I wish I had known when I was 19, when I started the journey. Alyssa Scolari: That is incredible advice. All of it, I agree. I mean, you said it perfectly, you said it perfectly. And I want to thank you for coming on the show because this is something that's really, important to talk about. It's something that you spoke a lot of hard truths that people I think really need to hear, hey, including myself. We all need to hear a lot of this stuff and it's also very inspiring. Alyssa Scolari: And I think it certainly, has given me a lot of hope for the future and for my own recovery. And it's hope that we wouldn't have without your willingness to be vulnerable and come on here and talk about it. So, thank you so, so much. I know that I mentioned Sarah's Instagram in the beginning of this episode, which the name is? Can you give the name one more time? Sarah Tatarski: Vulnerable and Not Afraid. Alyssa Scolari: Vulnerable and Not Afraid. You know that will be in the show notes for today's episode. And I just want to say thank you again for coming on the show today. Sarah Tatarski: Yeah, it was so great talking to you, and I'm happy to answer any of the listeners questions if they directly message you or you can directly message me on my Instagram, I'm happy to do a call or send a voice memo, share resources. That's, I mean, the whole reason I started the Instagram, partly for myself to remind myself, "Hey, this is where I've been." And to help others realize that antidepressants and once a week therapy are not the only choices out there. Alyssa Scolari: Amen. Amen. Thank you so, so much, Sarah. Sarah Tatarski: Yeah, no problem. Alyssa Scolari: Thanks for listening, everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram, we are @lightaftertrauma. And on Twitter, it is @lightafterpod. Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So, please head on over. Again, that's patreon.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you. And we appreciate your support.
Episode 104: Shoplifting: A Response to Psychological Distress with Alyssa Scolari, LPC
21:56Shoplifting and stealing are typically thought of as simple, yet shameful crimes. However, these seemingly simple crimes can be more complex than meets the eye. Tune into this week’s episode to learn about the psychological components of shoplifting and stealing. Check out the Light After Trauma website for transcripts, other episodes, Alyssa's guest appearances, and more at: www.lightaftertrauma.com Want to get more great content and interact with the show? Check us out on Instagram: @lightaftertrauma We need your help! We want to continue to make great content that can help countless trauma warriors on their journey to recovery. So, please help us in supporting the podcast by becoming a recurring patron of the show via Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/lightaftertrauma You can also check out Alyssa at www.alyssascolari.com Transcript: Alyssa Scolari [00:23]: What is up, everybody? Welcome back to another episode of the Light After Trauma podcast. I am your host, Alyssa Scolari, here with you today. We have also my dog Macy, who is chilling out with us, looking out the window in this little... I bought her this cat perch. So if you haven't been on my Instagram and you don't see pictures of Macy, she's a little seven-pound dog, and so she is super tiny and she loves to look out the window, so I bought her a cat perch. She's sitting behind me looking out the window on her little cat perch. And sometimes neighbors will walk by and she'll bark at them and they wave to her from the window. She's like the neighborhood watchdog. So that's where I'm at today. Alyssa Scolari [01:12]: It is Sunday when I am recording this and I have been having a pretty relaxing weekend. I'm feeling pretty antsy today, actually, and I have been reading this book, Where the Crawdads Sing, which I did not know this, but apparently is really trending right now and I understand why, because it is truly one of the best books I've ever read in my life. I am obsessed. I have not been able to put it down and I have like 60 pages left, and I am going to finish it today. I am so excited. It's been nice to be able to read in this ridiculously hot weather. Alyssa Scolari [01:58]: I don't know what the weather is like where you're at, but it is so hot here and it has been so hot with zero relief. Normally it gets really hot, but then you'll have thunderstorms at the end of the day and then things cool off for a little bit and the plants get a ton of water, but there has been no rain, no thunderstorms. It is just oppressive heat and humidity day after day, and it feels like... I honestly think that this is probably day eight or nine at least above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It's so wild to me because people say global warming's not a thing, but I remember being little and watching the news and people were making such a big deal of three-day heat waves. So if there was going to be a day where it was going to be 90 degrees or above for three days, I think that's what they call a heat wave. I remember people making a huge deal about that being like, "Oh man, three days. This is so dangerous. People are going to have heat strokes and get really sick and suffer heat exhaustion." Alyssa Scolari [03:19]: I don't think anybody imagined back then, whatever it was, 25, 20 years ago that today in 2022, we would have heat waves that last for literally 9, 10 days with zero relief. It's unreal to me. Even my plants are all wilted. No matter how much water we give them, my plants are like, "Fuck this, I'm out." They all look like they're dying and I feel so bad. I have no clue what I can do. So yeah, it is hot as shit outside and I'm over it. I like the summer, but come on. I need at least a thunderstorm. Give me a thunderstorm, because if not, I just have this heat and oppressive humidity. You walk outside and just start sweating. Alyssa Scolari [04:18]: Anyway, I digress. Today we are talking about shoplifting, which at first glance, you might be like, "Why are we talking about shoplifting on a trauma podcast?" And that is because they are related and they go hand-in-hand. Shoplifting or stealing and mental health are really closely related, and shoplifting, like borderline personality disorder that we did last week, is often stigmatized. And understandably so, right? It is a crime. It is against the frigging law to steal, but I think that this conversation today is going to pose an even greater question of how can we look at shoplifting a little bit differently and are we doing the right thing by simply finding these people or just locking them up? Is there something more that we could be doing to help these people? Because I have worked with a lot of people who have gotten in trouble for shoplifting. Alyssa Scolari [05:27]: Before I was in private practice and working for myself, I worked for a local police department and what one of my many jobs was at this police department was to help kids in the community to stay out of the juvenile justice system, so help basically rehabilitate them after they get into trouble. Now, as you can imagine, the majority of the kids that I saw usually got in trouble for some kind of theft or shoplifting, and it begs the question, why are these kids stealing? Because it's not just a fun pastime for these kids. These kids don't want to catch charges. They do not want to be caught up in the juvenile justice system. So what is going on with these kids? Alyssa Scolari [06:23]: Through a lot of my time, not just working with these kids through the police department, but also in going back in my own history, I have been able to put a lot of the pieces together as to what might be happening with so many of these people. And it's not just kids, it's also adults. And it's not just me. There are a lot of other professionals out there who have been exploring the other sides of shoplifting to try to understand what is truly going on. Now, of course we can assign poverty and lower socioeconomic statuses to stealing. I get it. It is impossible to live in today's age. It feels nearly impossible. So I totally understand that. Alyssa Scolari [07:19]: There's the poverty aspect, and then there's also other psychological aspects to it. It isn't just this simple act that we think it is. When we see people who steal, we write them off as bad people. Bad people. And again, yes, stealing is criminalized, but I don't know any one of us who have never broken the law. I don't know any one of us who have never broken the law in some way, shape or form. Alyssa Scolari [07:53]: If you've pulled out your phone to text while you're driving, if you've talked on the phone while you're driving, if you've never stopped or if you haven't stopped fully at a stop sign and you rolled through a stop sign, hey, you broke the law. If the speed limit is 65 miles an hour and you're going 66 miles an hour, hey, you broke the law. And for some reason, it's like we talk about when people break the law in vehicles or people are acting aggressive on the road and we talk about "Well, try to think of it differently. Try to think about that person who blew past the red light or is speeding. Maybe they have a loved one sick and dying in the hospital and they're rushing to get there." And so we try to reframe and find these ways to have compassion for people who are aggressive on the road. And I love that reframe. It's a great reframe. It helps. It helps those of us who are prone to road rage not be so ragey, but why can't we transfer this over to other crimes like stealing? Alyssa Scolari [09:00]: And I'm not talking about all crimes. I'm not saying that we need to have compassion for murderers, but I'm talking about like stealing. Why are there no reframes for that? Why is it that when we hear that somebody steals, we think that they should rot in jail or be fined or be shown a lesson and we want to send these kids to scared straight programs. Why aren't we looking at this any differently? Alyssa Scolari [09:27]: Luckily, I think that a lot of research is starting to look at shoplifting differently, and what we're finding is that it is a coping mechanism. It is a coping mechanism, just like addiction or gambling. It is something that can give people some sense of control, and it also can help them to numb out from problems or pain. And it also can be a cry for help. I wasn't a chronic stealer or anything. I have like two instances in my life where I remember stealing and both of them weren't from stores because I had too much anxiety for that. They were from other people. So one time I stole... I don't know if anybody remembers these candies, they're Warheads and they were really, really sour when you put them in your mouth and then they were super sweet. I'm talking about them now and I really want one. I need to go find them online and see if they still exist, because they were so amazing. But they were super, super sour when you put them in your mouth, and I remember stealing a few of these from, I cannot remember who, I just remember having them in my hand and looking down and kind of having this feeling of like, "Oh, I stole something." Alyssa Scolari [11:00]: At the time, I remember that feeling was like I didn't really even feel that guilty. I felt like I had a sense of control. I was really little. I was under, probably under seven years old. I was maybe five or six and I remember feeling like I finally had a sense of control over what was going on. I did this, I took this. This is mine. And that clearly is rooted in things that are so beyond the stealing itself. This is something that a lot of younger kids will do. They steal not because they're bad kids, and it's also not because they don't know right from wrong and it's not because we don't know consequences. We know that it's wrong, but what is more wrong are the empty feelings that we have inside of us or the chaotic feelings as a result of living in bad environments. Alyssa Scolari [12:09]: Kids who live in frantic, chaotic, and even sometimes violent and abusive households, they yearn for a sense of control. They desire a sense of control. And sometimes being able to steal something, being able to have something that is totally yours is a great way to feel like you're in control. It's a great way to feel like you're separate from your family for a little bit because you are the one who did this. You planned this, you did it, you have it, you succeeded. It is a great way to numb out from what is going on, regardless of the consequences. Kids aren't thinking about the consequences. Their brains are not developed enough. What kids are thinking of is, "Hey, how can I survive? And I know that I can survive if I find some sense of control," and sometimes that control lies within stealing. Alyssa Scolari [13:06]: And then I also stole something from my cousin. I stole a purse from my cousin when I was little. I cannot remember. I know I was under 10. Maybe I was like eight years old. We were at a Super Bowl party and I stole her purse from her. I totally got caught because what eight-year-old can hide a whole purse? And that, I felt horrible. I don't know if I really did it to have a sense of control, maybe I did, but I remember feeling so much guilt and I don't really even know why I did it. I remember being asked why I did it and I truly didn't know then and I don't totally know now, but looking back on it, I am pretty sure that I did it because I was just crying out for help. I was crying out for help. And that is also what shoplifting can be, a cry for help. I want somebody to catch me. I want to be noticed. I want to be seen. I want somebody to look at me and make me feel like I matter. Alyssa Scolari [14:25]: Kids and adults alike, sometimes when we go without this and we feel like we aren't seen or heard, we will make efforts to be seen and heard in any way possible, and that includes breaking the law. Now, luckily it was my family and everybody was super forgiving. I think, I assume so, because I still had a relationship with these people. I didn't steal from any stores, it was just people and it was awful. I gave it back and there was no harm, no foul, but still, it was terrible. It was terrible when I look back on it because I realize that I was in so much pain and so are many people who steal and shoplift. It's just a way to numb out, because in doing it, what happens? Alyssa Scolari [15:25]: Anybody who has stolen anything, I can imagine... I don't really remember feeling like this when I was little, but I can imagine that what you feel is an adrenaline rush. An adrenaline rush, anxiety and you're just so focused on not getting caught that you're not really thinking about anything else. Then when you get away with it, it's a dopamine hit for your brain. And it is very similar with shopping, buying things. When people are sad, they will spend money, call it retail therapy, and then they get it and they feel great for a few days or maybe a few weeks or maybe even a few minutes, depending on what you get, but that wears off and then you're left with those same chronic feelings of emptiness. This is very similar with shoplifting. You steal something and then you have this dopamine hit like, "Oh my gosh, I did it. I got away with it," and then all of a sudden that emptiness comes back and therefore you need to steal something again, so then you get that little dopamine hit in your brain again. Alyssa Scolari [16:37]: Sometimes all of this stealing can mount into a much more serious mental health disorder like kleptomania, which is where you just cannot resist the urge or the impulse to steal things, whether you need them or not. Just because it's there, you have to steal it. And sometimes that's what this can turn into. It still can be a cry for help. It still can be a reaction to psychological stress or trauma and that begs the question, are shoplifting charges good? Is that actually going to teach anybody anything, or do what we need to do instead is teach people better coping skills for how they can deal with their pain, or do we need to be looking at, if it's a child, do we need to be looking at what is going on in the home? Is there trauma? Is there abuse? Is there toxic stress on this child? Should we be checking off all of those boxes before we make the decision whether or not somebody's going to be charged with shoplifting? Alyssa Scolari [17:52]: I don't know. I don't have the answer. I know this is kind of tying into criminal justice reform, but here's the thing, even if you never got caught, that still doesn't mean that your shoplifting doesn't have a psychological impact or isn't rooted in psychological-based issues. It doesn't mean that you're not numbing out just because you've never been caught. If you have had a history of stealing or if you currently have a history of stealing, a lot of times people feel shame about it. And if you feel shame about it, this episode is really to help you put that shame aside and try to look at it from a different lens. Is it that you are a bad kid? Is it that you are a bad person or are you a person who is hurting and is coping by stealing? Alyssa Scolari [18:57]: Ultimately, I don't know the answer. That's something that you can only find within yourself, but I will say this, I have yet to meet a person, child or adult, who steals truly because they just love it as a sport. I have yet to meet somebody like that. Now, my sample size is biased because I see people that come to me for therapy so I'm sure people like that out there exist. In fact, I'm positive people out there like that exist, but those kind of people I don't think are listening to this podcast. So if you are listening to this podcast and you have a history of stealing, I think it begs the question, is there any kind of compassion that you can give yourself? And if you're still actively in your shoplifting or stealing phase, ask yourself what you need. What void is stealing trying to fill for you and how can you fill that void in a safer way? Alyssa Scolari [20:09]: I know for me, I never learned to fill the void, but I was lucky enough that shoplifting didn't become my addiction. Food, eating disorders became my vice, so I ended up filling that void in another way, but a dangerous way as well, but one that was more dangerous to me. So be careful not to fill, not to replace one vice with another vice. What do you need that is going to be healthy for you and the environment around you? I love you. I hope you have a good week and I will be holding you in the light. Alyssa Scolari [20:58]: Thanks for listening, everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com, or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram, we are @lightaftertrauma and on Twitter, it is @lightafterpod. Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So please head on over. Again, that's patreon.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you and we appreciate your support. [singing]
Episode 103: Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): End the Stigma with Alyssa Scolari, LPC
34:18Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD, is arguably the most misunderstood and widely stigmatized mental health disorder. Alyssa is here this week to set the record straight on what this disorder looks like, how it is related to trauma, and why we need to fight the stigma. Check out the Light After Trauma website for transcripts, other episodes, Alyssa's guest appearances, and more at: www.lightaftertrauma.com Want to get more great content and interact with the show? Check us out on Instagram: @lightaftertrauma We need your help! We want to continue to make great content that can help countless trauma warriors on their journey to recovery. So, please help us in supporting the podcast by becoming a recurring patron of the show via Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/lightaftertrauma You can also check out Alyssa at www.alyssascolari.com Transcripts: Alyssa Scolari [00:23]: Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of The Light After Trauma podcast. I am your host, Alyssa Scolari. Alyssa Scolari [00:32]: Welcome back, settle in because we have another good episode for you today. I am trying to get settled in as well, trying to get ready to chat with you all about borderline personality disorder, but I hope that everybody is enjoying their summer. I feel like we're at that point in the summer where everything just flies by and make the most of it because I'm already hearing talk about fantasy football and I'm like, "Oh God already, please no." Now summer's not my favorite season by any stretch. I don't love the heat, but I'm also just not quite ready to talk about fall football and all things pumpkin spice flavored. I'm just not, I'm not ready for that at all. So just hold on to every second because summer is flying. Alyssa Scolari [01:34]: I feel like I've been working so much this summer and it's really just on a lot of like future things. I have a really exciting project that I am going to announce in just a few short weeks that we'll be launching in the fall. And then I've just been working on my website stuff and client stuff, and kind of mapping out the future of where I want my practice to go on the podcast. So I feel like it's just been a summer where I've been so busy, and when I'm not busy with work, I have been really busy with EMDR. As many of you know, I'm going through that process. And I know I've said in the past that it has been kicking my butt, but man, I mean it more than ever, I feel like I'm now really in the depths of it, of just going through my memories chronologically and reprocessing them. Alyssa Scolari [02:32]: And I think particularly the last week or so has been really, really difficult. My brain is, and this is what is to be expected, honestly, this just means that I'm doing it right. I mean, if you can do EMDR, right. But this is really what's been happening it feels like my brain is on fire and I'm hypersensitive to everything. So even more so than I was before, every noise, every sound, I'm almost overly reading people's emotions and their facial responses. And this is something that I used to do when I was little because I had a person in my life who was really hot and cold. I never knew what version of them that I was going to get. And so I find that I'm like that even more right now, as I'm reprocessing everything, Alyssa Scolari [03:28]: I'm looking at people like, who are you today? Are you safe today? Are you going to hurt me today? And none of that is even about the present, right? Because I don't have people in my life that are going to hurt me. So I'm really just kind of, not I'm disassociated, or maybe emotional flashbacks. And I'm also having a lot of new memories surface. In the car yesterday we were driving, something was said. And of course, what was said was harmless, but whatever, it did trigger something in me. And then I started having new memories and the memories were auditory. So I could hear things. And it was one of those just really bad PTSD episodes/attacks is what it feels like, where I'm just like, I almost want to put my hands over my ears to stop what I hear, but that's not going to work because the flashbacks are just, it's my brain. Alyssa Scolari [04:33]: And I found myself in EMDR this week while I was reprocessing a memory feeling so much dread because there's so much, I don't remember, but I know is in there. And I found myself almost feeling like, "Oh, this is a movie I don't want to watch." Almost like I was watching a horror movie. I hate horror movies and I will cover my eyes because I'm very scared of them. I have enough anxiety. I don't need a movie to give me more anxiety. So I will always put my hands over my face when I'm watching a horror movie. And this is what that felt like I wanted to just stop and I didn't want to see the rest of the movie. Alyssa Scolari [05:24]: But the movie is reality and there was just so much grief that came with it. And there was a lot of self-compassion, which I think is pretty new for me. I'm not used to having a lot of compassion. I'm used to intellectualizing things and I'm used to finding ways where I was at fault for what happened, but I'm just really developing a lot of compassion for myself. And it's been a beautiful, painful, agonizing thing. And it's also been exhausting. Alyssa Scolari [06:05]: So I'm definitely a little withdrawn. I'm a little isolated and it's really to protect myself. I don't even think it's a bad thing. I think that it's probably best right now if I don't have a ton of contact because I'm already so depleted from this process. So it's taking me a while to respond to people. And really all I want to do is read books because I get to escape that way and play really nontriggering video games and cook good food and do some really slow yoga. Alyssa Scolari [06:45]: That is kind of where I'm at. I'm at how can I do the bare minimum? And I think that's okay. I'm okay with that. I'm okay. I'm okay with that. You know, I say maybe I'm trying to convince myself I'm okay with it because I'm one of those over-functioners, so it is a little bit hard for me to be still in my grief, but I'm doing my best to just let it wash over me. And it is, and it's so random, right? Alyssa Scolari [07:16]: Sitting in the car yesterday, this was a completely separate incident. We're in the car. My husband runs into the store to grab something. I stay in the car and when he comes back in five minutes, I'm sobbing. I am hysterically crying and shaking. And he was like, "What is wrong?" And it was just like I got hit with this wave of grief. Alyssa Scolari [07:39]: And I have to say, I'm really proud of myself because I'm not running from it anymore. And normally I would run from it. I would pick up my phone and maybe go on social media to try to distract from feelings or turn on the radio. And, and I did for a second, I turned on the radio when I felt all those feelings creeping in. And I was like, "Nah, let me listen to music. I don't want to feel this." And then I was just like, "Alyssa, you don't have to run from this. It's not going to kill you." I actually said that out loud to myself and I just let the tears come and I sobbed and it moved through me and then I was able to manage the rest of the day. Alyssa Scolari [08:27]: So I'm hanging in there. This is, I think, one of the best things I've ever done for myself, as hard as it is I know it's exactly where I need to be right now. So I am so proud of myself for all of the work that I am doing. I'm just so proud. I'm really proud that's all I can say. I've worked so hard and it's going to make me a happier human being and it's going to make me an even better therapist and yeah, yeah. That's where I'm at. So that being said, we will close up the corner on my life updates and now let's just dive into what we're talking about today because we're talking about borderline personality disorder. Alyssa Scolari [09:16]: It's also often referred to as BPD, and maybe you have been diagnosed with this and if you haven't been diagnosed with it, then I'm sure you've heard of it because it's one of, well, I think it's the most highly stigmatized of the mental health disorders in existence to the point where a lot of therapists refuse to work with somebody if they even utter the words BPD or the acronym BPD or the words borderline personality disorder, not every therapist, but a lot of therapists. Alyssa Scolari [09:51]: And I can even recall so much stigmatization when I was learning about it, even as a grad school student. So the stigma is quite literally in the system, right? I was taught the stigma. I was taught to believe the stigma when I was a grad school student. And, I definitely had, again, not every professor. I had amazing professors where I went to school, but I did have one professor who I specifically remember was like, "You are going to really have a hard time ever having successful treatment with somebody who has this kind of disorder." And quite honestly, I know now that is not true. And I wish I could go back and tell that professor that they were just projecting their own frustrations. Perhaps they've been diagnosed with this disorder, or perhaps they worked with people in their practice who were diagnosed with this disorder and didn't have a good outcome, but I will continue to talk about that a little bit. Alyssa Scolari [10:53]: But first, you might notice the term personality disorder, right? And it's like, "What does that mean?" Because it's much more clear what anxiety disorders and depressive disorders are, but what does it mean to have a personality disorder? Basically, there are personality disorders, and then there's everything else. That's kind of how it's separated in the DSM, which is the book that has all of the mental health diagnoses. Alyssa Scolari [11:23]: What makes a personality disorder different is that this is thought to be like a lifelong long-term pattern of behaviors that cause distress and dysfunction. This person's behaviors deviate outside of the cultural norm and it's typically something that starts either in adolescence or very early adulthood. And it's kind of thought that personality disorders are much more difficult to treat because these patterns of behavior are much more inflexible. It's just deeply rooted in who somebody is. Alyssa Scolari [12:06]: So that is what kind of separates personality disorders versus mood disorders, anxiety disorders, what have you. Now borderline personality disorders specifically, because there are a few, right? Borderline's not the only one there's, narcissistic personality disorder, there's an obsessive-compulsive person of personality disorder, and OCD, basically obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, which this is just an interesting little fact is having OCD but not seeing a problem with the OCD and therefore not wanting to change. That is one of the biggest differences between somebody who has obsessive-compulsive personality disorder versus obsessive-compulsive disorder. So I find that very interesting and I don't know if I buy into that totally because I have people who technically meet the criteria for OCD or for obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, right? They have OCD tendencies but they don't really see a problem and don't want to fix it, but it's not really causing a whole lot of distress. Alyssa Scolari [13:23]: I don't know. I don't know. That's a topic for another time. We'll talk about it later. I have to give it some more thought, but going back to BPD. So BPD is basically characterized by having to meet at least five of the following requirements. So first we have chronic feelings of emptiness, and then there's emotional instability in the way that you react to regular day-to-day events, maybe having major episodes of sadness or rage or severe anxiety. Next is frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. So you spend so much of your time trying to avoid feeling any feelings of possible abandonment, a disturbance in your identity or an unstable sense of self or an unstable self-image. Alyssa Scolari [14:26]: There's impulsive behavior in at least two areas that could be self-damaging. So this can include substance abuse, driving recklessly, binge eating, and having risky sex. I'm not, not just having sex, but, risky sex, maybe sex with multiple partners or having sex a lot with no protection. Spending lots of money. So if you're just living paycheck to paycheck, or maybe you're gathering a bunch of credit card debt, those kinds of impulsive behaviors. Alyssa Scolari [15:02]: Intense anger, anger that is so intense that it doesn't necessarily match the situation at hand or issues with controlling your anger, explosive anger, getting into fights a lot, whether physical or verbal. Having unstable interpersonal relationships. So unstable relationships with the people in your life. Difficulty keeping friendships. Difficulty with family members, difficulty with maintaining healthy relationships. Suicidal behavior, suicidal gestures, self-harming, threats, threats of suicide, and usually severe dissociative symptoms. So dissociation is a form of disconnection. It's a form of almost checking out mentally so that you don't have to be present. Alyssa Scolari [16:02]: Dissociation is typically a trauma response. And I know we talked about this a few episodes ago, how sometimes dissociation can be a healthy thing in very moderate amounts, but this is more like dissociative symptoms as a reaction to trauma, or as a reaction to something, some kind of intense situation. Alyssa Scolari [16:26]: Another thing that I think ties into all of that is folks who have borderline personality disorder will often engage in something called splitting. And basically what that means is you see the world in a very black and white manner. So it's things are kind of all or nothing. People are either amazing or they're absolutely horrible devils. An experience you had was either the best thing you've ever experienced in your entire life, or it was so bad it was absolutely the worst ever. And so there's really just no middle ground for people who experience borderline personality disorder. Alyssa Scolari [17:06]: So all of those symptoms that I just read off to you, right? You have to meet five of them in order to meet the criteria to be diagnosed with this disorder. Now, if you meet these criteria for two weeks, and then you no longer meet this criteria, you don't have borderline personality disorder. This is a pattern of behavior that stretches over a long period of time, if not lifelong. So in fact, borderline personality disorder and all of the personality disorders, you typically can't get diagnosed with one of them until you're about 18 years old because your personality is still developing. I kind of think that's a little bit of bullshit and I think that it should be at least 25 years old until you're diagnosed with a personality disorder because our brains haven't even fully developed until that age. So when you're diagnosing somebody at 18 years old with a personality disorder, know their brains aren't even fully developed. Alyssa Scolari [18:15]: So how do you know? How, how do you know, right? The criteria for BPD is, one of them is, impulsivity. Well, guess what? At 18 years old, your prefrontal cortex isn't fully developed and your prefrontal cortex is what governs impulsivity. It's what helps stop impulsivity. So I sort of feel like it's stupid, but what do I know? I'm just a low old therapist over here. But here is where I start to get really worked up about borderline personality disorder and it is because of the stigma. Alyssa Scolari [18:52]: You can Google this any day of the week and you will find several articles about how borderline personality disorder is one of the most stigmatized, misunderstood, mental health disorders in the profession. And it isn't just misunderstood among doctors and regular society. It is misunderstood by therapists and it is a diagnosis that is handed to people, very haphazardly by therapists and professionals who truly don't know much about this disorder at all. Alyssa Scolari [19:35]: And it infuriates me. And this has been my experience with BPD. So I'll talk a little bit about the stigma, just that I've experienced through my own journey of health. Alyssa Scolari [19:47]: So when I first started out in an eating disorder treatment center, I met with a psychiatrist. I met with him probably for 20 minutes, and it was my first time ever meeting with a psychiatrist. And he asked me a few things. And then he looked at me, he didn't make eye contact with me the entire time we were talking. And then at the end, he looked at me and he went, "You have borderline personality disorder and you need to be on this, this, and this medication. And do you have any questions?" Now I had no clue what he was talking about. I had loosely heard of the term, but I don't even think I was in grad school yet, or maybe I had just started grad school. So I really didn't know much at all. Alyssa Scolari [20:44]: So I kind of was labeled that. He didn't know me. He had no clue about my history of trauma. He was just like, "Oh, okay. This is what you have." And I didn't know then the stigma of that disorder. And honestly, I had just kind of forgotten about it. I hated where I went to treatment. So I just got through it. I kind of wrote the whole place off. Looking back at that now it infuriates me that somebody could talk to you for 20 minutes and give you a personality disorder. You have no clue what that person's patterns are, their behaviors. How could you diagnose somebody with that after 20 minutes? Alyssa Scolari [21:37]: But I do remember that there was one instance where I was with one of the employees who worked at this place and this person was talking about borderline personality disorder and this person said, very matter of fact, "There's no treatment for it. You can't get better. All you can really do is manage it. You'll have this forever. And it's really hard to ever have any kind of good relationships with this disorder." And she's just said it very flat. And so I remember thinking like, "Oh my God, if I really do have this, I'm going to be alone forever. I'm never going to be in a marriage. I'm never going to have friends. Holy crap, this is awful." And I kind of almost, not made it a self-fulfilling prophecy, because that didn't really happen for me. I was able to sort of see over time that was such a horrible thing and a very hurtful thing that she said, but it really brought me down. And it really made me question my future for a while. Alyssa Scolari [22:54]: So moving on, then eventually I graduate from treatment and I find a regular outpatient therapist and I am going to see her and I like her, and she's cool. And about a few months in, this therapist, I noticed, starts talking more about herself than me. And she talks about the other people that she sees and doesn't give me specifics but tells me way more than is actually appropriate. And she works with sex offenders and she's talking to me about them and how a lot of people can't do the work that she does. And then she goes, "But at least I don't have to work with the borderlines because as you'll see in grad school, they're a nightmare." And I was horrified that a therapist could say that about humans, absolutely horrified. First of all, the borderlines, like so nasty, just that language. It was awful. Alyssa Scolari [24:10]: So eventually I fell away from that therapist and I found myself with another therapist and this therapist and I had spoken extensively about the diagnosis of BPD. And this therapist had sort of like told me, "Yeah, I really don't see that in you. You really don't have any of that." And I was kind of like relieved because there was so much stigma that was surrounding this diagnosis, that it almost became this game of how can I not have this disorder as opposed to how can I fix my trauma? And so this therapist was like, "Yeah, you really don't have that." And one day I went in for my appointment and the person who was ahead of me, there was like a little waiting room, and the person who was ahead of me opened up the door, stormed out and slammed the door. Alyssa Scolari [25:17]: And my therapist at the time came out and pointed at that person and went, now that is a borderline, a borderline, first of all, like the level of inappropriateness, it makes my skin crawl. And then we kind of talked about it a little bit. And she was talking about how people who have borderline personality disorder are super treatment-resistant and they always fail in therapy. And they always drop out because they can't respect anybody's boundaries. And they're highly manipulative. And I really looked up to this therapist. So I'm just like, "Oh, oh, okay, I guess that's how people are then." So you can kind of see here this pattern, even from my own experiences, of hearing people talk about borderline, like they're the worst people on the face of the planet. First of all, they're people with borderline personality disorder, they're not borderlines. Alyssa Scolari [26:20]: And for people to talk about them like, "Oh, they never do well in treatment." It's such bullshit. And over time I had new therapists who really helped me see folks who have borderline personality disorder in a totally different light, right? I had different therapists. I had a supervisor, all of whom have been fantastic and who have truly helped me understand that this diagnosis is not something to be afraid of. Alyssa Scolari [26:56]: There are therapists that will outright reject people who have that diagnosis. Therapists will still talk about people with that diagnosis saying that they're impossible to treat. They are not impossible to treat. And as I've learned, I actually really enjoy working with people who have borderline personality disorder. People who have BPD are not fucking evil. And if you've ever been made to feel like you are, I am so sorry. And I am here to tell you that is fucked up and that is not about you. That is about your therapist's own projections of their own issues. If it was your therapist who said that, or who made you feel like that? Alyssa Scolari [27:43]: If you go back and you look at the diagnosis, the symptoms for BPD, so many of them, in fact, all of them can also be symptoms of complex trauma, hello. People who have BPD do not have issues with their brain. They have been fucking horribly traumatized. How can you expect somebody, right people, therapists love to say, "Ah, people with BPG they don't know any boundaries and they'll, they'll manipulate you all day." How could you expect somebody to know what boundaries look like if their whole childhood was full of their boundaries, being violated. If somebody comes into therapy and their whole lives, they've had to use manipulation as a tactic to get their needs met. Why would you think for two seconds that they won't try to manipulate you? Alyssa Scolari [28:49]: Manipulation in itself is not evil and we need to stop treating it like it is. People come to therapy with the same patterns and behaviors that they learned from their trauma. And if you want to call it a personality disorder, go right ahead. But I, for one, just feel like using that, almost just as "Hey, you're fucked up." Now don't get me wrong. For some people having this diagnosis is hugely validating. And for those folks, I'm like, "Yes, do it." If it's validating, then it's validating. And that's great. But for people who have battled with being diagnosed with this disorder over and over again and stigmatized as a result of it, if it doesn't feel like it fits you, it's okay to let that go. You don't have to say, "Oh, I have BPD, Oh I have BPD. This is going to be the rest of my life. I'm going to struggle for the rest of my life." No, you're fucking not. No, you're fucking not. Alyssa Scolari [29:55]: It infuriates me, as you can tell, because I have worked with people with BPD and I have watched them recover to the point where they don't meet the criteria for that disorder anymore. BPD is a result so often of complex trauma. And if we start treating the trauma, right, there's a treatment for borderline personality disorder. It's called DBT or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. And it's really something that was created for people with borderline personality disorder. And it's great. It teaches so many wonderful skills. If we use that and we treat the trauma that is underneath it, I have seen people that no longer meet the criteria for that diagnosis. And more importantly, I have seen people that are successful and live happy and healthy lives, and they can be self-harm free and they no longer feel suicidal. And they are in functioning relationships. It doesn't mean all their problems have gone away. Absolutely not, but it can happen. Alyssa Scolari [31:08]: There is so much hope if you have BPD. And again, if you've ever been made to feel like your mental health is hopeless because of this diagnosis. I'm so sorry. And that is part of why I wanted to talk about this today is because I wanted to fight the stigma because this stigma, I've experienced the stigma firsthand, I've been thrown out that diagnosis. And what I know now about myself is no, I don't have BPD. I have trauma. I have a crap load of complex trauma that I have been working through. And I have gotten to a place where it's just like, yeah, no. For me, that diagnosis felt more harmful than validating and I think that's because I'm so acutely aware of the stigma. Alyssa Scolari [32:04]: Now, again, if this is something that feels good for you, if it helps you to have this diagnosis, please don't let me talk you out of that. Because despite the stigma that I'm talking about for every bad therapist out there, there are a million great therapists who would never stigmatize people. And there are a million people out there who have this diagnosis and have found it super validating and helpful. Alyssa Scolari [32:34]: But I've also talked with plenty of people who have had this diagnosis used against them, haphazardly given to them. I've had 10-year-olds that have come to me and told me that previous therapists have given them a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. Their parents come to me in disarray, frantic about what this is going to mean for the future of their child. And it's just not like that. There is hope. There is hope. No matter how you feel about the diagnosis, there is, there is hope. And that's my message today. You have hope. I believe in you. I know you can do it. I love you. And I am holding you in the light. Alyssa Scolari [33:19]: Thanks for listening everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram we are @lightaftertrauma and on Twitter it is @lightafterpod. Alyssa Scolari [33:36]: Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So please head on over again. That's patreon.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you. And we appreciate your support.
Episode 102: What to Expect from the Healing Process with Alyssa Scolari, LPC
35:19Everyone's journey to heal looks a little bit different, but it is important to have a general knowledge of what to expect as well as the beauty that comes from putting in the hard work. Alyssa pulls from both her experience as a trauma therapist and her personal experience with recovering from an eating disorder and complex PTSD to discuss patterns she has noticed as we move along in our healing journeys. Check out the Light After Trauma website for transcripts, other episodes, Alyssa's guest appearances, and more at: www.lightaftertrauma.com Want to get more great content and interact with the show? Check us out on Instagram: @lightaftertrauma We need your help! We want to continue to make great content that can help countless trauma warriors on their journey to recovery. So, please help us in supporting the podcast by becoming a recurring patron of the show via Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/lightaftertrauma You can also check out Alyssa at www.alyssascolari.com Transcript: Alyssa Scolari [00:23]: Hey friends. What's up? Welcome back to another episode of the Light After Trauma podcast. I am your host, Alyssa Scolari, and we are going to get right into it today. So, this episode topic was actually Dave's idea. So if you don't like it, blame Dave. No, I'm kidding. But seriously, it was his idea, and it's something that I have been wanting to do for a while. And it's like, I guess I struggled with it because I feel like everybody's healing journey is different. Alyssa Scolari [01:04]: With that being said, I think through my experience as a therapist and through my own healing journeys and through having friends, and other colleagues in the field who have gone through their own healing journeys, I notice very similar patterns throughout the journey, and I wanted to talk about those today. Right? Because I think that a lot of people assume when they sign up for ... not when they sign up, but if you decide that you want to start healing, whether it's from your eating disorder or trauma or addiction, right, I think that people have this idea that when they start therapy, and this is me assuming that this is like you going to a standard once a week therapist. Right? I think people assume that when you start therapy, it only can get better from the moment you start. Alyssa Scolari [02:05]: Like once you make that decision to begin your healing process, a lot of people have this idea that it's like, "Well, things are only going to get better." And unfortunately not to burst anybody's bubble, I don't see that it works like that. It certainly didn't work like that for me. And for a lot of folks that I know, and that I have worked with who have complex trauma, that definitely has not been the case. Now, if somebody is coming in with standard PTSD, right, there's been a singular incident in which they are struggling. Yes, that certainly can be the case once you start therapy, things can get better. But what I'm talking about here is healing from complex trauma. And that process does not look like, "Oh, I started therapy and now I feel so much better." It is much, much different. Right? Alyssa Scolari [03:07]: And because a lot of people will ask us, "Well, you've been in therapy for three months, don't you feel better?" And I think those of us that perhaps live with people who don't understand complex trauma or who don't get how therapy works, we have people say things to us like, I know my mom used to say this to me, not all the time, but every once in a while, she'd be like, "Do you feel like your therapist is helping at all?" And it's just like, "I don't know how to answer that because it's not that my therapist wasn't helping, it's just that there's so much that it's hard to know, three months into therapy, if anything is helping." And that's just not what people expect. People look at it very similar to maybe going to a doctor. Right? "Well, you've been seeing this doctor for three weeks, so why hasn't your arthritis flare gone down or whatever the heck it may be?" Alyssa Scolari [04:08]: So I'm here to get pretty real and raw with you about what the healing journey actually looks like. And also just what it has looked like for me and where I'm at right now. I believe that healing is lifelong. And with that said, though, I don't believe that your suffering is lifelong. I think there is certainly happiness to be found, even if you aren't a 100% healed, because honestly, can any of us be a 100% healed? I mean, just look at what's going on in the world. Alyssa Scolari [04:43]: I think all of us have experienced collective trauma from the mass shootings, our children being gunned down, rights being taken away. Like how can we live through all this stuff? Right? A global pandemic and then say, "Oh, I'm completely healed." That's the thing about trauma, is that it doesn't go away. It's not like once we've been traumatized once, well, that's it, and we never ever experience any trauma. We will experience it down the road. And that will probably further our healing in some way. Alyssa Scolari [05:23]: Now, again, please don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that you have to continue to be traumatized in order to heal. But what I'm saying is life is fucking hard. And so, you can't get to a place where you're 40 and you're like, "Oh, I've completely healed." And expect that nothing traumatizing or triggering is going to affect you for the rest of your life. I just don't think that's realistic. So, many people when they come to me and this is myself included, they don't usually walk in the office. Again, this was the case for me. I didn't walk into my therapist's office saying I have complex trauma and I need help with this. Hey, some people do do that, and that's amazing. Alyssa Scolari [06:16]: But typically, we don't even realize we have complex trauma. And instead what we think we want help with is whatever vice we have turned to to be able to cope with what we're not dealing with, with what we're not feeling, our eating disorder serves as a numbing tool. Your addiction serves as a numbing tool, whatever it may be, even I believe this, right, anxiety disorders, like OCD serves as a numbing tool. Many therapists agree with me, a lot of people, I think treat OCD as just this singular disorder that's like, you have to combat the obsessions. Right? You have to just not give in. And once you do that, then your OCD will go away. Alyssa Scolari [07:13]: I don't necessarily believe that to be true. I actually just took a training, where this woman said that, she works with OCD and she basically was like, "The only treatment for this is having people not give in to their obsessions." And yes, that is super important, but I think a lot of OCD specialists are going to say that, that need for control with OCD is almost always rooted in some kind of trauma. So, I actually don't know what the research is on that, and I will look into it, but in all of the work that I've done and just talking to other OCD specialists, that's what people would agree on. Alyssa Scolari [07:59]: So even so many disorders can be a reaction, not just eating disorders and addiction, but OCD, or perhaps social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, all of these things can likely, not always, be linked to some type of trauma. So most people, when they go into therapy, they are looking to treat the symptom of their trauma, and that symptom is another disorder. For me, it was an eating disorder. I struggled with an eating disorder, I mean, my whole life. I started counting points probably as early as eight years old, and I just struggled my entire life with ... Alyssa Scolari [08:50]: I was overweight and everybody in my family was on Weight Watchers, and everybody used to tell me that our family had a weight problem and that we needed to be dieters our whole lives. So I just thought from very early on that I needed to restrict my food intake. And then as I was older, that led to binge eating. So I would sneak food. I have this one distinct memory. I don't think I've talked about this on this podcast. I've talked about it when I was a guest on Guy Macpherson's The Trauma Therapist, but this specific memory I was really young. I can't remember how old, but I remember I took a stick of butter from the fridge and I went and hid in the garage, and I was just eating a stick of butter. Alyssa Scolari [09:43]: So, that's where all of my restriction led me as just a little kid. And so, basically I spent 20 years up a hundred pounds down, a hundred pounds every new diet. And when I would gain weight, people really ignored me. I felt super ignored and unseen, but as soon as I lost weight, everybody praised me. I was well known in my town for being this huge success story. People wanted to know how I did it, where I got the willpower from. I was fucking dying, and I wish I could go back to all those people now and tell them I was fucking dying. Alyssa Scolari [10:30]: Of course, I can't do that, but when I went into therapy, that is what I wanted help with. I wanted help on how to let go of my eating disorder. Because at that point I was binging almost daily, and I just couldn't stop myself. I felt like I had no control, and I would just pray day after day. Like, "Please let me get rid of this eating disorder." So that's how I started out. I want to get rid of this eating disorder. And over time my eating disorder started to go away. I remember sitting in my therapist's office and I would say to her like, "Why can't this eating disorder just be gone?" And she would be like, "Because it's not about the food." Alyssa Scolari [11:21]: And I would get so mad at her because I would be like, "Are you fucking dumb? Yes, it is about the food, stop fucking telling me it's not about the food." And as much as I hate to admit this, she was absolutely right. It was not about the food for me. It was about trying to numb out what I was feeling. And how I came to learn this is because I started to look at what was happening during those moments I was binge eating, and a lot of times it would be after something upsetting happened. Maybe I got yelled at by my boss, or I had a fight with my mom or things were really bad at home. And I would be sitting at the drive through, in some kind of fast food restaurant eating until I could not breathe. Alyssa Scolari [12:16]: That is how I started to learn, "Oh, okay. I don't think the problem is that I don't have willpower, I think the problem is I'm really trying to numb out." For me it was anger. I am a chronic people pleaser. Well, I'm a recovered people pleaser, but I was a people pleaser back then. And so when I had bad feelings, it was never safe for me to show them. So I stuffed my feelings down with food. At the same time, I had internalized so much fat phobia and diet culture that I hated eating. So, I would do my best then to restrict and starve, but then when I starved, it worked out for me because all of my hunger cues shut off and I couldn't feel anything. I couldn't feel anything in my body. Alyssa Scolari [13:16]: So I definitely couldn't feel anger or rage or depression or sadness. So I started to learn in that process that my eating disorder was deeply tied to my emotions. And that is the case for so many people, they come in with whatever disorder it is they might be struggling with. And then they start to unpack it and they start to realize the emotional ties between their disorder, their vice and their emotions. They realize that connection. Now I wish I could say that it got better from here, because it sounds great. You're like, "Oh, wonderful. I realized I made this connection. Well, now I can just heal." But it actually doesn't work like that in my experience, this is where things get really hard. Alyssa Scolari [14:10]: In terms of a timeline, it's really hard to give a timeline, because everybody is so different. For me, it happened probably a year into therapy. For the people that I work with, it usually takes a couple of months. So it's really different for everybody, and I can't give a timeline, unfortunately, but it does start getting harder because then what happens is, people start to let go of their defenses or their vices. Alyssa Scolari [14:48]: And I started to let go of my eating disorder. I started to become more in tune for the first time in probably 20 years, I started to become more in tune with my emotions. And now this is also what happens with so many of the people that I work with. They start to become more in tune with their feelings, and it feels like the pits of hell. And I don't even think that is an exaggeration. If you have been through it, you understand, because you're letting go of your coping mechanism. Alyssa Scolari [15:24]: And so now all that's there are the feelings that you have been running from for however long. And so it doesn't feel like, "Oh, yay. I'm in touch with my feelings again." It feels like, "Oh my God, these emotions are going to kill me." And I think that that's actually understandable because your brain is just trying to keep you alive. Your brain is a beautiful, wonderful thing. Kiss your brain, that is what my husband's old boss always used to say, "Kiss your brain, kiss your brain." And my husband now says it to me all the time. If I'm having a really bad day and I'm like, "Ah, I wish I didn't have a traumatized brain." He'll be like, "You kiss your brain." Alyssa Scolari [16:02]: Because my brain has worked so hard to keep me alive, and so has yours. It is a beautiful thing that your brain does where it blocks out feelings because those feelings are so intense that we feel like they're going to kill us. Now, they're not going to, especially if you are in a place where you are surrounded with support and safety. Right? If you have a therapist who is well versed in trauma, then you are okay, as long as you have a good connection with this therapist. Alyssa Scolari [16:32]: I had a therapist who was well versed in trauma, and it was a fucking nightmare. That was before, I now have two therapists, as many of you know, because I'm doing EMDR right now. And both of my therapists are the bomb. So anyway, this is when things get really difficult. You might find yourself really depressed, you might find yourself crying all the time, you might find yourself fully in touch with a rage that feels so intense. It feels like you might lose your mind. This is where coping skills are so effective. Alyssa Scolari [17:12]: I hate when therapists just talk about coping skills being the be all end all therapy, learn some coping skills. Because if you are not allowing yourself to feel your feelings and truly feel them, then you are honestly not going to really need those coping skills, because you're never going to let go of your eating disorder or your addiction. Right? Coping skills when it comes to complex trauma recovery are crucial when you let go of your other disorders or your other vices and become fully in touch with your emotions. Because at this point, what you're doing is you've shifted from eating disorder recovery or addiction and you have now shifted into trauma work. You are now taking a look at all of the people in your life and the patterns and the behaviors that have led up to this point. And it can feel so overwhelming. Alyssa Scolari [18:22]: I know we've talked about this before. Some people don't even remember until they start doing the trauma work. And then they have all of these new memories that come to the surface and they learn things that they weren't even sure really happened, maybe they might have thought happened, but they always told themselves, "No, there's no way that happened." It's learning about your past and seeing it in a much different light. And it is absolutely terrifying and heartbreaking and infuriating, and sometimes it feels like there's nothing you can do, but sit back and watch the last, I don't know, let's say 30 years of your life unfolds in a way you've never seen it unfold before. Alyssa Scolari [19:13]: And I say this not because I want to deter you from making the decision to heal, it is the best decision ever. I say this because I want there to be realistic expectations about what it is like. In fact, when people start to get fully in touch with their trauma and the feelings behind it, oftentimes those defenses or those vices or those other disorders will come back tenfold, because your brain is just doing what it knows how to do best, which is protect you. So my brain, right, let's say like my eating disorder and my OCD, because those are two of my vices, that is what always comes back to the surface. Through EMDR right now, I am processing memories. Alyssa Scolari [20:05]: I've talked about EMDR in previous episodes, it's been awesome so far. I'm still very new at it. So, I will talk more about it. But when I am getting in touch with a lot of these little childhood memories, I will notice that my OCD will spike through the roof. Like last night I was having a literal knock on wood. If you've seen the movie, Encanto, and you've seen Bruno is his name, and you've seen like he will knock on wood at different parts of the movie. That can be a part of OCD, and that certainly is for me, I have to knock on wood when I have a thought. And like last night I was knocking on wood because I kept having all of these thoughts. And I was like, "Man, this is getting bad." Alyssa Scolari [20:59]: My OCD popped back up because I was processing a really painful childhood memory, and my brain was like, "What are you doing? We don't think of this stuff. We don't feel these feelings. I'm going to need you to stop, and I'm going to distract you from these feelings with this OCD." And for people with eating disorders, it's the same thing. Once people start to get fully in touch with their trauma and the pain that comes with that, I often see them they'll come into my office and they'll be like, "I've been thinking about stepping on the scale again, or I've been thinking about starting a new diet, or I need to get myself to the gym more often." And it's all distraction. It's all distraction to help you really manage or avoid the pain that you're feeling about the other stuff that is going on. Alyssa Scolari [21:58]: So, it gets worse before it gets better, because this is the point in your healing journey, where you no longer can avoid knowing about your past and maybe some family stuff, but you also are just afraid to move forward. And it can be a really sticky time for folks. It was a really sticky time for me. And unfortunately, when I was at this place, I didn't have a therapist who was safe, and this therapist was pushing me in ways that I should have never been pushed. And I almost lost my life in the process quite literally. Alyssa Scolari [22:38]: So, I can't emphasize enough the importance of being with somebody that you truly feel safe with and somebody who isn't going to push you, is going to meet you exactly where you're at. Unless of course, you're engaging in behaviors that could end your life, then yeah, your therapist is going to need to push you. But when I say push, I mean, your therapist should not be pushing you to talk about memories or family stuff. If you ever have a therapist that says, "You got to talk about this stuff in order to feel better." No, you do not. If your therapist says that, get up and walk right the fuck out. Because that is what was told to me and forcing myself to speak about things prematurely, literally almost took my life away. Alyssa Scolari [23:25]: So, just a little caveat there, but yeah, this is when it gets difficult. This is when it gets really, really hard, but you can get through it because this is when you learn, A, coping skills, but B, how to be your own best friend advocate and parent. A lot of us with complex trauma, we look back on our childhoods and we are devastated because we see that there was nobody there for us. But what we do through this next part of the healing process is we learn how to be there for ourselves. We learn how to be the hero we always needed. So this part, isn't all doom and gloom, yet it's really hard, but we learn how to save ourselves. And that is the most empowering thing in the whole world. Alyssa Scolari [24:30]: Over time, your grief shifts, it transforms. At first this grief feels all consuming and it feels like it's going to suck you up into a black hole of despair. I can promise you, it does not stay that way. As long as you don't fight it, you will move through it. I made the mistake of fighting it time and time and time again, for years, I have fought my grief. I've run from my grief and from the feelings of abandonment. And the more I ran, the more my body acted out. Right? If it wasn't my eating disorder, it was my endometriosis. It was an autoimmune disease. I was just holding all of this stuff in my body, because I was too afraid to feel it. Alyssa Scolari [25:23]: And then I made the decision that enough is enough, and that I have to move forward and I have taken my pain and I have shifted it from this big black hole of despair to something that I can actually do something with, in the form of being able to help other people, in the form of being a voice for the voiceless, being an advocate, being an ally, I have taken my pain and I have used it to help others, but I have also taken my pain and I have used it to make my own family. And what I mean by that is like, I have taken what I have been through and I have become better because of it. I have decided that I am going to give myself the life now that I always deserved. Alyssa Scolari [26:23]: I am only going to have people in my life who I can communicate appropriate with. I will not engage with people who abuse me. I will create safety. I will have a family of my own, and I will raise my child so that she or he, or they feels so safe and never once questions if I love them, if I believe in them. And I'm not saying you have to go on and have children in order to heal, because my healing has come and I don't have children, it's come because I have cultivated a space of safety. I wake up every day and I look at my life and I think, "God damn Alyssa, look at how far you've come." Alyssa Scolari [27:09]: From feeling like the pain was so bad that I didn't want to live anymore, from six years ago when my husband and I met, I had an eating disorder. I was so sick with anorexia that when he would cook for me, I would sob because I didn't know how much salt he put in the food. I would induce, vomiting all the time. I was an over exerciser, and I look at my life today and I think, "Damn, I don't worry about that anymore." I wake up, I enjoy breakfast. I have coffee. When he cooks for me, it's a great day. I go out to eat and I don't panic. I know that he is safe. I know that I am in a safe home. I have surrounded myself with everything that I love that makes me happy. I have learned how to be my own best friend and my own parent. And I have a picture of little me in the mirror, in my bedroom, and I check in with her every so often. Alyssa Scolari [28:15]: "Hey, how you Dylan, are you doing okay?" And if we're not doing okay, what can I do for her? What can I do with eight year old me? That is where you get to, when you get through the darkest of the healing process. It absolutely gets worse before it gets better, but I promise you when it gets better, it gets so good. I am able to do things that I never thought I would live long enough to do. And yes, there are times when I struggle. Right now, EMDR not going to lie. I'm struggling. And I'll say just a word about that. You do not have to do EMDR in order to heal and get better. Right? I have worked with loads of people, I am not an EMDR specialist, I have worked with loads of people who have achieved healing while not doing EMDR. Alyssa Scolari [29:11]: And the reason I'm doing it is because I notice that my nervous system, despite all of my healing, is completely out of whack. And what I mean by that is this, I have come a long way in the fact that I know that I'm safe, and if something happens, I know I'm okay. I used to get really, really scared if my husband would get angry and he's not at all a rager, but he's entitled to get pissed off every once in a while. Like we all do. But because I'm so afraid of angry people, or I was so afraid of angry people, I would get really, really triggered. And my nervous system would just go through the roof. Like my heart would start racing. I would start sweating. I wouldn't be able to breathe. I would want to cry. Alyssa Scolari [30:04]: And in my brain consciously, I knew everything was fine. I would be so frustrated with myself because I would be like, "It's literally not a big deal that he's getting mad." But my body didn't understand that, my body was off to the races, I was in fight or flight mode and I could not calm down. And I know it's not good for my body, right, to constantly have my nervous system on edge, to constantly have my cortisol levels spiking. I knew it was really bad for my body. So, I wanted to do something about that, and EMDR is a really great way to just rewire the brain a little bit and get the right brain talking to the left side of the brain and make it so that I am not so hypervigilant and so reactive. Alyssa Scolari [30:53]: So that is why I have decided to further my healing journey with EMDR. Not everybody has to do that, not everybody needs it. I think it is amazing. But it's really a personal decision. So, along the way, right, there's going to be so many little caveats, and nobody's healing journey is the same, but this is a pattern that I often see with myself and with people I work with, where you come in to treat a more surface level disorder. And then as you treat that, you start to get more in touch with the trauma that's behind the disorder. And then we start the grieving process, and really start learning how to best take care of yourself. Especially given the fact that you weren't cared for, right, when you were younger, if you have complex trauma. Alyssa Scolari [31:53]: And once you're able to do that, you are frigging unstoppable because you know that at the end of the day, the safest place is you. And for so many trauma survivors, when we start therapy, we don't feel safe at all. We spend our whole lives trying to escape our bodies. But at the other end is this beautiful, beautiful concept that you are so at home in your body and you are so safe, and paradise and peace is you. Alyssa Scolari [32:33]: So, I hope that this has been helpful to at least give you a brief outline. I mean, not brief. Right? This is like 40 minutes. But to talk a little bit about the process, like what can you expect out of healing? It hurts like hell. But I mean, I can't help, but sit here and smile as I say this, because I just think of my own journey, and I think like, "Damn, I saved my own life." And as a result, I get to help so many other people, and I also get to enjoy spending time with myself. Alyssa Scolari [33:09]: I get to enjoy nurturing younger me. I get to spend the rest of my life taking care of the child in me. And I want to, because I love her, and you can do the same. So if you are in the pits of it right now, I need you to hang on, I need you to tie it, not in your rope and I need you to hang on, because if there was anything that I wish I could go back and tell myself even six years ago, it is that, it doesn't stay like this forever. And the other side is, it's almost the equivalent to seeing the world in colors that I just couldn't see before. Alyssa Scolari [33:56]: I appreciate everything so much more now, and you can too, and I want nothing but the best for all of you. Hang in, hold on, love yourself through this. You're going to make it. I know it. I love you, I am holding you in the light, and I will see you next week. Alyssa Scolari [34:20]: Thanks for listening everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram, we are @lightaftertrauma and on Twitter, it is @lightafterpod. Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So please head on over again, that's patreon.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you, and we appreciate your support.
Episode 101: How to Cope When the Worlds Feels Unsafe with Alyssa Scolari, LPC
31:59The last several years have given way to an onslaught of devastating and frightening tragedies in our world. When it all feels like too much, we need ways to find safety and security once more. Check out the Light After Trauma website for transcripts, other episodes, Alyssa's guest appearances, and more at: www.lightaftertrauma.com Want to get more great content and interact with the show? Check us out on Instagram: @lightaftertrauma We need your help! We want to continue to make great content that can help countless trauma warriors on their journey to recovery. So, please help us in supporting the podcast by becoming a recurring patron of the show via Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/lightaftertrauma You can also check out Alyssa at www.alyssascolari.com Transcript: Alyssa Scolari [00:23]: Hey friends. Alyssa Scolari [00:24]: Welcome back to another episode of the Light After Trauma podcast. I am your host Alyssa Scolari, and we are now on episode 101, baby. I am so excited. I hope that everybody has had a great week so far. It feels like forever since I've recorded an episode, it's only been really a week and a half, but so much has happened in the world since I last recorded an episode and I originally had other plans for what I was going to talk about today. But I think with recent events, it is really important that I talk about how to cope when it feels like the world is falling apart. I feel really, really lucky because I have the most amazing people who listen to this podcast. And I have not been pressured by any of you to talk about what is going on in the United States, particularly the Roe v. Wade being overturned. Alyssa Scolari [01:36]: I know that with a lot of people who have public platforms, people who follow them or listen to them, people are demanding that others speak about it and they're judging them for not having spoken about it. And I feel really grateful that has not been the case for me. And I will say this with regards to that, just because somebody's not speaking about it on a social media platform doesn't mean that they don't have feelings about it, right? Roe v. Wade was only overturned a few weeks ago at this point, or maybe a week and a half ago at this point. I'm not even sure, but it's going to take some time for people to be able to process how they feel about it. And the overturning is very triggering for people who have... Well, it's very triggering for pretty much anyone with a uterus, but it is especially triggering for people who have a history of sexual abuse, right? Alyssa Scolari [02:47]: Our bodies have already been taken from us. We have already had somebody else have more control over our bodies than we have. So for Roe v. Wade to be overturned and for people to say that it is okay for states to completely ban abortion, it almost feels like we are being victimized all over... I mean, we are being victimized all over again, and it's very re-victimizing of our sexual abuse. So try to be mindful of that, right? If somebody's not saying something about it, that doesn't mean that they don't feel strongly about it. It doesn't mean that they're ignoring it. What that might mean is that they are so deeply triggered by it, that they just can't, right? Because especially when you put yourself out there in any kind of public platform, you are bound to have criticism and you are bound to have people who are going to say things that are hurtful, people that might disagree. Alyssa Scolari [03:50]: And while that might be okay, if you have deep traumatic ties to a certain topic, honestly, it might not be safe for you to share that publicly. So just give one another grace right now. I feel like I'm preaching to the choir. I don't even have to tell you all because you all have been absolutely amazing in not asking me to speak up about this. And so I have been able to take some time and I have been able to get to a place where I am able to publicly say, I am so not okay with what is happening in this country. And anybody who knows a shred about me can already have guessed that. I am horrified. I am triggered beyond belief, the right to abortion. It is not a right, it's not a constitutional right anymore. And it has been so hard for me to wrap my head around. Alyssa Scolari [04:58]: And it's also been very overwhelming for me as a therapist to have to go into my office, right? Because the overturning was on Friday, June 24th. And then on Monday, I had to go into the office and I had to talk to a person upon person who has deep seated feelings and is extremely triggered by the overturning. And I haven't even processed it for myself. So I have been just inundated with reactions to this and I'm handling it the best that I can, but there's just no part of me that is okay. It is so scary for so many people out there. And some people are celebrating, right? Some people are celebrating, but I think so many of us, and I know many people who listen to this podcast, are mourning. We're mourning. We are terrified about what this means. We are triggered because now we feel like we have no control over our bodies anymore. Alyssa Scolari [06:08]: It's been really, really bad. And unfortunately bad has only turned to worse, right? We thought that it couldn't get any worse on June 24th when they overturned Roe v. Wade. But now see what else the Supreme Court is considering. The Supreme Court is going to look at LGBTQ rights. They're going to decide whether or not businesses are allowed to ban or discriminate against people in the LGBTQ community. That is being considered. They are also considering whether they are going to allow states to overturn federal elections. That is another thing that's being considered. And I kind of struggle a lot with what all of this means. So I try to do a lot of research and I've done a lot of research, but then I also try to ask other people in my life who I know are well read on it and who understand a little bit better than I do, because I am not the best at understanding this stuff, right? Alyssa Scolari [07:16]: And as an aside, I also want to say this, I see a lot of people saying things like how could you not understand what this means? Or how could you not understand? How could you not have seen this coming? And I understand that to a certain degree. What I want to say about that is this. Please do not assume that everybody was present and/or able to pay attention in school when we were being taught about the checks and balances of our government, of our country. Alyssa Scolari [07:57]: Please don't assume that everybody was able to do that, right. Maybe you were there and maybe you listened and you paid attention and you understood it. And it came super easily to you. But what about the kids who couldn't show up at school because they had to stay home sick, taking care of their parents or taking care of their siblings because their parents weren't available or they had to take care of grandma, or they didn't live with mom and dad, or what about the kids who did show up in school, but they had undiagnosed ADHD to the point where they couldn't even pay attention, they couldn't listen. Alyssa Scolari [08:29]: Or they had trauma and they were too busy trying to process their trauma to be able to listen about the checks and balances in this country, right. What about the people that don't have internet access that cannot read up on this stuff themselves? What about the people that are so busy living paycheck to paycheck, that they don't have time to understand how our system of checks and balances work in this country. Please keep that in mind and perhaps talk to other people about these topics because people are so quick to say things like, how could you not have known? How do you not understand how our government works? Why do you even live in this country if you don't understand how our government works? So many people don't, right. And I, to a degree, struggle so much with how things work. Alyssa Scolari [09:19]: So going back to the Supreme Court, now hearing a case about whether or not it's going to be okay for the states to overturn federal elections. Basically what that means is our system of checks and balances could be taken away in the sense that states get to regulate elections, they get to regulate... They have a lot more power over elections, but also states have the power to say, oh, well, we suspect that there was fraud here. And because there was fraud, we are going to throw out these votes, or we're going to say that the result is null and void and we have to vote again. Or no, no, no, they didn't win. They did, right. So basically the states can kind of alter the results based on their own agenda. Alyssa Scolari [10:19]: And there's really nobody that can back them up. There's no court, there's no higher court to be like, okay, well show us the evidence that says that this election was fraudulent, right? Show us the evidence. There's really nobody that's doing that. Basically the states just get to decide. And that is a really frightening thing because essentially it can make our votes meaningless if the state already has their own agenda. Now none of these things have actually been overturned yet, right? So I do not want to cause panic where we don't need to be panicked because right now there are other things that have been overturned that we need to be panicking about. But people are talking about this stuff and anxiety and depression is at an all time high. Suicide rates are on the rise and things are looking grim. It is my hope that just because the Supreme Court is looking at the stuff that it doesn't necessarily mean these things are going to be overturned. Alyssa Scolari [11:30]: They're just looking at it. And it is my hope that they're going to be like, this is ridiculous. And they're just going to throw it out. That is my hope. But that was also our hope with Roe v. Wade. So we don't know. Life is really scary right now. It is so, so, so scary. And I know that I've been talking about a lot of this, but I do not want this whole episode to be talking about all the things that can continue to go wrong in this country because things are going wrong so often. And these are really dark times in our country. What I want to talk about is how to cope, because if you are anything like me, you are struggling to cope. I've been having a really hard time. And I know that the people around me have been having a really hard time. Alyssa Scolari [12:25]: And I know that the people I work with are having a really hard time. So I want to talk about today, how we can get through this what feels like a never ending nightmare. There is a pressure I.n the media, in social media and in the world right now to be on all of the time to be up to date on the latest news, the breaking news, what's happening, who said this, who said that. It is so much pressure in itself. And I want you to know that you are not any less of an activist, you are not any less of a supporter if you are not on all the time. In fact, I am here to encourage you to please take a break because we need it. We are all so tired and exhausted and burnt out from excessive media and bad news after bad news after bad news, not just in the year 2022, it has been three years of horror, right? Alyssa Scolari [13:44]: In 2019, it was like everybody was talking about this COVID virus and will it, won't it reach the United States and we're tracking this, but the numbers are low. And then 2020 hit. And it was like the whole world is shutting down. And since then it has just been an onslaught of death and chaos and destruction and bad news. And nobody, I mean, nobody is meant to be absorbing this amount of information day in, day out for years on end. It is chronic, toxic stress and trauma. And it doesn't surprise me that suicide rates are on the rise. It doesn't surprise me that the rate of mental health disorders, that the rate of PTSD is through the fucking roof right now. Alyssa Scolari [14:38]: But if you're listening to this and this information is ringing true for you, and you're like, oh yeah. Oh yeah. That's how I'm feeling, I am just so done with all of it. I need to tell you that it's okay to dissociate. And that might seem like Alyssa, what the fuck, right? What do you mean, dissociation is a trauma response. Not always, not always. Dissociation or dissociation or dissociation. People say it many, many different ways. And I say dissociate, but some people say it differently. I actually don't know what the correct pronunciation is. I've seen multiple different pronunciations for it. So if somebody could tell me what exactly the correct pronunciation of it is, I would appreciate that. But for now, I'm going to continue to say dissociate. You can say dissociate, however you want to say it. It all means the same thing. It is your brain's way of detaching from reality. And that is a very natural and normal mechanism. Alyssa Scolari [15:45]: Dissociation in moderation is not a bad thing. We all need to detach, and we all need to be able to focus on things that are more reassuring in life so that we can keep our anxiety at a minimum. Sometimes. It is so, so healthy. I mean, honestly, when you meditate, right, when you meditate or are mindful, that can kind of be a... Meditation can be a healthy form of dissociation. There are so many ways in which we dissociate on a regular basis. Have you ever been in school or in a class, and the professor is just droning on and on and on about something. And before you know it, you are two weeks into a fantasy, not two weeks, I should say, but you're 20 minutes into a fantasy about vacationing somewhere on some tropical island with your crush and getting married and this and that. Alyssa Scolari [16:51]: And you're thinking about, oh, what is my wedding dress going to look like? Or things like that, that is dissociation. You have checked out and you have checked in to a fantasy that is much more pleasurable than where you are at now. It's not a response to toxic stress, but you are just like, I need to check out for a little bit. That is such a good thing. It is healthy to be able to check out. Now, of course it becomes unhealthy when your brain is doing that as a result of toxic stress, right? That is when it becomes like this is a trauma response. But right now I think that so many of us are probably having trauma responses as a result of everything that is happening in this world. We need a healthy form of dissociation. So it is not a bad thing. Alyssa Scolari [17:50]: I cannot emphasize that enough. When you are doing it to try to help yourself and intentionally, right. We want to be very intentional about this form of dissociation. So what does that mean? It means literally checking out, checking out of reality for a little bit and checking into other things that feel much safer. I highly recommend putting timers on your phone right now, right. We could all use it, right. We could all use less time on social media, but now more than ever, where you can barely even open up an app without seeing something about abortion laws or LGBTQ rights or gun control, put a timer on the apps that you use. How long do you want to be absorbing that information? I recently, I think maybe like a week and a half ago, when all this happened, I just decided, no, I cannot do this to myself. Alyssa Scolari [18:55]: I cannot be inundated with this information right now. I have to do something. And so I decided that I do not want to consume any more than one hour of social media time a day right now, that is what I can handle. And even that might honestly be a little bit too much. I might bring it to 30 minutes. And so I have been doing that and it has been so helpful for me. Not only have I done that, but I've also decided that when it gets to a certain time, either in the morning or the night, I do not want to be on my phone. I do not want to be on these apps at all, regardless of how much I've been on them throughout the day, I'm giving myself a small window. So basically my apps will essentially turn off at 8:00 PM and then from 8:00 PM until 10:00 AM the next morning, I do not allow myself to go on these apps. Alyssa Scolari [19:56]: And if you have an iPhone, you can just do it right in your settings. Your iPhone will just do it for you. It's pretty easy. If you have an Android, I think you can download an app that will allow you to do that and it's free. So I highly recommend that. Then at night, right, my routine is not only do I actually have much more time, but I can do things that help me to engage in a form of healthy dissociation. And then in the morning, the reason why I have the apps off until solely into the morning is so I am not starting my day off with traumatic or horrible or scary or anxiety provoking news. When I wake up in the morning, I can't open my phone right away and start scrolling through social media. Alyssa Scolari [20:49]: No, I have to get up. I have to get out of bed. I have to make my coffee. I have to do a little bit of work. I have to eat. And then when my day is already started, I can be like, oh, let me check social media for a little bit and see what's going on. And it helps not to start the day off on a wrong foot or effectively, it helps me to not be triggered and be having PTSD symptoms from the moment I get up in the morning. So I highly, highly recommend that if you haven't done that already. Now, the other thing is figuring out what to do with that time that you're not on social media, because if you're not on social media, but then you're sitting down on the couch watching something that's equally as traumatic. Well, it's not really going to help you much. Alyssa Scolari [21:40]: Personally, I love Stranger Things. Love it, love it, love it. And I was so excited for it to come out, but two weeks ago before Roe v. Wade was even overturned, David and I sat down to watch it. And the first 20 minutes, now I'll give them a little bit of credit, because Stranger Things did give a warning about how the scenes that we were about to see could be triggering about the shooting in Texas. And so, okay. You know, I was like, all right, but the whole thing, it was 20 minutes, I think, probably of just horror. Horror that was so similar that I'm like, honestly, I'm a little infuriated that they didn't just cut that scene or make it much shorter together. And just kind of say, we changed the scene out of respect, because it was so similar to what I'm sure so many people saw when they had to witness that Texas shooting. Alyssa Scolari [22:57]: So I was horrified and I was like, turn this off. I cannot watch this. And I have heard, I have not watched it since, but I have heard from a few people that it actually doesn't get much better and that it's actually a very gory season. And as much as I love Stranger Things and was so excited to be able to escape into a fantasy world, I know that that is going to be entirely too triggering for me. And so I have set a boundary with myself that I am not watching it because I can't do that to myself. And so it's important to keep that in mind too, right? If I were to say, oh, I'm not going to go on social media, but I'm going to sit down and I'm going to watch Stranger Things and inundate myself with gore and death and blood and violence. Alyssa Scolari [23:48]: Well, how's that actually helping my brain, right? That's that's only just triggering, it's triggering me. It's not really doing anything. So what will you do during that time? So instead of watching Stranger Things, I've been playing a lot of Mario. We actually bought a new game called Mario Odyssey. And listen, it is exactly the form of dissociation that I need. Helping me to check out and check into a world where I am a small Italian man with a red cap. And I am jumping and hitting those little square boxes. The yellow ones with the question marks on them and collecting coins. And I'm in all these fantasy worlds. And there's great colors. That has been really helpful for me. Another thing that I'm doing is I am doing yoga. I am trying to be so vigilant about doing it so that I can help move emotions through me. Alyssa Scolari [24:55]: That has been really helpful. I highly recommend restorative yoga. If you haven't done restorative yoga, it is the bomb. It is very different than regular yoga in the sense that you're not actually doing much, basically what restorative yoga is it's propping up your body and supporting your body in different positions so that you can maximize your relaxation and meditation. And it is amazing. I don't even think that explanation does it justice, but if you haven't done it, I highly recommend it. I've also been doing Yoga with Adriene and that is free. If you look that up, she has some free classes. So you can try those out. I highly recommend those. Now fair warning, she does have a section where it says yoga for weight loss. So if that might be a triggering for you then perhaps don't check that out. Alyssa Scolari [25:57]: Another person who I am loving is, what's it called, Underbelly yoga. That's who she is. To sign up for her classes is $10 a month, but she is awesome. And it's unlike any kind of yoga I've ever done before. She's super messy and super in her body and just lets her body do whatever feels good, which I feel like a lot of yoga classes don't do. A lot of yoga classes feel super rushed to me. It's like, do this, do that, do this, do that. And I'm like, okay, I didn't even get in one pose before I have to go into another pose. So also highly recommend the Underbelly yoga. I think she's awesome. But that has been something that has been honestly not negotiable for me, in addition to finding ways to releasing my anger. So boxing. Boxing has been a lifesaver. Alyssa Scolari [27:00]: You don't even have to go to a class, get a bag, get gloves, find a partner, and box. Being able to punch things is so therapeutic. It's so therapeutic. Now that's not necessarily dissociation. That's more channeling your rage, but it's still very, very helpful and very relevant for what all of us are experiencing right now. The other thing that's been really helpful is reading. And not reading true crime books. I am really interested in true crime, but I've needed to step away from that. I have made the decision that I need to set a boundary with myself. I cannot be inundated with more disaster and horror. So I have been reading a lot. I just read a book called, Where Do You Go, Bernadette? It's actually, I think now a movie or it's being made into a movie. It was good. Alyssa Scolari [27:57]: It wasn't the best. It was good. I have another book on the way called The People We Meet on Vacation and I'm really looking forward to that. So finding ways to completely detach, put on a show. I don't care if it is a show that you have seen 95,000 times, if it makes you laugh and it's not triggering and it feels safe, put it on. I don't even really like to be in much silence anymore right now. So I almost always have the TV on with either a Disney movie or Disney music or just a sitcom that I really like. I love The Nanny. I have been watching The Nanny. I love Mike and Molly. I've been watching Mike and Molly, both on HBO. Both can be triggering for an eating disorder though. So disclaimer about that. I really don't recommend, especially Mike and Molly, do not watch that if you have an eating disorder, but those are shows that feel comforting for me. Alyssa Scolari [28:58]: And those are shows that make me feel like nothing else is wrong in that moment. And it's very important for you to find books, games, movies, shows, and people that give you that sense of safety. I know that with David, there's a time and a place for us to talk about this, but then when we're not talking about it, we are not talking about it. And we are inundating ourselves with other things. Going outside and taking care of the plants. We are spending more time with our dogs. We are doing a lot of research on how to attract different birds to our yard. We have a bird feeder and we have the most beautiful cardinals that are coming to our bird feeders and just things like that. And it might seem at first, how can I be spending my time on this when I have to be out there protesting? Alyssa Scolari [29:56]: You don't have to be on all the time. Get out there, protest, donate, call people, sign petitions, do whatever you need to do, but do not do it when you're sacrificing yourself. That is something I need you all to remember. Dissociation can be healthy sometimes, especially right now. I know it feels like the world is falling apart. I'm scared too, but I'm not going anywhere. I love you. And I am encouraging you to take the best care of yourself through all of it. So I hope that this helps. I am wishing you the absolute best week. I feel like that's unreasonable for what's what's happening in the world now. I wish you some peace this week. I will say that, and I of course will be holding you in the light and I will see you next week. Alyssa Scolari [31:00]: Thanks for listening everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram, we are @lightaftertrauma and on Twitter, it is @lightafterpod. Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So please head on over again. That's paton.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you. And we appreciate your support.
Episode 100: The Five Love Languages with Alyssa Scolari, LPC
29:15Alyssa is celebrating 100 episodes this week by talking about the five different love languages, first coined by psychologist Gary Chapman. Learning about the five love languages can significantly improve the relationships you have with partners, friends, and family. To learn more about the different love languages, please see Gary Chapman's book: The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate Check out the Light After Trauma website for transcripts, other episodes, Alyssa's guest appearances, and more at: www.lightaftertrauma.com Want to get more great content and interact with the show? Check us out on Instagram: @lightaftertrauma We need your help! We want to continue to make great content that can help countless trauma warriors on their journey to recovery. So, please help us in supporting the podcast by becoming a recurring patron of the show via Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/lightaftertrauma You can also check out Alyssa at www.alyssascolari.com Transcript: Alyssa Scolari [00:23]: Hey everybody. It is your host Alyssa Scolari. Welcome back to another episode of The Light After Trauma podcast and most especially, happy 100th episode. We are officially in triple digits. I don't know how that happened. I have no clue. It has been almost two years since the podcast started and I can't even wrap my brain around it. We are a hundred episodes in, and it has been so much fun every step of the way. I remember being in the pandemic right at the beginning when everything was supposed to shut down for only two weeks. And I remember thinking to myself, I have to do something to help people that are suffering. I have to do something to help people have a greater understanding about mental health. And it sort of just dawned on me like, "Oh, I really want to start a podcast." Alyssa Scolari [01:28]: That is a great way to reach people and to be able to provide people with free access to mental health education. So I remember I get all these reminders on my phone from Facebook, I guess, as my equipment would come in, like my podcast microphone. I would take a picture of it and I would put it on my story. So I keep getting little reminders on my social media from that two years ago and it is mind boggling and I'm really honored to be here. There are times when the podcast has really stressed me out and has felt like a lot. But honestly, for the most part, I have been loving every second of it and I have formed friendships with, I think so many of you. I have amazing friendships right now that I would've never had if it weren't for this podcast, whether it's people who have been on the show, whether it is people who have contacted me after hearing the podcast and we just connected on social media. Alyssa Scolari [02:38]: I just feel like I have friends all over the world and you have been right by my side, listening to me, not just share my story, but be vulnerable. Because I shared my story, but I share my story for the most part, as I'm going through things. And it has been great to feel the support. It has been great to be able to give support in the form of education about mental health. It's just been great. It's all been great. I don't even have any words. I don't have any words. So if you and I have talked and we're friends, thank you. I love you. If you and I have never spoken, but you just listened to the podcast. Thank you. I love you. We are going to keep going until, I don't know when. I don't know, we're just going to keep going. We're going to keep doing it. So thank you so much for all your support. I would honestly never be here without you. Alyssa Scolari [03:46]: And if you are continuing to like what you hear and you haven't done so already, I kindly ask that you please leave a rating or review of the podcast because those ratings really help the podcast to continue to grow and to reach a wider audience so more people can get the mental health education and support and the trauma focused education that they need. That would be great. And without further ado, let's get into it today. So I thought for the hundredth episode, we could talk about something maybe a little bit more fun. Listen, I always think that mental health stuff is fun, but of course it can be very, very serious. So I thought maybe we would just dial it back a notch and talk about something that I think is really cool. So today I wanted to talk about the five love languages, which I always think are interesting and relate to absolutely everybody. Alyssa Scolari [04:42]: The five love languages, I'm sure most of you have heard of this. But if you have not heard of this so far, it's based on a book by a PhD, Gary Chapman, who was a therapist who worked a lot with couples and with people in complicated relationships. And he wrote this book titled, The Five Love Languages, and the book was released in 1992. And basically what this book is it's a collection of his extensive research as a therapist and he takes kind of everything that he has seen throughout his career. And he condenses people's communication patterns and how couples communicate love. He condenses it all into five basic categories and calls them love languages. Now it's important to remember about love languages, that when we talk about it's not just between romantic partners. Love languages, it's quite literally how we express our love to the people in our lives that we want to express love to. But it's also how we like to be loved by the people in our lives who love us. So it is both. So these love languages are not super old, definitely a newer concept. Alyssa Scolari [06:18]: Like I said, it came out in the nineties, 1992 specifically, the year I was born. So it is as old as I am. It is 30 years old, which is not very old. And if you're listening out there and you think 30 is old, we need to talk. I'm just kidding, kind of, ish. Anyway, so what are the love languages? All right, let's break it down. So we have words of affirmation. We have physical touch. We have receiving gifts. Quality time and acts of service. And we are going to get into what that means. So what are words of affirmation? Well, it seems kind of self-explanatory, but basically it's using your language to tell somebody that you love them. And it's not just, I love you. I love you. I love you. It's more like you are verbally encouraging somebody. You are validating them. You are affirming them. Alyssa Scolari [07:16]: You are actively listening to them and giving them feedback and that feedback is really encouraging. This is the person who is a talker, if you need to just talk through things and you need to hear validation, you need to hear reassurance constantly. You might be a words of affirmation person. That might be your love language. Now, I think it's important to note that I think you can have multiple of these. I think that every relationship needs all of these and I'm not a couple's therapist. So don't quote me on that, but I kind of look at all these and I'm like, "I think that all of them are important." So this isn't to say that you only need one for a relationship to survive, but rather there's usually one of these that rings more true for you than it does for any of the other ones. Alyssa Scolari [08:23]: So folks whose love language is words of affirmation, they really appreciate things like handwritten notes. They like cards for birthdays and anniversaries. They love it when you send them a text in the middle of the day, just, "Hey, I'm thinking about you. I love you." They love that stuff. That is how they feel the most loved. Now, maybe this isn't how you like to receive love, because personally, it's not how I like to receive love and I'm not saying words of affirmation are bad. I like them. They're great. I like when my partner tells me that he loves me, but I don't need it. It's not my oxygen, so to speak. But maybe you are somebody who gives words of affirmation and that is how you communicate your love. So you can have one love language that's your way of communicating, love to others and a totally different love language that's your way of liking to receive love. Alyssa Scolari [09:32]: And that's definitely the case for me. I tend to be a words of affirmation person when it comes to giving love, which honestly does that surprise anybody given the fact that I'm a therapist? Is anybody shocked by this? No, I totally show my love and my care and my concern with my clients and my friends and my husband, by words of affirmation. I'm actively listening. I'm encouraging. I'm affirming people all of the time and this is not with my clients, but with the friends in my life, with the loved ones in my life and with my partner. I will make handwritten cards or I will send an unexpected note. I know I used to do those things when David and I first started dating. I don't so much anymore, although I probably should now that I think about it, but that is something I am much more likely to do. Alyssa Scolari [10:33]: But when I receive things like that, I like it, but it doesn't necessarily just do it for me, if you know what I mean. So the next that we're going to talk about is physical touch. When people hear this, physical touch as a love language, everybody's brain jumps, not everybody but most people's brain jumps to the same thing, which is sex. Or like, "Oh, if you're a love, language is physical touch, then you just want to be having sex all of the time." I've had so many people that I've spoken to about love languages who didn't really understand what physical touch meant. When I say my love language is physical touch because that is my love language, people look at me almost kind of sideways. And I'm like, "That's not what it means." Yes. When it comes to physical touch, sex and intimacy can be a part of it. Alyssa Scolari [11:32]: And that is a part of it, but there are other things that are also really important when it comes to physical touch. And it's more just nonverbal body language. So I like hugging. I kind of like kissing, but I'm more hugging is where it's at for me. But also I like when somebody, when I say somebody I'm talking about David. I like when David will play with my hair or just give me a foot rub or just rub my back, whatever kind of physical touch. Again, non-sexual, I love it. It is the best thing ever to me. Now on the same kind of topic, I don't really appreciate, it's not that I don't appreciate it. But I don't show my love through physical time. You will not see me opening my arms and reaching out to hold somebody and initiating any kind of physical contact. Alyssa Scolari [12:47]: I don't do that. I think because it's definitely partially due to my history of sexual abuse. I like touch, but it's somebody that I have to feel really, really safe with. So I'm not likely to go right to physical touch as a love language for friends or acquaintances or anything like that. And again, it's not that my friends aren't safe. People like my friends are incredibly safe people. It's more so just that I feel like there's a different level of safety that's accessed with David. That just sort of makes me really be able to tap into my desire for physical touch, without having my defenses up or my nervous system kind of reactive as a result of my sexual trauma. So physical touch is my number one. That is my love language, but I am not really one to give a whole lot when it comes to, I guess I should say, I'm not really one to show my love through physical touch. Alyssa Scolari [13:59]: I like to receive through physical touch. So the next one is gift giving, receiving gifts. And this one really, again, is exactly as it sounds, it's putting thought into buying things, not even buying things, making things. It could also be like, "Hey, I made you muffins." When David and I first started dating, we would often bond over our love for food, which honestly we still do. That has never gone away. And where I lived with my parents, there was this really great Italian shop with the best cannolis. And so he also loves blueberry and they made blueberry cannolis. We worked together, we first met at work together. So I would often bring him blueberry cannolis to work. Aside from this though, I'm not much of a gift giver to the point where if I have a close friend whose birthday is coming up, or even if David's birthday is coming up, I panic over what I'm going to get somebody for their birthday. Alyssa Scolari [15:10]: It is such an anxiety thing for me. I'm like, "Okay, well I know this person loves, I don't know, plants. So I think I'm going to get this person a plant. But what if I pick the one plant that they hate, or what if I pick the one plant in the world that they happen to be allergic to?" That is just so my intrusive thoughts. I just think about all the ways in which my gift is going to be the worst thing ever. And so gift giving gives me too much anxiety. I don't like it. I, of course, can receive it. I actually get very overwhelmed when people give me gifts. I will cry, happy tears, but I will still cry. I very much enjoy receiving gifts, but it makes me very emotional that somebody would even think of me and be so kind as to give me a gift. Alyssa Scolari [16:08]: So I definitely enjoy receiving this as a love language, but I have way too much anxiety to be able to really give it. And when I say it, I mean any kind of thoughtful gifts or thoughtful gestures. So then there is quality time. And this is really just when somebody spends uninterrupted time with you. Uninterrupted off of their phone, not on social media and it is one on one time. And this is, I think, a big one for a lot of people. And I think, in particularly, a lot of childhood trauma survivors, especially if there was neglect involved. People really tend to love that one-on-one time. And that's not to say that your childhood trauma is going to drive what your love languages are. That's certainly not the case, or at least there's no research to my knowledge that is supporting of that. Alyssa Scolari [17:15]: But I do think that sometimes it can play a factor. So quality time really is creating special moments. Let's go for a walk. We're going to have date nights every week or every other week. We are going to go to the gym together. We're going to ride into work together or Friday nights, our pizza and movie nights. Again, I think that these things are important for every relationship and friendship. I think quality time is, of course, very important for a friendship. But I think the question is that the most important thing to you? This would be probably my second most important love language aside from physical touch. I also really communicate my love with other people with quality time, "Hey, let's hang out, let's do something. Let's go here. Let's go there." Now that I've recovered a lot from my trauma and I don't have as much anxiety around seeing people. I really am somebody who enjoys quality time. Alyssa Scolari [18:32]: So then there's acts of service. That is the last one, that's certainly not the least. And this is just letting somebody know that you want to help them, lightening their load, doing tasks for them. "Hey, I'm going to take your car. I'm going to go get your oil changed." Or, "Hey, I decided to make dinner tonight because I know you had a really long day." Or it can be even something so small like, "Oh, Hey, I fed the dogs this morning, because I know you had a meeting." It doesn't have to be monumental. It can be very minor. "I made you breakfast. I hung a load of laundry." Could be very small things. Acts of service is absolutely the way that my husband likes to communicate his love for me. He is a huge acts of service guy. Alyssa Scolari [19:30]: He does so much for me, whether it's cooking, whether it's cleaning, taking care of the dogs. He will do anything for me and it is really, really awesome. Now I think in terms of how he likes to receive love, I definitely think it's quality time. I think he really appreciates quality time. So those are the love languages. Now here's what's really important about these love languages is, I think for many, many couples and many different kinds of friendships, love languages can be a little bit difficult because we have to learn a lot about the other person and what their needs are. And it's sort of like, "Well, what do we do when our love languages are completely different?" And I think that when you're with somebody and your love language is totally different than theirs. For trauma survivors, a lot of times for childhood abuse survivors, it can be really, really triggering because we may not necessarily see that. Alyssa Scolari [20:50]: I may not see that my mom's showing me love by acts of service, buying me clothes, cooking for me. I may not see that as love and I may be upset and feeling unloved because I'm not getting hugs or cuddles from my mom. That is sort of a miscommunication. I'm not seeing that you love me because you are not loving me in a way that I can see, you are loving me in a way that only you can see. So this is why love languages are so important. Yes, they're fun to talk about, but they're actually really important for the growth of any kind of relationship, whether it's romantic or not. And we have childhood trauma, we are already used to not getting our needs met and our brains are already hypervigilant and extra wired for protection. Alyssa Scolari [21:51]: So as soon as we see that our needs aren't getting met, maybe your love language is quality time and your partner is not making any time for you. They will hang a little laundry and they mow the lawn and they cook, but maybe they haven't planned a date night. Well, here you are triggered feeling abandoned, unloved, maybe worried that something is going wrong in the relationship because your needs aren't getting met. So you are triggered because you can't see that they're expressing love through their way. So I think that it's really important to not only ask yourself, what are my love languages? But to also ask yourself, what are the love languages of those people around me? And you don't even have to ask yourself because if I were you, I would go straight to the source. Go right up to your partner, talk to your friends. What are your love languages? Alyssa Scolari [22:48]: Because once you start to realize, "Oh, Hey, this person never hugs me. I have my best friend. My best friend never hugs me." This is not a true story. "But my best friend never hugs me when she sees me. We see each other twice a year and she never hugs me. She only waves. I feel like she doesn't even want to be my friend." Meanwhile, she might not be hugging you, but she lives in another country and she spent money on a plane ticket, traveled halfway around the world to spend a week with you, quality time or could that be acts of service? Maybe she doesn't hug you when she sees you. But when you guys aren't together, she's texting me all the time, giving you words of affirmation. It is really important to fully assess all of what is going on sometimes when you're feeling triggered or we're feeling unloved. Alyssa Scolari [23:45]: Is it that I'm being unloved right now? Or is this person expressing love to me in a different way? And if that's the case, if somebody is expressing love to you in a way that you don't necessarily receive, that's the time to have a conversation about it. Because I think you have to decide like, "Okay, what do we do and how do we compromise so that we both get our needs met? My husband likes quality time. I like physical touch. So we compromise while we spend quality time together, while we are sitting down on the couch, watching a movie together. I'm getting a foot rub or we're holding hands or he's rubbing my back or he's playing with my hair. How can we compromise on this so that both of our needs get met? Alyssa Scolari [24:42]: It is a really important conversation to have with your friends, with your partners, with your loved ones. But I think one of the really important things here that I also want to say is to not confuse abuse with, "Oh, our love languages aren't the same." Because I see that happens or can happen. Love languages aren't to be thought about when you're in a situation where your partner is abusive or controlling or manipulative. That's not where we want to justify somebody's behaviors based off of love languages. So be careful not to justify abuse based off of somebody's love languages. And this is kind of an egregious example, but just to kind of show you what I'm talking about, it wouldn't be appropriate to say, "Well, when I was a child, we never had any food or hot water in the house, but my mom was always home with us." Alyssa Scolari [26:02]: You don't want to justify neglect. So that is really important because I do think that some people do that, not maybe necessarily with child abuse and neglect, but I do see it happening a lot with romantic partners. "He's mean to me and he talks down to me because words of affirmation aren't his love language. He likes physical touch, or I need to be open to having sex more because his love language is physical touch. Therefore, I can't say no." Those are things to really think about. And I highly recommend talking with a therapist about to make sure, yes, can it be the case that one partner may need to work on their being more intimate, perhaps. But we want to make sure that we talk to a therapist about that and make sure that it's not the case that your partner is pressuring you inappropriately so to have sex. Alyssa Scolari [27:07]: So I hope that makes sense. And I think it's a very, very important takeaway when we talk about the five love languages. So these are really fun. I absolutely love them. And if you don't know what your love language is, there are a gazillion quizzes online that you could take to find out. You can also send the quizzes to your friends, to your partner to be able to find out. And it's a fun way to, I think, get to know each other a little bit more. And again, if you have any questions or concerns like, "Was this abuse? Am I confusing love languages? Is this okay?" Please make sure that you talk to a therapist or to a professional about it. I strongly encourage that. So that was that. That was a wrap on episode 100, which was so fun. Thank you again for being here with me for 100 episodes. I love you all. I am holding you in the light and I will see you next week. Alyssa Scolari [28:17]: Thanks for listening everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram, we are @lightaftertrauma and on Twitter it is @lightafterpod. Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So please head on over again. That's patreon.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you and we appreciate your support.