Episode 166: Adverse Childhood Experiences and Addiction

Inspired by an article published by Aces Too High News on May 2, 2017, this episode features a discussion about the role that adverse childhood experiences plays in the development of addiction later in life. Is addiction a disease or a normal comfort seeking response to childhood trauma, or is it a little of both?

Every Friday night at 8:00 pm Eastern Time, John and Angela stream live on the AA Beyond Belief YouTube Channel and private Facebook group. They welcome your participation by commenting in the live chat or calling into the AA Beyond Belief toll free number.

Discussed in this episode:

Addiction doc says: It’s not the drugs. It’s the ACEs…adverse childhood experiences..

What’s your ACE Score? 


0:00:00 John: Hello, AA Beyond Belief is a podcast by, for and about people who have found a secular path to sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous.


0:00:27 John: Well, hello, everybody out there in YouTube land and those that are in our secret Facebook Group who are listening to tonight’s livestream, another episode of sober distancing. That’s such a clever phrase. [chuckle] I’m so smart! Anyway, it’s nice to be here with you guys, sharing another Friday evening, and it’s good to see you here again, Angela. How’re you doing?

0:00:53 Angela: I’m doing alright. Got some allergies and stuff going, the trees are still trying to kill me, but we’re hanging in there.

0:01:01 John: Good, good. Well, I’m going to be getting ready to take some time off work this coming week, and I’m looking forward to that just to see something other than my immediate neighborhood, to get on my bicycle and ride around town, and I’m just looking forward to breaking the routine. I really felt like I needed to do that. So that’ll be good. So why don’t we, before we get in today’s topic, which I think is going to be an interesting one. It’s heavy, adverse childhood experiences and addiction, and it has a lot to do with what is alcoholism? What is addiction? And how does our past childhood experiences influence that? Angela knows a lot more about the subject than I do. I just read this article, basically. [chuckle] Annd Angela’s read a few books and has participated in some seminars and so forth, so she knows what she’s talking about. But why don’t we touch base, Angela, about how we are doing personally in our groups during this time? How has your group been faring since you’ve gone to meeting online?

0:02:11 Angela: It’s been doing well. So the majority of our home group members attend our online meetings. One of the things that I’ve mentioned here that we discovered pretty quickly is that people would like… Wanted an additional meeting a week. So we used to be just a Tuesday night group that met at the Unitarian fellowship and now, we’re doing two Zoom meetings, so Tuesday night and Thursday night at 7:00 PM. And so yeah, the Tuesday night group has been fairly large, averaging about 28-36 people. Yeah and so, that’s the one that has the majority of our previous face-to-face home group members. And then Thursday, we have a lot of people from different states and people in other counties in Idaho that Zoom in for that one. And so yeah, so it’s cool. We’re definitely going to keep that one going because we’ve made such good friends with these people, and it feels like an additional home group. And so yeah, so we’re looking forward to keeping that long after the face-to-face goes back. Because it is helpful also for people who are working or who have kids that can’t always jump in their car and drive across town and do all that kind of stuff. So yeah, it’s been a great thing for us. There’s a few people that haven’t joined the Zoom revolution, but we’re still keeping in touch with them via email or phone calls or things like that. So yeah, our group seems to be doing well as far as I can tell.

0:04:02 John: We’ve had a couple of new people join the group, brand new to sobriety, first AA meeting was our online Zoom meeting. I find that really interesting. And some of them, hopefully, will join us when we meet in person. I don’t know when that will be, but have you guys had any newcomers?

0:04:21 Angela: Yeah, we’ve had a couple of them. The other thing is we have, probably about, I’d say about eight, maybe, that are people who joined shortly before the meeting stopped down. So we have several members that are newer in sobriety and also doing the two months and three months and things like that. And so yeah, so that’s pretty great. I think that we get a lot from them, and they’re getting a lot from us through this, and yeah, so it’s cool.

0:05:01 John: So shall we dig into the topic tonight?

0:05:04 Angela: Alright, let’s do this.

0:05:06 John: Okay, now, I’m going to rely on you. I consider you the expert here. I read the article, I did find it very interesting, and I’m going to, I guess… Right, go ahead.

0:05:15 Angela: Well first, why don’t you share what you found interesting in the article.

0:05:18 John: Yes, okay, what I think about it? Okay.

0:05:20 Angela: Yeah, because I sent you that article and I’m like, “Well, we could consider this and we could consult this doctor, we could do this,” and you’re like, “Oh, let’s just talk about it.” I’m like, “Okay then.” [chuckle]

0:05:28 John: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

0:05:30 Angela: Alright, so share.

0:05:31 John: I probably could’ve called Dr. Baker and he probably would have done it on short notice, but I don’t know.

0:05:36 Angela: Yeah, no. It’s cool. It’s one of these things that we’re just going to go over the basics here. Not even all of what ACEs is because it’s such a vast topic, and there’s so much to know and to learn and to understand about it. But our main thing was talking about it as it pertains to addiction theory, and whether or not people still believe that alcoholism and addiction is a biological illness. Or is it something else? So anyway, go ahead and share what you thought of the article.

0:06:25 John: Okay, I’m going to come back with you on a question on that, too, so remind me.

0:06:29 Angela: Okay, so maybe… We could… Can we post what the article is?

0:06:36 John: Yeah, I did post a link to it on both the Facebook group and the YouTube channel and I can actually post another link into and you can too actually, if you want to post a link into the chat there.

0:06:46 Angela: Yeah, yeah so for those who don’t… Haven’t heard either of that, it’s… The article is on a website called ACEs Too High and it’s basically a website that’s associated with another website called ACEs Connection and it’s basically dedicated to the research of adverse childhood experiences and developments in it, epidemiology, neurobiology and biomedical, all of that kind of stuff. And what communities and individuals and groups and agencies are doing to try to help mitigate it and help people who have experienced it. So… And the article was titled addiction, addiction… Addiction, no just kidding. [chuckle] ‘ Addiction doc says: It’s not the drugs, it’s the ACES… Adverse Childhood Experiences.’ So yeah. Go ahead.

0:07:45 John: So this is what I got from that article and I thought it was interesting. First of all, the whole idea of what addiction is anyway. And in the article, it defined addiction as just ritualized, compulsive, comfort seeking. And it’s a normal response to experiences that we’ve had in childhood, traumatic experiences that we’ve had in childhood. And I didn’t really see anything in that, that, in that statement at all that would differ from anything that I ever understood, from when I went through the 12 steps and particularly in steps four and five and learned about my past. I could see that. So anyway… And then it talks about how this is treated. And that would be by… One thing I found interesting was actually just changing the comfort-seeking behavior from one that’s unhealthy to one that’s healthy and that’s something oftentimes, I hear derided in the rooms that you shouldn’t trade one addiction for another one. But I guess you could, if it’s a healthy one, like exercising or reading or something like that.

0:08:57 John: But to change a behavior like that, and also to treat people individually in therapy and also in group therapy, also encouraging people to participate in 12-step programs or any other type of group where they could associate with other people and have some sense of community and so forth. Listening, treating people with respect was a big one, really listening to people and allowing them to integrate their own customs into their treatment. And I don’t know. And then actually trying to deal with the actual experiences from their childhood itself. And I found that interesting too because oftentimes when you think about, when I would think about trauma and childhood, I might think that maybe I didn’t experience a lot of trauma, that my family was fairly normal other than a mentally ill mother and so forth. But when I really stop and look back at it, and I did through my fourth step I could see that there was a lot of instability in my household. So in my case, I never knew what I was going to get on any given day.

0:10:10 John: I didn’t know if I was going to have a peaceful household where there would be laughter and love in the house or if I was going to have one of those days where mom was crazy or one of those days when dad came home really angry because I did something and would get beaten for it, it was that kind of a life that I lived. And so I was always on edge and I can even remember well into adulthood when I would be sitting in my apartment and when I would hear a slamming of a car door, I would brace because it reminded me of my father coming home and closing the, and I could hear him close the door of his car and that, and I would get immediately tense. And so even well into my adulthood when I would hear a closing door of a car, I would, I’d get all tensed up, bracing myself for something. So there was definitely trauma in my childhood. That’s just a fact. And I never really thought about it when I was drinking that my drinking was a response to that trauma. But when I look back at my history, and I learned this when I was going through the steps, my drinking started pretty early in life.

0:11:29 John: When I was… God, I was probably eight, nine years old, I think when I had my first drink, Angela, and when I had that drink, I knew immediately that it gave me a feeling that I needed, it gave me some comfort, like it says in this article. It was… It gave me comfort, and I started to seek that comfort out. So it kind of makes sense to me. But you know the question I was going to ask you, you talked about the people who don’t like the idea that addiction isn’t a disease. Well, why can’t it be both? Why can’t it be, us finding a drug or behavior that brings us comfort, but also causes us harm. And that… And doesn’t it also at the same time kind of change your brain so that your brain has now, has been impacted by this. So can’t it be kind of both?

0:12:22 Angela: Yeah. I don’t know. I think that when I’m thinking about the ACEs and I’m thinking about the addiction model, some of the things that I have difficulty with the addiction model is that it seems to me that people feel that it’s completely out of their control. Like it’s genetic in a way that it can’t, you can’t do anything about it. And… And so that’s where I have some disagreement. If that’s the way the person is talking about it. And the plus with the addiction model or the illness or disease model I guess it is, is that at least nowadays, you can be treated, so if it’s considered a disease of some sort then oftentimes insurance and other things you can get help whereas if it’s not considered that then people can be denied the help that they need to deal with it, so. But within the rooms is what I was thinking about too, oftentimes we hear that I have an allergy to alcohol biologically and such, and so that’s one way that people are really identified with it and I think that ACEs, at least to me, has brought something different to consider. And yes, they do from my understanding of the different studies. I believe that adverse childhood experiences does change your neurobiology, but that our compulsive behaviors are the brain’s way to deal with that and that they’re normal considering what we were dealing with.

0:14:21 Angela: So the ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking is the way that somebody who has been through that kind of experience would react, and so it normalizes it a little bit, and takes away the shame or guilt or any of the other stigmatized things that we often feel and that are sometimes still used in 12-step recovery as a way to change your behavior, that it’s still kind of a moral failing type thing. And so, for me ACEs helped with that, at least in an understanding of, “Okay, yeah, my way of dealing with this is natural given what I’ve been through.” But there is also I know a lot of people who say that they didn’t have trauma in their childhood, their parents were fine [chuckle] And yet they became alcoholic. And so with that…

0:15:28 John: And that brings us to Johnny’s question. Do you see Johnny’s question there? What qualifies as a bad experience or condition in childhood as a trauma? Does it have to be abuse or something at that level?

0:15:37 Angela: You know, that is debated about of course, but if you go to some of the ACEs and trauma informed websites, a lot of things can be considered trauma. So what I was thinking about with the people who haven’t experienced specific trauma that they can think of, it’s usually or it can be something as simple as that maybe their parents were young when they were conceived and the mother was more stressed than other mothers about the birth or something could have happened at birth, a particularly difficult birth that may have caused some change, neurobiologically. And so it doesn’t necessarily mean or need to be that your parents were horrible people or your caregivers or anything like that.

0:16:35 Angela: There are a lot of different things that will go into the ACEs but I can read over the basic list that the Kaiser Permanente I believe it was, and CDC put out and so this study was done I think in the ’90s and it had 300 members and so the questions that were asked then were based on the answers that that group gave that were common. And so newer studies and newer versions of the ACEs have been out as well as like resilience questionnaires and things like that. And so the later ones take into account more things like where you grew up, ethnicity, gender, racism and things like that. So quickly [chuckle] the first one is, did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often swear at you, insult you, put you down or humiliate you or act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt? And so… And with questions like that, like that one, what might scare me, or make me feel humiliated might not for somebody else. So that’s where some of those little distinct differences can come in.

0:18:07 Angela: Number two, did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often push, grab, slap or throw something at you, or ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured? Number three, did an adult or person at least five years older than you ever touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way or attempt or actual… Have actual oral, anal or vaginal intercourse with you? Number four, did any… Did you often or very often feel that no one in your family loved you and or thought that you were important or special or your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other or support each other? Number five, did you often or very often feel that you didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes and had no one to protect you, or your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it? Number six, were your parents ever separated or divorced? Number four, was your mother or stepmother often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped or had something thrown at her, or sometimes often or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist or hit with something hard or ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or a knife?

0:19:28 Angela: Eight, did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or used street drugs? Nine, was a household member, depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide? And 10, Did a household member go to prison? And so those were the basic ones that they started out with. There’s ones now that are a little more refined and inclusive, and do different things or include more.

0:19:55 John: And like most things in life, it runs on a spectrum. So you can have, like Jackie here’s pointing out that maybe you just… You were, as a kid, your parents had a divorce, and that was the only question that you answered yes on, then your score is one. So it’s low on the score, it’s low on the scale, but you still have experienced that. When I took that test, I scored a three, and so that’s fairly… It’s fairly high, but they said in the article that if you were four, your chances of having an addiction at a score of four were much, much higher, I guess than…

0:20:33 Angela: Yeah, yeah that was one of the things when I was reading that a lot of the different correlations that they’ve been able to make now are with people who have four or more. So with four or more, it doubles the risk of heart disease and cancer in people, and it increases your risk of becoming alcoholic by 700%. And so all of the studies that are coming out, they were surprised because many of them were actually health, so heart disease and lung disease and diabetes and things like that. And so most of them understand how some of these connections could be made between addiction and parents who were cool, things like that, or mental health going that way. But the physical health was what was unusual to them and new in the ’90s, and so yeah, so with the ACEs it’s very high, that if you have four or more that you’re going to become addicted to something. And so what I liked about this article, and what was interesting was the way that he re-phrased addiction. We hear a lot of different phrases now, I know several people that don’t say that they’re alcoholic when they’re introducing themselves in a meeting, they say, “I can’t drink alcohol safely,” or “I am alcohol-free,” or things like that.

0:22:03 John: I hear that more and more all the time.

0:22:05 Angela: Yeah, yeah, so that’s totally normal in our world, I guess, in our secular AA meetings. But I really liked that he just changed it all together to the… What is a ritualized compulsive comfort seeking. Because when I think back on my life, that’s mainly what I did. So as I’ve spoken before in this podcast, food was my first thing that was a ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking behavior. And then when I was done with food, then it was alcohol, and then when I was done with alcohol, it was AA. And so I go to AA every single day, multiple meetings and I got a sponsor, and I’d call people, and I was of service, and I did all of the stuff ritualistically and compulsively at times. Like if I didn’t know what to do with myself, or I had a feeling run amok that I couldn’t get a hold of my sponsor, I go to a meeting, that’s what you’re supposed to do, you go to a meeting. So sometimes I went to a meeting even when I wasn’t planning to go to a meeting. And so, is that good or bad? I think what this doctor is talking about is that it’s a ritualized compulsive seeking behavior that won’t kill me or put me in jail.

0:23:32 John: Right. Right, right.

0:23:35 Angela: And so, like you said about that, I agree that oftentimes we talk about other addictions or going to different things as being negative. And in the long run, you know what, that probably is, because in my doing that I wasn’t necessarily addressing whatever was bugging me, I ran to a meeting. But on the other hand, I didn’t have the tools to address what was bugging me, so I ran to the meeting. And now, I might make a different choice because I have more tools, and I’ve gone through additional therapy, and I understand myself better in a way that I couldn’t in early sobriety. And so that’s where I think that it’s not a negative thing, it might be if you continue to only use that, but ideally, I think for most of us, we want to get tools, start to get used to them, and use them, and then continue to develop tools. That’s kind of what 11 and 12 in our steps are about.

0:24:41 John: You know Gail has mentioned something here that’s kind of an interesting thing about this too. She says that she was raised by non-drinking parents who married very young, but both were raised by alcoholic fathers, and they both suffered consequences of that upbringing. And what I think is interesting about that, is it shows how the trauma can be passed from one generation to another, that this can be generational as well.

0:25:03 Angela: Yeah, yeah, I think that they’re currently or I’ve heard it called legacy trauma. And yeah, and some of the therapies I heard that work well with that are the internal family systems, self directed leadership therapy, and I believe Dr. Bessel van der Kolk talks about it quite a bit, and he’s the author of The Body Keeps The Score. And so there are several modalities in that book that he talks about that are helpful for working with legacy traumas as well. But yeah, that’s a newer one within the… Within the community, the trauma community that people were talking about. And for some people, it still sounds a little bit out there, but they are doing more and more research to prove that yeah, that this is a thing and something to be working on.

0:26:00 John: Yeah, I had the same experience Gail had when I… I learned so much from the fourth and fifth step, but when I did that and I looked at my parents, I could see, knowing what I knew about their lives. My father’s father died when my dad was eight years old, my mother’s father committed suicide, hell, they grew up in the Great Depression. [chuckle] It was just a hard life for them. So they were poor, my mother was very poor. So they just really had… They really had a difficult time and they were doing the best they could. And I understood, when I did that fourth step how much I had in common, particularly with my mother, and that I really was able to understand her. I would never really use the word “forgiveness”. I don’t really think she needed that, but I really understood, I guess, why she was the way she was, and it helped me just having that understanding, I guess. But it was definitely a generational thing. [chuckle] She inherited from her father this depression and suicide thing that she passed on to me in our family.

0:27:17 Angela: Right, yeah, yeah. And it’s the same for our’s as well. My grandfather on my mother’s side committed suicide and my mother has been hospitalized for suicidal ideology and tendencies, and as have I in my early 20s. And so yeah, so whether they intended to or not, that stuff does get passed down, but it’s not always as visible. The other thing I liked about that article is that he does talk… I think he’s quoting from Dr. Van der Kolk when he mentions that there are the things that we can cognitively see and know and learn, and then there are the things that we don’t like the smell of somebody’s cologne might trigger us if we were… Things like that, unpleasant experiences that our bodies still can remember, but we don’t know about. Why do we get a stomach ache every time we go into this building? Things like that. And so there’s a lot in there.

0:28:23 Angela: And one of the reasons I thought it was important to bring up is that I know for me that I’ve done a lot of step work and I’ve done a lot of therapy and things like that. And yet sometimes, it can feel frustrating when I feel like I’m either on a plateau or I’m not handling things as well as I want to or lashing out at people or doing some things. And learning some of this stuff reminds me that there’s a lot going on with this Angela thing that I’m inhabiting and that it’s okay, that I don’t… That there isn’t a perfect practice of mindfulness. There isn’t a perfect program to work in AA. There isn’t perfect therapy, stuff like that. And so I thought it was important to bring that up. And also, if anybody’s listening and goes to check out their ACEs and feels a little bit… Has some feelings about it, then I would highly recommend that you talk to somebody about it because I know for me, it was a little bit frustrating.

0:29:28 Angela: One of my first experiences with it was watching a PBS special about it, and then also watching the documentary, “Resilience”, and I cried several times because my AA score is an eight. And so, all I saw was the stuff on how I’m more likely to die 10 years earlier and have all of these different health problems, as well as my mental health and my addiction tendencies and all of that. But on the other hand, I do have a lot of resilience. I have a lot of things that I’ve changed in my life. I’m a very healthy person as far as what I eat. And I stopped using and drinking in my early 30s. And so yes, there are a lot of things that I’ve been able to do and understand that changes that. And now, I’m continuing to work on the connections between my mind and the way that I think about things, and the neural pathways and how it relates to my body so that I can release any of the toxic stress. [chuckle] Release any of the trauma that is still being held by my body.

0:30:42 John: I did a podcast once with Dr. Nicole Labor and she’s an addiction doctor. And she was talking about how step work, in particular, helps create new neural pathways that strengthen our brain. And I thought that was interesting. And I don’t quite understand it, but I do get it. It’s like we can retrain our brain. Our brain is an organ and I guess it just reacts to our environment and what we put into it. And by practicing healthy behaviors and maybe just changing the way we’re thinking, we start creating more, these neurons, I guess, that are more helpful to us.

0:31:31 Angela: Right. Yeah, yeah, no, neuroplasticity is amazing and it’s definitely a saving grace, I guess, for those of us who are not religious. [chuckle] But yeah, the mind is a very powerful thing. And so, with neuroplasticity, we can learn to use different neural pathways, we can retrain our brain from these ideas and these things that we did or the beliefs that we held. So when we go through the fourth step and do a fifth step, we start to see all of these things that we believe to be true: Either about our past, or in the world in general, or how we behaved, or things like that. And then, we’re able to cognitively see that maybe that’s not exactly what happened, or maybe I could think about it in a different way. And so, that’s a basic way of doing that. But for the stuff that’s really, really hard and really ingrained, EMDR therapy is really good for that. And again, the internal family system is really good for that. And then, there are other things that people are doing other studies and research and programs. Like the MDMA and psychedelics that is… They had stopped doing that research because of those crazy hippies. [chuckle] And now, they’re back to doing the research on it. And I know Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is doing some of that in his trauma research now looking at that and how that can help to change the neural pathways.

0:33:15 Angela: And so, that’s all exciting stuff. And so, we’re not stuck because of our childhood, or because of our experiences. And I agree in our conversation live comments. It looks like there’s some discussion on big T and little t trauma, and yeah. So big T trauma is, of course, being beaten, or in a major accident, or witnessing somebody being hurt, or things like that. Little t trauma might be like the kid that put the tacks on my chair in grade school, and not only did it physically hurt but then, I was embarrassed and I felt ashamed and everyone hated me and stuff like that. That’s kind of a small t trauma, or what most people would consider a small t trauma. To me, of course, it was trauma. [chuckle] But yeah those are some of the, or being shamed in front of people, in front of a class. You had mentioned something about how teachers handled things when you were in school that…

0:34:26 John: Oh, yeah. It was the… You would… So if you misbehaved, they would bring you in front of the class and they would take a paddle out and they would beat you, basically. [chuckle]

0:34:35 Angela: Right, yeah.

0:34:35 John: Yeah, and it was humiliating. And I was actually thinking about that when I read the article. I don’t believe that I ever actually got that… Got beaten like that, but I saw others get it.

0:34:48 Angela: Right, yeah.

0:34:49 John: Jesus.

0:34:51 Angela: And that’s stuck with you.

0:34:51 John: And so, you just live in fear of that in school.

0:34:56 Angela: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

0:34:57 John: It sounds crazy. Joe said it was a ruler. In my case, it was actually a paddle. It’s like teachers actually had these paddles that they would hang, they would hang the damn things on their blackboard. [chuckle]

0:35:09 Angela: Wow, yeah.

0:35:10 John: Yeah, I know it was crazy. Call us, if you will, please, at 844-899-8278. Is that the right number? Yeah, it is. 844-899-8278. We’d love to hear from you. We’re talking about adverse childhood experiences and addiction.

0:35:25 Angela: Yeah.

0:35:26 John: And Angela you thought that this might be a controversial topic, but you know what? I think most of the people that are, at least, listening to this podcast right now through YouTube and so forth, seem to think that it’s right on. People are saying that the definition seems to make sense. They’re all relating different traumas that they’ve had in their lives. I think it kind of comports pretty well. And also, it’s someone else, I don’t know if you’ve heard of this book, but someone from the Facebook group is recommending a book, Dr. Jamie Merrick, is that how you pronounce that? Has a book. It’s a new edition of her book, “Trauma and the Twelve Steps.” It’s going to come out in July.

0:36:03 Angela: No, no. I have not heard of that, so cool.

0:36:06 John: Yeah.

0:36:09 Angela: That would be fun. [chuckle] Not for people. For those of you listening in for the first time, yeah, we should probably qualify that neither of us are trained in any way on any of the stuff we’re talking about. We’re both just people who are in recovery that like to talk.

0:36:25 John: That’s right. [laughter]

0:36:26 Angela: And so, so yeah. So one of the running jokes is that my hobby is trauma, and that I just find it fascinating based on my own experience and those of others as well. And so, I’d really like to read books that talk about trauma, and trauma and addiction, and yeah, things like that, as well as, mental health. I think that there’s some interesting things to say about the diagnosis that we get that if we address the developmental trauma we had, we might not have that, or it would affect it in a different way.

0:37:15 John: Yeah, yeah. Heidi Juniper. She says, “A perspective I am really drawn to comes from trauma therapist, Bonnie Badenoch,” that’s her mentor, “which has to do with understanding the brain, co-regulation, and how accompaniment can help.” So why don’t you call us, Heidi, and tell us more about that. [chuckle] I would love to have someone call us. That’s the most fun.

0:37:39 Angela: Yeah, we haven’t heard from Jackie. I think one of these…

0:37:42 John: And Jackie’s out there.

0:37:43 Angela: Do we have to call her? Do we have to phone a friend?

0:37:47 John: Yeah. But, anyway. So yeah, cool. I get lost sometimes when I start reading through the comments. It’s fun to see so many people out there though. We’ve got 26 people actually watching the live stream right now so…

0:38:02 Angela: Oh, nice.

0:38:02 John: That’s kind of nice. Thank you everybody for doing that.

0:38:05 Angela: Yeah, yeah. Cool. I think what I’m reading with Heidi is, I don’t know that I’ve heard that that specific approach, but I think in internal family systems, the self-directed leadership, it’s similar in the… I guess, having a different part of you, usually with the therapist, go back in and start to look at some of those traumas. And you basically are using the adult self to go back in and witness what the child self or the younger self is trying to show you about a certain situation. And so, in doing that, you can relieve the burden that that child self is still holding on to, and then it can go and do something else. And your body starts to then… Your entire system, mental, physical, all of that, starts to trust in who you are now and that you are, well most of us are adults that can actually handle situations and keep us safe. And so, yeah, so that’s one of the therapies that I know exists.

0:39:23 Angela: Another one is with couples, and I can’t remember what it’s called at the moment, but it’s where a therapist takes the couples into some of these traumatic scenes from one of their childhoods, and the partner then is there to witness basically what their partner has to say about what happened to them. And then is access the heavy in the situation to either beat up on the person that was beating up on them, or remove that person, or whatever, act as a protector. And so, even though it’s all stuff that technically is imaginary that we’re talking about, [chuckle] it does change something within a person’s brain and sometimes offers relief.

0:40:12 John: Got a caller, I love it. Hello? How are you? It didn’t work. Okay.

0:40:17 Angela: You scared them away. You were a little too excited, yeah.

0:40:19 John: I guess… I wonder if the person from the Facebook book who’s calling, who’s making comments about adoption and so forth, is that David B. Burrell?

0:4029 Angela: Yeah, yeah. That is David.

0:40:30 John: If it is, why don’t you call us and tell us a little bit about adoption and how that impacts people’s addiction.

0:40:39 Angela: Yeah. I was able to sit in on his discussion at the last international conferences secular AA, and I passed on his book to a friend of mine who was also adopted, and she hadn’t heard anybody else’s story ever of being in recovery or addiction.

0:41:01 John: Here’s this person calling again. We’ll try to see if it works this time.

0:41:04 Angela: Okay, cool. Yeah.

0:41:04 John: Hello? How are you?

0:41:05 Heidi: Hello? This is Heidi.

0:41:08 John: Hi, Heidi. Thank you for calling.

0:41:09 Angela: Hey, Heidi.

0:41:12 Heidi: Yeah. Hey, let me… Okay, so I feel like my… Okay, I was listening to the feed and I think my feed might be a few seconds behind our conversation.

0:41:23 John: It is. There’s a little bit of a delay. I don’t know why they do that, but there is a delay.

0:41:26 Heidi: Oh, okay. Okay, alright. So, yeah. So I paused that so it wasn’t so distracting. Hey, guys. Angela, hello.

0:41:37 Angela: Hello.

0:41:38 Heidi: I think… And it’s Angela and John, is that right? Yes. And you had suggested, John, that I should call in?

0:41:48 John: Yup. I wanted you to call in because I thought you were making some pretty intelligent comments out there. And I just thought that you might have something that you like to share on the topic.

0:42:00 Heidi: Well, my comment. I’m so relating to what you’re saying and I’m so excited to be hearing Angela’s voice since we went to high school together but haven’t been so connected in a long time. And so ironically, I’m calling long distance to talk to a person who lives a few miles from me.


0:42:19 Angela: It’s true.

0:42:21 Heidi: But I’m just finding it so exciting all these things you’re talking about Bessel van der Kolk and ISS and integrating memories. In that way, I got by revisiting them through that internal family systems process. And the things that I was referencing, and I am not a therapist. I’m just very, very interested in this process. So I’m offering my understanding, but not any kind of certified and clinical training about it. So it’s just, I guess, Angela is saying that she has… This is kind of a hobby or an interest. So it’s a really serious hobby, but I’m definitely not a professional of that sort. It seems like an important caveat to offer.

0:43:06 Heidi: But my mentor is a trauma therapist and she talks a lot about how traumas get embedded and how they can, they sort of unresolved, and then how we are able to ultimately integrate them. And her perspective is from the interpersonal neurobiology perspective, which is kind of a conky term I would say, but it really focuses on interpersonal stuff, on relational stuff. So her perspective is that a lot of what trauma consists of is feeling a lot of fear and pain in the moment and not being able to process it. And that a really important component of that is whether or not you’re having support with the people around you to process it.

0:43:55 Heidi: And that applying both to the moment that the trauma is embedded and then also when we’re older, having support, I think she would say a big part of why meetings are really powerful is that there’s a part of the memory that’s still active in our bodies. Even though we factually know it’s over, our bodies… There’s a part of our bodies that doesn’t know, but having support and accompaniment now can heal and resolve that. And I think that’s based on Memory Reconsolidation work by Ecker et al.

0:44:28 Angela: Yeah. Oh, yeah. And I think that the doctor from the article was saying something similar to any sort of group therapy, where you can share similar experiences with other people is helpful. So there’s safety in numbers is what I’m hearing from what you’re saying.

0:44:46 John: Cool. Well, thank you so much for calling, Jackie… Or not Jackie.


0:44:50 Angela: Heidi.

0:44:51 John: Heidi. I find myself looking at the Facebook, the thing… The feed all the time, anyway. But thank you. Thank you for calling. I’m going to take another caller, if you don’t mind.

0:45:00 Heidi: Sure, sure.

0:45:00 John: We’ve got two people waiting which is so exciting.

0:45:01 Heidi: Yeah, I know. There’s people waiting to talk to you.

0:45:03 John: Oh, it was so nice to talk to you.

0:45:03 Heidi: Yeah, yeah. It was really great. I love the topic. Thanks.

0:45:05 John: Take care. Bye bye.

0:45:07 Angela: Thanks Heidi. So cool.

0:45:09 John: Let’s see who this might be. Hello?

0:45:13 David: Hello, John and Angela. This is David Moe calling.

0:45:15 John: I thought that was you out there.

0:45:16 Angela: Hi, David.

0:45:17 David: You’re doing a wonderful show.

0:45:18 John: There was somebody out there talking about adoption.

0:45:20 David: Me too but I couldn’t help myself.


0:45:23 David: Well, I was delighted to happen upon it. For some reason, did not see any advance notice of it and I am so delighted that you’re both talking about this because it is so important, as you’ve identified, for many number of events but not the least of which is the fact that there are lots of people in our midst looking for support in the rooms that we hang out in, who have these traumas and they don’t always know how to address them in that group setting. And as was mentioned during the last caller, there are also some situations that make it very difficult for people to feel safe, right? So what we really need to do is whatever the therapy is, whether it’s exposure therapy, whether it’s Bessel van der Kolk’s approaches, whether it’s family systems type therapy, it’s key to provide an environment of safety and of validation to the individual seeking that, whether they really know if they’re looking for that or not.

0:46:15 David: And sometimes, as we know, we don’t always feel comfortable in every support group room we walk into, so we have to be really mindful of that. And yes, I was the one who had commented on Dr. Jamie Marich’s book, actually a second edition, she wrote the book some years ago, probably close to 10 years ago, and it’s excellent. It’s excellent and it reinforces much more… We’re talking about it, but also find it… Forms a great guide for people with trauma trying to navigate 12-step fellowships and particularly some of the literature, especially that contained in the big book. And as you could probably imagine…

0:46:46 Angela: Or that still gets talked about in meetings and stuff. A lot of the stuff that is still either shaming or relies upon that in meetings, so that’s cool. I’ll look forward to seeing that.

0:47:00 David: Exactly.

0:47:02 John: And David…

0:47:03 David: Well, people who are traumatized… Go ahead, John. I’m sorry.

0:47:06 John: Oh, no. I don’t want to interrupt you. Go ahead.

0:47:09 David: I was just going to say it’s probably what comes as any surprise to generalize that people who have been traumatized oftentimes have difficulty with the very concept of powerlessness. They’ve been manipulated or they’ve been abused or they’ve been psychologically derailed somewhere throughout their lifetime and to be told that they’re also powerless because of their addiction, causes some real problems for an individual walking into the door. Because a lot of the therapy that Angela was talking about is about empowerment, they’re about self-empowerment. And that, oftentimes, is not the view that some people are learning when they walk into the doors of some fellowships. And that’s very difficult. And in particular, what can be very dangerous to some is their own spiritual axiom. When there’s something wrong, there’s something wrong with me. That’s a very difficult message to impart upon people who come into the rooms with trauma. That would be very ill-advised in many cases to do that. So we have to be very careful and we have to offer, to whatever degree, the appropriate therapy that Angela’s talking about, and a safe place for people to process these emotions.

0:48:15 David: My particular experience is more personal. I’m a relinquishee and was relinquished at birth and adopted shortly thereafter, and I’m a person in long-term recovery from alcoholism. And I got into the business of alcoholism and addiction treatment and didn’t realize how important knowing about this trauma history of relinquishees, orphans, fostered individuals was. And now that I’m in the business, I can tell you that the people who come to us are hugely represented when they’ve had these relinquish experience early on, just like people with trauma are. So something… And what a great conversation you’re having. I’m delighted. Thanks for bringing this to the people’s awareness, because it’s something we strive to do. We talk about the newcomer but it’s also that newcomer with trauma that we have to be very well aware of.

0:49:03 John: David, one of these days we’re going to have to have you back on this livestream to talk about your book, too. Because I love that book. In that book, in Parallel Universes, you talk about your growing up and how, as an adoptee, you always knew you were an adoptee and you always thought it was a positive thing because your parents told you how great it was that they chose you, that you were adopted. And then one day, I think you were maybe five years old, and you were walking with some friends and you were so proud that you were adopted. And you told them this and they looked at you like there was something wrong with you. And from that moment on it was a struggle for you. And from that moment on, that’s when I guess you realized the trauma. Is that… Am I reading that right?

0:49:51 David: I’m honored that you remember the detail, but yes, I was six years old. I was in fact hanging with a couple of friends, and yes, I did tell them proudly. And it was right then and there that I realized how fragile trust is. The very people who I loved and adored and who raised me must have been lying to me. They were telling me it was cool all along to be adopted, when in fact, these people were treating me… My friends were treating me like a pariah. So something… There was a disconnect there. There was something that was not in my reality right there that caused me to be hypervigilant and to, I guess, hyper-analyze everything over a series of time. And as you suggested before, I believe that my alcoholism stemmed from that as a learned behavior. I happened upon alcohol and it became this magical medication to an illness that I didn’t even know I had. And that illness was disconnection, shame, all the things that go along with the trauma, that’s associated with that. And I learned that it was a way to check out and to numb that pain, absolutely. Yes, it’s inherently a disease to us and because you’ve read my book, you know that I have a deep family history of alcoholism and addiction and there’s some mental health in my genetic line, as well. But yes, absolutely. Thanks for bringing that up. I appreciate it.

0:51:01 John: Well, it’s a great book. It’s a great book. Will you come back some time and talk to us on this question?

0:51:05 David: I’d enjoy that very much.

0:51:06 John: Let’s definitely do it. I’ll send you an email and we can arrange that.

0:51:08 David: Of course, John. Very much.

0:51:09 John: Okay. Well, let’s take another call.

0:51:10 David: Excellent.

0:51:11 John: Thank you for calling, Dave. I appreciate it.

0:51:15 David: Thanks for having me and thanks Angela.

0:51:16 John: Bye-bye. Let’s see who this might be. Hello?

0:51:21 Michelle: Hi. This is Michelle.

0:51:23 John: Oh, hey, Michelle.

0:51:24 Michelle: From Baltimore.

0:51:24 John: Michelle from Baltimore.

0:51:25 Michelle: Hi, John and Angela. How are you doing?

0:51:27 John: Good. Nice to hear from you.

0:51:28 Angela: Good.

0:51:29 Michelle: Yeah. Jackie’s texting me like, “Oh, you should call in.” [chuckle] So I will today, might as well. Yeah, I’m a recovering alcoholic but also a social worker and I was just sitting here a little struck. Only when I graduated from grad school less than 15 years ago and my track was child maltreatment and we touched on trauma. But when I got into the field, like Angela you’re talking about different treatment modalities, we really were just referring to… I’m working with alcoholics and addicts, but then a lot of folks that have a history of trauma. And I’m referring to just general therapists and CBT at the time. And really, in the last 10 years, the education has been so much better, and I got to go to an international child maltreatment conference in San Diego. And they had a whole day on ACEs and my mind was just blown. How I’ve used it in my practice is as a psychoeducational tool for parents that I’m working with. Because, like you’re saying, we don’t even know that these are… A lot of the traumas add up, and then when we can talk to them about their long-term health, but then also mental health as well.

0:53:12 Michelle: It was amazing at the time and so it’s really, really changed. And when I got into recovery, I knew I didn’t have a… If we were looking at the ACEs score, I didn’t have a lot of them, but I just knew from looking at other people that my story was a little bit easier. But I still had a pretty intense addiction and I was going to die if I didn’t do something about it, but I’m going to do the work and I’m going to follow this path. And thank goodness I did. But it’s still, I can still see those when they’re breaking down little ones about or not little ones, but smaller aspects with your… A parent with mental health issues. Well, I might have not looked at it then or my clients might not look at their depressed parent as because there wasn’t suicide attempts or something like that, but it opens up the doorway to talk about how our trauma affects us. So yeah, I just wanted to kind of dive in.

0:54:16 Angela: Yeah. No, that just made me think of that… Like for me, yeah, mine is high, but one of the things on the questions was, did you ever feel like no one loved you in your family? And I always felt loved. We had all of this crazy stuff going on, but there was love there. [chuckle] And so, for me, that was important whereas I know a couple of people who are also within the rooms that had a pretty great upbringing. All of their needs were met, they went to good schools, they’re parents were attentive and stuff, but they didn’t actually feel the emotional love that I felt from my family. So it’s like we were messed up, but we loved each other. And so, is there one that’s better than the other? Well, no. I think they could all lead to addiction or less healthy coping mechanisms, I guess.

0:55:16 Michelle: Right. Some maladaptive behaviors, yeah.

0:55:18 Angela: There we go, that’s what I’m trying to say.

0:55:18 Michelle: We’ve been… Yeah, that’s also, I guess, my work jargon. But we’ve been, in my agency, we’ve been training more on internal family systems but then also another evidence of… They’re not evidence-based treatment right now, but the… It was called instinctual trauma response and I don’t… I’m not a therapist, so I don’t do it with people but I’ve had the training. And their theory is that there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. And it’s not these long-term neglects, but it’s that when going back and we’re processing the trauma, and then putting an end to it, helps the left side of your brain understands that it’s ended. So some of the trauma responses that come up, those fight or flight, or where we’re triggered by a smell or we’re driving down the street that we’re able to, that our brain can know that we’re not back in that old trauma, that it’s ended and that we can… We now have another tool box to use. And so that’s a lot of the same terminology that we use in AA, but… So, yeah.

0:56:40 Angela: Very cool.

0:56:42 John: Well, thank you.

0:56:42 Michelle: But anyway, thanks for letting me call in.

0:56:43 John: Well, thank you, Michelle. So nice to hear from you. Appreciate it.

0:56:45 Angela: Yeah.

0:56:45 Michelle: And I love listening to you guys.

0:56:48 John: Oh, that’s a lot of fun.

0:56:50 Michelle: Thanks.

0:56:50 John: Thank you.

0:56:50 Angela: Yeah.

0:56:51 John: I’ve learned a lot, too, from this podcast, and from reading the article and talking to you guys. I never really thought… I don’t really think too much about the topic. I thought about it when I was going through the steps, and it made sense to me. But when you read about it from a therapeutic point of view or a scientific point of view, it really does kind of make sense to me. So, thank you everybody for your comments in the chat room and by calling in. And Angela, thank you for helping me understand this. I’m amazed that we were able to fill an hour. [chuckle] But we did it. In fact, I think we did a pretty good job, thanks to you.

0:57:29 Angela: Oh, I’m not. I figured that we’d have quite a few people calling in. This is the hot topic…

0:57:35 John: I guess so, yeah.

0:57:36 Angela: In recovery right now.

0:57:38 John: I do remember one time when we made a… Someone made a post about it on our Facebook group, and it was kind of controversial, because people said, “Oh, trauma has nothing to do with addiction,” and whatever. So, and maybe…

0:57:47 Angela: Yeah, yeah. So it can be. So I guess it depends on which group is talking about it at the time. But, yeah. I love talking about this, and I hope we did it a little bit of justice. But again, it’s just an introduction to the idea and there are a lot of resources out there for people. So if you need some additional one or if something we talked about triggered something in you, please post in the Facebook group or get a hold of us so that we can give you some resources, people that you can talk to or help you find somebody in your community that you can get some more information and help from.

0:58:34 John: So thank you everybody for listening, once again. I do appreciate it. Thank you for calling in. Thank you for your comments in the chat room. It’s just wonderful. We’ve had some really intelligent comments today and I appreciate that. It’s interesting how this is just so much fun. It’s like an AA meeting. It’s like we can talk about some serious topics, we can talk about trauma from our past, and I don’t know, but it’s kind of odd. We can still laugh and we can still enjoy being together. So that’s what I love about AA. So anyway, thanks again for listening to another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast. And we’re not hurting for money right now, but if you would like to support AA Beyond Belief, the podcast and our website, we would appreciate it. And there’s a couple of ways you can do that. And just making small donations, even a dollar a month is really appreciated, and you can do that through our Patreon page at patreon.com/aabeyondbelief. You can also donate at PayPal at paypal.me/aabeyondbelief or simply by going to our website, aabeyondbelief.org and there’s a donate button you can click on.

0:59:50 John: And we’ve had, recently, quite a few people join the Patreon, I don’t know, club, whatever you call it, and it has really been helpful. So thank you very much for that.

1:00:01 Angela: That was great.

1:00:01 John: So we’ll be back again next week for another sober distancing episode. The pandemic continues and we’re staying sober somehow, so we’ll be back. Thank you, Angela. It’s been great talking to you again.

1:00:13 Angela: Yeah. You too. Goodbye everyone.