Tag Archives: aging out

Comfort in Chaos: Understanding Trauma Brain (Shenandoah Chefalo)

I make no bones about it: As a foster child, I don’t think I was an easy person to get along with. I certainly wasn’t trying to make bonds or connections with those around me. Of course, I knew nothing at the time about trauma brain.

Shenandoah Chefalo, Comfort in Chaos: Understanding Trauma BrainI went into foster care at the age of 13. My life prior to entering the system was one of immense dysfunction; I had practically raised myself. My mom was rarely around, and, when she was, it was usually to tell me that we were moving. We moved over 50 times and I went to more than 35 schools in my life before the age of 13.

Chaos had become my normal.

In learning to “cover” for my mom’s actions, and watching my mom talk her way out of almost any situation, I learned a valuable skill early on: lying. It was a skill that saved me numerous times from severe punishments.

Foster Care and Beyond

I thought foster care would be a positive solution to the life I was living. What I found was more of the same as loneliness, isolation and depression followed me into care. I had become disconnected from my feelings and simply accepted that I was unable to love … and was unlovable. I continued behaviors from the past and found no solace in the families that took me in.

I ultimately aged out of the system at 18 and was turned loose onto the world with no real connections to other people. When I hit the college campus, a feat I wouldn’t learn was remarkable until later, I made a pact with myself to never talk about my past with anyone. I was a good liar, and, because of that skill, I kept that promise to myself for more than 20 years.

Trauma Brain

I spent those years, hiding the past, keeping myself at arms length from any real relationships, and doing the one thing I was knew I was good at: lying. I didn’t know it at the time, but I found myself in what I now refer to as “trauma brain.” I would go to that comfortable place in my mind, a place of Fight, Flight, Freeze or Appease.

For me, there was comfort in chaos. When things in my life were going well, I looked for and caused chaos for myself so I could feel “comfortable.” Of course I  didn’t realize, at least not consciously, that I was doing it until I started to become increasingly unsettled with the life I was living. I had a good job, managed to get married and had a child, but I was only comfortable in the unknown.

I wanted to change.

For most of my life, I chalked up my behavior to the idea that I was just “crazy,” a concept I was comfortable with. I figured it was only a matter of time until I turned into my “crazy” mother. I was working in a law office at this time, and I would watch clients with similar tendencies. I had wondered about their past and when I started to ask, I was surprised by how many of them had been former foster kids, also. I had always assumed there had been very few kids like me. The numbers appearing in my office were off-putting, to say the least.

Garbage Bag Suitcase, Shenandoah ChefaloSelf-help Search

Flash forward. In an effort to find peace in my life, I initially turned to self-help books. I found a little relief, but often found myself going back to old habits. I started to realize that hiding my demons was only making me more depressed and more disconnected.

I tried everything: more books, journaling, yoga, meditation. and hiking. Physical exertion was having an impact, but it only lasted a few hours, then I was back in my mind, returning to old habits.

I finally realized that I had to tell my story. I wrote Garbage Bag Suitcase and began diving into an understanding of trauma and its effects on the brain.

The research began turning me onto new books. Suddenly I understood my “trauma brain” in a whole new way. I wasn’t “crazy;” my brain was just programed to constantly be in Fight, Flight, Freeze, Appease mode, and this knowledge changed everything for me.

Like a Sledding Hill

I recently heard Dr. Cathy Fialon explain trauma brain as a sledding hill. When you go sledding the path becomes worn, so you gain greater speed. The well-worn path is easy and comfortable. However, if you take your sled over a few feet to a part of the hill that hasn’t been used, it becomes more difficult to slide down; you can’t gain momentum and you often start and stop a lot. It takes time, she explained, to break in this new path and make it again enjoyable for sledding.

I understood exactly what she meant. My learned reactions as a child had become the well-worn sledding hill. It was easy for me to go down that road, regardless of the effects. But when I started working on myself (i.e. taking my sled to a new hill) it was difficult. Don’t get me wrong, while I’m still working on breaking in my new path, every once in awhile I like to take a spin on the old one.

That is “trauma brain” retraining ourselves, and oftentimes those we care about, how to break in a new way of thinking. I am thrilled to say I have a new career that allows me to help others recognize their trauma brain and the trauma brain of those around them, and to help themselves and others heal in a brand new way.

After all, we all deserve to try out a new place to sled. ###

 

Speakers Group MemberShenandoah Chefalo is a former foster youth and an advocate. She is the author of the memoir, Garbage Bag Suitcase, and co-founder of Good Harbor Institute, an organization focused on ensuring sustainable, implemented trauma care within organizations and individuals. You can learn more about her and her work at www.garbagebagsuitcase.com or www.goodharborinst.com

 

The Joys and Challenges of Foster Parenting (Dr. John DeGarmo)

Dr. John DeGarmoIt would be difficult for us to ever fully realize and understand the value of foster parents. Their contributions are ongoing reminders of the resilience of the human spirit and the impact of love, support and assurance when it is needed most. Indeed, there are many successful men and women who were raised in foster families. This program is about the joys and challenges of foster parenting.

It’s a serious thing to remove a child or teen from their biological home, yet circumstances can dictate just that. Through no fault of their own, youngsters’ lives can be changed dramatically as they are placed with a foster family, for not to move them could expose them to serious, even life-threatening, physical and emotional risk.

Although folks who have “been there” will tell you the blessings of being a foster parent outweigh the troubles, it’s understandable how a child or teen going into foster placement might not be happy about it. Patience, insight, understanding, and sometimes a pretty thick skin are needed to help these kids find their footing on a better road. So, according to our guest on this program, foster parent and foster parenting expert, Dr. John DeGarmo, being a foster parent takes a substantial amount of grit in addition to love and compassion.

Fostering Love, Dr. John DeGarmoIn this program, Dr. John explains the nature and process of foster parenting, and he freely shares some of the ups and downs he and his wife, Kelly, have experienced in their 12 years as foster parents. He also discusses some of the behaviors and characteristics of youngsters coming into foster placement (especially for the first time), and how they are best addressed. (These could include hoarding of food, boundary issues, poor school performance, difficulty with conflict, problems in exercising trust and fear of rejection.) Dr. John also shows how we all can best assist foster children and their foster families.

Dr. John travels extensively, speaking and training on foster care. He also hosts a weekly radio show, Foster Talk with Dr. John, and he’s the author of a number of books on foster care. In this program, we’re featuring one that has been especially well-received, Fostering Love: One Foster Parent’s Journey. This book is an absolute must-read for anyone thinking of becoming a foster parent. (28:50)

http://drjohndegarmofostercare.weebly.com

TO LISTEN, use the player below or left-click the link. To access the file right-click and “Save Target as …” to save to your audio device), CLICK HERE FOR LINK


(START/STOP Audio)

 

The Joys and Challenges of Foster Parenting (Guest: Dr. John DeGarmo)

JDeGarmophotoIt would be difficult for us to ever fully realize and understand the value of foster parents. Their contributions are ongoing reminders of the resilience of the human spirit and the impact of love, support and assurance when it is needed most. Indeed, there are many successful men and women who were raised in foster families.

It’s a serious thing to remove a child or teen from their biological home, yet circumstances can dictate just that. Through no fault of their own, youngsters’ lives can be changed dramatically as they are placed with a foster family, for not to move them could expose them to serious, even life-threatening, physical and emotional risk.

Although folks who have “been there” will tell you the blessings of being a foster parent outweigh the troubles, it’s understandable how a  child or teen going into foster placement might not be happy about it. Patience, insight, understanding, and sometimes a pretty thick skin are needed to help these kids find their footing on a better road. So, according to our guest on this program, foster parent and foster parenting expert, Dr. John DeGarmo, being a foster parent takes a substantial amount of grit in addition to love and compassion.

Fostering LoveIn this program, Dr. John explains the nature and process of foster parenting, and he freely shares some of the ups and downs he and his wife, Kelly, have experienced in their 12 years as foster parents. He also discusses some of the behaviors and characteristics of youngsters coming into foster placement (especially for the first time), and how they are best addressed. (These could include hoarding of food, boundary issues, poor school performance, difficulty with conflict, problems in exercising trust and fear of rejection.) Dr. John also shows how we all can best assist foster children and their foster families.

Dr. John travels extensively, speaking and training on foster care. He also hosts a weekly radio show, Foster Talk with Dr. John, and he’s the author of a number of books on foster care. In this program, we’re featuring one that has been especially well-received, Fostering Love: One Foster Parent’s Journey. This book is an absolute must-read for anyone thinking of becoming a foster parent. (28:50)

http://drjohndegarmofostercare.weebly.com

TO LISTEN, use the player below or left-click the link. To access the file right-click and “Save Target as …” to save to your audio device), CLICK HERE FOR LINK


(START/STOP Audio)

Email this page