Why Are so Many RA Survivors Chronically Ill?

It’s thanks to our upbringing. More specifically, thanks to the abuse and the stress hormone cortisol. Here’s an overview of the effects of cortisol.

Cortisol and adrenaline, the other stress hormone, are both secreted by the adrenal glands in response to a signal from the pituitary gland, which, in turn, responds to a signal from the hypothalamus.

Adrenaline causes a sudden surge of energy and raises your heart rate and blood pressure, thus giving your cells more oxygen. Cortisol, which kicks in a moment later, increases blood sugar and suppresses processes that aren’t essential, like digestion, growth, and reproductive system functions. Increased blood sugar prolongs the initial surge of energy. Cortisol also helps reduce inflammation and assists memory formation.

This increase in energy comes in handy if you suddenly come across a saber-tooth tiger. If you decide to run away, you can run faster and longer. If you decide to fight, you are stronger and have more endurance. Reduced inflammation helps if you get wounded, and better memory formation helps you plan your actions the next time you encounter a saber-tooth tiger.

When you reach safety, you breathe a sigh of relief, adrenaline and cortisol levels drop to normal levels, you rest and calm down, and then go about your life as usual. Evolution has adapted our bodies to long periods of safety punctuated by occasional short-lived periods of intense danger. As a result, experiencing danger, escaping, and finding safety does not cause permanent damage to either the body or the psyche.

Few of us, however, are hunter/gatherers who occasionally meet up with animals who would like to eat us. The pattern of our lives is quite different. We are more likely to encounter dangers that are frequent or that continue without a break. We are more likely to live in a state of chronic stress rather than experience acute stressors followed by periods of calm.

For ritual abuse survivors, danger certainly was not an occasional occurrence in childhood. It was almost constant and, whether we were amnesic or not, our bodies were braced for the next bout of abuse. There was no time to relax in safety and allow our bodies to return to normal. We were under unrelenting stress, always on high alert. So the adrenal glands were always doing their job, preparing us for danger by secreting adrenaline and cortisol.  

What happens when cortisol remains high? At first, the body adapts, everything seems normal, and you feel energized. If it stays high for long periods, it can cause symptom such as these:  

 • insulin resistance and high blood sugar
• bone loss
• muscle weakness
• fatigue
• frequent illnesses
• hypothyroidism
• high blood pressure
• bruising and slow wound healing
• low sex drive
• weight gain — particularly around the stomach, upper back, and face
• irregular menstrual periods
• anxiety and depression
• addictions
• insomnia and sleep disturbances
• difficulty concentrating

If insulin remains high for a long time, diabetes develops, and if blood pressure remains high for a long time, cardiovascular disease develops. Bone loss leads to osteoporosis, and weight gain leads to obesity. None of these symptoms lead to increased health and well-being.

I’ve written about this before. (Just search for cortisol or chronic disease.) I keep coming back to it because it makes me very, very angry. Even when the abuse stops, the effects keep rolling along. It’s bad enough to be hurt as a child, but have to live for the rest of your life in illness and pain…? NOT FAIR.

This time, I am noticing other emotions creeping in to join the anger. One is amazement that my symptoms have been no worse than they are. I was obese for years but never slipped from pre-diabetic to diabetic. And I have lived for decades with high blood pressure which resulted in several arrythmias and a wonderfully reliable Pacemaker. Decades of depression and obsession with suicide did not lead to self-inflicted death. I am still here.

On the heels of amazement comes gratitude that I have lived as long as I have and have accomplished as much as I have. I am so glad that I have broken the cult rules over and over and lived in opposition to their values. I am glad that my teenage anger fueled rebellion and took me down a path of kindness and beauty. I still wish my childhood had been different and my family had been different, but there is nothing I could do to change it as a child and nothing I can do now to change any part of the past.

I have the present now, though, and a finished blog post, published on time for a change. I have a bright sunny (if chilly) day and a garden to go to, one with flowers that are still blooming. When I come back from the garden, I will return to a kitchen that is almost clean, laundry that is completely clean and half put away, and an exciting project to work on. (The GrassRoots RA/MC Survivors’ Collective.) These things do not erase the anger, but they sure help balance it.


PS I found two articles that discuss the effect of continued stress on the development of unborn babies. Since cult abuse is usually intergenerational, many survivors had mothers who were constantly stressed during pregnancy. 

An Australian study showed that childhood abuse affected the size of the pituitary gland. https://analyzedirect.com/blog/early-life-stress-and-pituitary-gland-development/. If the mother was stressed, the gland was enlarged in both males and females. Chronic stress caused enlarged pituitary glands in females, but not males. Occasional stressful life events did not affect its size.

Here is a long and thorough article, “The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis: Development, Programming Actions of Hormones, and Maternal-Fetal Interactions.” https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnbeh.2020.601939/full. It describes in detail the pathway that initiates the response to stress and the pathway that counters the stress reaction. 

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Upcoming Holidays 

November
11/25 Thanksgiving Day (United States) 
11/28 First Sunday of Advent
11/30 St Andrew’s Day

 December
 Sundays of Advent: 11/28, 12/5, 12/12, 12/19
 12/4 Total Solar Eclipse
 12/18 Full Moon
 12/21 Winter solstice/Yule/St. Thomas’ Day
 12/24 Christmas Eve
 12/25 Christmas Day
 12/31 New Year’s Eve


Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups
11/29 -12/16 Chanukah/Hanukkah (Jewish Festival of Lights)

 (NOTE: Not all groups meet on Jewish holidays. Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, Halloween, the solstices, and the equinoxes.)

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You can find more information on the following holidays at: 
Thanksgiving – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/thanksgiving/
Yule/Winter Solstice – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/yulewinter-solstice/ 
Candlemas – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/candlemas/
Valentine’s Day – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/02/10/valentines-day/
Spring Equinox – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/the-spring-equinox/
Easter: personal – (for background, see Spring Equinox) –  https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/easter-blues/
Walpurgisnacht/May Eve – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/walpurgisnacht/
Beltane – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/beltane/
Mothers’ Day – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/mothers-day/ 
Fathers’ Day – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2020/06/20/ritual-abuse-and-fathers-day/
Summer Solstice (corrected text) – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/well-this-is-embarrassing/
Lammas – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/category/lamas/
and https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/august-ritual-dates/ 
Feast of the Beast/Bride of Satan: Part 1 – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/the-feast-of-the-beast/
Feast of the Beast/Bride of Satan: Part 2 – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/feast-of-the-beast-part-ii/
Fall Equinox – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/the-fall-equinox/
Halloween (personal) – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/halloween/ 
Halloween (background) – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/samhainhalloween/

 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 

RA Survivors and Dentistry

I have a miserable time at the dentist. It’s not that I’m a chicken; it’s because I was tortured as a child by a dentist or somebody pretending to be a dentist. Over the years I have learned ways to make it a little less unbearable.

First, I tell all new dentists, in general terms, what my background is. I learned this the hard way twenty years ago when I had an emergency and my regular dentist wasn’t available and so sent me to the person who was covering for him. I figured, “I’m only going to see this guy once, so I won’t bother telling him.” I was so anxious that he tried everything he could think of to make me relax. Finally he said, “Just think of me as a witch doctor who make everything all right by magic.” I shot right up in the chair and said, “Don’t talk to me like that! I was abused by a dentist in a Satanic cult.” Shall we say he was startled?

We both calmed down enough to get the procedure done, but my regular dentist said that he was so shaken up that he had to send him a nice bottle of wine to persuade him to continue being on call.

Second, I kept changing dentists until I found a gentle soul. He’s a total gem. He practices dentistry half time, is an MFT and sees clients half time, and is writing a book on treating phobic patients. (Anybody who needs a dentist in San Francisco, just let me know. And you bet I will review his book when it comes out!)

Third, I have figured out some methods to keep myself in the present and out of flashbacks. I have no compunctions about asking for what I need because my dentist and his assistants dislike flashbacks almost as much as I do. Here’s what I’ve learned to do:

I ask them to keep talking about anything at all during the procedure. Hiking, dental school stories, their grandmothers, baseball, whatever. I just need their voices to hang on to and keep me in the present.

I tell them to let me know ahead of time what they are going to do, how much noise it will make, how long it will take. Surprises are not a good idea.

I ask for a lead apron because the weight is reassuring and goggles because they make me feel like my eyes are protected. Apparently I am not a freak; others find the apron and goggles comforting.

Last time, I was asked if I wanted nitrous oxide. I thought I could get through it without it. But why make life harder for myself, if I didn’t have to? I gratefully accepted it.

Nitrous disinhibits and I got relaxed enough to give him some feedback I had kept to myself until that point. (Again, I had made life harder for myself by not speaking up sooner. I think this pattern needs looking at!)

All dentists seem to minimize the amount of pain involved. They must teach them in dental school that the word “pain” frightens patients and it is better to use a euphemism. Well, it’s not. At best it’s annoying, at worst it destroys trust in the dentist. It’s not a “little tinge” or a “pinch” or “you may feel some pressure.” Be honest and call it what it is. “This will hurt moderately for about one minute. Raise your hand if you need me to stop.” I may be dental phobic, but I am still an intelligent adult and I don’t like being lied to.

The other thing I figured out under nitrous is that the torture I had experienced as a child had magnified the nerves’ response to pain.  Repeated stimulation of the nerve-to-brain pain pathway had set me up to be overly sensitive to dental pain for the rest of my life. I checked this out and was told that I was right.  Perhaps some people really do experience a novocaine shot as “a little pinch.” Apparently there are lucky folk who are even able to fall asleep while being given novocaine!!!

So it’s not our fault. We aren’t being sissies. It’s completely sensible to take care of ourselves and soothe ourselves the best we can. We can’t lessen the pain or eliminate the fear; we are stuck with it for life. But we can handle pain and fear in a way that gives us some measure of control, which we never had as children. That in itself is assertive and empowering, well worth doing.

Book Review: Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress

Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Psychological Consequences of Killing by Rachel M. MacNair (2002) Praeger, Westport, CT. (Preview in Google Books.) This review was first published in Survivorship Journal 14(3).

Here is a book review I wrote for Survivorship back in 2007. When I looked it over, I found I remembered the book vividly. Since the topic has not been written about much, even in survivor circles, I thought it was worth sharing here.

This is the first work I read on PTSD in perpetrators, and it confirmed many of my hunches.  The book draws material from history, literature, sociology, research studies, and biology, as well as psychology. It was difficult to read emotionally, and I was grateful for the slightly dry tone, for it distanced me a little from my feelings. It also validated that my reactions of distancing are normal, given the circumstances.

There are chapters on combat veterans, executioners, the Nazis, law enforcement, murderers, and abortion practitioners – all adults who have killed as adults (if you consider abortion as killing). Although there is no material on children who have killed or on cults, where I harmed people, I could relate to almost every point.

It appears that PTSD symptoms, especially intrusive images, intrusive thoughts, and hyper-vigilance, are more intense among people who have killed than among people who have been victimized. The less socially sanctioned the act (e.g. atrocities against civilians in war versus killing in battle), the more severe the symptoms. PTSD is a common reaction even to situations when the victim is not seen, as in bombing.

A section on German officers’ reaction to guards shooting Jews standing before mass graves in the concentration camps has stayed vividly in my mind’s eye. Adolf Eichmann said, “Many . . . unable to endure wading through blood any longer, had committed suicide. Some had even gone mad.” After observing the shootings, Himmler was so badly shaken that he ordered the construction of gas chambers to place some distance between the soldiers and the murders.

At first it seemed odd to me that so very little had been written on the subject. But as I read the book, it became clearer. Society colludes to keep the subject cloaked in silence. Individuals do not talk of their reactions out of guilt and for fear of appearing crazy. Society objects to discussion; mention of PTSD in solders who have killed has been attacked for being anti-war propaganda, thus stigmatizing as unpatriotic those who would shed light on the issue.

The reason I found this book so powerful is that ritual abuse, by its vary nature, includes forced perpetration. It is a lot easier for most of us to accept that we were victims and that we wished we could have been saviors, helping other children, than to admit that we were also perpetrators, albeit unwilling perpetrators for the most part. And yet, unless we stop pushing that side of our experience out of consciousness, it is apt to erupt in one form or another and to shadow our present life with self-hatred and guilt.

I hoped that the publication of Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress would signal the start of sustained research and attention to the issues involved. When I searched in Google Books, I found precious little. Rachel McNair has written several books on related subjects, all of which look good. I did find On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (2014)  First published in 1995 Little, Brown and Co, NY, NY. (Preview in Google Books.) Grossman also has a website; http://www.killology.com/ which contains information about other n=books, articles, audio visual material,and workshops.

However, I found nothing else, and I am afraid that the subject has faded back into the woodwork.