Ahh… the lazy days of summer have arrived at last, from what has seemed like a brutal winter and an unusually cool spring. It’s holiday time!  Kids are out of school! It’s easy to let routines fall by the wayside in order to make the most of this short season. 

Do we approach boundaries differently during the summer months than we do the rest of the year? Is that a good idea? 

Summer is the perfect opportunity to test our boundary skills.

Boundaries get a bad rap as none of us are excited about following rules. Some of us live by the understanding that rules are meant to be broken or that all the fun happens outside the lines. 

The more we learn about healing from Complex Trauma, we understand that boundaries are designed to keep us on a healthy track. Living within our boundaries brings us routines, peace of mind and a greater sense of joy.  They help us achieve personal goals and objectives. 

We all have internal and external boundaries.  

Internal boundaries are personal disciplines of what we allow ourselves to do and what we don’t allow. They need to include a balanced approach to our physical, emotional and spiritual health. We create them to stay healthy and meet our own needs. 

Examples: eat a healthy balanced diet, exercise, be honest, don’t gossip, set a reasonable bedtime to get enough sleep, live by the golden rule: do unto others as we will have them do unto us. 

External boundaries are those we set with other people in order for us to stay safe.

Examples: avoid or set time limits with toxic people, avoid unhealthy places, have someone keep our bank card if impulse spending is an issue. 

There are so many temptations during the summer months! Especially this year as we have the opportunity to celebrate in a mostly normal post-pandemic environment.  Summer fairs and events! Graduations, weddings, camping trips, barbecues and get togethers around the campfire with friends. All of these occasions are met with decisions surrounding food and beverage choices. Do we stay up late to enjoy the moment or stay on track with our normal routines? 

This is a tough decision. Lots will depend on where we are in our recovery journey. We may need to set limits to these activities until we become healthier. 

Stepping outside of our boundaries requires a lot of self-awareness.  Know our limits, adhere to our values, listen to our emotions and show respect for ourselves and others. 

For most of us, we can occasionally step out and enjoy those moments. We need to be mindful of our behaviours. If we step out of line for too long, gently discipline ourselves back into routines. Life truly is happiest inside our boundaries. 

“When we have secure attachment, we have confidence in ourselves and others. This allows us to enjoy quality time together, as well as quality time apart.”

This is an important theory that can give you insight into how you respond in relationships. We should have a healthy balance of interdependence, so that we can both take the initiative to meet some of our own needs, and also reach out to our relationships to have needs met. Unfortunately, this security can get damaged very early in life when we try to attach to our parents and find a roadblock. When that happens we often develop an attachment style of hanging on for dear life (anxious attachment), resisting intimacy (avoidant attachment), or being hot and cold in relationships, both leaning in and pulling away (sometimes referred to as ambivalent or disorganized attachment).

We don’t necessarily have a fixed attachment style for life but can grow and adapt depending on the circumstances. When I was young, I had an angry parent and a passive aggressive parent. Having said that, they weren’t bad people, but just weren’t able to communicate love and safety in the way I needed. Because I felt unloved by my parents, I didn’t attach to them very well emotionally. I also was bullied in my youth and got a lot of messages about being different or weird. As a result, I hid my true self, only spending time with others who were ‘different’ or didn’t fit the mold either. In a sense, I was avoidant – not wanting to risk the pain of real intimacy, because any real feelings I expressed in my home were met with rejection and misunderstanding. However, when I finally decided to give vulnerability a shot, I flipped to anxious and/ or ambivalent attachment. I would sometimes put up walls or boundaries, but I couldn’t let go of the connection that filled my longing.

Just like it took years to get past the barrier of shunned emotion and avoidant attachment, it also took years to work through the insane loyalty of anxious attachment. And of course, in order to be healthy in our relationships, we also have to have another person who is willing to work on their attachment issues with us, or who are already securely attached. Even if our parents were not safe havens, we can find new supports as an adult who can become that safety net for us.

With Love,

Kayla Nyugen

Kim and I had been married for about 3 years. This one particular Saturday morning, we encountered the worst fight we had ever experienced.. After arguing throughout the morning, we weren’t any closer to resolving it than when we started. We had remained respectful to each other, communicated as clearly as we could and worked hard to understand each other’s perspective, but we were still not even close to resolving our conflict. In fact, it was beginning to feel like we were at war and that the only way to resolve this would result in one of us winning and the other losing. When we were married, we had made a commitment to each other to resolve conflict.

At this point, part of me wanted to resolve conflict, but another part wanted to win this fight. There was a lot of tension between the two of us so we went to separate parts of the house and avoided being in the same room together. Eventually, I went into the kitchen where Kim was, took both of her hands in mine, faced her and said,

“Instead of looking at this as if we are on opposite teams wanting to win, why don’t we look at it as if we are on the same team, working together to find a solution.”

That changed everything. Within a short period of time, we were able to resolve our conflict.

Here’s what I have learned over the years:

  1. Much of our lives are about relationships
  2. There is nothing more difficult and rewarding than healthy intimate relationships although healthy relationships take a ton of work.
  3. A healthy relationship will only happen if both parties are willing to change and grow. That is the only way to resolve conflict in a healthy way.
  4. I don’t like conflict, but I have learned that it is inevitable and necessary, and if conflict is responded to in a healthy way, much good can come from it.

I hope this story will inspire you to pursue growth, and that you will continue to develop the tools for healthy relationships.

With Love,

Tim Fletcher

“Of all the mammals, we humans have the least mature brain at birth. Early in their infancy other new born animals perform tasks far beyond the capabilities of human babies. A horse, for example, can run on its first day of life. Not for a year and a half or more can most humans muster the muscle strength, visual acuity and neurological control skills – perception, balance, orientation in space, coordination – to perform that activity. In other words, the horses’ brain development is at least a year and half ahead of our own – probably even more, in horse years. Our evolutionary predecessors were permitted to walk upright, which freed limbs to evolve into arms and hands, capable of many delicate and complicate activities. Those advances in manual versatility and dexterity required a tremendous enlargement of the brain especially of its frontal areas. Our frontal lobes, which coordinate the movement of our hands, are larger than those of our closest relative, the chimpanzee. These lobes, particularly their prefrontal areas, are also responsible for the problem solving, social and language skills that have allowed humankind to thrive. There are times in the first year of life when, every second, multiple millions of nerve connections or synapses. are established. Three quarters of our brain growth takes place outside the womb, most of it in the early years. By three years of age, the brain has reached 90% of adult size, whereas the body is only 18% of adult size. This explosion in growth outside the womb gives us a far higher potential for learning and adaptability than is granted to other mammals. – Dr. Gabor Maté (In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts)

There’s lots to glean from the above paragraph, whatever your beliefs about creation / evolution are. What I find most profound, is the immense amount of growth our brains have right after birth until about age 5. This growth slows down, but still continues at immense speed right up until our early teens. Unfortunately, most health-care systems treat addictions as an acute disorder. The cause of addiction is not basically substance dependent, it’s “experience-dependent”. This doesn’t completely rule out the addictive factors of substances or genetic factors that contribute to addiction, but primarily, the root, lies within the experiences we faced in childhood.

Our understanding becomes so much more clear and succinct when we start with, “this began in childhood.” I often have clients tell me that they don’t want to blame their parents or family members for their problems. That is NOT the purpose of going back to the beginning and uncovering what went wrong. But discovering more about complex trauma and the “why” helps us to know better. And when we know better, we do better.

Please as always feel free to reach out – you are not alone! We have staff and supports who are ready to help. I wish you all the best as you continue on your healing journey.

With Love,

Tim Fletcher

Imagine you are driving a car. It’s just you in the driver’s seat, and the roadway lies ahead. After driving a short distance, you realize something is wrong. Your car isn’t running properly. People on the side of the road begin staring and pointing at you. So you pull over to a restoration shop at the side of the road and get your car repainted. You head back out and continue driving. Your car is bright and shiny! Now, those on the side of the road are impressed by the look of your car, and give you a wave! You feel slightly better, but realize that the problem still persists. So you pull over to another service shop, and this time you get the tires replaced. You head back out on the road, but the problems remain. Stop, after stop, after stop, you continue pulling into different shops, and one piece at a time, you continue to get new paint, parts fixed, and things repaired. Something’s wrong, you just can not figure out what. Finally, you come to the realization that the only thing left to have a look at, is the engine. You never expected that this could possibly be the source of all the rest of the issues. Fixing the engine is scary, and you’re not even sure if you know a guy… If only you could just fix everything else, maybe the engine would start working properly? If you flushed all of the lines? If you replaced the spark plugs? Are you sure it’s not the battery??

This story is a depiction of the vicious cycle of complex trauma, and its effects on lives. Complex trauma directly affects the engine – the brain, and in over 97% of addicts, often goes unchecked. Those who suffer try treatment after treatment, program after program, and never actually achieve real, lasting healing. The reason is we’re only solving one side effect at a time, and never getting to the real “why”.

Those who struggle with addictions or mental health disorders, need to go into the shop for engine repairs and, I’m your guy.

Our current system tends to focus on the side effects of the hurt (how to overcome the addictions themselves), but I’ve dedicated my life’s work to striving to get to the source of, and forge healing from that hurt – I’m spending my time under the hood. Over the past few decades, I’ve discovered that the real solution – the real healing from this type of trauma, begins with unconditional love.

Complex trauma is any dynamics that cause a child not to feel safe or unconditionally loved. It occurs in childhood between the ages of 4 and 14, and happens at home, school or in church communities. This trauma can be real or perceived, and is not necessarily a form of physical, verbal, or sexual trauma.

Scientifically, complex trauma is defined quite well as following:

“The dual problems of children’s exposure to traumatic events and the impact of this exposure on immediate and long-term outcomes. Complex traumatic exposure refers to children’s experiences of multiple traumatic events that occur within the caregiving system – the social environment that is supposed to be the source of safety and stability in a child’s life. Typically, complex trauma exposure refers to the simultaneous or sequential occurrences of child maltreatment – including emotional abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and witnessing domestic violence – that are chronic and begin in early childhood. Moreover, the initial traumatic experiences (e.g. parental neglect and emotional abuse) and the resulting emotional dysregulation, loss of safe base, loss of direction, and inability to detect or respond to danger cues, often lead to subsequent trauma exposure (e.g. physical and sexual abuse, or community violence). – Portland State University, Consumer Topic “Complex Trauma in Children and Adolescents”.

Do you or a loved one suffer from complex trauma? Do you think so but aren’t sure? I hope this gives you a bit of hope. Please feel free to reach out, or access the various resources on the site. I can promise you there’s so much to learn and there’s so much hope – just be patient. We’ll get there together.

With Love,

Tim Fletcher

“An MRI study in 2002 looked at the white matter in the brain of dozens of cocaine addicts from youth to middle age, in comparison with the white matter of nonusers. The brain’s grey matter contains the cell bodies of nerve cells; their connecting fibres, covered by fatty white tissue, form the white matter. As we age, we develop more active connections and therefore more white matter. In the brains of cocaine addicts, the age-related expansion of white matter is absent. Functionally, this means a loss of learning capacity – a diminished ability to make new choices, acquire new information and adapt to new circumstances. It gets worse. Other studies have shown that grey matter density, too, is reduced in the cerebral cortex of cocaine addicts – that is, they have smaller or fewer nerve cells than normal. A diminished volume of grey matter has also been shown in heroine addicts and alcoholics, and this education in brain size is correlated with the years of use: the longer the person has been addicted, the greater the loss of volume. In the part of the cerebral cortex responsible for regulating emotional impulses and for making rational decisions, these brain centres have also exhibited diminished energy utilization in chronic substance users, indicating that the nerve cells and circuits in those locations are doing less work.

…a recent primate study showed for the first time that the monkeys who developed a higher rate of cocaine self-administration – the ones who become hardcore users – had a lower number of these receptors to begin with, before ever having been exposed to the chemical. This illuminating finding suggests that among rhesus monkeys, who are considered to be excellent models of human addiction, some are much more prone to extremes of drug dependence than others.”

Wow did I ever find this interesting…

In the above, quoted from Dr. Gabor Maté, we see that cocaine abuse causes a decrease in the white matter of the brain, affecting learning and choices. It also affects the grey matter, decreasing impulse control and making rational choices. Dr. Maté also notes that not only does cocaine decrease brain size and function, addicts have a decreased ability in these areas even before they are introduced to the substance. 

In human life, there is an absolute explosion of growth and development of the human brain in the first months and years of life. Any stressors, be they social, physical, psychological, mental etc., in the life of a child during this time will have a significant impact on the health of the brain. Since 97% of addicts and those who suffer from mental disorders also suffer from complex trauma, we also often see the difficulties they have with making rational decisions, poor impulse control, problem solving, and social/ language skills. I aim to teach ways to deal with these defects instead of using addictive behaviours to “cope”.

If you think you’ve been negatively affected by complex trauma, reach out! We help develop new thought pathways in the brain that will allow hurting people to correct defects caused by complex trauma. This whole process takes time. We offer all sorts of programs and offer resources to help those who struggle on their healing journey.

With Love,

Tim Fletcher