GAR 254 | Healing Childhood Sexual Abuse

Dr. Constance Scharff, who has a PhD in Transformative Studies with a specialty in radically transformative personal experience, is an award-winning author and an internationally recognized speaker on the topics of addiction and trauma recovery, the psychological impacts of climate change, and women’s mental health. You will be inspired by the courageous way Constance healed after suffering extreme childhood sexual abuse, alcoholism, and post-traumatic stress, and she also explains how trauma gets us stuck in the past, the healing, transformative effect of music on the brain, complementary practices that can improve wellbeing, and more. This is an insightful and unforgettable interview with a truly remarkable woman who exemplifies that, even in the midst of profound darkness, there is always hope and a path to healing.  This interview is not to be missed!  

IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:

  • Constance’s horrific childhood story of extreme childhood sexual abuse that began just before she turned seven years old.
  • How Constance turned to alcohol at eleven years old to keep her feelings at bay.
  • The remarkable college experience that brought Constance despair, love, respect, and hope.
  • How somatic experiencing therapy can release trauma that is trapped in the body. 
  • What it was like for Constance when her father unexpectedly died. 
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS DR. CONSTANCE:
  •  What was your first dissociative experience that taught you not to be present? 
  • What led you to change your focus in graduate school to addiction research? 
  •  What was your path to healing after suffering such extreme childhood sexual abuse, alcoholism, and post-traumatic stress?
  • What is the healing, transformative effect of music on the brain?

Meeting God at Midnight: https://bookshop.org/a/93249/9780991632725

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Dr. Constance Scharff: Is Healing Possible for a Person Who Suffered Extreme Childhood Sexual Abuse that Led to Post-Traumatic Stress and Addiction to Alcohol?

I am grateful to have this opportunity to interview Dr. Constance Scharff, who has a PhD in Transformative Studies with a specialty in Radically Transformative Personal Experience. Constance, also known by her Hebrew name Ahuva Batya, is an internationally recognized speaker and author on the topics of addiction and trauma recovery, the psychological impacts of climate change, and women’s mental health. She is the Founder of the Institute for Complementary and Indigenous Mental Health Research with a passion for working with mental health professionals using a wide range of practices that improve treatment outcomes. She also works to eliminate the stigma that is too often associated with addiction, trauma, and other mental health issues. In 2019, she received the St. Lawrence University Sol Feinstone Humanitarian Award. Constance’s books include her award-winning Rock to Recovery: Music as a Catalyst for Human Transformation, the Amazon number one bestselling Ending Addiction for Good and the award-winning poetry book Meeting God at Midnight. Her debut novel, The Path to God’s Promise, examines issues of faith, self-determination, and our power to transform both our lives and literally to change the world. I must say I am intuiting that there’s another interview with Constance one day in our future about The Path to God’s Promise, but that’s to be continued. I’m looking forward to talking with Constance, who lives in Washington state, about her path to healing after suffering extreme childhood sexual abuse, which led to alcoholism and post-traumatic stress, how trauma gets us stuck in the past, the healing transformative effect of music on the brain, complimentary practices that can improve wellbeing, and so much more. This is surely going to be an insightful and unforgettable interview with a truly remarkable woman. Constance, a very warm welcome to the show. Thank you. GAR 254 | Healing Childhood Sexual Abuse There’s so much to you and I’m looking forward to sharing you with our audience. I’m looking forward to this conversation. Let’s start with that horrific childhood story of yours that began before you turned seven years old. Would you please describe your father and his extreme childhood sexual abuse of you? As a child, I was a daddy’s girl and my dad didn’t pay a lot of attention to my brother, who’s two and a half years younger than I am. It was not unusual for my mom to take my brother with her on errands and leave me at home on our ranch. We were on a ranch in the Central Valley of California. We were very isolated. My mother and brother went to town to get a birthday cake for my seventh birthday party. We always would’ve had the party on the weekend. I think my birthday was on a Tuesday or whatever. Anyway, while they were in town, my father and I were watching cartoons and that’s when he sexually assaulted me. He raped me for the first time. It was a shocking experience because I had no idea what was happening. I was so young and small. Keep in mind, my father was a very large man. He was about probably 300 to 350 pounds and I was this tiny little girl. What happened in the assault was, first of all, I had dissociated. I left my body because the pain was so great, but also, I couldn’t breathe. He was so much heavier that once I exhaled for the first time, no more air could come in. In addition to the assault, I was literally dying. I was suffocating. If we can stay in the present, we can experience safety and connection. Click To Tweet My spirit flew out the window. From the second that I dissociated, I have no recollection of anything physical. I remember it’s very quick. After the assault was over, he got up and left. I remember flying back and looking at the dead little girl in the bed and making a choice I’m going to go back in. I didn’t realize it until much later, but I made a choice there to live. I remember almost nothing of the next three years. Did he accost you often? I couldn’t tell you, to be honest. What I remember some very fuzzy things, most of them having nothing to do with him. What I do remember is at the end of their relationship, my mother and father were trying to save the marriage. I was ten. My father insisted on having an open marriage and he had a girlfriend who was a prostitute. When my mother, a school teacher, went to school to teach, she came over because she worked at night. I remember she came over on like a Tuesday or Wednesday, some weekday. I was washing my sheets before school, which of course, ten-year-olds don’t wash their sheets before school on a weekday. That’s not how the world works. She saw what had happened, the evidence. This was 1982. Is this your mother or the prostitute? The prostitute. She looks me in the eye and she said, “He will never touch you again.” I don’t know what she said to him, but she’s the woman who has the least power in our culture and certainly in my home. I threw my sheets in the washer and went to school. That’s where my memory picks up again. I can tell you he assaulted me at least twice. That first time and that last time. In the middle, I couldn’t tell you and I’ve never tried to recover those. I have no need to recover those memories. Twice is enough. My memory picks up at that point because I don’t know what she said to him, but he never touched me again. He was so damaged, obviously. He didn’t know better. This is my suspicion. I think I was just available. I don’t think he was truly a pedophile because when he could have sex with adult women, that’s what he chose. That’s just my feeling. I think he had a shtick about sex, though. I think he wanted what he wanted and he wanted someone who couldn’t say no to him. I have a feeling my mom said no to him a lot. I don’t know that. That’s my suspicion because when he wanted threesomes and open marriage and all that, my mom was like, “No.” The open marriage was extremely brief. It was a few months. She was like, “I’m done. I’m not doing this.” When you had that dissociative experience, did you feel yourself looked up out of your head? Can you remember what that was like? I’ve left my body a couple times also. What was that like for you? When you have that experience that young, it becomes second nature. I can leave my body at will. I don’t anymore because I’m supposed to be in this body. I would say for most of my life, I was out and all of a sudden, I’m in the tree outside the window looking in and that body has no relationship to me. I do not recognize that as me. I’m like, “That little girl looks sad. She looks dead.” There was no relationship there that that was my body. What I did have until I started doing somatic work and trying to finally inhabit my body is, I was always way back. I would see you from way back here behind my eyes. I didn’t feel a lot from the neck down or my sinuses down. I was very much inhabiting this space or I would be up here in therapy a lot. I’d be up above a little bit behind observing.

It was too painful to be feeling. That’s the thing. I was born in 1972. When I got sober in the mid-1990s, there was no good treatment for trauma, so getting sober was very difficult. It wasn’t until 2010 that we started to get much better treatment for in the West. There has been treatment in other traditions, but not in the West. Trauma gets us stuck in the past. Click To Tweet I hear now about people going to rehab and all of that, but I don’t know if they had it all those years ago. There was rehab, certainly. We called it the $30,000 Big Book. You basically went for 28 to 30 days and you did a twelve-step program in rehab and then you went to sober living. What was good about it was that it was structured and longer than what it is now. There are lots of problems with what happens in rehab now. What kinds of problems happen in rehab now? We have a for-profit medical system. Insurance increasingly is not letting people stay 28 to 30 days when we’ve known for more than 40 years that people need longer-term structured care. Mostly people get a detox, which is 7 to 14 days, depending on whatever, and then you drop down to IOP, Intensive Outpatient Programming. You go to outpatient and then you have to fail out of that in order to go back into residential care if you can’t pay. Failing out very often means a relapse. If you’ve been detoxed, that is the most likely time to die because your body is no longer accustomed to the amount of substance you were using. It’s great for insurance companies because then the people die and they don’t have to pay for them to be in treatment anymore. Tell me what it was like when you were eleven years old. You had your first drink. Since we’re talking about rehab, let’s get back to the beginning. You’re in tremendous pain. You’re eleven years old. You don’t know what’s up or what’s down. You’re not talking to your mother about this. You’ve disassociated. Now, what happens? My parents divorced and my mother moved with my brother and I up to rural Oregon. We lived in Willamette Valley on a little farm in a little single-wide, rusted-out trailer. That eventually burned down. My mother did not drink, but we always had a little bit of alcohol in the house in case somebody came over. My mother, once or twice a year, would go crazy and have a screwdriver and probably drink half of it. It wasn’t her thing. I intuitively knew that alcohol would help me. I was so overwhelmed by trauma symptoms intruding all the time. What were you feeling? What kind of symptoms were you having? Hypervigilance, body memories, dissociation and a lot of overwhelming fear and anxiety. I felt like someone was always coming. I could feel my father breathing on my neck a lot of the time like an alien where the alien comes out at Sigourney Weaver. That’s what it felt like. Intuitively, I knew that alcohol was going to help. I was out in the barn doing my chores. I’m eleven years old and I walked into the house. I got all the bottles down and poured a little bit out of every bottle into a tall glass. They were up over the refrigerator. It wasn’t even easy. I must have had 4 or 5 shots. It’s a lot of liquor for a little kid. I stood over the sink and plugged my nose and drank it down. It was disgusting. I was immediately absolutely drunk. I rinsed the glass out and I went back to the barn. I laid in the hay, the world is spinning, and I didn’t feel anything. I thought, “This is what I want for the rest of my life.” I drank every opportunity I had. I wasn’t probably truly an alcoholic until I got to college because we live so far out in a rural area that you couldn’t get alcohol every day. My stepfather liked beer. Occasionally, there’d be some beer leftover from some barbecue or something that we’d have. I would take the beer and pour it into a Tupperware container so I wouldn’t get caught with a beer can and take it on the school bus. That’s an hour into school and then drink the flat, warm beer on the breaks. I was committed to being drunk. People didn’t pick up that you were drunk? Were you so high functioning in school and all? I’m very fortunate that I did very well in school. Some of my friends did notice and they tried to do something about it. They were definitely concerned. What can you do? My partner and I placed in the debate team every single tournament our first year. I don’t think I got an A in Math, but I got an A in pretty much everything else. I was nearly a straight-A student. There was nothing they could pinpoint to. I was the president of the 4H Club and the Girl Scouts. I was doing volunteering. What are they going to say? I’m like, “No, I’m not high. I’m not drunk.” Remember, this is the ‘80s, so they couldn’t do a urinalysis or anything like that. The truth was you were an alcoholic early in your college career. The second I got to college. Now it’s all coming out. You have your first remarkable step towards healing because you have this remarkable experience that brought you despair, love, respect and also hope when you broke into a chapel. Do you want to tell anybody about that? I went to St. Lawrence University. Shout out to all the Lawrentians. I love my alma mater. I cannot tell you how much I love my alma mater. If your kids are interested in going there, send them if you can get in. It’s a great school. Where’s it located? Canton, New York, so straight North of Syracuse. It’s a three-hour drive North of Syracuse, a little bit South of Ottawa. It’s right on the border with Canada. What changed for me when I went to college, even though I went to a college in a rural area, a small town, was that I was no longer isolated out on the farm. It wasn’t a 30-minute drive for me to go and see somebody. My debate partner lived 30 minutes on the other side of the town where we went to high school. It was an hour drive. She had this big, long gravel driveway. My mother took me there once and she was like, “We’re never coming here again,” because it’s too far. When I went to college and I lived in the dorms, I wasn’t isolated anymore, but I didn’t know what to do with myself because I’m surrounded by people who are still my good friends. I needed my little dog. My puppy was in training in New York City and he had to be picked up. Something happened. He had to be picked up immediately. I called my friend Laura who broke into the chapel with me. I said, “Please, go pick up my dog.” She dropped everything. She and her daughter drove three hours from Connecticut to go get the dog and then her daughter flew him out to Seattle for me. I didn’t know what to do with it. Here are these people who love me. They trust me. I trust them. They show up for me. I tell them what I’ve been through. They’re supportive of me. I don’t know what to do with that. You’re receiving unconditional love for the first time of your life. I had people who loved me, but they weren’t local to me. My grandparents and I were very close but they lived a four-hour drive away. You never told your grandparents or anybody what had happened to you? No, I would never have done that to them. It would’ve devastated them. My father was adopted. My grandfather asked me shortly after my father died. He said, “I was told that this happened.” I said, “No, that’s a lie,” because I knew it would devastate him because he felt like he should have gotten my father more treatment. They tried to get him treatment from when he was a young boy. There just wasn’t anything available then. I didn’t want my grandfather to blame himself for something that was not his fault. I straight up lied to his face. It was admirable that you did that. You were so mature with all that you went through and here you were worried about protecting your grandparents. My dad was dead so there was nothing that anybody could do. They were paying for my therapy anyway. Why make it worse? They’re doing everything they could for me at that point. I was no longer in danger. Why hurt him worse for something that wasn’t his fault? It’s because you had angels showing up for you. You had people showing up all the time. We’ll go back to that story because it’s a great story. In Halloween, I’m feeling very depressed and suicidal. I said, “I want to go to the chapel,” which is the center or the spiritual heart of St. Lawrence University. It’s the heart of the campus. Everybody loves that chapel. The bells get played every day at 5:00. It’s so beautiful. I love to go back and hear the bells but it’s locked. You can’t go in there and whatever. It was 9:00 or 10:00. It wasn’t too late, but definitely dark on Halloween night, and the back door was unlocked. We went around and tried all the doors and there’s this back door, which was unlocked. We went in there and my friend Laura played the organ. My friend Eric looked at me and he said, “I feel like there’s some not right with you.” I can’t remember exactly what he said, but he said, “I want to pray for you.” He put his hand on me and it was like electricity. Both of us felt it. Laura came over. We all had different traditions, and we basically prayed together. At that point, I felt so connected to source that it was transformative for me. I couldn’t stop drinking yet but it was very transformative. What you’re turning into was real love. Love is so healing. That’s the language of source. I know you get through school and you’re in graduate school and now you change your focus to addiction research. Tell us about that. You’re still not healed yet. GAR 254 | Healing Childhood Sexual Abuse I’m sober at this point. How did you start getting sober? Was it when they prayed for you? This is many years later. I graduated in ‘94 and I got started going to a twelve-step program in ‘95 but I didn’t get sober until ‘98. I started graduate school in 2004. When I was in graduate school, I was sober and I was struck sober because when I started to get sober there, I couldn’t. In 1995, I couldn’t get sober because there wasn’t good treatment then for trauma. You still had the trauma. You were trying to heal the behavioral result of the trauma but the root was still there. When I would stop drinking, the trauma symptoms would amplify to such a point that I couldn’t do it. I was mostly sober. When I tried to get sober, I was drinking two liters or more of hard liquor a day. That was the bottom. At 22 and 23 years old, I was dying. You could see my liver and kidneys behind because they were so swollen. I didn’t know what to do, but I kept going back and kept trying to be sober. Most of that period was small relapses and very brief but the trauma was so bad I couldn’t deal with it. There was a man whose name was Marcel and he was a writer. He was a novelist. He saw me. He was like, “I know what your problem is. I understand. We’re going to do the best we can because we’re going to get through this together.” How’d you meet Marcel? In a twelve-step meeting. It was funny because he was around 54 or 55 when he died and was sober for 5 years. I’m 51 and sober for over 25 years. When I met him at 23 years old, I thought he was ancient and had been sober forever. He reminded me of what I thought my dad might have been like if he’d ever had real mental healthcare because Marcel was very difficult. He was a misogynist, a misanthrope, and everything. He was always grumpy and all the things and I adored him. He got a very aggressive form of liver cancer and died very quickly. He said to me, “I need you to be sober to come to my house.” I figured I could be sober longer than he would live, which was true. He always believed in me. He always told me, “Girl, you write. You are meant to be a writer.” The day he died, I was at work. The last time I saw him, I said, “What do you want to see?” He pulled off his oxygen mask. He’s like, “I want to see you get 100 days sober.” I think he died when I had 102 days. I didn’t see him for the last 3 or 4 days of his life because he got very sick and then he went to the hospital. He was in the hospital and I was at work. It was a Friday and we had a Friday twelve-step meeting that we always met at. I felt him die. I felt when he passed. I do not know how I drove to this meeting because I was blind crying and sobbing. I felt his spirit in the car. I felt him fly into me and pull the addiction out. That’s the only way I can describe it. I describe myself as being struck sober. I have a memorial to him. He was like a guardian angel for you. He was very much my mentor and I adored him. In fact, his estate let me have one of his leather jackets because it was what he was wearing at the end of his life. I still have it. It’s in my closet, but I wanted it because it still smelled like him. It probably smelled like him for a good year or two. Years later, it doesn’t smell like him anymore. I am sober, but the trauma is so bad. I’d have body memories where I’d feel that moment of assault, but it’s not like a man and a woman where everything fits. I don’t want to be too graphic. It’s a little child where you’re literally being torn apart. I don’t know how I lived through it, to be honest. I’d get that 30 or 40 times in succession. You can’t live like that and be sober. I’m mildly suicidal all the time. I have terrible anxiety. No one can sit behind me. I can’t do all these things. Try to go to a twelve-step meeting where no one can sit behind you. My home group sits in a U shape, so there’s nobody that sits up against a wall. It’s horrible things. I got sober in the ‘90s. I lived in Los Angeles with my grandparents. The veterans started coming back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were not getting sober. One guy that I liked, this young man, 23 years old, all he wanted to do was be a Marine but he was wounded and medically discharged. He had a wife and an infant child but he killed himself. I was in grad school and studying something else. I thought, “There has to be something better. There has to be better treatment out there for me,” because I didn’t get sober to be suicidal all the time. These guys are not making it. I said, “I want to learn what those treatments are,” because I know they exist. I want to know what those treatments are so that we do recover. Since then, I’ve dedicated myself about it. That’s in 2005 or 2006. Since you know so much about this, would you explain to everyone how trauma gets a person stuck in the past? How can a person learn to stay present? How does staying in the present help people experience that safety and connection they wish for or desire? That’s a three-part question. If I don’t answer all of it, remind me the parts that I’ve missed. I don’t like to use clinical terms. You won’t hear me using very many clinical terms at all because I don’t think they’re very helpful. They’re good for insurance because they tell you what to bill for but they don’t help a person. Do you know what I’m saying? I do know what you’re saying. A lot of people in our audience have been traumatized. I’m a person who was. I’m saying this is what you’re going to hear from me. We’re going to define trauma. It’s not that you’ve had a traumatic experience because if you live more than about ten minutes in this world, you’re going to have a traumatic experience. Your beloved pet is going to die. Someone that you care about is going to be injured, sick, pass, or whatever. The bottom is going to fall out of the economy. You might lose your house. We all have traumatic experiences. What I’m talking about is what we would call diagnosable trauma, where the past is intruding into the present. It feels like whatever that traumatic experience was, it’s happening now. That’s why for me, body memories were so abhorrent. Not only because they’re awful, but because it makes it feel like the event is happening now. That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about what trauma is. That’s where hypervigilance comes from. Is he coming? Where is he? I remember I had a premonition once that I was going to punch somebody. Early sobriety is known for punching. Men would come up and tap me, then whack. I had this premonition and I said, “Don’t hit him.” All day, I’m waiting for someone to come up and tap me on the shoulder and someone does come up and taps me. He was a lovely man. We had passed the basket at the twelve-step meeting.

I can’t remember what service commitment I had, but he had a question for me. He didn’t want to disturb the meeting. He lightly tapped me on the shoulder and I was ready to haul off. Fortunately, he was going to have to get a cross-body so he wouldn’t have gotten hurt or been injured. I said, “No, you had that premonition. Don’t hit him.” It feels like, “No, it’s somebody who’s going to hurt you.” “No, it’s not. It’s this lovely man who had a question.” He probably had to hand me a receipt or something. That’s what trauma is. It pulls us, yanks us from the here and now into the past. That’s what you call the triggers because things happen and they trigger. They trigger you and you are yanked into the past. What we strive for is to be present. The most effective way of being present are grounding exercises. There are two things. Number one is to put your feet on the ground and literally feel here and now. If you can go outside and feel dirt, grass, sand, or whatever, all the better. I don’t know if you see me wiggling, but my go-to is to pull my feet up underneath me. When I’m wiggling here in the interview, you can’t see it, but it’s because I’m like, “I’ve pulled my feet back underneath me. You have to put them on the ground.” Be here now. That’s one way. We literally call it grounding exercises. The other is breath. One of the pieces of research that I did is there’s a lot of yoga that’s at an addiction treatment facility. I thought, “I’m not seeing the outcomes at our facility that I would’ve hoped.” Sometimes, you have to split the men and the women because the men fart the whole time and the women go to sleep and they don’t want all the farting. It’s not all fart jokes for them. A lot of times, you have to split them up. I was like, “I’m not seeing the results,” because what we generally hire in an addiction treatment center is some very bendy twenty-something like 22-year-old who doesn’t have an addiction problem. It’s like, “Now we’re going to do this thing,” that none of the people who are coming in can do. They’re dope sick and they don’t feel good. They haven’t exercised in years and all the things. I was like, “What is it about yoga that’s so good?” What we found is it’s not the positions at all. It’s the breathing. There’s amazing research that’s been done over decades out of India that’s mostly discounted in the West because it came from India. Of course, I’m Jewish so breath is life. You’re alive when you breathe your first breath and you are gone when you breathe your last breath. That’s the Jewish definition of when you’re alive. It’s when you are breathing. It’s all about the breath. I always say to people, “As long as you’re on this side of the dirt, as long as you’re breathing, then there’s hope.” We’ve got good treatment. People just don’t know it. If you can breathe in, fill that expansion in your lungs and then breathe out a few times. It helps bring you into your body. To do that without having some somatic work too is going to have very limited results. Someone like me or you who’s been through those kinds of therapeutics, who can be present, when something wants to pull me back, I’m like, “No. I’m here.” I put my feet on the ground and I take a few breaths and I’m here. The other thing it says to me is you’re conscious. You’re so conscious of whatever is going on in your body now that you’ve gotten in touch with everything so that you can identify when something is coming at you and that you can handle it. I had a traumatic childhood, too. I’ve had been hypervigilant also. I can still relate to what you’re saying. We’re talking about the different effective therapies. When some are used together, they have this synergistic effect. I love this. Please explain how together, with psychotherapy, gets to the root cause of the addiction. You’re talking about breath work and other things could be so extraordinary for the healing of trauma, addiction, and all of that. The first book that I wrote that was a number-one bestseller on Amazon is called Ending Addiction for Good. We pulled it out of print because the treatment facility has been sold and they don’t use this treatment model anymore, but it’s available. The crux of the research is this. If you’re at one of the most expensive treatment facilities in the world, you better be getting the best care. I was brought in as the director of research to find the best therapeutics we can use in addition to psychotherapy because we know the benefits and limitations of different kinds of talk therapies. What can we do in addition to that? You can’t sit around and talk about yourself all day long nor can you listen in group to everybody else because if that guy talks about his girlfriend one more time, you’re going to rip his throat out. He’s definitely not in the process. He’s living in the past. You’re in the first 2 or 3 weeks of treatment, you are all in the problem. What I did was I went around and looked at these different things. There are some things that it’s unfortunate that insurance or treatment centers don’t want people to know about necessarily because their business model is based on relapse. When you relapse, you can come back. That was not our business model at the treatment facility that I worked at. We figured that there are enough people with addiction problems that we never wanted to see you again. What we did was, first of all, we had long-term care. People stayed in residential treatment for 90 to 120 days and then stepped down probably to a structured sober living and outpatient. You were in a very structured environment for about a year. What I did is I looked at what are these complementary therapies? I want therapies that you can do and skills you can learn so that you don’t have to keep paying. I want you to get sober and not be recovering. That’s not what it says in The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. It says we are recovered. I feel like I’m basically in remission. After over 25 years, I don’t look at the world like I did when I was drinking. I still have some hallmarks of that and black-and-white thinking. I had some people over one weekend. I served Martinelli’s and then I don’t know what possessed me, but I picked up the bottle and almost swigged it right out of the bottle like when I was in the old days. I was like, “I don’t drink out of the milk carton when they’re not here. I poured it in a glass.” You know what I love about that? You’ve learned not to beat yourself up over it. You work with yourself. I thought it was hysterical. I was like, “I guess I’m still an alcoholic.” I know certain things about me. I don’t want to drink like a normal person. People are like, “Could you drink like have a glass of wine?” I was like, “Maybe.” I didn’t ever like the taste. I don’t have any desire and I don’t lie to myself. When I’ve been in the hospital and they give me Dilaudid, they’re like, “You can’t go as long as you’re on the drip or on the button.” I’m looking at her and looking at the button for a full minute. I was like, “I don’t know. Maybe I want to stay here a little longer for a little button action.” I know in my core I just want to not face reality. I also have enough experience to know that. There’s a saying in twelve steps that life on life’s terms. There are good times and there are bad times. I released a Jewish-themed novel a week after the war in Israel started. The timing could not have been worse because people were like, “You’re baby killers.” I’m like, “I wrote about climate change. I’m a baby killer?” We don’t have to go there. I’m saying that was very disappointing. I don’t need that and to be drunk on top of it. Drunk on top of it used to be the solution. Now it’s not. I want to go back to two things. What is the thing that you said, the drip that you were on? Dilaudid. What the heck is that? It’s a narcotic. They give that to you. I had had surgery. It’s completely appropriate for people, even in recovery, in the hospital to have painkillers post-surgically for a few days. Post-surgery, it was like, “Bring me more.” They said I had to be off the drip for a certain number of hours before I could go home. I was like, “What?” Once it’s in, then it’s working. I don’t have to feel nothing. These therapeutics together, what I’ve learned in recovery is I now know how to feel my feelings. They are always going to change. I don’t like to feel much. I don’t want to feel real good. I don’t want to feel real bad. One of the things I learned through somatic experiencing is that I didn’t know what my feelings were. My somatic practitioner would say, “What’s going on?” I’d be like, “Something.” I was 45 or 48 years old at this point and I’m having to have someone identify what I’m feeling because I don’t know. What I found is it’s hard for me to tolerate any of these feelings. Now I’ve learned they’re going to go away anyway. Where it hit me is I have these godchildren in Australia who I adore. I don’t have any of my own kids by choice. I love being the auntie. I was not made to have my own children. I’d love for them to go away and stop bothering me at a certain point because I want to do my work. My books come first. My research comes first. That’s not good. It’s great that you’re so accepting of yourself. People are not like that. I know, but there are these kids in my life who I go to my friend’s house over here. I love being a grandmother. I go to my friend’s house and they yell. I’m like, “I’ll hang out here for a little while.” I couldn’t feel the love I had for them when I was in the room with them. The minute I left like to go back to the airport, I’m a disaster because I love them so much. It came rushing in when it was safe or when I was alone. I was like, “I don’t want that to be my life. I want to feel the love I have and express that love when I’m in the room with them.” I can do that now. How did you accomplish that? It takes out trauma. It helps remove trauma too. What we’ve understood is there are two things that you need to recover. If you don’t have these two things, then that’s what we have to work on. The first is you have to have connection. There are all these studies. The focus of addiction treatment used to be on sobriety. You had to be sober. You had to be obstinate. What we found is that when people have connections, recovery rates go up. Relapses get smaller and recovery rates go up when people can trust and connect. What keeps us from connection is very often trauma. What we’ve learned about trauma is that it gets trapped in the body.

What keeps getting triggered? It’s still there. If you see a bird attacked by a predator but gets away, it will go under a rock or in a bush and fluff up its feathers and shake. The shamans call that shaking medicine. This has been observed for thousands of years, but we don’t use it very often in Western treatment. Somatic experiencing understands it. The bird doesn’t take the trauma with them. It passes through the body. The body keeps the score. Other somatic-based information, it says that this gets trapped in here and we need to move it through or shake it loose. There’s something called Trauma Release Exercises, TRE, that is used in the Middle East quite a lot. It’s to move, shake out, get an automatic shaking, and move this through. I did something called Radical Aliveness. It’s based out of Southern California. It’s also a neo-Reichian type of therapeutic. It is a little slower because I was so not present and dissociated all the time. I basically lived the first 40 years of my life dissociated. It helps you to connect. They go slow with me and say, “What are you feeling?” Where I got so much, because I started it before the pandemic, is I would fly down to Los Angeles or Orange County and have sessions. I remember once my flight was delayed, I was so upset because I was going directly to the session and I missed part of my session. My practitioner met me at the door and enveloped me. I literally snot in her sweater sobbing and then I didn’t need that anymore. It moves through. That’s the key. The other part of this is narrative. What we tell ourselves is true is true. I’m not take it to crazy extremes of I tell myself and truly believe that I’m going to be a gold medal Olympic gymnast. That’s not true. Not because I couldn’t take up gymnastics but because Simone Biles is awesome and she’s going to beat me. We can’t measure reality. It’s not magic. However, if you tell me that you can’t get sober and I get this all the time in treatment facilities, they’re like, “I can’t do it, doc. It’s too hard,” I did it and I should have been dead by 25. That’s why I’m so happy now because everything is gravy at this point. It’s so wonderful for you because you’ve done so much healing. You’ve come full circle. You found yourself finally. I have the story. My stories are no longer limiting. My story is not that I’m my father’s daughter and I’m his toy and his plaything. I don’t live for him. I live to help people who have suffered like I have. That’s what I do. That’s why I write my books. I have gotten to travel the world lecturing and learning with other people who study addiction, trauma, and mental health issues in this realm. I came back from Ecuador, where a shaman taught me. I talked about ayahuasca. He was like, “Did you want to know what those plants are? We could show you how to make it.” I was like, “I wouldn’t use that because I do research. I’m not a therapist of any kind.” I did not know that I could say no for a long time. This drunken kid could go all around the world learning about these therapeutics. I try them on myself because I want therapies that have little or no side effects. Would you try ayahuasca? I know people who are specializing in that modality. Would you be open to that? I don’t need it. Am I open to it? I think it’s good for people. It’s dangerous when people fly off to South America and hope that the person that runs them through a ritual is legit. I find that problematic. I don’t need it because I’ve done this other work. When I founded the Institute for Complementary and Indigenous Mental Health Research, I’m not an indigenous person. I don’t do indigenous research. It would be inappropriate but I wanted to make sure that those voices and those researchers have a seat at my table and that we are listening to them because those worldviews are important. One of the things is this. When I’ve traveled in traditional healers like shamans, they look at me and they’re like, “You’re one of us.” Even when I was still drinking in college, they’re like, “You’re one of us,” because they saw how I would dissociate and I would get other information. I would be like, “Here are things that aren’t there.” I see things that aren’t there. That’s crazy. It’s not crazy. That’s why I say yes, our stories shape us. That’s crazy. That’s evil. If that’s your worldview, then you act in a certain way. Donald Trump has been indicted on 90 some odd charges. That’s a data point. This illustrates my point. There are some people who then create a story around this. This is how our brains work. Our brains create stories. We create a story around this and they say he’s persecuted. This is a witch hunt. People are trying to keep him from being the president again. They behave in one way because they’ve created that story. Other people take the exact same fact and data point. This person has been indicted. Nothing else. No judgment. That’s a fact like my hair is black. That’s what it is. It’s black because I dye it. That’s how I know exactly what color it is. Some people take that and say, “If anyone’s been indicted on that many charges and there’s this much evidence, maybe he should be prosecuted to see what happens.” That’s what the legal system is. If he’s found guilty, he should not be able to run again. Those people take the exact same piece of information and go very different directions. That’s a neurological issue. That’s how our brains work. That’s why we have to change these stories. If we can have connection, change our stories. When we have diagnosable trauma, something that pulls us into the past, work that through somatically, then all these other things, music, singing in particular, or playing music also. Singing, breathing, and somatic experiences can improve overall wellbeing. Click To Tweet Tell us about that too. I know you’re very into that as a modality, also. Singing and playing music. By the way, being bad at it is irrelevant. Your brain does not know if you are good or bad. That is your judgment. It’s probably someone else’s judgment that you’ve internalized or someone else’s story that you’ve internalized. Your brain only knows that you are doing it, not that you’re good or bad at it. Your brain does not know if you are good or bad. That is probably someone else's judgment that you've just internalized. Click To Tweet When I was newly sober, I would drive from where I lived in Beverly Hills all the way up the coast into Ventura County, up through Malibu, into Ventura County and I would sing and I felt better. If you have a bad day and you get stuck in traffic, you do your carpool karaoke and sing along to some song you like on the radio, you will feel better. That is a neurochemical response. Your body dumps serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine when you sing. You and I, if we have fairly normal brain physiology and chemistry, we’re going to go from here, when we’re having a bad day, to here and we’re going to feel better when we sing, hum, or anything musical. As I was telling you before we started, I played the violin and I had a lot of trauma in my childhood. I can remember playing in the orchestra, especially if it was a very dynamic piece of symphonic music where I was with my bow, I would feel better. I would be able to lift myself up. I don’t know if you remember, but back in the ‘80s, there was research done. There was all this heavy metal music is the devil’s music. It makes you angry and violent, but the research showed the opposite. The research showed that people who listen to heavy metal music or hard rock music were less violent because they had a way of expressing those feelings. People who listen to very depressing music have a way of expressing those feelings. This is a little different when you sing or when you play music. You are dumping these chemicals. You and I are going to get a little bump, but someone who’s been using chemicals recently, their normal production of these feel good chemicals, I don’t want to use any technical words, is in the basement. They’re not producing it because they’ve been doing it externally. They sing. They are high. They get a huge hit. Imagine you get someone naturally high in a drug treatment program. They’re going to come back to you all week. When we do it in a group or choirs, we get more impact because then we get the connection. People who were at each other’s throats in the session before have now become friends, and they support each other in the work that they’re doing. It’s absolutely fabulous. Tell me what else you would like everyone to know about what’s new in your world. I am working on two projects right now. First is I released The Path to God’s Promise. It’s a climate fiction novel about a Jewish woman called to be a prophet because God wants to warn us about climate change and say, “This is not my doing. You all need to fix this.” The reason I wrote this book is because I’ve been moving from addiction to trauma-related to climate change because as I travel, I see huge populations of people whose livelihoods and opportunity for livelihood is being wiped out. What does that mean? How do we deal with trauma on that scale? The Path to God’s Promise is available everywhere books are sold. Why did you choose a Jewish woman? Is she a standard for you? No. Write what you know. I also wanted to go back to the Jewish understanding of prophecy because a prophet is not a fortune teller like in Dungeons and Dragons. The prophecy is not what will come true. Prophecy in Torah, in TaNaK, or in Jewish understanding, is a warning. Jonah, is he the least effective prophet or the most effective prophet? The people listen to him. The prophecy is more like parenting than fortune telling. It’s God saying, “Guys, you’re off track. Don’t put your hand on the stove.” When the kid puts his hand on the stove, it gets burned. We don’t say, “Parents, you knew what you were talking about. What a good fortune teller.” No, we know that when you put your hand on the stove, you get burned. That’s what this is about. I’ve heard a lot of a certain type of Christian group saying, “If climate change is real, then it’s God’s will.” There’s a lot of debunk it’s not real, which, at this point, I don’t know how you can believe that. That was the point where I wanted to come and say, “No, that’s not how it works.” There’s this story about the guy who’s in a flood. A guy comes out and says, “I’ll take you out of my truck.” He said, “No, I’m waiting for God.” A guy comes in a boat and he says, “No, I’m waiting for God.” A guy comes in a helicopter when he’s on his roof and he says, “No, I’m waiting for God,” and then he dies. He drowns and then he goes up to the Pearly Gates. As we say in our world, as he transitions, he goes up. He says, “God, I was waiting for you.” God was like, “I sent a truck, a boat, and a helicopter.” We are responsible. It’s the same thing with addiction and trauma. Our stories create our reality. If we believe this is some hoax and if it’s not a hoax and it’s God induced, have a piece of cake. There’s nothing to be done. I say, “No, that’s not true.” That’s not true for addiction, trauma, and climate change. There are things we can do and we need to know what it is. That’s where I wrote The Path to God’s Promise. GAR 254 | Healing Childhood Sexual Abuse That leads me right to the questioning to you. Where different people find effective treatment? We’re talking about healing long-term and complex trauma. Most treatment is not readily available. You’re going to have to probably put something together yourself. You want to look for people who are not trying to sell you something. My book Ending Addiction for Good, you’re going to get that used. It’s out of print. I don’t make one penny. In fact, I didn’t make a penny when it was still in print. I got paid for it upfront. I didn’t ever receive royalties. You want someone who’s not trying to sell you something, especially an ongoing service. There should be an end date even on therapy. I see someone regularly because she knows me and it’s a check-in. There was a time when I talked to her every day. Now twice a month or sometimes once a month if I’m out of the country. It’s to keep me honest. You’re going to have to look for that. Start with things that are easy like grounding exercises. You can learn them on YouTube. Breathing exercises. You can learn them on YouTube. Don’t do things that trigger you. A lot of people with trauma close their eyes and everything comes rushing in. Don’t do those. If it hurts you in the first two seconds, don’t do that. For me, I couldn’t do breathwork. There is something literally called breathwork. I could not do that modality for a long time until I had much more somatics. Truly, if you have intrusions, somatic experiencing of one form or another is so important. I love acupuncture. Acupuncture is passive. All I have to do is show up and lay on the table and we’re done. I don’t have to do anything. Most people think acupuncture is something that helps people physically, but it can also help emotionally. Very much so. There’s something called shen disturbance like a spiritual disturbance. In acupuncture, they have exorcism. There are all sorts of what we would call psychospiritual. It’s a bio-psychosocial. It helps physically, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually. Acupuncture is wonderful. If you can stand it, and not everybody can, massage can be very helpful. There are types of therapeutic massage. Some people don’t want to be touched like that. Some people don’t want to be touched and that’s fine. I didn’t for a long time. It’s very important. Look for connection. Whatever you do, you have to have support to do it. What if a person is lost and they don’t have that support? I think most people have more support than they realize. When you’re traumatized, you can’t feel it and you don’t trust it. I work a lot with veterans, for example, and veterans still have horrific suicide rates. What we try to impart is that it’s a lie that you’re telling yourself that your mother, father, spouse, children, friends, or those people around you don’t want you. You are a burden. That is a lie. If you were truly a burden, they wouldn’t show up. Most people have more support than they realize. But when you're traumatized, you can't feel it and you don't trust it. Click To Tweet There are lots of people who walk away from all sorts of situations. If it was preferable to them not to have you in their lives, they would’ve walked away and they haven’t. That’s why whenever we have someone who’s suicidal and if we know they have a good relationship with say mom, we get mom on the line to tell them the truth. “The truth is I love you.” I had to test these things out because I didn’t believe that people were going to show up for me because that wasn’t my experience or that I’d be too much. I have a friend who is a psychotherapist in Israel. I had moved and I did not have a psychotherapist here. I was having a hard time. It’s before I found somatics. I texted him and I was like, “This is what’s going on. I’m having a hard time and I haven’t found a therapist yet.” He talked to me for a couple of weeks until I found someone. I was like, “That’s so kind of you. Why did you do that?” He was like, “Because I’m your friend.” Let’s talk about that also. You found the support you needed. You learned how to stay present in your body, even though you’re so severely traumatized. How does that lead you to joy? How does Constance find joy? Is it through those Australian children? Is it now that you can feel that love? In general, if a person does their work, how does that lead them to be able to feel that feeling? I would say joy is transitory. I’m not in a state of ecstasy all the time but I’m not in a state of despair all the time either. I feel joy, despair, or scared. I feel all the things. I think what healing is to me is the being present for whatever it is that’s going on. Sometimes that’s wonderful and sometimes it’s not. I’m here for it and I get to be a human being. We are all made of stardust. That’s a literal fact. This physical body is an illusion. It’s mostly empty space. Healing is being present for whatever it is that's going on. Click To Tweet I’m sitting on a chair in pants. Some of the electrons from my backside are switching with the electrons in my pants and the electrons in the chair. This is an illusion. Vehicle is another way of looking at it. I am here to have an experience. I can’t have that experience if I’m numbed out. What gives me pleasure? When I turned 50, the 50 days before my 50th birthday, I gave myself some treat every day. Sometimes it was a present. I bought myself little things that I had wanted, but mostly, it was I stopped working even though I had to do whatever and went for a walk. I live out in a rural area. I picked blackberries off of the blackberry bushes near my mailbox and delighted in them straight from the blackberry bush. I had a peach, just cold, juicy and delicious. I let myself delight in these things. When my cat purrs, those are the things. I got to do that. I’ve continued that. I don’t do it necessarily every day, but I remind myself to enjoy what is around me. I had some friends come over. I’ve been a Girl Scout since I was four years old. I’m a lifetime member and all the things. I know how to do Girl Scouty things like make soap. I had some friends over to make soap. I don’t need soap but I delight in teaching them. I went camping and taught my friends who went with me how to make omelets in a Ziploc bag. Everybody gets the omelet that they want and they boil them. All the people who weren’t Girl Scouts, they’re like, “You’re incredible.” I had a book signing near my hometown. My friends from high school came and were telling me how I inspired them and I take in those compliments. This show is all about turning trauma into healing and transformation. You are a poster child for the mission of this show. I’m so happy for you. Music can be a catalyst for healing and transformation. Click To Tweet Thank you. I want to be the poster child because it means I’m helping someone else. It’s great that I healed, but I still say to my somatic practitioner all the time, “I am still in awe that healing was possible, that I do not experience the intrusiveness of trauma anymore.” It is as if it did not happen. I can’t believe it. That is like winning the lottery. I can identify with that. You have turned this into such a blessing. I want other people to know that it’s possible. I want you to know that you can do these things and they’re painful. Somatic experience is one of the most painful things because you got to feel everything that came. You got to feel it go out and that’s awful. You’re only going to feel it one more time, not 40 times a day. Are you available to people, Constance? I’m not a therapist, but if you go to my website, which is ConstanceScharff.com, I do give referrals. I do try to help people as much as I can. That’s why I say, “Look for the people who aren’t trying to sell you anything.” That’s what I want them to know about you. I think that’s great. I wanted thank you because this is remarkable. You’re remarkable. It’s an unforgettable interview and I know you’re going to help a lot of people with this interview. I hate to close but we need to close. Make sure to follow us and like us on social at @IreneSWeinberg. We’re on Instagram, Facebook and wherever you get your shows, including YouTube. Now you’ll be able to see Constance and connect with her. As I like to say, to be continued. I want to thank you, Constance. You’re terrific. Thank you for having me. My pleasure. Bye now for everyone. To be continued from my heart.  

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Irene, you help so many people with these illuminating, inspiring interviews. I’m honored to be included.
Paula Chambers

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