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Dec. 6, 2022

20: Trauma: A Normal Response To An Abnormal Situation w/ Candace Alley

20: Trauma: A Normal Response To An Abnormal Situation w/ Candace Alley

Did you know that toxic stress decreases the size and impairs the function of different regions of the brain that are actually responsible for our learning, our executive functioning, our memory ?

Candace Alley, a five time internationally certified coach and the founder and CEO of Trauma Resource Network shares that: 

  • trauma is not a particular event, but rather how the brain processes that event 
  • every persons healing journey is as individual and unique as your fingerprints
  • trauma doesn't mean that you're broken or that you've done anything wrong. rather, it's a very normal response to an abnormal situation
  • those who score a 4 or higher on the ACES test stand a far greater chance of struggling with mental health issues and or some form of addiction in their lifetime
  • consistent practice and dedication is key to healing

Available resources:
988 - for those dealing with mental health crisis (In the United States)
211 - provides local resources
Take the ACEs Test
Connect with Candace via her website, on Facebook, or Instagram

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[00:00:51] Shanenn: All right. Well, today I'm diving into how traumatic stress affects the brain with Candace Alley, a five time internationally certified coach and the founder and CEO of Trauma Resource Network.

[00:01:09] Shanenn: Welcome, Candace.

[00:01:10] Candace Alley: Thank you so much for having me. It's such an honor to be here today.

This is going to be a really powerful conversation and we're gonna dive into traumatic stress, but I really wanted to start with the basics first of just what is trauma? 

[00:01:28] Candace Alley: Absolutely. You bet. Trauma is not really a particular event, but rather how the brain processes that event and, one of the best quotes I've ever heard, um, is from Dr. Gabor Mate and you know, he really says "trauma's not a particular event or experience, but rather what goes on inside of us from that experience."

[00:01:54] Candace Alley: And a lot of people have the preconceived notion or idea that you have to have been in a war zone to experience PTSD or trauma, but that's absolutely not the case. And a lot of that came from the fact that trauma really began being studied, after the Gulf War. in the early nineties. And so um, that also kind of tells you how new the study of trauma really is.

[00:02:27] Candace Alley: It was studied some before that time, but really became a big focus, especially in the United States, once our veterans came back from the war. And so a lot of people think that if they haven't been in a war zone or experienced what our veterans have experienced, that there's no way they can have trauma.

[00:02:54] Candace Alley: Um, But what we know as professionals is that's absolutely not the case. In fact, anybody that has an adverse childhood experiences, who score a four or greater, stands a far greater chance of struggling with mental health issues and or some form of addiction, be it a process addiction or substance use, at some point in their lifetime.

[00:03:21] Shanenn: Thank you so much for the explanation because it is about how they are translating that information or the story that they're telling themselves perhaps, from that information. And I have, a great example, and I'm doing a episode on this, but I have twin uncles, you know, live the same experiences growing up.

[00:03:42] Shanenn: The things that they took away from some of those experiences are very different because they're different people and so the way that it affects them is very differently.

[00:03:51] Candace Alley: Yeah. And I always tell my clients that your recovery journey is just as individual and unique to you as your fingerprints because no two people process information exactly the same. And each experience, as you just mentioned, can have a totally different impact on our mental health or inside of us than it does on our external being. 

[00:04:21] Shanenn: So what are some of the ways that someone could tell if maybe they are dealing with something from the past, um, dealing with some trauma that they may need to look into? Are there particular signs? Can you explain a little bit?

[00:04:42] Candace Alley: You bet. So, basically anybody that has a mental health diagnosis pretty much has underlying trauma, whether they've been told that or not. What's being treated is the symptoms of trauma. So, if you have a mental health diagnosis, there's some underlying trauma and some of the things, if you haven't been diagnosed, if you have a lot of negative talk within your mind. If you feel worthless, you don't feel good enough, um, maybe you have this fear of being left alone. Those all come from potential abandonment issues. And a lot of it is just how you feel. And so, if something just doesn't feel right, or you feel like there's something going on inside of you, it's certainly something that folks should, at least seek help or assistance for, and learn more about what could be going on.

[00:05:49] Shanenn: Yeah. because a lot of times it's really hard to do that recovery by ourselves, alone. And a lot of times we're feeling very alone. And I think just knowing that there's a sense of community and that there are other people that may be going through a similar situation as you. So having that connection or reaching out to somebody, that in of itself sometimes is kind of that first step in that journey.

[00:06:19] Candace Alley: Absolutely. And what's really, sad and kind of hurts my heart sometimes is a lot of times people are going through these things and they don't know where to turn. In the United States there is now 988 for anyone who's dealing with a mental health crisis.

[00:06:38] Candace Alley: And so I'm very grateful to see that we have that resource now. And then there's also 211 where people can call and find local resources. So those are two places that people can start, and then if they have internet access, you can certainly Google things like trauma resource, psychological trauma resources or complex ptsd.

 And I mentioned the ACEs scores. There's actually free tests online for that as well, and I'm certainly happy to share that link with you so that you can put it in the notes for your show.

I appreciate that. And can you talk a little bit more about that test and some of the typical questions that may be on there? Can you talk a little bit about what someone can expect if they were to go online and walk through that?

[00:07:32] Candace Alley: Absolutely. So the ACEs quiz is basically 10 questions and it asks about different things that you experienced up until the age of 18. And it asks questions like, did you come from a single parent home or did one of your parents ever struggle with substance use or some form of addiction?

[00:07:56] Candace Alley: Did you live in a home where someone became incarcerated in your childhood? Um, Did you experience homelessness? Those are the different types of questions that are on there, and it really just gives some background to what we have found in scientific studies to show that people who do have a score of four or greater, it really does impact them far more, typically speaking, with their mental health than people who have lower score.

[00:08:37] Shanenn: Well, let's kind of talk about this traumatic stress and how it affects the brain. Can you give us a general overview? What is traumatic stress, and then moving into what happens in those scenarios.

[00:08:54] Candace Alley: Absolutely. Toxic or traumatic stress really is stress that results in prolonged activation of our stress response. And it doesn't allow our body to fully recover. And how it differs from the normal stress response is that there is a lack of support or reassurance or emotional attachments.

[00:09:19] Candace Alley: And toxic stress actually decreases the size and impairs the function of different regions of the brain that are actually responsible for our learning, our executive functioning, our memory, and those parts of the brain are actually the prefrontal cortex and our hippocampus. 

[00:09:40] Candace Alley: And so as a result, if it happens in a child, they're placed at greater risk for having learning or behavioral problems. And the same with adults. It can create issues with concentration. It can create issues with memory. It can create a lot of different issues. And I mention adults because sometimes the trauma doesn't begin so much in people's childhood, but maybe more so, if they live with someone who is abusive either verbally, physically, or otherwise, actually in their adulthood.

[00:10:23] Shanenn: And thanks for pointing that out because I think a lot of times when we talk about trauma, we immediately think childhood and we hear that often, that a lot of times it does develop and you know, you have those experiences that then you translate into, this difficult situation for you to overcome.

[00:10:43] Shanenn: And a lot of times that does happen in childhood, but it can happen as an adult. So, you may have had two very great parents, a secure environment, grew up very well. And then something happened in adulthood, as you mentioned. you are with someone who is physically abusive or mentally abusive, those types of things where can then develop. 

[00:11:08] Candace Alley: Yeah. You know, it can be really hard in adulthood to go through something like that because namely, if you were raised in a two parent home, um, I'm a firm believer of we don't know what we don't know until we know. And by that I mean, depending on our culture and how we were raised, another person that we may come to love, fall in love with or get into a relationship with, you know, until we really, take time to get to know that person.

[00:11:39] Candace Alley: We don't know what their past is or what their belief systems are and sometimes, a lot of times actually, people can put on a facade and a face, their game face, and then it takes time. You know, you may already have developed feelings for that person before they really start showing what I call their true colors.

So oftentimes you're already emotionally wrapped up with that person, have grown feelings for them based on one side that you've seen of them. That's really typical behavior for someone who is abusive, is to really put on that game face, so to speak, and then start their abusive ways later maybe shortly into the relationship. But a lot of times it doesn't happen immediately. And so that's very important to remember too, is that just because you fall for someone doesn't mean that you've done anything wrong. Because oftentimes people who are abusive, they know that, and they play into that and they know exactly what they're doing.

[00:12:53] Candace Alley: And so I just think it's very important to know also that, trauma doesn't mean that you're broken or that you've done anything wrong. Rather, it's a very normal response to an abnormal situation.

[00:13:07] Shanenn: Yeah. Yeah. I, remember thinking at one point, like, I must have a sticky note on my forehead that says, I'm vulnerable, or I'm, you know, I'm a mess or whatever. Come, come, wanna date me. I used to think that like. Why am I always so drawn or end up in these situations with these partners that are just not healthy.

[00:13:36] Candace Alley: Yeah, and so it's very important to know that it's not you. If the person hasn't done their work and they don't have love for themselves, then it's really impossible for them to love someone else.

[00:13:52] Shanenn: Mm-hmm. And I've heard, and I've definitely seen this where especially when, if you have two people that maybe have some of that history and they both grew up in a chaotic environment, it seems like there's this draw to each other. That you're so attracted to that other person and then you're really in this toxic relationship because both of you have work to do.

[00:14:21] Shanenn: Then it just becomes or feels like this normal situation because that's what you're used to.

[00:14:26] Candace Alley: Absolutely. Yes. And that is another way that toxic stress really develops because, you grow these feelings for someone and they have work to do and you have work to do, and neither of you can really be the supportive partner that you want to be or feel like you're trying to be because there's so much work that you need to do yourself that it doesn't allow you to really have the capacity to offer that to another person.

I'm in recovery from people pleasing because that's something, you know, always having to be the adults, so to speak, to my parent. At least one of my parents, typically both of them who struggled with their own addictions and traumas from their childhood.

[00:15:15] Candace Alley: And, so yeah, toxic stress for me began very early on, and so I became a people pleaser. I just wanted to see everybody else happy and it didn't matter about me. But over time what happened is the lack of me caring for myself or putting myself first really began to have not only emotional, but physical, repercussions.

[00:15:38] Candace Alley: And, I've had a lot of health issues because of that. And so, it's important to know that taking care of yourself is so much more than feeling like you're being greedy or selfish. It's actually a necessity because if not it can, and usually will, bring far greater problems down the road because trauma also lives inside your body.

[00:16:06] Shanenn: Yeah. Well, and I think people tend to only to seek help when they get in a relationship. Like a lot of times that's one where they're really seeing it show up. It's, you know, well, I need to save this relationship, or I don't want this person to leave me. So now I'm going to seek help. And I love and say, you know, use your single time to get healthy and work on yourself. So one, you are attracting a more stable person in your life. 

[00:16:41] Candace Alley: You bet. Yeah, absolutely.

[00:16:44] Shanenn: I wanna talk a little bit more about, what actually happens in the brain and maybe give some, I guess hope maybe to people, because they feel like, oh my brain's messed up. You know? And then, well can't fix it because it's my brain. And it's just such a challenge overcome some things that are happening in their body, in that way.

[00:17:12] Candace Alley: Yeah, so toxic stress really, um, like I said earlier, can cause the areas of our brain to shrink. And so we have to do our own work. And it requires consistency. It requires really, taking time, because this toxic stress doesn't just happened once and then our brain just shrinks down and so much like it doesn't happen, like, we don't snap our fingers and it happens. Recovery is the same way. What people don't know a lot of times or aren't told is that you have to be willing to put in the work.

[00:17:59] Candace Alley: You can pay money for something, but if you don't actually do the work to work through it, yes, someone can provide you resources, but you have to take the time and be dedicated to putting in the work. And one example of that is, people used to tell me about meditation, and I read all these great things about it, but my mind would just not slow down enough for me to be able to do a guided meditation.

[00:18:31] Candace Alley: And I thought it was the craziest thing at first. And after about two, two and a half years, I was able to sit through a five-minute guided meditation, and for people that do meditation, they probably think that sounds crazy if they didn't experience the same situation as me. 

[00:18:50] Candace Alley: But I have to say that my willingness to keep doing it and not given up has really paid off. It's been a constant practice that I have had to do to be able to maintain that focus for five minutes. And once you can start to focus and maintain focus, I think for me that was one of the big pivotal moments in my recovery was actually learning to stay focused on a task.

[00:19:25] Candace Alley: Because, as you mentioned, like chaotic childhoods and things, my life had always been so chaotic without structure that I performed really well under stress and pressure. But as I mentioned it, it caused me health problems in my thirties and in my late twenties. Health problems really do come from trauma. Take care of your physical health. Reach out to community resources and support. Focus on the things that you can actually control. 

[00:19:59] Candace Alley: And for some people that may mean journaling. It may mean just sitting there thinking about it. Different things work for different people. Some people have an artistic talent, and they can draw out their feelings and things, but really taking time to focus on what it is that you can actually control and reminding yourself that sometimes we need to let go of the things that we can't control.

 If we can't control it, we can't change it. And spending time to focus on what we can change, is important.

[00:20:35] Shanenn: So powerful, what you're saying Candace, because people get really frustrated I mean someone hearing this going, oh my gosh, two and a half years before I can sit for five minutes and listen to meditation. Uh, you know, that's where I think people go, forget it.

[00:20:53] Shanenn: I can't. I'm just not gonna be able to do it. That consistency and the practice of that is so important to know. And looking back and going, you know what, a week ago I was here and now it might be just a baby step, but I'm here. And so I also wanna point two and a half years though, compared to the lifetime that you've already been spending, is really nothing. It's a drop in the bucket of time to then get to that place where you're starting to feel so much better. So that practice and that consistency being committed to the process is so important.

[00:21:33] Candace Alley: Yeah, and I'll also say for me, you know, I was in therapy for years and years and what actually encouraged me to become a coach was I started working with a coach. And coaching and just that true, um, allowing me to be the expert of my own life and what I felt like would work for me because there's no cookie cutter approach that's going to work for everybody because like I said, our recovery and our lives are just as individual as our fingerprints.

[00:22:08] Candace Alley: And so while therapy modalities do help a lot of people, and I am not knocking that by any means, just simply stating for me, coaching was the most powerful and impactful treatment that I ever received. That and peer to peer support groups were so, so powerful for me because humans need connection.

[00:22:35] Candace Alley: We crave connection subconsciously so even if you're an introverted person and like to be alone, we still need connection as humans. And that connection of having a tribe of people that understand us and can relate to us is so important. And that's why I think it's so, amazing that you have your podcast for people who struggle with jealousy and it's all about finding your tribe of people. The people that really get you and understand 

A hundred percent Candace because unless someone else has gone through it or have similar experiences, even our friends and family, while they mean the best, uh, sometimes they're not the greatest resource to go to. They don't know what you're experiencing, and it may be hard for them to understand and to give you, one, they're probably giving you advice.

[00:23:37] Shanenn: Do this, do that. And you know, while we can guide people, as you mentioned, it's really their own journey and what's best for them. 

[00:23:45] Shanenn: Yeah, meditation may be wonderful for some people. Some people might prefer journaling and that's what really helps them, and they can kind of go back, as I mentioned and go, oh my gosh, a week ago I was writing about this and now this week it's a little bit different. So yeah, I think that's, so spot on. 

[00:24:03] Shanenn: Can you talk a little bit about what you do at Trauma Resource Network and how you're helping people there?

[00:24:10] Candace Alley: Absolutely. So, at Trauma Resource Network, we really offer support groups, coaching, and educational classes, to both helping professionals and community members and really helping parents understand the impact of healthy outcomes from positive experiences with children. We train recovery coaches, we mentor coaches, and helping professionals to really understand psychological trauma.

[00:24:43] Candace Alley: And most importantly, in my heart and opinion, is we provide resources. And so we have a Facebook community, we have a LinkedIn group. There are lots of ways that folks can connect with us. We were just founded in January of this year, so we still have a lot of room to grow, but really, really excited, for the people that we've had the opportunity to help and people that we hope to serve in the future.

[00:25:11] Shanenn: Yes. Well thank you for all of your great work, Candace. I know that you're helping people every single day, and we will definitely link to those communities and your networks in the show notes so definitely look for those.

[00:25:26] Shanenn: Candace Alley, thank you for joining Jealousy Junkie.


Candace AlleyProfile Photo

Candace Alley

Candace Alley is the found and CEO of Trauma Resource Network and co-founder of Project TIPSY. Candace is a driving force in the fields of trauma, Peer Support, Health and Wellness Coaching, Harm Reduction and Recovery.