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We Cannot Control The Past, But The Past Can Control Us

July 22, 2010

I have 56 years of a past, and I cannot change one part of it. I can remember some of it, and I can try to forget part of it, but I cannot change any of it.

Some of it’s good. When I was a baby, toddler and young boy, I had an intact family, Mom, Dad and sisters. We had Grandmas and Grandpas, Aunties and Uncles, friends, teachers, and other people who loved us around us all the time. I cherish the stories from that past, and there are very few who have the knowledge I do about our family. Dad owned a cabin cruiser that they named after my sister. Mom told me a story about my first fishing attempt. I pulled my line into the boat and screamed because I had a fish on. It was the bait, a small herring. I was sent to visit my Grandma and Grandpa in Yakutat. I remember the candy counter in their General Store, and the nice Auntie who would reach in and give me some. We would drive out to the Coast Guard and watch a movie, transported in Grandpa’s truck. We had Christmas at the ANB Hall and it seemed like the whole community came out. I remember walking with my sister to Grandpa Alex’s cabin in Cordova. He had a 55 gallon drum stove, and a black frying pan that he would use to make pancakes for us. He would spread butter and sugar over it for us. I wrote about the summer I spent fishing with Dad and Grandpa Alex on the Lottie M. and my red Schwinn bicycle in an earlier post. When we left Cordova, Mom said his heart was broken with our leaving. He died in a fire that consumed his cabin a few years later. All I have left of him are the good memories.

Some of it’s bad. The alcohol abuse in my family has been long term. One of my Grandmas passed away in the early 1940’s. Her death certificate references double pneumonia and alcoholism. There was the domestic violence. The divorce and absence of my Dad followed. And then there was the poverty, the physical and emotional abuse. As a minority in the public school districts I was treated differently. I was bullied. I married well the first time I married, and I didn’t know it, finally ending the marriage for reasons I didn’t understand then, but understand better know. I would like to apologize to my first wife. But I can’t change what happened. We cannot control the past, but the past can control us.

As I grew up I had many wonderful people who helped guide me, despite the negative experiences I was having. No one can take my education or career from me. That is one of the benefits of the past. It is done, and the good things cannot be taken away from you. But what I have learned is that we can, through involvement, make a difference in helping others address the issues of their past that control them. What are those issues? They are the childhood and other traumas that we have not faced, processed and resolved. My frame of reference is the Adverse Childhood Experience Study and the 10 trauma inducing experiences studied. And what I am learning is that the unresolved trauma shapes our brain as it alters our reactions to stress. This stays with us for the rest of our life. The stress altered brain starts to react differently to future stress and anxiety. We find and use things that give us more of the brain chemical responses our altered brain finds comforting—tobacco, alcohol, drugs, food, sex, violence, and extreme sports, among others. This part of our past, the unresolved childhood trauma, is directly related to so many negative parts of our present and if unresolved, our future. The ACES study found so many solid correlations between high ACE’s and increased negative and risky behaviors. A man with 6 ACE’s is 4,600% more likely to be an injection drug user than one with no ACEs. One with 4 ACE’s is 1,600% more likely to attempt suicide. Our past does control us, and most of do not know why. I believe this is the answer.

But we can learn to deal with our past through intervention and therapy. People are very resilient. If we understand why we are the way we are, with guidance and support, we can learn other ways to cope that do not involve the risky behaviors we gravitate to. This is the goal of our Restoration to Health Initiative. Let’s understand the past, remember and recall it, process and resolve the bad memories, and adopt positive strategies to cope. Let’s repair relationships and learn how to love again, the right way, without anger, jealousy or possessiveness. Let’s start to give, instead of take. Let’s not let the past control us.

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