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Coming Out with Autism By Eva Angvert Harren, Core Coach and Educator Often when we get into recovery we think, “Oh, THAT’s what’s wrong with me! Now that I know what’s wrong with me, I know how to fix it.” If I use the 12 steps and do what they tell me, I’ll become a better wife, mom, daughter, friend…a better whatever! That great awakening happened for me in 1990. The support in the 12-step programs is incredible, and many participants of these programs create a life beyond their wildest expectations. It works! And, what if there is more going on? What if you spend a decade in The Program and still have not succeeded to develop friendships, feel a bond with others, or even that you belong to the fellowship? What if you spend two decades in recovery and you are still alone in the fellowship? “Oh, sure, I’ll call you.” “Let’s go out for dinner.” “You’re invited to my party.” “We’re going to the movies; do you want to join in?” These are conversations I was not invited to participate in. I was painfully aware that, not only was I an alcoholic, I was outside looking in; I was different and could not for the life of me figure out why. The greatest struggle was with the thought “What’s wrong with me?” To finally get the verdict “You have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)” should have settled it. However, then there is step 2: telling people, owning who I am, truly, honestly, without shame…or with shame and facing the feelings of shame, embarrassment, or inferiority, a sense of being damaged goods or mentally ill. It was easier to “come out” saying “I have alcoholism” than it was saying “I have autism.” Why is that? Because, when people talk about you and say “Watch her; she’s an alcoholic,” the responses can still be, “Well, yeah, but she’s so funny,” or “I know, but she’s running a hell of a business,” or “That may be true, but she’s still so good with people,” or other responses to that effect. When people talk about you and say “Watch her; she has autism,” people’s responses are more like this: big eyes, open mouth, silence, and then, “Really, oh that’s what’s wrong,” or “Hmmm, I thought there was something funny about her,” or “Oh, that poor thing.” There is nothing about being funny, running a great business, or being good with people. Just this empty look with an “understanding” comment about how hard it must be. I know I am not obligated to tell anyone in the same way you don’t tell people you’re bipolar, alcoholic, or have cancer. It’s a personal thing, I know! However, in my case, with my business, it affects where I now put my focus. I have alcoholism, and I have autism – a double whammy. And I have a keen understanding of what that feels like. I want to attract others like me so I can share my gifts and solutions. When I got the verdict, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), at 58 years of age with 26 years of sobriety, it all made sense. That was the missing piece. Now I found myself asking, “Was I an alcoholic because I was born with autism, did I have autism because of childhood trauma, or was it all PTS?” In other words, was I just a trauma survivor who had chosen to self-medicate until she became a drunk? There are no experts out there who can answer that question! If I have learned one thing on my journey to a wonderful, successful life with husband, children, and a thriving business, it is this: the “why” does not move you forward! The moment I could accept my past as it was, had been, and will be remembered as, I could leave it behind, accept my “condition” and find the gifts, “come out” and be…me. It’s funny to think about how hard it’s been to tell people. That’s the common fear, “What are they going to think about me?” Well, what are they thinking now? Who cares?! What people? They are not my friends anyway! They don’t call me, invite me, or check in to see if I’m alive. And, yet, I still worried! That doesn’t mean I walk around town saying, “Hi, I’m Eva and I have autism” any more than I would say “I’m Eva and I have alcoholism.” However, it means that I own all of me, including my brilliant brain, which doesn’t always agree with me. I have learned and experienced the wonderful feelings that come with Radical Self-Acceptance! My life has become more exciting than ever, because…I “came out.” I enjoy the wonderful people in my life today, the ones who take me as I am with a sense of humor and compassion! The price is worth the prize. Radical Self-Acceptance gave me the freedom to be…me! I found my place in the world, the place that only I can fill. And so can you! If you have autism and feel isolated, damaged, inferior, or even depressed and suicidal, I want you to know…You’re awesome, you’re brilliant, and you matter! There is a place in this world that only you can fill, a place that needs your exact gift and wisdom. The world needs that gift to evolve, and if you don’t share your Self with us, you rob the world of a piece of the puzzle that moves mankind forward. Don’t keep us stagnant, don’t hold us back. We need your perspective, your humor, and your brilliance. We need you! We need you to be…You! Eva If you want to know more about Eva and her Core Coaching, visit http://www.EvaAngvert.com
How does change affect you? I have been going through a lot of changes lately and though most of them have been for the good, as I knew they would be, I had to prepare myself as my aspy side doesn't do well with disruptions of schedule and/or environment. I can react very strongly with inappropriate anger when an unexpected interruption occurs while I am in the middle of doing something I consider important. So I did my best to prepare for retiring from teaching and moving from San Diego to Oregon this summer. Now these changes are usually stressful for anybody, and I handled the strain of packing, travel and setting up in a new home during the Covid pandemic about as well as most people seem to. But, I did so with a constant sense of fear. Sometimes it was a mild feeling of unease, at times a more prevalent sense of fearfulness, and, once I got here to this paradise of a new home, unaccountable panic attacks. I felt like one more change or unexpected event would be the death of me. I literally feared for my life. I was gentle with myself and my NT wife was very supportive. After 6 weeks I've now settled into a very pleasant and productive routine. I share this story in hopes that others in this community will share theirs.
Throughout my life I have not been able to relate to people on a level where I feel connected, understood, or accepted, and even more painful . . . in a way I feel loved. There was always a missing piece, a sense of being different, excluded, isolated, and just not part of. I used to love rolling myself up in a rug and feel the tightness around me. I loved my grandmother’s heavy comforter. I could barely slip under it, and as I lied there with this heavy weight from the comforter on my chest, I felt safe. I was existing, floating, drifting in my own bubble and couldn’t get out. Sometimes it felt like everybody else was in a bubble and I couldn’t get in. Those moments I ‘knew’ everybody knew what was going on . . . and I didn’t. I experienced sexual abuse early and found no support. I feel that when your boundaries are broken it becomes hard to ‘sense’ who is safe and not. Who should I talk to? About what? What are they thinking . . . about me . . . am I prey, will I get hurt, and on and on and on. This uncertainty, this social blindness, lead to more ‘bad situations’ and left me more confused and ‘damaged.’ It was a painful existence, and I found my relief in Vodka. Checking Out of My Body As I started drinking at 13, my life drifted away, and the main focus became to stay numb. I became drift wood, aimlessly moving in time and space, bumping into situations which decided my next direction. Intimate relationships felt as if I ‘had to behave so he wouldn’t leave’. I never picked a boyfriend, he picked me. Suddenly I was somebody’s girlfriend and I didn’t even know how it happened, or how to get out of it. I didn’t know I could say ‘NO.” And much abuse followed. I have not felt the ‘love toward another’, that I hear about, until I met my current husband. We were friends for over a year, neighbors and drinking buddies, a platonic relationship as if we were siblings. He didn’t believe in beating women. I thought that was fascinating. He told me that we might as well get married, as if it was a practical idea since we liked to hang out with each other. I believe he has a ‘sling of neurodiversity’ too. We are celebrating 27 years in 2016. Before I experienced Somatic/Emotional Awakening I would sit in the kitchen with my family, knowing how much I loved them, knowing I was part of the family, I was the wife and the mother for god sake! And still, I could feel as if I was in my bubble light-years away from them, trying desperately to engage over dinner, that I cooked. I knew I was there, physically, but I could not feel part of, or that I belonged. Does this make me into an Autistic person, a person who is neurologically diverse, a trauma survivor, bipolar, or what? Although I haven’t been tested for autism looking back at my life it seems quite clear to me that I was having similar issues I hear from people on the autism spectrum who attended our workshops. Survival Mode I didn’t understand the world and saw everything as a threat, existing in survival mode, or as we call it “Defense Mode.” Now I work with Danny Raede to help others get out of Defense Mode and Come Alive! I sobered up at 32, married my current husband, and had a child at 10 months of sobriety. My world was a whirlwind of emotions. Our newborn daughter Kristina, my answer to everything, my new ‘higher power’, was 2 months old . . . when she had an operation, which left her brain dead. We had to turn off her life support, which left me raw, confused, and pretty messed up at one year of sobriety. I felt as if my skin was pulled off and everything around me was lemon juice. I became pregnant again. To protect my unborn child, I was thrown into therapy. I had an attention span of 10 seconds and the world was ‘after me.’ My social/emotional/psychological development was impaired due to early trauma, and I was diagnosed as an ‘eight-year old trauma victim.’ Charming! Why I Believe I Have Autism Editors note: Eva has since been diagnosed with Asperger's. What makes me believe I have Autism, or am neurologically different is after 26 years of sobriety, working the program with different sponsors, and also sponsoring others, I have still not been able to find, and/or connect with another human being to form a long lasting close friendship. My husband is my only close friend, and sometimes he is really tired of me. Much of what I say has a ‘bite’ to it, that I, of course, notice too late. I am too direct and ‘off the beat’ in conversations. Like I haven’t learned the dance and keep on stepping on peoples’ toes. I have had ‘friends,’ people I thought were friends, but later realized I had just been used as a glorified baby sitter. In my observation our social anxiety makes us behave ‘weird’ in society’s eyes. My own anxiety felt like a pressure in my chest, a stomach cramp, I had a million mosquitoes under my skin, constantly scratching, itching, picking on myself. I was so overwhelmed with sensations that I felt panicky at all times, as if I was locked in an emotional and mental straight jacket. I could only spend my attention on how not to explode; there was no extra attentions, awareness, about others. I could be talking with someone and biting my nails, or picking on a scab during the conversation, anything to distract me from feeling . . . anything. My body was filled with sensations and "shakings." I was so uncomfortable that it felt I had to ‘hold on’ to myself. It felt like living on an earthquake, holding on to something so I didn’t fall. My body was filled with sensations of "shakings." I was overly concerned about what you thought of me, every second. My brain had a million thoughts, and I never knew which one would come through my mouth. With the behavior I exhibited (I can see it now) people were uncomfortable around me and sure didn’t want more of me than what they had to go through to be socially correct. Due to people being socially correct and polite, I could never pick up they actually didn’t want to get to know me more. I didn’t even see my husband as someone to support me. I was born in Sweden and conditioned to take care of myself. Now, with my awkwardness that became a struggle, and in the US there were only bartending and house cleaning available for someone like me. It has taken me 25 years of training, education, and practice to become who I am. Had my husband not lived next door, and had he not been as lonely as I was, I doubt we would ever have become a couple. Women On The Spectrum Have More Difficulty Unless we’re blessed with access, education and support as we go through the gauntlet of life, and unless we are truly great at what we do, we will not succeed in the workforce. The politics and cut-throat mentality is above the head of an Autistic person. I do not know that an autistic person can ‘play the game’ as well, and to be a woman on top of it is just two strikes against us. Our other choice is to find someone who can support us: A sad alternative. I believe men may have a better shot at getting careers and jobs. They are encourage to do science and math in school, they can be rude, odd, laud, introverted, still there is more room for them to be different, they are just ‘boys,’ eccentric, or special. A man may be lonely because of his awkward behaviors, but if he has a skill and can charge for it, he can be successful. It is said that there are plenty of Asperger’s in engineering, computers, attorneys, doctor, and musicians. We women even marry men like that, sometimes settling for less emotionally, just to not be alone, just to have a husband, just to be ‘safe’. It’s a strange world. On the other hand, we women do not have the opportunities to be rude, odd, laud, or introverted without being judged and ‘cast away’. For some reason, if we women are scratching at all on the edge of social norms, we’re doomed . . . forever! We have to move away, start over, and hope for more acceptance somewhere else. I moved 6000 miles, but unfortunately took myself with me, and just repeated my story, over and over, and over again. Connecting The Brain With The Body Emotional and Somatic Balancing Techniques are ways to learn how to connect our brain with our body. In my world Autism is a “Bad Skype Connection,” It’s all there, there is just some disconnected parts that make our vision, and interpretation blurry. When we cannot see what’s going on around us we get scared, retreat into Defense Mode, bite before we get hurt, and obsessively focus on figuring out ‘what’s wrong,’ with us, with you, with people, places, and situations. Emotional and Somatic Balancing Techniques are ways to help a person connect with their body and feel the awesomeness of feeling centered. There is a wonderful sense of safety in the body, if we can connect and move into the present moment. Every human has this ability; we have just been conditioned out of connection with self. And for Autistic people I wonder if we ever had the opportunity to be connected at all. Therefore, it’s extra important for people on the spectrum to re-connect and find their homeostasis, their center, their peace. It’s there, just hidden. I believe we, on the spectrum, feel more than the average person, more intensely, more physically in our skin and fascia tissues that everything is amplified; like living inside a loudspeaker, full of needles. It’s loud and prickly. This creates tension and pain in our bodies, it becomes too much, and we ‘leave,’ numb out, check out with various addictive behavior patterns. We become so preoccupied with our self, just to survive the silly routines of a day. We hide in our brain with opinions and explanations for everything, and no ability for intuition to lead us. We train and practice behaviors that will keep us safe, and we become ridged and almost robotic. Coming Out of a Fog When I woke up to my body and realized I could connect, it felt like I came up for air. I have been swimming in confusion for years, and got a breath of air and a glimpse of how it could be. By then my girls were 13 and 14. What a loss of precious time and bonding. I had robbed them of having an emotionally present and loving mother. That’s a price we paid for my Autism. After a few sessions I felt as if I had come out of a fog. I could see other people, I could feel without hurting. I have had many sessions due to all my issues. After 16 years of sobriety, therapy, breath work and anger management I still was crazy, screaming at my children and husband, with no friend or colleges. At 16 years of recovery I stumbled over the book “Awaken The Tiger” by Dr. Peter Levine, and woke up to Somatic Experiencing. It saved my life. It saved my marriage. It saved my relationship with my two girls. When I work with people we let the body tell the story. We discuss conditions and situations and stay close to the body-sensations that arise. If we let the body learn how to relax, we can get free of the tension and pain. It’s just not enough to talk about it. I teach different exercises and modules dependent on the client. If there is also an addiction present, we deal with that a little differently. Stop. Drop. Check One technique I have developed is the Stop. Drop. Check. Stop – and scan your environment, Ask “Am I safe?” If not, create a safe space. Drop – and exhale into your body, as if you’re letting go of your breath. Bring your attention inward. Surrender, not to the outward surrounding, but to yourself, internally. Check – Ask “How am I feeling in my body?” With the next exhale – go deeper. You will feel and recognize your sensations, give them a little space, and it will shift. It will always shift. There will be a little ‘aha’ and you will have more space to make a decision about what to do next. Then – and only then, do you respond in a way that is best for YOU! This way you will learn how to allow any emotions, comfortable or/and uncomfortable. And you learn how to drop below your emotions and tap into your intuition in the moment. That’s were your true answer lies. And that's where you find the response that is best for YOU. *** For over 25 years, Eva Angvert Harren, has masterfully developed and taught her BEAM LiFE step-by-step body-centered awareness approach to people who wanted to move beyond their limiting beliefs about themselves and their possibilities. Eva Angvert Harren specializes in a Body Centered approach to Healing and Complete Wellness. She helps you “Reclaim, Restore, and Recover” your body-mind to Be Reaction Free! Eva is a Certified Integral Coach, www.newventureswest.com, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP) www.traumahealing.com, and a Certified TIPI Specialist, www.emotionregulationtipi.com. For more information about Eva, go to www.BeamLifeCoaching.com or call: 510-825-7574.
So... I posted this to my timeline to document and help me cope with the current world as this seems to help me cope a little better and a dear friend suggested that I document things..... This is to give people insight into what this pandemic is like from someone who has autism .... This is not an end all be all fits every situation sort of thing.. I am just documenting it so people can understand how one Aspie is trying to cope.. Right now I am overstimulated by people... news... places.. etc...... I have posted on my timeline in the past about over stimulation and its impacts on someone who is Autistic.... but here is a refresher. over stimulation comes in many many many forms when your autistic.... it can be lighting (florescent lighting for me) it can be noise.... it can be temp. It can be a crowded room or an uncrowded room with few people and everyone yelling..It can be the hum you hear because of electricity (yes I hear the hum) or the flicker of lights to the mhz of electricity.. it really could be anything to be honest.. Right now to me it feels like I am drinking from the fire hose when it comes to stimulation... so even the littlest things trigger stuff.... I have also been having mini melt downs... What is a mini melt down you may ask... glad you asked... a mini meltdown manifests for me in a few ways... In some cases I begin to stutter very badly, other cases I shut down and go silent, there are many many other ways I have mini meltdowns. But, sometimes I also get on a mini emotional roller coaster and overload (I imagine this is how some women who are on their cycle feel though being male I can't confirm)...Imagine breaking out in tears at telling someone thank you for being there.... It is this last one I want to talk about... because I think other Aspies might run into this during this time... so I want people to be aware and understand and help when they can.... So yesterday I went to the store and had a dejavu moment from an event that happened when I was younger. I went to a market in East Germany to buy something. During my trip last night I was having mini meltdowns and did not really realize it until I thought about it today... As I was hunting and gathering I was also watching the workers.. and they seemed very dejected... So I started making it a point of thanking those people for what they were doing... They were literally trying to make me safe.. even though I am sure they do not see it that way.... I do... so I started to walk up to a point (social distancing)... and thank each and every one of them... this is where the roller coaster starts... suddenly I started to get very very sad... and upset.... which triggered stimming.... it also caused me to panic buy some things I did not really have room for. I know some of this is normal herd mentality but some is also Aspie wanting to make sure I am safe and prepared... Sometimes I feel like a damned Boy Scout because of this and you can see it when I go to a con when I bring my full toolkit or my Jewish mother bag full of food on trips (thanks Mom... but to this day I still refuse to eat Vienna sausages (a story for another time))... The point I guess I am trying to make here is for those who are Autistic like me or have relatives who are, children who are... please understand when it seems like we are behaving weirder than normal... its all part of this over-stim situation.. We are trying to cope and adapt.... cause our world of binary rules and decision trees are not working right now... the scrabble board has been tossed in the air and we are scrambling to figure out how to put our world back in order.. so please be a little more patient with us.... cause we usually think NT's are a little bat #@!% crazy in normal situations... imagine that turned up to 11 and that's what we are having to deal with at the moment... and little things can trigger mini meltdowns.... empty shelves...etc... Again... Love each other... help each other and we will get through to the other side.... Closing the Cave door and leaving the candle in the window..