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Healing from PTSD with Sara Church

George Grombacher April 28, 2022

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Healing from PTSD with Sara Church

LifeBlood: We talked about healing from PTSD, recognizing destructive patterns, the danger of compartmentalizing feelings, how to overcome PTSD, and how to get started, with Sara Church, author of Mending my Mind and biotech executive.  

Listen to learn how to manage and begin to harness your emotions!

You can learn more about Sara at, CPTSD.orgFacebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher


Sara Church

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:00
Come on

one lap of this is George G. And the time is right welcome today’s guest strung up powerful Sara church. Sarah, are you ready to do this?

Sara Church 0:20
Yeah, George, let’s do this.

george grombacher 0:22
Let’s go. Sarah is the author of mending my mind, it’s a book about how she healed and retrained her mind from the PTSD she developed growing up and in a possible environment going on to become a successful biotech executive. Sarah, we’re excited to have you on, tell us a little about your personal laughs more about your work? And what motivated you to write the book.

Sara Church 0:44
Yeah, thanks, George, really appreciate you having me in this conversation. You know, the most important thing about me and my life is that I have a two year old son. So that’s absolutely for any parents out there. The priority. And then, you know, obviously, I worked in biotech as well wrote, you know, the book was we’re going to, to chat about and I like to spend, you know, a lot of time doing outdoor activities and traveling and just having a really kind of active, you know, life. So

george grombacher 1:18
that’s just a little bit about me. Excellent. I appreciate that. We have a five and a two year old. So I both empathize and celebrate all of your experiences with you.

Sara Church 1:30
Yeah, I’d learned more from being a parent and any other life experiences that I’ve had.

george grombacher 1:37
Yeah. So try to gently make a shift to your terrible well, your experiences growing up as as, as a child, I don’t know how much you want to share, but would love to just learn about? Tell us a little bit about your experience? And what motivated you to to really write the book?

Sara Church 1:59
Yeah, sure thing, I’m happy to give a little context. So I grew up in a single parent household where my mom worked very hard to make ends meet, there was a period of my childhood where there was a lot of substance abuse in my home. And just some instability, I wouldn’t say a lack of love by any stretch of the imagination. But when I was a 13 year old, I witnessed a crime happen a shooting, and the way that I dealt with things was by over achieving, and just leaving the past in the past, and, and, you know, my definition of strength at the time was just, you know, one foot in front of the other and not thinking about anything negative, and because of that, it served me well, for a long time, I ended up going to college to grad school, I have a really rewarding career on you know, paper life looks fantastic, you know, I was married to a great person had just bought a new house, you know, really enjoyed my career things, you enjoyed my friendships where things really, you know, seemed seemed to be good. And then around the time I turned 40, some challenges broke through the the surface regular challenges, we, we all deal with the company, you know, the startup biotech I worked for, got acquired. My wife and I were not sure about having kids or not, and he had just relocated from Los Angeles to Seattle, so regular stuff, but those things I had trouble coping with. And so the way I coped with it is how I always did, and that was by avoiding things like difficult emotions, difficult conversations, and, and, you know, I got overwhelmed and literally kind of just walked out of my marriage and into an Airbnb to, you know, take, take some space,

and try to figure out what was going on, which led me down a journey of, you know, seeking help from a therapist and ultimately, to a trauma specialist, which really kind of helped me unpack a lot of things. And then, you know, ultimately, you know, the journaling I did throughout a three year journey I got diagnosed with PTSD actually see PTSD, which is a subtype. And kind of that that healing journey was, a lot of it was documented in my journal and ended up you know, you know, writing a book about it. So that’s kind of the full backstory.

george grombacher 4:47
I appreciate that. And as I’m listening, I think that we all intellectually now leaving things in the past, probably not a recipe for success and just coping through avoidance Probably also not a recipe for success yet. It’s something that I think that we all do.

Sara Church 5:06
Yeah, totally. In fact, I certainly did it, I see other people do it and for rewarded for it. So in my case, I was, you know, a workaholic, there’d be days that I’d put in a 12 hour day and then sitting at dinner, you know, I would be on my phone or thinking about work and not present with my spouse. And, and, you know, there are different ways that and I was using overwork as a way of not dealing, some people use food, or some people use, you know, excessive exercise, some are things that are deemed positive by society, and so we’re actually, you know, rewarded for, you know, not not, you know, dealing with with things, or I certainly was

george grombacher 5:56
I’ve been spending a good amount of time, I don’t know if it lined up with the pandemic, or it just happened to line up with the pandemic, but just thinking about the patterns that that that we have, because we all have them, some do serve us, certainly, some service outwardly, like, working my butt off, that’s great for my career, but maybe not good for every other aspect of my life. And some are clearly destructive. If I’m an alcoholic, or if I’m a drug addict, then that’s a pattern and a habit, but it’s not serving me. You mentioned journaling, you mentioned working with a professional, I don’t know if he’s a therapist, but to help you with this. How, how did you? How did that whole process start? I’m fascinated by being able to recognize a pattern and then getting rid of it, and replacing it or how all that works.

Sara Church 6:55
Oh, yeah, yeah, totally. And a lot of this actually did involve kinda analyzing and dismantling patterns and building new habits for me. So essentially, there was a little trial and error finding kind of the right therapist, because I needed a trauma specialist to to deal with some traumatic things. And quite frankly, according to the CDC, 61% of us could have had a traumatic childhood experience that can be impacting us, that could literally impact our nervous system or brain development, and could impact us for decades to come. So my story is, you know, sadly, not very uncommon. And so I do think it’s, it relates to a lot of people in for me, you know, with the guidance of a licensed therapist, you know, specialized and what I was working through, the first activity she had me do was write a timeline of significant events, positives and negatives in my life. And based on that, so that was my first ride. And it was the very first kind of homework assignment she gave me. And so with that, in all of these significant events, you know, there are patterns within those. So for example, there be things well, here are my relationships, like in my 20s, and 30s, I had long term relationships with fantastic, great people. I, you know, luckily, my chooser was good. So, you know, as with great people, and I had a pattern of, essentially, kind of when things got tough just being like, yes, you know, we’re done and walking away. And so, you know, through this work, I was able to figure out some themes in my life, and then we kind of dissect some of those and get insights.

george grombacher 8:48
That’s, I can see where this going through a timeline of significant events, how it’s, it’s, it sounds like a pretty simple exercise, but so profound, to sort of point to what really, I think, are the significant events. And, you know, what, what, what makes those significant and you sort of trace it back? Fascinating. How hard was it? You seem, you strike me as a really strong person, too? What was it that sort of pushed you over the edge to to actually meet with a therapist?

Sara Church 9:22
Yeah, you know, I had spent until I had met, you know, my wife, my 20s, and the first half of my 30s really just responsible for myself and the work I do with with colleagues on behalf of patients and, and so, you know, even though I had long term relationships, I’ve never made a serious commitment. And so it was the first time I actually made a very serious commitment with a wonderful person and the fact that when things got hard, I just kind of walked away From that, now, there was someone else who was hurt that I made a promise to. And I just wasn’t, I felt terrible about it, I just wasn’t, wasn’t the person I wanted to be. So I decided I need to figure out what’s going on here, instead of just, you know, filling my days have been keeping myself, you know, busy, like I really had to take a look in the mirror. And so that was the wake up call. And then once I did and took the time, like, I think a lot of us have done, you know, through COVID, as well, is once I took the time to look in the mirror and reflect, you know, there, there were some things I really needed to change to really have not only overcome PTSD, but to really live the life I wanted to live to feel really fulfilled, connected to myself connected to other people, to be the person I want to be in the world. And so I just, you know, that was my, my catalyst. But, you know, that’s what led me on a journey was kind of twists and turns trying to kind of figure all this out,

george grombacher 11:08
I appreciate. Is it different for everybody? Do we overcome trauma? Do we get rid of it? Do we live with it?

Sara Church 11:22
Yeah, that was initially kind of when I saw, you know, the therapists that this is all she’s done for many, many years. And you know, it has a PhD, she’s very good at what she does. You know, it’s like, I just want to get rid of this and kind of get back to my life, like, Okay, I had some of these, like, really hard, scary experiences when I was little, but that was it, and, like, help me fix it, I can go on my way. And, and what I learned going through that, and it took me a couple years is, is I couldn’t just get rid of it. It was like part of the fabric that that makes me me, but I could transform it. And so, you know, for me, there were two things I had to do to really become what I’d call like an emotionally mature person that, you know, overcome trauma, because trauma affects us emotionally. For me, I like to shut my emotions down. Other people can have really strong reactions like anger and those sorts of things. Not to say that I’ve never had angry reactions, but my default was more to avoid emotions and shutdown. So I had to learn to do two things allow myself to feel all of my emotions, even the emotions I labeled bad, you know, and then to then I have to learn now that I’m letting myself feel all these emotions, then I have to, to learn to kind of manage them. And then in some cases, even then, this is where the transformation comes in. Sometimes you can actually harness emotions and it can add to your power. And so yeah, so I had to learn to feel and manage emotions and, and, you know, I still, you know, I make mistakes, or don’t handle my emotions, as well as I want to, at times, like I’m not perfect at it, but at least I’m like, connected to them, you know, regularly now and, you know, feeling like a really emotionally kind of hold person. So, yeah,

george grombacher 13:20
fascinating, right? It’s, uh, when you start to engage in this process, and you say, okay, I can totally see you even though I don’t know you very well say I just met you. 20 minutes ago, I could see you walking into this office and say, Okay, is there a script or a step by step, so I could just get, get kind of done with this and go on my way, and the person was like, No, sit down, it’s gonna take time. You’re like, Okay,

Sara Church 13:50
so normally, I asked her the first appointment, how long will this take? And she raised her eyebrows and like, let’s just get it done.

george grombacher 13:59
Let’s get started. So allowing yourself to feel all these emotions. And I mean, that it’s, that’s sort of a wild thing to say if, like I if for people who are listening and say, Well, how do you not feel emotions, but if you become really, really, really good at compartmentalizing things, then you don’t and so that’s a whole new skill set that you’ve had had to learn. So I imagine Yeah, you’re not perfect at it after, you know, a handful of years.

Sara Church 14:31
Yeah, yeah. And we’re all humans and all have, you know, these emotions. And and, you know, some common ways people don’t feel emotions, and I don’t think I wasn’t aware that I wasn’t allowing myself to, you know, feel all of my experiences. What would happen is I feel like I’m feeling kinda, I don’t know, to be down. I’m just gonna go for a run like, right. It’s something as simple as that and a lot of that’s positive. You know, but there’s a extent where we do too much. And it can be alcohol. On the flip side, I’ve met some people who’ve, you know, work through trauma, and they used to use alcohol or substances to not feel for me, I’d be like, Oh, I don’t like what I’m feeling. Let me do something else to distract myself. And I just kind of was lying to myself in a way because I’m like, Well, I’m doing positive things. And I’m running, I’m just gonna go shift my attention to work. But they were the way I was doing. It was avoidance, but it’s hard to even know sometimes if you’re, you’re not wanting to deal with stuff. You know, it’s tricky.

george grombacher 15:41
Yeah, I think that it strikes me that just being aware of it, and then to recognize, okay, I am irritated or frustrated, whatever it is, and then to start to trace maybe back to what was it that really triggered that? Recognizing that and then putting in place a healthy coping mechanism?

Sara Church 16:06
Yeah, yeah. So there’s, for me, I can only speak for me, and I think you made this point or alluded to it earlier, it’s individual for, for everyone. I’ll give one example. Since we’re both parents, you know, I have a fantastic nanny. And sometimes she was showing up 1520 minutes late, and I kept feeling this anger, but she’s great, you know, like, vetted, you know, got her through it, an agency, everything’s so good. And I was like, Why? Why do I feel this much anger at her, you know, being late, like, I could just set the start time, 15 minutes earlier, and kind of the old me would be like, whatever, like, you know, but I paused and traced it back and, and spend a few minutes kind of sitting with it. And my, my fear, you know, was about reliability with the care of my child. And, and so in this case, I did decide to set the, you know, I was able to, you know, look at it, you know, turn it around in my mind and analyze it, I’m like, Well, you know, he’s not at risk for anything, I could set the start time back 15 minutes earlier. However, anger is an alert system. So it can tell us that, you know, a boundaries being violated, or we’re at risk, or we need to react or do it’s a very activating powerful, useful emotion. So you know, and so I chose to just, you know, I guess, cope or change by by changing her start date, but it could have been alerting me to a serious, you know, threat of the safety of my, my child. And, you know, that wasn’t true in this case. But we want to know, what are we want to take a minute to see what our emotions trying to inform us of, and then kind of decide, you know, from a centered place, how we want to respond to that. So all emotions do have have used to

george grombacher 18:08
us. Yeah, I think that’s, I think that that’s really, really important. All the emotions that pop up there, there could be signaling danger, it could just be that I’m tired in a bad mood, but being able to recognize and explore and, I mean, it is, is have you always been a person? Or do you trust your gut to trust your intuition?

Sara Church 18:37
Yeah, you know, I, when it’s really clear to me, it’s led me to really good places, sometimes it’s hard to know what my guts saying. And for me, I found three decision centers and in my body, like ones the thoughts in my brain, so that’s a source of information. Another is kind of what my heart feeling. And then I have this gut, that’s what we’re in my body, obviously, in the gut area. And so they all kind of signal information to me and but the challenging points or parts is like, cutting through kind of the the noise and trying to get kind of clear information. And so, kind of me holistically as a person i i need to take inputs from, from my heart, you know, my head and my gut and, you know, try to make good decisions from those. But a few times in my life, I’ve had very strong, clear gut where there’s no thoughts in my head in it, they’re just crystal clear. Take this course of action. Like for example, you know, take this, this job, I’ve had a gut feeling towards taking a position at a startup which was a risk and it really panned out in a very meaningful, rewarding positive way. So when the gun It’s crystal clear to me. I definitely follow it.

george grombacher 20:03
Nice. I love how you have the three decision centers and smart. Love it. Well, Sara, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? Where can they get a copy of mending my mind?

Sara Church 20:19
Yeah, no, thanks so much for having me, George. There’s just two resources to direct people to see which was, you know, a site I got a lot of resources and information on my journey. And then my websites, Sarah, and it has all the books and different things I read that were useful to me as well as, you know, information about my books on on my site and as well.

george grombacher 20:50
Excellent. If you enjoyed this as much as I did, share your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas. Go to Sarah is it Uh huh. Excellent. CP T s And Sarah It’s Sar. Ch UR and pick up a copy of mending my mind. Thanks again, sir.

Sara Church 21:20
Thanks so much, George. I really appreciate it.

george grombacher 21:23
And until next time, keep fighting the good fight. We’re all in this together.

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