“Childhood Disrupted” by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

book cover

Subtitle: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal

Recommended to me by: a friend

Science journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa carefully researches and clearly describes how Chronic Unpredictable Toxic Stress changes the growing brain of a child, pruning neurons and stunting growth in some areas. Because the toxic stress is unpredictable, the fight or flight response remains activated, bathing the body in an ongoing soup of inflammatory chemicals. She covers research that says girls’ brains are more susceptible, although I suspect correlation rather than causation at work there.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are linked as strongly with later auto-immune diseases and other health issues as smoking is linked with cancer, or unprotected sex is linked with pregnancy. Here is the original ACE study. You can go ahead and take the 10-question ACE questionnaire. There is also a resilience questionnaire with some factors that can shield a child from the negative effects of chronic unpredictable toxic stress.

The book contains many people’s stories, and some suggestions for healing as well. Fortunately the brain is plastic, and at least some of the negative effects can be reversed.

The briefly covered suggestions for healing are: take the ACE questionnaire and resilience questionnaire, write to heal, draw it, mindfulness meditation, tai chi and qigong, mindsight (self-awareness/empathy/integration), loving-kindness, forgiveness, mending the body/moving the body (yoga, trauma release exercises, bodywork), managing the mind through the gut, and only connect (supportive relationships).

Professional help is also recommended, with therapy, somatic experiencing, guided imagery and hypnosis, neurofeedback, and EMDR.

For parents who want to protect and help their children as best they can, suggestions include: manage your own “baggage”, look into your child’s eyes, validate and normalize their experience, apologize as needed, amplify the good feelings, name emotions, hug them, have safe and open conversations about what’s happening, bring more safe adults into their lives, teach them mindfulness.

Highly recommended book! The section on trauma’s specific effects was depressingly long, and had a lot of sense of inevitability in it. The “how to heal” section was shorter and less specific. I was both reassured and disappointed to see that I’m doing a lot of the recommendations already. Being on the right track is good, and I guess there’s no magic wand to speed up the process.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Emotion Code” by Dr. Bradley Nelson

book cover

Subtitle: How to Release Your Trapped Emotions for Abundant Health, Love, and Happiness

Recommended to me by: a client

This is a marketing book for Dr. Nelson’s chiropractic and emotion-clearing practice, with lots of dramatically successful case studies, most of which I skimmed. It also includes some interesting self-help techniques.

The “sway test” is a form of muscle testing. Standing in a relaxed, stable position, say something obviously true, like, “My name is (your correct name)”, and wait to see how your body reacts. Then try it with something obviously false. “My name is Donald Duck.” The idea is that we sway forward for truth and things we like, and sway back for falsehoods and things we don’t like. It did seem to work this way for me.

Once you have a clear Yes and a clear No, you can use it to inquire into your subconscious.

The book recommends using it to find specific trapped emotions, possibly trapped in a wall around the heart, and clear them by passing a magnet over your head three times. I haven’t been convinced of the efficacy of treatment with magnets, but I tried it anyway. We’ll see if I get dramatically positive results over time!

Recommended if this level of “woo-woo” works for you, and you don’t mind (or enjoy) lots of dramatic success stories.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Emotionally Absent Mother” by Jasmin Lee Cori, MS, LPC

book cover

Subtitle: a guide to self-healing and getting the love you missed

Recommended to me by: a client

This is a gently enlightening book. It talks about all the different roles a Good Mother plays (“yeah, yeah, I know”) and all the holes that result when those roles are missing (“yeah, yeah, I know”) … “Wait, those holes I’ve been managing all this time?!”

The ten facets of a Good Mother: source, place of attachment, first responder, modulator, nurturer, cheerleader, mentor, protector, home base.

The holes are left behind from missing one or more of these messages: I’m glad you’re here, I see you, you’re special to me, I respect you, I love you, your needs are important to me/I’m here for you, I’ll keep you safe, you can rest in me, I enjoy you/you brighten my heart.

The book has a clear, accessible discussion of attachment styles and attachment wounds. It was odd to see Disorganized Attachment passed over, possibly because this book is written for children of neglectful rather than abusive mothers.

Recommended healing techniques include psychotherapy, archetypes, romantic relationships, and inner child work. One suggested exercise is to trade safe, nonsexual holding with a friend. Just hold the other person for a set time, perhaps as long as 20 minutes, and then swap roles.

There is carefully inclusive language around “mothers and other caretakers (of any gender)”, although it is also clear that this is primarily about mothers.

I’ve recommended this book to a lot of clients in the last couple of weeks! I think it’s an enlightening read for anyone. Even if you had a great mother, odds are some of the people close to you didn’t, and this will help make sense of their experience.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Trauma Stewardship” by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky with Connie Burk

book cover

Subtitle: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others

This book describes and offers solutions for the secondary trauma of working to address trauma and injustice. Laura van Dernoot Lipsky shares her own experiences as a trauma social worker as well as a wide range of detailed profiles of other helping professionals. The writing is empathic, engaging, and perceptive.

A generous sprinkling of cartoons reinforces her point that humor is a survival technique when working with grim material.

The last section contains a lot of specific, useful suggestions for self-inquiry and self-care for trauma healing professionals. It felt validating to notice that over the years I have built a lot of the suggestions into my life, with healthy food, enough sleep, meditation, lots of exercise, singing, dancing, and participation in community. Also, setting limits around the number of hours I work, and holding fast to the belief that my own healing and helping one client at a time is enough in the face of the world’s vast need. Maybe I can trust my body and my instincts to find sustainable habits in this profession.

I did not find the last section’s framing of five directions to be helpful or necessary. Since the directions were matched with the five elements in a different way than I’m used to, it was actively distracting. Fortunately, the framing is simply used to group the very practical, solid advice in each section, rather than devolving into new agey spirituality.

From the conclusion:

By now we know that if we want to decrease the suffering in our world, we will need to learn a behavior that is fundamentally different from the ones that have caused such pain and destruction. We must open ourselves to the suffering that comes with knowing that there are species we can’t bring back from extinction, children we can’t free from their abusive homes, climate changes we can’t reverse, and wounded veterans we can’t immediately heal. We must also open ourselves to the hope that comes with understanding the one thing we can do. We can always be present for our lives, the lives of all other beings, and the life of the planet. Being present is a radical act. It allows us to soften the impact of trauma, interrupt the forces of oppression, and set the stage for healing and transformation. Best of all, our quality of presence is something we can cultivate, moment by moment. It permits us to greet what arises in our lives with our most enlightened selves, thereby allowing us to have the best chance of repairing the world.

Highly recommended for helping professionals and those considering going into the field. I feel very lucky to be self-employed, after reading about the working conditions in a lot of helping agencies!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Ancillary Sword” by Ann Leckie

book cover

Recommended to me by: Reading Ancillary Justice

The nice thing about waiting a year or two to read a good book is that the sequel is already available! This sequel to Ancillary Justice was more about the troubles of 17 year old girls (and boys), and so didn’t pull me in as much. It still uses she/her as default pronouns, leaving in doubt whether some of the powerful, misbehaving teens are male or female.

People in power are described as having bulky bodies and dark skin, and being beautiful. A welcome change from thin, white powerful people, at the same time they abuse power in the same imperial ways. I keep hoping for new ways to handle power that don’t immediately devolve into abuse and violence.

I liked the way an abusive romantic relationship is described. I was uncomfortable watching the abuser interact with her (his?) abusive family. The question of nature or nurture is not addressed directly, but it felt a little too pat.

I liked that a love of folk singing is important to the plot.

Still worth reading to see what happens next. Still appreciably different from most of the science fiction out there, and I imagine it resonates more with a younger audience. Looking forward to the third book, which just came out, so the hold queue at the library is pretty long.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Ancillary Justice” by Ann Leckie

book cover

I loved this book. I saw it recommended all over the place as unusual for space opera, but it took a friend loaning me his copy, and some spare time, to sit down with it. It opens with what seems to be a dead body, so I almost put it down again, but then I found myself on page 80. I finished it the same day. I used to inhale science fiction like that when I was growing up, but I’ve gotten a lot pickier over time.

Default pronouns are female, no matter what the person’s gender. It’s not the mismatch that interests me, but the up-front declaration that this isn’t just about young white men. In fact, the protagonist and her companion have brown skin. Sensory details are described with creative care. Details of relationships, not just heterosexual pairings but working relationships, negotiations, friendships, carry this book.

Power and privilege and favoritism aren’t just taken for granted, but clearly described and taken into account. I didn’t feel erased by this book. It brought up my own feelings of being stranded, isolated, and stubbornly trying to make things better one step at a time.

Highly recommended, when you have a chunk of time to spare.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook” by Mickey Trescott

book cover

Subtitle: An Allergen-Free Approach to Managing Chronic Illness

Recommended to me by: a friend

This cookbook feels less scientifically authoritarian and more personally friendly. “This worked for me, see if it worked for you.” Also, the photographs are beautiful and enticing. Unfortunately, most of the recipes have garlic and/or onion, which don’t seem to work well for me.

I may eventually buy a copy, just to add a few more recipes to my repertoire. I’m still considering whether to try the whole bone broth and fermented vegetable routine.

Recommended for a friendly introduction to “Paleo” cooking.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Paleo Approach” by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD

book cover

Subtitle: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body

Recommended to me by: a friend

This is a textbook sized book with science textbook’s density of information. It contains detailed information about the immune system, digestive system, and scientific studies about the effects of food on both systems. I will admit I skimmed a lot of the science, not having time to study each section in depth before the book was due back at the library.

At the same time, this book comes across as a marketing tool for this particular approach to eating, complete with testimonials and a disturbingly thin white woman doing an extreme yoga pose on a beach on the cover. On the positive side, a Black woman’s (sleeping) face is also included on the cover.

While the book repeatedly emphasizes that each body is different and each autoimmune response is different, it also repeats that strictly following the proposed protocol is necessary for healing. I’m wondering if restricting my diet even further would be helpful, while my gut (hm) says, “No more restrictions!” The book emphasizes nutrient-dense foods as well as restrictions, and I think I already do pretty well at that, although I don’t eat a lot of organ meats as it recommends.

It includes suggestions for improving sleep, reducing stress, and increasing moderate exercise. I’m relieved to read support for those aspects of my self-care.

My friend is following the approach strictly, and is seeing good results. I’m considering whether to make further changes to my diet, and how that might work logistically.

Recommended if you have ongoing digestive and/or immune issues and want to learn more about what scientists currently know about these systems. At the same time, note that scientists are constantly learning more and changing their conclusions, and what works marvelously for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else.

Available at Powell’s Books.

book cover

I also took a look at Sarah Ballantyne’s “The Paleo Approach Cookbook: A Detailed Guide to Heal Your Body and Nourish Your Soul”. Lots of varied, complex recipes. It seems more suited for cooking for a family than a single person.

Available at Powell’s Books.

The Recompiler, issue 1, edited by Audrey Eschright

Like many experienced women in tech, Audrey had enough of her latest job, and doubted that a better environment was available. So she quit and started a feminist hacker magazine!

Our goal is to help people learn about technology in a fun, playful way, and highlight a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. We’re especially interested in infrastructure: the technical and social systems we depend on. We want to share what it’s like to learn and work with technology, and teach each other to build better systems and tools.

This is the first issue, available in print and online. There are technical articles on the vulnerabilities of DNS and SSL (building blocks of the Internet), a personal article about growing up female in a tech-loving household, a how-to on setting up activist websites, and a bonus article on how to teach git (an unintuitive but popular version-control program).


The Recompiler – featured articles

“Sammy, the crow who remembered” by Elizabeth Baldwin Hazelton

I had this book as a kid. I remembered it because it has a character named Sonya, which is the only place I ever saw my name in a book, even spelled wrong differently. Well, until Crime and Punishment, but that was much later. Representation is important! I also remembered an overall warm feeling about the story.

It’s a true story, told with photographs, of a crow who returned to play and live with the family who raised him. Re-reading it now, I wonder about the photographer, Ann Atwood. There are gorgeous black and white photos of Sammy interacting with a cat, a seagull, a passel of kids, and gently leaning into an adult’s petting hand.

Highly recommended, if you can track down a copy.