Are Autoimmunity, PTSD, and Addiction Connected?

Do you like common sense answers for complicated problems?

I feel the same way!

In fact, it is my passion to take complex health problems and whittle them down until I find an obvious root cause

Autoimmunity has been on the rise for the last 50 years. At present, one in five people suffer with some form of Autoimmune dysfunction. One in ten has been diagnosed with PTSD and 1 in 4 will experience some aspect of addiction in their lives and 10% never recover.

Those are some scary numbers. If we keep those populations separate, that covers 60% of the people living in modern society.

Below is a podcast aabout the Connection between Autoimmity, PTSD and Addiction.

In this episode, I take you on a short tour through Autoimmunity, PTSD, and Addiction. And then I use the analogy of a new doctor/patient TV show to explore some obvious and some subtle connections between all three.

I have included the TV analogy is this post if you would rather read it. Enjoy!

I have a theory about modern life and modern health. I use the term Adaptive Overstain, but my theory has to do with the relationship between chronic illness, trauma and addiction. The essence of this theory is not complicated, but it will ask you to look at your health and at your health care in an unconventional way. If you are a clinician, you will probably be nodding your head in agreement. This is just common sense.

Or, as a clinician, you may be clenching you fists in righteous fury and indignation at my suggestion that a diagnosis is often very distracting from actually helping people heal their bodies and their lives.

As patients and as doctors, we all just want an answer. Please join me in an exercise of imagination for a few minutes. It may help with asking the right questions.

Imagine for a moment that you and I are going to write and produce a TV show. It is going to be one of those doctor and patient action drama shows. You know the ones where some doctor figures things out just in time by remembering some rare detail from a textbook. We are going to need a character that is personally flawed enough to relate. They will need a Sherlock Holmes like talent for deductive reasoning and an elephant’s memory for the rare and weird aspects of medicine. If we can come up with enough hair-raising life or death scenarios, minus the guns and aliens, we will have hit.

This part of medicine is pretty cool. It saves lives every single day in every ER (Emergency Room) and ICU (Intensive Care Unit). Watching a show about these heroic moments is very engaging, especially if you or someone you know has a complex, chronic and poorly understood illness. We all pray for that kind of doctor/detective when things get serious.

What if our TV show focused on solving chronic illnesses?

In our first episode we have three patients. Patient A has Ankylosing Spondylitis (a connective tissue disorder that usually attacks your vertebrae). Patient B is a combat veteran with complex PTSD, and Patient C is addicted to pain killers and sleeping pills.

It is day one and Patient A comes into our TV version of a doctor’s office to review their lab tests. There are signs of chronic inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, a breakdown of their mucosal membrane, an overgrowth of microorganisms in their small intestine, poor liver function and their genetic testing shows that this was all inevitable.

Patient B and C have surprisingly similar results. The genetic tests are different but help explain many of their specific symptoms and sensitivities.

Each patient is sent home with an appropriate protocol of an anti-inflammatory diet, supplementation for their deficiencies, to help repair their gut, support their live and an understanding of their genetic tendencies towards most of their problems. Not very dramatic, but some damn good science and some hope for the masses.

This next part is what Hollywood calls the setup.

It is day two and our three patients are back in the clinic to meet with our show’s quirky acupuncturist who specializes in chronic distress and embodied trauma. Each patient is asked a hundred personal questions about how they move, breathe, and feel inside their bodies.

Patient A loves how much the acupuncture has helped and is given some daily stretching exercises and some pain relieving breathwork practices. They are also astounded to learn that their nervous system is experiencing the chronic pain as a physical attack, which is making them stressed out and their immune system even more aggressive. They have a long-term choice to reduce stress and gradually reverse the momentum of their condition or go on immune suppressant drugs that will likely do more harm than good in the long term.

They are referred to a group therapy session to integrate what they are learning and to meet others going through the same process.

Patient B has a freak-out on the acupuncture table and cries for an hour curled up on the floor. After they settle back into their body, they learn that the fight, flight, freeze system is meant to process trauma not just react to it. The reason that their lab tests were so dramatic has to do with the biochemistry of living in a state of chronic shock. Their ability to digest food, breath properly, sleep deeply, or even receive physical touch is limited by an unresolved physical need to ‘shake-off’ or gradually process all of the biochemistry of their trauma.

They are given an embodied mindfulness practice that balances stillness with martial arts like sudden and explosive movements. They are guided through a breathwork practice that helps them measurable reduce their blood pressure by 20% and asked to walk alone or ideally with a pet for 30 minutes every morning.

They are referred to a group therapy session to integrate what they are learning and to meet others going through the same process.

Patient C fell asleep on the treatment table almost immediately. After a 30 min nap, they wake and say that they hated the acupuncture. It hurt too much and they really think they should get some extra drugs for the next time. They will consider trying all of the weir-stuff’ when their chronic pain and insomnia improve.

They are referred to a group therapy session to meet others going through the same process and hear some success stories with addiction.

This next part of good TV show is called the reveal.

It is day three and it is the last 15 minutes of our first episode. Excited to see what happens?

Here is the scene. Patients A, B, and C walk into a large room with a circle of chairs. There are a bunch of interesting looking strangers and a wise old frumpy looking psychologist all seated and waiting.

The first few minutes is a guided meditation. Our valiant and wounded patients are asked to write down what thought, story or narrative kept intruding on their meditative state.

The next few minutes are a guided movement practice. Everyone is asked to draw their experience on a Somato-Map – an outline of a body. Each participant draws or scribbles where they felt the most tension, pain, or nervous energy or lack of connection to their body.

After that, our wise Elder talks about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) and walks the group through a rough childhood from birth to becoming an autonomous adult. There are a lot of nodding heads and a few tear-filled eyes.

Patient A loved the meditation and found their only thoughts were about what else they were going to do that day to win the Autoimmune war within their body. Their Somato-map was pretty clear. Scribbles up and down their spine and knees were about the pain. A little spiral at their throat and what look like wristbands came out of nowhere.

The conversation about child trauma was hard. Patient A grew up in an impatient, judgemental and hyper-responsible home. No violence, addiction or mental illness to speak of. Just the need to get it right.

Patient B found being surrounded by strangers a little distracting but enjoyed the meditation. Their thoughts kept going back to the consequences of not fixing their physiology and getting all of this right. Their Somato-Map showed chronic neck and shoulder tension with a line across the middle of their abdomen and a big X on their pelvis. Patient B could barely feel their diaphragm and had no connection with their instinctual or sexual aliveness.

The conversation about child trauma made them cry. Patient B grew up in dangerous neighborhood. There was violence on the streets an in their house. Addiction was a family tradition but never took over their lives. An us vs them mentality was so imprinted on their family that they went off to fight and kill strangers that were supposed to be evil. Patient B wanted to run around in circles and scream and scream but managed to stay in control.

Patient C found the meditation to be like surfing the channels at 3:00 am. Their attention kept leaping to other places to be, other more useful things they could do and especially all they ways they could numb. Their wrote down, ‘My narrative is what fun can I have after this BS was over. The movement practice was fun and distracting until they started to feel like they were going to vomit. Their Somato-Map was a mess. Patient C drew a spiral at their solar plexus until the pen started going through the paper. They made an audible sarcastic snort and put a big X on their face, heart and genitals. No one home there, there, or there!

When the ‘old hippy’ talked about rough childhoods, Patient C had to physically grab their chair to stop from shaking any harder, vomiting and/or fainting. Patient C was physically, sexually and mentally abused for most of their childhood. Their family had generations of abuse and addiction. They had never made many real friends and to this day had no idea what most people were talking about when it came to love, sex, play, adventure, or creating a secure future. The amount of instinctual, visceral and existential pain that they felt everyday was finally looking them in the face. And they were facing their pain with empathy for the first time in their entire life.

Final scene: the meeting ends, and the patients are leaving. One by one, the stars of our first episode speak to the old psychologist.

Patient A says, “Thank you so much. I finally get that the way I am solving my problems is the problem.

Patient B says, “Thank you. Do you know of a peaceful place I can go and learn to live in my own skin again?”

Patient C with tears down their face says in a shaky voice.  “Thank you. I would like to go into an addiction treatment program. Now! Please…”

Ok, I admit that this would probably never work as a TV show. Hopefully, it does demonstrate my point.

The similarities between patients with an Autoimmune diagnosis, a PTSD diagnosis and/or a Behavioral Addiction diagnosis are astounding. From the lab testing to the social limitations, from the inner somatic turmoil to the instinctual social survival strategies, from the adverse childhood experiences to the existential crisis of how to live a meaningful life.

An Autoimmune, Complex Trauma, and/or Addiction diagnosis are all higher in people who have had to adapt to their lives beyond their capacity. That is obvious but it profoundly changes the approach a patient or clinician needs to bring to resolving the situation. If your diagnosis includes, one, two or all three of these conditions, ask yourself how often you have had to adapt to your life in ways that were too much. Or, in ways that left you feeling not enough.

The Ancestral Autoimmune Protocol is meant for all three conditions and for the underlying root cause. Adaptive Overstrain or Adaptive Exhaustion. This approach is not a cure-all, it is an opportunity for you to reconnect to your inner resources in as many ways as you are willing to explore. This book is not just focused on resolving complex health issues, it is also focused on regaining your birthright of adaptability, all while learning the tools to never get burned out again.

It is your birthright to feel fit, flexible, adaptable and playful!

The fastest and most enjoyable way to celebrate and heal your mind and body is a daily practice.

20 minutes a day of Qi Gong, Embodied Awareness, Breathwork, and/or Meditation can change your life.

Qi Gong is an ancient form of exercise, healing, and prayer, developed by the Indigenous people of Asia.

Famous for its fluid dance-like gestures, Qi Gong focuses on deep relaxation, a balance of strength and flexibility, breathwork, somatic (embodied) awareness, and emotional intelligence.

Somatic Mindfulness is a form of Trauma Release Therapy and a form of daily personal practice. This healing process involves instinctual movement and awareness, transformational breathwork, guided meditation, bodywork, Qi Gong and Shamanic Journeying.

Somatic Qi Gong