Untying a knot of cross-generational trauma: a case of Bromium
In 2005, I began working with a male patient, seventy-four years of age; his wife of fifty-four years had just died. Little did I know that working with him would help me to understand how homeopathy can lift the subtle and not-so-subtle energetic impressions that impact our human families across generations, even in homes in which there is no word uttered of the traumatic history of the family. Over the course of ten years, I ended up seeing the grandfather, “Pops”, four of his daughters, and four of his grandchildren.
Many homeopathic practitioners treat whole families; this gives us special insight into family systems. Nevertheless, our goal is to treat each individual within a family. In the following synopses, I have pulled together the cases of four different family members with a common thread of the halogen Bromium. The question that I live with to this day is this: would I have been able to see this thread without having seen so many different family members and developing a composite picture?
In homeopathy, we are encouraged by our great masters to remain unprejudiced observers when taking the case, but human beings tend to form whole perceptions from partial images; we have to be careful to see things based on the case as presented by the patient herself or himself, otherwise our prescriptions will fail. Therefore, we have to train ourselves to know what is curative in medicines and what needs to be cured in each patient.
Remember what Aristotle wrote: “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” We must strive for excellence in homeopathy.
The initial consultation for this elderly man started with: “I am full of anger and depression. I tighten up just thinking about my life. I am nothing. I am a zero. I never wanted children and ended up with eight. I was the youngest of thirteen children. My father was a violent alcoholic. I was so fearful and constantly intimidated by life and all situations in life. Now, my wife has left me (she died) and I am left alone to manage the house, take care of the cats, and be there for the children. I become overheated just thinking about these things.”
His chief complaints included prostatitis, frequent urination, recurrent bladder infections, and continuous sore throats. His father was abandoned by his parents. Sent to America from Germany alone to find his own way in the New World, he worked his way from New York to the Iron Range in Minnesota. Remember that terror increases the child’s need to be securely attached to a caretaker. This patient’s feeling that he would be punished if he talked openly about his father meant that he would only slowly reveal the depth of the trauma he experienced.
“I have a black heart. I am completely alone. I have been completely alone since I was a child. My father was a monster, he was a violent alcoholic, to this day, after the sun sets, I have the feeling that he is there behind me, taunting me or about to strike me. Sometimes, I will yell out loud: ‘Return to hell, father!’ Now that my wife is gone, I have no one to keep me stable.
“I live with a dark cloud over my head. I would kill myself but I have no courage. My old age is a punishment; my children are a reminder of my failure as a father. That is also a punishment. My whole life is in ruins; I never touched a drop of alcohol and I have six alcoholic children. I completely failed at everything in life, I failed my parents, my wife and my children.”
The patient worked on the railroads shipping coal. One symptom lingering from this profession was a chronic asthmatic condition with a rattling of mucus in his chest.
“My life hardened me, turned me against joy, and left me in ruins. I used to have empathy when I was young. I lost that empathy and feel only apathy now.”
Prescription: I gave this patient Bromium 200C one dose, followed by Bromium 6C daily for one year based on the symptoms emboldened above, then Bromium 9C for another year, and finally Bromium 12C for a year. Slowly over time, his entire countenance changed, his anger softened, his hatred diminished, and a gentle and loving elder emerged over the course of three years. His prostatitis was healed, as were his urging and frequency for urination, and his bladder infections stopped (when his bladder infections flared over the course of three years, I gave Bromium 200C three times a day for three days). His chest rattling and asthma also stopped. The last symptom to go was the sense of the ghostly presence of his long dead father.
“One evening, as I was preparing for bed, I sensed my father behind me, this time I turned and stared him in the eye, I didn’t yell, I didn’t damn him to hell, or beg him to leave, I had the clear knowing that he did the best he could… I said as much to him: ‘I know you did your best,’ and with that, he seemed to dissolve into light.” (Bromium has the delusion that someone is behind him, and has marked quarrelsome behaviors.)
When his oldest daughter saw the changes that took place in her father, she wondered how homeopathy might help her. In 2007 she was fifty-four years old.
“I live an angry life. I am a secret sipper. A functional alcoholic, I work in an office with a tyrant boss, of whom I live in dread and fear everyday. I am always responsible and tired of being responsible. It’s funny, I left home early to get married and have kids and left one hell to enter another hell. My boss is just like my father. I don’t like conflict, I don’t like fighting, I was the one whipping post for my father; I never let him touch my siblings until they were old enough to fight back. I constantly lived in fear of abuse or, more importantly, of my brothers and sisters being abused.”
The oldest of eight, this daughter took the brunt of her father’s violence and depression. She compensated by overeating; when she was fifteen years old, staying with her grandparents, her father’s parents, she was introduced to hard liquor by her grandfather. This family, like many families, did not talk about the violence or abuse. They just kept on in survival mode.
“I remember Pops handing me a glass of brandy when I was fifteen. I never felt such deep relief for my pain. He drank so much brandy that I could fill my flask whenever I wanted and no one would be the wiser. This is how I became a secret sipper. The funny thing is that drinking brandy made me feel invincible and my increasing weight made me a formidable opponent of my father. He was a skinny little man and I was his war-horse daughter. Once, I said to him: ‘It’s you or me, you’re not touching my brothers or sisters ever again.’ Mother asked him to leave; he was gone several months on the railroads. Then, he came back and the beatings picked up where they left off. He never touched a drop of alcohol but his violence and hatred of life filled any room he entered. Living with him was like living in hell and I was punished for every decision I ever made.”
The eldest daughter’s chief complaints included alcoholism, obesity, irritability, sleeplessness, and a history of childhood physical abuse. She had a terrible time learning to trust anyone except someone who was abusive. The familiarity of the tone and tenor of the abusive boss, while not physical, was reminiscent of her childhood experience.
Based on the family history of alcoholism and the energetic layer of violence, quarrels and abuse, I prescribed Calcarea bromata 200C. Over the following four years, she came in every two months, taking the Calcarea bromata 200C in single doses and then Calcarea bromata 200C every 12 hours for three doses as needed. She gradually stopped drinking; she went to Hazelden for recovery. She came to realize that she no longer needed to remain in abusive relationships and left her job of over twenty years to create her own consulting firm. Her sleeplessness resolved as did her irritability, and after her mother died, she established a healthy relationship with her father. She also began eating healthfully and exercising regularly, losing a considerable amount of weight.
“I feel free of my anger, self-punishment by over-eating and self-hatred and no longer remain in unhealthy relationships, at home or in the office. I realized through homeopathy that my life is my responsibility.”
The fourth daughter in this family also came in for treatment. In 2005, she was forty-eight years old.
“I am the invisible daughter. I was lost since I was little. I remember pushing my little brothers and sisters away to desperately try to have contact with my mother. My mother always told me: ‘Don’t be selfish, honey.’ I just wanted to be loved. The hardest part of growing up in my family was that I was so desperately alone. I lived in constant fear of violence and abuse. I don’t know where my mother was. I was abandoned as soon as my next younger sister was born. I watched as my sister turned into a battle-axe. She was fearless. None of us ever talked about the abuse of our childhood. I was never beaten, but every blow my sister took for us, I felt in my soul. I felt responsible for all of the problems in my family. To this day, I hate fighting.”
She had one recurring dream from her childhood:
“I am on a train. I have no parents, I am all alone, I am lost, cold and afraid and dirty, I remember thinking: ‘What a dirty little girl I am.’ I was fighting for my life in the dream.”
She also had an insatiable desire for whole milk or half and half (heavy cream) throughout her life. I administered Magnesium bromatum 200C because her perspective was that of endless quarrels, self-blame, and guilt for having been born. The dream revealed her inner feeling of being orphaned or totally abandoned by her parents (especially her mother).
Her chief complaint was feeling abandoned and forsaken; everything was a constant battle. Over the last ten years, she has completely changed her life. She began dating for the first time at the age of fifty-five and is in a healthy relationship unlike anything she ever experienced growing up. In 2010, she attended the Hoffman Institute and is thriving with her now husband and in relationship to three grown stepdaughters; “I never knew that you could have a happy and healthy family life.” She also reconnected to her now elderly father, who is markedly free from violence; “I no longer fear that I will be attacked at every disagreement or punished for having views different from those around me.” As a child, like her father and siblings, she had no ability to voice her trauma until she began working homeopathically. Homeopathy attracts individuals who are often leery of talk therapy, as well as of allopathic medicine. It can provide a venue to give voice to those who cannot speak their trauma.
Several other family members also came to me for homeopathic treatment over the last several years; however, one of the younger members, still in homeopathic care, is still struggling with ongoing addiction and criminal behavior. She came to me in 2010, under duress, having just been caught shoplifting for the third time. She was age sixteen at the time. She said: “I have these impulses to steal things. I don’t know why. I began drinking when I was eleven years old. Vodka, it doesn’t smell. I don’t know why I do it. The whole time I do something wrong, I think: ‘You are going to get busted.’ My mom’s got a wicked temper; she’s mean. This look comes in her eyes, it’s like flames, and I know I am going to get it, but then, when I am in the store, I see something I want, I get so mad at her. She asked me once if I was doing this to punish her for being a bad mom. She said: ‘Do you hate me? Don’t you love me?’ and I thought: ‘It’s not about you, mom!’”
The girl could barely sit still; she was in constant motion, her crossed legs bouncing with an anxious energy that I could feel across the room. She also suffered from asthma, mostly of emotional origin.
“I work in a kitchen store. I have a horrible fear of knives. I am afraid that I will cut off my fingers or stab myself in the eye. Once, my mom told me that Pops was chased around the house by his dad who had a knife! He must’ve been crazy. No one talks about him. When they do, they say really scary things. Sometimes, when I am doing these things, I think: ‘I am just like Pop’s Pop.’ I think of him like a devil, but then I think, ‘I am the great-granddaughter of the devil.’ It’s really creepy. Then, I will start wheezing. Also, when I touch a knife, I get this metallic taste in my mouth. I read in a vampire book that this may mean I am about to be attacked. It’s all creepy and I scare myself. I love vampire movies. Sometimes, at night, I imagine that someone is there behind me, and then, I scare myself thinking that it is a vampire. This fright can trigger an asthma attack for me that lasts until midnight, then I fall asleep exhausted.” (Here again, we see the Bromium delusion that someone is behind her.)
This girl’s chief complaints included alcoholism, asthma, impulse control issues, and the sense of having been abandoned. The remedy that most helped her was Mercurius bromatus 200C, followed by Mercurius bromatus LMs. Because of her age, her restrictions from house arrest, and other encounters with the law, she has had a difficult time following through with treatment. However, her good spells occur when she stays on the remedy. Then, something happens and she loses her way for a time.
As I have treated this family, I have sometimes wondered what would have happened if the great-grandfather had been treated. Would all these lives have been spared? I have pieced together a portrait of violence, alcoholism, and trauma. This family is deeply syphilitic: while they may appear functional, deep within they need to hide their suffering, believing that there is something fundamentally and dangerously wrong within. Children are remarkably dedicated to their parents, even when they are abandoned and abused by them.
The Bromium themes of black or white, all or nothing, and total disconnection are present in each of the cases presented above. There is also a profound sense of punishment and living hell, restlessness, and desire to escape mundane reality. Each of the family members were treated abusively, aggressively, and severely traumatized by the unspoken ghost in the room of the great-grandfather, Pops. Both the grandfather and granddaughter had the delusion of someone behind them.
They all suffered from guilt, remorse, and quarrelsome natures, that is, until their successful homeopathic treatments.
Bromatum: guilt, restlessness, escape, passion, instinct, psychotic, punishments of all sorts
Bromium: all or nothing, anger, asthma, depression, disconnected, easily overheated, prostatitis, frequent urination, recurrent bladder infections, and continuous sore throats
Calcarea bromata: what do others think, sensitive to criticism, insecurity, shyness, fears, obesity, protection, responsibility, withdrawal
Magnesium bromatum: pacifism, aggression, fear of loss, pain; the invisible child, lost, abandoned, fear of quarrels, lost and alone, dirty, and desire for milk and heavy cream
Mercurius bromatus: exaggerating, over-reacting, divided, enemies, thievery, impulses, danger is lurking on all sides, impulsivity, fear of knives
Black heart; Ursa Major
Beaten little girl; ambrozinio
Ghost; Africa Studio
Keywords: childhood physical and emotional abuse, depression, anger, terror, alcoholism, overeating, irritability, obesity, sleeplessness, feeling abandoned and forsaken, invisible, impulse to steal, fear of knives, criminal behavior, guilt, punishment