May 8, 2022

E294: Dude you're getting well with Ben Curtis | CPTSD and Trauma Healing Coach

In this episode, I have a guest speaker – Ben Curtis. You might have heard that before; if you're over the age of probably twenty, ‘Dude, you're getting a Dell’ you probably remember Ben Curtis.
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In this episode, I have a guest speaker – Ben Curtis. You might have heard that before; if you're over the age of probably twenty, ‘Dude, you're getting a Dell’ you probably remember Ben Curtis.

Ben Curtis was an actor from the Dell commercials who publicly hit a massive, massive rock bottom. And today, he was a guest on the Think Unbroken podcast. Ben and I connected a few years ago on social media and have watched so many of the incredible things that he has done come to shape and fruition but also, he and I have become pals, and it's amazing to watch this man's journey.

And I asked him to come and be on the show to share his journey into where he is today, in being a coach for men and helping them move through shame, guilt, and judgment. I thought to myself, like, reading and understanding what he does, I was like, who else would be better to have this conversation than a man who had a headline on CNN titled ‘Dude, you're getting a Cell’.

Ben's journey is phenomenal, captivating, and interesting. I think one that many of us go through where we find ourselves hitting the magnitude of rock bottom again and again and yet, still reaching, still striving, still wanting to try to make life better and figure that journey out, and so much of this journey starts with asking for help. In this conversation, Ben and I go deep into that and how it's impacted our lives individually.

This is an emotional conversation; we're going to talk about some of the heaviness of life here. I want you to know coming into this that; this is a space where the baseline reason I created this show was to have conversations exactly like this; then, my hope is the thing that you take away from our conversation today is understanding that the difference between where you are and where you want to be in your life often begins which is simply ASKING FOR HELP.

I'm very excited to welcome my friend Ben Curtis to the show!

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Michael: Hey! What's up, Unbroken Nation! Hope that you're doing well wherever you are in the world today. I'm very excited to be back with you with another episode with my friend Ben Curtis – helps men transform shame. Ben, my friend it's an honor thank you for being here, how are you today?

Ben: Hey! Michael, that's an honor to be here. I am really grateful today. I'm feeling really grateful to be alive, got a lot of beautiful conversations already and I'm really grateful to be in the space with you.

Michael: It's an honor to have you here my friend. For those who do not know you, tell a little bit about your backstory and how you got to where you are today?

Ben: Alright! Well, I am a personal freedom coach and my focus on men; help men release shame and self-sabotage and transform it in the purpose, power, freedom and embodiment. I'm also an award-winning actor and musician, so you may know me as the, ‘dude you're getting a dell guy’ from twenty years ago. I was most famous brought in the world from then. Born and raised a preacher kid from Chattanooga Tennessee and watching my dad on the pulpit, really reaching people. My dad was a sensitive dude and thank God he passed some of that on me and encourage me to honor my feelings and my dreams and I chased them all the way to New York. I just continued to break boundaries of what people told me was not possible or where he shouldn't go and I just followed my heart and then I got into this school my dreams at New York University, I got an acting scholarship and within two years in the school I got this huge acting campaign for Dell computers and I immediately became world famous. It was the most exciting moment of my life and terrifying but I was still in school full time, I was on TV every day, I was getting interviews every day, I was making more money than I've ever made before and I moved out of the dorms, I was like getting in the big life I moved in the financial districts, I went to this course landmark education, I don't know if people have heard of landmark before but it was a personal growth and development organization and just about dealing with your crap in your life. And I had this huge amazing awakening of my purpose and that was in the world trade center and two weeks later and I had a direct view of it from my bedroom, two weeks later was nine eleven. And I saw everything I was there, my roommate almost died, I almost died. I was still famous, still in school full time and the only thing that saved my life literally was being the Dell guy, I was on the bus trying to escape what I thought was World War three and the driver like, he saw me covered and sat and crying and he was like, are you the Dell guy? And because of that, this driver dropped me off at this building where six hours later my best friend turned up, I thought he was dead. And I just had so many run ins from that moment on. I didn't know how to take care of myself, I had on diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, I was still famous so, I use the money to survive. And mostly that started looking like, drugs and alcohol and really numb out and basically was just trying to make everything stuff as my career was getting bigger and I just didn't have the help I needed. And by the grace of God, I got arrested and that's what I became famous for was getting arrested, ‘dude you're getting a cell’ was the tagline.

And on CNN headline news and it was again a beautiful lesson I met my faith in that weekend behind bars, I saw where I could go and I saw I had an opportunity to ask for help and I just start asking for help. I got a therapist, I got back in touch with my father he became my best friend, I start taking care of myself. I let go of my acting career for while I mean, I couldn't even get hired if I wanted to. I started playing music again which is a thing I love and all of that like, I start teaching yoga, I became a really intense alcohol like that didn't get better for years. I got arrested three more times and it just wasn't cool anymore, it was really not a good luck it was leaving me completely alone, destitute and debt basically homeless. I'd lovable and I didn't know how to love myself so, I kept asking for help.

I put down drugs and alcohol, I haven't had a drink in nine and a half years and again, I sought out therapy, coaches and men came into my life and I started realizing I had issues with men, I didn't feel safe around other men but I knew how to be vulnerable. I was always beat down for being sensitive and just over time, coaches, therapists, recovery groups and daily practice I learned that my sensitivity, my vulnerability the thing I was most terrified was one of my greatest powers and something that I can actually help other people with. When I just had people keep reminding me to go help others, go help others, get out of my head and in action and also take time for my heart and take time to feel those feelings and all of this culminated. And my acting career took off, I started band, I met my wife she's the lead singer or the band called ‘dirtymae’ We travel toward the world and I coach men every day, I help men learn how to release all this suffering. The biggest thing I got out of this was that I was carrying nine eleven around as a badge, I was carrying their restaurants around as a badge, a bad of like honor of the victim hood and suffering and when I finally saw that was a choice, that I could release that suffering and actually choose the writing, it was way more uncomfortable actually but less painful and my life just started working and things got better.

People start asking me to work with them and then I realized I love coaching, I love going there, my personal training and yoga clients are getting way too much free therapy from me. So, some of these people were going there with me, I would hear people ask for help and then when I'd show up that I would especially men find like, they still didn't feel safe asking for it and so, I've made it a mission to create safe spaces for sensitive people, for creative and for men especially, I do that by doing what I love and helping others do the same. And by having conversations and that all has brought me to, it's turn into coaching mostly and speaking and getting to connect with awesome humans like you.

Michael: Yeah, that's incredible man, that's quite the journey. There are so many different places that we could go but where I wanna really start is in the scope of vulnerability. You know, I look at you and I are relatively close in age and we've shared some very interesting experiences together and separately and throughout the course of you know the parallels of what it takes to get to where you are and thinking about the power of vulnerability and why that matter so much? Because you have so many people in the world especially when geared towards man and more told, be strong, don’t be a pussy, man up, don't be a bitch, don't cry, don’t complain, you hear all this and like it's so ingrained and embodied into effectively the DNA of manhood today and yet and I don't anyone necessarily say the word toxic but it's just the way that it is perceived that man should be I think is insanely detrimental. And I found myself much like, you know, here I am at thirty years old and I just come out of the last couple of years of like massive struggle, working through all these different demons and I said to myself, I don't know how to be in connection with men. And I forced myself to go into men group coaching and it changed my life forever like, it's really incredible what happened through that. I'm curious Ben, what do we do for men who are listening to this and they're like, I don't know where to start?

Ben: It's a great question I just asked that of someone earlier today. Well, someone who leads men's group and has been part of men's groups, you know, I would say first of all actually my intuition is telling me you're already in the right place, if you're here and you're listening start to practice awareness, start to practice cultivating, those spaces where you don't feel safe and then start talking about it with other men in your life, start asking for help and if you don't feel comfortable doing that google men's groups. There's so many men's groups and men's teams out there and I think that's a great place to start. You know, looking for a therapist, anyone where you feel safe whether it's someone you know you don't know. I find being around other men, it helps me hold accountable for the spaces I feel most uncomfortable and that's where I know I need to lean in. I even avoid some of my closest male friends sometimes because I know how big of a leader, they see me is and it's confronting and so we practice spending time together like, holding each other accountable for our greatness and practice holding space for the days when we're not okay and I think that's really important; it's just practicing being able to say when you're not okay or when you need help. So, it could be a simple as just practice asking for help.

Michael: The word that comes to mind and you're saying that and you're welcome to deep into this please. The word that comes to mind as discomfort and so many people and men or women are like, I think the idea of vulnerabilities freaking incredibly uncomfortable, it's one of those things that we do face shame, we do face guilt, we do face judgment and ridicule but I've come to find most often from myself less so from the world and and how do you step into that discomfort Ben to be able to get because I think, maybe I'm wrong here but I believe that there's like this chasm between I need to ask for help and I'm asking for help and in between those two moments there's a whole lot of mind fucking and I'm really curious about how one actually steps into that?

Ben: Practice that's the word that comes to mind. Practice. And for me, I mean it's different for everybody but you can ask help anytime you want, you can say no, you can say stop, you can say yes, you can say help, you can say please, you can reach out anytime you want. It's really just for me it was like, how much pain did I wanna be in?

I turns out I was pretty good at being in a lot of pain and suffering but it became a choice and when I couldn't handle it anymore or when I would just felt like, I couldn't take it anymore that was a great place but you don't have to wait, you get to that place, hopefully I'm here to help some people, you don't have to like be behind bars or unemployable or destitute in order to ask for help. So, it's just a practice and then see what happens you know, it's like, you're probably not going to die if you ask for help most likely in the western society if you're listening to this and you ask for help, you're probably going to live to the next moment because it's basically like well, what's costing you more being where you are now and not asking for help? Because if you did the worst thing that can happen is someone says no, right? And you're just right now. So, there's an opportunity to kind of check ourselves and see, oh, yeah, how free do I wanna be? Am I actually willing to be free? You know, it's a good place to look like, do I actually want help? Because no one can help you unless you're willing to help yourself but even if you have the willingness to be willing that's a great place to start. And I would pray for the willingness that's what I to do like, I don't have it, I pray for it, I asked my friends for it. Can I borrow some of your courage, man, I don't know how you do that and they'd be like, yeah, sure and then just grab my hand and take me. It's mostly the resistance that was costing me the most energy and that was taking the most effort and once I stopped resisting so much it turned out there was actually a lot of support available, so it's just being starting to look for it and being willing to receive it.

Michael: Yeah. I love what you said about being willing to receive because that's so much of it. You know, it's fascinating to me sometimes when I'm working with someone, I'm like here is the tool this is the thing that you asked for, now you must use it, you have to execute with it, because if you don't it doesn't matter. Like, wishing is totally different than acting, like those are two very, very different things. And ultimately I do believe that just massive action is the only way to truly create the life that you want to have and there is a tremendous amount of discomfort in it but it's in the embracing that discomfort in which you discover what you're actually capable of because I've come to find that where I'm out of my life it's three percent of what I can do and it's like, the measurement of okay cool, I literally just this morning I reached out to someone I know, I said hey man, will you coach me? I see where I need you in my life, right? I'm in the scope of changing coaches right now because I think eventually, we kinda max out with the people we're with and that's great because that means they've done their job, I need your help here in this area of my life to go to the next level.

You know one of the things I wanna go back to here and talk about because I think it's important is when people hit rock bottom and I'll use myself as an example when I hit my rock bottom and I felt like man, I cannot possibly fuck up any worse I actually fucked up a little bit more and I found that's a really dark truth about myself. Ben, I'm wondering especially in consideration of where you were in your life, how did you start to pick yourself up through that? Because there's a domino effect of fact there that begins to happen and I experienced it too man, it wasn't just one thing it's was about ninety-seven things and it wasn't until I got really deep that things started to change. What I'm curious about because I know there are people listening right now and they're like, yeah, we know it's the Dell guy and he did all this shit blah, blah whatever and to have this idea that I believe people believe and I only believe this because this was my experience that this is how I'm going to be remembered was crushing and what I'm curious about is what was the pathway from that rock bottom to today? Like, what did that actually look like?

Ben: That's a great question. I'm trying to think like, which bottom was actually the rock bottom, there is a lot of them. The one that hits me the most is I was in school, Dell stuff was going on, pretty sure I had news interviews or radio interviews booked that morning before class and I developed a pretty steady cocaine habit that I don't really talk about, I'm starting to more now because I just realize I have nothing to hide now and I hope someone else hears us.

You know, I would even do it in class sometimes and it was just, I didn't want to and I was. I remember had been up all night and I knew the only way I was going to get through the next few hours was to get more or I was just gonna crash and burn and with paralyzing anxiety was setting in and I called the dealer, they were late and I was waiting for them and the sun started to rise, I looked out my window over the stipple of the trinity church right there on rector and broadway, that was where I lived and I looked over it into ground zero and then the bell rang and I just saw this stipple and I'm not super religious but I grew up my father a minister and he was my best friend and really taught me he believed in a loving God and I just felt like God was really reaching into me at that moment. I'm saying wake the fuck up and yeah, I don’t talk about that often it's still a ross space but feeling just move that I don't have to be there anymore.

In that moment I knew that was it, I called my dad I said, I wasn't doing well, I'm not okay and I need help and my dad was like, the only guy I could talk to and amazingly enough. So, my father came up flew up from Atlanta and we've been through a lot together and he helped me go through my mail, I hadn't opened my mail in three months, it was too scary, it was too much responsibility was piling on and I just avoided everything I just couldn't handle the world. And he said, you know I'm gonna take you to a therapist, my dad is an episcopal priest and there was an episcopal church behind this and he like took me to an episcopal where there's this therapist that I could talk to. The therapist said it sounds like, you know, you're dealing with this in this and you're not able to function and which I couldn't. So, I got on he put me on some medication suggested, it wasn't great but it saved my life, it kept me from killing myself and it helped me bring up my bottom line enough to be able to really start to get help. Now even wasn't it, I mean I got arrested more times over ten more years and I think it was just I ruined enough relationships oh, and the other rock bottom is when I blacked out like bartending at a bar in New York when I thought I was starting to do well again. And I got fired from the job where you're allowed for drinking and then I was a dog walker and then I started losing that job, I couldn't keep that together and I gotta sober. I asked someone like, how to like a bartender or how do I quit drinking but keep smoking? Wait, like you do that and she's like well, I go to AA and I was like oh, I'm not gonna do that and then like my ex-girlfriend introduced me to marijuana anonymous, I didn't know that like having a problem with cannabis could be a thing and that was amazing. Then there they were like suggesting refrain from drinking which I thought was ridiculous but I just like kept reaching for alcohol and I called that bartender friend and she took me into a meeting and it was like pulling the toxins out of myself that I was killing myself with so that I could actually start to deal with what's really going on. And like other people being there for me and you know twelve step groups were amazing because they're free and just like, the society anywhere where anyone could help other people. But I said why can't we do this outside of here? You know and they helped me so much and I actually worked with the therapist and I got off drugs and alcohol and I got off medication, I did like all the PTSD work and all those things.

So, it was like, really putting those things into place is and all of that adding up and getting real myself. I think, it's cliche almost and I love it for that reason because it resonates for so many of us but it really is my light not my darkness that most frighten me even into this day. It still terrifies me sometimes and so it was like starting to like we said practice being uncomfortable like other people seeing my greatness. Actually like, I'm white and I grew up with some privilege but I did not believe in myself, I had a father that believed in myself and I did up to a point but like I could not stop destroying my own life and then I was attracted to other people who did the same thing. So, it was just like alright and I got one of those people pregnant and like by the grace of God we lost the child and like broke up and got healthy and like now we're both happily married and better than ever. And the lessons actually starting to say, okay enough, enough, I'm ready to learn. And just practicing surrendering and asking for help over and over that was really the dance, I think that's made the biggest difference.

Michael: Yeah. Same. You know, I look at it's weird the synchronicity is here. When I was twenty-three, I've only talked about this one time ever on the show. When I was twenty-three my girlfriend at the time had a miscarriage and I remember just being like, I feel like the universe is telling me something and I know that's a really like fucking dark way to look at that but like honestly it seemed like the truest. And now she's happily married and has kids and her life is very different, my life is very different, right? Because like you talked about these toxic people, it's not that like she was a terrible person but our activities, our hours were terrible it was the drugs, it that was the alcohol, it was the late night, it was the party, it was the destroying each other because we thought that's what people did, we thought that's relationships, that's connection, that's love. You look at this it's what you said man like, I so resonate with this idea of being so terrified of the light knowing because it's like the control that we have over the darkness is we let it see in and we just pretend it's not there and we placate it and then you're suddenly like oh, yeah, I'm passed out drunk, few all over me on the bathroom floor again, must have been a great night, I can't wait tell people about it’ and you're down in this moment you're looking at your life and you're thinking wait a second, what if I could have this other thing and that's becomes such a driver in my life of having the willingness, going back to this word again in this conversation to say no, I can't have this, I can have the life I wanna have, I can have the love of the relationship, the body, the spirit, the soul, the money, the companionship, the friendships, the everything and it's the willingness to step into the light. So, let's go in that a little bit deeper then.

Ben: Oh. Can I say something about that they just came up clear for me?

Michael: Yeah. Please.

Ben: You know, I remember when I didn't know how to play rock and roll again without being full of drugs and alcohol. And actually, for me it wasn't like putting the darkness away, it was like, I would swim in the darkness, I was like my friend that was like my creative of muse it'd be powered by that darkness. But it was so income sing and would bring everyone else down and it was actually like me. It hit me while you're talking when I book my first, I said yes to us hosting and stand-up comedy job and with sober and it was in a bar. I'd never done stand-up comedy common or hadn't done it in years definitely had done at sober but just it was starting to say yes to things that would like I know I loved but would terrify me and then realizing I wasn't gonna die and actually enjoyed it and loved it and was good at it and maybe even would perform like you know. After I played music over my band was like, whoa you're so much better you know so you started getting affirmation. My family is like, hey it's good you know like nice to have her son back again, it was those kinds of moments that you know had me keep saying yes and leaning it into the discomfort.

Michael: Yeah, there's something really beautiful. It’s again going back to this idea about the domino. As much as you can domino your life in disaster you can domino in light. I'll share some context; I don't share often. Growing up, I wanted to be a rockstar star more than anything, I wanted to be through fighters or Jay-z, and I've come to find that my quote unquote being a rock start is this; it's the podcast, it's the stage, it's writing, it's stepping into my light but in a different way. I found the courage to be able to do it by recognizing and reconciling the fact that growing up I was told to be invisible and more so I was told like, you're not good enough, you're not strong enough, you're not capable enough, and so now part of it is this narrative of challenging that darkness and even dare I say using it as fuel. So, what I’m curious about Ben is have you found a space in which you're able to take some of that darkness and use it in a positive way?

Ben: One hundred percent, that's such a great question. Yes, it is like you know I talked about dancing why that and it was like, I'd never put it away about it; it did not go away, I'd be friend it, I got familiar with it. I talked about, I shared it openly like, I allowed it to no longer haunt me so it was like, I mean the terrible the tragic and beautiful thing of being like having fame the moment of that arrest was that I had to I was still getting interviewed. So, I was talking about my trauma, I was talking about nine eleven, I was talking about what I was going through but I didn't get to interviews after you know it wasn't higher anymore.

So, I think, how I use the darkness. I still play music and it is like if you watch me on stage, if you look up some Dirtymae videos on YouTube of my wife and I like people are like whoa dude like, eye channel, I allow it to come out in really healthy places. Like, when I work out, when I run that's why I love about acting, I've played some really dark tragic tortured people but I can actually use the darkness in a healthy way.

There are actors who will go there and swim in that suffering but I've actually already you know we've suffered enough it's actually just allowing to familiar yourself and honestly, we've had a lot of grief in my life lately. So, we lost our grandmother as my wife's grandmother but we had re adopted her his mine; she and I adopted each other a few years ago but she lived to be a hundred and one but she passed basically a month after my father passed and he was my best friend and sure that he was gonna live another ten years. And then we found out, we tried have child were immediately successful, I think we found out like the year anniversary of and my father's passing and then really ready and then we lost a child. And other things and all of this I'm realizing the older I get the more I'm gonna lose people and that grief and loss and sadness and darkness they're just as beautiful as life, birth and light.

So, I’ve actually learned to allow space in my day for grief and like yesterday I spent an hour meditating and crying and then I said, yes to it twenty-minute bike ride with my wife because the sun came out for five minutes, you know, so that's kind of how I dance in it today is. We each have our own spaces I worked really hard to create a safe space for myself were so, if I need to yell or like bang on a pillow or scream in the car safely or like I do yard work but I talk about it and I use it in creativity. And I think when even like, I love like, Basquiat one of my favorite art artists because he had like, you can see some of his mental illness and his work and it's so beautiful to me. The tragedy and the love and the possibility he saw inside of how uniquely, I mean don't wanna call it mental illness so, I wanna call it mental uniqueness because we're stigmatize mental illness, I feel like a lot of has post pandemic but it's actually there's an opportunity to create with it and to make beauty out of it and it can be as easy as talking about which is the thing, we're most terrified and why these things haunt us. But we all live with it one in four women have miscarriage it happens all the time, women are creating and losing life and our partners beside them going through with it and we don't talk about it. And men are killing themselves and we don't talk about it. I just think being able to be open and have these spaces and seek out more safe spaces is just the medicine.

Michael: Yeah, I agree and I'm so happy that you're here my friend. Having this conversation and the vulnerability and the honesty and especially in such a public forum and I'm such a proponent of let's have the conversation, yes, it's hard, yes, it's difficult, but it's necessary and stepping into the discomfort of that in real time is how we changed the world, so, I've got a massive amount of appreciation for you. Before I ask you my last question Bren, can you tell everyone where they can find you?

Bren: Yes. @bencurtisofficial that's my Instagram and facebook, is my website but if you go to my Instagram has a link to everything I do. To book coaching calls, to my men's group the lion's instead, to my music and art and to interviews like this awesome one here today.

Michael: And of course, we'll put all the links in the show notes for the audience.

Ben: Yeah. Can I say one thing real quick?

Michael: Yes, please.

Ben: Okay and I have a new podcast that have not released yet it's called “Dude you're getting well” and Michael is one of my featured guests. So, please be on lookout for it because it's gonna come out in the next week or two and you'll start seeing the notices, but I'm really excited because we got some good stories of Michael too the other side, so, I just wanted to share that too because it's been such a gift to be in your circle and on the other side or your great inspiration.

Michael: Thank you my friend that means so much to me, it really does and same trust me we've been following each other for years for those who don't know. So, that said my friend my last question for you, what does it mean to you to be unbroken?

Ben: Honest, vulnerable, raw, real, unleashed and love.

Michael: Brilliantly said my friend, goosebumps, literally amazing.

Thank you so much for being here.

Unbroken Nation, thank you for listening.

Please like, subscribe, comment, share.

Tell a friend.

And Until Next Time.

My friends, Be Unbroken.

I'll see you.

Ben CurtisProfile Photo

Ben Curtis


Ben is an award-winning actor, musician, public speaker and personal freedom coach, dedicated to creating more love, compassion and permission to go after your dreams with abandon. You may remember cognize him as "Steve the Dell Dude," but in the last 20 years he's gone on to become internationally recognized and critically acclaimed for his work not only as an actor, but as a speaker and coach. Ben truly lives a life of his dreams, in hopes that he will inspire others to do the same.

His comeback story is remarkable. Ben is a preacher's son from Tennessee, who at the age of 13, became a professional magician, at age 18, gave such a remarkable audition for NYU, that Tisch School of the Arts granted him an acting scholarship at the school of his dreams, in his favorite city in the world.
While studying feverishly in school, Ben became an overnight success as the world's most sought after spokesperson (“Steve, the Dell Dude"). During the height of his campaign, he moved to the financial district, which 2 weeks later, became Ground Zero. Ben was no longer just an overnight success and a full time student, but now add to that a 9/11 survivor with serious PTSD. He went from barely surviving, to transforming his life. Not only did he continue to star in films and tv, but in 2013, he & his partner (now wife), Cassie Fireman, co-founded the international wellness company Soul Fit NYC. It became such a big success that SoulCycle shut them down. But they did not stop. The dynamic duo continued leading retreats and workshops (and still do to this day) as well as forming their award-winning indie folk band, Dirty Mae.
Not only can you can you catch Ben on stage rocking with his wife, but you can watch him on Emmy award-winning TV shows such as "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" and "Orange is the New Black." In his “spare time” Ben travels the globe speaking, coaching and empowering humans everywhere to nourish more love, compassion, courage and confidence, owning their light and pursuing their dreams.

Michael UnbrokenProfile Photo

Michael Unbroken


Michael is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, coach, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma.