Archive for ‘Healing’

April 15, 2019

Preparation for Healing: When it Comes to Healing, Words Will Often Fail Us!

When it comes to healing, words will often fail us. I love words. They have, in fact, had a profoundly positive effect on me. But I also know from experience that when it comes to healing, words are a shortcut at best and at worst a shield or subterfuge.
no words
We like to think that words are the key to healing. They are useful. We use them to communicate our symptoms to physicians. We use them to describe how we feel to therapists. Once we’ve done this, we will be on the path to healing, right? Maybe, but not necessarily.

If you’ve ever had the experience of misdiagnosis or no diagnosis for years in spite of multiple attempts to describe your problem to the doctor, you know that your words are not always sufficient to communicate what is happening in your body. If you have lingering wounds from traumatic experiences, you may have no words regarding those wounds. You may have only intense feelings that flood back unexpectedly.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that words can fail us. Think back to some moment of extreme excitement. Were you more likely to say, “I’m excited!”, or to jump up & down and squeal with delight? Think back to a moment of extreme fear. Did you say, “I’m afraid!”, or did you scream, shiver, or freeze? What happened when you felt extreme grief or tenderness? Could you speak around your tears? Deep emotions often find their expression throughout our tissues and our most profound moments often leave us speechless.

But the inability to voice our most deep seated wounds may be a result of the changes trauma makes in our brains. In “The Body Keeps the Score”, Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk describes brain scans that show the Broca’s area goes offline when a flashback is triggered (1). That is the area of the brain that allows us to put our thoughts and feelings into words. No wonder we refer to horrific events as unspeakable.

This means that the deeper and more meaningful the healing work, the less likely it is that language will be a sufficient carrier of information. Art and music can help some of us express those things we can’t describe. But perhaps it’s more important to know that we can heal without relying on language.

Sometimes it is the feeling encased in a memory that is more significant than a remembered event or image. Allowing the body to process these feelings without slowing down to describe the process is not always a bad thing. Not only can it reduce anxiety, it can reduce chronic pain, lower blood pressure, and possibly reduce inflammation as well as promoting better sleep quality and reducing the risk for depression.

In an era during which we are reexamining the treatment of chronic pain, it is important to note that according to the Institute for Chronic Pain: “As a group, people with chronic pain tend to report much higher rates of having experienced trauma in their past, when compared to people without chronic pain. It is a common and consistent finding in the research.” They go on to state that at least 90% of women with fibromyalgia syndrome and 60% of those with arthritis report trauma in childhood or adulthood; 76% of patients with chronic low back pain report at least one trauma in their past; and 58% of those with migraines report a history of childhood physical or sexual abuse, or neglect.(2)

As our exposure to violence increases through the myriad outlets for viewing violence, it becomes even more critical that we understand the limitation of using intellect and words to heal from any resulting trauma. Traditional counseling may not be helpful to survivors of a mass shooting, and some psychiatrists have come to view medication as nothing more than a band-aid.

On the other hand, in many circles, talk therapy is still viewed as the most important path to healing from emotional distress. Even in more progressive trauma treatment like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EDMR) and Progressive Counting, participants are asked to describe a memory before the eye movement or counting process begins.

Last year, I was exploring the possibility of traveling for an intensive therapy retreat with the Trauma Institute & Child Trauma Institute. The founder of that institute, Ricky Greenwald, PsyD developed the technique of Progressive Counting. The process of Progressive Counting begins with your earliest traumatic memory. You describe that, then the practitioner begins counting. Once you have resolved that trauma, you move on to the next one you remember. The idea is that clearing the old traumas first will make the more recent ones quicker to heal because the early baggage is gone. The Institute’s website states most clients are able to achieve true healing in a couple of days to a couple of weeks. That sounded appealing.

Then came the reality. Count me on the two week end of the spectrum or more like 3 weeks. After my assessment, I was looking at an estimated 21 days and $20,000+ of treatment. But the depth of my disorder is not the point. The point is that they administered a phone assessment during which I was asked to relate something typical my mother had done that felt traumatic to me.

I could not speak. In fact, I could not think. I was silent on the phone. I moved into a feeling of distress. I couldn’t even find my voice to tell them I could not answer. When I could speak, I was aware I sounded like a crazed person pushing past tears. I also knew I was doing the best I could and they had asked me to do something that wasn’t possible.

The assessor (actually there were two of them on the phone) quickly and deftly moved me away from the past and back to the present. But because they had made a request beyond my ability to perform and I had entered fight/flight/freeze/fawn mode and because this vulnerable state was only acknowledged by quickly moving me away from the moment rather than providing support through it, I felt diminished, dismissed, and distanced — the same feelings that come from neglect.

I have experienced a similar response to freezing from other therapists. I’m not sure whether it’s because the inability to talk is viewed as a voluntary refusal to participate or talk is just valued as the only path to improvement. Whatever the reason, the failure of professionals to provide support in the moment affects my ability/willingness to trust them and the process. Do they not understand what is happening (are they competent and well trained) or do they not care (are they truly compassionate)? Either way, my distrust in this instance was too much to overcome. These women had failed to earn the right to know my most vulnerable parts. Needless to say, I opted out.

That does not mean that Progressive Counting would not be effective for someone else or even for me with a different practitioner. And that experience was the opposite of the experience I had with a Somatic Experiencing Therapy practitioner in which I felt totally supported. In other words, that experience does not mean I was left with no path to heal.

What all of this comes down to is I want you to know that I know how it feels for words to fail you. I understand that if that happens in the presence of a professional who does not respond in an understanding or supportive way, you may view the process as harmful. If so, you can leave that particular opportunity behind. There are other paths.

If you believe that such an experience confirms that you deserve to be harmed, be invisible, or be unsupported (or whatever you tell yourself when bad things happen), that is not my view. You deserve to be treated with respect, have your concerns heard, and never to be dismissed or made to feel less than. If that is not the care with which you are being treated, I am so sorry and it is okay to say no to a particular provider and/or method. You know best what feels appropriate for you.

It is worth repeating that like mindfulness practices, healing is a process you can tailor to your specific personality and experience. If you are at a loss for words, or when they fail you, Somatic Experiencing or Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE®) Therapy (also known as trembling) may be appropriate. Yoga or neurogenic yoga may also be helpful in supporting all other therapies.

Even if you struggle to communicate your distress, the body provides a path to healing when words fail. I am grateful for that!

(1) Van der Kolk, B., MD. (2015). Looking into the Brain: The Neuroscience Revolution. In The Body Keeps The Score (pp. 39-44). New York, NY: Penguin Books.

(2)http://www.instituteforchronicpain.org/understanding-chronic-pain/complications/trauma
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5848846/

https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-psychotherapy#1

http://therapyretreat.org/

https://traumaprevention.com/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/3351-2/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/preparation-for-healing-managing-expectations-begins-with-setting-clear-intentions/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/preparation-for-healing-what-is-readiness/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/never-surrender/


Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

March 26, 2019

Never Surrender!

Never surrender your best self!!! You may have noticed that in the Preparation for Healing series of posts I have not mentioned the need to surrender, be present in the moment, be vulnerable or forgive.

Many years ago when I began to focus on finding a path to heal, I kept reading that surrender was critical to the process. I simply couldn’t absorb that concept. For me, surrender meant giving up. I had been fighting all of my life to keep the soft, compassionate, loving parts of me from being obliterated by my family environment. To surrender in those surroundings would have cost me myself.
sign
Surrender, being present and vulnerable, and forgiving sound like things an evolved being should embrace. They probably are. They are oft written about and touted by experts. If they don’t sound positive to you, don’t worry. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. In fact, it could make perfect sense.

If you live in a family that punishes you for being your best self and you surrender to them, you need assistance with your judgement. If you allow yourself to be vulnerable with anyone and everyone because you crave connections you missed out on, you do yourself a disservice. To strive for forgiveness without first healing is like pouring salt into an open wound. If you have lived for any period of time in a situation that felt dangerous, cruel, or neglectful, the idea that staying present in the moment is positive may, in fact, sound laughable, uninformed, or stupid.

The wounds of previous trauma can make your present feel the same to you as the traumatic times. For those of us who have had such experiences, this is normal. We hold the emotional memories and psychic wounds in our bodies. Our past is never in our past. It is ever present.

This is not our fault. It does not define us. We are not damaged. We are not mentally ill. We have a wound that was inflicted by someone else. If they had broken our leg instead of our spirit, doctors would put a cast on the leg to support it while it heals and law enforcement would charge the person who injured us with assault.

If medical, mental health, and law enforcement entities viewed traumatic wounds in the manner in which they view a broken leg, they would not treat us as disturbed, weak minded, emotionally deficient, or ill. Instead, they would support the parts of us weakened by our wounds until they have healed and hold our attackers accountable. The lack of this type of support is a reflection of a deficiency (blind spot) in our culture, not in us.

Being present, surrender and forgiveness may not be possible at the beginning of the healing process. Until I have learned to release the muscles in my upper back that stay braced for attack, I cannot be fully present in the moment. Until I let go of the anger that covers my constant fear and find friends who treat me with love and kindness, surrender will only harm me. As long as I feel constantly vulnerable, I cannot determine who or how to ask for help, know whose compliments to absorb, or have any idea how to accept love. Constant vulnerability numbs judgement. All of these things are a barrier to forgiveness.

None of us begin in the same place. Some of us are surrounded by those who mean us harm, do not value us, or are oblivious to our pain. These may include our parents, siblings, teachers, physicians, counselors, and ministers. We often create beautiful, intricate, situationally perfect structures to protect ourselves. It is only when we are free from danger that we can learn to see that those beautiful solutions can also hold us back.

If you can’t surrender yet, don’t worry. You may need to grieve that you have not felt safe enough with anyone to do so. If you cannot stay present in the moment, that’s okay. Try a mindful practice like yoga that encourages breathing in sync with movement. If you feel constantly vulnerable, building better boundaries may help. You can eventually work your way toward forgiveness.

The most brilliant definition of forgiveness I’ve ever heard was uttered by a TV character:
“People generally think of forgiveness as the flip side of contrition, the obligatory response to an apology. It is not. To forgive is to answer the call of our better angels and bear our wounds as the cost of doing business. It is that rarest of things, simple and pure…transcendent… without strings.”
— Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack), In Plain Sight, Season 1: Iris Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Maybe someday I’ll get there.

In the meantime, I keep following the sensations in my body with curiosity. I allow my feelings to bubble up even when they don’t make sense. I let go of my defenses layer by layer. I carefully choose who gets the honor of experiencing my vulnerability. I relish my ability to stay in the moment more often without an emotional flashback. I surrender to the process over and over again, but I never surrender my best self to anyone who does not have my best interest at heart.

https://besselvanderkolk.net/the-body-keeps-the-score.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Plain_Sight

March 20, 2019

Preparation for Healing: What is Readiness?

I want to circle back to our exploration of the healing process with a simple question: How do you know if you’re ready to heal? Even if you recognize that readiness is crucial for healing to begin, how do you know if you’ve reached that point?

We all like to think we’re ready. Some of us are but think we can’t be because we haven’t done any deliberate prep work. Some of us have spent years preparing and still aren’t ready. I know that defies logic. The path to healing is not logical.

Clear, sound reasoning-a logical path-comes from the mind. Healing involves the whole being working in concert. Often, it is the disconnection of body, mind, and spirit that generates the need for healing in the first place.

What is readiness if not being prepared?
ready
Readiness is a state of willingness.

Duh, huh? I hate it when people say things like that. I never know what they really mean. To more clearly see how willingness relates to readiness to heal, try asking yourself the following questions:

Am I willing to stop avoiding?
Healing will sometimes mean feeling all of those emotions we work too much, sleep too much, drink too much, eat too much, watch TV too much, and medicate in order to avoid. Sometimes we are not willing to give those things up. If not, we are not ready to heal.

Am I willing to clearly state my intentions?
We have already explored the process of setting intentions. A willingness to set intentions is an indicator of readiness.

Am I willing to let go of expectations?
Staying married to the expectation of a certain outcome will hamper healing. Being willing to let expectations go shows a level of readiness.

Am I willing to trust my body?
You may not trust your body right now. That is okay. The real question is, are you willing to learn to trust it by exploring methods like somatic experiencing and mindfulness practices?

Am I willing to allow feelings to flow?
You may not be able to do this yet. If you have lived in danger, you may have had to suppress, disassociate, or hide your feelings in order to survive. It can take a long time to be able to feel and let the feelings flow. A willingness to try is all you need to get started.

Am I willing to stick with the process?
A healing journey can take you into territory that you may not immediately understand on a cognitive level. If you stick with the process, this will work itself out eventually. If you are not willing to stick with the process you can quickly get stuck in a cognitive loop. The mind cannot make this journey alone. Sometimes the body must lead.

Am I willing to stop muscling through?
It is possible to white knuckle your way through many things for a period of time, but that is not a sustainable method for change. Pushing yourself to confront your fears, for example, will have a different long term result than allowing fear to bubble up, acknowledging it, and sitting with it until it dissipates.

Am I willing to feel momentarily unsafe in order to ultimately feel more whole?
No one wants to feel unsafe, but we can all tolerate it in small doses as long as we are willing.

Am I willing to treat myself with respect and kindness?
Deep emotional and spiritual work can be as physically draining as lifting weights or running. Giving your body nutritional support, regular gentle exercise, plenty of sleep, and planned moments of beauty and pleasure are especially important for supporting the journey. A willingness to examine and revise self-talk when needed can boost your mood and energy level.

Am I willing to see what is?
This is a big thing. It sounds so easy. I’m in touch with reality. I’m sure you are too. Obviously, we see what is, right? Unfortunately, we may not. We all have blind spots and a great capacity for denial. If you come from a destructive, dysregulated, or dysfunctional family, seeing things as they actually are can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.

It is painful to see your mother’s repeated and prolonged cruelty toward you for what it is – cruel, unloving behavior. You just want her to love you. You will bend yourself into any shape, do anything, make any excuse that allows you to believe that she does…or will someday.

It feels impossible to reconcile your husband’s verbal abuse with the fact that he says he loves you. It’s easier to morph what you’re hearing into a scolding you must need and deserve.

The sadness of neglect might simply consume you if you didn’t develop the ability to weave imaginary connections.

We learn early how to cushion ourselves from the harshest of realities. A willingness to release ourselves from the skills we developed for protection is part of the healing process. Because we internalize both the wounds from other’s destructive behavior and the skills we use to survive, releasing ourselves from these can feel like we’re losing ourselves and our story. We may experience grief, loss, uncertainty, and unbridled terror.

While we may know we are also releasing the things that prevent us from fully becoming our best selves, there will be moments in which it is difficult to hold that thought in our minds. When the lower brain is triggered to fight, flee, freeze, or fawn, we cannot force our way out of that state (over time we can change our relationship with the trigger points and hopefully reintegrate traumatic memories). If it were as simple as thinking our way out of this spot, no one would suffer from PTSD or complex PTSD.

Seeing what is may also mean seeing ourselves differently. Recognizing our blind spots and our contributions to dysfunction when we’re already feeling vulnerable is asking a lot.

Again, seeing what is is a BIG thing. It is not easy. You may feel more willing to explore this when you remember that on some level you already know anything you are becoming willing to see. This idea could be restated as a willingness to know what you know. You know how your mother’s cruelty feels. You know how your husband’s abuse affects your self-confidence. You know the ache of feeling invisible.

You may only recognize these things on a subconscious level. They must move to your conscious awareness for you to see them. Conscious awareness brings the feelings to the surface where you can make a decision regarding your response. This is how you will shift from the feeling position of a wounded victim to the feeling position of a powerful self-advocate. This is how you gain or regain yourself!

Am I willing to face any relationship consequences that may occur?
Once you see what is, you will have the opportunity to reevaluate your relationships. Some will be toxic and need to end. Some will need to be minimized. Some will morph into deeper, more supportive levels of love and concern. Being willing to let relationships evolve will allow you to find support for healing.

Am I willing to let go of the payoff I get from dysfunction?
Once we see what is, we may discover that we rely on unhealthy behavior to gain attention, feel supported and loved, solicit assistance, advance at work, or control our family environment. When we give up the unhealthy behavior, we will also give up the payoff.

Willingness does not require mastery of any skill. It does not require a certain level of understanding. It is not a declaration that you’ll do any particular thing. It is not an obligation or a timeline. Willingness is simply a state of being open to exploring whatever may come as you allow yourself to shift and heal. If you are willing, you are ready.

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/preparation-for-healing-managing-expectations-begins-with-setting-clear-intentions/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/preparation-healing-manage-expectations/

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February 26, 2019

Ever Feel Like You Were Born on Opposite Day?

I often feel like I was born on opposite day. In yoga, when most people feel a stretch on the left leg, I’ll feel it in my back on the right. I can move and shift and never find a stretch on the left. While students around me tried to avoid teachers with a reputation for being difficult, I sought out the toughest English, chemistry, and biology teachers. I fired an easy flight instructor to fly with one who turned off the fuel on takeoff to see what I would do.*
opposite
I’m out of sync with the mainstream in other ways. I don’t want to go home from the doctor’s office with a bottle of pills if there’s another way to fix the problem…even if the alternate solution takes months or years. When my tummy feels like it needs something bland, eating a piece of cheese or a banana will send it into absolute spasms for days but a bowl of black beans has no ill effects.

This weekend I watched The Goddess Project with some friends. Afterward, I just kept thinking that I never feel limited by being female. I’m not saying I don’t see inequities in corporations, organizations, and institutions or that I haven’t sometimes had to figure out ways to navigate that wouldn’t be required of men. I’m just saying, I haven’t ever felt like I shouldn’t pursue whatever I want to pursue because I’m a girl.

Why am I writing about any of this? I’m not exactly sure. It has something to do with watching that movie, taking care of a 2-year-old, and trying to be present when everything feels raw. There’s a point lurking somewhere in the back of my mind. Maybe I’ll find it if I just keep writing.

There are times that my grandson DJ pouts and whines about something and I just smile and walk away because the behavior is best ignored. There have been other times when he has behaved badly, gotten in trouble, and then thrown a B.I.G. fit. My first instinct is to lay down the law. After all, he’s already gotten consequences and now he’s behaving worse.

But one day when this happened, instead of being punitive, I picked him up, held him close and told him what a good boy he was and that I was pretty sure we could figure out how to solve the problem. He stopped crying, yelling, and kicking, calmed down and was cooperative. It was an eye-opener. I have no idea why it struck me that was the thing to do, but somehow I knew he needed the opposite of what logic was telling me.

I often need the opposite of what convention offers. Support groups don’t make me feel supported. Attending a class doesn’t make me more likely to work out. Pushing me doesn’t mean you’ll get a quicker or better result. Talk therapy leaves me in an emotional loop I can’t get out of. (I can, but it’s by integrating my body into the process using somatic experiencing and yoga.) I tolerate directness, confrontation, and anger better than evasiveness, subterfuge, and manipulation presented in a very polite fashion.

I feel annoyed when “experts” promulgate the idea that they can predict what will trigger a traumatized person. What triggers one person will not phase another. The idea that there are specific words, phrases, and sounds that should be summarily eliminated from our lexicon feels like dismissiveness to me and I experience emotional flashbacks.

Of course it’s comforting to think that if we as a culture make a few blanket eliminations of words or phrases, then we have done our part to facilitate healing. But the way that often plays out is that I experience individuals who do not believe they need to hear my story, get to know me, or feel my pain. Language and topic policy provide them a comfortable cushion for avoiding genuine interaction.

Again, I understand that I may be in a small minority, but here’s how I feel. I’m a big girl. I can figure out the best way for me to deal with my own triggers. If you feel you must decide for me, you do not view me as your equal. Boom, I feel diminished and dismissed. That does not contribute to healing.

Conventional wisdom is sometimes just convention and convenience that makes us feel comfortable being emotionally lazy or fearful. If we’re willing to really see each other, it is never that simple. Hurt masquerades as anger; fear masquerades as acceptance; shame masquerades as advocacy; vulnerability cloaks itself in imagined limitations. When we really see each other, there is no us vs them. There is just us.

If you are like me, it may be harder to feel supported because what works for the majority of people just feels wrong to you. You may have to be more articulate than your colleagues to get your point across. You may sometimes feel excluded or shunned.

You may spend a lot of time twisting yourself into what you’re not in order to feel accepted. If you do, I am so sorry any and all of us have made you feel you must do that.

I often feel like I was born on opposite day. You may too. Perhaps the only point worth making is that you are not alone. I get it.

I also choose to believe there is nothing wrong with us for being out of sync with our peers. And I know the world needs our voices just as much as it needs other points of view. I won’t try to get you to unite. We’ll leave that to those who were born on regular days.

https://www.pca-nwa.com/trigger-words/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/cheri-cheri-quite-contrary/

*I don’t mean he pulled the throttle back, I mean he turned the fuel OFF. The engine was not coming back on. Okay, in truth the easy flight instructor screamed a lot when I was learning to land and I couldn’t stand that anymore. Also, I didn’t know Mike would turn off the fuel until the day he did. I just knew he intimidated all of the young male pilots and gave lots of notes. For any pilot reading this and thinking that move was reckless—we were flying a Cessna 172 and without me noticing, Mike had put his leg up to block the yoke so that I couldn’t pull it back if I panicked once I realized we weren’t climbing. I didn’t. I immediately put the nose down and prepared to land on the remaining length of runway. He knew we had plenty of runway left and if I hadn’t responded with the correct procedure, he would have taken control of the plane.

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