Stomach Hurt? Hit Your Finger With a Hammer

Five Ground Rules for Using Distractions Effectively

Stomach hurt? Hit your finger with a hammer. Your stomach may still hurt, but you won’t notice it anymore! (You know I’m right if you’ve ever stubbed your little toe on the couch!) Should you discover afterward the cure is worse than the disease, well, you learned something.

I’ve seen this pain management technique used in movies, but I don’t know anyone brave enough to purposely hit their hand hard with a hammer. On the other hand, I know plenty of people who use other forms of distraction that are dangerous: drinking & driving, drinking & shooting, having unprotected sex with strangers, driving aggressively, and gambling.

While the risk is always there, only occasionally does such distraction lead to tragedy. That means such behavior goes mostly unchecked until someone gets a DUI or ends up in bankruptcy and people begin to take notice.

Right now, with the pandemic, unjust law enforcement, and economic hardship, there’s plenty of pain and loss to go around. Everyone is trying to figure out ways to cope. This makes me wonder…

Is it always bad to use distraction to relieve physical or psychic pain?

Obviously, nothing is all good or all bad per se and there’s not an absolute answer to this question. For example, drinking, gambling, and drug use bring significantly more risk for those struggling with addiction than for those who are not. Drinking and driving on the other hand is a risky combination for everyone. Drinking and shooting are never the best mix, but one beer and a round of sporting clays won’t raise any special alarms for me. And there are distractions like enjoyable work and creative hobbies that don’t pose danger.

While I’m musing about this, I’d say my ultimate intention is to heal physical and/or psychic pain as fully as possible and thereby eliminate the need for pain-relieving distractions. With that said, I realize healing is a process that is sometimes lengthy. Distractions may be a useful technique for functioning in the interim.

Here are five ground rules for using distractions effectively:

Acknowledge the source of underlying pain. If you do not start here, distractions will hinder healing.

Make a deliberate choice to include distraction as a way to manage underlying pain.

Choose distractions that add meaning and value to your life or the lives of others. Volunteer work, political activism, gardening, flower arranging, performing music, reading, writing, painting, sculpting, building, and cooking are all examples of valuable distractions.

Choose distractions that require you to be your best self. Putting your best qualities on display and receiving positive feedback will feed your spirit.

Seek balance. There are times that it is more important to focus on a problem than to be distracted from it. Finding a balance between focus and distraction will put you in the best position to pivot when needed.

Some pain is unavoidable. It will come in waves from nature, from others, and from ourselves. Without balance, pain can become all-consuming.

Carefully chosen distractions are helpful for mitigating pain and shifting focus. I use them on a regular basis. I do so judiciously, recognizing that distractions can become all-consuming as well.

That doesn’t mean I only choose highbrow distractions. Sometimes I binge watch. Sometimes I read the TMZ website. I check @ass_Deans tweets. I build something with the grandkid’s blocks. I take off my shoes and focus on how my feet feel walking through the grass.

Using distractions well means I can shift easily. Being able to shift gives me freedom to make choices rather than be stuck and frozen. Playful distractions are my favorite, but mostly I try to stay away from extremes like hitting my finger with a hammer to make my stomach stop hurting.

https://www.tmz.com/

Finding Peace in Every Day

Peace and healing go hand in hand. In war torn countries, health initiatives can be used for peace building. In our homes, something similar can happen when we make healing a priority.

Times of illness or recovery can put a strain on families. Exhaustion, shock, sadness, pain, and discomfort make it difficult to be at our best. But finding peace in every day can help create an environment that encourages healing.

After six months of improving health, we recently learned that my 18-month-old granddaughter has developed a quick growing muscle that is obstructing the flow of blood from her aorta. Removal and repair will require another open-heart surgery (her third). If we’re lucky, this will take place in about six months. If she gets sick this cold and flu season, the surgery may need to happen sooner. It will be more difficult than her previous surgeries and will threaten the still fragile heart repairs made last year.

From April 2018 to April 2019, she was hospitalized six times for an amount of time equaling six months. At the time, she had one sibling. Next time around, she’ll have two and one will be a newborn. That means it will take all of us to keep things going. We know what it’s like. We just lived through a similar year.

After trying unsuccessfully to hold onto some semblance of my previous normal, gone are my plans to move to another state. Gone are vacations. I just managed a trip to see my other new grandson, but lying on the beach, a cruise, the NCAA tournament, or a week at a spa are beyond reach for now.

Letting go of some positive activities has been a necessity. I prioritize getting enough sleep, eating reasonably well, working out 150 minutes per week, and grouping work into efficient batches. Most weeks meeting these goals plus family care duties puts me at capacity.

With waves of added responsibility arriving over the past three years, I am beginning to recognize new effects of the relentlessness. I’ve noticed when I feel any slight hint of relaxing into the warm feeling of a beautiful day or happy anticipation of the future, I immediately tamp it down. Then I feel sad, perhaps from a sense of loss.

At this point I’m not able to slow the process down enough to figure out the exact order in which the emotions arrive. Do I feel sad and that makes me pull back happiness, or do I feel happy and that triggers the sadness of loss? I don’t know. Maybe I don’t need to. I’m aware of the problem and sometimes that’s all that’s needed to find a solution.
sink
What remains when life gets tough are the everyday tasks-finding food, taking a shower, throwing out the trash, putting gas in the car, and choosing clothes to wear. In fact, the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor and Statistics shows that most of our time outside of work and sleep is spent on everyday tasks.

It’s so easy to dread doing the laundry or the dishes or mowing the lawn, especially when we’re exhausted and stressed. And yet those tasks remain. Even if we hire someone to cook, clean, and mow, we still must bathe ourselves and brush our teeth occasionally.

Logic tells me that when most of the time available is filled with the tasks of everyday living, then that is the place in which I must find peace. I’m not exactly there yet, but I can visualize it-relaxing into the comfort of routine, not wondering what to do next, relying on muscle memory and allowing the mind to drift and quiet.

If you’re concerned that your mind will twist with worry instead, you have not yet experienced the state I’m describing. Neither had I prior to the past year. There is a point at which all energy has been harnessed to deal with the decisions and tasks of a given moment. In other words, the present is too absorbing to allow for speculation.

I wish you the chance to avoid reaching this point in your lifetime, but for some it will be unavoidable. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 16,000 infants per year have surgery for congenital heart defects and an estimated 80,000 to 85,000 aortic valve replacements are done on aortic stenosis patients in the US each year.

As I embark upon this next difficult journey through childcare and family support, here is how I will seek peace in every day:

I will create a list for my day of things I hope to do. I will set the intention to feel good about any and everything I accomplish. If I don’t get to something, I will move it to tomorrow’s list, next week’s list, or let it go.

When I wash dishes, I will notice the warmth of the water, the lemony smell of the dishwashing liquid, and the green plants outside the window. I’ll feel my feet solidly planted on the floor. I’ll let thoughts and feelings flow and go.

When I do laundry, I’ll take a moment to bury my face in the warm towels from the dryer and breathe in their fresh scent.

I’ll make sure to breathe when I’m on my yoga mat and consciously relax large muscle groups in order to stretch my fascia.

When I water the plants, I will savor the smell of rosemary and mint.

I will wear clothes that feel good.

I will lean into hugs.

I will say yes to help when it’s sincerely offered.

I will absorb comfort and compliments.

I will cut short phone calls or visits that do not feel supportive and will be willing to put friendships on hold or let them go when they feel draining.

While I may not take the time to record gratitude, I will take note each time I feel grateful.

I will count progress toward a goal as accomplishment.

I will trust myself, my judgment, and my shifting priorities.

I will let myself change.

Significant life events may mean we are never again the person we once were. This can feel like loss. That loss must be grieved. But all loss is also gain of something new and different. What we make of that gain can mean peace or turmoil. I may not get there immediately, but I am committed to using hard lessons as steps on a path toward peace.

This moment is all we know we have. If this is as good as it gets, then I have to let it be good enough. I will begin with finding peace in every day and trust that peace can lead me to joy.

I wish you both peace and joy in life’s easiest and most difficult moments.

https://www.nursingcenter.com/journalarticle?Article_ID=1580903&Journal_ID=54009&Issue_ID=1580838

https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/atus.pdf

https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.105.592089

Cheri ThriverPosted on Categories UncategorizedTags , , , , Leave a comment on Finding Peace in Every Day

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.”

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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