Only A Monster Could Love Me.

I teach a mindfulness class. Inevitably, after the first class a few people drop out because they  had some misconceptions about what mindfulness meditation was. Mindfulness is just partly  breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.

The primary component is noticing how you are feeling and noticing the thoughts you are having in this moment. This is a practice that many people have spent their lives avoiding. A lot of people are out of touch with their thoughts and feelings. When I ask them to pay attention it literally scares them.

This is called back draft. Sometimes when we open our hearts to our thoughts and feelings they can feel overwhelming and frightening. This is because we are trained to follow the rules no matter how we feel and what we think. This conditioning is hard to break and for some potentially impossible. We just go through the motions of our lives never having really lived. This happens so much more than people realize.

Further, some people have their wires crossed. For some of us,  the people that were supposed to love us and keep us safe did not do the best job. This can lead to shutting off our emotions completely or thinking that love is unsafe. This means that when I try to extend love or compassion to you, you will literally be repulsed by me. It is how some people stayed safe. Some people literally feel unlovable. If you try to love them they will think something is wrong with you. “After all, only a monster could love a person like me,”  they think.

What also breaks my heart are the people that do not even realize that they were abused/traumatized as a child. I once asked a person if they had any history of abuse and they stated that they had not. Some time later the person recounted the violent psychological and physical abuse they had endured. When I questioned why they denied having been abused they reported “I thought I had a normal childhood” No, that is not normal and it certainly impacts a person’s ability to be present, vulnerable, and connected in their lives.

I write this in the midst of an opioid epidemic. When the pain is too much to bear, we find a way to make it bearable, even if that means slowly killing ourselves.

Love.

Not Everything Happens For A Reason.

cheryl strayed quotes | Acceptance is a small, quiet room" -Cheryl Strayed:

-Cheryl Strayed

I harbor a great deal of resentment towards the positivity movement. When I am sharing a struggle, I do not need to hear “think positive” or “everything happens for a reason.” Even if you believe that everything happens for a reason, there are some things that happen and they are just so incredibly painful that I can’t accept that response. In fact, it feels like you are minimizing my experience. Am I just supposed to feel better because there is a reason out in the ether for all of this? What I hear when you say phrases like that is”your pain is too uncomfortable for me and I need to make this conversation stop.”

For some people, life offers up some seriously messed up situations and there is no positive way to spin it, make it good, or make it make sense. By all means, please use whatever faith system you have to make sense of suffering but please do not expect me to accept your coping mechanisms as my own.

There are some things that happen and they are so traumatic and so awful that there is nothing else to be said about them. There is no going back and reflecting on the situation in the hopes that it will somehow or someday make sense. This is about acceptance. We must accept that this thing(s) happened. We must stare at it and absorb the truth of it and understand that it will always be part of us. There are no pretty bows or lines of poetry to soften the impact.

If you happen to be present when someone is sharing one of these life moments with you, please, please do not tell them that “everything happens for a reason” or “think positive” or “it’s all in God’s plan.” Those phrases do not make anyone feel better. They make people feel worse. Because, why would God plan for me to suffer so much? I bet you can’t answer that question because you’re not God. So, it’s best to leave it alone. It’s fine to think everything happens for a reason and believe it to be true, it’s just not okay to say it. 

What can you say? 

“I am so sorry and sad this happened to you/or is happening to you.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“I love you and I’m here for you”

If you are the person suffering? You can say to yourself:

“I am so sad and sorry this happened to me, I am just so sad this happened”

“This is really hard for me right now”

“It’s okay to not be okay”

“I will probably never get over this”

“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Love.

The Wounding Healer.

I’ve spent the last few months exploring and studying Complex PTSD and Polyvictimization. This came about for a few reasons, namely, I knew little about the diagnosis and I was seeing a significant increase in clients presenting with these issues.

Complex PTSD and Polyvictimization are when a person has experienced multiple traumas over a period of time. This can be related to combat situations, law enforcement, child abuse, domestic violence, living with crime, bullying in schools, and the list goes on. Some researchers describe it as a feeling of being trapped in a traumatic situation with no hope of it ever ending (because it doesn’t end). These people may have a more challenging time recovering given the impact trauma has on our physiological and emotional health. It is hard to heal when you are exposed to trauma again and again.

What I found most interesting in my reading so far, is the idea of the Wounding Healer. A number of years ago, I expressed some concern over comments made by a coworker in a meeting. The comments were graphic and detailed her own history of trauma. When I shared my feelings with a close friend he said, “She did not ask permission to share that” I loved that. We need to be more cognizant about how sharing our experiences influence those around us.

The wounding healer doesn’t know that they are wounding the people around them. Often, we share stories about our lives with little knowledge about what another person may have experienced. I think we must always be mindful in our interactions as not to cause distress to those around us. A lot of people have experienced trauma and are extremely sensitive to the experiences of others. Or, for the people that have not experienced trauma, hearing about a traumatic event can be extremely distressing.

I know we can’t “trigger warning” all of our conversations but we should try to consider the content of our conversations. For many of my clients, they are often exposed to conversations that trigger them or cause them further distress. When this happens they again feel trapped because they don’t want to shame the person for sharing vulnerable parts of themselves. This is particularly damaging if the wounding healer is a healthcare provider. As mental health professionals, we must be very careful about using our own stories of healing to heal others. Each story of recovery is unique.

If you feel the need to share about your history, maybe ask permission first. Or, it might be time to see a professional that is prepared and equipped to handle what you need to work out. After all, sharing trauma is something that needs to be handled delicately and with compassion.

“Unfortunately, not all wounded healers are aware of their own issues, and certainly not all healers are healed. Some become wounding healers, who are not fully aware of their own injuries or haven’t worked on them sufficiently and therefore too easily project their issues and unconscious needs onto others. These people can be quite dangerous to someone as vulnerable as a trauma victim, whose trust in others may have been betrayed in all sorts of ways. What makes matters worse is that wounding healers generally don’t recognize their weaknesses. They believe that they have healed and don’t realize when they are using their clients to continue their own work by proxy.” -Jasmin Lee Cori

 

My Love For You Saw Me Through.

“Life is a journey for us all. We all face trials. We all have ups and downs. All of us are human. But we are also the masters of our fate. We are the ones who decide how we are going to react to life.”
Elizabeth Smart, My Story: Elizabeth Smart

I had the wonderful pleasure of listening to Elizabeth Smart speak yesterday afternoon. Like most people, I followed her story from a distance. The horror of a child abducted from their bedroom in the middle of the night is enough to grab anyone’s attention. She spoke with such a softness about the unbelievable trauma she endured during her nine months in captivity. I was deeply moved by her resilience and grace.

What struck me the most from her speech was what she described as the moment she decided to survive. She spoke about the night she was kidnapped and raped for the first time and the unbelievable shame she felt after the assault. She thought about giving up and dying but then she thought about her mother. Her mother told her, after a particularly challenging day, that neither God nor her mother would ever stop loving her. That no matter what she did or what happened to her, her mother assured her that her love was unconditional. She thought about that love and decided that she would do whatever she needed to do to survive. And, she did just that.

It reminded my of Viktor Frankl making a similar decision as a prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp. He brought to mind the face of his wife and his love for her. He thought of her and his love for her every time he thought about giving up. He did this even though he knew she was probably dead. He survived for her. And, she had not survived.

I am constantly reminded of how important our connections are in our lives. In my own life, there have been hard times, and I too brought to mind my loving relationships and it was those bonds that brought me through those times.

We must love one another unconditionally. We must reassure the people we love that we do love them unconditionally. And then, this is the hard part, we must show up for the people we love in all the ways we can.

Elizabeth Smart started and ended her talk reminding the audience that we all struggle and we all endure hard times. But, we all have a choice what to do with the what we are given. We always have a choice: bitterness, resentment, or Love. She also said that the love of her family healed her and that she was blessed to have had them. Faith and Love empowered her to tell her story and in doing so she has helped so many people.

Love is magic, love is power, love is everything.

Love.

“For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Bad Memory Days

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
― John MiltonParadise Lost

When you’ve experienced a traumatic event or events (and you get to define what is traumatic for you) your brain and body can react in many different ways.

Memories, thoughts and feelings can become curious and unpredictable things.

Sometimes the bad memories associated with the traumatic event may creep up on you like the shadows that crawl up the side of the wall at the end of the day.

Very slowly, until all of a sudden you are surrounded by darkness.

Sometimes, it isn’t even the event that you remember but just an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that comes out of nowhere.

The feeling that reminds you of the intense and real vulnerabilities of life.

Some days, you can go along like nothing happened. On the other days, the bad memories can kidnap you instantly out of the right now and drag you kicking and screaming into the past.

These feelings and thoughts may not last all day or they may last for several days. You probably don’t have a lot of control as to how long you’ll stay saturated in the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

During those bad memory days it’s hard, if not impossible, to escape from the intrusive thoughts and focus on what needs to get done.

What we know about bad memory days is that the more we try to make the thoughts go away the stronger and more powerful they get. Sometimes that means, despite your wishes, you may have to make friends with these bad memories or thoughts. Or at least, make room for them in your life because they’re not going anywhere. You know the memories are there but fighting them is futile.

It sounds counterintuitive but letting go of the fight and accepting you are having a bad memory day (or bad memory moments) might actually help you feel better.

On these days, it is so important to just try and breathe.

And, sometimes it helps to remind yourself that “you’re safe” by actually saying it out loud (and talking to yourself does not mean you are crazy)

Saying “I’m safe” and taking deep breaths can create spaces between your bad memories.

I believe self-care is paramount every day but if you’re having a bad memory day self care becomes as essential as eating and drinking.

For some people they may want to take a bath, wrap themselves tightly in a blanket, and limit the amount of exposure they have to stimulating sights and sounds.

It helps to have a to-do list of self-care items prepared for these kinds of days. It also helps to have a person (or persons) that you feel safe enough to sit with or call. You may or may not want to share what the specifics but it helps to know someone cares.

If you have bad memory days a lot and they are interfering with your ability to live a life you love please do yourself a favor: Talk to a professional therapist and see a physician. Getting professional help takes a lot of courage. It is an immeasurable act of self-love to ask for help.

Love.

“Ouch, I have lost myself again
Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found,
Yeah, I think that I might break
Lost myself again and I feel unsafe”

Sia, Breathe Me