WHEN YOU CAN’T FIX IT

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“Surrender – giving up what we think should be happening for what is actually happening.”          ~ McCall Erickson

 

I’ve been musing about this thought lately. There are times in life when tragedies happen, people you love are suffering and YOU CAN’T FIX IT! There’s nothing you can do. Nothing.

THEN WHAT DO WE DO?

We are beings who love doing, aren’t we? We’re all raised with such focus put on our ability to be capable and fix things. Problem? I’ll solve it! Predicament? Here’s what to do! Something broke? I’ll fix it! So when life throws us situations that we can’t actually fix, what can we do?

I’ve been struggling with this recently, both with my father in hospice care and passing last year, and with someone dear to me being in a depression. They were in physical and mental states I could not fix. I felt completely helpless. It was not in my power to make these situations any different.

I felt everything within these life challenges – grief, despair, LOTS of anxiety, frustration, anger, and guilt. Surely there must be something I can do! Have you been there? I believe most of us have if we’ve lived very long at all.

So what DO we do when we can’t fix something? I’m no expert, but here are the things I found I could do.

Be present. Simply be with the person who needs help. This is a natural instinct. I remember observing children when my son was in pre-school, and if one of them was upset, several other children would move and simply sit by that child. Not saying anything, just letting him or her know they’re not alone. It was powerful and comforting. Mere presence is often underrated. In his last months, my father was so comforted by the presence of people he loved. We didn’t have to do anything but just be there. Some people who may be depressed or recovering from trauma will push us away, but we need to gently find ways to be present with them anyway. In my life, when I’ve tried to isolate, I am eternally grateful for those friends who showed up and didn’t let me drown in the abyss I was creating. And if you can’t be with someone in person, call them. It helps.

 

“I thought faith would say “I’ll take away the pain and discomfort.” But what it ended up saying was “I’ll sit with you in it.” ~ Brene Brown

 

Listen without judgment. Sometimes people need to speak their dark thoughts out loud. We all, at times, need that person who will listen without judgment. My father needed to talk about death. Others I’ve known needed to admit they’d thought of ending it all, or running away from their life. To sit with that, and provide space for that, is a gift. Have you felt that? The times when you just say something out loud, you are heard, and you feel a weight lift off your shoulders? And the scary thoughts become less scary. They’re more scary when we keep them in. Friends and family aren’t therapists, but to be able to listen and not judge, to just respond with “That must be painful to think about,” or “I’m sorry you’ve felt so desperate, but I’m here for you,” can provide much-needed comfort.

Allow.  Allow people to be where they need to be. Remembering that we all have a path to walk and we don’t really “get” our lessons until we walk that path is so important. And we see so clearly what others must do or how they should be to fix their issues, don’t we? But by being present and listening, we allow them the space, the glorious window through which they will ultimately see their own unique path themselves. Know they are on their path, and the path God has for them doesn’t need fixing.

Visualize.  If we believe we are spiritual beings having a human existence, then we must know the power of seeing the truth about a loved one. When those I love are in a crisis, I take time each day to visualize them as they truly are, a beautiful spiritual being. I see them whole, happy, healthy, or simply wrapped in the love of God. If you feel you need to do something for someone, this can be very powerful, especially if you don’t live close enough to be present in person.

 

“Prayer is where the action is.” ~ John Wesley

 

Pray.  Prayer is a very active response to feelings of helplessness. Gandhi said, “Prayer is not an old woman’s amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.” In many situations, it is imperative to pray and take action, but this is not always possible. Sometimes, all we can do is pray. And those are the times to remember that prayer is not passive, prayer is not a last resort, it is a powerful action we take as we turn a situation, a concern, a person, over to God. Praying for the best outcome for a person or situation, not what we think should happen, but for what God knows is best. Trust. Have faith. Surrender. Pray.

I’ve found in my life these five things help. Sometimes it’s just a thought, sometimes it’s me railing against what is, struggling to allow and visualize, but at least I feel like I’m doing something.  Maybe I can’t do anything physically, but I can spiritually. Maybe I can’t fix it and make it go away, but I can love it and ultimately find the gifts in it. I can try.

You Are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

December 5, 2018

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Being At Peace with the Past

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“If you don’t make peace with your past, it will keep showing up in your present.”                     ~ Wayne Dyer

Making peace with the past, with our memories, is such a crucial factor in healing. Being able to look back somewhat objectively at traumatic events in our past is something we strive for. We don’t always get there, but we keep trying. To be able to say without upset, “Yes, that happened. But now I am here,” is empowering and affirming.

Recently, I moved back to the state where I lived during my 20s. I am within driving distance from where I lived when I was sexually assaulted. Recently, I had occasion to be in that neighborhood, near that apartment. I had not been by it in 35 years. When I moved out, I never went back, needing to stay away from it. I wondered how it would impact me to see it again after all this time. So I drove by.

Why did I feel compelled to do this? I wasn’t looking for drama or to be triggered. It has been a very long time. I think I was simply curious. How would it compare to my memory? How would I feel seeing it?

I knew the name of the street but didn’t remember the address, only the general area. I drove straight to it like no time had passed. I found the building, looking much the same as it did 3 decades ago, and drove down the little alley that ran alongside the bottom floor apartments. I found my old apartment and drove by slowly, seeing the interior in my mind as I did so. The porch was filled with belongings of the current resident, bicycles and boogie boards. But it looked much the same.

And I felt…nothing. I think I had been expecting some kind of emotional reaction, but I truly just felt a little curious and very objective. As I made my long drive home, I wondered why I was so unaffected by seeing the apartment. It has been a long time, and I’ve done SO much work to heal what happened there. But the greater truth I came upon is realizing that the trauma isn’t part of the building. It’s only part of me.

The gift God gave me that day was truly seeing how we make associations and assign feelings to places and time periods that are not actually part of that place or time. The associations and feelings don’t exist apart from us. We truly carry it all with us; the good and the bad. 

                      “When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories,                             we get to write the ending.” ~ Brene Brown

The building is just a building. It holds whatever memory or feeling I assign to it. I don’t need the building to be triggered, or feel sad or scared. I can conjure that up on my own with a single thought, wherever I am in time and space. The boogieman doesn’t live there, he lives in my mind and memory. Much like a childhood home can hold triggers and memories both good and bad, those feelings aren’t part of the house – we carry them with us throughout our life.

A building can only hold what I give it. I see now that I had nothing left to put on that building. Nothing. And though I know I’m fully healed, this was even more evidence to me. If you’re struggling with healing from trauma, I hope this gives you hope. There will come a day when you are objective and curious and grateful and know that you are fully healed.

“Everything changes once we identify with being the witness to the story,                     instead of the actor in it.” ~ Ram Dass

I also don’t mean to take away from those of us who do need to revisit a place to make peace with it or find closure of some kind. Our healing processes are so unique to each of us individually, so I completely validate the need one may have to return to a location to move the healing along. Because looking at a past event can be like looking through a lens that is out of focus. A bit dim, blurry, with little detail. But in physically revisiting, we can pull the memory into focus, see it more clearly, and take another step in healing.

Where are your memories? Where do you need to make peace with the past? The gift we are given is the knowledge we can do that anywhere. We don’t have to go to the place or sit in a building, for it’s all within us; the past and the tools to heal it. When we ask the Divine for guidance we will be led to a place of healing and wholeness, and that place is within.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

7/24/18

Honor Your Hard Healing Work

 

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“As long as you have certain desires about how it ought to be, you can’t see how it is.”                                                                                    ~ Ram Dass

“Hey, why aren’t you all the way healed yet? Aren’t you trying? What? You’re not done? Well, when will you be done? You don’t know? Why not? How long will this take? I need to get on with things, and this is really holding me back.”

Sound familiar? This inner critic, this part of our minds that keeps us from being happy needs to be smacked down sometimes. Well, not sometimes, pretty often actually. Okay daily, maybe hourly. Because it stands between us and happiness. It stands between us and peace of mind. It stands between us and God.

So today, I invite you to take a rest from your inner critic and honor the hard healing work you have done! Seriously, give yourself the gift of acknowledging how far you have come in healing from trauma. We hardly ever do this, do we? We work so hard, we pray, we heal, we take our baby steps, sometimes we have a huge breakthrough, and we just… keep going. Pause and look back at what you have done to get to this place in your healing.

Just as no one can walk this path for you, no one can acknowledge the work you’ve done either. Only you know the breathing, the reading, the therapy, the nights of constant praying, of turning it over to God again and again and again. Only you know – and God. I think the Divine is always looking for opportunities for us to heal more and to acknowledge us when we do. I can look back on my life and so clearly see times when the opportunities to heal would lessen so I could catch my breath and just live. Similarly, I clearly see the times when the opportunities intensified because I had to heal something deeper to move forward. God knows our needs, and I feel God celebrates our progress, not only for our own healing, but the healing of the world.

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” ~ Maya Angelou

It takes really hard work to become a butterfly, and what do we do when we see one? We often stop, reverently, to admire it. It’s one of the few absolute transformations in nature we have probably seen in person. So we know that dark period in the cocoon can be long, but that so much is happening inside that we can’t see! Miracles are happening. So we stop and witness to it.

Do that for yourself. You are nothing less than a butterfly, and even if you’re still in your cocoon, not ready to come out – witness and have reverence for how far you’ve come. No one will do it for you, and it’s so crucial we do this for ourselves!

“We acknowledge our pain, not to get more depressed or to drown in the suffering, but to see the truth of our experience.” ~ Sharon Salzberg

What is the truth of our experience? Take stock today of your progress. Have you slept through the night? Decreased flashbacks? Have you asked for help in a healthy way? Have you surrounded yourself with supportive friends? Can you close your eyes and meditate? Can you stay alone? Do you feel closer to God? These are all wins and we deserve to pat ourselves on the back.

Our mind, body and spirit is running a marathon of healing. It’s a long race, so we must pace ourselves and recognize our immense progress along the way! There will always be more to do, more to heal, but just for today, acknowledge your own dedication and progress in healing. Rest in God’s arms, and join Him in being proud of you. Can I get an amen?

“Lovng ourselves through the process of owning our own story is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” ~ Brene Brown

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

March 5, 2018

Making Friends with the Night

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“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me                                                           dwell in safety.”  ~ Psalm 4:8 .                         

This idea came to me a few weeks ago – making friends with the night. It’s something I still struggle with from time to time. I still have very vivid memories of fearing the night, the dark, and sleep; all of these fears when my trauma was fresh. How could I sleep again when sleep had left me vulnerable and the night had brought danger? It took a long time before I could truly sleep, and I spent almost a year feeling sleep-deprived and not able to function well during the day.

I saw a concert film last night, “Concert for George.” It was a tribute concert for George Harrison made in 2002. The lyrics to one of his songs struck me, as it described the feeling trauma survivors have about sleep:

“Watch out now, take care

Beware of the thoughts that linger

Winding up inside your head

The hopelessness around you

In the dead of the night.” ~ from “Beware of Darkness”

This verse so poetically describes the post-trauma brain trying to find sleep. One fearful thought quickly multiplies, spiraling into a cyclone of random thoughts and images, leading to that hopelessness that feeds our tendency to isolate. But we find our release (relief?) in the first line – “Watch out now, take care.” That is the key. The way out is to be ever-vigilant with our thoughts, and ask for help when we need it. We often also need to physically be certain of our safety, so our logical mind can help our emotional mind get through. This is a start to making friends with the night.

Initially, being in control of our thoughts is almost impossible. Once the shock begins to wear off, our brains go into hyper-drive trying to make sense of what happened. We usually have no frame of reference, so the fearful thoughts we try to plug into previous memories and logic are finding no home. They run amuck in our brain until we form new synapses, a new filing system, and ultimately new coping skills for what we have experienced. This is a time for good therapy to help you frame your experience in a way that will be helpful to you.

But alone, at night, it’s just you and your fearful brain. There are many tools to help us get control of our thoughts. Just as with any healing tool, we have to experiment to see what works for us. And no one thing will work every time! These are tools I have used: prayer, distraction (read, read, read), and detach and replace. Often, if I just start praying, especially if I’m praying for a long list of others, my fearful brain will turn off, and my mind enters a more contented space, more connected with the Divine than with this world. Sometimes I have to just distract myself with reading until my brain is too tired to make me crazy. And sometimes, I practice detach and replace. It’s kind of like catch and release in fishing. I observe the fearful thought as though it’s not part of me (detach), then replace it with a different thought. So it goes something like this:

Fear thought: I’ve been harmed. It could happen again. What was that noise?

Detaching thought: Hm. That’s interesting that you’re thinking about that.

Replacing thought: I’m a beloved child of God.

Basically, you are disarming a bully, it just happens to live in your brain and come out at night. If you are still deep in the healing process, I encourage you to also explore EFT (tapping) as a tool to help you get to sleep. 

It can be difficult to use affirmations and trust in God and tell yourself you are safe, when you have very vivid memories of not being safe. But the alternative is to live IN fear instead of IN SPITE of it. If we remain frozen and paralyzed by it, then the fear wins, the trauma wins, and our life is lessened by it.

“Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending – to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how the story ends.”                          ~ Brene Brown

We must keep trying to make friends with the night, so we are rested warriors and we can choose how our story ends. Try not to be afraid of the dark (and I will too), God is there as surely as God is in the light, encompassing our fear with the mighty power of Divine Love.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

2/26/2018

Healing doesn’t have to be Heavy

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“I believe in the healing power of laughter. I believe laughter forces us to breathe.”

– Brene Brown

The title for this blog floated into my brain during a group meditation at a Reiki class. I almost laughed out loud because looking around the circle we were all so serious in our quest for deepening. And of course, connecting with God, expanding our ability to Love in God’s name, forgiving our enemies, these are serious things! But we have to remember to laugh.

Healing from ANYTHING is difficult, whether it’s physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. Sometimes it’s a full time job, getting well. Everything starts to revolve around getting well. We have physical therapy, psychotherapy, yoga, hiking, prayer groups, whatever – and it’s easy to forget to find time and places to laugh.

“Man when you lose your laugh you lose your footing.” – Ken Kesey

But as Ken Kesey so profoundly states, losing your laugh means losing your footing. I would even say losing your laugh means losing your hope. What is more hopeful than laughter? I have a distinct memory of my first big laugh after I was sexually assaulted. I don’t think I really laughed for at least a month, which is pretty normal. I was deeply traumatized, focused on healing, still dealing with an investigation, and trying to wrap my head around what had happened. Trying not to be angry at God. All of it.

I don’t even remember what made me laugh, I just remember laughing deeply at something and in that moment, long lost endorphins flooded my body and I felt (could it be?) hope! I knew I was going to be okay. Laughing helped me feel normal, and connected, and alive in a way I hadn’t felt for some time. It was a gift, and it continued to grow and help me heal in the months and years following.

“What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” –Yiddish Proverb

Those of us who have struggled with PTSD know the numbness that comes with it. If you’re not in a state of freak-out you’re just kind of numb. No highs, no lows, just existing. Laughter can break through that numbness, as it did for me, and give you a taste of feeling truly alive again.

Scientifically this is being proven to be true! Research shows that laughter lowers the level of stress hormones (epinephrine, cortisol, etc) in the blood and raises endorphin levels. It is now being seen for the healing force it is, boosting immune systems, lowering blood pressure, and soothing the souls of soldiers with PTSD, healing victims of trauma. Of course, this is in conjunction with other healing modalities, but laughter definitely enhances whatever else we’re doing.

“Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.” – Charlie Chaplin

Sometimes we can seek laughter and find it. Other times it will sneak up on us and lighten our load. Interestingly, science shows us that real and fake laughter have the same effect on our physiology. This is why laughter therapies are springing up all around the world. It’s difficult when you’re feeling low, in grief, or focused on healing to think about doing something to make yourself laugh, but try! Try! Watch an old favorite show, go to a comedy club, gather with friends.

When friends gather, laughter is inevitable, and so is connection. Often with PTSD, we turn to isolation because it’s easier and we feel wounded and we don’t want others to see. But we need the connection, we need the laughter, and these things are blessed by God! The Divine doesn’t want you suffering in the depths of your soul. God wants us lifted up, laughing again, being Love.

Even the Dalai Lama is quoted as saying “I am a professional laugher!” He understands that laughter heals the soul and lifts the heart.

“Laughter is an instant vacation.” – Milton Berle

In other aspects of my life, I do comedy improv. I once remarked to a friend that it felt like an odd dichotomy, to write about healing spiritually from PTSD, and then do comedy improv. My friend just smiled and said, “They’re both healing. I don’t see them as opposing each other at all.” That was such a gift to hear! So I go forward, healing myself and hopefully others with laughter.

Give yourself the gift of laughter today. Healing doesn’t have to be heavy. Healing includes laughing.

Seriously.

You are Still Beloved

Victoria McGee

January 22, 2018