THAT HORRIBLE “T” WORD – TRUST

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“If you’re invested in security and certainty, you are on the wrong planet,”                                                      ~Pema Chodron

Trust. It can be so hard to get to that place. If you’ve been a victim of a traumatic event, it’s even more difficult. The very ground you stood on and the world you had constructed as orderly and dependable, the world you felt safe in, flipped on its head. Nothing is reliable. Nothing can be trusted.

Over time, as we heal, we take baby steps toward trusting again. Isn’t that beautiful? The human heart, ripped open and hurting, will always bend toward love, toward trusting again. We slowly re-construct our world again. It’s as if we’re building a staircase, then gingerly trying out each step to make sure it will hold.

Of course, we are tested. People change or let us down, jobs change, people die, accidents happen. Trust is challenged. This is true for everyone, but for those with PTSD these life events can be extra challenging. They can trigger our need for protection.

I’ve been feeling vulnerable lately. My life feels like it’s on shaky ground as I am moving soon (a big move) and not certain where I’ll land exactly. I even had a couple of nightmares about being in an earthquake! I find when I feel vulnerable like this, it triggers my monkey brain back into hyper-vigilance. The need to control, to protect myself, and to know what’s happening next can become all-consuming. I lie awake at night, my mind spiraling out to all the possible outcomes I can imagine. Sound familiar?

My niece posted recently about toddlers needing a reliable routine. Is it really that necessary? I commented on her post that it’s because their world gets exponentially bigger every day, and it’s exciting, but they need the routine to feel safe and secure. This feels true of me in my healing as well. Throughout my life, since the trauma, when things get shaky in my life, even if it’s positive change, I start to panic and lose sleep, trying to control outcomes and even people. My routine is off, there’s nothing I can put my trust in.

This is true, there is nothing tangible I can put my trust in. There is only God. Once I remember to turn to God, to trust in God, the panic begins to calm. My protective shell begins to soften. I start to relax, to look for the lessons, the gifts inherent in the chaos.

No matter who you are or what you do, the ground is always shaky. And, the really good news is that shaky ground is fertile ground for spiritual awakening.”                                                  ~Pema Chodron

As Pema Chodron states, shaky ground is fertile ground for spiritual awakening! If our trust was never tested, if our routines were never interrupted, how would we grow in faith? It is in those moments when we choose God that our faith is strengthened, our trust is emboldened, and our capacity for Love expands.

So I invite you to join me as I daily remind myself to let go, be at peace with the chaos, and trust that the Divine walks with me every step of this way. We must remember each moment to turn and take the hand of God as we walk. This is how we build trust. By not relying on ourselves or things of this world, but on the Divine Love of God. Choose God. Trust God. Find Peace.

“Faith isn’t a feeling. It’s a choice to trust God even when the road ahead seems uncertain.”            ~ Dave Willis

You Are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

August 4, 2017

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The Fabric of Our Lives

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“My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue,

An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view.

A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold,

A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold.”

                                                                        ~Carole King

            When I was young and would loudly sing along with Carole King in my room, these words were beautiful. As I grew older, they became profound. Now they bring tears, as they demand reflection. I hope I have many more years to live, and that I can live them awake and aware, knowing that with the good there will be bad, and it’s all part of the tapestry of my life.

Tapestries became popular during the Medieval era, largely because they were portable art, and people and kingdoms often had to move quickly. Originally tapestries told religious stories, then later in life they told tales of romance and fantasy. The process of following a large drawing and transferring that image onto a large, vertical loom is fascinating. The detail work is awe-inspiring. Perhaps our lives are tapestries, the big picture set forth at our birth, the details added as we grow and change.

“We sleep, but the loom of life never stops, and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up in the morning.”

                                                ~Henry Ward Beecher

Our live are indeed tapestries, each day woven into the existing patterns of the day before, incorporating light and dark, good and bad, fear and safety, life and death. What makes life rich is not to have had only good, safe and happy experiences, but their opposite as well. The contrast in the patterns of the tapestry is what makes it interesting, what paints the picture, what tells the whole story.

As I’ve written in previous blogs, I would not want my traumatic experience to be washed away and taken out of my life’s tapestry. The Dalai Lama once said, “There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful the experience is, if we lose out hope, that’s our real disaster.”

How do we live through trauma, grief, and sorrow and find our hope again? Through faith. Through turning it constantly over to God to heal. Through trusting the Divine will help us if we but ask. And through looking back at your tapestry so far. Look at how far you’ve come. Really see what you have survived, what gifts it brought you, what strength you gained. Examine the details of your tapestry. What small acts done by you or someone else, wove a new idea into the pattern? What help or compassion patched the place where the threads unraveled? Look at the strength of the whole piece. This has been created by the Divine, and nothing can tear it apart.

“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.”

                                                                                                ~ Richard P. Feynman

What a beautiful thought! It’s easier to realize this concept when we look at nature isn’t it? The patterns weave together and create the entire tapestry. I am filled with awe when I truly “get” this.

And so we move forward daily, not usually aware, our tapestry growing and changing and becoming richer until the end. So we must accept the entire tapestry, the good and the bad, the frayed edges, and the solid images, the times we were deeply afraid, and the times we were profoundly safe. The times we withheld love, and the times we gave it freely. Accept it, because in the end, what counts is everything, the whole picture ~ the complete tapestry. It’s all part of the fabric of our lives.

“Into Christ’s presence will we enter now, serenely unaware of everything His shining face, and perfect Love.”   ~ A Course in Miracles – WB 157

You Are Still Beloved

Victoria McGee

2/28/2017

Four Things to do Today to Help Heal Your Trauma

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“True healing is the willingness to treat yourself and others better than the past ever did.”                ~ Matt Kahn                 

I’m fond of being cerebral and spiritual. But sometimes we just need a list, right? Here are the directions. Just do this and you’ll feel better. Don’t give it too much thought, just do it. So here is my practical suggestion for four things you can do every day to help heal your trauma. (Still with the cerebral and spiritual quotes, because they’re awesome and healing in their own right.)

1. Quiet your mind.

“Listen – are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?   ~Mary Oliver

Breathe deeply. Set aside some time today to breathe deeply and quiet your mind. Settle yourself in a place you can feel safe, stick some nice music in your ears, whatever you need to just sit still with yourself. And BREATHE. Breathe deeply and profoundly.

Empty your brain as best you can, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Thoughts will trickle in, just gently say to them, “not now.” And return to the emptiness.

This is like pushing a reset button on your nervous system. And I know it’s hard when you’re a trauma survivor. I KNOW. Sometimes being alone in your own mind can seem scary.

I promise the more you practice, the deeper you breathe, and the more you disempower your random thoughts, the less scary it will be. It will start to be a safe harbor, and at some point become a necessity. This is the space we need to remember that we are one with God. 

2. Find something in Nature to marvel at.

“I go to Nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.” ~ John Burroughs

We are all so busy, aren’t we? And here I am telling you to squeeze more time into your day to marvel at some Nature. But this doesn’t have to be a hike in the woods or a trip to the park. Even in a big city, Nature is literally all around us. Watch snow fall out the window, watch your cat or dog sleep, be amazed at the strength of an ant carrying a crumb across the kitchen counter, look at the moon or watch the stars come out. If you have a yard, sit in it and look around you. Just notice. Is there a gentle breeze, perhaps, stirring the leaves in the trees? Are there birds going about their busy day? Do you see things growing all around you?

Nature restores our faith by being so constant and accessible. It heals our trauma by reminding us that life goes on and to rely on these good and steady displays of God’s love.

Practitioner hint: to save time, you can combine #1 and #2 – in fact, I highly recommend it!

3. Take another step toward forgiveness.

“Today I decided to forgive you. Not because you apologized, or because you acknowledged the pain that you caused me, but because my soul deserves peace.” ~ Najwa Zebian

Forgiveness is critical to healing. It’s not easy and it won’t happen all at once and you will need God’s help to get there. But today, just take one more baby step closer. Not for their sake, but for yours. We truly keep ourselves in prison when we refuse to forgive.

Studies have shown, too, a correlation between the ability to forgive and the severity of PTSD. Holding back on forgiveness means holding on to some rage, which keeps our bodies in fight or flight status and can lead to increased anxiety. So by not forgiving, we are stuck in trauma. I know you don’t want that. You deserve better.

So just for today, hold a little thought, “I will forgive you, because my soul deserves peace.” Notice how saying “will” forgive can mean either you’re doing it in the next moment, or just maybe someday. Wherever you are in your healing will determine the timeline.

 

“The intelligent way to be selfish is to work for the welfare of others.”  ~ Dalai Lama

Selfish? But if I’m giving of myself Dalai Lama, how is that selfish? Because there is no quicker path to healing than to help someone else! Service takes us out of our own drama and reminds us of our ability to contribute in a positive way to the world around us. Service can restore our faith, not only in God, but in ourselves and our fellow man. Service can be anything! It doesn’t mean you put in many hours at a soup kitchen, although it’s great if you can! It can be many small things throughout the day – times you leave your own head, your own drama, to see what someone around you might need.

Trauma can be so hard on our self-esteem. Self-esteem is defined as how lovable and capable we feel in the world. Service helps us regain some of that. We can again see our value in the world, we make a difference, however small, and we are capable of giving and receiving love. So do something, today, for someone else.

So there it is. Four things to help heal trauma that you can do today. But to be truly healed, you know, we must do them tomorrow too, and the day after that, and then the next day. We don’t do it because we have to. We do it because we are brave and healing is our right, our destination, and our beloved journey.

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do.” ~ Brene Brown

You Are Still Beloved

Victoria McGee

January 17, 2017

THE PRESSURE TO SEEM “NORMAL”

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“In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring each other that our costumes of identity are on straight.”   ~ Ram Dass

Here we are again – holiday season. Time to show up at the family table and be “normal.” As survivors of trauma, we can often feel an unspoken pressure to join in at the holidays and pretend we are just fine. I truly hope you are just fine this holiday season, but for those who are not, read on.

I’m going to let you off the hook.

The Ram Dass quote above is so true, isn’t it? We all present these costumes of identity to each other, but when trauma has touched our lives, the costumes change, don’t they? And as profoundly as our friends and family know, deeply know, that trauma has changed us, they still want us to show up and be “normal.” Why?

It’s human nature. Partly, they want to be reassured that the human spirit is unshakeable, that we are strong, that we are “going to get through this.” Partly, they miss us. The old us. The lighter version, the lighter person we used to be. They want a glimpse of that smile, that smirk, maybe the smart-ass humor that indicates you’re still there. They want to feel better about what you’ve been through.

But it’s not your job to make them feel better. It’s your job to heal your trauma in the manner and at the speed that is right for you. So this holiday, give yourself permission to show up and be what is “normal” for you right now.

I remember the first Christmas after I was assaulted. I lived a constant mixture of contradictory emotions: one minute I wanted to do the traditional things and be with family, the next I wanted to do everything differently and be left alone. I would feel profound gratitude swell in my heart only to plunge into hopelessness in the next moment. That was my “normal.” And I remember feeling the pressure to put on a good face and pretend nothing had changed, when everything had.

Hopefully, you will have some time this holiday with people who allow you to be where you are in your healing. And for those who want us to appear “normal” we need to give them a break too. They may not have ever had to walk this path either, and truly don’t know what to do.

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never how amazing you can be.”   ~ Maya Angelou                                                      

I also remember, as I look around at the holidays, that most people I know have been touched by trauma in some form. Veterans of wars, sexual assault survivors, child abuse survivors, people touched by sudden and traumatic grief. We are all presenting our version of “normal.” We are all doing the best we can. We are human.

The best news about “normal” is how incredibly fluid it is. We always have the capacity to create a new normal, to re-invent ourselves, our beliefs, our attitudes, and become something more than we ever thought possible. And wherever we’re at in our healing, whatever is “normal” right now is perfect in the eyes of the Divine.

So this holiday, give yourself permission to be “normal.” Life is a giant Come As You Are party – Let Go and Let God.

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” ~ Buddha

You Are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

Dec. 19, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DISARMING TRIGGERS

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 “Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” – Dalai Lama

Thanks, Dalai Lama. I’ll keep that in mind.

Recently, I’ve been having a hard time with this concept. Suddenly, certain triggers seem to be everywhere, almost impossible to avoid. And survivors of trauma know that avoiding triggers is not the answer, because if you don’t deal with this one, another one will come along, until you deal with it.

So what do we do? What do we do when we are faced with a trigger on a daily basis? I’ve seen so many examples of this; whether it’s someone in the news, a new supervisor who makes you uncomfortable, a new co-worker who resembles someone from your past, a new neighbor with domestic violence issues or who likes to set off fireworks – how do we deal with new and frequent triggers?

The answer is that we deal with daily triggers the same way we deal with intermittent ones, but with more diligence and compassion for ourselves.

First of all, most triggers are not there intending to be a trigger. It, or they, are just existing in the world, in their own sense of reality, being what they are. We are experiencing it as a trigger. We are assigning fear and panic to it. In most instances, a person or thing is not intending to trigger you, but you are triggered by it. It is not their fault, nor is it yours; it just is.

For me, I have to shift this into a state of spiritual opportunity, or anxiety sets in rather quickly. When I’m triggered, I experience the fear and panic, the anger and rage. Then I must step out of this linear reality, examine my own projection, and replace it with a new thought.

I also have to be willing to make this shift. Sometimes I’m not. Recently, I’ve been rather enjoying my rage, and I got stuck there. I had to find a way to stop raging at the trigger without letting it off the hook. This is the spiritual conundrum isn’t it?

Sometimes we have what we feel is rather justified anger, coupled with a notion that anger is not spiritual. But it is! Everything is spiritual.

We can use everything that occurs to show us where we are asleep and how we can wake up completely, utterly, without reservation.” – Pema Chodron

This beautiful quote from Pema Chodron is the ultimate in spiritual thinking. Using everything that occurs, absolutely everything, as our teacher, as that which will lead us to our true nature, that will lead us to the Divine, is the answer to every question.

Letting our triggers show us where we are still asleep can be seen as a gift. In her book, When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron advises seeing what arises in our lives as enlightened wisdom. We do not know what we need next on our spiritual path, only Spirit does. Trust in this. If triggers have come up, if you are struggling with it daily, turn it over to God. The reason for it, and the healing of it, will come to you.

When we need to disarm a trigger, here are some steps you may find helpful.

Breathe – Stopping the gut reaction with a large intake and exhale can help.

Follow the fear – Ask yourself what about this person or situation is triggering fear or anger in you. (This is assuming the trigger is not the original source of your trauma!) Journaling about this can be helpful.

Step into neutral – Once you’ve identified the trigger, shift your mind into neutral. Try to see the person or event from an objective place. They are not “a” trigger, they are “your” trigger.

Ask for Guidance – Ask God to help you understand this trigger, what you are to learn from it, and bring you to a place of healing.

This is not to say that there are not times we need to make changes in our lives. Sometimes a daily trigger is just too much for us. It depends on the trigger, the source trauma, our support network, and where we are in our healing process. Take care of yourself and follow your instinct. Don’t stay in an uncomfortable situation – ever.

As I said, I’m struggling with this right now as well. Some days I’m good at it, some days I give in to anger and fear. It’s a PROCESS. All I know, as I look back on what are now decades of dealing with trauma, that triggers, anger and fear will not win. Constantly turning to the Divine has always saved me, and always will.

A Course in Miracles: Lesson 69:

“Because your grievances are hiding the light of the world in you, everyone stands in darkness, and you beside him. But as the veil of your grievances is lifted, you are released with him. Share your salvation now with him who stood beside you when you were in hell. He is your brother in the light of the world that saves you both.”

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

December 6, 2016

 

Can We Find Peace Without Justice?

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True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” 

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

                                         On a recent visit to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., I was struck by this quote. I stood frozen, reading and re-reading these words. It left me with a question. “Can we find peace where there has been no justice?”

Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke these words in relation to the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. He realized that ending a tense situation in the African American struggle for civil rights was not a true peace. More was needed. Justice was needed.

For me, this quote also applies to the struggle for peace, and longing for justice that is shared by victims of trauma. For many of us, there was no justice. No one was punished. If a price was paid, we aren’t aware of it. The scales of justice can seem forever tipped.

For those who have been victimized through war, or natural disasters, or sudden grief, there is often no single perpetrator to identify or seek justice from. For those who have been victimized by a single person or group, the justice we are afforded on a human level can often seem insufficient. Even if you have suffered through a trial, and the perpetrator is in prison, it will never feel like they are receiving as much suffering as they caused.

All trauma survivors have to come to terms with this at some point: there will be no justice that feels right.

To me, this is because we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Our desire for revenge, to even the score, and to find justice, are human urges. When we allow those urges to quiet down, and focus our minds and hearts spiritually, we get closer to the radical notion that peace lies in letting God take care of the justice.

An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”

                                                                        ~Mahatma Gandhi

What does it mean to let God take care of the justice? It means having trust and faith that there is a Divine Order to the Universe. It means to believe in the laws of karma and trust that they will play out, without creating more karma of your own by seeking revenge.

Karma is truly a reliable law. What goes around, comes around. “That which ye sow, so shall ye reap.” I’ve seen so many examples of it that I have complete faith in it. We don’t always see the end result of karma, but suffice it to say, if someone causes harm, harm will come back on them at some point. Our peace relies on us having faith in this balancing law of the Universe.

For me, this was all I had to rely on. I never knew if the person who attacked me was brought to any kind of justice. Justice in a legal form was not something I could cling to, so I had to find my own way to justice. Without it, I would have imprisoned myself with hatred.

The more I turned it over to God to provide my justice, the clearer it became I was on the right path. I began to relax into knowing that God is Love and that whatever was for the highest good of all involved is what would happen. It requires such faith at first, but the more I practiced it, the more I had peace around the issue of justice – a sure sign that healing was taking place, and the Divine was leading me home.

This is not to say that wrongdoers should not be dealt with on this earth. But it is to remind us that sometimes justice doesn’t look like we expect it to look, or come in the package we were expecting. And often, people who receive justice find no peace from it. There is more peace in forgiveness, than justice.

So can we find peace where there is no justice? Yes. Because justice is not ours to have or to give. Peace is just a God-thought away.

By acting compassionately, by helping to restore justice and to encourage peace, we are acknowledging that we are all part of one another.”

                                                                        ~Ram Dass

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

November 6, 2016

 

This is Your Brain on God

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“We expand what we focus on.” ~ Wayne Dyer

Healing trauma can feel so overwhelming. Good days and bad. Doing the work but not feeling better when we want to. Annoying friends and bloggers telling us to pray. Pray about it. What a bunch of mumbo-jumbo!

It’s not just mumbo-jumbo. Science is now proving that not only does trauma significantly change the brain, but so do prayer and meditation. New research is constantly studying the neuroplasticity of the brain, the ability of the adult brain to change and adapt.

Without getting too technical about parts of the brain, etc. suffice it to say that trauma definitely affects brain function. Brain researcher Viatcheslav Wlassoff, PhD, says this; “It is no use telling them to ‘get over’ it because PTSD fundamentally changes the brain’s structure and alters its functionalities.” In fact, new research in imaging is allowing the diagnosis of PTSD with PET scans, because the changes in the brain are indeed observable.

If you are a trauma survivor, you are probably already aware of this. Your thinking, reactions, and processing of information is different. Your brain has been rewired to some form of protection mode, and God knows we need this. However, functioning long term in this mode is unhelpful and unhealthy.

As science continues to expand in its understanding of the effect of trauma on the brain, so will the treatments available. According to Alexander Neumeister, MD who researches the brain and PTSD, “People with cancer have a variety of different treatment options available based on the type of cancer that they have. We aim to do the same thing in psychiatry. We’re deconstructing PTSD symptoms, linking them to different brain dysfunction, and then developing treatments that target those symptoms.”

There is so much hope on the horizon for the treatment of trauma. But there is also new evidence that we can do simple daily actions that will help our brains recover.

This is where the mumbo-jumbo comes in. God. Yes, focusing on the Divine, prayer, and meditation, will connect new synapses in your brain that will heal, or at least diminish the strength of the changes trauma has created. And science is proving it.

“Be silent, only the hand of God can remove the burdens of your heart.” ~ Rumi

Richard Davidson, PhD, at the University of Wisconsin, claims we can change the brain with training and practice. He’s proven that the thinking brain connects to the emotional brain, so our thoughts can indeed influence our feelings and change how we react to certain stimuli. Quieting our thoughts also has a profound impact. In one study on people meditating for 30 minutes a day Davidson reported, “Just two month’s practice among rank amateurs led to a systematic change in both the brain as well as the immune system in more positive directions.”

Dr. Andrew Newberg, author of “How God Changes Your Brain” says prayer can absolutely heal. His new field, called neurotheology, studies the effect of religious and spiritual experiences on the brain. He has scanned the brains of Buddhist monks and Franciscan nuns. He found that in deep meditation or prayer, the part of our brains engaged in focus light up, while the part engaged in organizing sensory information goes dark. When this part, the parietal lobes calm down, our sense of self diminishes (in a good way) as we feel more oneness.

We’re fascinated by the words, but where we meet is in the silence behind them.” ~ Ram Dass

For people with faith, this research is not a surprise so much as a validation of what we already feel. Focusing on the Divine, prayer, and meditation lead us to feel more whole and healed. For people without faith, this is wonderful scientific evidence that meditation and mindfulness can truly help heal the brain that has suffered trauma. Focusing on the breath, closing your eyes, trying to empty your mind each day will speed your healing.

Whatever our beliefs, knowing that our brains are plastic and capable of change brings hope. Knowing that God and prayer truly do change the wiring of our brain means that we have the tools to begin and extend our healing any time, anywhere.

Knowing that science and the Divine are working together for our benefit is astonishing.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

October 5, 2016

Note: I do not suggest that spirituality alone can heal trauma or PTSD. I merely suggest that restoring your faith, and finding a spiritual practice, can enhance effective therapy and assist in post-traumatic growth.