PRACTICE MAKES PROGRESS

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“Spiritual practice is not just sitting and meditation. Practice is looking, thinking, touching, drinking, eating and talking. Every act, every breath, and every step can be practice and can help us to become more ourselves.” Thich Nhat Hanh

The other day at the beach, I watched a group of girls playing by the water’s edge. They looked around eleven years old and were using the hard packed sand to practice gymnastics. The tallest girl had the no-hands forward flip mastered, throwing her legs in the air and hurling herself around head first, landing on her feet every time. The other two girls were trying to master it, usually falling a bit short, but getting up and trying again. One of them finally did it and came up with such joy on her face! She had it! You could see as she continued to complete more flips that she had felt the difference and now had it mastered.

Remember how it feels when you’re young and trying so hard to master something that seems impossible or mysterious? How do those big kids whistle? How did my brother blow a bubble? Will I be able to ride a bike without training wheels? And you work and try and practice and one day – the whistle comes out! And you feel the mysterious symmetry between breath and lips that makes the sound. From that moment on, you can whistle.

I realized that it’s the same with us when it comes to healing from trauma. Whether it’s traumatic grief, physical or psychological trauma, there comes a day when we recognize we have reached our new normal. We are once again functioning, even enjoying life, and we are moving forward. We feel the mysterious symmetry between healing the spirit, mind, and body, and in that moment we recognize the feeling of being okay again.

How does it happen? How do we get there? As with all healing we take the baby steps, we start taking bigger steps, we work our healing steps over and over. And we take a few steps back now and then. But as long as we keep trying, keep working those spiritual muscles, we will get there.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite the darkness.” Desmond Tutu

I am a long ways out from the trauma I experienced. But I remember so clearly the early moments that began to take me to healing. Brushing my teeth when I got home from the Emergency Room. It was so simple, but I remember finding it oddly comforting. It was something daily, something I could count on. I thought maybe, just maybe the world will go on. I remember the first time after being assaulted that I had a big laugh. It was probably a month later, and it was so life affirming. I could feel my body, mind and spirit remembering what this was. This laughter, it was joy and happiness and enjoyment. The world will go on. I will go on.

I remember the first time I woke up and I had actually slept through the night. Since I had been attacked by an intruder in my own bed as I peacefully slept, sleep eluded me for many, many months. I didn’t use sleep aids because, of course, I had to be vigilant at night. As weeks went by and lack of sleep began affecting my ability to function during the day, I knew something had to change. Eventually I moved into a house with several roommates so I was rarely home alone. But still, nights were the bane of my existence.

“Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You” Psalm 56:3

Ultimately, prayer helped. I would just pray until I fell asleep. If I woke up, I would check my surroundings, make sure I was safe, and pray again until I fell asleep. And then it happened. One night I fell asleep praying, and when I woke up, it was morning. The sun was up! I had slept through the night. Ah yes! That’s what it feels like! My body, mind and spirit had to feel that again, so I could remember it, so I could recreate it. From that night on, I could sleep. Of course, it’s been a long road. There are still times I battle those memories, times my mind is stuck on replay and I have to work hard to move the needle. There are still nights I have trouble getting to sleep, but I start to pray, and remind myself that I know how to do this.

Our healing is a matter of practice. We practice forgiveness, we practice trust, we practice getting up and facing the day. We practice healing. Those around us don’t know how hard we are working. Not only is it sometimes a miracle that we showed up, we are running a marathon! But that one day, when we sleep through the night, or go an entire day without thinking about IT, all the practice is worth it. We feel it. We remember what it feels like in this new normal. The world will go on. We will go on. And hopefully, we will thrive.

Have faith, have courage, acknowledge your persistent drive to heal, and give yourself rest.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

May 29, 2017

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Healing is Perception

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            Everything is either an opportunity to grow, or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose.                                  ~Wayne Dyer

I’ve been going on walks lately, grateful to live in a quiet neighborhood where I can truly just listen to nature when I walk. When I lived in a busier place, I tried wearing headphones for music, just to block out the street noise. But I couldn’t. And I still have a hard time with headphones. As many years as it’s been since I experienced trauma, I still have to be able to hear my surroundings at all times.

This is just another “gift” from traumatic stress. It’s not hyper-vigilance any more, but it is vigilance, and I suspect I will always have it. And I’ve decided that’s okay.

Meditating on this thought, I realized that someone on the outside might think I’m not healed. Not truly healed. But I realized that just as our traumas are deeply based in our perception, so is our healing.

I perceive I am healed, therefore I am.

At least for now.

Because I am entwined in a relationship with the Divine, I have complete faith that as I am ready for another level of healing, the opportunity to experience that healing will present itself. Healing is fluid, it is constant, it is a very real field of vibrational energy. And because it is a part of God, healing will never abandon us.

So the burden on us, then, becomes accepting where we are in our healing, and accepting that healing is never done.

            I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are                                but does not leave us where it found us.   ~ Anne Lamott

Some people I hear from who suffer from PTSD just want to be done with it. They want to be healed and over it and never have to think about it again. This is not only impossible, but leaves no room for God to take our hand and lead us to healing. I completely understand. At one point, I was hoping someone would invent a pill or a surgery that could remove select memories from the brain! What I would have missed in terms of growth had that been possible, is beyond my comprehension. I’m not the same person I was before, thank God. Through healing from trauma I was led to greater growth than I would have sought on my own.

In his book Upside, The New Science of Post-Traumatic Growth, author Jim Rendon quotes Rachel Yehuda, director of the Traumatic Stress Studies Division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She says,” Trauma causes change. There are a lot of opinions out there about how that change manifests, but you just don’t stay the same. That is a really radical idea. You do recover in some ways, but that recovery doesn’t actually involve returning to the baseline. It involves recalibration towards something new…”

Yes, “recalibration!” That is exactly what it is. We have to accept that we will not return to who we were before. We have to reframe our self-perception and move forward with our new, fragile self, holding tight to God. There comes a day in post-traumatic growth where you realize you will never be the same, and that it’s okay. You will recognize your “new normal” when you reach it. Time and therapy will get you functional. Faith and acceptance will help you more fully heal.

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

 

It’s important that we accept ourselves exactly where we are in our healing. Uncomfortable in crowds? That’s okay. Need a light on at night? That’s okay. Need to check all the locks three times? That’s okay. We have suffered a trauma and whatever we need to do to feel safe and secure is okay. There may come a time when we don’t feel the need to do those things, but there may not; and that’s okay too.

Our trauma is our own. Our healing is also our own. No one can walk in our shoes or judge where we “should” be in our process. Love yourself right where you’re at.

God does.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

July 13, 2016

 

Restoring Faith in Our Fellow Humans

         Healing does not mean going back to the way things were before, but rather                   allowing what is now to move us closer to God.  ~  Ram Dass

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When we see horrific events in the world, we know there are personal traumas taking place around those events. The news only gives us facts, but for those of us who have survived trauma, we know the story doesn’t end when the news is over.

We know those who survive will suffer post-traumatic symptoms to some extent. We know they will need to seek healing. We know the road is long and for every two steps forward, there are often several back. We pray they will heal.

Within this healing is the need to restore faith in our fellow man. It is profoundly sad when we fully realize that there are people in the world who would do us harm (or harm those we love). This realization shakes us to our core. It makes us fearful and unable to trust. This fracture in all we have previously trusted needs to be consciously mourned.

Those of us who have suffered trauma, been a victim, or witnessed atrocity, need to mindfully mourn the loss of faith in our fellow man, even as we work to restore it.

Often, this grief is the cause of the depression we suffer with afterward. Sometimes we are so focused on our specific trauma we forget that we have witnessed a breach against humanity on an acute level. Take time to mourn this loss of faith.

Of course, we can’t let this loss of faith in our fellow man immobilize us. There is evil in the world. There are always those humans who inflict pain and suffering on others. They are usually those who have had great pain and suffering inflicted on themselves. This does not excuse their actions, it merely explains it. So how do we move past this loss of faith and find a new foundation to build upon?

            You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.   ~ Mahatma Gandhi

The journey in restoring our faith in humanity is as unique to us as our trauma. However, these steps can universally heal us and guide us on the road.

Mourn the loss of faith in your fellow man – We must feel the depth of this transgression and what it means to us. Were we hurt by a friend, a parent, a stranger? We need to acknowledge the effect this loss of faith has had on our relationships before we can move to healing.

Ask the Divine for opportunities to restore your faith – If we but ask, God will send us the people and situations we need to restore our faith and reframe our thought patterns. I was so mistrusting following my attack, but God kept sending me angels to help me heal. A few times the angels were in a similar form to my attacker, which I really didn’t appreciate.(!) But it gave me the opportunity to come face to face with a certain physicality and move past the past. Continue to look for the good in people.

Be of service – Service is our quickest path to healing. Getting out of ourselves and helping others can restore faith like no amount of praying! As we see others benefit from our help, we begin to see the glimmer of hope and the flicker of faith.

So let us recognize that our faith in humanity has been profoundly shaken, but let us mourn it so we can move beyond the grief. The world needs our light and our faith.

            We are all broken. That’s how the light gets in. – Ernest Hemingway

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

06/25/2016

 

 

 

 

LOVING ACCEPTANCE

“To feel the Love of God within you is to see the world anew, shining in innocence, alive with hope, and blessed with perfect charity and love.” – A Course in Miracles, lesson 189

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I am still beloved. I believe this down to my core. No matter what I may have done or been or survived, the love of God for me is constant. I know God has been there through every trauma, and will be there always. This kind of faith doesn’t come easily, and perhaps you are not there yet. But know that it is true. God sees you perfectly, and God see you perfect.

I can accept this. I can accept that God sees me this way. God is, after all, God. The Divine is Love that is all encompassing and beyond our understanding.

My difficulty is seeing myself the way God sees me.

Does this resonate with you as well? You have a spiritual practice, you’ve survived trauma, you pray and meditate and turn everything over to the Divine – but still, still you judge yourself, withholding from yourself the very thing you need: love and acceptance.

I do it all the time. I’m still learning and trying and growing and becoming. But I know that this step is critical for healing.

When we withhold loving acceptance from ourselves, we set ourselves up for continuous disappointment. We set ourselves up for depression, anxiety and addiction. Seeing ourselves as God sees us leads us out of this cycle.

How do you start? I had to start with others. For a long time, I wasn’t at ease within myself, both because of the trauma I had been through, but also because I regularly withheld love from myself. With a strong desire to heal and change this, I started by trying to see others as God sees them.

This requires such vigilance on our thoughts! We are conditioned from a very young age to make judgments about the people around us based on their appearance, their words and their actions. When we consciously practice looking on others with love, we start to see their innocence. We begin to glimpse what God sees. We grow in compassion and understanding for others.

You are a creature of Divine Love connected at all times to Source. Divine Love is when you see God in everyone and everything you encounter.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer

Non-judgment is a muscle that needs constant exercise. Left idle, it will grow fat cells and spread. Like exercise, it probably doesn’t come naturally to us, so we have to be vigilant and dedicated. And like exercise, it is worth it, for it can be your path to self-acceptance.

Through continuous practice of non-judgment of others, I found it easier to forgive and love myself. I began to see myself as God sees me more frequently. This is a tool for healing that grows stronger the more I practice it. The less I judge others, the less I judge myself.

For some, the path to self-acceptance may start within you and then extend to others. This is also a valid path. And who’s to say you can’t walk both paths at once? There are many paths to seeing yourself as the love of God. The path doesn’t matter, what matters is the dedication to the path and to healing.

Give love to yourself today. Give yourself the gift of seeing through God’s holy eyes. See those around you with those eyes. Look within and truly see your glorious light of Love.

You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”                 Buddha

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

05/15/2016