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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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

The Power of Forgiveness

“But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest.    ~Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

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This little gem in the pages of The Handmaid’s Tale is profound beyond words. As I sit with it, I scan my heart and soul for places I may be withholding forgiveness from someone.

As it relates to trauma and PTSD, I believe forgiveness is one of the most critical steps in our healing. It’s not a single act, either, but a process. Whether you are forgiving yourself or someone else, it rarely happens in one moment of mercy.

I began the process of forgiving the person who assaulted me soon after the attack. I’m not sure what led me to start working on forgiveness. I think it was a deep knowing that I would never heal completely if I didn’t get myself to forgiveness. I began to wonder what must have happened in this person’s life to lead them to a life of robbing and attacking others. I imagined the worst, and knew it was probably worse than I could imagine. It doesn’t excuse behavior, but it does explain it, and it got me started on forgiveness.

Since then, it’s been an ongoing process. I find that I can only forgive as much as I can in a given moment in my life. I have often felt “done” with forgiving. (There! Yay! All done!) Only to have something trigger my fear or anger again, which leads to bitter feelings, which leads back to another level of forgiveness to work on. I’m not consciously withholding forgiveness. I want to be complete in my forgiveness. But I can only forgive as much as I can in a given moment. And I’ve learned to trust the process and to trust that it will be complete some day. Perhaps even in another life. For there are, as in all our relationships, layers beyond our earthly understanding.

“Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.”                                                                                        – Jonathan Lockwood Hule

What is the cost of not forgiving? Besides delaying the healing of our spirits, there are physical and emotional side effects of withholding forgiveness. Valid science now affirms what spiritual paths have always taught. The only path to peace of mind is forgiveness. According to Johns Hopkins, “Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.”

We can all recognize the symptoms of harboring resentment, anger and fear. The thought that forgiveness calms our stress levels makes it not only appealing, but critical to moving forward. Haven’t we suffered enough without adding to our anxiety by harboring that ball of bilious bitterness?

To return to Margaret Atwood’s quote above, to withhold or bestow forgiveness is a great power. We can assuage someone’s guilt by forgiving them, or let them suffer, waiting for our forgiveness, wondering when it will come, if it will come. Often, when we withhold forgiveness, the person we’re not forgiving doesn’t even know we are embittered against them! So who is it hurting? Only ourselves. We bring on ourselves all those mental and physical side effects of not forgiving. And as difficult as it can be sometimes, we need to let it go. Not for them, but for us.

“All forgiveness is a gift to yourself.”    ~A Course in Miracles, Lesson 62

 

There is great power in either bestowing or withholding forgiveness. But only one will bring us true peace.

So how do we do it? How do we forgive? We start by acknowledging that forgiveness needs to happen in order to heal. When I couldn’t think about forgiving, or felt too angry to start, I would pray for God to soften my heart. When I know I’m withholding forgiveness, I pray for God to guide my healing. Guiding my healing will inevitably lead me to forgiveness. And we must turn it over to the Divine, to the forgiveness expert! Daily, hourly if necessary. The Holy Spirit will take our hard spots and soften them, leading us to healing, gently guiding us to forgiveness – to peace. If we but ask.

“If we want there to be peace in the world, we have to be brave enough to soften what is rigid in our hearts, to find the soft spot and stay with it. We have to have that kind of courage and take that kind of responsibility. That’s the true practice of peace.”                   ~ Pema Chodron

You Are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

3/19/2017

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Patching Ourselves Up

“Frequently, as so many of our poets and psalmists and songwriters have said, the invisible shift happens through the broken places.”   ~ Anne Lamott

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What a beautiful thought. The shift happening through the broken places. As we seek to heal our trauma, to find the balm that will soothe our raw wounds, we often find ourselves feeling broken. We feel broken at the point of trauma or the memory of the trauma. We feel broken in relationships or in our ability to show up every day. We can even feel the deepest wound; that our spirit is broken.

How can we heal our broken spirits? How can we patch ourselves up enough to get our life back on track? How can we show our wound to the world?

I recently learned about a beautiful Japanese art of repairing broken pottery called Kintsugi. Broken pottery pieces are fixed with a lacquer that is mixed with a precious metal such as gold or silver, so the location of the repair is quite visible. The meaning attached to this custom is that the repair becomes part of the history of the piece of pottery. Rather than discard a beautiful bowl because it is broken, the repair becomes part of the story of the bowl. There is no attempt to hide the break. In fact, it becomes luminous.

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So it is with us. How many times have we tried to glue an object together, trying desperately to hide the breaking point, only to have it split apart again? How many times have we tried to glue our life back together, hide our wounds, only to have it split apart again? It seems we have a resistance to accepting that the damage happened, so we try to mask it. What if we practice Kintsugi on ourselves? Honor our wound by illuminating it?

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.”   ~ Rumi

This thought from Rumi echoes the essence of Kintsugi. A wound, a trauma, can be our opening to receive God’s Love. When we try to patch it up and pretend it isn’t there, we don’t leave ourselves open to true healing. If we honor our wound and slowly repair with golden light, the wound becomes a part of who we are, not a tragic scar we must hide.

This is not to take away the earth-shattering traumas we have dealt with in our lives. And it isn’t a thought you can come to quickly or even soon after a trauma. It took me many years to come to a point of accepting my wound. It took much soul-searching, spiritual reading, therapy, and Divine love for me to see that this repaired vessel is just as beautiful as before, and that the wound doesn’t detract from the beauty within, but deepens it.

            “It is not the wound that teaches, but the healing.” – Marty Rubin

Let us patch our wounds today with golden light. Let us patch them with the pure Love of God. Let us look at them with new eyes and stand in awe of our ability to heal.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

August 4, 2016

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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

 

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