Triggers Everywhere – What Could it Mean?

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” ~ Pema Chodron

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I haven’t written a blog in a long time – I feel very out of practice. I’ve been through two moves and the loss of my father, who I was blessed to have for 92 years. Much of my faith in God came from his example, and I’m so grateful for that priceless gift. Getting through the grief a bit, and feeling settled now, I can finally write again.

In the meantime, so much has been happening in the world. So much trauma coming to light. There are triggers everywhere these days for survivors of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment. In the U.S., at least, we have been inundated with daily reports of powerful men being accused of sexual misconduct on a scale never seen before.

It has triggered me, as well. These stories are abhorrent. They’ve been followed by so many interesting reactions from people saying it’s overkill (really?) to men publicly admitting they are guilty of at least some of this behavior, and didn’t realize it was such a big deal. Really?

I honestly do not know a single woman who has not had to deal with unwanted remarks, cat-calls, touching or worse. So even though it’s triggering to have all this out there, I’m grateful it’s happening, and that so many people, not just women, are finding their voice and speaking out.

I believe we are witnessing the beginning of a shift, a revolution that has been a long time coming! Watching the news last night, I felt like this is just the tip of the iceberg, the beginning of so many stories that have been buried beneath the ocean, frozen for lack of a believing audience. Of course, there will be those who are just seeking attention or who will exaggerate to get into the conversation, but we can’t let them distract us from the plethora of detailed truths we will hear.

I feel these current events, with people facing accountability and consequences for sexual misconduct, are creating a dynamic shift that will go down in history as equal to any other great movement that has brought about lasting change.

As with all of my writing about the effects of trauma and the healing of it, I have to frame what is happening spiritually. How does God play into all this? Is this part of a Divine plan? How can we, as spiritual beings, help advance the possible enlightened growth available in these situations?

“In order to know the light, we must first experience the darkness.”  ~ Carl Jung

As Carl Jung stated, we have to first look at the darkness. That is what’s happening now. All of these cases and accusations and victims and perpetrators are coming forward to show us the darkness. This is truly darkness as these stories have been hiding in the shadows, some quietly paid off, some simply too frozen with fear to speak, for decades – actually, since prehistoric man.

This darkness can’t be healed until we look at it.  We cannot shine light on it and begin to heal until we truly see it’s ugly dark visage.

And what of the Divine? Are these victims being used to spark this healing movement? Possibly. And what of the perpetrators? Did they agree to fill that role this lifetime so this darkness could finally be brought forward and healed? Now that’s an interesting question! In her book, Sacred Contracts, Caroline Myss writes about such possibilities. It’s a mind-blowing read. She says: “In a Sacred Contract, an individual and the Divine commit to a mission that promises to expand that individual’s spiritual consciousness as well as further the expression of the Divine on earth.”

I can’t imagine the Divine designing the suffering of people through trauma as a way to raise the consciousness of the earth. But I can imagine that perhaps my own higher power would have agreed to that in this lifetime, if it would help to raise up others. How deeply, how painful, how profoundly do these sacred contracts go?

I don’t have solid answers here, I’m just sharing thoughts I’ve had about all this, and perhaps bringing up some important questions. Someday we will get the answers we seek. Until then, let’s pray for all involved here. The victims, the perpetrators, and those looking on – that these situations and the change, the tidal wave, that is coming, will be surrounded by God’s light and wisdom.

“That which is holding you down can become a powerful force that raises you up.”

~ Michael A. Singer

“Now are we blessed, and now we bless the world. What we have looked upon we would extend, for we would see it everywhere. We would behold it shining with the grace of God in everyone. We would not have it be withheld from anything we look upon.” – A Course in Miracles

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

11/30/2017

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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

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

 

 

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

 

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.