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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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

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

 

THE VALUE OF ANGER

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I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I’ve been closer to him for that reason.” – Elie Wiesel

Trauma, PTSD, and traumatic grief are breeding grounds for anger. Our sense of unfairness, our indignation at being victimized, our outrage at the victimization of those we love is a fertile field for growing and maintaining anger. And rightly so. We should be angry – to a point.

I believe that anger is a necessary part of our healing process. Without it, we can find ourselves stuck, or it can rear its head at a seemingly unrelated matter. One of the most profound quotes on this I ever read was in a book called Women, Anger and Depression, by Lois Frankel. “Anger turned inward is depression.” I had to spend a lot of time with that thought. Anger and depression seemed like opposite feelings to me. How could they be the same?

Survivors of trauma often suffer from depression. The reasons are obvious, but look at the relationship of anger to depression. If indeed anger turned inward in depression, who has more right to claim this emotion than us? Childhood abuse, domestic violence, rape, veterans of war, people who have suffered traumatic acts of nature, been in serious accidents, and slogged through grief: what do we have in common? We are angry. And we were often silenced in the midst of our trauma. So the anger became stuck, as it had no release. We are often like the radiator of an overheating car. If we allow the anger to fester, it will turn to disease. But if we can lovingly and safely find a way to let it out, it can be one of our most useful tools for healing.

                        “The cure for pain is in the pain.”   ~ Rumi

I am blessed to live in Hawaii and recently took a trip to the Big Island, where a lava flow is currently entering the sea. I felt strongly compelled to go and witness this up close, so I took a sunrise boat tour to see the lava up close. I was not prepared for the feelings that overtook me.

The lava flow on this particular morning was a mile wide stretch along the coast. Pockets of fiery lava burst from freshly formed rock, steam spewing forth as it came in contact with ocean water. As I viewed the lava flow, I was filled with such reverence. There is something so primal about seeing new land being created before your eyes. I felt perfectly in tune with God, with nature, with Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, and with a knowing that I have no words for.

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It’s almost impossible to see living lava and not think of anger. It is everything we associate with anger: red, fiery, hot, unpredictable, passionate and explosive. Lava is often destructive as well.

However this lava, as it encounters water and cools, becomes new land. As its old form burns away, the new form takes shape. As the fire surrenders to the water, it finds a new purpose.

So it is with us. For anyone with PTSD, any survivor of trauma, we have a right to our anger, but we must lay it down at some point. Anger can be a motivator, but once it propels us out of depression, we must let it go. Like the primal lava, it cannot be useful to us until it is cooled. Then, and only then, can we build upon it.

“The true hero is one who conquers his own anger and hatred.” ~ Dalai Lama

We are entitled to our anger. But we are obligated as spiritual beings to heal it and let it go. Humanity needs us to keep reaching for love, forgiveness and peace of mind.

Ask the Divine today to show you how to use your anger, how to find the value in it, and how to let it go. Carl Jung said, “What we resists, persists.” So dig deep, gather your angels, and turn your anger into something new, something useful.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

9/1/2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

LETTING GO OF SUFFERING

People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown they prefer suffering that is familiar.” Thich Nhat Hanh

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I once had a therapist explain to me why I was drawn to a certain individual. A person with whom my interactions were not healthy, reminding me of the power struggles between my mother and me. She simply said, “You’re drawn because it feels familiar. It doesn’t feel good, but it feels familiar.” It was so profound! It didn’t feel good, but I knew how to play that game, how to navigate that river, and how to survive it.

So it can be with our trauma related feelings. We sometimes cling to them unknowingly, not because they feel good, but because they feel familiar. We know how to feel those feelings; we don’t know what lies ahead.

Are we getting something out of holding on to these feelings, and if so, what? Is there a payoff here we’re not seeing? The answer to that is as individual as all the beings on the planet! The real question to ask is “What am I getting out of holding onto this suffering?”

To answer this for yourself, look at the flip side of some of the symptoms of PTSD. Do I use my suffering to isolate from others? Do I use my suffering to avoid crowds or family events? Do I use my suffering to avoid relationships?

All of these questions have to do with avoidance. I completely get it. And I venture to say that for many people, myself included, avoidance is part of the initial healing. In my struggle, I had to find a balance. I didn’t feel safe going out, but I also had to re-learn that I could be safe at home. There was some avoidance, but also some pushing through to get to the new normal.

However, when this behavior and these beliefs linger for too long, it is time to take a hard look at what you’re getting out of this suffering. I wish I could tell you how long is too long, but it is, again, extremely individualized. My advice is to ask a trusted friend or therapist. They will tell you.

“If you are suffering in your life right now, I guarantee that this condition is tied up with some kind of attachment to how you think things should be.”     ~ Dr. Wayne Dyer

 

The toughest question keeps many trauma survivors stuck: Do I use my suffering to gain sympathy and pity from others?

This one is tricky, because it’s most tempting to the ego. If you have been attacked, abused, raped, in a war, devastated by an accident or an act of nature, you deserve sympathy. You have survived something most people never have to experience. You’ve been through trauma; you are changed. It’s appropriate for people to extend sympathy to you, and for you to receive it. Just be very aware of your response to sympathy. If you notice the compassionate coaxing or outright pity of your friends or family makes you feel loved, you’re on a slippery slope. The ego eats this up, turning your efforts to gaining sympathy, which will keep you from healing. If you find yourself drawn to this form of suffering, actively find ways to serve others. It will take you out of wanting sympathy for yourself, and give your spirit new purpose.

There were many times in my initial years of healing that I used my suffering as an excuse, a reason to isolate, and a point of sympathy. But each time, it held less power and attraction. It began to feel more and more false as I grew in my healing, until it dropped away entirely. Using the trauma to deepen my suffering was more costly than moving on from it, doing the work, and finding happiness.

Besides, the real work is not surviving the trauma, it’s healing the trauma.

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

You are Still Beloved

Victoria McGee

April 3, 2016

A New PTSD

“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.” – ACIM, Lesson 189

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See the world anew. What a concept. What a challenge. What a daunting task some days. We often go through so many days in a row that all feel the same, a little numb, a little tired of the day-to-day business. With PTSD, we are tired of summoning courage each day, tired of fighting down the fear each day, and tired of swallowing down the rage.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t live like that. I can’t. I made it my daily task to find something, anything, each day that gives me hope. There is no surviving PTSD without it. And here’s the tricky part: it is as easy as shifting your focus, and it is as difficult as shifting your focus. Ha.

Because some days shifting our focus is easy, right? We have that attitude as we set out on the day, and the universe rewards us with baby birds, friendly cashiers, compliments from strangers, hugs from kids. And we sigh and say, “I DO have hope. Life is good. Things are getting better!”

Then there are the days when, try as we might, our focus won’t budge off the damn trauma. We could encounter the same rewards as before, but they would seem trite, ordinary, meh. Right?

Don’t despair on those days. Our healing minds and spirits are like muscles. I learned this trying a new exercise where I got into position, then the instructor said, “Now, lift your leg.” My leg wouldn’t budge. She immediately, wisely said, “If your leg won’t lift, imagine it lifting, and do the count.” I did. I did this for two more classes. On the third class, my leg lifted.

So on those days when we are trying to shift our focus and it doesn’t feel like it’s working, we are still actively engaging that part of our minds and spirits that so deeply desire to heal.

In the spirit of seeing the world anew, I recently decided I needed a new meaning for the acronym PTSD. Not to dismiss or belittle my trauma, but to transmute it, as is always my goal.

So here it is:

Pray

Transform

Surrender

Deepen

These are the steps I take, almost daily, to heal.

Pray – Prayer is action. Prayer is never static. It is a dynamic way to engage your spirit with the Divine (from whom you are not separated anyway!) When I feel helpless, prayer is my catalyst to act.

Transform – If you’re stuck in an emotion, identify it so you can transform it. If you’re anxious, it is fear. If you’re depressed, it could be unexpressed anger, which stems from fear. A Course in Miracles, and many spiritual paths, state there are really only two emotions: fear and love. To transform fear in any form, you must love. Love yourself, those around you, pets, God, find someplace to send love. Love will return to you a thousand-fold.

Surrender – Surrender to God. Surrender to your feelings. And it’s okay to surrender to your trauma in order to heal it. You can accept it by surrendering to it. It happened. Now surrender to the Divine for your healing.

Deepen – Truly healing from trauma means to confront ourselves and our fellow man on a truly profound level. If you just try to get on with your life, without a thoughtful examination of your life and your psyche, your trauma will revisit you. This healing must be deep. Take a full breath and dive in. Reflect on each day and deepen your awareness of your healing.

That is my new PTSD. It feels active and loving. I hope you find some healing there too.

 

You are Still Beloved.

 

Victoria McGee

2/10/2016