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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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DISARMING TRIGGERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Course in Miracles: Lesson 69:

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

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

December 6, 2016

 

Can We Find Peace Without Justice?

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

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                        ~Mahatma Gandhi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                        ~Ram Dass

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

November 6, 2016

 

This is Your Brain on God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

October 5, 2016

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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