PRACTICE MAKES PROGRESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

May 29, 2017

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Four Things to do Today to Help Heal Your Trauma

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“True healing is the willingness to treat yourself and others better than the past ever did.”                ~ Matt Kahn                 

I’m fond of being cerebral and spiritual. But sometimes we just need a list, right? Here are the directions. Just do this and you’ll feel better. Don’t give it too much thought, just do it. So here is my practical suggestion for four things you can do every day to help heal your trauma. (Still with the cerebral and spiritual quotes, because they’re awesome and healing in their own right.)

1. Quiet your mind.

“Listen – are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?   ~Mary Oliver

Breathe deeply. Set aside some time today to breathe deeply and quiet your mind. Settle yourself in a place you can feel safe, stick some nice music in your ears, whatever you need to just sit still with yourself. And BREATHE. Breathe deeply and profoundly.

Empty your brain as best you can, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Thoughts will trickle in, just gently say to them, “not now.” And return to the emptiness.

This is like pushing a reset button on your nervous system. And I know it’s hard when you’re a trauma survivor. I KNOW. Sometimes being alone in your own mind can seem scary.

I promise the more you practice, the deeper you breathe, and the more you disempower your random thoughts, the less scary it will be. It will start to be a safe harbor, and at some point become a necessity. This is the space we need to remember that we are one with God. 

2. Find something in Nature to marvel at.

“I go to Nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.” ~ John Burroughs

We are all so busy, aren’t we? And here I am telling you to squeeze more time into your day to marvel at some Nature. But this doesn’t have to be a hike in the woods or a trip to the park. Even in a big city, Nature is literally all around us. Watch snow fall out the window, watch your cat or dog sleep, be amazed at the strength of an ant carrying a crumb across the kitchen counter, look at the moon or watch the stars come out. If you have a yard, sit in it and look around you. Just notice. Is there a gentle breeze, perhaps, stirring the leaves in the trees? Are there birds going about their busy day? Do you see things growing all around you?

Nature restores our faith by being so constant and accessible. It heals our trauma by reminding us that life goes on and to rely on these good and steady displays of God’s love.

Practitioner hint: to save time, you can combine #1 and #2 – in fact, I highly recommend it!

3. Take another step toward forgiveness.

“Today I decided to forgive you. Not because you apologized, or because you acknowledged the pain that you caused me, but because my soul deserves peace.” ~ Najwa Zebian

Forgiveness is critical to healing. It’s not easy and it won’t happen all at once and you will need God’s help to get there. But today, just take one more baby step closer. Not for their sake, but for yours. We truly keep ourselves in prison when we refuse to forgive.

Studies have shown, too, a correlation between the ability to forgive and the severity of PTSD. Holding back on forgiveness means holding on to some rage, which keeps our bodies in fight or flight status and can lead to increased anxiety. So by not forgiving, we are stuck in trauma. I know you don’t want that. You deserve better.

So just for today, hold a little thought, “I will forgive you, because my soul deserves peace.” Notice how saying “will” forgive can mean either you’re doing it in the next moment, or just maybe someday. Wherever you are in your healing will determine the timeline.

 

“The intelligent way to be selfish is to work for the welfare of others.”  ~ Dalai Lama

Selfish? But if I’m giving of myself Dalai Lama, how is that selfish? Because there is no quicker path to healing than to help someone else! Service takes us out of our own drama and reminds us of our ability to contribute in a positive way to the world around us. Service can restore our faith, not only in God, but in ourselves and our fellow man. Service can be anything! It doesn’t mean you put in many hours at a soup kitchen, although it’s great if you can! It can be many small things throughout the day – times you leave your own head, your own drama, to see what someone around you might need.

Trauma can be so hard on our self-esteem. Self-esteem is defined as how lovable and capable we feel in the world. Service helps us regain some of that. We can again see our value in the world, we make a difference, however small, and we are capable of giving and receiving love. So do something, today, for someone else.

So there it is. Four things to help heal trauma that you can do today. But to be truly healed, you know, we must do them tomorrow too, and the day after that, and then the next day. We don’t do it because we have to. We do it because we are brave and healing is our right, our destination, and our beloved journey.

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do.” ~ Brene Brown

You Are Still Beloved

Victoria McGee

January 17, 2017

THE PRESSURE TO SEEM “NORMAL”

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“In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring each other that our costumes of identity are on straight.”   ~ Ram Dass

Here we are again – holiday season. Time to show up at the family table and be “normal.” As survivors of trauma, we can often feel an unspoken pressure to join in at the holidays and pretend we are just fine. I truly hope you are just fine this holiday season, but for those who are not, read on.

I’m going to let you off the hook.

The Ram Dass quote above is so true, isn’t it? We all present these costumes of identity to each other, but when trauma has touched our lives, the costumes change, don’t they? And as profoundly as our friends and family know, deeply know, that trauma has changed us, they still want us to show up and be “normal.” Why?

It’s human nature. Partly, they want to be reassured that the human spirit is unshakeable, that we are strong, that we are “going to get through this.” Partly, they miss us. The old us. The lighter version, the lighter person we used to be. They want a glimpse of that smile, that smirk, maybe the smart-ass humor that indicates you’re still there. They want to feel better about what you’ve been through.

But it’s not your job to make them feel better. It’s your job to heal your trauma in the manner and at the speed that is right for you. So this holiday, give yourself permission to show up and be what is “normal” for you right now.

I remember the first Christmas after I was assaulted. I lived a constant mixture of contradictory emotions: one minute I wanted to do the traditional things and be with family, the next I wanted to do everything differently and be left alone. I would feel profound gratitude swell in my heart only to plunge into hopelessness in the next moment. That was my “normal.” And I remember feeling the pressure to put on a good face and pretend nothing had changed, when everything had.

Hopefully, you will have some time this holiday with people who allow you to be where you are in your healing. And for those who want us to appear “normal” we need to give them a break too. They may not have ever had to walk this path either, and truly don’t know what to do.

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never how amazing you can be.”   ~ Maya Angelou                                                      

I also remember, as I look around at the holidays, that most people I know have been touched by trauma in some form. Veterans of wars, sexual assault survivors, child abuse survivors, people touched by sudden and traumatic grief. We are all presenting our version of “normal.” We are all doing the best we can. We are human.

The best news about “normal” is how incredibly fluid it is. We always have the capacity to create a new normal, to re-invent ourselves, our beliefs, our attitudes, and become something more than we ever thought possible. And wherever we’re at in our healing, whatever is “normal” right now is perfect in the eyes of the Divine.

So this holiday, give yourself permission to be “normal.” Life is a giant Come As You Are party – Let Go and Let God.

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

You Are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

Dec. 19, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

TRAUMA & RESTORING FAITH

“Faith is not a belief. Faith is what is left when your beliefs have all been blown to hell.”
~ Ram Dass

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All who have survived trauma know well the feeling of the broken spirit. The loss of faith that comes with having your belief system ripped out from under you.

How can trauma survivors come to a place of restoring our faith? Our faith has been built over time as we live and construct in our minds the things we believe in. Trauma can shatter those beliefs in an instant.

In her amazing book, Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman, M.D. addresses the issue of faith. She states “(Traumatic events…) violate the victim’s faith in a natural or divine order and cast the victim into a state of existential crisis. “

In other words, we begin to question everything we have come to know.

Herman goes on to state the depth of this loss of faith.

“In situations of terror, people spontaneously seek their first source of comfort and protection. Wounded soldiers and raped women cry for their mothers, or for God. When this cry is not answered, the sense of basic trust is shattered. Traumatized people feel utterly abandoned, utterly alone, cast out of the human and divine systems of care and protection that sustain life.”

Let’s re-read that last sentence: “…cast out of the human and divine systems of care and protection that sustain life.”

There is nothing more profoundly despairing than that feeling. To feel abandoned by the Divine is a trauma in itself and leads to the disconnection that is such a hallmark of PTSD. So how do we begin to rebuild our faith?

It is important to distinguish between faith and belief. Beliefs are products of our minds. They are decisions we have made, constructs we have formed to make sense of our world. We believe in God, in certain people, in certain relationships.

Faith is a product of the spirit. Faith is the abstract knowing that the Divine is constant. When there is a crack in that knowing, what can heal it? When there is a tear in the fabric of faith, what will mend it?

After 9/11 there was a wonderful quote by Mr. Rogers going around. His advice in times of extreme trauma was to “Look for the helpers.” This is a start in restoring our faith.

If you have survived a trauma, you were likely helped, if not immediately after, then soon after. Look at those helpers. For me it was kind police officers, a calm and soft-voiced trauma nurse, and my friends who came in the middle of the night without asking why I needed them, they just came. When I looked back on all that, it made a few stitches in my torn faith. I could trust the goodness of those people, and they had faith in me that I would survive this. It was a start.

Who were your helpers at the time of trauma? Who around you still holds you up?

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and rescues those who are crushed in spirit.”   ~ Psalm 34:18

Another way to restore your faith is to simply ask. Ask God to restore your faith. We can do nothing apart from God. We can’t restore our own faith by ourselves. Sit in quietness and solitude and ask. Gather with others and ask. God will begin to show you the constancy of Love. God will lead you beside still waters and restore your soul. You will begin to see examples of Divine Love that will make you smile, knowing it’s another stitch in your torn faith.

For me, the final step in restoring my faith was through service, and I wish I had come to it sooner. When you want to curl up in a ball and feel abandoned, take action instead. Get out of yourself and find a way to help others as soon as you feel able. It is like a salve to your wound. Compassionate action opens the way for the light to return. Imagine a sky that is all gray clouds, except for one hole where sunlight is breaking through. That is what service will do for your faith.

An added by-product of service is seeing your value in the world again. Sometimes trauma can leave us feeling powerless. Service restores our faith, not only in God, but in ourselves.

I leave you with this inspiration from Walt Whitman:

“The question, O me! so sad, recurring –

What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here – that life exists, and identity;

That the powerful play goes on,

and you will contribute a verse.”

 

Have faith. You are Still Beloved.

 

Victoria McGee

11/29/2015

 

 

 

What’s in your Cloud?

“Be miserable, or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.”                                                                                                                                           – Wayne Dyer

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What are you storing in your cloud? What are you uploading? What are you downloading? How do these choices affect your life every day? How does it affect the next moment?

Long before the cyber age we’re living in, we all had a Cloud. We still do! The database we carry around, filled with thoughts, feelings, memories, plans for the future, hopes, and dreams. We call it our Mind.

Unlike the Cloud, which is just for accessing stored files, our Mind can also discern, choose, evaluate, create and invent! Those are the amazing gifts of our Mind.

But like the Cloud, we have the ability to choose which files we upload, and which files we download. This is an incredible choice and gives us full power over what we think about, and how we feel. Of course with great power comes great responsibility. (Peter Parker) So when we come to fully realize that only we have full power to engage our Cloud and focus on certain files, we can either celebrate in that knowledge, or cringe from its horror!

Some of us who struggle with PTSD have files that would horrify other people. Trauma that is our own personal heart of darkness. So every day we have this choice. Which files do we download? Which files do we keep in the Cloud, and for how long?

PTSD can feel like a broken record. The same files keep downloading. Even when we try to think about something else, to create something new and good, the old file shows up again. Where’s the pop-up blocker for the trauma thoughts?

Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “Initiate a habit of choosing thoughts and ideas that support feeling good and powerful and elevate you to a higher level of consciousness.”

Who wouldn’t do that if they could? Ah, but you can, grasshopper. The key word is habit!

Too often we feel helpless to these intrusive files. But the more often we practice not reacting to them, but calmly saying, “Not now,” and sending them back to the Cloud, the easier it gets, and the less they “pop up.” It takes practice. Mind practice.

Have you ever had the cascading pop-ups on your computer screen? That’s what those intrusive thoughts can feel like. And what do we do when that happens? We usually have to re-start. Same with our Mind. Re-start, and then install an anti-virus.

For me, the anti-virus is God. I could not control these thoughts, my Mind, the Cloud, without calling on God’s strength, mercy and grace. For if I cannot love these thoughts away, God can. Only the thoughts of God can “elevate you to a higher level of consciousness.”

The more of the strength and faith in the Divine I can upload into my Cloud, the more power I have over negative downloads.

Of course the negative files exist, and there are times and places they need to be downloaded and dealt with, but it needs to be of MY choosing, not random.

There are also times the negative files will keep popping up because we need to deal with something. Often, it’s when we need to do the next healing step, and that’s okay. Just listen to your instinct. You will know when the pop-ups are unnecessary, and when it’s time for an “operating system update.”

The choice is always ours. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, just try it! Own it. Choose it.

A Course in Miracles sums this up beautifully:

“And so again we make the only choice that ever can be made; we choose between illusions and the truth, or pain and joy, or hell and Heaven. Let our gratitude unto our Teacher fill our hearts, as we are free to choose our joy instead of pain, our holiness in place of sin, the peace of God instead of conflict, and the light of Heaven for the darkness of the world.”                                                                                      -A Course in Miracles, Lesson 190

 

Never underestimate the power of your thoughts.

What are you uploading?

Keep throwing light on the darkness.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

 

 

HOW BIG IS YOUR BRAVE?

When I first heard this lyric in the song “Brave” by Sara Bareilles, I was struck by what a profound question it is. How big is your brave?

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This week, as our hearts are turned to Paris and the traumatic events there, the idea of courage and bravery come up for all of us. We all have questions: What would I do in that situation? Are we living in a new normal? How big is my brave?

Trauma survivors know the answer to that. Wherever we are in our healing, we know we have survived what would be unthinkable for most people. If you are new in your healing process, that is enough to know. If you are well into your healing, you know the courage needed to heal is sometimes more than that of surviving the trauma. But you also know the well of courage is bottomless. Even if we lose courage one day, the next day we awaken ready to fight the good fight again.

A Course in Miracles states “there is no order of difficulty in miracles.” I often apply that thinking to trauma and healing. There is no order of difficulty in surviving trauma. If 100 people went through the exact same trauma, they would react and deal with it in 100 different ways. We bring into our trauma a set of beliefs, feelings, thought patterns, culture, and maturity that are uniquely ours. We can never say another person’s similar trauma is more or less difficult than our own.

There are traumas we can look at and know they are more harrowing and difficult to heal, yes. I’m talking about similar trauma. We have an unnecessary tendency to make comparisons. We need to remove all judgment from trauma healing. In a situation needing love, judgment is a profound lack of love.

If we follow this line of thinking, then there is no order of difficulty in courage. What it took for me to survive and heal from rape, was courageous for me. What it takes for you to survive and heal is courageous for you. Don’t play small in acknowledging your courage.

And for those days when your brave feels small, ask the Divine for strength. Ask the Divine to hold you up. I used to imagine sitting in the lap of the Divine and being rocked. It comforted me and gave me strength to go on. Sometimes the well “seems” dry. That is when we need to turn to God to fill it again, and rest in that Holy comfort.

As the initial coverage of the Paris attacks subside, we will start to be hear the small stories. The everyday people who became heroes for others. But we will most likely not hear the stories of the survivors and the witnesses to this violence who may have their own PTSD in the months ahead. They will have to become heroes to themselves as they heal. Join with me in asking God to be with them, and with the families of those whose lives were lost. Their brave IS big enough. My brave IS big enough. And when it isn’t, dip from the well of God’s immense and indefatigable LOVE.

“Everybody’s been there, everybody’s been stared down
By the enemy
Fallen for the fear and done some disappearing
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in

Show me how big your brave is~”     – Sara Bareilles

 

Victoria McGee

11/15/15