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

 

 

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The Fabric of Our Lives

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“My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue,

An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view.

A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold,

A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold.”

                                                                        ~Carole King

            When I was young and would loudly sing along with Carole King in my room, these words were beautiful. As I grew older, they became profound. Now they bring tears, as they demand reflection. I hope I have many more years to live, and that I can live them awake and aware, knowing that with the good there will be bad, and it’s all part of the tapestry of my life.

Tapestries became popular during the Medieval era, largely because they were portable art, and people and kingdoms often had to move quickly. Originally tapestries told religious stories, then later in life they told tales of romance and fantasy. The process of following a large drawing and transferring that image onto a large, vertical loom is fascinating. The detail work is awe-inspiring. Perhaps our lives are tapestries, the big picture set forth at our birth, the details added as we grow and change.

“We sleep, but the loom of life never stops, and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up in the morning.”

                                                ~Henry Ward Beecher

Our live are indeed tapestries, each day woven into the existing patterns of the day before, incorporating light and dark, good and bad, fear and safety, life and death. What makes life rich is not to have had only good, safe and happy experiences, but their opposite as well. The contrast in the patterns of the tapestry is what makes it interesting, what paints the picture, what tells the whole story.

As I’ve written in previous blogs, I would not want my traumatic experience to be washed away and taken out of my life’s tapestry. The Dalai Lama once said, “There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful the experience is, if we lose out hope, that’s our real disaster.”

How do we live through trauma, grief, and sorrow and find our hope again? Through faith. Through turning it constantly over to God to heal. Through trusting the Divine will help us if we but ask. And through looking back at your tapestry so far. Look at how far you’ve come. Really see what you have survived, what gifts it brought you, what strength you gained. Examine the details of your tapestry. What small acts done by you or someone else, wove a new idea into the pattern? What help or compassion patched the place where the threads unraveled? Look at the strength of the whole piece. This has been created by the Divine, and nothing can tear it apart.

“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.”

                                                                                                ~ Richard P. Feynman

What a beautiful thought! It’s easier to realize this concept when we look at nature isn’t it? The patterns weave together and create the entire tapestry. I am filled with awe when I truly “get” this.

And so we move forward daily, not usually aware, our tapestry growing and changing and becoming richer until the end. So we must accept the entire tapestry, the good and the bad, the frayed edges, and the solid images, the times we were deeply afraid, and the times we were profoundly safe. The times we withheld love, and the times we gave it freely. Accept it, because in the end, what counts is everything, the whole picture ~ the complete tapestry. It’s all part of the fabric of our lives.

“Into Christ’s presence will we enter now, serenely unaware of everything His shining face, and perfect Love.”   ~ A Course in Miracles – WB 157

You Are Still Beloved

Victoria McGee

2/28/2017

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

LOVING ACCEPTANCE

“To feel the Love of God within you is to see the world anew, shining in innocence, alive with hope, and blessed with perfect charity and love.” – A Course in Miracles, lesson 189

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I am still beloved. I believe this down to my core. No matter what I may have done or been or survived, the love of God for me is constant. I know God has been there through every trauma, and will be there always. This kind of faith doesn’t come easily, and perhaps you are not there yet. But know that it is true. God sees you perfectly, and God see you perfect.

I can accept this. I can accept that God sees me this way. God is, after all, God. The Divine is Love that is all encompassing and beyond our understanding.

My difficulty is seeing myself the way God sees me.

Does this resonate with you as well? You have a spiritual practice, you’ve survived trauma, you pray and meditate and turn everything over to the Divine – but still, still you judge yourself, withholding from yourself the very thing you need: love and acceptance.

I do it all the time. I’m still learning and trying and growing and becoming. But I know that this step is critical for healing.

When we withhold loving acceptance from ourselves, we set ourselves up for continuous disappointment. We set ourselves up for depression, anxiety and addiction. Seeing ourselves as God sees us leads us out of this cycle.

How do you start? I had to start with others. For a long time, I wasn’t at ease within myself, both because of the trauma I had been through, but also because I regularly withheld love from myself. With a strong desire to heal and change this, I started by trying to see others as God sees them.

This requires such vigilance on our thoughts! We are conditioned from a very young age to make judgments about the people around us based on their appearance, their words and their actions. When we consciously practice looking on others with love, we start to see their innocence. We begin to glimpse what God sees. We grow in compassion and understanding for others.

You are a creature of Divine Love connected at all times to Source. Divine Love is when you see God in everyone and everything you encounter.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer

Non-judgment is a muscle that needs constant exercise. Left idle, it will grow fat cells and spread. Like exercise, it probably doesn’t come naturally to us, so we have to be vigilant and dedicated. And like exercise, it is worth it, for it can be your path to self-acceptance.

Through continuous practice of non-judgment of others, I found it easier to forgive and love myself. I began to see myself as God sees me more frequently. This is a tool for healing that grows stronger the more I practice it. The less I judge others, the less I judge myself.

For some, the path to self-acceptance may start within you and then extend to others. This is also a valid path. And who’s to say you can’t walk both paths at once? There are many paths to seeing yourself as the love of God. The path doesn’t matter, what matters is the dedication to the path and to healing.

Give love to yourself today. Give yourself the gift of seeing through God’s holy eyes. See those around you with those eyes. Look within and truly see your glorious light of Love.

You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”                 Buddha

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

05/15/2016

 

Happy Holidays from PTSD

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”                      ~ Albert Camus

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Whatever your spiritual beliefs, we recognize that December is a time of holidays and religious and family gatherings. While those around us look forward to the delights of this season, survivors of trauma often find this a difficult time to navigate. Whether you suffer with PTSD yourself, or live with someone who does, it’s important to be prepared and know that whatever you bring to the season is enough.

For some survivors of trauma, the holidays may be good. For me, it was a rare opportunity to sleep deeply, without fear. For others, the holidays themselves may be when their trauma occurred, and the fight or flight instinct is awakened, despite their best efforts. As we are surrounded with images of love and light and innocence, we may re-experience the grief our trauma brought us; of never quite feeling that profound sweetness of innocence again.

Though that may be true, and we may indeed be changed in irreparable ways, we can still find hope in taking charge of our perspective, in taking care of ourselves, and in taking control of our holidays.

“The depth of the feeling continued to surprise and threaten me, but each time it hit again and I bore it…I would discover that it hadn’t washed me away.” – Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott so perfectly expresses what we trauma survivors know too well. The surprise and fear that feeling something so deeply can bring. It’s like being in the ocean. The same water that lets you float suddenly grabs you and pulls you under!

But we rise again to the surface and discover, “…it hadn’t washed me away.” If we can keep acknowledging that, each time we have a flashback, or a bad day, or a bad night – we haven’t washed away. We are here, and we are doing the very best we can.

If the holidays tempt you to feel struck down by waves (of memory, of family, of expectations, of anxiety) take time to notice that you are not washed away. Keep your perspective focused on your progress. You are here and you have gifts yet to give.

Next, take care of yourself. This is non-negotiable. As a survivor of trauma, you need to be doing this anyway, but even more so at the holidays. The holidays may hold more triggers for you than at any other time of year. If you are not rested, mindful, healthy and balanced, triggers will sneak up on you. Be your own best friend. Don’t neglect the Divine, or the Divine in you, for the sake of pleasing others. Show up when it feels right, and you can bring your best self. If you’re in doubt, ask yourself if a holiday experience is going to drain you, or fill you up? There will be the answer.

Finally, take control of your holiday. If crowds give you anxiety, avoid big parties or malls. If big family dinners are difficult, perhaps join with a smaller part of the family for breakfast, then find a place to be of service instead. You may need to create new rituals to honor where you are in your healing. For some, there is a need to be with family. For others, there will be a need to serve. Some will feel the old familiar need to isolate, but I urge you not to. If you need isolation and alone time for balance, that’s fine. But avoiding the holidays altogether will not serve your highest healing. And that is what the Divine wants for you.

Perhaps all we need do during the holidays is focus on the best ideology of this time of year. Give to yourself and each other: Peace, Light, Hope, and God’s Love.

“This Christmas, give the Holy Spirit EVERYTHING that would hurt you. LET yourself be healed completely that you may join with Him in healing, and let us celebrate our release together by releasing everyone with us.”

~A Course In Miracles

 

Take good care of yourself. Find in yourself, your “invincible summer.”

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

12/06/2015

 

 

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