THAT HORRIBLE “T” WORD – TRUST

how-to-surrender-300x300

“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

Advertisements

How Do We Dance with Dread?

dancer rain

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

Everyone, whether touched by trauma or not, has to deal with dread at some point. Sometimes we dread simple things; a test at school, Mondays, meetings, running into someone we’d rather not see. Sometimes we dread complex things; a diagnosis, a treatment, a triggering situation, the loss of a loved one.

How do we do it? How do we dance with dread in this life?

As long ago as I experience trauma, I still feel dread sometimes when I have to sleep alone somewhere. I dread the night. I dread the fears. I dread returning to a state of mind where I feel so vulnerable. I have turned to various things to help me sleep and feel safe. I’ve found that it’s much easier to find things to help me sleep than to help me feel safe. And that is what I actually dread, the battle to feel safe.

Dread is an interesting and complex emotion. On the surface, we can see that it’s a feeling of anticipating something with great anxiety and fear. Sometimes it’s based on nothing. We imagine an outcome that is built on the experience of others – things we have heard, read or seen. Other times it’s based on our own experiences, something we have been through, and fear may happen again. This kind of dread is tough because we have proof, real evidence, that this thing we fear could happen, because it did.

Dread is also a paralyzing emotion. It keeps us stuck in fear as long as we honor it. When we become focused on dread, we literally can think of nothing else. And sometimes that’s okay. There are situations where dread is a normal step in dealing with what is before you. It could be a medical diagnosis or the death of someone close to you. It’s entirely appropriate and necessary to feel that dread, walk through it and come out on the other side.

But it’s important not to get stuck there.

“Ive developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time.” ~ Charlie Brown

So how does the Divine ask us to deal with dread? The Divine always answers the complex with the simple. What can heal our fears? Turning to God. What can help me feel safe? Reaffirming that God will not forsake me. What can assuage this dread? Finding our faith in the Divine Love of the Universe.

“Each moment contains a hundred messages from God. To every cry of “Oh God!,”             He answers a hundred times, “I am here.”   ~ Rumi

I am facing things I dread right now. A night alone, a difficult move, the inevitable loss of one I hold dear. I can obsess about these things, I can focus on the feeling of dread they bring. I have experience with these things, I know they are hard, and therefore I dread them.

But I have faith. I have met these things in the past and survived them. These experiences gave me lessons and growth I could not have achieved without them. So who am I to ask that I not have difficulty? I am human. Sometimes life is difficult. My life has been more difficult than some, but not nearly as difficult as many others. Once again, I give this dread over to the Holy Spirit to be alchemized into something new. This is my action. This is how I end the paralysis of dread. And when I do, I feel lighter and at peace.

“Does God promise absence of struggle? Not in this life…But He does pledge to reweave your pain for a higher purpose.”  ~ Max Lucado

This is such a beautiful quote from Max Lucado and helps us know that no matter how much we dread struggle, we are probably going to experience it. But God will take those struggles and use it to enrich our tapestry with deeper meaning and understanding.

So, as with all emotions that are not Love, we must turn over our dread – sometimes constantly – so that God can heal it. We can’t do it on our own, nor are we meant to. When we dance with dread, we must remember that we are not dancing alone, we have a Partner. Let God lead.

“You are but asked to let the future go, and place it in God’s Hands. And you will see by your experience that you have laid the past and present in His Hands as well, because the past will punish you no more, and future dread will now be meaningless.”                                       A Course in Miracles, Lesson 194

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

July 9, 2017

PRACTICE MAKES PROGRESS

girl-1705935_1920

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

May 29, 2017

The Power of Forgiveness

“But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest.    ~Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

man-888591_1920

This little gem in the pages of The Handmaid’s Tale is profound beyond words. As I sit with it, I scan my heart and soul for places I may be withholding forgiveness from someone.

As it relates to trauma and PTSD, I believe forgiveness is one of the most critical steps in our healing. It’s not a single act, either, but a process. Whether you are forgiving yourself or someone else, it rarely happens in one moment of mercy.

I began the process of forgiving the person who assaulted me soon after the attack. I’m not sure what led me to start working on forgiveness. I think it was a deep knowing that I would never heal completely if I didn’t get myself to forgiveness. I began to wonder what must have happened in this person’s life to lead them to a life of robbing and attacking others. I imagined the worst, and knew it was probably worse than I could imagine. It doesn’t excuse behavior, but it does explain it, and it got me started on forgiveness.

Since then, it’s been an ongoing process. I find that I can only forgive as much as I can in a given moment in my life. I have often felt “done” with forgiving. (There! Yay! All done!) Only to have something trigger my fear or anger again, which leads to bitter feelings, which leads back to another level of forgiveness to work on. I’m not consciously withholding forgiveness. I want to be complete in my forgiveness. But I can only forgive as much as I can in a given moment. And I’ve learned to trust the process and to trust that it will be complete some day. Perhaps even in another life. For there are, as in all our relationships, layers beyond our earthly understanding.

“Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.”                                                                                        – Jonathan Lockwood Hule

What is the cost of not forgiving? Besides delaying the healing of our spirits, there are physical and emotional side effects of withholding forgiveness. Valid science now affirms what spiritual paths have always taught. The only path to peace of mind is forgiveness. According to Johns Hopkins, “Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.”

We can all recognize the symptoms of harboring resentment, anger and fear. The thought that forgiveness calms our stress levels makes it not only appealing, but critical to moving forward. Haven’t we suffered enough without adding to our anxiety by harboring that ball of bilious bitterness?

To return to Margaret Atwood’s quote above, to withhold or bestow forgiveness is a great power. We can assuage someone’s guilt by forgiving them, or let them suffer, waiting for our forgiveness, wondering when it will come, if it will come. Often, when we withhold forgiveness, the person we’re not forgiving doesn’t even know we are embittered against them! So who is it hurting? Only ourselves. We bring on ourselves all those mental and physical side effects of not forgiving. And as difficult as it can be sometimes, we need to let it go. Not for them, but for us.

“All forgiveness is a gift to yourself.”    ~A Course in Miracles, Lesson 62

 

There is great power in either bestowing or withholding forgiveness. But only one will bring us true peace.

So how do we do it? How do we forgive? We start by acknowledging that forgiveness needs to happen in order to heal. When I couldn’t think about forgiving, or felt too angry to start, I would pray for God to soften my heart. When I know I’m withholding forgiveness, I pray for God to guide my healing. Guiding my healing will inevitably lead me to forgiveness. And we must turn it over to the Divine, to the forgiveness expert! Daily, hourly if necessary. The Holy Spirit will take our hard spots and soften them, leading us to healing, gently guiding us to forgiveness – to peace. If we but ask.

“If we want there to be peace in the world, we have to be brave enough to soften what is rigid in our hearts, to find the soft spot and stay with it. We have to have that kind of courage and take that kind of responsibility. That’s the true practice of peace.”                   ~ Pema Chodron

You Are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

3/19/2017

 

 

The Fabric of Our Lives

woman-heart

“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

THE PRESSURE TO SEEM “NORMAL”

winter-1828780_1920

“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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DISARMING TRIGGERS

fear-615989_1920

 “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