Dipping Back In – Healing Trauma is Not a Straight Line

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“Wounds don’t heal the way you want them to, they heal the way they need to. It takes time for wounds to fade into scars. It takes time for the process of healing to take place. Give yourself that time. Give yourself that grace. Be gentle with your wounds. Be gentle with your heart. You deserve to heal.” ~ Dele Olanubi

This quote is profoundly comforting. It reminds me to be gentle with myself and my process. No one has a straight, flat, easy path in life. Every life journey is unique. For those of us who survive trauma along the path, who may struggle with PTSD, and for whom healing is part of this journey, we need to remember that the path is not linear. We will often take great strides in healing, only to be triggered and feel we have fallen back. I’ve come to realize that these are not steps back, but steps sideways, a time we need to witness how we are triggered, and dip back into healing.

I call it “Dipping Back In” to remind myself that I will always be healing, and that it isn’t possible to dive in and heal all at once. So I dip my big toe in, test the water, then wade in for while. This way, I know I won’t drown.

“Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re failing.” ~ Anonymous

Admittedly, the trauma I survived was a long time ago, so I don’t deal with PTSD every day any more. But I clearly remember the early days, months and years when I was working so hard to heal, and was regularly triggered. I would get so frustrated about triggers. “Aren’t I getting better?” “When will I be done dealing with this?” “When will I be healed?” Over time, the reaction to the triggers lessened. I can see now, in retrospect, how the path was unfolding. It’s harder to see in the midst of it. We get so tempted to beat ourselves up if we get triggered again, or if we go through a difficult time emotionally.

As many years (decades) as I have worked with healing trauma, I’m still having to “Dip Back In” occasionally. Just last year, I had to spend some nights alone for the first time in a long time. I was massively triggered, couldn’t sleep, and had nightmares again. Rather than lose hope that I’m not fully healed, I now know this is an invitation to “Dip Back In” and see where I have more work to do.

MORE work to do? Really? (My inner child has a small tantrum at this point.) But I know that a little more work is exactly what I need. And I couldn’t have done it sooner, because healing occurs in stages. Healing is circuitous. Healing is random. Healing is difficult and it is also not optional if we are to recover and live fully. For me, I need God on this path with me.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” ~ Buddha

And so we must accept our healing for what it is. And to do this, we must get to a place of surrender. We must surrender our ideas of what our healing is supposed to look like. Surrender our linear ideas of how long it should take. Surrender the human tendency to compare our healing to that of others. Be gentle and loving with yourself.

Surrendering the form and time-frame of your healing leads to a deepening in the faith of your own path. Surrender to the healing God has planned for you. You are safe there. God will lead you to those feeling and situations that will help you heal when you are ready for it. Surrender and have faith.

So “Dip Back In” when you feel you need to. Have faith and surrender to the process. God’s plan for your healing is inevitable. It will be there for you when you are ready for it. It will be there for you when you embrace your journey as solely your own, and surrender to the chaotic beauty of your healing path.

“Your path is beautiful and crooked and just as it should be.” ~ Anonymous

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

February 12, 2018

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Crawling Out of Trauma

“If all you can do is crawl, start crawling.”  ~ Rumi

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When I saw these ancient words of Rumi, they hit me right in the gut. What could be more true for someone who has suffered a traumatic experience? Who among us has not been there?

Even if you’ve not lived through a trauma, even if you don’t suffer with PTSD, you have probably been at the steps of profound grief, on the floor, or on your knees, and all you can do to move forward is – crawl. Often, it’s all we can do.

Rumi’s words are so comforting and inspiring at the same time, because they not only acknowledge that you’ve been knocked down, and you are weakened and overwhelmed by what lies before you; these words also acknowledge that the road forward – the road of healing – is inevitable. So start crawling.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  ~ Lao Tzu

In the early days and weeks of the aftermath of a traumatic event, you are crawling. Every movement, every question someone asks you, getting yourself out of bed in the morning – these things are monumental. They are heavy. They require every bit of focus you can muster because a good part of you is still in shock. You feel like you’re watching a movie of other people’s lives. The movie of your life has taken a shocking turn. This is not the story you wanted. This is not the part you wanted to play. And yet, here you are. This event is now part of your life, part of your past, part of your future. And this, you come to find, is where your power begins to come back to you. You decide what part it will play in your future.

And so….and so….we start to crawl out.

What IS that within us that drives us to start crawling? To eventually get on hands and knees? To stand? To walk? Survival instinct? The basic will to live? Anger and revenge? I’m sure the specific things that get us up off the cold, hard floor are as different as we are, but I do think that we all have an intrinsic, Divine spark that gets us up and pushes us forward, toward healing, toward overcoming, toward courage and toward the transformation the Holy Spirit has in store for us.

“We tend to forget that baby steps still move us forward.”  ~ Unknown

Crawling is forward motion. Baby steps move us forward. The point is to honor that fire in our belly that tells us to move forward, keep moving, and start taking the steps to right yourself, for you have been knocked off balance in a profound way. Get help. Make that call. Talk to others. Pray. Take steps.

I thought about this during a yoga class this week. I’m trying to regain some flexibility in my body and then hang on to it! In yoga, as in life, you are sometimes asked to do impossible things. And you look at the teacher and say to yourself, “Oh no, I could never do that.” But the teacher gives you options and reminds you that there’s beauty in the trying, and to only do what your body can do, and that’s enough. That’s enough! What a wonderful metaphor for life and for healing! Each day, take some baby steps and that’s enough.

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”  ~ Nelson Mandela

Yes, you will fall down again. Yes, you will take a few steps back sometimes. Be kind and forgiving toward yourself when this happens. You are doing your best in an impossible situation. Much is being asked of you. Be gentle with yourself, with your progress. For you will always get back up and move forward again. And when you are down and it’s so hard to get back up, remember to not rely on your own strength. Turn to God, again and again. God wants nothing more than your healing, so when you are crawling, reach up for strength. God will lift you.

Also, on those days when we have been knocked back a step, we need to remember to look back – look back to where we were in our healing two weeks ago, or two months, or two years. You will see progress. Your fears lessen, your flashbacks lessen, your engagement in life slowly increases. Look back, then look ahead again and take a step.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

February 5, 2018

Healing doesn’t have to be Heavy

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“I believe in the healing power of laughter. I believe laughter forces us to breathe.”

– Brene Brown

The title for this blog floated into my brain during a group meditation at a Reiki class. I almost laughed out loud because looking around the circle we were all so serious in our quest for deepening. And of course, connecting with God, expanding our ability to Love in God’s name, forgiving our enemies, these are serious things! But we have to remember to laugh.

Healing from ANYTHING is difficult, whether it’s physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. Sometimes it’s a full time job, getting well. Everything starts to revolve around getting well. We have physical therapy, psychotherapy, yoga, hiking, prayer groups, whatever – and it’s easy to forget to find time and places to laugh.

“Man when you lose your laugh you lose your footing.” – Ken Kesey

But as Ken Kesey so profoundly states, losing your laugh means losing your footing. I would even say losing your laugh means losing your hope. What is more hopeful than laughter? I have a distinct memory of my first big laugh after I was sexually assaulted. I don’t think I really laughed for at least a month, which is pretty normal. I was deeply traumatized, focused on healing, still dealing with an investigation, and trying to wrap my head around what had happened. Trying not to be angry at God. All of it.

I don’t even remember what made me laugh, I just remember laughing deeply at something and in that moment, long lost endorphins flooded my body and I felt (could it be?) hope! I knew I was going to be okay. Laughing helped me feel normal, and connected, and alive in a way I hadn’t felt for some time. It was a gift, and it continued to grow and help me heal in the months and years following.

“What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” –Yiddish Proverb

Those of us who have struggled with PTSD know the numbness that comes with it. If you’re not in a state of freak-out you’re just kind of numb. No highs, no lows, just existing. Laughter can break through that numbness, as it did for me, and give you a taste of feeling truly alive again.

Scientifically this is being proven to be true! Research shows that laughter lowers the level of stress hormones (epinephrine, cortisol, etc) in the blood and raises endorphin levels. It is now being seen for the healing force it is, boosting immune systems, lowering blood pressure, and soothing the souls of soldiers with PTSD, healing victims of trauma. Of course, this is in conjunction with other healing modalities, but laughter definitely enhances whatever else we’re doing.

“Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.” – Charlie Chaplin

Sometimes we can seek laughter and find it. Other times it will sneak up on us and lighten our load. Interestingly, science shows us that real and fake laughter have the same effect on our physiology. This is why laughter therapies are springing up all around the world. It’s difficult when you’re feeling low, in grief, or focused on healing to think about doing something to make yourself laugh, but try! Try! Watch an old favorite show, go to a comedy club, gather with friends.

When friends gather, laughter is inevitable, and so is connection. Often with PTSD, we turn to isolation because it’s easier and we feel wounded and we don’t want others to see. But we need the connection, we need the laughter, and these things are blessed by God! The Divine doesn’t want you suffering in the depths of your soul. God wants us lifted up, laughing again, being Love.

Even the Dalai Lama is quoted as saying “I am a professional laugher!” He understands that laughter heals the soul and lifts the heart.

“Laughter is an instant vacation.” – Milton Berle

In other aspects of my life, I do comedy improv. I once remarked to a friend that it felt like an odd dichotomy, to write about healing spiritually from PTSD, and then do comedy improv. My friend just smiled and said, “They’re both healing. I don’t see them as opposing each other at all.” That was such a gift to hear! So I go forward, healing myself and hopefully others with laughter.

Give yourself the gift of laughter today. Healing doesn’t have to be heavy. Healing includes laughing.

Seriously.

You are Still Beloved

Victoria McGee

January 22, 2018

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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