What Grows in Your Life-Garden?

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Negative experiences happen, but we do not have to let them move in and hold as much of our life space hostage, as they tend to often times do.

We experience a myriad of both positive and unpleasant moments each and every day of our lives.  Due to the way our minds work, we are naturally inclined to squirrel away, cling to, continuously drudge up and often carry around some of the unpleasant moments in a somewhat protective space, as if our lives depended on their existence.  As if these unpleasant moments make up so much of who we are, we cannot bear to part with them. Since we scientifically know this inclination to be true about the human race, and knowledge is power, how do we work to overcome these natural tendencies to live in a negative space?

A few semesters ago, I had a professor call me a Positive Polly, as if this was a negative trait to posses.  While the friend I was with laughed at the comment, I found myself to be offended.  It was pouring out and we had to walk from the classroom to our cars and both my professor and friend were a bit put out by the idea; I on the other hand was not.  I made a few comments about being able to spend less on my water bill and I like the sound of it anyway. Was I looking forward to walking to my car in it?  No, I sure was not!  I do not love being wet and cold.  However, I chose to look on the sunny side and not let the weather bring me down.  I had also come prepared with an umbrella, so that helped!  Being this incident was a few semesters ago, I am sure you have grasped by this point in time, how much I was bothered by it.  At the time, I had no good response and I was a smidge embarrassed.  The more I thought about it however, I decided I would much rather be a Positive Polly than a Negative Nancy, any day of the week!!

What I have come to realize during the course of my grad program is happiness is made, it does not simply happen to you!  Most people do not simply fall into by pure accident. As I eluded to earlier, it takes work.  Depending on who you are, what your background is, what type of family you grew up in, what your life circumstances have been up to this point, what your cultural values are and what your worldview is, it may take more or less work than others you may know to be happy. Chemically, you may be more engineered to lean more to one side than the other.  This is why you hear the cliche’s like:

happiness is a choice

think positive, be positive

positive mind, positive vibes, positive life

positive minds lead positive lives

life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

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Make no mistake, you have to literally pursue happiness in order to have it in your life. The good news, is that every second, every moment in life, your very next breathe is an opportunity to make different choices.  Life is fluid and you are only stuck, if you allow yourself to be.  Life in my opinion, is way too short to hold onto so much negativity, anger and hate.  If you fill your life with these types of things, you leave no space for joy, positivism and happiness to grow.

Life is too short for the the following things:

Being in relationships that make you unhappy

Being physically or emotionally abused

Holding onto anger, grudges or bitterness towards  your fellow man/woman/child

Growing/feeding hatred of any kind towards yourself or others

Not taking care of yourself physically/emotionally

Focusing too much on negativity

Letting negativity and stress kill you from the inside out

Not letting your light shine

So, what do you do?

Well first, you must plant the seed.  Then you must help it grow.  (Yeah, that sounds like an old Chinese proverb, but it is true.) Like most things truly worth your time, you have to put serious effort into it.  You must feed and water it; give it plenty of light and love. You must nurture, care for it and protect it as though it is valuable and important.  Because it is.  In some cases, well far too many in my opinion, your life may depend on how much time you spend nurturing your happiness.  Never neglect or forget to maintain it. You will certainly need to protect it from life’s storms or in some cases the monsoon season! Then, last, but certainly not least…..you MUST share it! The hardest part, is you have to be committed to this effort for your entire life.  If you stop doing any of these important steps at any time, you stand a significant chance of loosing your happiness.  (It is so fragile.)

In fact, you might have the jarring and devastating experience of allowing someone else to snatch it out of the ground and literally run off with it!  Or you might accidentally kill it yourself. Then where you will you be?  You will have to start all over again.  While it is certainly not the end of the world, it will be difficult to regrow.  Not impossible, but it may feel like one of the hardest things you ever do.  So far, I have allowed this to happen twice, before I realized I am truly the creator and caretaker of my own happiness.

Being in relationship successfully with others, has a lot to do with how well you are able to grow and care for your own happiness.  Also like food, I believe the more organically you can grow and cultivate your own personal happiness, the better it is for you and those who share your life.  It becomes more genuine and natural this way.   The odd thing about happiness, is the more of it you have to give, the more likely you are to receive in return. While hate begets hate, the opposite is also true.  Yen and Yang.  Happiness, also begets happiness.

What an amazing gift to give and receive! Ever try to be angry with or hate someone who is kind, generous and generally happy?  Even if you want to (like morning people,) it can be challenging to bring yourself to truly follow through.  Ever try to purposefully not smile at someone who is smiling at you?  Unless you have experienced a tragedy of some kind, it is almost impossible to have negative feelings towards generally positive/happy people.  Go purposely frown at someone who smiles at you.  Try placing a pencil between your teeth so that it forces you to smile and then try to be angry or upset on purpose.  Or try this exercise when you are naturally upset and see if it makes an impact on your mood.  No, I am not kidding.  If you are up for trying out some of these experiments, please do, and do not be shy about sharing your experiences here!

So come on, go out and grow/beget some happiness people!  The world could certainly use a large does of positivism right now!  You have nothing to loose and everything to gain. Oh yeah, and I will be proudly sporting my Positive Polly pants as often as I possibly can, from this point forward.  So if you are embarrassed to be seen with me, tough cookies.

What’s in your garden???

~TS

 

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Authenticity ~ A Collection of Choices

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Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day.  It’s about the choice to show up and be real.  The choice to be honest.  The choice to let your true selves be seen. ~ B. Brown – The Gifts of Imperfection

The idea of being authentic was first introduced to me in graduate school.  The first few times I heard the word, it was not honestly all that impactful, but it did peak my curiosity. What does it really mean to “be authentic?”  In truth, I think it is more difficult than standing physically naked in front of a room of people, strangers or not, and letting them pick apart your physical form in all of its perfect or imperfect ways.  Why?

Because being authentic is about being emotionally naked.

Rising to every occasion imaginable in an open-hearted and vulnerable way sounds pretty daunting to me.  I would actually say not only is it not feasible, it is risky!  Especially when you consider the great lengths most people go, to avoid being vulnerable at all. Being authentic, or emotionally naked, means sharing who you are at the core of your being.  It means being open to ridicule, judgement either good or bad and opening one’s self up to the opportunity of being seriously hurt.  Being hurt in deep and meaningful ways, not simply the superficial level many of us like to reside at.

Now, I do not mean to say we as a people like to live superficially or behave superficially on purpose.  Most of us are protecting our hearts, the core of who we are, which is reasonable. It is a defence mechanism we employ to protect our innermost thoughts and feelings. Being emotionally hurt is often more destructive  to us than any physical wound we may sustain.  Not to mention, society at large and close family and friends will often intentionally or unintentionally, reinforce the concept as well.  We learn through a variety of circumstances throughout our lives, that being authentic leaves us open to emotional turmoil .  Being vulnerable means potentially being hurt or even devasted by those we attempted to be vulnerable with. This begs the question….if it is so awful to be vulnerable/authentic, why on earth would we want to do it?

If life’s lessons have taught us we are safer if we live at a more superficial level, why would we want to act in a potentially unsafe way by exposing our true selves?

Honestly, it sounds scary as hell to me!  Yet, if graduate school has taught me anything on my way to becoming a counselor, it is the idea that being authentic can also be very rewarding.  It is hard work trying to constantly fit in wherever you go and with whomever, you are with at the moment.  To constantly protect yourself is exhausting.  Wanting to always be liked, wanting to please and wanting to always be seen in a positive light is almost impossible! It is also an enormous amount of pressure to place on yourself. No matter how hard you try, some people will simply never like you.  Those people are most likely not worth your time or effort.  Trust me.

Being authentic is a very courageous way of being.

It can lead to true friendships or relationships, which are often more rewarding and fulfilling. Being authentic allows you to connect on a more meaningful level.  It can enrich your life in ways you never imagined. Not to mention it offers the kind of freedom, most of us long for.  To be able to say to another person, this is who I am and it is ok if you do not agree with me or like me, is liberating!   There are so many different ways of being in this world, why would you want to be anyone other than who you truly are?

No, this does not mean it is acceptable to be a jerk or disown the idea of having some tact or manners.  Nor is it ok to be totally offensive to those around you!  It is not a hall pass to act manipulatively!  Opting to behave in these ways is simply making yourself a menace to society.  Not to mention, it is socially irresponsible and you might very well find yourself alone before you realize what has happened.  By the time you do, it might be too late to fix it.  So…try not to be that person.

So within reason, do you!

Be true to yourself.

Be honest with yourself and others.

Put yourself out there as the original person you are.

The worst thing that can happen is someone will not like you, or you will get hurt and it will take some time to heal from it. The truth of the matter is, you will most likely be hurt either way.  There will be times where you may have to apologize for something you did or said, if being you, accidently hurts someone else.  One thing is for sure though you will learn a lot about yourself and others, through the process of learning to be authentic!  Oh and let us not forget, the only thing in this world which remains constant is change.  So it is not only reasonable, but completely understandable, if who you are changes and develops over time.

I believe the process of learning to become authentic will definitely change you.  I also believe it will be a positive, if not life-altering experience.  You will never know unless you try.

So take baby steps, be brave and listen to your intuition.  You totally got this!

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Grow Your Wings on the way Down

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Brene Brown – Boundaries, Empathy, and Compassion

Positive reinforcement word Compassion engrained in a rock

This is by far the best definition I have ever heard of what boundaries are, why you want them and how you would use them successfully.

 

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Call To Arms – Veteran Gets Real About PTSD

PTSD is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation(s).  I would be more worried if I didn’t have it!  Then, I would just be a sociopath. 

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Lessons Learned ~ About Dissociation and Good Therapy

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Why would my brain want to dig up something so tragic and force me to relive it, as though it were happening again in the present moment?  I put a lot of energy and effort into shoving the memory as far down as I could.  If my mind were a big house, with many rooms and hallways, I wandered down to the deepest depths of the basement.  I found the darkest hallway, with the darkest corner to bag the memory up and leave it in.  I wanted to keep it from ever surfacing and hurting me again.  Out of sight, out of mind, right?  So what was the purpose of digging it up and reliving it?  Why would anyone purposefully do that?

Well after much thought, this is my opinion.  We humans are natural problem solvers, we do it from the day we are born.  We think, therefore we are human.  

Our brain has a natural tendency to solve and resolve whatever is happening in our lives. If it is particularly difficult, we will chew on it over and over in an attempt to grind it up small enough, so we can “swallow it and move on.”  Sometimes we put an immense amount of effort into this process, whether we want to or not.  You know how it goes.  Why can’t I stop thinking about this!  Ughh….!!!

Well, what happens if we cannot chew it up small enough to swallow it?  It NEVER goes away!

It sits down there where we buried it and it festers.  Like a wound that was never properly treated, it cannot heal.  The bag we put it in, cannot contain it and it eventually begins to erode the bag and leak out of the dark hallway.  Then it inevitably begins to leak into other parts of our life. Even into the rooms you have happily processed and organized effectively.  You may not recognize it is at first, but over time, it will become very apparent.  By the time you recognize it, it may feel out of control and overwhelming. Sometimes the contents of the bag can become so toxic, that it explodes! Making it to where we have no choice, but to face it.  The brain says, oh hell no, not this time! You WILL get back in here and face it.  You will deal with it.  (aka, here is where dissociation can happen) This is what happened to me.

Therapy is not a band-aid its surgery!  

I find good therapy, often hurts like hell, if it is going to work.  It takes effort.  You have to re-open the wound and remove the parts which are festering, to make way for the wound to heal.  Then you have to go in search of the right antibiotic (one that works for your situation), to start the healing process.  The most important piece of the puzzle is finding a counselor you trust enough to help walk you through this process.  It is akin to finding the best surgeon to help you fix your painful physical wound.  One you feel you can trust with a knife, to complete the surgery and not cut off your leg in the process.  Graphic, I know, but this is the real deal.

I wish more counselors/therapist would just come out and talk about this as honestly as I have with you.  Only one counselor I have worked with has done so and I did some pretty good work with him before he was promoted and could no longer see me.

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Ok, so  what did not work?

  • “Simple” talk-therapy did not work.  In fact, it made it worse for me having told my story, only to be left to my own devices.  I should have been placed with someone skilled in trauma therapy versus being seen in the pain management clinic.  Trauma therapy would have been a better solution, as they are trained to help you establish a safe space/place with which to process the trauma.   They know how to be with you in an effective and supportive, trauma informed way.  They teach you coping skills and how to sit with your discomfort. How to contain your emotions.  They should know how to provide you with tools to assist you between sessions.  You know…the place where life actually happens.
  • Not understanding or having it explained to me, that therapy, at least in the beginning, can make things worse at times before you begin to get some reprieve.  It may be a bit before your situation starts to improve, but it will happen.  If I had been aware of this process, I would not have felt so lost, scared and alone.  This is specifically true for trauma treatment, but can also be true for other types of issues.  However, I suppose to be fair, knowing this might automatically scare some people away from doing therapy.  So, that is important to consider.

So, what did work?

  • My meditation therapist not just hearing my story, but providing me with a more positive outlook and instilling hope.  All counselors should know how to instill hope and assist you with seeing incidents and emotions/feelings in a different light.  It is their job.
  • Being given goals to work on.  Such as letting my body express it’s anger and need for violence in a safe way.  Allowing emotions to be expressed physically can be super helpful and normalizing! (Some of the best trauma treatment individuals out there highly recommend allowing trauma to work its way out through the body via physical expression.)  This is also why exercise can be helpful.  Working on getting to know my inner warrior and showing her some appreciation. Practicing meditation.  These are all goals I worked toward and I found all of them extremely helpful.  Working on them/doing them helped me to feel more grounded and focused as well.

I believe it is important for you to know, counselors/therapists are not a one size fits all solutions to your problems!

Finding the right match is the most important part of your journey to mental well-being, other than admitting you want help in the first place. Please do your research and wait until you feel you have the right match, before delving too deeply.  This may take time, but it is worth it.  You need to know you can trust him/her with the weight of your issues and that he/she will be able to help you find solutions.

Also, the type of therapy provided is not a one size fits all approach!  You may find certain therapies or approaches do not work for you and that is OK!  There are many options out there, so keep looking until you find one which jives with you personally.  Therapy is hard work and takes commitment.  You will not get better overnight, but you will get better! You will also learn a lot about yourself in the process, which in and of itself can be immensely healing.

Being mentally unwell will eventually manifest itself in your body.  Empirical evidence is being uncovered every day, which speaks to this topic.  It can cause anxiety, stress, indigestion problems, gastro-intestinal problems, depression and even auto-immune diseases to name just a few.  It can even give you flu-like symptoms.  Getting help soon enough with what is happening for you mentally and emotionally, can eliminate the potential for future physical problems to manifest.

And lastly, everyone needs a helping hand once in awhile, were human…not islands. There is no shame in having issues to work through, I do not know a single person who does not have something they could use help with!  Having a non-bias person who can assist you with seeing all of the possible angles and options to working with whatever is happening for you, can prove immensely helpful and healthy.  Do not let shame or fear keep you from reaching out.  Whether it is something as simple as helping you form better personal relationships or something as complex as PTSD, there is help out there.  Why go it alone if you do not have to?

Never give up hope!

~TS

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Dissociation ~ What Happened Next

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I left my therapist’s office and as soon as I hit the hallway, where she could not see me, tears began to flow.  Head tucked down in embarrassment, I strode quickly to the parking lot.  I wished to be invisible.  Fumbling with my keys, I unlocked the doors and jumped inside.  “Safe” inside my car, I began to sob uncontrollably.  I sobbed for two hours.  The kind of cry which makes your eyes swell, your face red and makes you feel like you cannot breathe.  I could not drive and all I wanted to do was go home.  I reached out to my husband, who thankfully came to my rescue, physically at least.

The hurt and pain of the memory swelled up inside of me.  I felt as though at times, I could not possibly contain it and I did not want to share it ever again!  Hurt cascaded into anger, then anger into shame.  I was ashamed of myself.  I must be honest and admit to you things got much worse before they ever started to get better.

You see, inside I am a gentle soul.  I am pro-life.  What I mean, is inside and out, I have a huge respect and zest for life.  For me, death and the idea of dying, has always been in my view……the greatest tragedy of living.  I have a hard time killing anything…..except spiders. My fear of the spider is great.  :)

In all seriousness, it really hurts my heart.  Yet, I had made the decision. It literally was either me or him and I had willfully chosen him.  I had committed to the idea of taking another person’s life, in order to protect myself.  This brought me great shame.  I did not like the concept, the idea part of myself was capable of even thinking about it, let alone following through with it! I was grossly disgusted with this side of me.

For a while, I was bombarded by images of death and dying, everywhere I went. Everywhere I looked.  I clammed up again and would not talk about it.  I was silent, except within my head.  I endured horrific nightmares.  I had panic attacks.  Over time, things eased up and I thought I had made it through the worst part.  Until….I was triggered by a massage incident involving a male therapist, then it all came rushing back full force!

I started looking for answers.  If it would not go away on its own, I knew I had to not just face it, but work through it. The VA had left me without care for  a long period of time after my intern therapist had moved on.  She left me midstream in my treatment and the VA did nothing to back fill her position or get me in with someone new.  I am sure this does not come as a surprise.  So, I turned to my meditation teacher at Mayu Sanctuary  for some answers, until I could get back in to meet with someone.

I called her and told her I had an emergency situation.  My PTSD was severely triggered and I needed to talk with someone about it asap!  I was somewhat frantic and more than a little desperate.  I was practically crawling out of my skin.  She returned my email promptly with a phone call and we set up a private session for the very next day.  It could not come fast enough.

I settled into my cushion across from her, explained to her my ordeal with the male massage therapist and described a little bit about the PTSD incident it triggered in me.

I was angry, agitated….restless and ashamed. It has also surfaced a tendency for violence, which I almost enacted on the massage therapist.  Thank goodness for self-control, but I wanted to find and beat the shit out of something!  As I mentioned earlier, I am really not a violent person.  So, I was highly disturbed by these feelings and my shame increased ten fold.  I explained to her just enough for her to get the idea of what happened, as I have not been very good with talking to, well….anyone…..about it. (I revealed more in my last post than I did to my meditation teacher.)

To my surprise, she took it all in and replied calmly with something similar to this: “Well thank goodness your inner warrior chose to show up and reveal herself to you that day.  I would hate to imagine what might of happened if she hadn’t.  You should thank her. Neither of you have anything to be ashamed of.” (Imagine an astonished face and a long pause here)

Wait….what?  My inner warrior……?    I have one of those?  

Wow…she just put a positive spin on my story, in a very unexpected way!  I think her short and thoughtful reply packed a powerful and healing punch.  It was one of the most healing things anyone has ever said to me.  She recommended to me I spend some time meditating and getting in touch with my inner warrior.  She also recommended I get in touch with the massage location where I had experienced the incident, stand up for myself, let my voice be heard and make sure this person was held accountable for his actions.   Her last recommendation was I should definitely find and beat the shit out of something.  Ha! Love this woman!

Preferably something soft she advised, like a bed and/or some pillows, so I wouldn’t get hurt. She encouraged me to kick, scream and yell as loud as I wanted/needed. She said I needed to let it out…so I could stop trying to hold it in.

Holding it in is more dangerous than letting it out, was the last thing she said to me.

I did all of the above!  I am still practicing meditation and working on getting in touch with my inner warrior.  I find now I wish to cultivate, grow and get to know “her.”  I also wanted to thank her for showing up, when I needed her the most.  I had never really needed to access this side of me in such an extreme way in the past, so I was not truly aware it existed.  I might have had an inkling she existed before the particular event in which I speak of now, but sort of in the back of my mind, not really in a knowing kind of way.

Oh…I should probably tell you, he is NOT dead!

But, you probably figured that out. The incident in which I speak of happened in the military and so I have to be very careful with what I share.  Let’s suffice to say, I was abruptly interrupted before I could follow through and he was quickly “escorted” out.

Phew!  Yeah….

Stayed tuned for my next post on – Lessons Learned About Dissociation and Therapy.  I want to share with you, my opinion on both, as a future counselor.  I would also like to tell you about what worked, and what did not as far as therapy is concerned.

~TS

Photo credit www.wellhappypeaceful.com

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