Nine Things I’ve Learned

I used to write a lot about trauma and the nature of it largely because I was in the middle of dealing with it.  For me, I would try to get outside of my own traumas and inspect them as if I were looking at a car I might buy.

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“Where do I begin?”

That works for a while–the distancing.  It restores to you a sense of control, and for people who have been traumatized feeling in control is meaningful.  It brings a sense of empowerment, and that makes a huge difference when you’re doing “trauma work”.  But, what about those things called “triggers”? What happens then? Honestly, it feels a bit like this:

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Eventually, however, we have to take a meaningful look at what traumatized us.  That is what many of my trauma-related posts are about–trying to live a meaningful life while also stuck in the “glass box of emotion”.

But, what about life after the trauma work? What do I mean by that? Well, I can tell you what I did during the trauma work.  I shut my life down because I had no energy to power it.  Metaphorically, I had a small generator, and that only kept necessary systems online.  I withdrew from almost everything that involved socializing because I did not have the emotional energy to interface with other people.  I was too sensitive at that time to deal with the normal flaws and foibles that characterize the human race.  I could barely reach out to my friends.  I was just trying to stay afloat.  We are talking about surviving here.  Getting out of a serious domestic abuse situation is not easy.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

I lost friends in the process.  There are people who will not understand, not believe you, or who who will shame you for taking the actions you did.  It all contributes to a very rocky healing process and extenuates the grieving.  Alas, after the initial shock, the therapy, the fallow period in which you feel utterly broken, and the slow ascent out of the pit of despair and pain, you can and do emerge.  You will be “remodeled”.  You aren’t the same, but you are still you.  So, what now? Three years after my ex-husband moved out, what have I learned?

  1. If you commit to a process of therapy, you will heal faster.  I was in therapy for two years.  It contributed to the healing process for me post-divorce in ways I couldn’t have accomplished on my own.  I am a die-hard believer in therapy although you need the right therapist.  A bad therapist will create more obstacles, but you will leave his/her office with interesting stories.
  2. There will be moments when you will feel discouraged about your life, and that’s normal.  When you are living in an abusive environment, almost all your energy is spent trying to adapt to it.  You are focusing entirely on your abuser or negative circumstances in order to anticipate what s/he will do next or what will happen.  If you have children, you will also be trying to protect them.  Your health and emotions matter little.  If you sustained physical injury as well, you may try to brush it off as quickly as possible while pretending it never happened.  That was my M.O.  When the perpetrator of abuse is no longer present and the circumstances change, the first thing you feel is a wonderful sense of relief and joy.  I was elated.  My therapist warned me that the years of trauma that I had packed away in my body and psyche would come forward as soon as I felt safe.  I said, “Nah…no way.”  I was so wrong.  I spent over a year processing that pain, and it was extraordinary.  Basically, I was ugly crying in my bedroom every night wishing I would just die.  Eventually, that stopped, but it won’t stop until you finish the process.  So, commit to it with all you’ve got.  Then, move forward feeling much lighter.
  3. You might be afraid to meet new people, or you might feel the opposite–stoked to get out there and meet everyone.  Initially, I felt so raw that I struggled to socialize.  I was also blamed by more than a few people for being abused with very typical victim-blaming statements (ex. “I can’t believe a person as smart as you would let something like that happen.”).  I simply didn’t feel like trying to make new connections.  I also didn’t want new people meeting me in the context of such a transition.  I felt defective somehow, and I think that feeling is normal considering how often people imply it however wrong they are.  This does fade as you heal, but it is okay to stay in the relative safety of your safe space until you’re ready to get out there again as long as it doesn’t become a prolonged exercise in avoidance.  Then, you’ll have new things to discuss in your therapist’s Hot Seat.
  4. There comes a point when you come alive again.  At some point in your healing process, you reignite.  I do not know if any singular factor acts as a catalyst, but I do know that an energy returns that wasn’t there prior.  For me, it was when I went back to school.  That was an external manifestation of a shift in my beliefs.  I reached a point where I believed that I could start over.  I wanted to build a life that mattered, and I wanted my daughters to see what a woman was capable of–what it looked like to get up again.  I found my worth again and believed that what I wanted mattered.  I started to acquire hope.  This is a very good sign.  Go with it and see where it takes you.
  5. You will love and be loved again.  This was something that only resided in the realm of fantasy for me–even when I was married.  I felt so overlooked and worthless during the last years of my marriage.  Everything revolved around what my ex-husband would and would not do.  I deleted so many parts of my emotional and intellectual repertoire to stay that I hardly knew who I was anymore when the marriage ended.  I couldn’t answer basic questions like, “What is your favorite kind of music?” or “If you could go on a vacation, then where would it be?” We could only listen to his preferred music, and we never talked about vacations.  I never had an iota of privacy, and he mocked almost everything that I liked.  So, I lost myself.  Meeting someone new was a glorious surprise, and I’m still surprised by it daily.  I did not think that it was possible for me.  I know that it is common to say, “If it is possible for me, then it’s possible for you.”  It is true though.  It is possible for you.
  6. Let yourself be happier than you believe you deserve.  This is still very hard for me, but I try. I, therefore, anticipate that it may feel difficult for you at times. There have been moments in the past three years when I have felt a limitless sort of happiness.  When I feel it, I want to dampen it because fear is on its heels.  I have never experienced sustained goodness in my life.  Ever.  This is often the case for people from abusive or dysfunctional families and/or circumstances.  When you begin to believe that your environment is safe or you begin to trust those around you, circumstances and people often turn against you.  You can’t relax.  You can’t trust.  You can’t believe.  You can’t rest.  You must always be on edge, read the people in your midst so that you know how to react, and be ready to fight or flee.  Happiness or joy can never become something you truly want.  Surviving is the goal.  This is the reality of a trauma survivor, but it need not be your reality for the rest of your life.  So, I suggest allowing yourself to feel happiness and/or joy when it comes and then allow it to stay within you longer than you are comfortable with it.  The anxious thoughts will no doubt partner with your happiness–“What if _______ happens?”, “What if _________ dies?”, “What if _________ turns out to be just like _________ and hurts me?” There are myriad distorted anxieties that the brain throws at you when you begin to relax into happiness.  That’s okay.  Allow yourself to feel happier than you believe you deserve to be in little bits.  Eventually, you can sustain it for longer periods of time, and that state of being will normalize itself.
  7. Getting triggered isn’t as bad as it used to be.  I experienced a triggering event yesterday, and it came out of nowhere as triggering events often do.  Initially, I didn’t even know why I was upset.  I thought I was overly sensitive and felt foolish.  When I finally came to the reason, I felt oddly grateful and somewhat annoyed.  I realized that I still had emotional work to do around some of the emotional abuse in my former marriage, and, admittedly, I’m tired of the subject.  But, the recovery was relatively fast, and I could see it more objectively than I once did.  I didn’t get sucked in and stay triggered for hours upon hours.  This is progress! Triggering events are still painful, but they are now more representative of data points.  I can use them to gain traction now rather than sink to the bottom of the emotional Laurentian Abyss.  It does get better and easier, and you come to see yourself not as a victim of something but simply as yourself.  That change in self-definition is a huge turning point.
  8. You will eventually become more interested in your future than your past.  This can be a hard thing to grasp, but it’s akin to a paradigm shift.  When you endure a lot of therapy, you are naturally past/present oriented because you spend all your time sleuthing for past problems and traumas that affected you in the present.  This is useful to a point.  Eventually, we must begin to see our lives as present/future oriented, and that can be extremely difficult for people who have endured trauma largely due to the little talked about symptom of PTSD called a foreshortened future.  What is a sense of a foreshortened future? Essentially, it means that you cannot plan for yourself because you cannot imagine your own future.  You simply can’t see it.  Some therapists define it as a person believing that their life will be cut short and define the symptom as an avoidance symptom in PTSD.  I think that they’re wrong.  I rely on neuroscience for this one.  The brain relies on our past experiences and narratives to construct future narratives and make plans for us.  An extreme example of this is an amnesiac patient.  Patients with amnesia cannot make plans for their future.  Why? They have no memories of past experiences so their brains cannot tap into past experiences to project possible narrative outcomes when planning for the future.  So, people with traumatic experiences and PTSD have narrative experiences characterized by traumatic experiences.  If all a person has done in their lives is adapt to trauma, then all of their time and energy is spent focusing on and adapting to someone else (a perpetrator) or to traumatic circumstances (poverty, war, highly dysfunctional or abusive circumstances).  Never have they learned to plan.  They have only learned to adapt on the fly usually around someone else’s behaviors or circumstances.  Planning is a skill.  Learning to “dream” about a future where good things can and do happen to and for you is also a skill particularly if you have never once experienced that.  It must be learned in a safe place where one can be taught how, and where once can learn to practice it.  The future doesn’t exist yet.  We help to create it, but this idea is elusive at best when you perceive the past to have ruined your present.  You must embrace the idea that your future is yours even if you can’t feel it or see it yet.  It is yours as surely as your past is behind you.  This one takes time, but it is possible to learn this skill.
  9. You will recover your resiliency.  This is a big deal.  We are all resilient creatures.  Humans can survive almost anything, but we can also reach breaking points.  The point here is that you can come back from that.  There are days when it will feel like you won’t or can’t.  Don’t believe everything you think or feel.  That is folly.  Getting up again after setbacks, no matter how bad, is what resiliency is all about.  Developing grit and shifting your self-definition from one of a victim to a person who can and will get up again is where the rubber meets the road.  Changing how you view yourself in relation to the people who hurt you matters the most right here.  For me, my personal statement has been: “I will not let people of that quality take the best out of me.  I will get up again.”  Remembering this has given me the fuel I have needed to keep going when I have felt truly overwhelmed.  At some point, you will turn around and look back taking in how far you’ve traveled.  You will see that you did indeed get up again and walk miles.  No one said that the healing process was easy or felt good.  I will tell you that it hurts profoundly, but it does not hurt forever.  There comes a point when you something shifts.  You will begin to feel more peaceful than you feel anxious.  You will discover joy and feel that more often than you feel fear.  Fear and anxiety can become habitual states of being.  They are familiar, and we know how to feel like that.  Joy and peace? Not so much.  Those must be cultivated and invested in.  And…fought for.  The culture we live in does not value joy, peace, civility, and kindness.  If you want that in your life, you have to cultivate it, fight for it, and stand guard over it.

At this point on the road, this is where I’m at.  I’m sure in a year I’ll be somewhere else, but it is reassuring to know that we don’t have to stay where we are now.  We can get up and move.  As always, I wish you all great peace and…

Keep going.

 

 

 

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Generalized Anxiety vs. PTSD Anxiety

I have devoted a lot of space on this blog to writing about PTSD, C+PTSD, and healing from trauma.  I’ve been honest about my own journey towards wholeness.  What I share here is an attempt to elucidate the emotional experience behind C+PTSD in specific the anxiety experience.

What I can say for certain about healing from C+PTSD is that it is like a disease that remits and exacerbates.  I can go a year and not devote any time to thinking about the man who abducted and trafficked me, my time in captivity with him, or the events that happened to me therein.  I rarely think of my father or stepmother.  My mother doesn’t come to mind much either in the context of her abusive behaviors.  The domestic violence I experienced in my former marriage is no longer foremost in my mind.  It’s not the people or specific events that dog me now.

So, what is left after you deal with the details and process the events? What is left after therapy because there is something left?

I’ve had a hard time defining the quality of what remains until a friend sent me a link to this article yesterday:

We Can’t Keep Treating Anxiety From Complex Trauma the Same Way We Treat Generalized Anxiety

Vicki Peterson, the author of this article, writes:

No one gets a prize for “worst” depression, anxiety, trauma or any other combination of terrible things to deal with, and no one should suffer alone. With that in mind, there is a difference between what someone who has Complex PTSD feels and what someone with generalized anxiety or mild to moderate depression feels.

For someone dealing with complex trauma, the anxiety they feel does not come from some mysterious unknown source or obsessing about what could happen. For many, the anxiety they feel is not rational. General anxiety can often be calmed with grounding techniques and reminders of what is real and true. Mindfulness techniques can help. Even when they feel disconnected, anxious people can often acknowledge they are loved and supported by others.

For those who have experienced trauma, anxiety comes from an automatic physiological response to what has actuallyalready happened. The brain and body have already lived through “worst case scenario” situations, know what it feels like and are hell-bent on never going back there again. The fight/flight/ freeze response goes into overdrive. It’s like living with a fire alarm that goes off at random intervals 24 hours a day. It is extremely difficult for the rational brain to be convinced “that won’t happen,” because it already knows that it has happened, and it was horrific.

Those living with generalized anxiety often live in fear of the future. Those with complex trauma fear the future because of the past.”

This is absolutely true, and most therapists don’t seem to have a clue that there is a difference.  Perhaps this will help someone reading this…

I live with a smoldering anxiety that never leaves me.  It peaks when I’m happy.  Oddly, it ebbs when I’m too busy to pay attention to what’s going on around me, and I suspect that trauma survivors try to stay so busy because it prevents them from feeling this particularistic type of anxiety.  When I’m struck with the evanescent beauty of a moment, fear creeps in like a thief and begins to steal my joy.  I do not know how to escape any of this.  It might be strange, but I’ve tried to make friends with it.  I’ve wanted to understand it in an effort to defuse it.

As Ms. Peterson has said, I don’t fear because I’m generally anxious.  I do not have an anxious personality.  I fear because of what I’ve known.  Because of my past experiences.  When the worst-case scenario has already happened to you, then who’s to say it won’t happen again? Yes, I’ve survived extreme sexual torture, a kidnapping, human trafficking, and years of abuse in my family of origin.  I was duped by my ex-husband for twenty years and sexually assaulted by him.  My former therapist told me that I could clearly survive anything.  My brain fears that I will have to do it again.  Over and over again.  This is the flavor of anxiety that belongs to trauma survivors.  This is the nature of PTSD and C+PTSD anxiety.

I do practice mindfulness, but becoming mindful does not shut down my anxiety.  It often only makes me more aware that I’m fearful and feeling helpless.  It can promote the very hypervigilance I’m seeking to escape.

The remedy for both anxiety and trauma is to pull one’s awareness back into the present. For a traumatized person who has experienced abuse, there are a variety of factors that make this difficult. First and foremost, a traumatized person must be living in a situation which is 100 percent safe before they can even begin to process the tsunami of anger, grief and despair that has been locked inside of them, causing their hypervigilance and other anxious symptoms. That usually means no one who abused them or enabled abuse in the past can be allowed to take up space in their life. It also means eliminating any other people who mirror the same abusive or enabling patterns.

Unfortunately for many, creating a 100 percent abuser-free environment is not possible, even for those who set up good boundaries and are wary of the signs. That means that being present in the moment for a complex trauma survivor is not fail-proof, especially in a stressful event. They can be triggered into an emotional flashback by anything in their present environment.

It is possible (and likely) that someone suffering from the effects of complex trauma is also feeling anxious and depressed, but there is a difference to the root cause. Many effective strategies that treat anxiety and depression don’t work for trauma survivors. Meditation and mindfulness techniques that make one more aware of their environment sometimes can produce an opposite effect on a trauma survivor.  Trauma survivors often don’t need more awareness. They need to feel safe and secure in spite of what their awareness is telling them.”

Feeling safe and secure, for me, is key.  Safety and security in my relationships and environment seem to be the cure.  I know why feelings of relief and happiness trigger feelings of fear and, sometimes, emotional flashbacks.  My father deliberately cultivated feelings of happiness and relief in me in order to overturn them and further engage in abuse.  He was a pathologically cold man.  My mother’s emotional and personality disorders caused constant instability in our family environment.  As soon as any sort of happiness was achieved, it vanished just as quickly due to her inability to maintain a consistent mood or affect.  She also attempted suicide numerous times.  As soon as any family member felt relief that she might be doing better, she would attempt suicide again or lash out in talionic rage against someone in the family.  Nothing in my family life was ever predictable.  We consistently waited for “the other shoe to drop”.  I grew up on edge.  If there were ever a moment of happiness, I knew that my mother would ruin it.  Or my father.  That has proven to be true over the years.

Consequently, when I feel this rising panic borne of this nebulous but constant fear that follows me everywhere, it isn’t generalized.  It is quite specific, and I find myself saying, “I can’t go back to that.  I can’t do that again.  I won’t do that again.”  And, I feel frozen and terrified as if an old enemy has found me.  I feel a strong urge to cut all ties and run away mixed with a terrible almost existential fear that I will live out my life completely alone.  And, yet, I know that this will all pass.  It is, as I said, like an exacerbation of an autoimmune disease–an autoimmune disease of the mind and soul.

With that said, what is to be done? Well, I have therapized, read, studied, and pursued many roads over the last twenty years in order to answer that very question, and I’ve had a fair amount of success.  For the survivor of trauma, however, consistently establishing safety and security in your myriad environments and relationships is the number one thing to do to defuse anxiety and flashbacks related to trauma.  This will always be the first and last step.  It is also the first question to ask when you feel that familiar fear rise: “Do I feel unsafe or insecure anywhere in my life or in any relationship?”

I hope that this has been helpful to you.  Ms. Peterson’s article has been very helpful and validating for me.

As always, keep going…

Shalom, MJ

Reporting Sexual Harassment and Trauma

In a state of anxious frustration, I wrote about sexual harassment a few month’s ago.  Another student was sexually harassing me, and my school’s administration was less than stellar in their handling of the situation.  Well, they really didn’t handle it.  The situation is still “pending” in that other women have come forward with similar complaints about the same student.  I have learned that this student is a known offender, and the administration had known about his propensity to harass women for at least a year if not longer prior to my complaint.  And, they did nothing.  What’s more, he is studying to be a healthcare practitioner! Do you want to spend time alone in a room with a guy like this? I do not.  Alas, my school seems oblivious to the implications of graduating a predator, and I’m personally very alarmed by this.

I’m profoundly troubled not to mention I have two classes with this person. He sits directly behind me in one them and mouth breaths the entire time.

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Or, he turns around and stares directly at me glaring in a menacing way.  Either way, it is uncomfortable and disconcerting. Knowing now that the school administration lied to me about his history of harassment fires me up.  I am taking action, but, at the same time, I feel tremendous anxiety about doing so.  And this is where the rubber meets the road in terms of how both men and women must deal with social injustice in institutions.

Why is it so difficult and fear provoking? When faced with taking on an institution like a corporation or a college, why do so many people weight the costs and decide to absorb the inequity of the injustice?

The first reason is because institutions tend to exist well after complaints are made against them largely because they have almost infinite resources compared to complainants.  They often have a fleet of lawyers on retainer compared to the sole advocate that a complainant brings to the table.  This alone is often enough to deter a person from pursuing a complaint.  Institutions have financial resources that dwarf an individual’s bank account, and they have the will to go the distance in terms of the legal process.  Most individuals don’t have the time, energy, or money to devote to that process.

The second reason many people don’t pursue complaints against institutions is fear of retaliation.  People need their jobs, and students need to finish their degrees with the favor they’ve earned from their teachers.  Filing complaints can often obliterate favor, provoke bullying, and get you fired.  I was once fired from a job after I lodged a complaint of sexual harassment in my workplace.  The harassment was prolonged and severe.  A man in my office actually locked himself in the women’s bathroom with me and forced himself on me and engaged in forced sexual touching.  The company was in the middle of an IPO.  Rather than fire the man for harassment, the company fired me for saying anything.  This culture of gender discrimination is common, and it has become evident the world over what with the cascade of revelations following the Weinstein Effect and the #metoo movement.  So many men and women tolerated the intolerable for fear of retaliation.

I filed an official complaint with a governmental body that oversees colleges and universities, and I’m very fearful.  My fear is based in past experience with sexual trauma, and this is the third reason people often don’t report sexual harassment.  It provokes latent feelings of fear associated with past trauma that were never fully resolved.  In my case, it is so difficult to resolve the original trauma.  It is known on my blog that I survived human trafficking.  I was abducted when I was 18 years-old by a neighbor who masqueraded as a real estate agent.  In reality, he was a participant in an international human trafficking ring.  He was wanted by Interpol and other international law enforcement agencies.  I was taken across the country to a port city to be sold at auction.  Yes, there are super-wealthy men in the world who actually get together and bid on women in order to buy sex slaves.  If you’ve seen the movie “Taken”, it was startlingly similar to that except Liam Neeson didn’t rescue me.  I ran for my life and succeeded against all odds.  It was by far the weirdest and worst experience I’ve ever had.

I never had a chance to accuse my perpetrator in a court.  I did, however, live in fear of his finding me and taking me again for years.  He became the amorphous fear that haunted me.  He became the ultimate retaliation.  My escape and survival represented the complaint.  I was convinced that he was going to rain vengeance down upon me for staying alive.  Consequently, I learned to stay hidden in my life.  Don’t complain.  Be quiet.  Swallow mistreatment.  While my experience is extreme, it’s not difficult to make a comparison to other experiences.  When we have experiences in life that cause us to feel fear in terms of speaking up and self-advocating, we may discover that absorbing mistreatment is the better path if only to get us through the moments.  This might be adaptive in those moments, but, later on, this can become a habit.  This habit can become maladaptive later causing us to become victims of mistreatment and abuse.  We lose our ability to self-advocate and even begin to invite mistreatment largely because we lack a standard for how we should be treated.  We will tolerate anything because we are too fearful to say ‘no’.  And the fear is no longer valid.  The original object of our fear is long gone.  But, the fear remains, and the fear is no longer purposeful.  This purposeless fear is what I feel today.  It’s real, but it serves only to limit me.  It is purely trauma-based.

This is why I’m such a fierce advocate of healing trauma.  Our post-trauma brains served us once.  We survived our traumas, and that’s brilliant.  We should feel proud that our brains and bodies did that for us.  At the same time, post-trauma responses often become self-limiting because they do not serve us once the situations that cause trauma pass.  We must learn to deactivate the mechanisms in our bodies that keep us locked into Trauma Brain and Trauma Body so that we can do what must be done like report sexual harassment or advocate for those being victimized and not get triggered while doing so.

I do not know what will happen now that I’ve made an official complaint.  I’m not happy about this situation, but I did the right thing.  That has to be enough for now.

 

 

 

Becoming Strong

Today is a momentous day.  I see my mother at noon today for the first time in almost ten years.  At least I think it’s ten years.

I have some long-time readers who will know that this is a big deal.  I have many readers who aren’t familiar with this situation.  To quickly recap, my mother has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and clinical depression.  I have always had great compassion for her.  I spent most of my life feeling responsible for her well-being to the point of parentification, and, due to her inordinate fear of abandonment and simultaneous fear of engulfment, my mother exploited my natural people pleasing disposition to an abusive degree.

I was a non-entity growing up.  I was only allowed the personality, will, and opinions that she permitted me to have.  I was all at once The Good Child, Bad Child, and Scapegoat*.  My role changed according to her momentary whims.  I have written extensively about BPD on my blog, and I fear repeating myself.  I also don’t want to stigmatize the diagnosis as it’s already a charged one pregnant with assumptions and implications.

What I want to discuss is achieving a reality in which one could see a formerly close family member who was also a perpetrator of profound abuse.  How is something like that possible? There is a reason BPD gets a bad rap.  While the disorder can express itself in various ways, when it expresses itself through manifestations of talionic rage bystanders are in danger.  Emotional dysregulation is a hallmark of BPD, and this emotional turmoil manifests in myriad ways to loved ones.  Children are the most vulnerable to subsequent trauma.  So, how does one move from a post-traumatic state to a confident state of mind? Or, at least, confident enough for a meet-and-greet? That is a valid question.

A few friends are not thrilled that I’m meeting with my mother.  They know the stories of her past behavior.  They have witnessed her fight every boundary I put up.    For those of you with a close family member carrying a BPD diagnosis, you’ll be able to read between the lines here.  For readers who are not familiar with anything I’m attempting to gently imply, I’d recommend watching “Mommy Dearest” if you are at all curious.  Faye Dunaway’s portrayal of Joan Crawford is spot on in terms of representing a woman with BPD, *Queen/Witch subtype.  My mother is a *Queen/Witch, and my mother behaved a lot like Joan Crawford in this film.

So, what have I been doing for the past ten years then that helped me heal?

I made a career out of going to therapy.  While my father was abusive in his own right, my mother’s abuse proved to be the most psychologically pervasive and damaging.  She was in my head.  I used to have crippling social anxiety because I could almost hear her voice in my head criticizing me largely because my mother openly ridiculed me publicly by critiquing my appearance throughout my adolescence.  My hair, my face, my teeth, my body, and general appearance were all in her crosshairs, and she looked gleeful as she crushed me.  It was as if she had to humiliate me in order to feel good.  She was a bully.  So, I spent years dealing with everything that she did including her rages which caused her to act out extreme physical violence against other people.  Her public sadism is actually what I’m most anxious about today.

I practiced being assertive.  This is still very difficult for me.  I was not permitted to say no or have a differing opinion with either of my parents.  I recall saying no to my mother only one time.  She slapped me across the face so hard that my head snapped back.  My father was a Green Beret and Army sniper in Vietnam.  You just didn’t say no to him.  Ever.  I grew up very afraid of authority, but, at the same time, my natural personality is assertive and a bit contrary.  I will stand up for myself and other people.  So, part of the recovery process has been looking for opportunities to be assertive even if it’s only returning coffee drinks that have been made improperly–something that makes me sweat.

I stopped being friends with people who were exploitative and took advantage of my nature.  What do I mean by that? People who are naturally kind are easy to exploit because we will absorb relational inequities believing that somehow our personal sacrifices will help the other person.  Believe me, they won’t.  We will build the bridge to get to the other person in the relationship because of an empathetic nature.  It is, however, worth nothing that women  have a tendency to do this more than men due to social gender biases as noted in this study– A study by the Harvard Business Review(link is external) showed that only 7 % of female MBA graduates attempted to negotiate their salary with their new employers while 57% negotiated.

“I was raised to be an educated, polite, and respectful girl. You might have been, too. I was taught to think of others and their well-being. I consciously made an effort to treat others how I wanted to be treated. In short, I was always trying to be a good girl.” (Are You a Good Girl?)

I was definitely raised like this.  It wasn’t a choice.  It was a necessity.  For survival.  There are men who were raised like this as well, and I don’t want to discount that.  I have met men who struggle with something like The Dutiful Son.  They, too, must be educated, polite, and respectful always thinking of others and their well-being, willing to sacrifice themselves and their interests for the benefit of their family.  The “Good Girl” phenomenon isn’t isolated to women.  This spans the gender gap.

I also thought that this was the way of the world:

“I naively thought this was the way everybody was raised. I assumed everyone would go out of their way to treat each other well. I thought we were all living in a world where we respected each other and each other’s choices. I thought being considerate towards others would mean others would be equally considerate towards me. Turns out, I was wrong.” (Are You a Good Girl?)

I re-examined that assumption because I discovered in the past ten years that many people are not interested in personal development, bettering the world, or even being kind.  There is a lot of brokenness in the world, and needs often drive behaviors far more than intention:

“…there have been plenty of people who saw my being polite as an opportunity to test my boundaries. There have been many who saw my being kind as a sign to trample all over me. Apparently, when you’re seen as a good girl, people think they can get away with anything, because they know you’ll continue to behave like a mature, respectful adult regardless of what’s thrown in your face.

Worst of all, I found myself getting sucked into the role more and more. I tried so hard to please everybody around me. I checked in with people to make sure they were OK with the life choices I was making. I said yes to things I would never dream of doing on my own. I became an obsessive perfectionist, especially when it came to how I presented myself and what I did. Best of all, I pretended to enjoy all of this and did it with a smile on my face. Sometimes I was so deep in it that I started to mistakenly believe I did. It was terrifying and exhausting, all at once.” (Are You a Good Girl?)

Does this ring true for anyone? It’s an interesting description, isn’t it? Living a life without personal boundaries.  And, it’s all too easy to do that when you come from a family wherein you were not permitted to have any.  I think that building a life with appropriate boundaries, starting at the identity level and moving outward like rings on a tree, is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your relationships when you come from an abusive family of origin.  After that, learning how to enforce them in the context of interacting with people particularly with people who will challenge them comes next.

What does that look like? Life coach Susanna Halonen lists concrete actions to take that will go to building and reinforcing personal boundaries:

1. Ask for what you want and deserve.

Want to take on a new project at work? Ask for it. Want a raise or a bonus? Justify it to your boss. Want better treatment from your inconsiderate friend? Tell them.

2. Say no.

People will always ask for help. You probably do, too, as do I. There is nothing wrong with that, and nothing wrong with helping. Unless you’re exhausted. Wiped. And burned-out. You can’t say yes to everything, and you can’t help everyone. You have to put yourself, your health, and your well-being first and foremost. If you don’t, there will be nothing left of you, and then you will be able to help no one.

3. Speak up.

If somebody disrespects you, don’t ignore it. If somebody is being rude, point it out to them. If somebody tries to change you, tell them you’re happy with who you are. If you don’t speak up, nobody will hear you. If you don’t put boundaries up, people will keep pushing them. Be brave, be bold, and be loud.

4. Stand your ground.

There is nothing wrong with living your life according to your values. There is nothing wrong with making the life choices that are right for you. There is nothing wrong with you. Believe that — and stand tall with it. People often try to influence your life trajectory or give clear opinions on what they think you should do, especially if you’re a good girl. Don’t let them sway you. Thank them for their input, and tell them that you have made your decision based on what you think and feel is right.

5. Treat others how you’d like to be treated.

Transforming from a good girl to a strong girl doesn’t mean you start being rude. You will continue to be polite, considerate, and respectful — but you will no longer do so at your expense. (Are You a Good Girl?)

My final thoughts on this might be that personal development is a lifelong process as is healing.  Some things stick around in our minds.  We do not forget them, and I’ve concluded that we should not forget certain things.  It is important to remember the profundity of our past experiences so that we always know our own strength.  Recovery and healing are so much harder than many people understand and yet here we stand.  So, we cannot forget.  You are resilient today because you were once hurt then.  And that is ultimately why I can see my mother today.  I withstood the worst that she was capable of, and none of it got the best of me.  I’m still me.  There is no power in that place anymore.  That is why I remember.  Your former battlegrounds and fields of defeat can become the place where you ultimately forge your greatest victories.  The places where you overcome, shake the dust off your feet, and walk away.

May you forge new victories as you keep going.

Further Reading:

Healing Past Trauma in The Present

I have been trying to find an appropriate way to write about a particular “emotional” experience that I have endured for years.  I wouldn’t blog about this were it not for the fact that most survivors of trauma seem to experience something quite similar.  What is it?

It isn’t exactly the Foreshortened Future experience, and it isn’t the “catastrophizing” thought distortion either.  One could say that it is a combination of both.  It is somewhat unique unto itself.  Essentially, it is a fundamental feeling of dread that something terrible is going to happen.  It usually comes out of nowhere most often when nothing terribly stressful is happening and particularly when you’re feeling happy.  It almost feels like you’re being watched, but it’s not paranoia.  As if Life Itself is watching you.  Waiting to destroy your happiness.  To inflict something torturous and terrible on you.  It is the emotional experience of “the other shoe is going to drop” x 100.

It creates fear and panic.  An anxiety extraordinaire.  And no matter what I’ve done in terms of CBT, DBT, EMDR, and therapy, this flavor of terror has stubbornly stuck around.  I’ve grown so tired of it that I generally don’t discuss it when it strikes.  I live with it until it passes.  It is so familiar to me.  I cognize myself out of it, and my therapists praise me for that.  I don’t feel good about it.  I feel exhausted and somewhat defeated.  This just doesn’t feel good enough.

In the midst of one of these unusual “anxiety attacks”, a friend suggested I try breathing essential oils.  There are some oils that are particularly good at crossing the blood-brain barrier and affecting the limbic system.  I had those oils on hand.  I gave it a shot, and it was effective.  I was pleasantly surprised.  She then suggested that I introduce some cognitions while smelling the oils the next time.  This experience felt very similar to EMDR using essential oils (and I do not recommend doing that if you have a lot of unresolved trauma because it was remarkably potent).

What came to mind, quite out of the blue, during that most particular feeling of dread was an ordeal from my time with trafficking.  It came so far out of left field that it stunned me.  I said out loud, “What does that have to do with anything?”

I’ll write about it here because I think that it is so important in terms of present experiences of trauma and anxiety that we can experience.  I did not receive any justice in terms of the legal system regarding my trafficking experience.  I got away and survived it.  The man who abducted me was never caught, but he knew where I lived.  And, he knew where I was going to go for college.  He made threats to find me and murder me when I was in the trafficking environment should I try to escape.  Law enforcement agents explained to me that should I see him, I was to notify them, but they admitted that I was vulnerable to “secondary contact”.   For at least two years, I lived with feelings of terror and dread that he would find me again.  I had nightmares.  I looked over my shoulder.  I checked and double-checked my car.  I wouldn’t go anywhere alone.  Whenever I relaxed enough to start to enjoy myself, I suddenly couldn’t because he might show up.  That might be the time that he would make good on his threats.  It probably took a full five years to stop looking over my shoulder and another ten to stop believing that, at some point, he was going to find me and kill me.  My heart still skips a beat today if I see someone who resembles him.

How does this connect to the present dreadful anxiety attacks? I suspect that what is happening today are actually the same feelings of dread that were related to the post-traumatic experience of leaving the trafficking environment, but they have lost their context.  Those feelings were never processed.  So, they continue to play out until they are processed.  I never talked about them.  There was no one to talk to during that time.  I just had to start college and pretend that none of it ever happened.  Those feelings are so strong today because I was in a marriage that triggered those feelings of dread and enlivened them.  They are now front and center.  They appear as an emotional flashback void of visual cues.  The way to deal with them properly is to go all the way back to their source, but, if you have profound trauma, do not do that alone.  You need the guidance and support of a trained clinician.

I am always fascinated by how we function.  Our brains seem to be fighting us, but they aren’t.  We just lack information.  What amazes me more is that when we’re finally able to listen and receive information, our brains speak to us.  When I finally sat down and asked, the memory came forward clearly.  I almost dismissed it because it made no sense to me.

I encourage you to take time out of your day or week to journal or pay attention to what your mind is offering.  Some of it is white noise and cognitive distortions, but not all of it.

And, if you really want to look into something interesting, then check this out:

Emotional Release with Essential Oils

 

 

Pushing Back against Malignant Core Beliefs

I want to talk about negative core beliefs and dissonance–and perhaps a way to challenge them effectively.  Bear with me as I get there.  I have written a lot about my last two years in therapy with a neuroscientist.  I didn’t know initially that he was an official neuroscientist (who taught at the college level) who also happened to be a social worker, but that’s what he was.  He specialized in “difficult cases”.  I didn’t think of myself as a difficult case per se, but I imagined that my history would qualify me for that label once my full case history was trotted out.

 

I’ve written before that my most powerful negative core belief is “I am disposable.  I am expendable.”  It is hardwired.  I have processed almost all of my maladaptive core beliefs at this point, but this one is like the final boss in a video game.  I can take it on over and over again, and over and over again I lose.  It’s not “online” most of the time, but when it’s activated, I fall.  I cannot refute it.  There is no line of thinking that will stand up to it.  No amount of EMDR has defused it.  This is why I agreed to continue therapy after my therapist moved.  To try to get at this particular core belief.

And then…

As I was sharing my frustration and fear about dealing with this with someone close to me, an idea was brought forth.  He commented, “You can’t nullify a person, right? That came up for you early on in therapy.  Your sense of morality doesn’t allow you to do that.  You view all people as significant regardless of past acts.  Is this true?”

Well, yes, I do.  Frankly, it has made dealing with my parents a pain.

He continued, “Philosophically speaking, would you find it immoral to view another human being as disposable?”

Yes.  I would.  Humans are not disposable.

He then asked, “So, would it violate your own sense of morality and personal philosophy to view yourself as disposable? To agree with that?”

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“Well, I…uh…”

Why had I not asked myself this before? How had I not seen it from this perspective? I do not believe that I can have a double standard.  There are not two sets of rules in the universe.  If it is true for others, then it must be true for me.  That is one aspect of integrity.  How I view and treat other people must also apply to myself.  If I view other people as having inherent worth and in no way disposable, then how could I view myself in an opposite way?

This is where the arguments start.  This is what I would like anyone who has a profound struggle with a deeply embedded negative core belief to take note of.  Challenging a core belief doesn’t change it.  You must think of this like a boxing match.  Once you find a statement or a strong sense within yourself that you can hold onto that matches the strength of your negative core belief–that matches its energy, then you can throw the first punch.  Like this:

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Heisenberg: “You are completely expendable.  Disposable.”               Me: “My morality doesn’t let me believe that so I can’t be.  I am not.”

What will happen next? Heisenberg, your profoundly negative, most likely biologically embedded core belief, will get up and come at you with evidence.  That is exactly what mine does.  Heisenberg is cold, mean, and extremely smart.  He uses evidence from my past to prove why I am disposable, and the case is airtight.  And, the more you listen, the worse you feel.  The more monstrous that core belief becomes.  As if it takes on a life of its own until he’s doing this:

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Those feelings that you have at this moment are defined as “dissonance”.  Why? They are the gap between what you are starting to know is true about yourself or situation and what you feel is true about them.  This gap can be shallow or a deep abyss.  This is why emotional dissonance can be so dangerous and hard to manage.  This is where the spin-outs and target behaviors can happen.  I typically freeze and can’t reach out.  Emotional eating, cutting, high-risk behaviors like gambling, high-risk sex, substance abuse and emotional dysregulation are all common manifestations of falling into this gap.

Now, a negative core belief doesn’t sound that bad on paper.  Why would someone react in such an extreme way? It is a matter of what that core belief represents and triggers.  In my case, my negative core belief centering on expendability was literal.  I was trafficked.  I had a literal price tag put on me and was sent to an auction.  Men actually bid on me.  It was the most dehumanizing experience that I could never have imagined as an 18 year-old.  I was put through experience upon experience meant to rob me of a sense of identity so that I would come to experience my own person as an object void of self.  That is the purpose of the “breaking in” process.  Once you are no longer a person, you are compliant.  The problem for me in all of this was that I fought the process in captivity and left that environment with a sense of self albeit a very traumatized, compromised one.  Years later, when there is a trigger, the past becomes present, and I am faced with this old but very effective lie.  It is biologically embedded with the actual trauma.  This is the neurology of trauma and beliefs acquired with trauma.  This is why we suffer so much when we flashback–even with something as seemingly benign as a negative core belief.

Part of battling it out in the therapeutic process is identifying that which you solidly believe to be true with someone who can parse your language.  When someone gets to know you, they can often help you discover your values and truths–the truths that you take for granted.  This can prove to be quite useful when you can’t see what’s true anymore staring up from the bottom of your dissonant abyss.

What is a better strategy? Don’t fall into the abyss.  Well, that’s brilliant.  How do we avoid that? Go back to that moment when Heisenberg is giving you the finger.  In the past, I didn’t have anything that could adequately refute the case he made against me.  I would fold every time and free fall.  Now? I still feel the onset of panic when that profoundly negative belief comes online, but I honestly know that it cannot be true because it does not line up with any of my beliefs about humanity.  How could it be true? Once I sat with that, I let it go further.  If I’m not expendable or disposable but a person treated me as if I were, then who in that situation had acted badly? Me or the other person? Clearly, the other person.  This is an easy conclusion, but it is a very difficult idea to internalize when you grow up under gaslighting conditions or presently experience them:

“We treat you like this because you are bad.”

The truth is this:

“We treat you like this because we are bad.”

Change one word in that statement and the meaning is completely different.  Gaslighting is very common: “You are the problem which is why we hurt you.  You are the problem which is why you were sexually abused.  You are the problem which is why X happened to you.”  What perpetrator is ever going to admit, “I have the problem which is why I hurt you”? Nary a one most likely.

So, there you are staring down Heisenberg.  He’s coming at you with your terrible belief, triggered by something that you can’t control like a phone call from that person, something a person said to you, a feeling you had when something happened that made the past present in an instant.  It could be anything.  When this experience is beginning to crescendo, do not try to change how you feel.  Do not try to change Heisenberg.  He never changes.  Bring in your own strength–your own hitter.  I figured this out because I realized that some of our very malignant core beliefs do not belong to us.  They originated in our trauma and are not natural to our personalities or nature.  We may have held onto them because they helped us navigate extreme and painful circumstances, but they no longer help us.  They hinder us.  This is the definition of ‘maladaptive’.

This is what a solid refute will do to your Heisenberg:

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These malignant core beliefs are designed to paralyze and limit.  Whatever you put in front of them, they will naturally push up against.

Your challenge will become the wall to your Heisenberg.  Heisenberg does not stop showing up when stress shows up.  Your neural connections have created a fantastic pathway for him.  The more you use your challenge against him, however, the more you weaken his pathway until there are potholes in your neural connections.  It will look something like this:

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He still comes for you, but now he trips on the way.

After a few months of challenging Heisenberg with the same new thought that might be one of your beliefs: “I can’t be disposable because it violates my own personal sense of morality,” my personal Heisenberg is starting to do this:

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He leaves before anything serious starts.

In my mind, I thought for years that dealing with negative core beliefs was all about changing them, but then I realized that a negative core belief was a lot like Heisenberg of “Breaking Bad”.  Heisenberg, much like Dr. Jekyll’s Mr. Hyde, was an evil alter ego.  A negative core belief is a negative alter ego of a functional, adaptive thought.  It’s a thought gone rogue.  It served a purpose, but its present existence has long outlived its original purpose. Now it just keeps on comin’ because that’s what it does.  Like a cancer.

I can try to kill Heisenberg or strengthen my other thoughts in order to overcome him.  Where is the effort better spent?

So, the key here is finding the right challenge.  That is the most important part of the process in taking down a malignant core belief and arguably the most difficult.  I would assert, however, that the prior work done in therapy, which included EMDR, laid the foundation for present insight.

The other strategy I have used in the past and model in this post is externalizing and naming a toxic feeling in order to separate it from yourself and your identity.  I have identified my most feared maladaptive core belief as “Heisenberg” in order to differentiate every idea associated with it from myself and my identity.  This draws a distinct line between me, my own thoughts, my hopes for my present and future, and what I would like to think about.  This is highly effective for dealing with negative emotions.

For anyone experiencing the abysmal free fall or struggling with repetitive negative thoughts rooted in malignant core beliefs, there are strategic ways to deal with them and eventually defeat them.  It takes time and consistency, but it is possible.

Keep going.

 

 

 

 

Maybe C is for Catalyst

I want to talk about how finding out what motivates you can lead to personal liberation.  To do that, I will take you back to my junior year of college.  I was something of a fresh-faced know-it-all with something to prove.  I didn’t really know what I wanted in terms of a future career.  For most of my life, since the age of 4, I was certain that I was going to be a doctor, but then I discovered the theatre.  Yeah, that old cliché.

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So, I did what many confused perfectionists do.  I went to college and hit it hard.  My entire identity became about doing well in college.  Learning, of course.  That was my priority, but I could not do poorly in anything.  I had to receives As on everything.  In my mind, I was proving my parents wrong about me.  What I didn’t have the insight into then was that I was building an identity around performance and actually fortifying the very lies that I was trying to disprove.  My worth became proportionate to my professor’s evaluations of me.  I entered college a perfectionist.  I became a superperfectionist during college.  Every mistake I made grated on me and drove me harder.  I studied all the time.  I lacked a social life, and that seemed justifiable to me.  I was building a foundation for a future career path–whatever that would be.

The results of these painstaking efforts were inclusion on the Deans’ lists of the colleges I attended, scholarships, and recognition, but I hated it.  I didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment.  What if I failed? The anxiety grew greater the higher I climbed, and my personality had become distorted.  When I look back, I see someone whom I would not like today.  I was one of those intellectual snobs who would metaphorically wear black turtlenecks and chain smoke at cafés at midnight while discussing the merits of the intellectual movement in Europe vis-à-vis the developing social pragmatism of America.

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I’m so proud.

Then art history happened.  For some ridiculous reason, a medievalist at one of my colleges pushed me in the direction of art history.  It made sense.  My great-grandfather was a landscape artist in his country of origin, and my grandmother was an artist as well.  I had the language background for it, and I met the intellectual snob criteria for graduate level courses.  Perfect.

That is when I met the Flemish Professor.  He was a brilliant man and teacher.  He made art history seem accessible and easy.  Suddenly, I could see art history as a viable career.  I took all of his courses–medieval art history.  There were, like, six.  We got to know each other.  We had a good collegiate relationship.  It was during the end of my junior year that he suggested I take his graduate course on the cathedrals of Europe.  To me, at that time, this was a coup not to mention a fascinating course of study.  It was in this class that he handed me the topic for my art history thesis.

Catalonian retables.  

If you find yourself asking what the heck a Catalonian retable is, then you’re not alone.  That was my response as well except with more colorful language.  This is a retable in case you’re wondering:

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A retable is an altarpiece.  A Catalonian retable is an altarpiece from the region of Catalonia.

This was a thesis based on research.  Well, the only access I had to Catalonian retables was through large, cumbersome books.  Two large, cumbersome books.  Both of them in German.  For some reason, the Flemish Professor thought that I spoke German because I told him that I got bored while living in France and took an introduction to German at The Goethe Institute.  I left being able to count, conjugate, and perhaps order a beer, a piece of cheese or a piece of cake.  I would confuse the two.  In other words, I would do really well at Oktoberfest.

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Ich möchte ein Stück Kuchen!!

The only other published research in the entire world at the time was one French article.  That’s it.  Two German books and one French article.  The Flemish Professor asked for a 10-page “thesis” about Catalonian retables based on this? I gave him a 13-page paper, and I used all three sources.  The only three sources on Catalonian retables in the world at the time.  That’s how obscure the topic was.  He checked off on my outline and bibliography.

Do you know what this professor gave me for a grade? Hold on…

A C.  A C!!!!! I died on the inside.  I took that paper and marched into his office.  I put it on his desk and demanded an explanation.  Something I have never done before, but I felt he owed me that particularly since he signed off on every aspect of it.  We went head to head.  The sources were incomplete he said.  There were only three I said.  In the world.  It wasn’t long enough he said.  He asked for 10 pages I said.  I gave him 13 which was a miracle.  Why didn’t I use more of the German material he asked? I don’t speak German I said.  I countered him on every criticism.  He had nothing to stand on.

“The grade stands.  There was a misunderstanding.”

And then he crossed his arms and made something akin to a pouting harumphing noise.  Politics?! Was this my ego coming up against his far more established ego? What? I was incredulous.  How was I supposed to live with this? Dear God! A C in the class? I went home and had an existential crisis.  Who was I? If I got a C, then what? Maybe I really was stupid after all.  Maybe my parents were right.  Maybe I just hit the ceiling of my abilities in the academy.  Maybe I peaked.  Maybe…maybe…maybe…maybe…

This all sounds ridiculous.  I know that, but when we think about the things that set us off on any given day it isn’t so unreasonable.  I know what caused this crisis.  I started college two weeks after I escaped trafficking.  That blows my mind when I really ponder that.  I went from being a sex slave to a co-ed in two weeks.  I compartmentalized everything.  I threw myself into academics and performing, and I found out that I was good at it.  My whole world rose and set on earning high marks in everything, and it fell apart when I didn’t.  I didn’t know who I was apart from performing–performing perfectly.  From being perfect.  This core belief somehow protected me from ever having to deal with what caused me to develop that maladaptive strategy.  Underneath my consistent efforts to climb higher and be the best festered a toxic mélange of self-loathing, terror, and despair.  If I wasn’t good in the academy, then I wasn’t going to be good anywhere.  It was my last hope, or so I thought.  The Flemish Professor ripped me apart when he gave me that C.

And it was one of the best things that could have happened to me because it forced a reckoning.  I hated who I had become.  I didn’t enjoy the hoop jumping, politics, and ass-kissing that I had to do at university.  I hated the esoteric and seemingly useless topics of study.  Catalonian retables? That’s not going to cure the world of its ills.  Furthermore, I realized that I wasn’t actually studying because I liked it.  I had lost my integrity.  I had become a divided person–a dis-integrated person.  Maybe I always had been.  I didn’t even know.

Receiving that C, as small a thing as it is in the grand purpose of life, was a catalyst for immense growth.  I stopped and reconsidered my path and my purpose.  I made life changes after that class that changed the course of my life for good.  I also realized that if I was going to do something with my life that mattered to me, then it need be because I’m invested in it for reasons that resonate with my character and who I desire to be rather than proving a point to people who actually don’t care about what happens to me now or in the future.  The past should not corrupt the present nor my future.

That was two decades ago.  Ironically, that C was the best grade I ever got.

All this is to say that you may have had or are currently having experiences that ignite you in ways you never expected.  Your brain and heart may be on fire with existential despair or desolation.  You may be up against something that is breaking your brain.  Or perhaps your identity is on the line in a way that you never expected.  After dealing with recovery from profound trauma for almost three decades, I can safely estimate now that these kinds of experiences can be some of the most useful for emancipating us from ourselves and prisons of our making.  Most often, we did not create our cells, but we have a strange gift for keeping ourselves locked inside them through our self-judgment, personal and secret vows, self-loathing, need for vengeance, and constant comparisons between ourselves and others, and ourselves from the past, present, and future through these words, “I didn’t expect that my life would look like this at this age.”

There is no easy way to make a new key for an old prison, but what I have learned is that it all starts with questions.  And, the first question is usually, “What would happen if I tried ____________?”  Rethinking our present requires imagination and willingness.  It also requires giving up our fear of pain.  It will hurt emotionally and spiritually to integrate, but it hurts more to remain compartmentalized.  This I know from experience.

These are my observations as I continue to walk the road of attempting to live an integrated life.  May your entry into the forthcoming holidays bring you peace, merriment, and a deep sense of joy.

As always, keep going.

Shalom…