A tale of recovery: my path from traumatized to healer

I had lunch a few weeks ago with John, someone I’ve known for about 12 years but haven’t seen much in recent years. He commented that I am a very different person now from when he met me, and that would not be apparent to people who hadn’t known me that long.

When we met in 2004 (I think), I seemed troubled to him, and I was. John said that now, I appear to be happy and “like a fountain” (which I love), and he was curious about that.

Other people have said I’ve changed more than anyone they know. Well, that’s probably because I was starting from a more troubled place than most.

So I’m reviewing my path in search of insights to share. This is for you, John, and I know that some of you are interested in recovery from trauma, and some of you are interested in personal growth, so this is for you too. Continue reading

First day it feels like fall

Right now in Austin, Texas, it’s 61 degrees F. The expected high today is 75. This after weeks and weeks of highs in the upper 90s.

Sometimes we don’t get our first cool front until after the middle of October, so this respite is very welcome.

And this early cool front has brought RAIN. Although this past summer was thankfully not nearly as hot as the one 3 years ago that brought devastating fires, still, this August was so hot and dry, big cracks appeared in the ground around my trailer. It was a task to keep the trees planted last year watered.

gingko leaf

Gingko leaf

I’ve got a massage client at my downtown Austin studio this morning, and then I’m heading back home to honor the change in seasons by planting things: a Canby oak, a gingko tree (so excited to have this prehistoric the that turns yellow in fall!), a mountain laurel shrub, a loquat tree, and several yellow bells and Pride of Barbados flowering shrubs for lasting color and hummingbirds.

Then, I’ll be making my first bone broth of the season, from bones saved over the summer when it was just too hot to simmer anything on the stove for hours.

The change in seasons always brings a change in my energy. I need more sleep. My eating habits change. I feel so energized.

So grateful for change after so much sameness!

 

Resolutions, schmresolutions

It feels natural, at the turning of the year, to review the old year and anticipate the new one. We see what we’d like to do better and how to have more of the life we want.

However, I’ve come to the conclusion that New Year’s resolutions are well-meaning but ineffective, for several reasons:

  • How many people do you actually know who not only remember at year’s end what their resolutions for that year were but can actually say they kept them? (Actually, I am one. See my recent post on meditation.)
  • Resolutions are vague and grandiose without planning, commitment, and follow-through. They don’t take into account bad days, bad memories, changing your mind, new information, major life changes, or the lack of motivation that drudgery brings.
  • They presume your idea won’t change all year long. As if we were static beings from one year to the next except for this one thing we want to change!

If you’ve set resolutions before and failed to keep them, why not try something else?

  • Make sure your resolution is something in your control. Unfortunately, world peace takes a lot of cooperation! But you could resolve to take a class on conflict resolution, or practice a peaceful meditation technique, or volunteer with a peace organization.
  • Chunk it down. Fifteen minutes a day of practice on a musical instrument will make a huge difference at the end of a year. Or make it for a shorter period of time. And…just because it is a new year doesn’t mean resolutions have to be for the whole year! Some things just don’t take that long. You could learn to salsa and be ready to go clubbing in way less than a year, I imagine.
  • Make it fun. If you don’t look forward to it, what’s going to keep you motivated?

That said, my mind has been full of things I’d like to do in 2013:

  • get good enough on the pennywhistle to join a jam session without embarrassing myself
  • learn to balance for 10 seconds in handstand away from the wall
  • get massage or acupuncture frequently
  • build a steady clientele for my massage practice and earn a certain amount
  • solve car problem (repair old car or get a newer one)
  • read more
  • write down creative ideas
  • take tango lessons
  • join a regular group meditation
  • listen to Brane Power CDs every day for a month
  • do the candida diet for the month of January
  • be awake and present as much as possible

It’s nice to have these noted and public. At the end of 2013, we’ll see which I actually did! I am curious too!

Boundaries checklist for healthy relationships

Relationships : A Checklist on Boundaries in a Relationship.

I believe I have posted this before, but if I haven’t, here it is now. It contrasts relationships where you give up your boundaries and when your boundaries are intact. I’ve found it helpful and bookmarked it.

It includes skills like being clear about your preferences and acting on them (I heard Byron Katie say she’s constantly asking herself what she wants), doing more when it gets results, trusting your own intuition, and only being satisfied when you are thriving (rather than coping and surviving).

Some items that I’m resonating with now:

  • Having a personal standard, albeit flexible, that applies to everyone and asks for accountability.
  • Are strongly affected by your partner’s behavior and take it as information.
  • Let yourself feel anger, say “ouch” and embark upon a program of change.
  • Honor intuitions and distinguish them from wishes.
  • Mostly feel secure and clear.
  • Are living a life that mostly approximates what you always wanted for yourself.
  • Decide how, to what extent, and how long you will be committed.

About the last one, I’m liking the new law in Mexico City that allows time-limited marriages. The couple agrees how long they want to be married. The minimum is two years. When the time is up, they either go their separate ways without divorcing or remarry for another period of time.

Love that idea. Wouldn’t it be great to have no more expensive, difficult, embittered divorces? To have a built-in time to reassess how well a relationship is going and together decide whether and for how long to continue it without getting involved with lawyers and courts?

That’s civilized, in my opinion.

~~~

Aug. 20, 2013

I’m adding another resource to this post, which continues to get views long after its original posting. It’s an article about toxic relationship habits that most people think are normal.

The article points out:

…part of the problem is that many unhealthy relationship habits are baked into our culture. We worship romantic love — you know, that dizzying and irrational romantic love that somehow finds breaking china plates on the wall in a fit of tears somewhat endearing — and scoff at practicality or unconventional sexualities. Men and women are raised to objectify each other and to objectify the relationships they’re in. Thus our partners are often seen as assets rather than someone to share mutual emotional support.

A lot of the self help literature out there isn’t helpful either (no, men and women are notfrom different planets, you over-generalizing prick.) And for most of us, mom and dad surely weren’t the best examples either.

Fortunately, there’s been a lot of psychological research into healthy and happy relationships the past few decades and there are some general principles that keep popping up consistently that most people are unaware of or don’t follow.

Here’s the link: 6 Toxic Relationship Habits that Most People Think Are Normal. 

 

Knowing and Mystery walked into a bar…

The Curse Of Certainty In Science And Religion : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR.

Thought-provoking essay on an NPR blog (Cosmos and Culture) by Adam Frank about the only constant in life being change, and how we hunger for certainty, solidity, knowing.

Religions try to provide certainty:

Scriptures are transformed into unwavering blueprints for an unchanging order.

Science might seem the antidote to the constrictions of religion:

Science, in the purest forms of its expression as a practice, holds to no doctrine other than that the world might be known.

But:

When science as an idea is used to push away the tremulous reality of our lived existential uncertainty then it … becomes just another imaginary fixed point in a life without fixed points.

So how about “spiritual but not necessarily religious”?

The world’s history of spiritual endeavor contains many beautiful descriptions of authentic encounters with uncertainty. Ironically these often serve as gateways to the most compassionate experience of what can be called sacred in human life… Dig around in most of the world’s great religious traditions and you find people finding their sense of grace by embracing uncertainty rather than trying to bury it in codified dogmas.

For science, embracing uncertainty means…

… embracing the fuzzy boundaries of the very process of asking questions. It means embracing the frontiers of what explanations, for all their power, can do. It means understanding that a life of deepest inquiry requires all kinds of vehicles: from poetry to particle accelerators; from quiet reveries to abstract analysis.

So how can we live with so much uncertainty? We become patient, forgiving, generous, and inclusive. We find humor, good will, and compassion.

We embrace the mystery of ourselves and these lives we live. A little humility goes far.

I like knowing, or rather, believing I know. I’ve spent much of my life wanting to know, trying to know, believing if I just knew, then … I’d be protected from misfortune, or something like that.

Misfortune happened anyway.

Yet can I really know? Can I really know you? Can I really know truth? Can I even really know myself? No, I cannot.

I operate on assumptions that involve temporary (fictional) certainties. I cling to certainty from moment to moment as I go about my life, taking this-that-the other for granted, and it could all change in any given moment. Yes, tomorrow will come. Yes, I’m going to take that trip, do that thing in the future. I’m going to arrive safely on the other side of the street. I’m going to get home again. I’m going to be emotionally intact at the end of the day. I will see the people who have been important to me again.

And I don’t really know.

Knowing is a convenient truth that works better for me when I understand that it is always accompanied by something much bigger and more powerful, The Mystery. This is the sea of the Nagual.

How to make real, lasting, and meaningful changes

I’ve recommended a very good book to several people recently and thought I’d blog about it as well. My peeps were either frustrated with their own failure to make a desired change in their lives, or they were helping professionals frustrated that their patients/clients were not making the changes they recommended.

The book is called Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward. It has three authors — James Prochaska, John Norcross, and Carlo DiClemente, all Ph.D. psychology professors who did extensive research on the process of change. They modeled people who had successfully quit addictive and other problem behaviors (drinking, smoking, overeating, procrastinating, and many more).

Through this research, they discovered that successful change has six stages:

  1. Pre-contemplation (denial, ignorance, excuses, distancing, projection, blaming others)
  2. Contemplation (taking the problem behavior seriously, understanding consequences)
  3. Preparation (committing, setting a time frame, making a plan, telling people)
  4. Action (making the change, finding healthy ways to cope)
  5. Maintenance (staying motivated, encountering and weathering crises)
  6. Termination (no temptation, new identity)

The book goes into each stage in detail with tips on what you can do when you encounter problems or get stuck.

Since we all generalize, delete, and distort in our maps of reality, I can pretty much guarantee that this book will contain something you didn’t know enough about, never thought of before, or misunderstood about making a desired change.

The beauty is that you can take any change that you’ve tried to make but did not succeed at, identify the step where you fell down, get a better understanding of what it takes to succeed at that step, and come up with some better strategies and behaviors.

For instance, if you or a client has quit smoking numerous times but failed to “stay quit,” you know you or they need help with preparation and maintenance. Some years ago, this book helped me finally “stay quit” after quitting many times, and I’m no longer tempted at all. I prepared differently and put more emphasis on the importance of maintenance rather than action.

The National Cancer Institute found this program more than twice as effective as standard quit-smoking programs for 18 months. The National Association for Drug Abuse and Weight Watchers (or so I’ve heard) now also use this process.

Here’s my favorite customer review from Amazon.com:

It worked, I think. 
I still haven’t finished the book, but I decided to quit drinking and that was four months ago. Did it work? I dunno, but it sure is worth what I paid for the book.

It’s important to note that although the process has six stages, it is seldom linear. People recycle stages and may spiral through all the stages several times before being successful.

It’s also important to point out that you can use this to improve your game, be it golf, tennis, or surfing.

This book can really be helpful to frustrated change agents — therapists, coaches, health care providers. If you can identify where a client or patient is in their change process, you can actually address their needs much more effectively than just by recommending a change to them. They probably already know they “need to” change. Is it information they lack? Motivation? Support? Do they have problems with self-talk? Avoiding temptation?

Ask them about past changes they’ve made, and assess where they are on making this change. You can intervene more effectively if you know where they are stuck.

As my friend Glenda said recently,

I’ve worked hard at attracting and hanging onto heavy energy.

Now that’s someone in the contemplation stage. She’s getting motivated to experience something else.