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Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery Trauma

Finding Resilience Within

jumping
jumping (Photo credit: Coubert)

What is resilience anyway?

To be resilient/to have resilience is to be able to quickly “bounce back” or “recover from” a traumatic/stressful experience. It’s the ability to self-regulate, self-soothe, and get grounded when times are tough.

How do you find your resilience?

Resilience develops when we learn to effectively self-regulate. When we develop the ability to recognize the interconnectivity between our minds and our bodies, noticing their effect on one another, we give our nervous system a chance to reset itself. As we gain resources, our resilience increases, allowing us to “bounce back” more readily than when we are dysregulated. Ultimately, your resources should come from within, because wherever you are, there you are. You can’t escape yourself (trust me, I’ve tried).

Tap into your resources:

  • Breathe – Breathing is our most magnificent resource. It’s portable and it’s always with us. Exhaling longer than your inhale can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, our internal ER.  Try this simple breathing exercise:

Sit in a quiet space where you can relax. Softly close your eyes and begin to notice your breath:

Inhale – one

Exhale – two

Inhale – three

Exhale — four

Do this until you get to 10. Repeat 3 times.

This is a simple mindfulness technique that invites calm. Your parasympathetic nervous system can jump in here, slowing the heart beat and cooling the breath.

  • Meditation and yoga: both of these are contemplative practices that invite you to get back in touch with your internal mechanisms. With practices like meditation and yoga, your internal resources have permission to flourish.

Do we all have it?

Stressful events happen…to all of us. How we recover from them and process them is contingent on our personal histories.  For example, if we are raised in an environment where we are silenced and unheard, then managing stress will be reminiscent of that: we may squash it, bury it, or set it aside. We will try to “deal with it.” In reality, we aren’t dealing with anything when we do that; in fact, we are denying it and allowing it to fester.  At the same time, if we are raised in an environment where communication is encouraged, and feelings are met with understanding, one’s resilience to stress will tend to be higher.

Is it easier for some to access resilience than it is for others?

I believe that most people can develop resilience if they have a support system in place and encouragement to work with their shadows and unpack their traumas. However, there needs to be an opportunity available to do this work, or the desire to seek help.  If one comes from an impoverished environment, their ability to resource would be limited. At the same time, someone with more options would be more likely to have access to resources, making resilience more easily attainable.  I often use myself as a reference when talking about overcoming adversity because I wasn’t provided with the best hand of cards. I definitely had a few jokers in there.  What I did have was a deep desire to change my circumstances. This gave my resilience a chance to develop and for that I am grateful. Being an at-risk teen didn’t provide me with a lot of outside resources.

 

At Visions, we have a remarkable staff of trauma-informed therapists to help families develop resilience. We are forward thinking in our approach to trauma, recognizing that each person requires an individualized process, and understanding the challenges people are faced with when doing this work. At the core, we are lighting the internal fire of hope and healing in our families, empowering each client to discover their ability work with their difficulties in more sustainable, healthy ways. Our nervous systems respond well to kindness and compassion, and with support, these actions can begin to come from ourselves. It means we have to muddle through the shame and grief that plagues us, and give ourselves permission to heal. Recovery is possible; resilience is possible; you are possible.

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Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Mental Health Recovery Therapy Trauma

Redefining Your Emotional Landscape With DBT

mindfulness 1.0 (Photo credit: Mrs Janet R)

The ideology behind therapeutic tools like DBT is to facilitate and encourage an emotional and psychological paradigm shift towards a more sustainable relationship to one’s mental health challenges. The foundational tenant of DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) is mindfulness training. By using core mindfulness skills, one becomes personally active in redefining their relationship to their suffering.  Using these tools, one can learn to be non-reactive to their discomfort while staying emotionally present.  In a nutshell, they are taking what is a learned response to stress and dismantling it. DBT teaches you how to put it back together in a healthier, more sustainable and manageable way.

 

Are we programmed to fix things? Is being present with “what is” simply too much? For many, the answer to these questions is a wholehearted “Yes!” We come to recovery in deep suffering, and often times, this suffering is precluded by failed attempts at “fixing” what was “wrong” with us. Substance abuse, sex, shopping, self-harming, video games, the Internet, and gambling are used as ways to mollify our pain; these things are temporary and eventually, they cease to work. What we are left with are the frayed shadows of unaddressed traumas, hurt, loss, shame, sadness, depression, anxiety, et cetera.

 

Redefining the way we approach our difficulties takes patience. It takes effort. It takes acceptance. It requires us to sit with our discomfort without trying to fix it or change it in any way. Imagine someone clutching something with all of their might, because letting go would be unfathomable. But their grip is so tight, what they are holding onto is crushed, creating sheer devastation and heartbreak. What if we look at our difficulties the same way: if we hold onto them so tightly, we create heartbreak and devastation. Instead, we can hold them gently, giving those same difficulties room to breathe and change.

 

There is no magic bullet. There is work to be done, and it takes effort and patience and support. With tremendous tools like DBT elicited by skilled clinicians, it’s clear the temperature of mental health recovery is changing; it’s more inclusive and collaborative.

Categories
Mental Health Recovery Spirituality Trauma

Spiritual Bypass: Nah, Feel Your Feelings

via saritphoto

The mental health community is becoming well versed in the term “Spiritual Bypass” and often uses it to recognize when individuals are relying upon a spiritual practice or belief to “bypass” or divert from the reality of their situation. For example, if someone is living in a fantastical world attached to the belief that controlling their thoughts is a means of changing the outcome of a situation, they are engaging in a form of spiritual bypass. Our actions must follow any positive intentions or those intentions will elude us. We cannot think our way into a positive outcome. Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D., and author of Recovering Spirituality: Achieving Emotional Sobriety in Your Spiritual Practice says, “Spiritual bypass shields us from the truth, it disconnects us from our feelings, and helps us avoid the big picture. It is more about checking out than checking in—and the difference is so subtle that we usually don’t even know we are doing it.”

 

Many of us are introduced or reintroduced to a spiritual path upon entering recovery. So, when we begin developing our spiritual lives, it’s not uncommon to get lulled by the idea that we have to be perfect, or that we cannot show anger, or disappointment, or fear, or emotions other than deep gratitude and acceptance of all things. It then becomes easy to use our spirituality to avoid dealing with ourselves and our shadows dancing in the corners of our lives. There isn’t a person who comes to a spiritual path free from some kind of suffering or sorrow. We all have some kind of trauma we are working with, or running from, or trying to navigate. Feelings are uncomfortable. They hurt. They make our knees buckle.  They make us weep and scream. They make us feel broken. I assure you, we are far from broken. We are merely bending from exhaustion and fear and resistance. Here, when we spiritually bypass, we certainly have moments of reprieve, but they are merely moments. Here’s what actually happens: those feelings, fears, disappointments, longings, losses, hurts, traumas, they all fester inside of our bodies. And they eek out of us when we least expect it: in traffic, in the grocery line, toward our children, toward our friends, toward our teachers, toward our students, toward ourselves.

 

It’s alluring to seek out a “quick fix,” but the fact is, we have to walk through the muck of emotions and slog through those dark, sticky feelings to get to the other side, which is freedom. The saying “The only way out is through,” isn’t for naught. When we rely upon spiritual bypass, we are choosing to only focus on that which we like. Life is so much more than that: it’s a remarkable prism of joy, and pain, love, and light, sadness, grief, birth, and death. It is a sea of wonder. It is a symphony. Grab hold of it and enjoy it, even the ugly is there to teach us something. It is where we learn our resilience, and our capacity for care. To quote one of my teachers, Hala Khouri, “Our wounds our often the source of our gifts, and if we don’t investigate our wounds, they will get in the way.

Categories
Mindfulness Recovery Self-Care Spirituality Trauma

Yoga Teacher Training: Transformation

First practicum EVER! #teachertraining #yoga via saritphoto

It’s been an incredible 9 days of yoga teacher training. I have been cracked open and infused with so many tools, love, support, an incredible community, a mountain of information; it’s not even close to being over! I am just beginning what I believe to be a lifelong process of learning. Sure, when I complete these 200 hours, this particular training will be over, but to me, yoga is something that is always evolving. The body is changing: as we age, as we get injured, heal, go through life changes, it changes, and there is always something to learn.

 

When I began this journey, I knew from an intellectual space that I would be learning about yoga: postures, how they should be aligned, how trauma presents in the body, how it releases, where the muscles and bones are, et cetera. I knew I was going to learn a lot from these teachers, and I knew that I was going to learn in a unique way. Hala Khouri is a Somatic Experiencing therapist, after all, and she brings that into the way she speaks and teaches. It has been illuminating. I also had a good feeling that there might even be some kind of transformation. I had no idea how much would actually occur.

 

My teachers are not conventional yoga teachers. They are uniquely themselves, exploring and teaching a non-dualistic path to a reality-based, grounded practice of yoga. They teach us about trauma so we are conscious about keeping our classes safe and grounded. They are teaching us about grounding, orienting and resourcing, terms familiar to me from my understanding of Somatic Experiencing and recovery work, but also applicable in a yoga class. Finding refuge in my body has happened for me on my yoga mat, but that has occurred because I have been fortunate to have teachers skilled in creating a sacred space for their students to have their own liberating experiences. In this yoga teacher training, we are being taught to do the same and that means we need to know how to ground, orient, and provide resourcing options for our students. It is in these ways that we can find refuge within and ultimately have a transformation, no matter how small it may be.

 

My recovery has never been one-dimensional. As I’ve tacked on more years, I have explored my spiritual paths, finding a calling to dig deeper into the layers of muck within myself that caused me to shrink back in layers of fear, shyness, insecurity, self-loathing, shame, lack of trust, or whatever rose to the surface. It is within the contemplative practices of yoga and meditation where I learned to dance with my fear and face my shadows. It was through those practices, the steps, therapy, and a lot of patience that I learned to shine particles of light into the darkest of places.  This yoga teacher training has lifted me up and supported every ounce of my practice, leading me through layers that still need excavating and continues to show me the way to play with my shadow side. I am finding my voice. Ironically, it is the one thing that eludes me. My voice as a writer is strong, but as a public speaker? Forget about it!

 

So, dear ones, This week rounds out module one. The transformation has been incredibly real. I am more grounded, more open, and more equanimous. I feel more connected to everyone and everything around me. And, more importantly, I feel the most “me” I have ever felt. Let’s dance!

Categories
Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery Self-Care Trauma

Yoga: A Personal Journey of Investigation

Keri-Anne Telford (Photo credit: Sarit Photography)

Yoga and Buddhist meditation play an enormous part in my personal story. They are the practices that have allowed me find refuge in my body, courage in my heart, and the fearlessness to walk into the darkness that once plagued me and led me to self-harm, drink, fall apart, and detach. In truth, I find that learning to relate to ourselves better equips us in our ability to relate to others. Because isn’t the ultimate goal really to help others and to be of service?

 

Today, I begin the first module of my 200-hour yoga teacher training with Julian Walker and Hala Khouri—two individuals I hold in high regard. I had investigated this training (Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind) for 2 years previous and allowed my fear of the adventure and deep personal investigation to get in my way. This time feels different. This time, I was finally ready. I’m grateful for this opportunity and excited to see what will ultimately unfold. Working with trauma has really become the driving force behind my own practice and has become something I’ve found beneficial for the women I work with. Those who work with trauma are inspiring and I understand that if we can unravel the web of hurt and pain, we have an opportunity for real healing, knowing that it takes willingness to feel discomfort and to face the very things that plague us.

 

I didn’t just want “any” yoga teacher training, I wanted something that would foster my own healing around trauma, my need to be of service and my deep desire to help others change their relationships to their bodies and the traumas we all hold within our physical and emotional structures. This teacher training in particular blends the “ancient and modern, Buddhist and Yogic, anatomical and energetic, spiritual and psychological tools and information” to allow the practitioner/student to truly find their authentic voice in this vast world of spiritual practice, allowing themselves to truly find a space to heal and have a voice.

 

Check out Julian Walker’s style of yoga and his approach to training in his book, Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind: A Modern Yoga Philosophy Infused with Somatic Psychology & Neuroscience. It’s an interesting, inspiring, heart-opening read. I feel fortunate and deeply honored to be a part of this journey and excited to share whatever unfolds with the Visions community, because in many ways, you all are my heart and what also inspire me to be of service and do what I do. I’ll be journaling this adventure, so stay tuned!

 

“Compassion is not always nice. We can set boundaries, tell truths and express anger while still being compassionate.” Julian Walker

Interesting reads:

21st Century Yoga

Yoga PhD

Threads of Yoga

 

Categories
Mental Health Recovery Therapy Trauma Treatment

Boston Marathon: Emotional Care During Tragedy

Boston Marathon Finish Line.1910. Author: Unknown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are once again faced with the darkness of another tragedy: the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Events like this inevitably bring up our past traumas, leading to feelings of deep sadness, and often confronted by some of our unfettered grief. There is also a huge sense of confusion when we are faced with the unanswerable question of “Why?”

 

As parents, it is important to be transparent and honest with our kids in times like this. This does not mean sharing gruesome photographs of the event with them or feeding them gory details. Talking to our kids and allowing them to have a voice in a traumatic time is important. When the bombing at the Boston Marathon happened, we sat down with our son and talked to him about it. We wanted to make sure he heard it from us and not from the rumor mill of middle school, where hyperbole and fear mongering are the norm. He felt shock, confusion, and sadness. For parents, it was and continues to be our responsibility to honor the feelings of our kids and provide a safe container for them to express themselves. The world can be a scary place, especially with the effects of random acts of violence. Our son had many questions about what happened in Boston, many of which mirrored the questions of so many—kids and adults alike: “Am I safe?” “Why is there so much violence?” “Why would someone do that?” “Should I be worried?” “Will it happen here?” It’s important that his questions are answered and that he is allowed to process what he’s heard, lest we create another environment of trauma.

 

The tragedy those in Boston are confronted with never should have happened; but it did. It is real and it is heinous. Those directly affected by the devastation at the Boston Marathon will have deep trauma and grief to process and they will need support. When I see and hear of things this atrocious, I am reminded of a few things we can and should do in times like this:

  • lean into our circles of support,
  • be of service,
  • remember and honor those thrust into sudden loss and tragedy of senseless acts of violence.
  • Look at the positive: the people helping, the survivors, the community that reaches out to strangers.

 

In his book Trauma-Proofing Your Kids Dr. Peter Levine talks about the ways Somatic Experiencing is used in a crisis. Somatic Experiencing is focused on “symptom relief and in resolving the underlying ‘energy’ that feeds those symptoms.” (p.214)  Instead of asking kids to “tell the story” of what happened, they are asked to share their “post-event difficulties,” i.e., the physical or emotional fall-out they are experiencing after the event occurred. For example: fatigue, headaches, difficulty sleeping or eating, stomach aches, spaciness, emotional numbing, worry, guilt, et cetera.  The goal is not to re-traumatize the individual, but to help the process of self-regulation and emotional discharge.

 

Please make sure you are getting what you need if you are experiencing emotional difficulty since the tragedy at the Boston Marathon. If you find that you are having a hard time:

  • Take a break from the media.
  • Do some movement: jump rope, hike, do yoga, just move your body.
  • Be kind to yourself.

“Trauma can be prevented or transformed; it does not have to be a life sentence.”

Dr. Peter Levine

Categories
Mental Health Recovery Trauma

Trauma and Getting Triggered: Keeping Ourselves Safe

(Dark into Light via saritphoto)

I’m concerned for the survivors of sexual trauma and abuse, and the potentiality of getting triggered

simply by watching the news, or scrolling through Facebook or Twitter feeds. I’m wary of the media and the backlash from the recent Steubenville rape trial. It’s easy for that trauma to rise, presenting itself as fury and heightened emotions. It’s easy to slip back into the story of your own trauma, reliving moment-by-moment that which haunts you.

Signs of being triggered can include:

  • Angry outbursts
  • Flashbacks
  • Feeling emotionally numb or closed off
  • Avoiding certain areas, or subjects
  • Anxiety: tightness in the chest or throat, feelings of panic, et cetera.

Sometimes, we can feel tempted to continue to watch the news or read the feeds despite feeling triggered, believing we “should” be able to watch these things and be ok. It’s in the past, after all. Right? Wrong. The trouble with trauma is this: our bodies can’t always tell the difference between time and space. When we get triggered, we are often thrust back into that moment of trauma, sometimes too fast to stop ourselves. Over time, and with deep work, we can learn to recognize our bodies’ signals and responses to a trigger and take steps to stop it in its tracks or at least hold a safe space for it to just “be.” EMDR, DBT, CBT and TF-CBT are all useful therapeutic modalities for treating trauma. Additionally, yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices are helpful in getting the “issues out of our tissues” as Tommy Rosen likes to say.

If you find that you are getting triggered from newsfeeds and current events, please:

  • Unplug
  • Step away from technology
  • Talk to someone and ask for help.
  • Surround yourself with safe people.
  • Take a lot of deep breaths.
  • If you practice yoga, this is a good time to get on your mat. A gentle practice of breath and movement can guide you back to the present moment.
  • Be of service. Helping others gets us out of ourselves and into action.

Yes, it can be tremendously debilitating when a trigger occurs, but you are not alone. There are people around you who will help you without judgment. You are safe now.

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