Categories
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.

Categories
Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery Spirituality

Forgiveness: The Path Back to Your Heart

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Rumi

Forgiveness: It’s something we seek and it’s something we can give others. In recovery, forgiveness is imperative for the healing process to really thrive. In the 12-step process, we do inventories to uncover and discover the grievances we may have with others, and more importantly, with ourselves.  But for many of us, this idea of forgiveness, compassion, and kindness are foreign to us. In fact, in some circles, being compassionate and forgiving someone’s foibles is considered a weakness.

 

First, we must start with forgiving ourselves. The truth is, this is easier said than done. We are stuck with internal tapes on a loupe, reminding us of our insignificance and shame. We are inundated with fractured family systems that influence our self-esteem and self-worth. We are touched by the shame and sometimes self-righteous justification of our reactions. To begin this process of forgiveness and self-compassion takes a willingness to take contrary action and go into the emotional places of discomfort. Learning to love ourselves and be kind to ourselves is hard work. But it’s work well worth doing.

 

When I was younger, my anger fueled me. In some ways, it was also the thing that protected me. However, when I came to recovery, I was deeply affected by tragedy and trauma. At the same time, my dysfunctional family system projected blame and shame onto me, leaving me bereft of any ability to be kind to myself. When I began to do the inner work required to redefine my paradigm, I was frozen by fear. This wasn’t delicate work; it was an archeological excavation. But I soon realized that if I was to truly be of service and help others, I had to help myself first. If we are an empty well, we ultimately have nothing to give others.

 

The contemplative practices of yoga and meditation resonate with me, particularly in relation to my recovery.  These are the practices that have ultimately shown me the way to being of service, being kind, and having an open heart. There are a series of meditations called the Brahma Viharas. They are the heart practices, typically referred to as metta practice. They are:  lovingkindness, forgiveness, and compassion.  In each of these, you focus your energy on phrases that nurture a sense of lovingkindness, forgiveness, and compassion to yourself, someone you love, a benefactor, a difficult person, and then all beings. Often times, it is suggested to focus primarily on yourself in the beginning, sometimes even for the first year of your meditation practice. Cultivating compassion, forgiveness, and love for yourself is, in and of itself, the act of filling your well.

 

Yoga provides another opportunity: the chance to get back into your body through breath and movement. We can begin to forgive our inflexibility with patience; we can begin to forgive our hyper-flexibility by developing stability.  Both meditation and yoga are opportunities to reconnect with ourselves, and ultimately finding refuge within. One breath, one kind act of self care at a time.

 

I am reminded of the phrase, “My Friend, the Enemy.” Within it, compassion and forgiveness come together. When we develop compassion, we begin to develop the space to forgive those who have harmed us, those we resent, or those who continue to suffer. It doesn’t mean that we justify harms done; it means we get to put down the hot coal of anger we’ve been carrying around so our hearts can heal.

 

Links for Meditation and Yoga:

Against the Stream

Insight LA

Recovery 2.o

Julian Walker

Categories
Adolescence Feelings Holidays Mental Health Parenting Recovery

Healing the Heart: Father’s Day

Healing. (Photo credit: WolfS♡ul)

Father’s Day came and went, but I was struck by the aftermath of the day, nonetheless, when my son sat in the midst of his anger and disappointment after his own father didn’t show up for him. When my son said, “Not only did my dad not show up, he only spent 2 minutes with me on the phone,” I felt his deflation. I felt the letdown and longing for a father that would never be. And I had a visceral memory of what that was like. However, as a parent, my role isn’t to project my past onto my son’s present. Rather, my role is to hold space for him to feel and experience that which ails him, allowing his emotions to safely ride though his body. As a parent, I have to do my work on my own. Not via my son.

 

Father’s day, like Mother’s day, can elicit a varied set of emotions for our kids and for us as parents. They can range from untended loss, or expectations, abandonment, and deep grief rising internally around parents that were never available for us, be it physically or emotionally. When I first became acutely aware of this in my own life, I did what many of us do: I spiritually bypassed the situation and filled my time with practices of avoidance. At that time, my outsides appeared to be ok, but my inner voice remained devastated. The scary part is finding our voice amidst that loss. Sometimes it wobbles. Sometimes it screams. But it’s there, waiting to come out.

 

My son found his voice yesterday; he used it well. He leaned into his resources and shared his frustrations and sense of loss. He really discovered how available his step-dad is for him, finding grounding in the emotional presence and support that has been made available to him over the last 5 years. I had the honor of baring witness to such splendor.

 

Sometimes, we find ourselves grappling with the reality of having what we need but still wanting something we cannot have: my son wanting his father to be a dad but having a step-father who gives him everything he needs. On Father’s Day, we ventured to the beach, and when Joseph dried him off and kissed his head, my son giggled and said, “My dad would never do that.” It is in these moments where we hold space for that grief I was speaking of; here is where we can allow this young man the time to process the weight of his loss while reveling in the joy of the experience itself.

 

Parenting is a process and being a kid is a process. Somewhere, we meet in the middle, knees and hearts bruised along the way. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s this: our hearts have a tremendous capacity to heal. The heart, I know, is a muscle of great resilience. It can even open to the tumult of holidays, learning to forgive and/or navigate the foibles of clumsy parents and the awkwardness of adolescence.

Categories
Body Image Eating Disorders Mental Health Recovery

Eating Disorders: Recovery and Service

Eating disorders can breed contempt or denial in those that don’t understand them while feeding the silent devastation and fear in those who have them. This is an inherently challenging situation. Types of eating disorders vary but we are most familiar with Anorexia and Bulimia or a variation of the two. Still, there are some who suffer from disordered eating. I’ve heard it said that disordered eating is not an “actual eating disorder,” but rather a “phase” of bad eating behaviors.  However, the DSM and professionals in the field of addiction and mental illness have proven that not to be the case. For example, disordered eating has now earned the diagnostic term Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified or EDNOS.

For real clarification, the DSM descriptions of the various criteria for Anorexia, Bulimia, and EDNOS can be found below:

Eating disorder not otherwise specified includes disorders of eating that do not meet the criteria for any specific eating disorder.

  1. For female patients, all of the criteria for anorexia nervosa are met except that the patient has regular menses.
  2. All of the criteria for anorexia nervosa are met except that, despite significant weight loss, the patient’s current weight is in the normal range.
  3. All of the criteria for bulimia nervosa are met except that the binge eating and inappropriate compensatory mechanisms occur less than twice a week or for less than 3 months.
  4. The patient has normal body weight and regularly uses inappropriate compensatory behavior after eating small amounts of food (e.g., self-induced vomiting after consuming two cookies).
  5. Repeatedly chewing and spitting out, but not swallowing, large amounts of food.

The criteria for Anorexia Nervosa is:

  • Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height: Weight loss leading to maintenance of body weight <85% of that expected or failure to make expected weight gain during period of growth, leading to body weight less than 85% of that expected.
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though under weight.
  • Disturbance in the way one’s body weight or shape are experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight.
  • Amenorrhea (at least three consecutive cycles) in postmenarchal girls and women. Amenorrhea is defined as periods occurring only following hormone (e.g., estrogen) administration.

And the criteria for Bulimia Nervosa:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating characterized by both:
  1. Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time and under similar circumstances
  2. A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode, defined by a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating
  3. Self-induced vomiting
  4. Misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medications
  5. Fasting
  6. Excessive exercise
  • Recurrent inappropriate compensatory behavior to prevent weight gain
  • The binge eating and inappropriate compensatory behavior both occur, on average, at least twice a week for 3 months.
  • Self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight.
  • The disturbance does not occur exclusively during episodes of anorexia nervosa

Recovering from any of these eating disorders is hard work. We have to learn to navigate the food playing field with healthy awareness. One of the interesting things I’ve learned about recovering from my own eating disorder is that food is merely a symptomatic component of the greater problem: low self-esteem, an out of control environment, poor body image, fear, control. Not eating was always a way to control the chaos around me. What I was clueless about was the fact that I was created chaos within. The more out of control the outside environment is, the more control someone struggling with an eating disorder requires to simply survive. Yes, there’s deep irony in the use of “survive” here, because the end result of some severe eating disorders is ultimately death.

Chelsea Roff, a recovering anorexic, yoga teacher, speaker, and author, has come out publically with her story of recovery. Chelsea suffered from a stroke when she was 15 and ended up in a hospital for 18 months under constant care. Her essay, bravely discussing her story first appeared in the book 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, & Practice. From there, she was swept into the fray of instant publicity and exposure, ranging from the Huffington Post to Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN. While being in recovery isn’t about celebrity, there’s something to be said for a young girl who is taking this exposure and using it for good. There’s something deeply inspiring about someone who came from near death and is now thriving and being of service. In the end, being of service is what it’s about.

Eating disorders have their way of creeping back in when we least expect it. When we are of service and helping others, our own transparency is paramount to that process. In other words, being of service helps keep us honest. We have to eat. We have to learn to develop healthy relationships with our bodies and with food. Here, instead of vigilantly controlling our intake of calories, we can direct our vigilance to being of service. I look to Voice in Recovery and Chelsea Roff as young women who give back what was so freely given to them. I look to Melanie Klein (also a contributor in 21st Century Yoga) and Claire Mysko to provide the education and passion for body image advocacy in order to help young people gain a better understanding of the deeply rooted, media-infused sources of poor body image and eating disorders.

Kindness starts from within. We can and will recover.

RESOURCES:

NEDA

NIMH

Proud2BMe

Voice in Recovery (ViR)

 

Categories
Mental Health Parenting Recovery Self-Care Transparency

Father’s Day

(Image via Wikipedia)
We’re coming up on Father’s Day, and for some, this is a wonderful opportunity to recognize their first hero, their first confidante, or their primary example of “the good guy.” For others, it might mean having to face someone whose trust was lost because of addiction. And for others, it may mean reconciling with the repercussions of not having such an important figure their lives.
I have the pleasure of watching my son and his evolving relationships with his dad and step-dad. I am fortunate to bear witness to their triumphs and struggles, wins and losses, laughter and tears. I understand the inherent value of a healthy, positive father-son relationship, and do all I can do encourage it. 
I was intrigued by this interesting article posted by the Georgia Psychological Association, where Dr. Williams writes about the varying stages of father-son relationships. He says boys often idolize their dads as children, “experience a period of discord” in their teens, begin to evolve as young adults, move into acceptance in their 30s-40s, and eventually “become a legacy of their father’s influence for better and worse” when they reach their 50s and beyond. Seeing my son step onto the path to maturation, I am keenly aware of the need to develop positive habits, some of which need to learned from his father(s). In his case, I am hopeful for a virtuous legacy.
The dynamic between dads and daughters is compelling: Some say girls grow up to marry a version of their dads, while others might carry the nomenclature of “Daddy’s Little Girl” well into their adulthood. There are those, too, who take on the mother figure when mom is absent and dad is left to raise the family on his own. Lastly, there are those whose fathers bailed out, leaving their daughters bereft of a solid, male figurehead. Clearly, things can get complicated. How we manage the complications and find ways to make them palatable is where our recovery work comes in.  As a woman whose relationship with my father is tenuous at best, the tools of my recovery have become invaluable. Learning to let go, learning not to take things personally, learning to remove the ego from the pain of abandonment, and learning to accept that I am sufficient, have become essential. Without these factors, I risk drowning in emotion, a perilous position for any alcoholic/addict.
So, regardless of your relationship with your dad, be it adoring or nebulous, being in recovery gives us the opportunity to develop some kindness and compassion and teaches us how to put it all to good use. (This may actually mean setting a boundary and showing compassion to yourself in some cases!). As we work the steps, we are given the opportunity to change our unskillful behaviors through taking action. After inventories, which require inward reflections, we begin to change our viewpoint and begin taking the appropriate actions toward making positive changes in our relationships with others. It’s the beginning of a lifelong process that teaches us to lesson our expectations, which ultimately increases our ability to accept things as they are.
May this this Father’s Day bring some healing to your hearts and lives. And may you celebrate with an open heart and a compassionate mind,  one breath at a time.