Necessary Awareness

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Awareness is a necessary ingredient for change.

In order to change anything, we must first be aware that there is something that needs to change. Anyone with trauma will have great difficulty finding this awareness due to the ongoing conditioning and responses caused by internalized negative beliefs and subsequent responses to those beliefs.

In fact, most people find it difficult to be aware of things outside of their normalized thoughts and behaviors. Only through awareness can thoughts and responses be addressed. Only through awareness can we know what there is to be addressed.

In order to be aware, we must be able to recognize the thought processes we have. Recognize that they are there. Recognize where they began. Recognize how we internalized them. Over time, these thoughts, that we gained from other people, become internalized in our brains as truths about us. The become so ingrained in our beliefs that we start to think we started them. Most all my clients will say that they have always believed the negative things about themselves as if they were born with them. They were not and neither was anyone else.

To be aware of these thoughts, we must be able to pause the process when it starts. The process of thought, emotion, reaction or response. This cascade happens instantaneously with the normalization of the process. This is the thought we always have. This is the emotion we always have with this thought. This is the reaction or response we always have with this thought. So we just let it flow without awareness.

To pause the process, we must be able to name the catalyst. The thought or thoughts. They must have identifying names and we must understand how we came to believe them. Where they started, with whom, and in what circumstances. Almost all will be traced to our initial caregivers as they are the teachers of all things including the beliefs about ourselves. From birth to age seven, these beliefs are taught to us just as we are taught to talk, eat, dress, read. Name them, know them, recognize their beginning, and know they are not true nor are they yours.

It is then that we can have awareness when they come up to have the margin or pause to stop the cascade of events that follows. With awareness, we can say, I see you thought. I know you thought. I recognize where you came from thought. I do not have to respond or react to you thought. I can pause and replace you thought. I know it sounds like a lot but with practice it can be done. Over time, negative thoughts can be replaced with positive truths that do come from you.

Start with one thought that causes you the most negative emotions about yourself and the most issues with relationships with others. Name it. Name the emotion. Name the reaction and responses. Name the starting point. Accept that you did not start the thought. And start to replace it with an opposite, absolute positive that comes from you.

Do that repeatedly. Form a new habit. Create a new normal. Foster awareness as a necessary component of change.

“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Trauma Healing Quotes

Most all of the work I do with clients is in relation to their trauma history. The processing of trauma and moving through to acceptance and letting go can be a very difficult journey. To live a full and free life after experiencing trauma it must be completely processed and let go. If you are thinking of starting this journey or are in the midst of it, maybe these quotes can help you begin or to press on.

“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.” ~ Bessel A. van der Kolk

Dr. van der Kolk is the author of the book “The Body Keeps The Score” which is effectively the “bible” of my therapy practice and the best book on how trauma affects us body and mind when unprocessed.

“We cannot have a world where everyone is a victim. “I’m this way because my father made me this way. I’m this way because my husband made me this way.” Yes, we are indeed formed by traumas that happen to us. But then you must take charge, you must take over, you are responsible.” ~ Camille Paglia

We are conditioned and taught by our traumas to internalize negative beliefs about ourselves. However, moving through and past our traumas is our choice and our responsibility.

“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.” ~ Danielle Bernock

Finding a therapist that fits you, someone to hear you, objectively, can make all the difference in being able to walk through your personal pain.

“Every day begins with an act of courage and hope: getting out of bed.” ~ Mason Cooley

Not every day will be filled with huge strides and big wins over the past, sometimes the best we can do on any given day is just to get out of bed.

“Trauma is perhaps the most avoided, ignored, belittled, denied, misunderstood, and untreated cause of human suffering.” ~ Peter Levine

It is my experience that almost everyone has some kind of trauma and almost everyone carries on as if they do not by avoiding, ignoring, denying, controlling how they truly feel.

Instead of saying ‘I’m damaged, I’m broken, I have trust issues.” I say “I’m healing, I’m rediscovering myself, I’m starting over.” ~ Horacio Jones

The journey to trauma recovery is almost entirely based on what we say to ourselves every minute of the day. Are your words hurting or helping you?

Healing from trauma can also mean strength and joy. The goal of healing is not a papering-over of changes in an effort to preserve or present things as normal. It is to acknowledge and wear your new life – warts, wisdom, and all – with courage.” ~ Catherine Woodiwiss

We can never change what has happened to us, but we can learn to live better with it and in spite of it.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Learning Resilience

Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash

Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or toughness. Some people feel that others they see who are able to get through hard times seemingly easily are just born that way. I think resilience is a learned or a conditioned behavior response and I think that everyone can learn resilience if they invest in the process. People can seem to be resilient who are still living with the effects of their past trauma, but most are addicted to control and reacting in their long held trauma patterns.

The first thing on the path to resilience is processing past trauma. Until the past is addressed and the reactions to that trauma are processed and understood, it is very difficult to break the response patterns that are a result of unprocessed trauma. These patterns lead to negative thinking patterns, fear of failure, being in a constant state of fight or flight, and any of the hundreds of conditioned beliefs that have formed in our brains as a result of this trauma. Therapy is the road to being free of those things.

While in therapy, you will hopefully learn how to recognize negative beliefs and thought patterns. One of the greatest barriers to resilience is any belief that prevents you from knowing you can go through hard times and come out stronger on the other side.

In order to be resilient in the face of hard times, we must be able to form a positive thought process about the current situation to confront it without fear and/or having it polluted with our past trauma responses. We must also be able to have positive thought processes to disable catastrophic thinking patterns. We have to believe that we can overcome the hard times without fear and trauma responses and that we will be okay in the future.

Learning resilience after we have processed our trauma allows us to be able to choose our responses and maintain perspective. When we are living in our trauma response brains, we can find it almost impossible to choose our responses to any situation. We can know logically absolutely what we should do or say or how we should act, but the trauma response brain is powered by emotions. These emotions overpower our logic and cause us to respond out of fear. Fear, being the strongest emotion in the world, causes us to lose all perspective in situations where we need to make a different response.

To keep building resilience we have to be able to learn from our mistakes and failures. In everything there are lessons to be learned if we can maintain our perspective and keep our thoughts out of the trauma negative zones. All life is a lesson. When we are living in our trauma response brains, the lessons of our experiences tend to be overlooked while we are in states of fear, fight or flight, or freeze. The lessons are also overlooked in negative thinking patterns of how the mistakes are our fault or that we are always failures, which is again a product of the trauma responses. Learning the lessons of failure and mistakes can make us much stronger going forward and can also teach us what we no longer want to repeat.

Be aware of your thoughts. Practice thought awareness. Meditation is a great way to practice thought awareness. It is also a great way to practice having those thoughts come and go instead of taking up root. Meditation can also be used as thought replacement practice. Our thoughts become our beliefs become our behaviors.

Resilience can be learned. We can all choose our responses, choose what we think and believe, and choose to maintain perspective. Each choice makes us stronger and more able to withstand hard times. Cultivate resilience.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Winter Blues

After almost a month of vacation and two weeks of family illness, returning to work has been difficult. Not only because vacation is a nice place to be, but also because winter in the northern rocky mountains is very cold, windy, and grey for the better part of January and February.

After the excitement of the holidays and fun of having time off, one can find that they have a lot less motivation for their required activities. Things like going to work, cleaning house, spending time with others, and even things we enjoy doing do not seem as appealing when enduring the winter blues.

So what can we do to cope with this time of year and the lack of motivation and even depression for some that comes with it?

Anytime the weather is even remotely nice, we need to get outside. Even if it is for a short amount of time, it can make a big difference. Getting out into the sunshine can be extremely beneficial during the “grey months”. A short walk or even a drive, a trip to the grocery store or to visit a favorite specialty store where we live, a cup of coffee with a friend at a local coffeehouse or restaurant can all provide a much needed escape from the housebound doldrums.

Being intentional about getting up out of bed, taking a shower, brushing your teeth, and changing your clothes. Often times, the urge to just stay in bed and do nothing can be powerful during the “grey months”. We can convince ourselves that because we can’t venture outside due to weather or don’t want to due to how we feel, that we shouldn’t bother with activities of daily living. No one is going to see us right? This only increases our feelings of loss of motivation and depression.

Making sure that you are eating regularly and healthy. Another thing we overlook during the “grey months” is eating properly. If we are doing a lot of nothing, we tend to not eat or graze eat anything that is handy. Usually those things are not that good for us, chips, cookies, candy, etc. Once again, we need to be intentional about getting proper nutrition during these times. Having food on hand to make small meals throughout our day that are warm and nutritious. Also making sure we stay hydrated with water is very important.

Keeping up our physical health by getting some form of exercise most every day and by taking healthy vitamins and supplements to keep up our immunity. The “grey months” also bring a variety of illnesses that we need to be strong to have minimal symptoms should we get sick. Exercise offers two benefits, keeping us active and healthy and releasing endorphins to keep our brain active and happy.

If where you live there is little sunshine during these months, a seasonal affective light could be extremely helpful. Getting light is so very important to how we feel.

Writing and/or journaling about how you are feeling, making goals and plans that you can follow through on, adding in some creative touches and artwork to your writings can all help you release emotions held in the body.

If you feel that you are getting very depressed and cannot seem to do any of the things above most days, seeking out help through therapy and/or adding medications to your mental health management can be very helpful. Reach out for help.

The “grey months” can be tough for a lot of people but there are things you can do to endure them in a more healthy and happy way. Start with one thing and keep doing it and then add another and another. If you need more help, please seek it out. And remember, this is a moment in time and brighter, warmer days are coming soon.

Taking A Break

I will be taking a break for the holiday season and so will this blog. During this time, I will also be on vacation, so the next blog will be the week of January 24, 2022.

In the meantime, there are many months worth of blogs on this website available to read during this time. On the right hand side of this post about midway down of the page, there is a topic entitled POST ARCHIVES. There is a drop down menu for each month and click on each month to bring up the blog posts for that month on a wide variety of mental health topics.

I will also post some inspirational things on the Mindful Montana Wellness Twitter account @MMWCounseling and the Mindful Montana Wellness Instagram @mindfulmontanawellness and Facebook pages throughout the next six weeks so please follow those as well.

I wish all of you a very happy and peaceful holiday season. Make sure to keep your own self care as part of this time as the holidays can be also stressful and chaotic at times.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

You Are My Sunshine

Living in the northern latitudes, such as Montana, means that we are exposed to far less sunshine than other parts of the United States. The lack of sunshine exposure especially in the winter months, with much shorter daylight hours and lots of cloudy, snowy days, we get a lot less Vitamin D than many of our southern neighbors.

The time change ushers in days that get darker and darker earlier and earlier as we venture deeper into the winter.  There can be overcast days where the sun is never seen and darkness can descend by 4:30 in the afternoon making for very long nights and very little light.

Many studies have been done on this lack of Vitamin D and the connection to depression and depressive symptoms. Montana has a very high rate of depression and suicide and this can be one of the reasons why. It is not the only reason, but many of the people I have worked with over the last few years have been very deficient in Vitamin D. Some when having their blood work done, have found that they had almost NO Vitamin D in their bodies and all of them had depression and depressive symptoms.

One study Depression and Vitamin D Deficiency: Causality, Assessment, and Clinical Practice Implications talks about the various causes for this deficiency and ways of possible treatment. It lists many foods from which we can get Vitamin D and unfortunately many of them are not foods that a lot of the people I see eat, such as liver, sardines, tuna, salmon, swordfish. Other causes are insufficient sunlight and malabsorption diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, and others.

Anyone can be Vitamin D deficient. The only way to know for sure is to have blood work tested. Correction can be made in several ways adding Vitamin D2 or D3 supplements daily, increasing certain foods in your diet, and getting sunlight either outside or by using a seasonal affective disorder light.

I am NOT saying that a Vitamin D deficiency is the ONLY cause of depression nor am I saying that taking Vitamin D will cure all depression or that anyone should take Vitamin D instead of prescription medications. I am saying it can be an additional cause of depression and depressive symptoms and in some people a significant cause depending on the level of deficiency. If it can help then it is a very easy and natural way to boost how we feel.

If you or someone you know living in northern areas of the country has depression and/or depressive symptoms, it may very well be worth the time to have some blood work done to see about Vitamin D deficiency. It could be of a great deal of help to know and then to work to reduce it.

Here are some other articles for the link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression:

Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the Sunshine?

Vitamin D Deficiency and Depression  

There are other ways to battle “seasonal depression” or “seasonal affective disorder” to either go along with Vitamin D or be separate from taking supplements.

VeriLux Happy Light

There are many options of SAD lights on the Internet.  You have to look to see which would fit what you need most and make sure to read the reviews as well.  The above listed lamp is fairly affordable and has some very good reviews.  Make sure that you get out into the sun anytime it is out in winter even if it is cold.  Go outside, bundle up, and stand in the sun for a few minutes at a time.  When the sun is out during winter, open the curtains and let it in your entire house and sit in it inside the house.  Schedule social activities and follow through with them to connect with other people.  Increase your exercise doing it inside if it is too cold to be outside.  Seek out therapy to get you through the winter.  Therapy can serve to offer not only someone to talk to but tools for managing season depression.

Until next time be well,
Deborah

Falling Away

Fall always reminds me of the work I do with clients in therapy. They come to me as trees full of leaves. Heavy and weighed down. They are all searching for a way to release some of this long carried weight. Letting those leaves they have carried for so long fall away.

For a good portion of their lives they have carried these leaves representing the baggage of their past everywhere they go. Into every decision, response, relationship the leaves go with them. The weight is heavy and at times overwhelming but they cannot seem to rid themselves of these ever clinging traumas.

When clients come to therapy, they talk about how these leaves cling to them and nourish the fears, anger, sadness, and negative thoughts that grow and blossom each day. The leaves continue to feed their ever growing tree of trauma. They have become used to the weight. They are accustomed to how they look when the leaves are full and on display for all to see. They are comfortable with how it envelopes them mind and body.

But it is so heavy. It is so hard to carry on with daily life when weighed down by depression, anxiety, anger, judgment, and fear. Every action, every decision becomes just that much harder. There seems to be no escape no matter how much they may want to let their leaves go. The negative thoughts keep the leaves bound to them.

As they work through these traumas and begin to acknowledge them for what they are and where they started, the leaves start to drop off. At first, maybe it is just one small leaf. The process moves slowly. The leaves start to lose energy, change, and have less power to hold on to them. The leaves become less nourished and start to wither.

As more work is done and more understanding is gained, the leaves lose their vibrancy and turn darker and become less noticeable. They have far less power over responses and actions. The thoughts become quieter and less invasive. They start to realize they no longer need this heavy covering of weight. And they start to fall off slowly, slowly.

The traumas fall away becoming only remnants of their former selves. Yes, they were there and happened, but their power over them is lost. They can be let go. They are no longer needed. They no longer need to fear them.

The leaves drop off becoming dead, crunchy and returning to the soil in which they were made to be reborn in spring as new life. Traumas falling away being absorbed back into the universe and becoming the catalyst of change for them. The leaves they regrow as they change are lighter, beautiful, and nourishing to new life. To their new life.

This is hard work. Shedding old life to birth new. It requires great energy and constant attention. It requires releasing that which is no longer needed in favor of that which renews.

This is how I see therapy, good therapy in which the client is invested in change and willing to do the work required. The falling away of all that has weighed them down body, mind and spirit and the investment in growing that which is uplifting, empowering, and transforming.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Start Saying No

Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash

I have written about boundaries many times over the years. I believe that the inability to hold boundaries in all aspects of life is the main reason people with trauma continue to suffer.

The inability to say no to people and things brings repeated suffering and increased trauma responses. Every time a client tells me they cannot say no, they always include all the reasons for justifying this inability. Every one of these reasons stems from past trauma. Every single time.

Someone cannot say no to a toxic family relationship. Something that causes them great anxiety, frustration, and even anger they cannot say no. They continue to participate in it even if it is just peripherally, they are still letting it affect their lives. They can rant and vent at length about how this affects them, but when asked why they do not eliminate this from their lives the excuses pour forth.

A family member will be angry with them and ask why they do not care about the family. A family member will be sad that they are not including themselves in the family. A family member will threaten not to speak to them again if they put up a boundary. A family member will feel they do not love them if they do not engage. And on and on and on it goes.

Justification to continue suffering. Justification to continue reliving trauma. Justification for accepting they will be anxious, sad, angry every day because it.

All because they cannot say no more.

Someone cannot extricate themselves from a toxic romantic relationship. Something that makes them feel unvalued and worthless. Something that makes them blame themselves and resort to codependence to keep the relationship going. Something that allows them to never have their emotional needs met. They tell the same stories constantly about how they are treated and how badly it makes them feel, but they cannot say no.

The excuses are always the same. I am afraid to be alone. I have children with this person. I share finances with this person. What will I do if they are out of my life? And the trauma response, the way they treat me is my fault. I am causing the issues. And on and on and on.

All of this is developed out of past trauma and ongoing trauma. And of course fear is at the root of all inability to say no. They continue to be traumatized and internalize all the negative things they care conditioned to believe.

All the unresolved trauma blends with all the newly inflicted trauma until there is nothing but negative thinking and fear left. The inability to say no is a prison.

The only way to be free of suffering in all aspects of life is to start saying no.

Start with one thing. Say no more and stand firm. It will be difficult, very difficult. There will be backlash, always. Other people do not like being told no. Especially if you have not said no before. They expect that you will always say yes. When you say no, a tantrum will ensue based on THEIR feelings not what you have done. Their response is NEVER about you. It is about them.

Let them throw their fit and move on. If they truly care for you they will get past their feelings and have a relationship with you. If they do not truly care for you, they will not. They will make you feel guilty, make you feel scared, and make you feel sad. They will try every manipulative button they have ever used on you to get you to continue to say yes to try and break you down and make you give up your boundaries.

Those people do not love you. They will never love you. They will never value you. They will never respect any decision you make. Ever.

Conquer your fear. Talk back to your negative conditioned beliefs. Recognize your worth for yourself. Start saying no.

Freedom is not the ability to say yes. It is ability to say no.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

The Last Straw

Earlier this week, I read an article that broke my heart. In one of the high schools in the state where I live, they reported that seven students have lost their lives to suicide since May of 2020. Seven lives that are no longer with us. And this is just one high school that has reported numbers. I feel that there are probably quite a few more.

This is not an article to blame Covid for yet another thing. It is very likely that most of those who have taken their lives since Covid began were struggling well before that with depression, anxiety, trauma or some other mental health issues. It is unlikely that Covid was the only reason for their feeling they had reached the end of their ability to go on. Although, there may be some for which that is true. It is impossible to know.

What I do know from data I have seen reported all over the country is that the impact of Covid has pushed many with mental health issues over the edge. For some, it is quite possibly the last straw. And I am not talking about the illness of Covid as much as the surrounding fear, isolation, increased depression, lack of normalcy and chaotic changes.

Covid especially for school age individuals has caused periods of isolation, sometimes long periods of isolation from friends and a normal routine. It has caused a huge increase of fear and possible loss of loved ones. It has increased depression through these things. The constant changes of what is going on with Covid, with schools, with jobs, with family and friends results in a large amount of increased anxiety. And the feeling that this may never end adding to the already present thoughts of nothing ever changing for the better.

When taken together, the many things that surround Covid may be considered as the last straw. The situation that has pushed people over the edge. The thing that has increased suicidal thoughts and ideation. Again, it is not the only thing and these thoughts and ideation did not start in 2020 for most, but they were likely increased.

The other thing I have noticed is that while much attention is being paid to Covid and illness and health care and vaccines, much less attention is being paid to mental health issues. While schools are focused on masking, vaccines, quarantining, and mitigation of illness, they are far less focused on addressing the mental health of their student population nor have they been throughout this crisis.

My school age clients report that during the many months of remote learning, no one called or checked in from the school on their mental health. They were only concerned with academics. No one asked if they were depressed or anxious. No one asked them about suicidal thoughts or plans except for me. Imagine how many more school aged children were out there not going to counseling with no one to ask them these questions.

Of course, it is not only school age children who had an increase in suicide through this crisis. Many people did of all ages. Mental health was never high on the priority list of any organization or government entity and it still is not sadly.

When you talk to people about how they are handling Covid, why not ask them how they are feeling. Ask them how this has all affected them emotionally. Ask them how they are coping with the things they have to go through with this crisis. Ask them if they need help.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or intent, please seek help or help them to find help. Reach out for counseling services. Call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741 both available 24/7. Find out resources in your community and have them handy for referral to those in need. Check in on the mental health of those around you, it could be just what someone needs to keep going.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Believe In Yourself

Lately, I have felt that a lot of my clients were struggling with self confidence and believing in themselves. Not only in processing their traumas and issues, but in their daily lives and work. I thought it might be a good time for a little bit of confidence boosting quotes post.

Speak confidence to yourself. Speak love to yourself. Speak belief in yourself.

Talk back to negative thoughts. Talk back to negative beliefs.

Replace all negative words with positive words, every single time.

Place boundaries against those who disrupt your self confidence and belief in yourself.

Let go of the past – all of the past. Live in the present moment.

Let go of fear.

Manifest your confident self through your words, thoughts, and actions every moment of every day.