Looks Can Be Deceiving

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Do you ever look at other people and think they look like their life is perfect? When people are smiling do you assume they are happy in general? If someone has a job where they make a decent living do you assume they have no real worries? If someone has a nice newer car do you assume their life must also be nice?

Assumptions are a dangerous thing and almost always incorrect. Most people have something in their lives that they are going through, dealing with, struggling with. Most people have had trauma of some kind in their lives. Remember, trauma does not mean everyone has been abused. Trauma is personal and its impact is personal.

Death and divorce can be very traumatic experiences. A much broader acceptance of trauma is needed to understand that most people have had trauma of some kind and that their trauma may be impacting them in negative ways every day whether you know it or not.

When we see people who we believe are living a great life or an easy life and we dismiss what might lie beneath, we can assume that they are fine emotionally. They may look fine on the outside. Good job, nice clothes, newer car and smiles, but what you do not see can be weighing them down.

Battles are fought every day by most people. Battles with the past, present and future. Battles with others and with themselves. Almost everyone faces daily struggles of some kind.

For some the struggles are related to physical health, which is also not always visible to the outside observer. For others the struggles are related to providing for daily needs such as housing, food, clothing and safety. Many struggle with mental health issues, which are almost always hidden from others and especially from strangers. It is the what you cannot see that are sometimes the heaviest burdens.

When we assume others have no problems or that others problems are so much smaller than what we are dealing with, we can be judgmental and unkind. We can have no grace or patience with others. We can dismiss others with our looks and words. We assume and move on to our problems.

There are those who would say that someone’s issues are not a reason for them to be frustrated, rude, angry or a multitude of other emotions towards others. What a perfect world that would be if it were possible, but it is not, we are all human and in moments of stress most find it very hard to be aware, present, and appropriately responsive.

There are plenty of old sayings about judging something on how it appears and all of them are true. What we see is very definitely not all there is to see or know.

We cannot control how other people respond to their own struggles, but we can control how we respond back to them. We can pause, reflect, and have grace and understanding. A kind gesture or word can offer someone the space to process their own struggle a little more easily.

Remember, we are struggling with something. Do not assume from first glances. Be kind. It could change everything for someone including yourself.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

The Addiction Train

Photo by Brian Suman on Unsplash

Addiction is much like a train. Many different things can be addiction and these are the cars of the train. Traveling on tracks in a one direction kind of way. And the cars can be added to and even stacked one on top of the other much like multiple addictions can be. A loaded and very large train can be extremely hard to stop and if it crashes it is a catastrophic mess. Just like addictions.

Anything can be an addiction. Absolutely anything. If there is something that we have to do, feel compelled to do, feel sick, sad, angry or a multitude of other emotions if we do not do it and it is required repeatedly to make us “feel” better, it is an addiction. If there is anything that we can NOT do, it is an addiction.

Some addictions are very harmful and others maybe not as much, but they are both addictions nevertheless. Most addictions are done to avoid things we find emotionally painful. All addictions release chemicals into the brain that can make us think we “feel” better. They can be very good at covering up painful things. For a while. Then as time goes on more and more of the addictive material is needed to gain the same feel good feelings. And when that does not work any longer, we must find a substitute addiction that works better.

Coffee is an addiction for many including myself. I have it every day. If I go without it for a day I get debilitating headaches from caffeine withdrawal. I like the taste of coffee a lot. I am pretty much immune now to the caffeine as in coffee will not keep me awake. But my body is very much addicted to the caffeine.

Addiction can be anything. Electronics are the addiction of choice for many now. Computers, phones, tablets, television, video games and more are fast becoming an addiction for many. People can spend hours every day watching funny cat videos on YouTube or TikTok. Spending and buying can be an addiction. Retail therapy is a very real thing. We feel better when we get something we want. Eating can be an addiction. Food can be very comforting in times of pain. Sex can be an addiction. Cutting or self-harm can be an addiction. The release of pain while cutting releases the feel good chemicals into our brains. To get more and more of this feeling we must cut more and more. Substances can be an addiction including cannabis. While cannabis does not have the same chemical/physical addictive properties of alcohol or other drugs, it is very psychologically addictive. Gambling can be an addiction.

Anything can be an addiction.

Addiction can be very hard to stop. First, we have to want to stop. This can be very difficult because our bodies and brains are addicted to the chemicals that are released when we participate in our addiction. It can also be difficult because we know to stop the addiction we have to acknowledge the pain of whatever we are trying not to face by continuing the addiction. If we have been addicted for a long time, it is not an easy road to stopping. It takes time. There will be relapses. And it is an ongoing process of addressing the reasons we sought the addictive thing in the first place and making daily decisions to avoid going back to it when things get difficult in the processing.

Working with an addiction counselor can be a good place to start if you are ready to change. Participating in groups or having someone to whom you are accountable can help along with apps that can also help you track your successes and support your progress such as Calm Harm for cutting, Pear reSet for substance use, rTribe for porn/drug/food addictions. There are many others that are also available for download for a huge variety of addictions.

Quitting an addiction is not an easy task and the road can be long and difficult. The first step is wanting to change and being willing to start the journey. Take an inventory of your life right now, is there something (or more than one) that you feel you are addicted to and can NOT stop doing and feel compelled to do in order to feel better or avoid trauma and pain. Be honest with yourself. And if you feel you cannot objectively look at your life ask someone who you trust and know will be absolutely honest with you.

Then it is up to you to make the decision to start on the path to recovery and change.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Still Not Normal

So many of my clients and myself as well had high hopes at the beginning of summer this year that the fall would bring much needed normalcy to school going and to life. We have, once again, been bitterly disappointed.

Cases here were fairly minimal at the beginning of summer. We had no mandates of any kind here. People were free to get out and enjoy their summer. And enjoy it they did in record numbers to our state parks and festivals.

The cases did not start to increase with this newfound freedom. Most people were outside with distance and likely not spreading the virus as much. Only about half the population of my state is fully vaccinated. We are very rural in so much of the state and have very few people who live here only one million people in the entire state.

The cases started to creep up very slowly as summer went on. As we got closer to the start of the school year, they started creeping up even more. We now average as of this writing about 350 cases a day in the entire state that are new. We have very low death numbers in the single digits most days and our hospitalizations are about 200 with COCVID for the entire state currently.

The public school districts in the bigger towns and cities and by bigger I mean more than 25,000 people, have implemented masking all day in schools. Last year at the end of the year there were no mask mandates here. Sporting events are having limited spectators, two per athlete. No assemblies at the schools. Those not wearing masks, students and teachers are not being allowed in schools where there are mandates. In smaller communities there are no mandates here.

There will be no school dances, no homecoming parades, and if athletes have a rise in the number of cases there will be no sports. If this goes on into next year there will be no prom, no graduation in person and on and on it goes.

My school age clients are suffering emotionally from the constant loss of normalcy in their lives. Things that those who will graduate this school year have worked 12 years to be able to do and experience. School constantly being disrupted with quarantining and education that is constantly interrupted making learning and retention very difficult. Plus all the social disruptions.

It is very hard to help clients work through this as it is not something they can have control over this loss of normalcy. It is what it is. So we try and work through the emotional parts of it working on acceptance of what is and letting go of things we cannot control and will not be able to have.

I see anger, frustration, sadness, and grief. Lots and lots of grief. And for grief there is nothing but going through the process that continues to be present day after day after day. There seems to be no moving on from it because it just keeps coming in waves and waves.

Unfortunately, this is not a blog about how one can manage this lack of normalcy. It is about how we just keep going. Acceptance, letting go, and keeping on walking. Grief in an ongoing process just keep walking.

No situation ever stays the same. Change is constant.

And we have to hope that one day this too will change for the better and normal can come back to our lives once more.

Until next time be well, Deborah

Laugh Out Loud

Laughter is the best medicine.

Humor has a magical way of getting humans through some of the most dire times in their lives. A little humor can go a long way towards alleviating anxiety, sadness, fear, and grief that we may feel.

Sometimes, finding the humor in a particularly dreadful situation can stop our downfall into the rabbit holes of despair. A little humor can lift us up if only for a short time providing a brief respite from whatever trial we are suffering at the moment.

Laughter releases chemicals into the brain and there are many therapeutic benefits of laughter on mental health. Laughter swaps cortisol in our system with oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins. Cortisol is the chemical created when we are under stress. Definitely not the good feeling chemicals that laughter produces.

Dopamine can enhance learning, motivation, and attention. It also increases happiness through the motivation and reward cycle of releasing feel good hormones into the brain and body. Laugh at something or with someone and your brain and body is rewarded with feeling good, happy, motivated and attentive.

Oxytocin is the “empathy hormone” or a bonding chemical. It creates feelings of relatedness or connectedness in the bloodstream. It brings us closer to others. Laughter does the same thing. It connects us with others through shared experiences of things that we find funny together. Successful marriages are often filled with shared humor, which brings people closer together.

Endorphins trigger feelings of pleasure. Endorphins can increase immune functioning, relieve stress, improve cardiovascular health, reduce anxiety, make one feel safer, and improve mood.

Laughter can also work to cause the limbic system to reappraise feelings of fight or flight. It can also if used before some expected experience of pain say getting a shot it can increase our ability to tolerate pain. Laughter is a reset button of sorts. In moments of sadness, anxiety, or fear we can laugh, really laugh and the brain relaxes its response.

The best laughter that releases the most good chemicals is the good old belly laugh. Ones where you are crying tears of happiness, your face hurts, and your belly muscles get a workout. It’s like a super shot of happiness espresso to your brain and body.

Laughing with others is a lot easier especially when the other person provides something to laugh about. But what about when you are alone and need a good chemical pick me up? What makes you laugh? Really laugh? Is it movies, TV shows, funny videos? Use what makes you laugh if you need a pick me up and laugh away all by yourself!

Lough out loud. By yourself or with others. Most people when they see or hear other people laughing they laugh too, it’s the same with smiles. Laughter is contagious and very, very good medicine.

Find your funny often. The benefits for your brain and body are tremendous and the affects it can have on your mental heath are amazing.

Laugh out loud – a lot.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Stop Saying Sorry

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Are you an over-apologizer?

Do you say you are sorry constantly? For everything. Not just when you have actually done something wrong but when someone just makes you feel like you have?

Someone makes a comment about something you say or do or wear and you apologize for it as if it is some offense you have caused by being yourself. As if the things you enjoy are somehow wrong because the other person does not like them or makes fun of them.

Let’s say your significant other states that they would like some space in the relationship and you say sorry as if you have caused this distress. They are the one that made the request and you took it as your responsibility.

Usually when someone has an over-apologizer trait they have some conditioned belief that they are the cause of other people’s distress or unhappiness. Usually learned in early childhood when a primary caregiver makes them feel that they are in some ways wrong.

Many times this is reinforced in school by peers who tease and bully and even those who we call friends and are in relationships with can make us feel that our choices are wrong we should be ashamed of them. In doing so, we become ashamed of ourselves and have no confidence in what we enjoy or look like.

Differences are more than okay they are necessary for a diverse society. If you want to change your hair every week do it. If you want to wear cosplay to school do it. If you want to listen to KPop do it. If someone is talking about how they feel do not take responsibility for it.

Instead of saying sorry, say thank you or some other positive response. If someone tells you they do not like KPop while you are listening to it, say I find it fun and entertaining. If someone makes fun of what you are wearing, say thank you for noticing my outfit I think it looks fantastic. If someone talks about your hair and/or makeup say thank you for noticing I love trying new things it makes me happy.

If you are late say thank you for waiting for me. If you are trying to explain something to someone and feel like you are not making sense say thank you for listening to me not sorry I sound so crazy. If you need to ask for help do not say sorry I am so bad at this say thank you for helping me today.

Do not pile more negatives on yourself. Do not apologize for who you are and what you like.

Turn your negatives into positives and carry on being yourself and be bold in it. Stop saying sorry.

Red Flag Warning

People will always show you who they are. The problem is that we do not always heed the warnings.

Red flags never fail to present themselves. People may think they are able to hide who they really are, but it really is not possible. Who people are is so ingrained in their being that it will always show in some way to others.

Some warnings are subtle and are far easier to miss. Especially if we are not paying attention. Some are giant and waving right in our faces and we see them. These red flags we choose to ignore.

Why would we do that? Ignore warning signs about people? In my experience, it is almost always done through a trauma response that has left an internalized belief in our brains.

For example, someone shows you a red flag of not respecting boundaries. But due to a trauma response that makes us believe we are supposed to keep the peace or make other people happy, we allow them to cross those boundaries and every one that follows.

What if someone shows you a red flag of threatening to leave all the time if they do not get what they want. But due to a trauma response that makes us believe if they leave we will always be alone and no one else will love us, we stay in the relationship doing anything they want just so they will stay also.

If someone shows you a red flag of substance abuse ONCE. But due to a trauma response of codependence from childhood trauma with the same experiences, we stay so that we can take care of them and make sure they do not die. And they do it again and again and again and we feel we cannot leave because they might die and we would be responsible.

If someone shows you a red flag of abuse (physical, mental, verbal, sexual) ONCE. But due to a trauma response from past abuse that makes us believe we are responsible and that it is our fault, we accept that we deserve it and we do not leave or seek help and they do it again and again.

Red flags can also be more subtle such as gaslighting, manipulation, poor anger management, controlling ways, and focusing on themselves. These are sometimes harder to spot when they first start to appear, but they are still red flags and are noticeable if we are paying attention.

And herein lies the problem. Because of our trauma responses, we can start new relationships in this response space and are unable to see what is in front of us due to what is inside of us. Our internalized beliefs that are based in our own unresolved trauma can blind us to the truth. They can make it where we unable to recognize it and also unable to accept it and let go of the relationship immediately.

We can go months and years without acknowledging what is right in front of us. Even if other people see it and point it out to us over and over, we will still deny and refuse to really look at what is happening to us. Our trauma prevents it. And sometimes even when we do start processing why we stay in bad relationships, the fear of leaving still keeps us trapped.

I believe that most people sense red flags from the very beginning and they just move past them. If only we could ask ourselves questions about these sensations we might avoid a lot of hurt and trauma later.

Intentional Space

My word of the year for 2021 is intentional. According to the dictionary, intentional is an adjective meaning done on purpose; deliberate.

Being intentional is a choice. A deliberated (or thought about) choice. It is planned. Being intentional requires effort.

For most of us, our lives are a jumble of what we have to get done sprinkled liberally with the anxiety and stress of relationships, jobs, financial responsibilities and more. On many days, it can seem as we run from one thing to another trying to get everything done.

In this chaotic mess, there can be little room for intentional space. We can feel that space is something we do not have time for. And by space, I mean something that enhances our calm, relaxes our mind and bodies. The ability to have intentional space for meditation, relaxation, self-care seems lost in the frenzy of what we think HAS to be done on a daily basis. And most of that is done for others and not ourselves.

If you are like me and you thrive on calendars and planners, you probably schedule all that you have to do on a daily basis. There are reminders on your phone. Everything is laid out hour by hour and some of it scheduled well in advance – intentionally.

I intentionally fill out my planner each week. I am deliberately doing it on purpose. All my clients, meetings, notes, billing, all of it scheduled out.

I also schedule intentional space every single day. You can also schedule intentional space in your day. Of course, you have to schedule and then follow through just as you do everything else on the schedule. It cannot be pushed aside because it is for yourself and therefore deemed not as important.

Schedule intentional space for meditation, yoga, massage, walking, hobbies, self-care. Whatever helps you to relax and gain space (or margin) in your life for that moment in time on that day.

You have to make your intentional space as important as your work tasks. As important as tasks you have scheduled to do for others.

Your space matters.

Intentional space in your day allows for a recalibration of your mind and body. It allows you to have space to process through things in the day that are stressful and difficult without carrying them forward.

Intentional space gives you the ability to raise your level of calm and lower your level of anxiety. Scheduling in and following through on your intentional space for yourself helps you to create acceptance of these activities as being necessary through reinforcement and repetition.

Scheduling intentional space repeatedly allows it to become a habit. One that you can repeat every day without guilt but in true acceptance and welcoming.

How will you create intentional space today?

Failure Is Not Final

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Failure is not final. Or rather there are only two ways in which failure is final.

Choosing never to try again and being dead.

Failure is a temporary condition in a moment in time. Failure does not mean that time has ceased to move and there is no point forward after.

There is always a point forward after failure if we choose to try again and if we still breathe.

Think of a time when you believed you failed at something. Did you breathe in the next moment after that? Did you continue to move forward and live the next day and the day after? Even though you believed you failed, life kept moving, you kept moving. No failure is final.

Many people give up after they fail. They believe that they will not be successful and therefore they refuse to try again. The fear of repeated failure keeps them from making another attempt.

People can also be influenced by how other people react to their failures. If someone who has traumatized us uses our failures against us, we can internalize these reactions and compound our fear of trying again.

If part of our trauma response is to believe that we cannot do anything right, then we will feel as if failure is our only outcome. We have then lost sight of the one component that can empower us to try again – hope.

Many times if we internalize our failures and increase their negative effect we can block out our actual successes. Increasing the power of our failures and the fear surrounding them makes it almost impossible to see the things we have done well or that we are good at.

If the lie we have chosen to believe is that we cannot do anything right, it will be the first thing presented by our brains whenever we try something. It will become like an automatic alarm bell going off in our heads when we think about trying again.

As long as we are alive and breathing there is another chance to try again. Failure does not stop us and it does not stop time. Only we can stop trying.

When I think of failure and trying again I am often reminded of one of my favorite movies and movie lines. In Gone With The Wind, Scarlett O’Hara having been beset by multiple trials and tribulations is all but ready to give up completely. In that moment, she gathers her strength (or resilience as the case may be) and says, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

Tomorrow is another day. In 60 seconds there is another minute. In one inhale and exhale there is another breath.

As long as we live, there is another opportunity to try again and again and again if necessary.

Failure is not final unless we allow it to be.

The Blame Game

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Blame is a very insidious thing. It seeps in and also comes out in a multitude of ways especially for those who have suffered trauma.

Those who have suffered trauma often blame others for the way their lives have turned out. It is very true that trauma can cause people to respond in a variety of unhealthy ways. The trauma response affects thinking and decision making.

The problem with blame is that it can also become a very comfortable thing. It is often times much easier to live in blame than it is to change in spite of it.

Many times trauma responses will include things like “Things can never be different because of what has happened to me.” People will often times deal in absolutes. The trauma they experienced has permanently altered their lives and every choice they make. There is no way to live differently.

Blame also serves another purpose when directed at those who have traumatized us. It lets us direct our anger. It gives our anger a path to travel towards those who have hurt us. It also can be used at times a weapon against those who have hurt us.

When we blame others do we think that it will cause them to drop to their knees and beg our forgiveness? Do we hope for apologies? Do you wish for changed relationships?

When we blame others do we think that it will erase what happened and take away our pain? Unfortunately this is not the case.

Blame allows space to continue living as we are. With blame there is no self examination. With blame there is no thought of what we can change about ourselves. With blame there is no recognition of our own ability to live differently.

Change is a very long and difficult process in some cases. It is surely much easier to stay in the blame space and forget about doing the hard work of processing through trauma.

When we blame others we give up our ability to change. Those who have hurt us may never change, but we can.

Blaming others stops our own ability to change. Stop blaming and start working on processing in order to become changed.

Happiness Now

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I recently heard someone say that you cannot wait for life to not be hard to be happy. A more powerful statement would be hard to find.

Life will always be difficult. It will be at points hard and complicated. It will be stressful and disappointing. There will always be something coming along to make things harder. Living is hard.

Many people think that if they wait until things get better or easier they can be happy. If they wait until life is less complicated and stressful happiness will follow. What happens if life is always hard?

If everyday we are waiting for our lives to be easier before we decide to be happy eventually we run out of time. There is not an unlimited amount of days for one to wait for things to be “perfect.”

It would be much easier to be happy right now if our first thoughts were of things that make us happy, ways to be happy, choosing joy intentionally. If that were what we think about first, we could block the way for thoughts of how difficult things are going to be that day or even replace them.

Will it keep things from being difficult later in the day? Probably not because this is how life is. But if you start out happy don’t you think that when the difficult comes later you might be more able to have resilience to handle it and power through it without retreating back to negativity?

What have you put off because life is just too hard? Jobs, education, relationships, self-care? What have you decided you would wait to do because things are just not “perfect?” Have children, retire, buy a home?

What would you choose to do or be happy about if you could let go of waiting for your life to get better?

Then choose it now. No one is promised the next day or the next breath. No one lives forever and life will always have struggles. Choose your happiness now.

Waiting is wasting time. Precious time that could be spent in happiness. The time for happiness is right now.