Sometimes it feels like this

Mr. Grumpledump’s Song
Shel Silverstein, 1930 – 1999

Everything’s wrong,
Days are too long,
Sunshine’s too hot,
Wind is too strong.
Clouds are too fluffy,
Grass is too green,
Ground is too dusty,
Sheets are too clean.
Stars are too twinkly,
Moon is too high,
Water’s too drippy,
Sand is too dry.
Rocks are too heavy,
Feathers too light,
Kids are too noisy,
Shoes are too tight.
Folks are too happy,
Singin’ their songs.
Why can’t they see it?
Everything’s wrong!

Uh oh…here we go again

Lockdown 2.0, eh? Here’s some bits of absolutely unproven advice to help you through lockdown

DON’T BINGE! if you can restrict yourself to one episode of something you want to watch every day, then every day you have something to look forward to tomorrow. Seems very simple but it gives you one little bit of meaning to your day.

Dont binge news. Check in once a day at most.

Laugh. Sadly, Sean Locke, a wonderful english comedian passed away the other day and I’ve been enjoying a few of his moments on Youtube (eg. “carrot in a box”). Laughing lifts your mood, so it really doesn’t matter what tickles your fancy, as long as you tickle it.

Try to do something productive. Again, the internet is a great resource for learning a new skill, no matter how small. It maybe something you can’t apply until after lockdown (like a new ski technique) but learning and practicing it now will slow lethergy setting in.

Slow counselling hits the spot

I get massage fairly regularly.  I had an interesting conversation recently with my masseuse about “hard massage”.  She told me that men often come along wanting a hard massage.  When she asks them about their history of massage she learns they have never had one or had one some years before.  She told me you cannot leap straight into a hard massage.  Your body is unfamiliar with that touch and experiencing that pain and your body will fight it.  You will tense up, resist the pressure and instead of getting massaged you will just get bruised.  It takes time and practice for your body to trust and relax and accept the pressure (and pain) so that the massage can actually release the tension, rather than exacerbate it.

Tough conversations can be exactly the same.  I work with those who have been traumatised through sexual abuse. Some come along to the first session having mentally steeled themselves to reveal their horrific past.  We don’t do that.  We dial it back and start softly.  If we leap into the trauma all that happens is we re-traumatise the person and they don’t come back, and feel that they are unfixable.

We start slowly, working in the clients current life to see how the trauma from years before “plays out” in their life at the moment. We look at meanings about themselves came from the trauma, and how those meanings (such as “I’m powerless”, “I’m disgusting” “I’m unsafe”) affect how they react to things in their life. We look at how various relationships are impacted by the trauma. For many living with the trauma of an assault, their “normal” is anything but. It might take a year or more before we can begin to go towards addressing the traumatic memory.

By taking things real slow, we can work our way towards undoing the damage of a traumatic experience and those people can begin to accept and love themselves, feel safer and enjoy better relationships.

Soft words to come back together

When we fight, we push each other away. It can often feel like there is a massive gap between us, and neither of us knows how to reach across that gap.

We are both stuck, staring at each other across the void, kept apart by hurt, resentment, anger, and fear that anything we do might push us further apart.

This is the time for soft words. The purpose of these words is not to fix anything, not to try to figure out the fight or come to any resolution, but simply to reach across the gap and say, “Hey, I’m still here.” The message of these words are hope and regret. They are not apologies, promises, explanations, and they don’t need to be explained or expanded on. They stand alone. They are words to simply be heard by the other. Here are a few suggestions of some soft words you can share:

“I wish that fight didn’t happen.”

“I hate it when we hurt each other like that.”

“I hope we can get back to being close soon.”

“I miss the us when we are in a good space.”

Words like those are invitations to heal the hurt. They are a great place to start the to journey across the gap to each other.

Ka kite anō

“That man is suffering from memories!”

Sigmund Freud is attributed with stating that well over a hundred years ago. Our memories of the past are wide and diverse, the proverbial “another country”. Some are beautiful places we like to visit and rest and rejuvenate ourselves in, moments of happiness, pride, joy. Others are darker, shabbier places that we go with with shame, regret, sadness or loneliness.

for some of us there are worse places in our mind…places of raw terror. Memories so painful that even a glimpse of them over the horizon is enough to have us trembling.

Often, in our present we stumble across a landscape that is familiar and, unconsciously, we believe that we know know where we are going….that we have been there before and it is familiar. I struck this with a client recently. He realised that in some of his interactions with his wife, he felt trapped and powerless. I asked him how old he felt when he was in these difficult times and he reported feeling like a teenager. When we explored these a bit deeper he realised that they resembled a difficult time of his childhood when his mother was “dumping” on him and he felt trapped and powerless. He experienced a “resonance”…echos of a difficult emotional time. He was drawn back to being a powerless teenager.

There is a very helpful book titled, “The body keeps the score” by Bessel van der Kolk. This book dives into the somatic experience of things. Somatics are the sensations we feel, as distinct from emotions. Often when we are triggered by something happening now, into a painful or traumatic memory, our body reacts and floods us with adrenaline and cortisol and we feel anxious….and we react out of that anxiety, shutting down, flaring up or running from the situation. Sometimes the way out fo this triggering is simply to notice and acknowledge that somatic reaction, and put it in the past where it belongs…however, “simply” can take a bit of training and work.

This says it all

I was recently at a workshop and the tutor read this poem by Jeff Foster which, I think, says a lot that many of us can identify with.

HOW I BECAME A WARRIOR

Once, I ran from fear 
so fear controlled me.
Until I learned to hold fear like a newborn.
Listen to it, but not give in.
Honour it, but not worship it.
Fear could not stop me anymore.
I walked with courage into the storm.
I still have fear, 
but it does not have me.

Once, I was ashamed of who I was.
I invited shame into my heart.
I let it burn. 
It told me, “I am only trying
to protect your vulnerability”.
I thanked shame dearly, 
and stepped into life anyway,
unashamed, with shame as a lover.

Once, I had great sadness 
buried deep inside.
I invited it to come out and play. 
I wept oceans. My tear ducts ran dry.
And I found joy right there.
Right at the core of my sorrow.
It was heartbreak that taught me how to love.

Once, I had anxiety.
A mind that wouldn’t stop.
Thoughts that wouldn’t be silent.
So I stopped trying to silence them.
And I dropped out of the mind, 
and into the Earth.
Into the mud.
Where I was held strong 
like a tree, unshakeable, safe.

Once, anger burned in the depths.
I called anger into the light of myself.
I felt its shocking power. 
I let my heart pound and my blood boil.
Listened to it, finally.
And it screamed, “Respect yourself fiercely now!”.
“Speak your truth with passion!”.
“Say no when you mean no!”.
“Walk your path with courage!”.
“Let no one speak for you!”
Anger became an honest friend.
A truthful guide. 
A beautiful wild child.

Once, loneliness cut deep.
I tried to distract and numb myself. 
Ran to people and places and things.
Even pretended I was “happy”. 
But soon I could not run anymore.
And I tumbled into the heart of loneliness.
And I died and was reborn
into an exquisite solitude and stillness.
That connected me to all things.
So I was not lonely, but alone with All Life.
My heart One with all other hearts.

Once, I ran from difficult feelings.
Now, they are my advisors, confidants, friends,
and they all have a home in me, 
and they all belong and have dignity.
I am sensitive, soft, fragile, 
my arms wrapped around all my inner children.
And in my sensitivity, power.
In my fragility, an unshakeable Presence.

In the depths of my wounds, 
in what I had named “darkness”,
I found a blazing Light
that guides me now in battle.

I became a warrior
when I turned towards myself.

And started listening.

– Jeff Foster

“She’s asking for it!”

I work with women (and men) who have experienced sexual abuse. One of the things that leave them confused and with a deep sense of worthlessness is the inevitable question, “What did I do wrong to deserve this?”. Victims of abuse frequently blame themselves…they suspect that they did something to attract the assault so somehow the assault it was their fault.

Sadly, as a society, for a long time we have endorsed this thinking, particularly with women. That we allow lawyers to ask questions like, “what were you wearing?”, “How much had you had to drink?”, and to probe a woman’s sexual history, as if that somehow made the assault justifiable, locks into our social thinking that women are responsible for being raped.

The list of things women shouldn’t do is endless. What they shouldn’t wear, how they shouldn’t behave, where they shouldn’t go, what they shouldn’t say, how they shouldn’t look at a man. These notions underpin the thinking that, “she was asking for it”.

If we want a just society we need to unequivocally endorse all women’s right to be safe and this starts with upholding the statement that there is nothing a woman can do to “ask for it”. Judges need to stop lawyers from asking any question that suggests the victim was responsible for the crime.

While this is a deadly serious point, these guys have taken a fun look at where that thinking might go, if we took it in the other direction.

A point of clarification – at the outset I said I see both men and women who have been sexually assault. While there are similarities in the trauma of being assaulted the societal meanings differ. Men face their own, distinct challenges of identity around sexual assault which lead to a similar sense of worthlessness. Sexual assault destroys lives. It’s something that many people don’t recover from and struggle to deal with. The time to tolerate or justify it has long past.

Ka kite anõ

Trauma, a game changer

Trauma occurs when something intensely terrifying and/or painful happens and the person has no ability to control the situation. Combat soldiers who are bombed or pinned down, those who experience a sexual or phsical assault, being involved in a car crash, or seeing something horrific can often lead to trauma.

When this happens, your brain gets injured. The difference between physical injuries and mental ones is that the physical ones are obvious, and since we can see them we can treat them. The mental ones are not so obvious and we tend to think the person will “just get over them”, but that doesn’t necessarily happen. If you break a leg and don’t get it set and cast, you will limp and experience pain forever. the same can happen with a trauma.

When you experience a trauma, the most common injury is that a part of your brain called the amygdala stops functioning properly. The amygdala is the “smoke alarm” – it warns you of danger. For most people it sits pretty inactive until they sense something very dangerous then it fires up and our body gets that horrible feeling of tension and on alert. For those who have experienced a trauma, it is almost always firing….they go through life with the physical sensation of danger everywhere. Their life is one of constant stress.

When this happens their lives begin to shut down. They find leaving the house difficult, going certain places that resemble the site of the trauma impossible and situations overwhelming. It may be difficult for the person or others to understand the connection between the sense of danger and the trauma. Why do combat vets get anxious in supermarket carparks? Why can a woman who has been raped not get on a bus? The connections become clear when the trauma is explored.

Sadly a lot of trauma sufferers find their own therapy to get rid of that constant feeling of danger. They drink, take drugs, engage in risky behaviours and lash out at those around them. Those who have experienced a trauma use these to give themselves relief from the constant misery and fear that the trauma has left them with. If someone broke a leg and didn’t get it fixed and walked with constant pain and a limp, we would empathise with them using drugs or alcohol to escape that constant pain. We struggle to do that with trauma because the injury is not visible, but it is just as real. One of the problems of the debate on drugs and alcohol abuse is that we see those as a “problem” and a “crime”. In a great many cases it is a “symptom” of trauma and if we could see it that way we would have a much better approach for dealing with it.

Working with trauma sufferers is the work I most enjoy, because it is so wonderful to see people begin to live a life of freedom, ambition and hope that trauma stole from them. It is slow, because it has to be. Trauma sufferers have to feel completely safe to talk about their trauma and that might not happen until they have been meeting with a therapist for many months.

If you have had a trauma, I would urge you to see a therapist who is experienced in trauma to get it resolved. It is probably affecting you and those around you more than you realise. If it has come about through a sexual assault it is covered by ACC. Find out more at tautokomai.co.nz

Nga mihi

Steve

Beware! – week 3 is on us!

Hi all,

I thought the article below is worth sharing.  Certainly something to think about. It comes to me from Robert Jenkinson, a respected counsellor.  I’m not sure who the author of the article is but they deserve our thanks for sharing something absolutely worth listening to.

As you read it think of some of the things you might need to do, or discuss with whoever you are locked down with to get through this week in particular…I’ve made some suggestions after this article.

“Back in NZ when I was a Probation Officer, I was a Home Detention specialist – managing offenders ‘tagged’ to stay at home, (up to 12 months) who would otherwise have received a prison sentence. I managed a wide variety of people, but they all went through distinct stages of their sentence, that I monitored closely.

Since we are all now effectively on Home Detention – I thought it worth sharing these stages so you are aware of the very real impact this sort of confinement will have – I know I’m feeling it & have a genuine appreciation for what my ‘offenders’ went through.

  • First two weeks – bit of a novelty, settling in & doing lots of odd jobs round the house – becoming aware of the domestic relationship dynamic (at least other household members were able to come & go) – getting used to the ‘territory’ restrictions – some were accepting – others really resisted & argued & pounded the ‘fence line’.
  • Week Three (this is key! & happened pretty much like clockwork) – a real malaise hit ( acute confinement depression) – this was the week I really had to watch as people would all cope with it differently- a real despair & feeling like a loss of their entire world – defeat would set in.
  • Week Four onwards (this is also very key!) Adapting – The penny would drop about all the new opportunities that presented themselves from this new way of living – I saw creative minds start mapping out a more productive future- studying – business ideas – self improvement- relationship challenges – finally addressing the internal issues that got them where they were etc etc. This was when the ‘good work started’ – & their nearest & dearest really started to notice significant change.

The planet has been given a ‘wake up call’ – we’ve all got the opportunity to dig deep & examine the issues that got us here & how we can expand more as individuals- lets all make it count.

Just watch out for Week Three people, & look after & support one another.”

Things you can do for yourself.

Practice appreciation.  When you get up, when you go to bed, and maybe at a point in the middle of the day, appreciate what you have…a roof over your head, a warm bed, good (hopefully) health, food, a toothbrush, a friend or two, family…maybe.  Appreciation might help offset some of the negative or hopeless thoughts that one up in this time.

Mindfullness.  If you find negative thoughts cycling, bring your awareness to your body…maybe to your breathing…do something mindful, like make a cup of tea or coffee and focus intensely on all the sounds, sights, smells and physical feelings (the way your muscles are moving and the sensation of the fabric on your skin) as you do this…. One little mindful exercise I do is to hold my hand in front of my face and move my fingers, feeling all the muscles and tendons in my arms working as I do this.

Reach out.  Now we have all been sent to our rooms we can utilise technology to connect.  Maybe use this time to talk to family who are overseas or reconnect with someone you have lost touch with.  I struggle to do this myself as I always feel like I am disturbing the other so I send a text…”free for a Skype chat” and we are off.  There are many electronic platforms that allow us to connect with others.

Keep busy.  Dedicate some time each day to focusing on something purposeful that requires you to concentrate  Read a book, do a puzzle, clean the windows.  Avoid binge watching…it simply drains you.  You might be better off selecting several series’ and watching one episode of each per night…so you have something to look forward to tomorrow.

Exercise.  The connection between physical and emotional wellness is well documented.  At this time this may be really hard to do.  If you are struggling, maybe you can rope in some assistance…take a child or partner with you on a walk.

Living with others.  This is a week where things might go wrong…niggles might flare into fights.

Talk about what is going on for yourself with the other.  It’s not about blaming them…it’s about acknowledging and sharing your feelings…”I’m feeling angry about…”, “ I’m feeling hopeless right now.”, “I just can’t be bothered…”. It’s not about changing anything…it’s about being heard.

Try to sort out the small stuff, and hear what it is like for the other.  Leaving teabags in the sink, socks on the floor, half drunk cups around the place may be points of tension.  If you were to ask the others for some thing (not a list) you could do for each other that might lower tension and focus on getting that done, tensions might reduce.  If the other person doesn’t get their thing 100% right every time, try to let it go…appreciate their attempts and successes, not their failures.

Hope this helps and week 3 goes smoothly for you.

Nga mihi

Steve