Shifting Out of Survival Mode: Week 1

While the kettle heats the water for my morning coffee, I light candles and holy wood and I focus on the soles of my feet and where they kiss the floor. The sound of the electric kettle “firing up” is comforting for me; it is familiar and a mainstay in my morning routine. Today, instead of bustling around to get the coffee press set, I pass the smoke from the burning ember of the holy wood in swirling paths around my body, giving extra nurturing and attention to areas of tension, discomfort or distress. This is just one part of the shift I’m making to get myself out of what feels like a life-long pattern of existing in survival mode.

Even with the daily meditation practice, journaling and blogging, life coaching and counseling over the years, I have still been stuck in fight-or-flight mode. Good quality sleep is elusive more nights than not. My muscles may relax for a day or two after a good massage, then they spring back into pre-massage mode – even with stretching, magnesium supplements and frequent Epsom Salt soaks. Behind my calm exterior there has lived a girl who feels constantly on guard, waiting for the other proverbial shoe to drop.

The key that unlocked my understanding? Answering 4 pages of questions about my body’s responses to different circumstances; a questionnaire assigned to me by my naturopath (a wholistic physician). After tallying up the scores for each system, she graphed a grid that showed more than 80% of my systems were in need of “high priority” attention. “This looks like PTSD; everything is hyper-sensitive,” she said calmly. Somehow, this was not a shock and instead was a bit of relief.

We developed a plan of more intensive self-care for the next 2 weeks. At first, I was resistant to the intensity – resistance has been my way as it’s hard to accept change when you already feel overwhelmed by most days.

An important change is taking a more detached or “observation” approach to my emotions. Instead of “diving into them,” which is something I have blogged about ad nauseum, it is important that I stay above my emotions and observe them which is also differentiated from staying above my emotions and ignoring them.

When I notice an emotion that is uncomfortable, I am to observe it to understand what the emotion itself may be. Then I am to give that part of myself that is hurting what it needs. If part of me is feeling lonely, then I am to give that part of myself the attention, love and nurturing it needs. Really, I would encourage you to try it, it is SO much faster and effective than what I have explained in the past.

It turns out that by diving into the emotion, I find comfort in the pain – and then I am reinforcing the pattern. It has been easier for me to feel pain than joy; for to feel joy, I have believed, means it can just as easily be taken away. Turns out I’ve been stuck in survival and victim mode! Yes, it’s way past time to shift this… 

While she did not diagnose me with PTSD, it’s clear that I’ve been stuck in survival mode. There was some freedom in hearing this. Looking back now I see that happiness, joy and feeling-at-ease have been fleeting and generally have been delivered by external circumstances.

Here are some of the survival mode patterns that I’ve noticed:

  • Frequent insomnia or restless sleep unless “everything is perfect”
  • Most externally driven changes are a challenge to accept. My first response: resistance
  • Difficulty connecting with others intimately
  • A near constant struggle to be present – even when things are going well
  • Feeling that I’m treading water and just one big wave from drowning
  • Being more “at ease” when things are uncomfortable than when things are going well. Again, just waiting for the other shoe to drop
  • Dampening of any strong emotional response due to the fear of becoming overwhelmed
  • Consistent and significant muscle tension
  • Spending a lot of energy on appearing and radiating a sense of calm!

Usually I would have waited until the end of the 2 weeks to give a retrospective account of what has happened. This, however, seemed too important to wait so long. It is also fitting that today is the Equinox, a good time to choose to shift and make changes.

May we each discover what it is that the hurting parts of us need – and then apply that salve internally, instead of seeking external fixes to our internal issues. May we each shift from a mode of surviving to one of thriving. 

Namaste

Happy Equinox!

When Pain Becomes a Companion

Recently it became apparent to me that I’d rather hold onto the pain of my past than to allow for something better, and to prevent from feeling lonely. It was something I did not realize that I was doing, thinking nor believing. In some ways, this recognition still seems somewhat surreal to me: who the heck would hold onto their pain? (well, me, that’s who…for starters).

In speaking with my creative life coach, Sam, I told her that I still felt there was something in the way of a fuller expression of my creativity. She had me sit back, take a few deep breaths and then she asked me for what I “saw” (as in visualized) when I went within the part of me that felt something was in the way. Immediately, I saw myself standing on a catwalk over a huge dam. The water was spilling over the top, yet there was still much of the river being held back.

Next, Sam asked me to allow the river to flow more readily in a way that was comfortable for me. The dam wall then began to retract downwards and the water was fully released. In fact, it was released to the point that I sat in a dried up river bed looking up at an empty expanse of “nothing.”

It really bothered me to be in this vacuity. It was not a complete vacuum, yet the space was immense and left me feeling utterly lonely. Almost immediately, I was looking up at the walls of the canyon, wanting to climb out. She asked me to stay and reluctantly, I did so. Eventually, I began to feel at peace in this inner landscape of my own making.

It was later in the week that I saw the pattern emerging that I was also more comfortable holding onto scraps than allowing myself to wait for something better. Again, pain was my companion.

Now when I feel that I’m hoarding my emotions, or my emotional responses to something, I am sitting with it and imagining the whole dam(n) wall retracting into the ground. All of the emotions are then able to move freely. Sometimes I am left at the bottom of the riverbed, other times I grow out of the canyon.

What I’m seeing is that in allowing the emotions to run their course internally I can then see things differently. I no longer need to hold onto my pain to avoid feeling lonely… pain no longer needs to be my companion.

May we each find peace with our pain, allowing it all to flow so that we can each live more fully again.

Namaste

Return to Innocence

There was something inside that I wanted to hide. The true name of what it was that caused my shame was unknown to me. I could see some of the situations from my childhood in which it seemed to be rooted. And I had spent nearly a decade tugging up various “weeds” to get to the root of my shame problem. Yet, the deep rooted shame was still there.

Last week, I started the process of using EFT or emotional freedom technique to systematically begin to return to innocence through the process of forgiveness. Within just a day, I began to feel my shame load lighten. It was even more amazing after five! (The book is Forgiveness: 21 Days to Forgive Everyone for Everything by Iyanla Vanzant.)

Then, while at a party to celebrate my birthday something happened. Well after dark, while surrounded by friends on an outdoor patio of a local bar, a young boy about 7 years old walked up to me and was trying to solicit something. He spoke so softly and the crowd was so loud that I could not here him. My mind, intoxicated by the celebration – not bourbon – was unable to fully process what was happening! He held up a piece of paper in front of his chest with printed lettering, something apparently given to him by an adult to legitimize his solicitation. In my confusion over the juxtaposition, I gently yet firmly said to him, “No thank you.” I turned to my friends and commented how surreal that was for me. Then I quickly moved on. I didn’t even turn around to see if he had left.

Later that night the memory flooded back in. The next morning, the heaviness of guilt-ridden emotions followed. Why had I not done something more? How could I dismiss this child instead of protecting him and asking questions such as where was his parent/guardian? I was absolutely disgusted with myself!

I meditated, breathed into the physical and emotional pains and also used EFT that day on several elements: anger, sadness, and guilt. I sat through the emotional storms and rode some mighty waves. I even did a constellation on the incident (I’ll need another post to explain what this meant!) and sent a prayer request to a friend for myself and the boy. I also sent prayers to his “guardians.” I even tried to talk it out to get it off my chest and also asked a trusted friend who was at the party about the incident.

While each use of a modality helped to move me through something more, there were still some lingering pangs of guilt. The next day, I told a retired social worker about the incident; as if she could grant me absolution. Tears came to my eyes and I still got choked up. It was apparent that I still felt guilty for not doing more. It was also apparent to me at some point that the boy, due to his estimated age, also reminded me of my own son. In some way, I had “taken” responsibility for this boy as if I were his parent!

Through continued mindfulness while allowing the upwelling of all of the emotions, I finally saw the keys to unlock my cage of guilt. One key was that I recognized I was angry with myself for not protecting and honoring his innocence, as I would for my own son. And the skeleton key was seeing how my own childhood innocence had not been protected nor honored by adults who “should have” done so. After this recognition, the tears no longer flowed. The light bulb was now lit: I needed to see, honor and protect my own innocence.

That evening I attended a mini constellation therapy session in which my intention was to replace shame with innocence. Through my ancestors, I was able to receive further support in transmuting the lifelong shame I had felt back into innocence.

While there are still some areas to work through, I feel that a significant amount of shame and its emotional burden has been relieved. I share this story to illustrate that emotional freedom can seem elusive when we are moving through any upwellings. It is unlocked through persisting at allowing the emotions to become our teachers, in spite of what we may be feeling. Had I dismissed my feelings about this incident, as I had the boy in the bar, I would have missed an opportunity to reclaim my own innocence; my own freedom from shame.

Letting go now has a new meaning for me. It wasn’t about letting go of the story, my feelings nor the boy, it was letting go of control of it all to rediscover the innocence I had been missing.

May we each find the roots behind the story, so that we may each be free of our suffering in new ways. We all become more free, even if just by degrees, by each root that is disentangled. This is not just about individual suffering as we each suffer with one another, at least on some level, both directly and indirectly.

Namaste

Celebrating Life as a New Dawn Rises

Today is my birthday and for the first time I am seeing my life as something to celebrate more than to mourn. Instead of fearing life, myself, my gifts and my relationship with myself and my God, I am seeing my life as a gift for myself, from God, for the world.

Yet, from early on I had believed that life was hard; love was hard or if anything was too easy that it was unfulfilling. To feel worthy I believed that I must endure, that I must sweat, labor and toil. I had lost faith in the paths that were high or too easy. I had lost faith in God to provide for me, because I repeatedly choose to see and experience life through the lenses of suffering.

Well, sometimes we have to hit rock bottom to be able to rise up. For it is at the bottom that we can see the roots of our suffering from their point of origin. We can then choose to pluck from our lives the falsehoods; the beliefs that keep us from being reborn. By reborn I mean that each moment and each day is a new opportunity to be and live life differently.

For these reasons, the struggle had been my focus. Believing that the struggle was what gave me strength, I found myself climbing and climbing to no end. Well, that was, until the bottom would drop out and I’d find myself at a new rock bottom, over and over again. Meanwhile, what I’m rediscovering today is that there is no need to struggle. That the struggle is only as real as I make it; as real as I allow it to be. Compassion is the key to release.

  • The top 5 tools that I’ve found helpful in developing more compassion for myself and others, thus “flipping this switch” are:
    • Daily meditation: guided and unguided (the Insight Timer app is amazing)
      Forgiveness: 21 Days to Forgive Everyone for Everything by Iyanla Vanzant has been such an amazing release!
      Self-Care: time off of work, massages, ionic foot detoxes, acupressure, journaling, salt baths, Naturopathy
      Mindfulness: being aware of what emotions are rising up to be acknowledged and then breathing into/being with the emotions in this present moment
      EFT & Constellation Therapy: both help to get to and clear the root causes of the beliefs that suffering is necessary

    Yes, there are still beliefs that I’m sorting through and changing, releasing. There are still pangs of fear and insecurity. However, their power over me is lost. They may roll me down the hill, yet I’m quicker to respond to myself with compassion sooner, instead of questioning, resisting or cowering as my faith is stronger than ever that I will survive it.

    May each one of us find within ourselves the space to believe in ourselves again. May we find the root causes of our suffering, so that we can respond to ourselves with the compassion that we deserve. May we all be free of anything that prevents our greatest selves from shining upon the world, thus helping to bringing a new dawn to this amazing world.

    With each person’s candle that is lit,
    we each begin to see more clearly.
    ~Tiffany C.

    Namaste

    Ganesha The remover of obstacles

    It’s Okay to be Okay

    This lesson may be just as, if not more, difficult to understand than “being okay with not being okay.” When things are going well for me, I find that I look for the “bad things” on the horizon. Why can I not be okay with what’s happening?

    When life is going well, it’s as if I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. I find that my eyes are on the horizon, searching for any potential storms, pirates, tsunamis or other “dangers” that could threaten my happiness. What?! How does this even make sense? Instead of being grateful for where I am and enjoying what I do have, my eyes focus on the potential negatives.

    We get what we look for. I’m searching for issues so guess what? Then I’m going to get more issues. Those potential issues then become my focus instead of enjoying the calm waters and sunny skies that surround me now.

    So here today, I choose to redirect the focus to where I am now, and away from seeking threats that are outside of my safe harbor; that are also outside of my control. Putting down the binoculars, I can now focus on the present. Even if the present is impermanent.

    I extend this wish out to each of you: May we each find the peace and comfort in where we are, even if it’s rough sometimes, even when it’s easy sometimes. Knowing that it is all transient: it will change, so let’s be okay with where we are today.

    Note: This is different from complacency, this is about acceptance of what is. Only then can we choose to change course. ❤️

    Namaste

    Being Okay With Not Being Okay

    I asked God what it was that I was missing as I was “doing the work” and yet felt so unhappy. My message was “to be okay with not being okay.” I needed to accept that sometimes it really is OKAY to not be okay. This year has had more than its share of heartbreaks, heartaches and tragedy: things I also see as growth – and yet with growth there is also loss for which I had not allowed myself to fully grieve.

    Wow! This was a real eye-opener for me. While I could see my desired goal of where I wanted to be “in joy,” it was completely blocked because I was refusing to allow myself to be okay with where I was: NOT okay.

    Recovery is about surrendering into the NOW, even if where we are right now feels like a cesspool. We worry that if we allow ourselves to be okay with our misery, that we will stay there – WHAT?! Say that again! If we are okay with our misery, we fear that we will stay there. This fear actually keeps us stuck!

    It is in allowing ourselves our misery, our mourning, our grief, our anger, our fears and our sadness that helps us to rise out of the muck! The release is almost instantaneous and is proportional to the amount of freedom we allow ourselves in our wallowing. Acceptance leads to freedom.

    It is in denying ourselves our true emotions that we are blocked. Trying to be rosy and cute when we feel blue and ugly serves NO ONE.

    Allowing the storm requires support in some form. Trusted friends & family, a good counselor, radical self-care and self-compassion help us to get through these tough spots. We are NOT alone, even when at the lowest points it can feel that way.

    May you find peace today in the places where you do not feel okay. May we accept where we are so we can let go and embrace the bliss that is awaiting us when we allow the mess.

    Namaste

    #NoMudNoLotus

    The Rise After The Fall: Having Fun While Overcoming Fears Part II

    Last weekend, I went “surfing” again. This time I took along a friend who was inspired by my surfing story because she, too, had had a fear of “deep water.” She said that she would try surfing if she had a friend to go with her. So we gave it a go!

    While the waves were somewhat small, we were having to fight rather hard to get past the “white water” to the surf line. There was a storm off the coast and the waves were fair to choppy and the sets were close together to where we were hit by another wave just after recovering from the wave before – it was as if we were treading water on surfboards!

    The storm system was also creating “rogue” waves from time to time that would break much earlier than the others. Well, one grabbed hold of me and took me straight to the sandbar. Once I hit the bottom, the wave tumbled me much like a pebble.

    What was amazing for me? Instead of feeling any sense of danger or fear for my life, I felt a sense of peace that everything was going to be alright. This is really, really huge for me. I feel I need to restate it: this is really, really huge for me. I had an inner knowing of peace, calm and that all would be okay. It was. When the Atlantic Ocean released her grip, I was literally on my feet without any real effort to get there.

    The fighting to get past the whitewater had worn me out, especially since I was still recovering from feeling quiet worn out from my workweek. So I did not feel like fighting the waves anymore. Instead, I retrieved my board (via the leash) and caught a wave that safely took me all the way to the shoreline.

    This surfing adventure was a new level to my understanding of Spirituality. Sometimes life takes us down to the bottom, yet by surrendering and being in trust, we can quickly rise back up. When we stop fighting the forces, we can easily get back to our peace. 

    This analogy also works emotionally and physically. It was in fighting that I wore myself out. It was in allowing that I was set free of my fears. It was in faith that I knew all would be okay, and I’ve used that analogy of being the pebble when a “life wave” takes me under and threatens to overwhelm me. Then it is in allowing that I was given rest, reprieve and the greatest leap forward.

    Namaste

    Demystifying Traumatic Stress: It’s really not mental – initially

    Despite the common belief that stress is “mental and controllable,” the stress response is actually a reflex. This means that the conscious (cerebral cortex) part of our brain is not involved in the process. When faced with an event that threatens us, leaves us feeling helpless or that horrifies us, our stress response is activated. This means that even a threat can activate the stress response.

    So what is the stress response? Many call it the fight or flight response, however, there is also a freeze response, too. With the stress response, the body goes into overdrive. Muscles tense to prepare for action. Our senses become piqued – to take in more information. Our brains also have difficulty focusing during this time, probably to help us to respond to any changes in our surroundings. Breathing and heart rates increase to support the increased demand of oxygen for our muscles. Meanwhile, our digestive tract shuts down, to shunt energy and blood flow to our other organs that are geared for survival.

    Sometimes, we can even dissociate – or feel like we are “out of our bodies.” In extreme cases, where we believe that death is imminent, these same process occur and yet our muscles freeze in place and we are unable to move.

    In nature, animals who experience a stress response work through the cascade of biochemical reactions by the actions of fighting, fleeing or literally “shaking if off” after freezing.

    In his book, “Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma,” Peter Levine discusses the anxiety and depression that can result from blunting or blocking the unfolding of the trauma response. In our modern society, we often suppress this natural “reset” process. This is when the conscious control takes hold and can “get us into trouble” and may lead to long-term effects such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. According to Levine, it is in allowing ourselves to unfold from the trauma that we are able to move beyond it.

    Trauma is confusing. It can shake us to our cores and cause us to question our safety, our roles and how we are living our lives. When the trauma becomes “stuck” within us, we can mess up in even our basic roles. Parents can forget to parent. Students can have difficulty studying. Employees can have difficulty focusing. In our confusion, in a way, we forget who we are.

    The unprocessed trauma also gets locked in our bodies and can also cause physical effects. For instance, over a week after being on scene following a fatal motorcycle accident, I noticed difficulty moving my left arm. As a physical therapist, I began to investigate the muscles and low & behold, my neck and shoulder muscles were “on fire,” so I naturally began to release the tension. The next day, I had a headache and felt like every sound was piercing my body. It was bizarre. I can only guess that unlocking the tension in my muscles released some of the unprocessed chemicals from the stress response. More things then began to unwind.

    Things which usually were easy for me to do were suddenly a challenge. I could not focus if there were noises around. I felt like I had ADHD and sitting still was torture. I wanted to move – I wanted to keep going – didn’t necessarily know where, but movement was imperative. Rushing became my M.O. – again, for no external reason, I just felt like everything was moving in slo-mo and it was time to speed it all up. As such, my ability to prioritize was also off. Everything had an air of vital importance, and needed to be completed NOW! Or two minutes ago.

    I was driving myself (and my children) crazy. It was at this point that I decided to read about the traumatic stress response, when everything that I was experiencing began to make sense. And it was then that I also stopped fighting it. Soon enough, the irritation dimmed down quite significantly. While sadness soon followed, after a day or so my smile returned.

    What I discovered first-hand in this process was what Levine described: that allowing the process to unfold, I was able to return to a greater sense of clarity. Do I believe the process is over, no, I don’t. Yet I am in a better place now than I was even a week ago.

    Self-care during this sensitive time has been crucial. I have used each and every one of these following tools; some more than others. Luckily, many of these were part of my daily routine.

    May we each find and use the supportive tools we each need in recovery.

    These are the things that I have found helpful in this process:

    • Prayer & prayer requests
    • Constellation Therapy Sessions
    • Awareness of my emotions and focusing on “being present” in my body, reaffirming “I am here” to bring myself more fully present
    • Allowing the tension – my visualization is to see the muscles unlocking, as if I were peeling open a banana. It sounds too simple to be true. Find an analogy/visualization that works for you. Then repeat it!
    • Daily Meditation (2 times/day at bare minimum)
    • Gratitude: for life, for my safety, for everything!
    • Salt Baths – for relaxation of tight muscles
    • Homeopathics
    • Ionic Foot Bath (yes, this was amazingly
    • helpful to get past the insomnia – really)
    • Essential Oils
    • More meditation – grounding, breathing, being present
    • Writing/Journaling
    • Qigong
    • EFT Tapping
    • Exercise: Walking, Stretching
    • Eating Well
    • “Taking it easy” – avoiding over-stimulation
    • Massages
    • Breathing
    • Researching/reading to understand the trauma response
  • Namaste
  • Heal Thyself

    In our internal pain, we often seek from others the elixir that we really need from ourselves. Other times we consciously or unconsciously lash out against others and hurt them, in an attempt to ease our own suffering. It is in beginning within that we can identify what is lacking so that we may give that missing love to ourselves.

    Supportive modalities can include:

    • Meditation
    • Prayer
    • Laughter
    • EFT Tapping
    • Surrendering into the feelings – our emotions cannot kill us, blocking them can cause dis-ease
    • Journaling
    • Counseling or Life-Coaching
    • Breath works
    • Salt baths
    • More prayer
    • Daily devotions
    • Exercise – especially stretching such as with Yoga
  • When we seek outside of ourselves to fill the void, we miss the mark. It is truly when we allow ourselves to surrender into the emotions, or ask our Higher Selves to step in, again, through surrender, that we can rise above the pain and begin to feel love and open again. The love is already there, we just need to unlock it from behind the pain.
  • Hurt people hurt others. It is imperative that we each learn how to heal ourselves. Otherwise, we continue to perpetuate the cycle of victim-perpetrator. These are two sides of the same coin.
  • May we each unblock a new level of peace within; this is where healing the planet begins.
  • Namaste
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