Own Your Story or Run From It?

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Have you ever stopped and asked yourself what type of role you want to play within your own life? Perhaps this may look like you wondering if you would prefer to be the writer of your own story, perhaps the co-writer, or maybe neither. Maybe the role you want to play within your life involves handing over the pen to someone else and giving them responsibility and power to write your story for you. Perhaps this feels safer?

 

Often the mere idea of writing and owning our own story can, for many, bring up an immense amount of discomfort because it involves things such as; integrity, bravery, risk, and courage. While we tell ourselves we want to live brave and courageous lives while being in alignment with our integrity, we may find ourselves choosing what is comfortable and/or familiar instead.

 

If you reflect for a moment on your day to day life, whose story are you living? Are you living out and owning your own story? Perhaps a version of it that keeps you safe? Sometimes we wander along the edge of our story. Close enough to be partially in it and close enough to be disengaged from it when we need/choose to be. We often disengage from our story as a way of self protection and personal comfort.

 

Part of truly owning our story and thus understanding ourselves on a deeper level may involve having a true sense of where we came from, what shaped us, and how we were conditioned. Exploring these things can bring us a better understanding of why we are the way we are. Why we react the way we do. Why we respond the way we do. Why and how we relate to others. The ways in which we trust or do not trust. They ways we are in relationships.  The excuses we tend to make. The ways in which we treat ourselves. By owning and understanding our own story, we can learn a lot – and this is sometimes the risk.

 

To own our story means to engage with our feelings and emotions, while leaning in to the story that may be underneath. For example, embracing our story can allow us to better understand why we respond the way we do in certain situations that may trigger us, or be uncomfortable for us. Do we run, avoid, or self-sabotage when we feel we are placed in an uncomfortable situation. If so, why? We may automatically answer that question by blaming the other person. “He was not available enough”, “she always seemed to want more and I could never make her happy”. While these things may be present, it is also possible that it is our lack of awareness around our true story and who we are that is getting in the way. Instead of “he was never available enough”, maybe the true story behind this was “I was often afraid to reach out and ask him for what I needed/wanted or to be vulnerable as I did not want to seem to needy”. Instead of “she always seemed to want more and I could never make her happy”, the true story may be “I often feel I am not good enough and no matter what I do it is never enough”. In these two examples you can see what is transpiring on the surface and the story that may be playing itself out underneath. For many of us, not digging to understand what is playing out underneath and owning our story, versus the story we are telling ourselves, can be rather destructive.

 

When I work with couples (and individuals), one thing we often look at is enactments and what is really going on between them at times which is causing so much challenge and or discomfort. Another way of deciphering enactments is through helping each individual to really understand and grasp what story may be playing out between them and what their individual role is within the story. This often turns the discussion from blaming one another to digging deeper into what is happening for each of them on a personal level – how they are each being triggered and what this all means. Bringing this to the surface and making sense of it is monumental and can allow for growth, both relationally and interpersonally.

 

When trying to dig into what our story is and what may be playing out in various relationships (business, romantic, partner, parental), it is important to ask ourselves “what is going on here and why?”.

Why do I really keep pushing away anyone and everyone who gets close to me?

Why am I afraid to commit?

Why do I fear telling someone how I really feel?

Why do I experience such challenge with allowing my child to have emotions?

Why do I avoid anything that involves emotions or conflict?

Why do I continue to run away from anything that seems like it may be challenging?

 

If you are brave enough to ask yourself questions and answer them honestly, you will likely start to learn a lot about yourself and what you true story is, as opposed to the one you have been telling yourself and others. It is amazing how much people risk in an effort to protect the facade of a story in order to keep themselves safe.

 

Here is the thing with denying our story. By denying our story, we are denying who we are. We end up fully disconnecting from tough emotions, but the thing with emotions is that they don’t just go away because we tell them to. They come back, perhaps in various forms (anxiety/anger/depression, etc) and they take control and they intensify.

 

So, why do we have such challenge in owning our story in the first place? What gets in the way? The answer is often fear. Fear gets in the way. Perhaps you are uncomfortable with difficult emotions and the way they make you feel. You become afraid of feeling discomfort and as a result do anything and everything you can to not feel. Being in the discomfort may also make you feel vulnerable. While vulnerability is a strength, perhaps you experience it as a weakness and as such you fear not only the judgment from others, but your own.

 

Sadly, many people choose to run from anything uncomfortable or that in which they fear. We have all had that experience with someone who walks, runs, sprints, or bull rushes their way from pain and/or emotional discomfort. In many ways, many of these individuals may not have been taught how to be within their own discomfort or taught that having feelings was ok and as a result they run any time they feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. Perhaps emotions were never tolerated growing up and now as adults they do not know what to do when they feel something so they do what they can to quickly get rid of it. For these individuals, owning this part of their story and acknowledging their past and they way it may be impacting their present can allow for greater self-awareness and greater connection. Once they acknowledge and own their story, running at every sign of discomfort and avoiding the situation may no longer be an option and they will likely end up living much more fulfilling lives and have healthier relationships.

 

We need to be brave enough and courageous enough to want to know more. Know more about who we are. Know more about why we are the way we are. The beauty in owning your story, is you get to hold the pen. When you write your story, you get to determine the ending. But, when we do not write our own story we deny yourself of the truth and end up running from it most of our lives.

 

Owning our story means owning our truth and while this can be painful at times, it can also be incredibly liberating.

Vulnerability Is Strength

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What feelings and/or thoughts come up for you when you imagine being vulnerable? How do you define vulnerability?

As I am writing this, I am recalling a moment which I am quite certain I will never forget. Someone, whom I value and look up to very much, looked at me (with a straight face) and said “vulnerability is strength”.  I recall feeling incredibly impacted by this statement. In many ways it rubbed up against all the ways in which I was conditioned and ended up being the birthplace of several conditioning patterns and beliefs that I eventually began to unravel and reshape.  I recall thinking that I always looked at vulnerability as something I appreciated and craved in other people.  It was something that other people did, but not me. I loved being on the receiving end of other people being brave and courageous and yes, vulnerable.  However, I held a very different set of rules for myself.  Little did I know (at that time) that that those three words (vulnerability is strength) would eventually be the exact sentiment to which not only do I aim to live my life by, but the also the countless of courageous individuals I get to witness and experience every single day.

So, what is vulnerability anyway?

I believe one of the most on point definitions I have ever read comes from Brene Brown, who defines vulnerability as:  uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. A great example that Brene uses to further explain this definition is in relation to love. In her book, Daring Greatly, she writes:

“Waking up every morning and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal until the day they die or betray us tomorrow – that’s vulnerability. Love is uncertain. It’s incredibly risky. And loving someone leaves us emotionally exposed. Yes it’s scary and yes we’re open to being hurt, but can you imagine your life without loving or being loved?”

In essence, to love is to be vulnerable and to receive love also requires you to be vulnerable. What a concept. This may also help to explain why many people also fear love because they fear being vulnerable.

Many individuals have been conditioned to associate vulnerability with weakness. “I am not going to allow myself to show how I really feel because he/she may think I am weak”. Or, “I am not going to tell this person how I truly feel about him/her because what if they do not feel the same way”. A lot of the emotions we resist are often fear based and in turn we work hard to convince ourselves not to be vulnerable.  Perhaps we believe that not being vulnerable is a strength and in turn keeps us safe – perhaps a mildly convincing story.  However, the catch in this is that vulnerability is also the foundation that leads us to the very things we often crave and desire, such as: love, connection, belonging, joy, courage, etc. Therefore if we cut ourselves off from being vulnerable in order to keep us from the uncomfortable fear-based emotions, we are automatically cutting ourselves off from experiencing the feel good emotions as well.

Vulnerability also involves boundaries – both in sharing and in receiving. Being vulnerable does not necessarily mean that you are walking around spewing your “stuff” all over the place. It is important to be mindful of what you are sharing and with whom you are sharing it with

What is your vulnerability story?

Think, for a moment, who you feel you become when you are being vulnerable? What is the current story you believe to be true? Perhaps you feel empowered, weak, liberated, terrified, anxious, or maybe connected? Now, think about how you may protect yourself against vulnerability. What type of armour or masks do you tend to put on or wear in order to protect yourself from being vulnerable? Do you wear the “I can handle everything on my own armour?”, or perhaps the “I am not going to show my emotions because people will judge me armour?”, or “I am really scared to ask for help because that shows I am in some ways inadequate armour?”. There is an immense collection of armour and masks to choose from, but it is of value to increase your awareness around which masks and armour you tend to put on, when, and with whom. In taking this a step further, you may also imagine what it would be/feel like strip them all off. To simply be within your truth and your being?

The truth is, as human beings, we crave and desire connection. While we may convince oursleves otherwise, we simply need it. Real connection does not exist without vulnerability.  Existing requires us to be vulnerable. To care is to be vulnerable. To lead is to be vulnerable. To love is to be vulnerable. To trust is to be vulnerable. The list goes on and on.

It is imperative that we continue to wonder about and explore the various ways in which we can lean in a little closer to the ways in which we can be more vulnerable and thus allow for greater connection and love in our lives. Where can we allow ourselves to truly be seen with our masks and armour off? In which ways can we risk staying within our discomfort just a little bit longer? These are some of the many wonderings we can sit with in order to dig a little more deeply into the essence of our being.

In my practice as both a Psychotherapist and Art Therapist, I am incredibly fortunate to be able to witness individuals every day being vulnerable. They are making the choice to truly show up in their lives, be within uncertainty and discomfort, and take great risks. This type of inner work is incredibly challenging, yet vastly rewarding.  I will end this post with a quote:

“vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness”

– Brene Brown.

 

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Transformation: The Process of Integration & Regression

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I will start this post with one my favourite poems by Portia Nelson which really speaks to the journey and transformation that one goes through in the course of inner healing.

 

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

1) I walk, down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost…..I am hopeless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

 

2) I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in the same place.

But, it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

 

3) I was down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it there.

I still fall in….it’s a habit.

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

 

4) I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it,

 

5) I walk down another street.

 

 

Many people embark upon the journey of self-healing, self-development, and self-exploration in several different ways.  Some may take to self-help books, or take up various hobbies to learn more about who they are.  Some may join local support groups or volunteer in their community.  Some may take courses or take up a new fitness regime. Some may take to mindfulness based practices, such as yoga and/or meditation.  Perhaps all of the above.  Either way, when an individual reaches out to me it is often the beginning or continuation of their self-healing journey from the inside out.

One of the many profound pieces that I get to witness within the work I do is how an individual transforms. This inner transformation does not come without obstacles, regressions, and set-backs, but what it often starts with is a desire to understand why they are they way they are and perhaps a desire to change while developing immense self compassion and awareness along the way.

Integration is a key piece within therapy.  As we transform we begin to integrate our story through the process of sharing it within a safe and therapeutic space.  Some of the information revealed in the therapy room is being unveiled for the first time and at times felt for the first time too.  As we share our story and feel our feelings it goes through the process of integration and as a result we begin to transform.

Throughout the integration phase, I witness my clients processing and healing from past and present experiences.  As core issues come up, we work together to identify what is being triggered at the core and then work through them in a safe space. As a result of working through core issues and and limiting beliefs, individuals develop such a profound level of self-awareness that they can readily identify their needs and begin the process of identifying how they will get their needs met in a healthy (or healthier) way.  This is all part of an individual becoming their “real self’ – who they truly are at their core.  For some, they are learning this for the first time.  For others, it is a process of returning to their “real self”.

Similarly to what Portia Nelson so eloquently described in the poem above, in one’s healing and integration phase there may be what feels like regression or taking a step back.  This may result in immense frustration, confusion, and hopelessness.  This is often a critical part in one’s journey because one of two things will result from this: 1) giving up or, 2) continuing to move forward.  The way to deal with these regressions as they come up is to go through them.  To feel the associated pain that is present within the regression is how we can move through it.  Avoiding, distracting and/or giving up  – while all very viable and enticing options at times – are not conducive to one’s self-healing journey and transformation.

The more and more an individual goes through regression and transformation, the more confident they become as time goes along in knowing that they will get through it. With ever regression comes a learning and if we explore this learning and go inward with it, or perhaps even take a step back from it and simply observe, we begin to see this pattern in a different way and thus may respond to it differently this time.  This is all part of one’s recovery and growth.

Integration is such a vital part of the therapeutic process and it comes at different times for each individual.  Transformation and regression are also part of the process and tend to ebb and flow together.

It takes tremendous courage and vulnerability to both own and share our story, but the transformation that can result is healing from the inside out and being and embracing who we truly are.

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I Forgive You

 

imgres-1Society tells us that we need to be able to forgive so that we can let something go and move on.  It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Perhaps right now you are thinking about someone who has hurt you.  Someone who has abandoned you. Someone who has betrayed you in a way that has cut you so deeply that you have no idea how to even begin to repair the emotional wound or put the pieces back together again.  Perhaps you have been hurt by someone that due to their level of consciousness has been unable (due to fear and or shame) or unwilling to own their part of it.  It is one thing to forgive someone who has owned his or her part or taken responsibility.  It is quite another to forgive someone who has completely abandoned you in the pain and hurt and has completely disengaged and disconnected.  This is incredibly difficult and for some it may seem utterly impossible to forgive.

 

Perhaps it is not about if everything or someone can be forgiven, but can everyone forgive? Are we capable of truly forgiving another? Can you make the choice to forgive and stay committed to that choice?  No matter how serious the transgression, the decision to forgive is a freedom and choice we give ourselves.

 

One thing I encounter with my clients time and time again in my professional practice, and certainly on a person level as well, is betrayal. Betrayal is a word that is quite heavy and feels even heavier when we experience it.   There are many forms of betrayal, but one of the most common forms of betrayal is emotional betrayal.  Emotional betrayal is attachment and detachment.  It is when someone is incredibly engaged and attuned to you and then suddenly disengages and disconnects. This pattern could continue on and off for days, months, and even years. However, in some situations of emotional betrayal, the disconnect becomes permanent and one is left in a state of disbelief, anger, and resentment.  How do we forgive someone who “gave” us so much and then in an instant took it away?  I think it is crucial in these moments to remind ourselves that it is not you who the person was giving up on or disconnecting from, but instead it was their own being, their own self, their own shame.  Eckhart Tolle states that people simply act out of a state of their current level of consciousness. Meaning, they do the best that they can with what they have in that moment. I would add to this by also stating that a person who hurts you may also be reverting to old behaviours and old patters due to the current level of fear and uncertainty they may be faced with, yet not courageous/strong enough to do something different in order to break the cycle. Does this make it hurt any less? No, but it does help to prevent you from carrying around the other person’s shame and from going into a self defecating place of self blame. 

 

There are different stages we go through when we are working from the initial hurt (offence/betrayal) to forgiveness.  This could take days, weeks, months, years even.  Some hurt we try to justify.  We do this in an effort to soften it.  “He betrayed me because he was so broken” or “he abandoned me in a time of need and trauma because he was emotionally unavailable”.  Or, “she is manipulating me because I hurt her, so I deserve it”. Once we move through the justification stage, we may then move into anger/resentment/anxiety/depression. This is all part of the process of grieving the hurt and pain we are enduring. Once we move through this phase, we can then move to a place of integration.  Integration is when we truly start to feel like ourselves again.  It can be a very slow and gradual process with moments of regression. At any time we can skip back and forth between the stages, sadly it is not linear. However, it is still progress.  We are still working through the pain and moving towards a place of forgiveness (should we choose) and emotional freedom.

 

The root word of forgive is “give”.  For “giving” releases us from the guilt and shame attached to the hurt we endured in the first place.  The hebrew word for forgiveness is to pick up and carry – which is quite the opposite of letting go.

 

What if you still love the person who scarred you so deeply? The truth is that we, at times, still experience love for someone who has hurt us so deeply.  This, of course, is dependent on the relationship and level of connection when the initial hurt (or multiple hurts) took place.  But, love is a feeling.  Despite being hurt or abandoned, one cannot simply cut out a feeling – though we often try to. So, in addition to working through the betrayal and pain, we often are also left with dealing with the conflicting feelings we now have towards the person whom we feel hurt us.  It is an incredibly multi-faceted, complicated, and complex situation.

 

What I have learned is that even though the underlying details and circumstances of our lives may be different we do not have to be victims of our experiences. Our story is truly the way through the hurt and the truth is, it is us who creates our story.  If we want our story to remain that we were once hurt and betrayed and we want to remain a victim of this hurt, then that becomes our story. Or we can still know that at some point we were truly hurt and scarred (sometimes literally) in a way that we may never forget, but we can choose to rise above.  We can choose to forgive.  We can chose to move on.  Therefore, we each hold the power to change our story and what it represents. 

 

Maybe forgiveness is not solely about the other person, but it is about ourselves as well. Perhaps we need to start in a place of self forgiveness before we can move to forgiving another? Perhaps by doing this we begin to realize that to the degree we have been emotionally imprinted, we will realize that others have also been imprinted in similar ways. They can’t help themselves any more than we have been able to help ourselves, until now when we at last are ready to engage in emotional integration and forgiveness.

 

There is no awareness of peace without authentic forgiveness, and there is no authentic forgiveness until we integrate the resonance that arises in us when we place our attention on those who still anger us. I am not trying to make this sound easy by any means, because it isn’t – believe me! It takes courage to forgive. It takes being incredibly vulnerable to forgive.

 

In essence, do you love your self and your being enough to forgive another? Perhaps something to reflect on. And finally, perhaps something to keep in mind is that forgiving another person may not mean that they “deserve” your forgiveness, but maybe it is more about you deserving peace in your heart.

I forgive you.

Sometimes life feels a little more free when we accept an apology we never received. Forgiveness starts with truth but leads to freedom…

 

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Fear of Happiness: Is it Real?

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Perhaps you are already having mixed feelings after merely reading the title of this post.  I mean, does the fear of happiness really exist? I can confidently respond with a ‘yes’.

As a Psychotherapist, I work with my clients to  peel away at the layers until we arrive upon the core issue(s), or operating beliefs/principles that lay the foundation for why they are the way that they are.  These core beliefs/operating principles are often the root cause for many of the challenges they endure in their life.  This may be the fear of not being good enough, the fear of not being loveable, fear of rejection – just to name a few.  However, mixed in there may also be the ‘fear of happiness’. The feeling of being happy, joyful, content, or at peace, can be quite the trigger for many people. It is quite the paradox, because isn’t being “happy” truly what we are all after? Don’t we strive day after day to experience as much happiness as possible?  We want it, but may also fear “feeling” or “experiencing” it.

One of the reason’s that several people fear being truly happy is because somewhere during their journey in life they learned to anchor negative associations to being happy. It is like the saying goes “always waiting for the other shoe to drop”. I had a client in my office a couple of weeks ago who said, “Leanne, all I want is to be happy, is that too much to ask?” As we explored this further, we quickly arrived upon her saying “Every time I have had something good happen to me in my life, it has immediately been replaced by something negative.” In this case, this client was sub-consciously resisting feeling happy due to her own fear of losing it. Based on a few experiences she had where something great was later followed up with something challenging, she anchored her own meaning to feeling “happy” and thus was scared to experience it. I mean, it is pretty risky. When we embrace something that truly brings us happiness, it is natural to have some feelings around the fear of no longer having this thing. This is often the reason why so many people settle; settle within their relationship(s), their careers, their lifestyle, etc. For example, take someone who knows they are in an unhappy relationship. Perhaps they have even made some moves to leave this relationship, but they keep going back to it. While there are likely several variables at play here, one of them may be the fear of being truly happy. In essence, if we lose something (such as a relationship or job) that we are not truly happy with in the first place, the risk is not nearly as high because how much worse could it really get?  We created our own norm and that norm really did not even come close to meeting our own expectations of our life, but we chose to settle. The consequence of this, however, is people live unhappy, stagnant, or mediocre lives. Perhaps over time, some individuals wish they had of left that unhappy relationship rather than spending years of their life in it. Perhaps others wish they had of made that career move when the opportunity was there. This is when people often enter the “what if” zone, which is what I call the “fear zone”.

So, what do we do about this so-called fear of happiness?

Well, I may sound a little (or a lot) bias here, but often talk therapy can really help. It allows one to get to the root of why they potentially fear being happy in the first place. When did this conditioning set in and how has it been impacting their lives? Throughout the course of therapy my clients and I often look at patterns that have played out as a result of these core fears and ways in which to break them. The shifts can be rather monumental – not to mention, life changing.

In the meantime, there are a few tips you can try to help raise your awareness (since awareness is, after all, the first step to lasting change). They are:

Pause.

The next time you catch your self in a state of “what if’s”, first admit to yourself “right now I am feeling vulnerable”. Simply naming what you are thinking and feeling can have quite an impact and can help to stop your thoughts from getting out of control. It helps to re-ground you. For example: you are having thoughts about leaving an unhealthy relationship or regret over a relationship that you know that you should have stayed in, you may be filled with several “what if’s” on both sides of the coin. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and within this state allow yourself to be honest. Honestly ask yourself where you know you will experience the most of amount of true and genuine happiness and allow the answer to come. This does not mean you need to act on it right away, but simply observe your thoughts and create an awareness around your answer. The truth is, we cannot make sound decisions when we are in a state of “what if’s” so allow yourself to pause and then calmly ask yourself the question you need an answer to. It is amazing how many answers simply reside within ourselves.

Be Grateful.

It has been said, that happy people are often grateful people. When you feel a “self-sabbotage” state coming on, simply reminding yourself of the things you have to be grateful for can really help to put things in perspective. Something that can be even more effective is when you share this gratitude with another person. Have you ever noticed how you “feel” when you have made an impact on another person’s day or life in some way? It can be something small like opening a door for someone, or telling someone you care about that you appreciate them – the possibilities are endless when it comes to being grateful. Simply pick one and give it a try (and yes, this would also take you being vulnerable).

Start a Daily Practice.

Being and feeling happy is truly something we have to work at. Fostering a daily practice that allows you to be in contact with your “self” can really help with this. This may include daily meditation or affirmations, going for a walk, journalling, etc. Thinks about what brings you closer to your “self” and try to lean into this a bit more. We are often so busy, that we all need a time out with our “self” to truly feel. To truly exist.

 

By: Leanne Sawchuk, Psychotherapist & Facilitator, Co President – Willow & Oak Centre.

Life: Embrace Who You Are & Let Go Of Who You Are Not

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While I have learned many things in my life so far, one thing that I have truly learned about life – both through my own experience and that of others – is that life is truly full of many things.

Life is full of both beauty and pain. The world will break your heart, yet you have the opportunity to heal it. This will happen again and again – if you allow it to.  There is something about embracing both the rupture and repair that can promote so much growth – if you are willing to embrace the pain that may present itself in the process. Allowing yourself to experience both; the pain and the pleasure, is truly the only way to live fully. Running from your fears, or taking the easy road will only lead you right back to where you started in attempt to learn the lesson yet again, only this time you may take the risk you need to take and endure the pain you may need to endure in order to truly live and feel alive.  It is very true that we are never truly alone, though it may feel like it at times.  In essence we are deeply connected to that which we create… What are you creating in your life right now?

 

To live life fully means to embrace the hard parts and the amazing parts every single day.  Someone who has done a lot of work in this realm is Oriah Mountain Dreamer.  I first came across her work a while back and was immediately impacted by it.  Oriah, amongst many things, is a story teller.  She has written several books, one is which is titled “The Invitation”.  She explores how we can each become the person we are truly meant to be at our core.  Additionally she explores how we can create this meaning with other people in this world as well – if we allow ourself too.  Her work is fierce and she writes with much intensity and truth. Overall, Oriah’s words encourage all of us to be brutally honest, yet also kind towards our “selves” and the many strengths and areas of weakness we may possess.

 

In the work I do, I am honoured and consider myself incredibly fortunate to witness the many people day after day who take a risk to become who they truly are.  This is not always an easy road or process as there may be some hurt and pain in the process, but the end result is always worth it.

 

Listed below is a poem from Oriah’s book “The Invitation”. I invite you to read it in its entirety and gently, without judgment, notice or observe what comes up for you in the process.

The Invitation

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

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Happiness & When Living Gets In The Way Of Feeling Alive

Live Life AuthenticallyEvery day, many of us forget what it is like to truly be alive because we are so busy living. We waste time wondering when the other ball is going to drop, living in the past, or worrying about the future, that we lose complete sight of what we have in the moment. Many of us lose great things or people in our life because we are too busy detaching or living in any moment other than the one we are in right now.  If you take a moment to think back on experiences you felt the most connected, loved, accepted, joyful, content, and/or at peace, they are likely times when you were solely present and connected.  Now, if you think about times when you have felt the most anxiety, pain, sadness, and/or fear, they were likely moments when you were too busy being caught up in the past or future – which we do not have control over. Often we live our daily lives with regret. We wish things were different or that we did this instead of that. Regret, in my opinion, in many ways is the sibling of shame – and it can also result or pop up when we step into our  vulnerability to live a courageous and authentic life.  That may seem like a bad trade off. Meaning, in order to live happier and healthier life that you may experience some regret of what you left behind – but it’s true.  Regret pops up because sometimes we feel shame around what we left behind in order to get to where we are – but there is a reason why we left it in the first place. I have more to say about regret and how it plays out in our life, but will save that for my next post.

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What truly makes you happy in life? Who do you feel happy around? These may seem like simple questions, but they actually carry with them a lot of depth. Karl Moore wrote an article on happiness where he outlines 15 ways we can rediscover lost happiness in our life.  I have decided to share the article below as it can be really easy to detach from ourselves at times, especially when in a state of anxiety, depression, and/or sadness, but it can also be easy and possible to re-connect with ourselves also.  Please read on…

By Karl Moore

Every day, most of us focus on the grey clouds in the sky. Life is dim and gloomy, and showers are just minutes away. But we forget something. We don’t remember that just behind those clouds, the sun is beaming brightly – every single minute of every single day. These are 15 rules designed to shift your perspective, helping you to rediscover the happiness you may have forgotten.

Rule #1Stop Feeling Sorry for Yourself! It’s not going to help the situation. It’ll only help you to wallow in a state of apathy, playing the victim. The kind of person that things happen to, but that can’t do anything about it. By stopping feeling sorry for yourself, you can actually get on and DO something about it. If you want to be happy – stop feeling sorry for yourself. “Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.” -Helen Keller

Rule #2 – Be Grateful. Think of all the wonderful things you have to be grateful for right now. It could be your family. Or your health. Maybe your home. Your friends. Your brain. Your heart. Your spirit. We’ve all got amazing things in our own lives that make us smile with joy. And if we can count these blessings every day, we’ll discover a greater appreciation of the beautiful world we surround ourselves with. “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” -Meister Eckhardt

Rule #3 – Say Yes More. We fight against what happens to us in life, rather than allowing it to be as it is. We resist it, rather than accepting it. We say “No!” rather than saying “Yes” – or even just “Okay.” By saying “Yes!” more to life, we go with the flow. Things become more enjoyable and positive, less stressful and anxious, and often the situation turns out for the better regardless.

Rule #4 – Follow Your Bliss. Bliss is what you’re doing when you’re wrapped up in the moment. When you’re so thrilled just to be doing it, it ceases even to be work anymore. Your bliss occurs when you’re living in the moment, and time doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s not for the money, it’s for the pleasure. “When you follow your bliss, doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors; and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else.” –Joseph Campbell

Rule #5 – Learn to Let Go. Remember, letting go doesn’t mean you “forgive” the person at the grocery store, or you “allow” that kind of behavior. It just means that you release the negative emotion inside of you. By releasing negative emotions, you’ll not only enjoy much more freedom in your life – you’ll also become more emotionally stable and less stressed too. “By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try, the world is beyond the winning.” –Lao Tzu

Rule #6 – Do Random Acts of Kindness. The more we give, the more we receive. A Random Acts of Kindness or RAK is a small act of kindness that you grant to someone else in the world – for absolutely no reason whatsoever, without expecting anything in return. Just throw a little extra kindness out to the world – and watch how you find greater happiness starting to flood back into your own life. “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” -Dalai Lama

Rule #7 – Happiness Is Only Ever Now. We spend so much time waiting to be happy in the future, or worrying about the past, that we forget to live in the moment. But here’s the thing: Life is transient. The past has gone. The future is just a dream. The only time that truly exists ever is RIGHT NOW. RIGHT NOW is the ONLY time you can do or change ANYTHING in your life. And NOW is the only time you have. “Few of us ever live in the present, we are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone.” -Louis L Armor

Rule #8 – Experience, Don’t Hoard! Investing in experiences rather than material goods created greater lasting happiness. It doesn’t have to be big and it doesn’t have to be expensive. And you can always do it on your own, too. By living, and truly experiencing life, we feel more whole, fulfilled and authentic. So, experience – don’t hoard – and you will be happy. “When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do.” –Walt Disney

Rule #9 – Appreciate Both Sides of the Coin. The truth is that in order for you to experience true happiness in your life, you must experience sadness. Without sadness, we really can’t even understand what happiness is. Just enjoy and embrace all your life adventures. And when seemingly negative things happen, remember that it’s just the duality of life. It’s just the other side of the coin. It’s required. It’s part of the equation. “You don’t know when you’ve hit a peak until you’re coming down. And you don’t know when you’ve hit a trough until you’re climbing out. It’s all good.” –David Brent

Rule #10 – Be More Social. Countless studies on the science of happiness have turned up one single characteristic of the happiest and most successful people in society. They have a large social network! Don’t just wait for interesting people to stumble into your life. Keep going and going. Expand your social circle as far as you can. Be the person that walks through town and bumps into a dozen friends. “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” -Marcel Proust

Rule #11 – Love More! We must realize that we feel the most happy in life – when we are the one giving the love! The more we love others, the happier he became. The more we love the world around us, the happier we become. The more we love even our enemies, the happier we become. And best of all, WE can control the amount of love we give – and thereby control the amount of happiness we experience. “Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.” –Barbara De Angelis

Rule #12 – Have a Dream. Dream are critical. They light up life. Without them, we become bored, and tired, and apathetic. So, take this opportunity to really clarify your dreams. Take a pen and paper and spend an hour figuring out what you really dream about. But whatever you do, make sure you have a dream. They’re incredibly important. Dreams are the spark plugs of the spirit. Make sure yours are ready for action. “A person starts dying when they stop dreaming.” –Brian Williams

Rule #13 – Intention Sets Direction. Decide on where you’re going and how it’ll be for you – and it’ll happen. set your intention first. Make it clear that you’re going to have a great time, you’ll meet some fantastic people, and that it’s going to be wonderful. Set your general intention every morning and every night, too. The brighter and more positive, the better. Set your sunny intention – and you will be happy. “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” –Henry Ford

Rule #14 – Enjoy Simple Pleasures. It’s an attitude. The ability to appreciate the happiness, the beauty, the pleasure in the simple things around us. Remember the simple things that you truly enjoy. Then take time out to experience them again. Or even better, turn them into little daily or weekly rituals, filling your life with sunshine. Quite simply, enjoy simple pleasures and rituals – and you will be happy. “Simplicity is the essence of happiness.” -Cedric Bledsoe

Rule #15 – Accept What Is. By accepting, welcoming, embracing what is, you clear all of your emotions. Your thoughts gain more clarity. You become happier. You experience more freedom. If you can change things, after accepting them, you’ll have a sharper mind and more energy to do so. Pointless worrying – there’s nothing you can do about it. Shrug and smile about it, that’s life. “Happiness is a function of accepting what is.” –Werner Erhard

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That Moment When Everything Changes

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It has been several weeks since my last post and today I feel inspired to do an entry.  A topic that has been heavily on my mind throughout my life, and especially over the past couple of weeks, is how in any moment, your life can be changed.   This likely seems like such a simplistic statement.  Perhaps I am stating the obvious, but it is one thing to know it and an entirely different thing to feel it and live it.  In this post I am going to focus specifically on traumatic moments of change mostly because that is what feels present for me in this moment.

As you are reading this post perhaps you are recalling a moment in your life that changed you.  Sadly, people are enduring traumatic moments every second of every day.  If you are someone who has endured a traumatic moment/experience in your life, have you ever really thought about how this moments shaped you? How your life was changed forever? How it made you look at life differently? Perhaps how it prompted you to reevaluate what you thought were core relationships in your life? Or perhaps even the relationship you have/have with yourself?   There can be a lot of reflection and exploration which may occur as a result of a traumatic moment, that can literally change your life forever. One thing that is vital for someone who is enduring or endured a traumatic event is the presence of proper and consistent emotional support.  If you endured a trauma or are in the process of of working through trauma and you do not/ did not have the proper emotional support, it is possible that the event can get “stuck” in your nervous system which will lead to long lasting distress, relationship problems, or addictive tendencies. On the flip side, research shows that many people report psychological growth and positive psychological changes resulting from highly stressful events. This growth does not “undo” the negative effects, but may co-exist with them.

Researchers have studied people who endured accidents, serious illness, and death of a loved one and have found that  social support and relationships with others in the time period following the event are key predictors of psychological recovery. Difficult experiences can deepen our bonds with family and friends, and they give us the opportunity to see how deeply people care for us. We may gain a new appreciation for the relationships we have and realize we can trust others to listen, care, and help. Of course, when family and friends are unsupportive or inconsistent in their care and support, the opposite effect can happen which may leave us feeling even more alone.

On the realm of enduring a traumatic event, one thing that becomes very evident is who your support network really is.  One often learns, if not right away but over their course of recovery, who they can lean on and who they cannot.  Sometimes this in and of itself adds to the trauma.  People whom you thought would be there for you no matter what may suddenly only be there out of obligation or convenience.  However, others  whom you never thought or expected to be there can pull through with such a capacity to exude compassion, support, care, and concern.  Of course, it can be disheartening when you come to learn that the people you thought would make you a priority through such a trauma are absent or are only there when it is convenient, but perhaps the life lesson in this is that you got to learn this.  Yes, it would be nice to learn this lesson through less traumatic events, but it is still a lesson.  In essence, relationships and friendships are not just about being there when it is convenient, but mostly about being there when it is not.. It is important, perhaps, to be aware of the people who tend to drift during this time or place you on the back burner when you are no longer of service or value to them. It is really all about giving you more awareness.

A possible risk factor that some individuals develop is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The individual who endured the trauma is at a greater risk of developing PTSD if they have a history of prior exposure to trauma, have a biological or psychological tendency toward anxiety or distress, and/or live or work in a unsafe environment. However, there are some factors that increase the likelihood that an individual will recover from the trauma without developing PTSD and this once again comes back to having a reliable and consistent support system.

There can also be some positive associations and outcomes through enduring traumatic moments of change. One of them is that we may learn a lot about ourselves.  In the moment when our life feels like it is forever changed, we learn a new way of living and being.  Depending on the life changing event, we may be able to deepen our relationship with our “self” and/or learn something about ourselves that we otherwise were too busy to learn prior to the life changing moment.  You see, that is just it.  We are often so busy doing things, running from appointment to appointment, that we have our priorities all wrong.  Often when we endure a moment of change it is like time stops.  We are present and in the moment and perhaps terrified all at the same time.  If the moment of change was something that “happened to you” as opposed to something you planned and executed it can be really terrifying as it leaves you in a place of being entirely out of control and exceptionally vulnerable.

If you are reading this post and you feel you are someone who has never really gone through any real life changing moments, then try to imagine what it would be life if you were to endure one? How would you like other people to respond? How would you like to be treated? How do you think you may cope?

Working through a traumatic life changing event can feel like a tiresome battle, but it can also alter your life in a way that you never thought possible, if you let it. If you are supporting someone who is working through a traumatic event it is important to be constant, consistent, loving, and reassuring.  This unconditional love and positive regard will prove to be invaluable, even when it may not seem like it is of any benefit at all. Working through trauma and navigating the various challenges that may arise can be very difficult, but it is made easier when a healthy support system is in place.

If you have any comments on this post, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.  Thank you for reading.

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Love & Cocaine: High on Love?

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This is a topic that has received a lot of attention.  Can we be addicted to love? If you are someone who has never experienced love, could you potentially become addicted to something else that impacts you in a similar way?

Romantic love is one of the most powerful sensations on the planet.  That being said, it can also be one of the most painful.

The VTA (Ventral Tegmental Area) is a part of the brains reward system.  It is located right in the middle of the brain. The VTA is comprised of dopamine, glutamate, and GABA neurons.  Dopamine has a central role in both motivation and reward.  To simplify, the VTA is this area of the brain that receives information from other areas of the brain as to whether or not human needs are being met. This is the area of the brain where pleasure is born and plays an central role in cognition, addiction, and various impulses we may have. Additionally, it is in this area of the brain that we experience wanting, motivation, craving, and focus.

The VTA is the part of the brain that becomes activated when someone experiences the rush of cocaine.  Interestingly enough, it is also the area of the brain that is stimulated when one is experiencing love.  To simplify, both cocaine and love activate the same part of the brain. Just let that sink in for a moment…

If both love and cocaine impact the same part of the brain, can one replace the other? For someone who may identify as having an addiction, the answer could quite possibly be ‘yes’. When working with individuals with an addiction, one of the areas that is often unsatisfying and even triggering is their core relationships with others and additionally their relationship with their “self”.  “I do not even know who I am anymore”, “I do not  know who my true self is”, or “I genuinely do not experience a whole lot of love in my life”  – are common sentiments expressed within the therapy room.  There is often a lack of genuine love and connection in their lives, which is two of our top human needs.  They are often so out of touch with who they are due to the shame associated with their addiction that they are also out of connection, not only with others, but with themselves.  Their addictions helps to relieve this internal pain and anguish, but only temporarily. What if true love and connection relieved this pain? Some may argue that this may create a co-dependency issue, which could also be unhealthy.  However, if one develops their core sense of self and has a connecting and loving relationship, how could this be unhealthy?

While love and cocaine are comparable in terms of how they both impact the brain, romantic love is much more than cocaine high.  Love is like “coming home”. It involves an increase in dopamine and the associated feeling of having butterflies in your stomach.  It is that intense connection that cannot be put into words, but only feeling.  While there are so many ways we can go about describing love, the truth is that there is actual scientific evidence of where it resides within your brain, similar to the rush from cocaine.

So, is falling in love an addiction?  Falling in love includes many of the same variables that are present when using drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, etc.  It has addictive qualities that get you hooked, and for some this is for life. It includes longings, yet comedowns. It creates that utter euphoria that you may experience which can be followed by a saddened state. Cocaine, like love, promotes increased levels of dopamine in the brain, causing you to feel moments of euphoria followed by the diminished number of dopamine receptors, which results in a harsh “coming down” feeling. See the similarity?

It has been said that another component that both love and cocaine have in common is withdrawal. In the moment of withdrawal it may feel like the only thing that will make you happy again is another dose of that person, another shot, another drink, another line.  Think about the moments of withdrawal you may have experienced while falling in love.  You may have experienced days or hours leading up to seeing this individual where you were feeling excited, anxious and waiting in anticipation.  The days felt more enjoyable because you had something to look froward to.  Then you get to see this person.  The euphoria continues as the dopamine is shooting across the room. Then its over.  You part ways.  Perhaps at this moment you feel heavy, sad perhaps, and are longing for more.  The rush of a high and then coming down from one can be very similar.

While there are some major similarities between how love and cocaine impact the brain, there are also some major differences and this comes in the form of both short term and long terms side effects.  The short-term physiological effects of cocaine include constricted blood vessels, dilated pupils, and increased temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Additionally, one may experience tremors, vertigo, muscle twitches, paranoia, or, with repeated doses, a toxic reaction closely resembling amphetamine poisoning. Long-term effects of cocaine use include addiction, irritability and mood disturbances, restlessness, paranoia, and auditory hallucinations.

There can be severe medical complications associated with cocaine use, that you do not get from falling in love. Some of the most frequent complications are cardiovascular effects, including disturbances in heart rhythm and heart attacks; respiratory effects such as chest pain and respiratory failure; neurological effects, including strokes, seizures, and headaches; and gastrointestinal complications, including abdominal pain and nausea.

Cocaine use has been linked to many types of heart disease. Physical symptoms may include chest pain, nausea, blurred vision, fever, muscle spasms, convulsions, coma, and death. There has also been a lot of research around users who combine cocaine and alcohol, a combination which can be fatal. In fact, the mixture of the two is the most common combination in drug related deaths.

On a more interpersonal level, for some, the main difference between being addicted to love versus cocaine is the shame associated with it.  The shame is often what perpetuates an addiction.  You feel bad about something and need an immediate escape, but this escape is only temporary and as a result the shame continues to build.  Often we we carry around so much shame, there may be a part of our “self” that we deem as being unworthy or unlovable.  As a result we may choose partners that are really no good for us and in essence, we are no good for them. This then adds to the shame because we end up in yet another relationship where our needs are not being met and we are not experiencing a deeply rooted connection as we have been longing for.  Being in this sort of experience will only perpetuate the addiction because there will always be something there to take away the pain. What if you could finally embrace your shame? And, what if you could do this in the presence of a trusting and connected relationship? While this all sounds so easy, it really is not.  One has to be willing to try something new and to take a risk, which is incredibly difficult.  However, the truth is that it is not impossible.  In fact, embracing your shame and moving through addiction is very much possible in both a romantic relationship and therapeutic relationship – both in which safety is infused.

What I have learned in working with individuals through their addiction is to get to the root.  It is to understand why there is pain in the first place.  To understand the pain, we can unravel the addiction, which eventually takes us to the core operating beliefs. Together, we embrace the shame that resides and work together to create a new meaning. In order to give something up, we often have to replace it with something else.

Would it be so awful to replace cocaine with love?

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Ride The Waves, Head To Shore, or Embrace The Undertow?

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“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity” ~ Simone Weil

We all have those moments in relationships.  One minute you feel like the most important person in the world, then next minute you feel invisible.  Usually when we feel invisible, we feel unimportant.  Something has taken our place.  Something has distracted our parter from us and we no longer experience them in a way that we once did.  This can cause a massive disconnect within a relationship. It is  important to ask yourself how you may be contributing to this and see what may or may not come up for you. Either way, it is terrifying and highly unsettling to go from one place to the other, but someone how you ride the waves hoping that one day the water will settle long enough for you to reach shore.  At times we have to make the decision to let go, which may be incredibly difficult at the time, but it opens us up to a more fulfilling life, if we let it.  However, before getting to the place of paddling viciously back to shore, there are several things that you can dive into a little deeper to ensure that you are doing your part to foster a healthier and more meaningful connection. That being said, if you are not doing them, and have no desire to, then perhaps this is enough information for you that you are possibly not in a connected and loving relationship and may want to do more work around letting go and moving forward.  If you have a genuine connection with your partner, but feel you may be losing him/her or you are experiencing some oscillations, take a look at the following points to see where potential growth and development is possible.

1. Awareness

Notice the ways in which your partner is trying to connect with you and acknowledge them.  Let them know that you are aware of the ways in which they are trying to connect.  This will go a long way.

2. Small Acts of Kindness

Generosity can create a lot of happiness in another person’s life. Being generous with your partners allows you to stay attuned to what really gets them excited.  This does not have to come with a high price tag, but simply something to let your partner know that you were thinking about them. Generosity is a natural mood booster and brings with it a lot of feel good feelings and closeness within the relationship.

3.  Foster Security Within Your Relationship

Sometimes we can focus too inward when we are in a relationship.  “How am I feeling”, “What am I getting out of this”,  “Which of my needs are not being met”, etc.  Failing to see things from the other person’s perspective can lead to many relational challenges, such as;  breakdowns in communication or a lack of empathy and understanding. Instead of focusing on ourselves, we should try to think of ways we could be more outwardly loving. Make your partner a priority, not an option.

4. Ask, Don’t Assume

Making assumptions can get us into a lot of trouble.  Instead of making assumptions about what may be going on, learn how to ask questions.  Assuming you know what your partner is thinking or feeling can be dangerous territory and puts you at risk for a missed opportunity, detachment and/or disconnect.

5. Receptivity

Being aware is really important, but so is being receptive to connection. Being aware but not receptive is counterproductive and very unhealthy. It can also lead to the breakdown of a relationship over time.

6. Appreciation

Appreciation is key when we want to reinforce someone’s attempts to get closer and foster a connection with us.  This is about acknowledging the little things that your partner may do for you and providing them with positive reinforcement and validation.

7. Be Present and Engaged

If and when we are distracted or not present, we push away any attempt that our partner my be making to connect. While it may only feel like you are pushing your partner away in the moment, you are also blocking the potential for future connection.Seek to also understand why your partner is not present and share how this may be impacting you.

8. Take Risks and Be Vulnerable

This is probably one of the hardest things to do, especially with someone you genuinely care about as there is great risk at stake here.  Being willing to experience our feelings and be vulnerable within them in the presence of another can be one of the most connecting and trust building experiences (when received in a healthy way of course).  While it may be instinctual to want to put up our protective barrier when we feel threatened, when we practice being resilient, we actually allow ourselves to stay open and when we are open we can experience and feel more love and connection. If instead, your protect yourself by giving into your fears, you will end up feeling much lonelier and disconnected as a result. Being vulnerable allows us to experience a deeper level of love and joy.

9. Reciprocity

Instead of waiting for the perfect moment or time to say something or do something for your partner, do it when you are feeling it. Sometimes we wait for someone else to do or say something first before we do or say something in return.  What if you just did what you felt like doing in the moment? Giving your partner your attention can really hep to nurture the relationship – this never needs to saved for the perfect moment.

10. Inner Work

This involves doing the hard work.  Sometimes we are constantly looking for ways to fix our partner or make them more suitable for who we are and what we may need, when instead we need to focus inward and learn how to separate what is our own “stuff” and our own inner workings.

Instead of focusing solely on what is not working in your relationship, learn how to focus on what is right.  Many relationships end because people start to hyper focus on the negative and opposed to the positives.  Learn to pay closer attention to how you are responding, feeling, and behaving within the relationship and try to understand what this may be saying about you, as opposed to what may be wrong within the relationship.

It is true that not all relationships can be repaired, nor should they be in some cases.  However, there are some that are worth diving into and worth the risk.  In the process not only do you foster a healthier and more meaningful relationship, but you grow as and develop as a person.

 

 

 

 

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