Friday, December 17, 2010

The Lover and the Beloved

Today my heart is full. I am the Beloved. I have a very dear friend who performed a huge service for me and I paid her for this service. Actually, I hadn't paid her in full but was sending her monthly payments and we were both happy with this arrangement. This morning I received a letter from her that said: "Sweet Melissa, I am following my heart (and God's direction on this). In the spirit of the season, and with full knowlege (and God's grace), the slate is wiped clean. Hoping for lots of opportunities to be in your presence in the New Year. Merry Christmas! Pay it forward when you are able." I stood there holding that letter feeling like George Bailey.

I am a mother, a manager, a therapist, and a wife. All of the primary roles in my life make me the Lover. I am traditionally the one that gives. I am the one who performs acts of love for others, and I am content with this. I know how to care for myself and keep myself replenished so that I am able to give from a place of abundance rather than compulsion. This has not always been the case for me. I would actually say that for the majority of my life, I was parched. I had nothing to give, yet I worked myself to the bone trying to keep everyone happy. I gave from my own limited emotional and mental resources until I was completely spent. It has taken many years of healing and years of good self-care (what one friend of mine calls EXTREME SELF CARE) that I began to come back to myself. I am now more quickly able to determine when I am giving from compulsion and an empty Love Account rather than from an overflowing Love Account.

I am realizing today that, although I am content in being a Lover in this world, I cannot live this way perpetually or I will go spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. Not only do I need to keep my Love Account full through conscious daily contact with my Higher Power but I also need to stand still and allow myself to be loved on by other people. I am loved by many people and it is good to let them love on me from their own abundance. It is their spiritual service to love me and I should never rob others of their own spiritual acts of service. In the last 6 months, perhaps more than ever in my life, I have felt so loved, appreciated, and honored. Almost every day of my life I have someone encouraging me, appreciating me, and supporting me. It has become almost excessive and makes me laugh with God as I continue to experience this outpouring of love from friends and family! This friend's recent act made my heart swell. She re-filled my Love Account today. That's it! I get my Love Account replenished not only through direct contact with my Higher Power but also through His working through other people. In order to be a good Lover I have to respect my place as the Beloved as well.

Song of Solomon speaks to this problem, "Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned" (ch.8, v.7). A person who gives all they have will go bankrupt and be useless! George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life filled the Love Accounts of many people through his kindness, intelligence, and charisma. He gave until there was nothing left and he reached a point of despair. He reached a place where he had no other choice but to stand quietly in his own home while friends and family came in and gave of their abundance to rescue him. George Bailey had to respect his place as the Beloved in order to continue being a good Lover. Even God adores the praises of his children. The Lover and the Beloved are ying and yang to each other and I am really just seeing the right-ness of this for myself.

Today I am the Beloved and it feels good.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul is a spiritual phrase that has been used to describe the darkest most desolate phase of a person's life. During this period of your spiritual journey, you will experience immense pain, the feeling of "going crazy," falling apart, depression, anger, terror, helplessness, and complete isolation from others. Everything you once believed yourself to be is found to be no longer true. Everything you once turned to for comfort is either no longer there or has been exposed as a sham. You may feel lost, having nothing stable to lean on, not even God, because your view of Him has been shattered too. There is often also the fear that this will never end, almost like being lost in a deep dark woods, never to be found or make your way out. This is the Dark Night, Honey.

Many spiritual icons have been said to have experienced this. There is Saint John of the Cross who wrote the beautiful poem "The Dark Night of the Soul." Mother Theresa was also said to have experienced a very dark period of years, where she felt disconnected from God. This is an experience that spans across religions and ethnicities, a very human experience. For some it may last for months and for others it may last years. Many people believe that Jesus Christ experienced his own Dark Night on the cross when he cried out, "Oh God, why have You forsaken me?"  Others believe his Dark Night may have been during his 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness when he suffered intense temptations.

The process that is occurring during this Dark Night is like a spiritual reconstruction surgery. Every piece and aspect of your Self-- your thoughts, internal constructs, foundational beliefs, feelings, and the basis for why you exist-- all of this is taken and completely shattered. It hurts like hell. This is a gross oversimplification of the spiritual process taking place, but God is essentially re-building you from the ground up. You are being given no blueprint as to how this will turn out nor even do you have the wherewithal to understand that you will survive. All you can really do is continue to put one foot in front of the other and believe that God is doing a holy work in you and you will emerge from this dark forest. You WILL emerge from this dark forest. I love this excerpt from Saint John of the Cross's poem:

O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

In looking back, Saint John was able to recognize his darkest period as an awesome journey that took him into true union with God.

I struggle with knowing what to do for someone who is in their Dark Night. Really there is very little I can do. It is their own journey, one that has to be walked out with their own courage and requires their complete reliance on a God they can barely feel. In my experience with people in this period of their lives, and from my own very profound experience, people can be really nasty during this stage. A person in pain often lashes out, can be highly inappropriate, rude, and ineffective as a parent, friend, or employee. When you no longer have even the internal human construct of good manners to hold you back, you may say and do some horrible and shocking things. I understand the inner chaos a person is experiencing and know that these offensive behaviors are not personally intended toward me or anyone else. Nonetheless, they can really cut and I wonder how much I am expected to withstand! I am beginning to understand that along with the deep compassion I feel for a person walking through the Dark Night, I must also hold a firm line with someone who is flailing about during this stage. I don't shame or guilt-trip a person for their behavior but I also am not required to tolerate or turn a blind-eye if I see someone I love engaging in harmful activities during this stage.

I'd like to re-post the first poem I ever published here on my blog. I wrote this after emerging from my own Dark Night of the Soul and offer it as encouragement to anyone who may be walking through this difficult time:

Coming Out

When you are running--
a shadow of yourself running from
and to yourself
frightened by a ghost self
in brambles the ache scratches
your body when you try to escape--
when you are running.
Just stay on your feet.
Know the darkness in its fullest
reach into the deep of the black
pour the anointing of the pain over
your head.
Keep running.
This is not night that comes and
goes in cycles with day, this
is suffering. This is
your very self at
its cellular level expanding and
constricting in its own rhythm.
If you can hear me there,
know that light will come when
darkness inks away
a self will emerge cracked
still running. It
will be blinding just as
the darkness is blinding.
Behind your forest wall
steady follow this scent
thick with heavy evergreen.

Photo above found at:

Monday, November 29, 2010

What's This About Sin?

The word "sin" has such a negative connotation to it. It brings images to mind of a naked man and woman in the Garden of Eden or images of sweaty preachers screaming about hell. Sin-- well, it's just so religious. Just as there is a God in heaven, there is a devil in hell, and I am certain that devil must giggle with glee at this religious connotation. It is this connotation that waters the word down and turns it into an act done only by Old Testament characters not by anyone in the year 2010.

I believe that sin is the word for that broken place inside every human being. It is from our broken and wounded places that we come up with some of our worst ideas. Just by being born human, we are born with the capacity for being wounded. Our potential gets trampled by other human beings, often unknowingly and unintentionally. Nonetheless, who we should and could have been (peaceful and connected with God) is altered into someone who is broken and forever seeking to mend the breaks with people and activities that will never really mend it. Sin. If you were born into a family system, whether that includes a Mom and Dad or a group home director, you have been altered from the self God created you to be. Welcome to the human race. You are now a sinner, just because you were born. Sin is not just the mean-spirited and/or selfish behaviors we may engage in. Sin is any thought or feeling that takes you away from the peace and connection you were meant to have with God. There's nothing religious about that!

Really, my entire blog is a blog about sin. It's about addictions, lusts, revenge, anxiety, depression, and conflict. But there is some good news! This blog is also about getting cleaned up from sin. I can be healed of my addictions and mood swings. I don't have to spend the rest of my life finding some great new strategy to finally gain peace (although there are many wonderful things we can do). I don't have to spend the rest of my life white-knuckling it through cravings and withdrawal (although there may be necessary periods of this as well).
There is a wonderful verse that keeps this all so simple, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" Romans 6:23, The Holy Bible, New International Version. It is through a simple and effortless faith that my wounded places are healed. This is a free gift from God, an extended hand to me and a promise to be made free from my own sin. I do nothing but just believe it.

The 12 Steps guide us through this healing. Step One: We admitted we were powerless over others, alcohol, food, narcotics, sex and love, SIN. I cannot heal myself. Step Two: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. There is a power that can heal what I cannot. Step Three: Turned our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. I love the kindness and the room for error in Step Three. We've all got such clouded understandings of God. Our God view has been distorted by misguided Sunday school teachers, by negligent fathers or abusive mothers, by rule-bound and shame-based churches. I don't know that my own distorted views will ever be made clear, but I just have to believe one thing about Jesus-- I can turn my will and my life over to Him and He'll take care of this sin problem. I can believe that!

Photos above found at:
Adam and Eve
Helping Hand

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Intimacy: Do It Afraid

A reader recently asked for some specific tools in learning to tolerate intimacy. Intimacy, the sharing of your genuine self with another and experiencing the genuineness of another, can feel wonderful and also very scary. In those simple moments of intimacy, one can feel so vulnerable. When we expose our soft spots, there is the risk of that fragile place being crushed by another. This is especially true for those of us who have been crushed in the past. Having offered entry into your true self and having it trashed, one can become cynical, even downright phobic of trying again.

Being a 12 Stepper, I hold a firm belief in a Higher Power and my Higher Power is God. I believe God desires for us to have intimacy first and foremost with Him and there is a holy place within us reserved for God alone. Beyond that, I also believe he desires for us to enjoy intimacy with other trusting people, and God offers continual comfort and healing for the times we will be hurt by others in the process. Being intimate always requires the risk of being hurt or disappointed, and the reward is always worth the risk. Yes, you will be hurt. It's just part of the process. You will survive and heal from these hurts.

Here are a few tools for those of you who are ready to remain open to the wonderful gift of intimacy but often feel afraid and want to pull back:

1. Simply Be Present In moments of intimacy (whatever that might be, conversation, quiet times together, eye contact, sex, etc.)when you feel the anxiety begin to rise, simply remain present. Stay in the moment and just observe it. Notice the sights and sounds of the moment. Simply observe them, identify them (i.e., my husband is wearing blue, the TV is on in the other room, my left knee aches). Sometimes identifying the simpler components of a moment can reduce the anxiety of it. Let the pressure of the moment recede while you identify these smaller components.

2. Breathe and Soothe When the anxiety begins to rise, take a deep breath in for as long as you can hold it, then release for as long as you can release it. Take several of these belly-deep breathes and speak in a soothing voice to yourself inwardly such things as "I am OK right now," "these moments are good for me and my partner," "nothing bad is happening right now," "I am just fine, I can do this, this is good." Relax, breathe, and soothe yourself with kind words. Talk yourself gently through it. You have to learn to tolerate the moment rather than escape it. When you don't escape the anxiety, you find that it reaches a peak, then begins to recede. After you have tolerated and talked yourself through the anxiety, you can gain confidence over it.

3. Daily Alone Time with God I say daily because you probably need this frequent practice if intimacy is difficult for you. How do you expect to feel OK sharing deeper parts of yourself with another when you cannot even experience those deeper parts when alone? Sit quietly with God and feel his acceptance of every single part of you. As you learn to feel OK with all of you, then you will grow more comfortable sharing that with others. It takes a little time and patience with yourself.

4. Practice Be willing to put yourself in situations of intimacy that make you uncomfortable. These are wonderful opportunities to practice. Don't worry about whether or not you are doing it "right," only be proud of yourself for continuing to try. Pat yourself on the back and cheer yourself on, "I am so brave doing this. So many people never show this kind of willingness to grow, but I want more intimacy!" And this is true, many people struggle with this step-- practicing. It's just too hard, so they make excuses for why they cannot go on that date, excuses for why they need to work a couple hours late rather than go home to the wife, make excuses for why they cannot talk with family when they do come home.

These 4 strategies are loosely based on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)pioneered by Marsha Linehan. I use these strategies with clients coping with many different types of anxiety.

Photo above found at:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Recovery Slogans That Made a Difference!

I want to share some of the recovery slogans and sayings I've heard that have played an important role in my becoming a healthy individual. These are the ones that really pegged me and helped me move forward. Feel free to comment and share your own!

1. What other people think of me is none of my business.
2. One day at a time...
3. Do the next right thing.
4. Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.
5. I'd rather be a resentment than have one.
6. Detach with love and detach from the outcome.
7. Change happens in the order of the 3 A's: awareness, acceptance, THEN action.
8. When you're at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.
9. Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional.
10. My diseased mind cannot heal my own diseased mind.
11. Listen.
12. Keep the focus on yourself.
13. Principles above personalities.
14. My peace is MY peace.
15. Progress not perfection.
16. Clean up your side of the street.
17. You made a mistake-- welcome to the human race.
18. Just because you made a mistake does not mean you are one.
19. Sometimes "helping" is only a nice way of "controlling."
20. Human BE-ing rather than Human Do-ing.

Photo above found at:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bottom Line Behaviors: The Gentle Path

Here's a question asked by many sex and love addicts-- how do I know what my bottom line behavior is? For an alcoholic, it's a little more simple, they stop drinking. For a sex and love addict, it could be a whole host of behaviors that are creating emotional drunkenness, and what these behaviors are for one love addict can be different from the next love addict. A bottom line behavior is a behavior that, when engaged in, leads to loss of self. Engaging in this behavior can prevent the addict from experiencing valid and necessary feelings of anger, grief, or even intimacy. The bottom line behavior is sometimes used as a smoke screen to avoid the uncomfortable feelings of anger, grief, or intimacy. Engaging in the bottom line behavior tends to bring an immediate relief, an ah-h-h-h feeling, at least in the early stages of addiction. As addiction progresses, an addict often has to engage in more of this behavior or more intense forms of it to achieve the "high."

When a sex and love addict is ready to get clean, he/she must decide what their bottom line behaviors are and make the conscious decision to avoid those behaviors. Most commonly, these behaviors might be ceasing excessive masturbation, ceasing extra-marital affairs, or ceasing the use of pornography, etc. If you are an addict trying to define your bottom line behaviors, ask yourself these questions, "What is the behavior that, if I stop doing it, I'm going to feel like I'm going crazy? What behavior, at the thought of no longer doing it, makes me almost panic? What behavior, when I stop doing it, is immediately going to send me into emotional withdrawal symptoms?" Whatever you answer to these questions-- that's your bottom line behavior.

Here are a few important things to remember before launching yourself into withdrawal and ceasing your newly identified bottom line behavior:

1. Have a solid support system in place. Be prepared to attend your 12 step meetings as often as possible while going through withdrawal. Have the phone numbers of several recovery friends who can provide support and be very kind to yourself during this difficult time. Seek your Higher Power daily. Do not attempt to go through withdrawal alone and on your own will power-- that's just cruel.

2. Know it is OK to modify and add behaviors to your bottom line list as your progress through recovery. You are not expected by your Higher Power to know all of your bottom line behaviors in the early phases of recovery, maybe not in your entire lifetime! As you gradually survive varying phases of withdrawal from one behavior after another, you will most likely recognize other behaviors that also create emotional crazies. For example, after 3 months of successfully ending an abusive relationship, you recognize that having fantasies of that person also has deep emotional effects on you. Continuing to engage in fantasies of that person is like drinking a poison and you feel sick or out of sorts the remainder of the day. You have just learned that fantasizing about this past partner is a new bottom line behavior that should be avoided to maintain emotional sobriety.

Recognizing your bottom line behaviors and maintaining sobriety from them may sound like a complicated and daunting task. Yes, it can feel very overwhelming at times, causing an addict to just want to throw in the towel. Always remember the practices of gentleness and kindness toward yourself in recovery. You can be firm and discipline yourself in love and humility, not out of punitive shame. Identify the bottom line behaviors and know that abstaining from them is leading you down the path toward your true self. Ceasing bottom line behaviors is an act of love toward yourself not a punishment. You do this because not doing it could mean death or loss of sanity. You do it because today you want to hold onto your serenity. Knowing your bottom line behaviors and respecting their destructive power is a life preserver in recovery.

Photo above found at: path&order=9&offset=24#/d2qvad7

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fourteen Year-Old Girl

This particular girl
(you don't know her, but
I do)
she is alone
she doesn't know this yet.
I know it for her and weep.
She is only fourteen
already with multiple
sex partners
the scars arch sideways up
her wrists and forearms, the
residue of abandonment.
When with her my tears harden
like stones,
like hers. When with her
a golden string of knowing extends
from my heart.
She cuts it too.
Who should know this deep a
gorge at only
The building stones of identity
kicked like trash to
the curb?
No one.
When I am with her
we hold this
together before she knows
she is being known--
leaves us both.
She doesn't know this yet, but
she is really
not alone.

By Melissa Greene
photo above found at:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Being Humam 101

It's been a little while since I've come here to blah onto the page. This is such an effective and useful coping tool for me, I should come here more often. I hope that I do. I've got lots of ideas, inspirations, and recent events floating around in my head that I could write, but I often give my own sweet self this advice, "First thing's first and one thing at a time." Ok, well, I kinda melded that statement based on good things I heard at various Alanon meetings. :-)

Let's talk about being human for a little while. Why is it I keep forgetting that I am a human being? I absolutely do this and work with families and children who do this. I do not want to just BE. I want to be DOING something. I want solutions and an action step to work on. Just tell me what to DO and I will fix anything. This is my hope, but not at all the way my Creator made me to function. I was created with these annoying things called feelings that seem to have no other function but interrupting my attempts at being a Super Hero. If I just wasn't feeling so overwhelmed I would be able to attend one more meeting and keep people happy. If I just wasn't feeling so angry, I could do your job for you again today and keep the peace. But, no, being human stops that every time.

Here is what I have learned about humanness-- If I try to push myself beyond my own reasonable capacity, it will always end in depression and anxiety. It might take a few months before I wind up there or even a few years for some people, but it never ends good. I cannot deny myself of basic human self-care for extended periods of time and think there are no consequences for that. By basic human self-care, I mean we take care of our bodies. We eat healthy, avoid excesses of all kinds, sleep, and get routine medical care. But I also, and especially, mean taking care of our feelings. Our creator gave us these beautiful, fragile, and indispensable feelings that are there for our own good. Although our feelings are not FACTS, they are ours, completely and utterly ours. It is not weak to have feelings nor is it weak to attend to them the same way I would attend to my body's needs.

I want to clarify that I don't mean I coddle my feelings. Caring for them means I first acknowledge that they are present! Feelings become loud and dangerous when routinely ignored. Then I listen to them and hear where they are coming from. Honestly, for me, that usually settles them down pretty quickly. Our feelings are our friends. Our feelings want to let us know when we are being taken advantage of. Our feelings want to let us know when there is a hurt that needs to just spill for a little while. Our feelings are there to act as friendly guides, especially the uncomfortable feelings like grief, anger, and loneliness.

When I ignore the friendly and helpful feelings of grief, anger, or loneliness, they evolve into the crazed and unhelpful feelings of depression and anxiety. How many times do I need to ignore my feelings and watch them turn into depression and anxiety before I finally get it? If I could count how many times I've done this in the past, it would have to add up into the thousands. I am HUMAN and it is good to have feelings and respect them. Today I will choose to honor even the uncomfortable feelings because I love myself. It may have take 30+ years, but I finally figured out how to derail some depression and anxiety!

Photo above found at: human&order=9&offset=24#/dt1ydn

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Morning, a glass door, flashes
Gold names off the new city,
Whose white shelves and domes travel
The slow sky all day.
I land to stay here;
And the windows flock open
And the curtains fly out like doves
And a past dries in a wind.

Now let me lie down, under
A wide-branched indifference,
Shovel-faces like pennies
Down the back of the mind,
Find voices coined to
An argot of motor-horns,
And let the cluttered-up houses
Keep their thick lives to themselves.

For this ignorance of me
Seems a kind of innocence.
Fast enough I shall wound it:
Let me breathe till then
Its milk-aired Eden,
Till my own life impound it-
Slow-falling; grey-veil-hung; a theft,
A style of dying only.

By Philip Larkin
Photo above found at: blowing&order=9&offset=24#/d188q6r

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Midwife to Tears

As a therapist, you know it's been a good week of productive therapy when you've gone through an entire box of Kleenex in your office. This is not to say that tears alone produce healing or progress, but I know that tears sometimes will break down barriers. I have many clients that all began treatment with me around March of this year and all of them are reaching a similar place in treatment right now-- hitting the core. It's been emotionally draining for me to help them contain the heaviness of what we are reaching. It never fails to amaze me, though, watching the human spirit heal itself. I am in awe each time it happens, kind of like the miracle of watching a child being born. It's really beautiful to watch someone travail in pain, produce a nugget of truth, work through it, and emerge someone whole. I love my job!

I wonder-- what is it about tears? I have seen some people whose tears seem to be meaningless. They cry over most anything, all the time, to no benefit. The tears have come to mean nothing and produce nothing. It's like they are stuck in grief and crying. That's a very sad place to be. More often, however, particularly with children, I find those people who refuse to cry. I can't tell you the number of people I have met in therapy who tell me crying is for wussies, both girls and boys alike. It's unfortunate that somewhere in their lives they have been given this message. It really requires great strength to let yourself cry. You have to have the confidence of knowing you can contain yourself within the grief. Crying is a release and, thus, a trusting that as you let this part of yourself go, there will still be a self standing once the tears stop. For most of us who have this innate understanding of tears, that they come and they go, we are able to allow them to work for us as needed. Imagine what it's like for those who never get that release and how terrifying it must be to believe you cannot cry for fear of losing yourself.

This week I've had the wonderful opportunity to play midwife to the tears of children. It's been such an honor to sit by them and coach the tears that have been welling for years. We have sat together in the quiet while tears crowned and spilled. I am so proud of these little people who finally felt brave enough to let that part of themselves go. They have learned crying is not weak. From a place of true strength, they have allowed the tears to do their own work. No one has been lost this week, but with the help of a box of Kleenex, lots of people were found. :-)

Photo above found at:

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Escape

Wade in the water, children,
beneath the twinkling drinking gourd move
like fire your feet through the lapping freedom.
Don't stop till sweet Ohio grass
brushes your ankles, wade, wade,
God's gonna trouble the waters.

You'll see Mr. Johnson's girl standing
in white, free as the children of
the Israelite
, let your steps thrush
the ground
their energy quiet and swift
the same energy of the sun
pounding your back the day before
while splintered fingers dig
for cotton seed.

There is one chance
for the angels to stir the pool
fall deep into its healing
the very soul of God
freeing first the spirit now
the body. Be sure
you get your chance this year
Wade in the water, children,
wade wade.

by Melissa Greene

photo above found at:§ion=&q=African+American+slavery#/d23lh0h

A Week Later

A week later, I said to a friend: I don't
think I could ever write about it.
Maybe in a year I could write something.
There is something in me maybe someday
to be written; now it is folded, and folded,
and folded, like a note in school. And in my dream
someone was playing jacks, and in the air there was a
huge, thrown, tilted jack
on fire. And when I woke up, I found myself
counting the days since I had last seen
my husband-only two years, and some weeks,
and hours. We had signed the papers and come down to the
ground floor of the Chrysler Building,
the intact beauty of its lobby around us
like a king's tomb, on the ceiling the little
painted plane, in the mural, flying. And it
entered my strictured heart, this morning,
slightly, shyly as if warily,
untamed, a greater sense of the sweetness
and plenty of his ongoing life,
unknown to me, unseen by me,
unheard, untouched-but known, seen,
heard, touched. And it came to me,
for moments at a time, moment after moment,
to be glad for him that he is with the one
he feels was meant for him. And I thought of my
mother, minutes from her death, eighty-five
years from her birth, the almost warbler
bones of her shoulder under my hand, the
eggshell skull, as she lay in some peace
in the clean sheets, and I could tell her the best
of my poor, partial love, I could sing her
out with it, I saw the luck
and luxury of that hour.

by Sharon Olds

photo above found at: hearts&order=9&offset=0#/d127m5q

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Kids Gone Mad

I had a conversation with a colleague of mine this week, a psychiatrist who has been providing treatment to children for at least 35+ years. I was telling him about the difference of opinion I was having with some of my staff, regarding children who "act disrespectful" in sessions. I tend to believe that children should be able to come into therapy and feel free to say or do whatever they please during their 50-minute session. I have co-workers who do not allow tantrums or sass and are appalled that I allow that. It gets very frustrating sometimes. This doctor laughed at me and said, "We were debating that 30 years ago!"

So apparently this has been a source of conflict among psychotherapists for some time now. I don't think I can argue the other side with real conviction, but from what I understand, these therapists feel you are reinforcing negative behavior by allowing tantrums in session. For example, a child comes into therapy and begins to yell and curse about her Mom making her share a room with her little sister. There are some therapists who would say, "I know you're mad about this, but I don't allow that kind of language in here. It's not appropriate for a 12 year-old to curse like that. If you want to stay here, you need to calm down and stop yelling, so we can talk about this." One of my co-workers has explained to me that she is establishing "good boundaries" with this client and "I don't allow people to yell and curse like that at me, and this child is no different than anyone else." I can actually see the logic in this argument. It is perhaps teaching the child to get control of herself and emphasizing the importance of showing respect with adults. In this scenario, I would also say the therapist was calmly setting parameters for the therapy sessions.

Faced with a similar scenario, I tend to encourage the child's expression of this anger and may even repeat her words to show that I do not judge her anger. For example, after the child has made some loud "inappropriate" comments about Mom, I repeat it back to her with similar conviction, "You think that bitch is just favoring your brother again and you are very mad about it!" Often this diffuses children right away, because they're shocked to hear their therapist cursing. After several instances of this, however, the child becomes settled in knowing that their anger and tirades are not going to be shut down or judged, and they will express themselves freely. After several sessions of this, I've seen children gain a comfort in knowing that their anger is heard and respected in this room by this therapist, and the need to yell and curse about things tends to diminish. I think it's important to note that there has to be some realistic limits to what a child can do in treatment. These limitations should not feel restrictive and are there to keep the child safe and to protect property from being damaged.

I take this stance because I want children to bring all their ugly stuff into therapy. I want them to say the vile things for which other therapists might reprimand them. It's my opinion that giving a child this kind of freedom, allows them the space to bring everything that is inside to the outside. There we can look at it all without judgment, and children tend to sort it out for themselves. The fear of many therapists is that aggressive behavior acted out in therapy may transfer to the home or school environment. I will say that I have not had this happen. It seems that working freely through the anger in sessions actually decreases the need and desire to do it elsewhere. Often when children have been allowed to cut up drawing pictures of siblings or beat up dolls of Daddy, they have come back to me later and reported improved relationships with these people. Anyway, that's the debate!

I feel really passionate about allowing this sort of freedom of expression, because I see it work so well. I work with a 9 year-old girl who shares deeply painful memories of bullying and abandonment by Mom only after her puppet doll "beats me up" for about the first 10 minutes of therapy. I've seen another 10 year-old boy gain insight on his own about jealousy toward his sister, only after I allowed him to dump an entire bin of toys on my floor, toss them around for 40 minutes saying, "THIS is my anger!" With this child, all I had to do was stand by to ensure safety and validate as much as I could, "this is your anger! It's a lot! It's big and very messy!"

I have to say that, as a therapist, you must be really comfortable with your own anger to allow such expressions from other people. I've clipped some shrubs to pieces "working out my mads" and scrubbed some tubs to a sparkling shine while crying it out. I have to believe this has allowed me firsthand experience of physically kneading through emotions, letting them run through my body and my words until they are spent. Perhaps if a kind therapist had allowed and encouraged this from me years ago, I wouldn't have struggled with it as an adult. Nonetheless, my landscaping looks great these days! So, the debate "rages" on, so to speak, and I will continue to encourage my little people clients to come on in and let it on out.

Photo above found at:

Friday, May 14, 2010

12 Steps to the 23rd Psalm

I had a really neat thought today. Have you ever noticed that the 12 steps and the 23 Psalm actually go hand in hand? They move through the same succession. Check this out:

1. We admitted we were powerless over (insert addiction), that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Turned our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

Admitting powerlessness, developing faith in a higher power, and putting your life in God's hands: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Psalm 23:1-3

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Became entirely ready to have him remove these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.

Getting real about your own "stuff," and letting God begin to clean you out: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." Psalm 23:4

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became ready to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people, wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.

Making it right with those you've hurt, being set free from the past, relying on the power of God and the steps to continue the healing: "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over." Psalm 23:5

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all areas of our lives.

"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever." Psalm 23:6

Isn't God so clever?

Photo above found at:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Resignation Tendered

Hello blogger friends! It's good to come back to this blank page and "blah" a little bit. Like most of us at some point in our lives, I have been spending a significant amount of time these last few months actively pursuing a personal dream. This is a career dream that I have held for as long as I can remember, even back to my childhood. In these last few months, it has been almost surreal watching what has been only a picture in my imagination become a reality in my life. It has been scary and exciting, both joyous and nerve-wracking. Just in this last month, however, the building of my dream has come to a screeching halt.

I have hit what seems to be an insurpassable roadblock. There is no way through this one. I've come upon other roadblocks on this course, and, with some some time and determination, have been able to make it through. This one, however, remains firm. I am slowly coming into the realization that this just is not going to happen for me. My dream is dying and this is tough-- really, really tough.

Yesterday, in my car driving home, I turned off my radio and just began to pray. I don't remember exactly what I said, but it was something like this, "God, you know my heart, and you know that I am saying these words from a place of true sincerity and not an attempt to force anything from you. If it's your perfect will for me, I am asking and trust that you will remove this roadblock. I will do my part and wait patiently for you to swoop down with your powerful hands and make this happen for me! You are well able to remove this obstacle right now in the name of Jesus. You can do this and I know you love me and want me happy!" I paused while a giant "but" bubbled up into my prayer. "But if you do not remove this roadblock, I will accept that. I will go where you want me to go and be the woman you want me to be, wherever you want me to be that." I began to feel gratitude build in my chest, "after all you have done for me, I can give this dream to you, God. It's really not much for you to ask, after all. If you want me to give this up to you, and that's your plan for me, I will do it. I love you and just want you to be pleased with me. I'm not perfect, although I try to be daily to no avail (God knows I'm a perfectionist despite His grace :-) ). Really, at the end of the day, and at the end of this life, my dreams are such a small thing. All that really matters to me is that you can say you're pleased with me. If this is all you ask of me, I'll do it for you, Lord."

In the course of that prayer something clicked in me. This career dream I have is but one pie slice in the pie of my life. It is not the entire pie. God has done amazing, truly amazing and miraculous things in many of the other pie slices. I'm so grateful for that. Yes, I'd love to have every pie slice just the way I want it, and maybe God will do that. I'm sure He'd love to really show out in my life and He's done it many times before, BUT if He doesn't... who am I to complain, really?

Suddenly, I remembered Abraham and how he was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. This was the son he for whom he had prayed and believed for nearly a hundred years! This was the one thing he had always wanted from God more than anything else, a son, and he finally got it. Now God was asking Abraham to sacrifice him. It was always so inexplicable to me how Abraham was able to take his highly prized son out to be sacrificed, without question, without hesitation! What?! I always read that story and thought, "Wow, what amazing faith! Abraham must have know that God would not really do this to him and that a true sacrifice would be provided in the end." Ultimately, that is what happened. Just as Isaac was laid upon the sacrificial fire, a lamb appears from the bushes as the sacrifice. Today, for the first time ever, I see this story in a completely different light. After years and years of waiting on God, trusting in God, watching God work, trial and error, trial and error, a believer learns very acutely what it feels like to be apart from God. I have struck out on my own way many times only to crash and burn. It's no fun.

For me, and maybe even for Abraham, I believe, it's not faith alone but also reaching a place of resignation with God. I don't mean a hopeless, angry kind of resignation. I'm talking about a resignation that, when asked to give up to God a seemingly essential part of SELF, says, "I thought I needed this, but really, if you want it, it's better if you just take it. I'll give you whatever you need just to stay with you, even this. In fact, in the grander scheme of things, this is a very small thing to give you. My entire life is right here on the sacrificial fire. Just take it all... including THIS," whatever THIS might be in your life.

I apologize if I may sound a little preachy today or overly "religious" for some. Although I have my particular spiritual views, I don't ever intend to try to force those on other people. I want to allow everyone the space to make and find their own spiritual path. Please know that the sharing of my particular struggle is just that... my own personal struggle, and not intended to be a sermon on the mount. One of my earliest intentions for this blog was a selfish one-- a place to rant and philosophize as self-indulgently as is personally necessary! We all need the space to do that and sometimes knowing that our words are being heard is very validating. Thanks for validating me today. :-)

Photo above found at:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blessed Is the Match

Blessed is the match, consumed in kindling flame.
Blessed is the flame that burns in the heart's secret places.
Blessed is the heart that knows, for honors sake, to stop its beating.
Blessed is the match, consumed in kindling flame.

By Hannah Senesh

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I've Got a Right to Be Wrong

Today just wrap your arms around yourself. Go ahead, do it. Love on your sweet imperfect self, sway back and forth, and dance to this little tune by Joss Stone. When I first started developing a real SELF, this song made me smile from the inside. She says, "I've got a right to be wrong. I've been held down too long. I'm flesh and blood down to the bone, not made of stone. I gotta sing my own song. I might be singing off key, but it sure sounds good to me." Gotta love it! We are human beings. We are supposed to make mistakes. We are supposed to sign up for crap, then halfway through realize it's crap and change our mind. We have the right to change our minds halfway through the crap. We have the right to have unconscious selfish motives, then forgive ourselves and ask God for healing. We have the right to mistakes and to be wrong. Enjoy this, friends, and give yourself some sweet love today.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Happy Thoughts, Happy Thoughts

O Sisyphus, O Tantalus

So there it is, the fact of life,
a heart is not so hard to break.
And twisted, tragic irony
will indeed a good story make
but won't seal the eggshell
cracked and bleeding blood-red yoke –
thus the breaker and the broken spoke.

O Sisyphus, I feel your pain –
despite myself, I lift the rock again
and beat myself over the head:
he said, she said, I thought… I wish
I had not forgotten to bury the dead,
to take out the trash, and sleep
where I chose to make my bed.

Time heals all wounds but those that fester:
like Tantalus (of tantalizing)
the fruit still beckons, aggrandizing
dreams of what may have come to be
had Hubris not yet taken hold,
made me reach for all that gold
when all along we shared the Midas touch.

Irony, you stupid bitch, I'll tear your heart
out of your chest, just let me rest
and think these happy thoughts;
happy thoughts not to forget but overlay
the spite, the void, the shame, those days
I bit off more than I could chew
and lost a tooth, and took it out on you.

By Anonimous Mistake at

Photo above found at

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Magical Thinking

I've started doing some extra work, some initial assessments and outpatient therapy with more children. I was a little apprehensive at first, but I am finding that this work is feeding me spiritually! Now I understand what Paul meant when he said "though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are growing day by day." As always, God knows just what I need and when I need it. Let me tell you this great story about a little boy I saw the other day.

This child is 8 years old and has a history of abuse and neglect. In our second session, he and I are playing, and I am watching for themes to begin to emerge in his play. Being the analytical adult I am, I am watching for themes of aggression, control, or anger. I am watching for re-enactments of abuse scenarios and perhaps bringing his perpetrator into our play. He surprises me, however, and points out that a little monster doll sitting in the corner is another child at school who has been bullying him. I walk my little princess doll over to Woody, the character he has chosen to represent himself, and say, "Hey, go over there and tell him to go away!" This child looks me in the eye terrified and says, "No, you do it." I realize that this child is not looking to exercise control or aggression. He just wants to feel protected by the adults in his life, so I tell him, "No problem. Let me take care of this." I walk my princess doll over to that monster and give him a thrashing of the MOST epic of proportions. He gets beat, kicked, punched, and utterly destroyed. All the while my client is laughing and jumping with glee. His joy is infectious and I begin laughing too. I tell that little monster, "There, take that! And if you ever mess with my friend again, I'll come back and do the same thing again! Now get out of here!" We take that monster and hide him behind a stack of books. I can tell that the mother, who is looking on, doesn't know whether to laugh with us or be horrified.

That was last week, so I was excited to see my little friend again this week. I ask his Mom how things have been and she says she's seeing improvement. I ask my client about the bully and he smiles and says, "Oh, we're friends now." This is the power of a child's magical thinking and the magic of play! It is so refreshing to me, watching the innocence with which children mold their little worlds. They don't need to read a book about bullies or go to the seminar. They don't need to call a meeting or talk it out-- not that there is anything at all wrong with those methods of change. But those are adult methods.

I'm being reminded of the child's methods of change, which require immense faith. Children make magical connections where none seem to exist in the real world. Sometimes this is to their detriment, such as making the erroneous connection that Dad left the home because they (the child) were not smart enough or assuming they are being abused because they are bad children. I am being reminded through these precious little kids, sometimes feeling good is as simple as just believing it to exist. Sometimes feeling powerful is thrashing a stuffed doll or, in my case, defeating a sink full of dishes. Somewhere along the way, we lose some of the magic of thinking, and I'm so grateful to be reminded I can still pick that skill up when I need it. If I want to feel peaceful today, it starts with a little play. When the little girl inside me is laughing with delight, just like my client the other day, you know it's going to be a great day.

Photo above found at:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Selling Myself Short?

I have really had the strangest dreams lately. My husband says to me, "Oh, God, do I really have to hear about your dreams?" The concept of dreams having meaning seems like a foolish one to him. I, however, believe strongly that most of our dreams are not just refuse from the day. They actually are telling us something! I believe our subconscious minds pick up images, words, non-verbal cues, and all sorts of juicy tidbits from the day that the conscious mind is either too busy or too defended to really see. Then at night, the subconscious pieces together the images and clues into a story that often seems nonsensical. Perhaps my husband thinks this is crazy, but I just happen to have generations of brilliant psychoanalysts who agree with me on this... so there. I guess you can imagine what the arguments around my house sound like, poor hubby.

Back to my VERY fascinating dream... so, I dream I am back in the home I grew up in. I'm an adult living back at home with Mom and I'm growing hundreds of tomatoes (FYI, any time you're dreaming about your childhood home or family of origin... pay close attention). I simply grow these hundreds of tomatoes and most of them rot on the vine. I'm doing nothing meaningful with them apart from just growing them. I will occasionally enjoy a few of the tomatoes for myself, but there are just so many of them that most of them go to waste. One day, in the dream, I realize, "Hey, I should really be doing something with all these tomatoes. These are really gorgeous, and there are people who would probably like to have them." So, I decide to sell them to a local woman at a farmer's market. She re-sells the tomatoes and we split the profit. I go into the yard and am struck by how many of these darned tomatoes I actually have. I begin plucking them from the vines and realize they are real gems. Some are fat and deep red, others are smaller and perfect. They vary in shade and size, but they all seem wonderful to me. I gather several bags and go inside the house and declare my intentions to my Mom who says, "Why would you do something like that? You could take those tomatoes straight to people yourself and not have to split the profit! Lots of people would buy those from you." I get very angry at her criticism and reiterate the fact that I WANT to sell them to the lady at the farmer's market.

As I'm gathering the tomatoes, I recognize there is one really exotic kind growing in the yard. In my dream, I call them black cherry tomatoes. They are so deep red they actually look black. They are bursting with flavor and so beautiful. I know they lady at the farmer's market will be excited about the opportunity to sell these. I take her my produce and she is, in fact, very excited at what I've brought. When she sees the black cherry tomatoes, however, she seems a little reluctant and is just examining them. I am marveling at their beauty and say, "They're amazing, aren't they?" She hesitates and just says, "Well... I don't know if anyone will really be interested in these." She estimates her profits and pays me. I leave feeling a little let-down and thinking maybe my Mom was right.

So, that's the dream and it has stuck with me for days. Out of curiosity, I googled black cherry tomatoes this morning and discovered that this is an actual tomato. This is what they look like in reality, beautiful, huh?

I think it's difficult for me to interpret my own dreams, because my own conscious mind will filter out some of the obvious interpretations. On the surface of things though, I think the dream is a reflection of the growth I have done in the past several years. I have actually become productive at work and at home. I have done tons of self-exploration and worked hard to address some character flaws and personal issues. Maybe for the first time in my life, I look around and see real fruit-- enough fruit to actually feed someone other than myself! The only problem is where and how to do that, I guess. I'm not real sure about that black cherry tomato. In the dream, I got the feeling that the tomato was so odd that it actually put people off. Now that I think about it, I can see how that's happening too in my reality! I'm open to your interpretations. I sense this dream is an important one to me.

And should you come to my website and see "Get to the Inside: a psychotherapist's spiritual blend of psychology and agriculture," don't be surprised... I'm just saying.

Top photo found here:

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I am a slippery oiled fish on
a silver tray
plaster-eyed and glassy
skin gray as stone. I've known
a fish-bowled world and
time like a shiny black bomb ticking
to destruction.
You've got me sizzling orange,
stuck, thoughts thick as glue through
my veins
filled halfway now to alabaster pupil--
I lie here
cold as the fish-hooked lip
limp on this altar slab.

I have lots to say and
you really don't care.

Photo above found at:

Thursday, February 4, 2010


If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient,
love is kind.
It does not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but
rejoices with the truth.
It always protects,
always trusts,
always hopes,
always perseveres.
Love never fails.

The Holy Bible, New International Version
I Corinthians 13: 1-8
Photo above found at:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How About a Little Compassion?

As I was standing in the grocery line this evening, I browsed through this week's notable and highly-esteemed news source, In Touch magazine. I flipped through some photos of plastic women in overpriced dresses and the essential who's cheating on who articles until I reached the REAL news that spills the beans... Kate Gosselin is stressed! The magazine featured a photo of Kate popping one of her little one's in the mouth, reportedly after scolding the youngster. I didn't read the entire article but saw blurbs about how Kate is falling apart; Kate is reaching a boiling point with the kids; Kate is caught again roughing up the kids, etc. I do not regularly write about celebrities or current news, but this issue really needs to be addressed.

Here's what I know-- Kate Gosselin is a single mother of eight children, due to a humiliating, heart-wrenching divorce that dominated television and magazine headlines for months. Even if the divorce had not been a very public one, it was still a divorce. I'm very grateful I have never had to experience divorce and pray to God I never have to, but having watched many friends, family, and clients go through this hellacious struggle, I know it ain't pretty! Divorce is just about one of the toughest events a person can possibly face, even if the divorce is from a cheating, abusive, or just plain obnoxious spouse. It is still an ending of everything you once believed your life was going to be. This is made all the more agonizing when there are young children involved. Can you imagine the agony when there are EIGHT young children involved?

I do not ever want to try to excuse poor or abusive parenting. My point is this-- why is Kate Gosselin being stressed considered news? An article that went something like this would really be news: "After a public and grueling divorce, single mother of eight, Kate Gosselin, demonstrates patience and profound tolerance with her children. While on an outing with the eight children, a frenzy of paparazzi snapped photos of the cheerful, well-rested Kate embracing her children and laughing kindly at their sibling squabbles." Of course this woman is stressed! She is alone, and I would imagine angry, scared, humiliated, and emotionally disoriented! She is a human being. She is not perfect. Her husband is across the country jet-setting with his latest 20-something love affair, while she is trying to manage their children. Before we cast stones, let us consider for one moment what it must feel like to be Kate Gosselin.

We need a kinder, gentler world where we reserve judgement. We are all human and, thus, prone to mistakes. I thank God my mistakes are not broadcast on the evening news. Can you imagine going through some of your most difficult times and having reporters capturing your entire experience? Heaven forbid you show circles under your eyes, take the kids to school without any make-up on, or publicly discipline a child who just publicly acted a fool. How different our world could be if, for even one day, we reported from a place of compassion and understanding, and refrained from reporting intrusively on other people's life-altering and personal moments. I think the best reporter of Kate's demeanor, feelings, and behavior would be Kate herself, if and when she is ever willing to share her story.

Monday, January 25, 2010

When PTSD goes AWOL (PTSD, part 2)

I think the most common and troubling PTSD I tend to see is in teens and/or adults who have experienced trauma (often multiple traumas) and has gone untreated for many years. Over the years they have developed a set of behaviors aimed at relieving their anxiety, which often includes various addictions. I also see that what began as PTSD symptoms (see previous post for a listing) has morphed into a post-traumatic stress personality. There may be minimal PTSD symptoms remaining years after the trauma(s) have occurred and in their place is an anxiety-ridden, angry monster in denial!

This is not to say that everyone who has ever experienced PTSD has his or her personality altered. And I also want to clarify that technically speaking, there is no such thing as post traumatic stress personality. This is just the name I have come up with to describe this type of personality. Typically this is a person who experienced multiple traumas, interwoven/complex traumas, or trauma that occurred repeatedly over a significant period of time. These traumas typically occurred at a young age, probably before age 8, and no one (including the child or adult in question ) has linked these past traumas to present day feelings. Usually these clients will say, "Oh, that happened a long time ago. I'm over it." This client has received no direct support, validation, or treatment related to the traumas they have experienced. The client has likely presented for treatment around age 17 due to frequent assaults on peers and teachers, chronic tension with a caregiver, inability to form attachments, and drug use. Usually these kids have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or possibly even Conduct Disorder (a disturbing diagnosis equivalent to Antisocial Personality Disorder for kids).

It is very common that these children or adults continue to have much chaos and drama in their lives, often at their own doing. Although they may no longer experience some of the acute symptoms of PTSD, the child or adult may engage in daily fights or sexual behavior that staves off the symptoms. The fighting or sexual behavior (or various other "delinquent" behaviors) have become reinforcing in themselves. They work! They keep people at a distance or get the desired attention. They provide immediate relief and maintain a certain level of required chaos. In some cases I see children or adults who seem to repeatedly re-create the original traumas. It is believed that many people do this in the desperate attempt to make right the past trauma. For example, a child who witnessed years of domestic violence may choose a violent partner as an adolescent, believing "my love will change him, this time it will be different, and I will feel BETTER." I also see adults who were victims of physical abuse grow up and have children who are abusive toward them. They have again become the victim within their own home. Another example is the child who was sexually abused who is highly sexualized as an adolescent and highly promiscuous. Particularly with sexual abuse, a child can have their internal sexual thermostat set to "high," and thus be easily aroused or sexually activated. We call this "sexually reactive."

If the adolescent or adult has developed an addiction in an effort to relieve PTSD, then treatment first has to deal with the addiction. This is very common. It is only natural that if you are experiencing intense anxiety, difficulty with relationships, sleep problems, or persistent hostility, you would want relief! Certainly you will get some quick relief from a drink or a hit of mary jane. Perhaps the addiction is one more subtle such as food, video games, relationships, or work. The addiction and the consequences of the addiction become troublesome themselves, wreaking havoc in the life of the addict. It becomes very difficult to address PTSD with someone who is afraid you're trying to take away their drug. Often clients are not open to the possibility of PTSD when the "drug" is keeping them from experiencing any anxiety. It is more likely that behavior and problems related to the increasingly dangerous addiction is what will lead this client into treatment.

Detox can be a piece of cake compared to the hard work of unraveling a PTSD personality. It is essential, however, that the client is willing to do the work of unraveling the knots of their personality if they want to prevent relapse in their addiction. I believe so many people go through drug treatment again and again, returning each time because they have never resolved the core issues of why they NEED to use to begin with. It is also very common that as clients go through drug treatment and "get clean," that they begin to experience years of repressed anxiety, grief, or anger. I'm sure this is probably not very encouraging to anyone who may be considering drug treatment, but wait! If you are at a place where you want to find true sobriety and serenity, the work of cleaning the old toxins from your soul is what will do the trick. We do not have to have our lives forever ruled by past events. We do not have to continue to suffer or engage in behaviors that stave off the pain. We may only be human, but we are strong enough to endure the work. Humans were created to both be hurt and to heal.

Photo above found at:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Part 1

I've been thinking about the fact that I specialize in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but have never written about it on my blog. I'm not sure why that is exactly. I think partly because I'm afraid that once I get started talking about it, I won't be able to stop! I also worry that I will begin to get long-winded and technical in my discussion of PTSD and lose many of my readers. I think it's important to begin my discussion on this and trust my ability to rein myself in as needed. Thank God for "edit posts" option. Here goes...

What is PTSD?
Well, first of all, for any of you who are unfamiliar with PTSD, let me define it for you. I'm going to define it according to "professional standards," but will put it in everyday terms. A traumatic event is one in which you fear that either yourself or another person is going to be seriously injured or killed. Many people face events like this but do not develop PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder develops when, after the traumatic event is over, you continue to feel like you are still experiencing it. You may re-experience it through intrusive memories or flashbacks of the trauma. You may have nightmares of the event or at times literally feel in your body as if the event were happening right now. Also with PTSD you will go to extreme lengths to avoid situations or people that remind you of the trauma. It is common that we sometimes experience these types of symptoms immediately after a traumatic event, such as losing a loved one. The difference between a normal stress reaction and PTSD is that in a normal stress reaction, these symptoms tend to dissipate after one month. Also, in a normal stress reaction, you tend to maintain some level of control over your response and your life is not shattered irreversibly after the event. For example, you may face a horrifying event and be really shaken up about it for weeks afterward. Over the course of the next few months you find that you are able to leave your home, continue with work, and the anxiety does not rule your life. With PTSD, it is not uncommon for people to not experience any symptoms until months or years after the event occurred.

These are the technical criteria for PTSD:

1. A person is exposed to a traumatic event and has a response of intense fear, helplessness, or horror.

2. The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced (i.e., intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, intense distress when exposed to cues or reminders of the trauma, etc.)

3. Persistent avoidance of people/situations related to the event (i.e., unwillingness to discuss the event, inability to recall details of the event or maybe extremely sharp memories of detail, withdrawal from everyday living and people in general)

4. Increased arousal, that is, "hyped-up" behavior-- you may be hyper-alert, on edge, on the watch, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, irritable/angry, difficulty concentrating, exaggerated startle response

5. The duration of these symptoms last longer than one month and cause "clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning."

How Does PTSD Happen?
Our brain is an intricate road map of neural pathways. There are happy and pleasant pathways in our brain and then there are some terrifying (though life-saving) pathways as well. An example of this is the fight or flight response. We've all most likely experienced having our fight or flight pathway being activated. Your heart rate accelerates. You go into survival mode. You may freeze up and feel unable to speak. You can feel every hair all over your entire body stand on end. Or you may turn into someone you don't recognize and display tremendous strength or ferocious aggression and fighting back. It's a critical part of our human make-up that we have this response. It keeps us alive in many terrifying situations and has for eons now.

Things go awry if this fight or flight response gets activated when there is not actually any terrifying event occurring. Someone with PTSD who has a history of physical abuse from a parent may be triggered into fight or flight years later when someone in the grocery store bumps into them roughly by accident. A child who was sexually abused in a bathroom may continue to experience intense anxiety about going to the bathroom years later. A war veteran who saw a friend killed in combat may continue to experience a feeling of hypervigilance and anxiety at the sound of loud trucks or booms. When someone has PTSD, their brain continues to categorize many events as "danger," when, in reality, there is no present danger. This categorization is not under control of the person and happens too quickly to be stopped many times. Once the woman in the grocery store was bumped by a stranger, the brain quickly perceived this event as life-threatening and activated a neural pathway of "high alert." Once the neural pathway is activated, it's like a loop with no end. She's driving on this pathway that just goes around and around with no exit.

As you can imagine, this is a miserable way to live. Often people with PTSD are going through their everyday living being triggered by voices, scents, perceived threats or sounds. These people are unaware themselves what is happening within them, not understanding what just triggered intense anger or anxiety. Many people with PTSD have no clue that they symptoms they are experiencing have anything at all to do with a traumatic event that likely occurred years ago. Or, if they do have some suspicion that their present anxiety is related to event(s) from the past, they are not fully aware of the extent to which their very personality is being shaped by fear and a need to avoid.

There Is Hope
PTSD does not have to be a life-long disorder. There are good and effective treatments for PTSD that are backed by research. The most effective treatments for PTSD aim to help people access helpful and positive neural pathways in the brain, when triggered, rather than falling into the fight or flight loop. This is what is being done in narrative and cognitive behavioral therapies that create positive and helpful pathways then, through repetition, link them with the traumatic event and triggers of the event. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy that literally retrains the brain through the use of eye movements to access helpful networks in the brain. I love EMDR and use it often in my practice. It often brings immediate relief to those suffering with PTSD. I have personally seen countless children and adults suffering with PTSD go bravely through treatment and lose their diagnosis. I have watched these people begin to experience relief from symptoms within weeks and months of treatment. If you have PTSD, you do not have to suffer or self-medicate for relief (this is another blog post!). There is treatment available to help you. I believe the human mind wants to heal itself and sometimes it just gets stuck. It is good to seek the assistance of a trained professional to help the broken record get un-stuck and get you back on the right track.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

On the Wheel Again

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, and, in fact, I should probably be really happy about this-- God has put me back on the potter's wheel again! Did I really begin to think maybe I was done? I've been fully conformed now into perfection. I don't need anymore work, Lord. Thanks, you can go work on somebody else now. Actually, I've been through much more painful times (see previous blog posts if you don't believe me). This one is pretty mild, so I won't complain!

I truly, wholly, and completely love INFORMATION. I love to read it, watch it, study it, and examine it from every single aspect until I feel absorbed by the "it." Then once I am full as a tick on information, I like to lounge back in the fatness of it and be giddy. I like to slop around in the abundance of information I can find on whatever the subject of the day might be, just like a pig finds glee in a rich gooey mud hole... oh, the joy! Once I get satiated on the information-gathering, then I begin to have the burning passion to disseminate. I feel very confident in my ability to take all the information I've gathered and digested, then disseminate it to others through words. I will talk, talk, talk about it; write, write, write about it. That's one of the reasons I had to start this blog was to have another outlet for my communication passion. I'm a teacher at heart and not ashamed of this wonderful gift God placed in me at birth. It's a sweet thing He and I share, and I love to show Him what His gift can do.

So, here's where the potter's wheel got rolled out on me... sometimes I need to keep my big mouth shut. WHAT?! Say it ain't so!! For the bulk of my life, God has been an encouraging and doting parent when it comes to my love for gathering information, organizing it, then sharing it with other people. Here lately, however, I'm hearing Him gently say to me, "Shhhhhhhh. Just be quiet for right now." Yesterday I finally had the insight that knowledge in itself is NOT wisdom. It's only one part of wisdom. For me, knowledge is related to the information I can talk about and do something about. Wisdom is related to what I don't talk about it and do nothing about. Knowledge is what I say, wisdom is what I don't say. If you're a communicator/teacher like me, you've probably encountered those moments when you excitedly share your new found insights and information with someone who you feel REALLY needs it, and the receiving party stares back at you with that blank, defended look. When I see that look, I usually don't stop talking. That look means I just need to find another way to make you understand! Ok, so you're not getting it, maybe I'll draw you a picture! Ok, you still don't get it, that's cool. I'll walk you through it step by step! Ok, you still don't get it. Let's just talk about it some more and I'll answer your questions. Still not getting it... ok, maybe I need to make this plain to you, since you're clearly a little dense!

I have a very hard time accepting it when someone is not receiving my information. Eventually, I will just force this on you, if I have to. I can get a little scrappy about it if I need to. I am from the hills and we know how to handle these things out behind woodsheds when needed. I'm starting to get it, however, that sometimes it's just not my place to share my knowledge with certain people. In fact, it is wise at times that I do not disseminate knowledge. I read this verse in Proverbs this morning and laughed out loud, "For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding." (Proverbs 2:6) It's funny and beautiful and just so simple! GOD gives the wisdom and the knowledge. I can share my wealth of knowledge 500 ways and some people won't get it, but when GOD disseminates it, they'll get it. Hey, I can accept that. I'll stay on the potter's wheel for awhile until this sinks in a little more. Then when He's done with me, maybe He'll be willing to impart to me how He got them to understand when I couldn't. I want to know that trick, too! Guess this means I'm not quite done spinning here.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Believe? Not Sure I Can Go There

"But what if I don't believe in God?"
Long pause.
I don't know what to say to this but, "What?"

This is what someone asked me the other day-- someone in pain, someone desperately seeking recovery from addictions, someone just like me, you, and the rest of humanity. Who among us has never had, if not years, then moments of doubt about God? If it's never gotten miserable enough for you that your doubting self had to cry out in anger, "If there is a God in heaven, this would be a GREAT time to show up!!!"-- well, I guess I'd think you were lying.

I have my God, and I also have no desire to force my God on anyone else. The Higher Power is always The Higher Power regardless of whether or not I'm preaching it on every street corner or loudly protesting that MY God is the only one true God!!! The Higher Power is still The Higher Power and he will find you wherever you are just like he found me in some of my most unsavory places. I'm not worried about it. The 12 Step programs are spiritual programs. They hinge upon the hope and faith that there is a Higher Power and that this Higher Power can restore us to sanity (Step 2). We are encouraged to seek out and try to build a connection with a Higher Power (Step 11), and to trust there is a Higher Power that can care for us in a way that we cannot care for ourselves (Step 3).

Well, actually, I guess the best response to a recovering addict who says "but I don't believe in God," would be, "Great! You're on your way to recovery!" One of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous defined addiction as a spiritual deficiency. Thus, all addicts have some level of disbelief in a Higher Power, at least in the acting out phases of their lives, when addiction is the God of their lives. Addicts are hurting people who just want to feel better. I sat with a beautiful teen-aged girl the other day, tears streaming from her sad brown eyes, while she gently stroked the fresh self-inflicted cuts from wrist to shoulder. She just wanted to feel better, and this time it took more cuts than ever before to finally get there. Because there is no secure thing or person to provide some outer evidence that she is loved and safe, these fresh cuts work for her to bring relief. For some it's a heavy dose of heroin, drinking until the pain stops, finding a man who brings love, or working into the wee hours every night so you don't have to think or feel anything. All these people just want to feel better and have found whatever outlet they can grasp onto to bring relief. There is no belief that some Higher Power could or even wants to do the job.

If you want to be free from addictions and you don't believe there is a force somewhere in this universe that is stronger, wiser, and has more resources than you, then how do you believe you will get better? Do you believe your addicted mind can heal your addicted mind? I really love how this is described in the "Big Book" for Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, "We came to realize that this disease of sex and love addiction so subtly and thoroughly permeated our best-intentioned and most fervid plans to reform ourselves, that even our ability to think clearly was undermined. There could be no such thing as a self-powered cure. Too many of us had tried this and had failed repeatedly. It was not that our logic, motives or intents were wrong. Rather, our very ability to see the problem clearly, and our wishes to change ourselves, were themselves systematically distorted by the addiction. That part of our mind which at least intermittently recognized our sickness was itself not immune, and could not be solely relied upon to guide us to health." (The Basic Text for the Augustine Fellowship, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, p. 74).

There comes a time for addicts, if you're lucky, when life and the consequences of addiction have become torturous to the point of death without actually dying. It is at this point when we place our first toe on the path of recovery and a tiny flicker emerges within us. Within this tiny flicker is the realization I am totally powerless over this thing. For many of us, there were a few expletives before and after this revelation, but I'll spare you that here. When you really GET it, I am powerless, there might be a moment of intense panic or maybe relief. This is the beauty of recovery. It's like a computer program that, once it starts running, it has its own course that doesn't require my wisdom to keep it going. That tiny flicker of self-preservation within me that admits powerlessness is the same healthy flicker that naturally says, Well, if I have no control over this behavior, dear God, I have to believe there is something or someone in this universe that is willing to help me!

Hold on to whatever vague notion of a Higher Power you can conjure. It may feel ridiculous and assaulting against your reasoning, but believe it anyway. Just fake it, if you have to. Step 2 says, "We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." We came there over time. We muddled it over, tinkered with it, or fantasized about it. We began to hope it with all our hearts, for our own sake and that of our loved ones. There has got to be some force out there stronger than me that can restore me. Day One of living out of this new belief looks like this-- turn your life and your will over to the care of this God, as you understand this God to be (Step 3). Whereas we would typically rise out of bed and begin living from our own sick will, Day One-- turn your will and your life over to the care of a Higher Power. If you make it through that sober, then congratulations, it's a good start! If you did not make it through Day One sober, yet you're still alive, congratulations, it's a good start! Day Two looks like this-- turn your will and your life over to the care of God as you understand God. Day Three-- turn your will and your life over to the care of God as you understand God. You will watch in wonder as this Higher Power does for you the work of healing that you could not do for yourself, and through this process, you are coming to believe.

There are many people struggling with addictions who also struggle with turning their lives over to a Higher Power. Too many of us have been abandoned, neglected, or abused by those in power over us and have vowed to never lose ourselves to another's power again. Isn't it ironic that the venoms of abuse, neglect, and abandonment created a fear of surrender? And that surrender itself is the cure to these venoms? If you don't believe there is a Higher Power, your Higher Power already knows why you don't and doesn't judge you for it. If you can surrender your precious life to life-altering dramas and chaos, drunks, drugs that kill, the needle, the bottle, or abusive relationships, then why not give a loving Higher Power a shot at it?

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