May I Share Your Story?

Wars Change, Warriors Don’t

                                               Steven Pressfield, The Warrior Ethos,2011
  • Are you a Combat Veteran or a Cancer Survivor?

  • Have you overcome Addiction, Trauma, and/or other Dire Circumstances?

    Your Stories and Insights Are Kindly Requested

    The Be-Attitudes: A Handy Guide for Every-Day Warriors

    “A Little Book About Ordinary Survival in a Complex World”

An award-winning Educator, Mental Health Counselor, Army Veteran, and Writer, I continue in striving to  enlighten treatment providers, students, groups, and individuals in the practice of Self-Care, Treating the Addictions, and Suicide Awareness, using a Trauma-Informed approach. 

With more than 17 years’ experience in the treatment of Trauma and Addictions, I continue to be endlessly inspired by my fellow veterans and my own patients’ ability to grow from their own traumas; those who draw upon personal inner strengths and build upon positive past experience and the influences of others.  From their stories of growth I continue to observe a common thread of key attitudes that drive each toward wellness.  I have come to call these traits “Warrior Attitudes”.

I am passionate about this work and now, building upon my own life experience in growing from my personal experience with trauma and addiction, I continue collecting stories of survival and challenge.  

I would like to know and include your story in my current project entitled The Be-Attitudes, and how your Warrior Attitude inspires you to go forward  and continues to drive your growth today.

  • What is it about YOUR Warrior Attitude that has seen you through the worst times, or saved you from yourself in the best of times?

  • Where did it come from?

  • Who are the people throughout your life who inspired you to shape the attitudes that define you?

Contact me today to learn how to submit your story and help to inspire others to grow from adversity.

 

Humility and the Every-Day Warrior

“Be careful not to mistake insecurity and inadequacy for humility! Humility has nothing to do with the insecure and inadequate! Just like arrogance has nothing to do with greatness!”
C. JoyBell C.

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
Ernest Hemingway

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity    

“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.”
Criss Jami

“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.”
Epictetus

 

The Value of Interconnecting

 

Returned day before yesterday from a fabulous 2 day conference of the Florida Mental Health Counselors Association held in Orlando, FL.  It was such an honor to wander among so many diverse, brilliant, and innovative professionals and I was reminded repeatedly of the power that comes with interacting with others and absorbing what each brings to the arena of promoting wellness of mind, body, and spirit.  I acquired wonderful new tools to enhance my practice.  I was inspired to hear and be somewhat changed by one man’s journey from hatred and rage to hope and advocacy.

I was honored to have presented Trauma Informed Self-Care:  A Handy Guide for the Every-Day Warrior, a project that has been in the works for the past two years.  This was well received and I am extremely grateful for loving feedback not only from my husband but from wise and available mentors.

This presentation is now approved for 3 hours of Continuing Education by the Board of Examiners here in Florida.

I have posted the slides to this presentation here today.  Feel free to use, just be certain to cite as appropriate.

Trauma Informed Self Care FMHCA Conference

The Parable of the Fox and the Tiger

A man walking through the forest came across a fox that had lost its legs.  “How can a fox with no legs possibly survive with no means to hunt for food?”  So, keeping his distance, he waited and he watched so he might discover the miracle of the Fox’s ability to survive.

And then, something amazing.  At first he could hear the brush rustling in the distance, and as the sound drew closer he beheld a tiger approaching the fox.  At first, he thought that the fox was a sure gonner but then, he noticed that the tiger held game in its mouth.  The man watched as the tiger ate, and when satisfied the tiger nudged what remained toward the fox.  And the fox ate and was satisfied.

Over the next 3 days, the man watched as God, through the Tiger, fed the fox and saved him from hunger.  The man was so much in awe of God’s greatness that he decided that he, too, would just rest in a corner with full trust that the Lord would provide for his every need.

He did this for  many days.  Nothing happened.  Being almost at death’s door with starvation,  he heard the voice of God.  “O you who are in the path of error, open  your eyes to the truth!  Stop imitating the disabled fox and follow the example of the Tiger.

With whom do you identify?

Christmas, Holidays, and PTSD

I came across an article that was so spot on I just had to share with my fellow, Every-Day Warriors.  It’s about how the Holidays, with great perpetuation, can be emotional torture for survivors of PTSD and/or Complex Trauma.  In all humility, I have gained new insights, too, in respecting the experiences of past traumas of close friends, especially my husband, my dearest friend.

PTSD and Holidays

By Patience Mason

Copyright Patience H. C, Mason, 1997.

First published in The Post-Traumatic Gazette

Most people do not realize that people with PTSD have anniversary reactions. Holidays may also be anniversaries of trauma and bring up a lot of pain. This is one of the most distressing forms of re=experiencing for survivors and their families.

If the survivor doesn’t recognize that this is one of the symptoms of PTSD, he or she may feel like Scrooge instead of like a normal human being who went through hell at that time of the year.

If the family doesn’t understand that this is a PTSD anniversary reaction, they may be very angry at the survivor. “What is wrong with you?” is a heart-rending, humiliating question when the survivor doesn’t know why s/he reacts like this.

If your veteran spent a particularly horrible Christmas seeing villagers lose all they had, seeing friends die, seeing the fat cats in the rear partying while the troops were suffering, he may have a hard time with Christmas. If your abusive father tore up the Christmas tree every year, if your uncle molested you at the family get together when you were eight, if you got mugged while out Christmas shopping, or date raped after an office party, or if your violent family pretended nothing was wrong during the holidays, these upcoming holidays may be a hard time for you.

This is a normal reaction.

Holidays are also a really stressful time for many trauma survivors because they seem to reinforce the outsiderness of being a survivor of trauma. Everyone else seems so happy while your guts are twisted into knots as you think about past events.

For veterans and other survivors, this pain can be compounded by grief for lost friends and their families who now face the holidays without those loved ones who didn’t survive.

Guilt may also rear its painful head. Why did I survive?

The financial difficulties many trauma survivors experience are highlighted by the commercialization of the holidays. There are a lot of pressures to conform.

One of my first healthy actions in my marriage was to decide that Bob didn’t have to celebrate Christmas after he came back from Vietnam. I loved it so I should celebrate it and let him be him. I have no idea where that idea came from but it saved me a lot of fights. Today I look back on it as a miracle, accepting Bob as he was, and detaching in a healthy way.

I think this is an important point for all trauma survivors and their families:

Let the people who love the holiday celebrate it, and the people for whom it brings pain don’t have to. This may cause problems with the extended family or the kids, but treating the survivor with respect is one healing way to frame it:

“We have to respect other people’s feelings and limits,” can be a healthy way to put it.

We can also create our own ways of celebrating the holidays. We don’t have to conform to a rigid commercial stereotype of piles of expensive gifts and big gatherings. As a matter of fact one thing that trauma can bring you face to face with is the value of people as opposed to things.

We’re starting a tradition in our crowd this year (a number of whom are trauma survivors and veterans) of homemade, recycled, or under $5 gifts. Ingenuity and fun!

Survivors may need to create new rituals to help in their healing. For instance a veteran who lost friends in combat on Christmas may want to feed the homeless (many of whom are combat veterans) instead of participating in a big family dinner with people who may or may not appreciate his service.

He may need to go to a special place and tell his lost buddies how much he misses them and wishes they had lived. Someone else may want to help provide Christmas presents for children of poor families or for other survivors of trauma. The range of possibilities is limited only by the imagination.

If all you want to do is stay drunk or stoned through the holidays, it might be good to find help instead. No one wants to be providing traumatic memories for the next generation.

What you do while drunk or stoned can be pretty unpleasant for others, and especially painful for family members of both the spouse variety and the small-fry variety.

Crass commercialization and shop till you drop take the fun out of the holiday for me. So does having religion shoved down my throat, but I find that I can celebrate the birth of a child who represents all children to me and use it as an opportunity for me to do good in the world.

Perhaps you and your family can do the same.

Holiday Helps: Asking for input and creating family traditions:

Something I didn’t think of at the time was asking for input, which is also polite.

Sometimes family traditions are out of balance and only please one side of the family or one spouse or whatever. To fix this, ask what the other person would like to do for the holidays. Say something like: “Maybe we could figure out some new things we could do that we would all like and could do together. Then the kids and I could do the stuff we like without pushing you to be involved.”

Your spouse may never have thought about what he or she would like to do. I suggest not expecting an answer right away-maybe not even till next year. Just let him or her know you are interested in discussing it and open to change. People resist doing things they haven’t been involved in. Planning or contributing to an event can give them a sense of being valued and having some control.

One final point, without them being aware of it, some traditional activities may clash with issues of safety for survivors. For instance, if Vince Veteran never puts up the Christmas lights despite endless nagging, perhaps it is because in Vietnam the night belonged to Charlie.

By lighting up the house at night, he is attracting attention to his nearest and dearest, the kind of attention that could get you killed in Vietnam. Bringing this to consciousness–the need to keep the family safe–may help him get such a natural need met in a more appropriate way–like buying new tires for the car or better locks for the doors. Examining your traditions with that in mind can be rewarding.

Let go of outdated traditions or modify them to suit today. With our without the help of your survivor, you can sit down with whoever else in the family wants to celebrate.  Let go of what has become a burden or what you think others should do or you should do.

Discussing what the family might like to do can be empowering for your children because it gives them a chance to move on to more age appropriate activities as they grow up. This may be hard for the parents, but I suggest that you can hang your own stockings or have your own quiet holiday dinner.

Doing stuff for others. One veteran I know has been feeding the homeless for the last nine years on holidays.

If not this year, then in the future, rethink the things deemed as important.

Understand and practice the 5 Principles for the Every-Day Warrior:

The Past is Always Present:  As explained above, in memory networks that were installed long ago in childhood.

The Past is Subject to Change:  Rethink and rework practices of past traditions.  If they do not contribute to your family’s well-being or inspire well-doing, let them go.

We See Things not as They are, but as WE are:  Learn and practice empathy for the other.  Look beyond the needs of self and find meaning in new perspectives.

Mindfulness is Key to Achieving Balance.  Learn to be still.  Focus on the gift of the present and take comfort in simplicity.

Fitness of Mind and Body Assures Clarity in Thinking and Choices.  Get outside, move among others in ways that are mutually comforting.

Happy Holidays

Louise

 

 

 

 

A Handy Guide for Managing the Holidays

 

I love the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Oh the scents, the sounds, the tastes, textures, and scenes, and how these bring back dear times shared with family and friends. At the onset of Thanksgiving, images of holidays past place themselves right in the middle of our present and  we set our course to do those things that upheld the comfort of ancient traditions:

Recipes.  Servings.  Placements.  Schedules.   Who does what.  Who brings what.  And so on.   The mind does a very good job in pulling us into holidays past. We anticipate, we expect, and we believe.  There is hope.

Where the Mind Falls Short

Nostalgia for Holidays past is an abundant presence as Thanksgiving nears.  Why,  this very weekend many of us are fast at work making advance preparations for the kickoff event that ushers in the “Holiday Season”.

Not quite so present, if at all present, are the darker memories of unmet expectations in holidays past.

  • The guilt, anger, and disappointment around not pulling off the greatest feast ever.
  • The let-down that you failed to live up to everyone else’s expectations.
  • That, once again, no matter how hard you tried, how much you (over) spent for what you thought were the perfect gifts, it wasn’t good enough. Nothing you did was, for that matter.

Maybe you or someone else drank too much and unfiltered words were broadcast with unbridled toxicity at dinner.  Your or your spouse’s broken promise to behave was par for the course.

You missed the mark, again, and again, and again.

And what is the reward for all your best of intentions?

January 15th.

Reality hits with a big thud. The credit card bills, the New Year’s resolution that went up in smoke. The relentless inner scolding that, once again, you got sucked into the belief that maybe, just maybe, it will be different this year.  But it wasn’t different.  Same old crap, just a year later.

This, too, is a holiday tradition, a tradition that is ever present, yet stealth and patient.  Absent are all hope and faith in the idea of a perfect holiday.  Let’s call it the Annual Holiday Emotional Hangover.  A.H.E.H.  January lingers like an unwelcome intruder.  February offers a bit of a reprieve that perhaps winter will be over before 6 weeks.  Groundhog’s Day.

If all this sounds way familiar, it could strike you that in the big picture, you are not alone in what happens during the Holidays. How emotions and irrational thinking sucks us into doing things that in the end, are self-defeating.

A Few Handy Tips to Lessen A.H.E.H.

Be sure to review The Every-Day Warrior page on this blog.

Be mindful of Principle # 1 in the Handy Guide for the Every Day Warrior.

The Past is Always Present

Think Ahead.  Plan for stress  the same way  you would plan your Thanksgiving or other Holiday Feast.  Know and acknowledge the emotional ingredients that go into the recipe for the delusion, disappointment, and disparity of  the Mid January AHEH.

  • When you are beginning  to feel overwhelmed with anxiety, worry, or fear of making the wrong choice, stop.
    • Take a mindful moment.
    • Breathe in, breathe out.  Repeat times 10 times 3 times.
    • Sit with the emotions and feel them.
    • What in your past is being represented here?
    • Notice your immediate surroundings.
      • The feel of your feet on the floor.
      • The scents.
      • The tastes.
      • Sounds.
      • Touch
      • What you see.
      • Continue breathing.  1o times 3 times.
      • The emotions will ease up after about 3 minutes or so.

If you are  craving alcohol or another drug:

  • Your cravings are nothing more than memories of past pleasures.  These are quite powerful and hard to resist.
    • Having Fun.
    • Being yourself.
    • Saying what you really feel.
    • Feeling loved and accepted by others.
  • Your cravings fail to take you to the consequences of your drinking or using.
    • Fights or confrontations.
    • Passing out before dinner.
    • Puking at dinner.
    • Puking after dinner.
    • The world being pissed off at you.
    • Feelings of guilt and shame that once again, you messed up.
  • Know what your cravings are about.
    • Sit with them.
    • Observe them.
    • Maybe have a conversation with them.
    • Breathe in breathe out.
    • Notice the details of the present.
    • After about 3 minutes or so, the craving generally will pass.
  • If you are tempted to overspend.  The same tips apply.
    • Take a mindful moment.

This is how we apply Principle # 2 and 3 in our Handy Guide.

             The Past is subject to change.

            We see things not as they are, but as WE are.

  • In doing these things, we can actually change the past, or, to put it better, to change the way we see the past.
    • Rethink whom you are trying to please.
    • Does it HAVE to be a certain way?
    • Do you REALLY need to spend beyond your means so that at least for one moment you can feel appreciated?
    • Can you rethink and rework expectations for the holidays?
  • By taking a mindful moment, you can begin to see the holidays for what they are, not as what YOU think they should be.

Lighten up.  Take measures to resist guilt or anger-driven choices.

Be sure to get some exercise.  A 20 minute walk each day can work wonders and clear your head.  Active muscles do much to ward off negative thoughts.

Have a little something handy to help distract you.  Put a favorite scent such as lavender, vanilla, mint, or rose, on a cotton ball.  This can coax you back to the present  and calm your mind.  Keep it in your pocket or at least within close reach.

Listen to music you can sing and or move to.  Rhythmic movement is quite soothing, not to mention effective in uplifting the spirits.

Doing these things will not guarantee a happy, stress free Holiday, but doing things that will ensure your sense of centeredness will not hurt.

15 mindful minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

Addiction

I fell heir to this quote and thought to pass along as it is exactly how I approach treatment of addictions, including behavior or process addictions.  It’s all about the positive reward.

“Addiction is the Memory of Pleasure.  Freedom is Beyond Pleasure.”

Each day chosen behaviors are intended to recreate that initial powerful feeling state that told us “all is well with the world”.

 

 

Principle # 4: The Every-Day Warrior

“Mindfulness of the Present is essential in assuming command of our inner warriors”

The Spartans do not ask how many are the enemy but where are they.”

When we are mindful, we know the whereabouts of our enemy and we stand calmly and ready to engage in peaceful dialog.

It is established that in order to manage the effects of our trauma, we must pursue activities that promote mindfulness.

We know that we can actually redirect the source of flashbacks, anxiety, or panic attacks by the way we” breathe, chant, or move” (Van der Kolk, 2014).  Western Culture  is way slow in catching on to this and there is too much influence among established medical practices, especially the Veteran’s Administration, that continues to relegate treatments that promote mindfulness to “alternative” medicine.  I say that thousands of years of mindfulness practices that come from the Orient is pretty potent evidence.

For my friends and colleagues who engage in either the practice or teaching of Yoga, a study conducted by the National Institute of Health shows that 10 weeks of Yoga practice markedly reduced the PTSD symptoms of patients who had failed to respond to medications or other forms of “treatment”.  Not only Yoga, but learning and engaging in one of the martial arts promotes increased ability to manage arousal when our pasts barge into our present, as we have established in Principle # 1 in the Handy Guide.”   I have a colleague in Sarasota, Florida, who provides pro bono yoga classes to veterans.  For the Every-Day Warrior, this is a blessing!

Just imagine, my Every-Day Warrior friends, clients, and colleagues, that by simply taking a mindful moment to focus on breathing in and out, slowly, deeply, and with purpose, the intensity of our emotion can be diffused and bring us closer to a state of equilibrium.

Take a mindful moment.

Begin by keeping it simple.   Have a seat.  Feel your butt in the chair and allow your body to feel supported.  Your feet on the floor.  It might help to have a sachet of a pleasant scent such as lavender, vanilla, rose, or rosemary in order to engage a greater proportion of your sensory system.

Breathe in slowly through your mouth for 4 counts.

Exhale slowly through your lips for 5 counts.

Take a pause between breaths.

Do this ten times.  Repeat.  If you lose count, just start over and say to yourself, I am aware that I lost count.  It’s still a mindful moment.

Make your mouth produce saliva to engage your parasympathetic system.  Be aware of the air flowing in and out of your lungs, the benefit of oxygen to your well being, and the release of toxins as you exhale carbon dioxide.  Keep it simple.

And, hey, we’re not talking about a huge slice of your day to be mindful.  Be mindful when brushing your teeth.  When washing the dishes, be mindful that your are washing the dishes.  Use only the physical and emotional muscles necessary for the job.

I started my day with this offering from Jason Stephenson who has uploaded a guided meditation for just about any contingency.

https://youtu.be/l0odwOXpzt4?list=FL_fbxNuWWsUwxnVUeMwEpkw

There are innumerable resources available to assist in learning to be mindful.  Browse the web with key word “mindfulness”.  YouTube is far and away my best source of meditation tools.

The Every-Day Woman Warrior

Pvt Louise Dibble 1970

From the Handy Guide for the Every-Day warrior.

Principle # 1: The Past is Always Present

Lately, I have been browsing the literature scanning for up to date information and research that validates the connection between Complex or Developmental Trauma and Military Sexual and Combat Trauma.

It’s a no brainer, Ladies.

Some of these facts you probably know and maybe wondered why the rest of the powers that be in the VA haven’t quite caught up with.

Then, again, we are dealing with an institution that still believes that Exposure Therapy, which is a dinosaur among treatment modalities, is their best practice in helping Veterans. Then, again, I digress.

Numbers. Here are the numbers, point by point for the sake of focus and brevity.

  • At least 1 in 4 women veterans reported experiencing Sexual Trauma while on active duty.
  • Women who experienced MST also experienced other forms of trauma and were at higher risk to develop Posttraumatic Stress.
  • Strong relationship between PTSD and development of chronic pain and difficulty sleeping.
  • 81–93% report the following:
    • At least 1 lifetime non-military trauma.
    • Pre-military Sexual Assault (half of women who joined military)
      • 1 in 4 had been raped.
    • Childhood sexual, emotional, and physical assault.
      • 1 in 5.
    • Adult sexual, emotional, and physical assault.
  • A strong correlation between MST and co-occurring Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, and Substance Abuse.
  • A prevalence of transgenerational family trauma among women veterans with MST, PTSD, and requisite chronic pain that is a constant companion.
  •  The VA would be wise to employ an alternative to Exposure Therapy which has been shown to be of questionable value as a means to heal.

We Every-Day Women Warriors are aware of how our Past is Present in how we function from day to day: As Partners, Parents, Friends, Workers, and Soldiers.

We seek insight to what in our histories is being triggered, both to positive and negative effect. We insist that those who provide treatment use methods that will enhance our self-knowledge, build on our strengths (resilience), and diffuse the very real physical pain associated with our trauma.

Here is one article, the most recent I could find, published in 2011.

MST and complex trauma