On mood swings and accepting the flow of healing in recovery

I found the following meditations very helpful and enlightening when I read them a few years ago.  When we are recovering on an emotional level it is likely that we will experience many ups and downs.  I know I have less of the abyss like days than I had two years ago.  When I have one of these days lately I do feel scared that I am regressing.  I have heard it said that recovery is often three steps forward and two steps back, if we are doing work to process past experiences the feelings we can feel can be scary and intense.  In the long run we need to accept them, so we can feel them understand them and let them pass through without keeping them lodged deep inside.  We abort this healing process when our inner critic judges us when we have them or tells us we should not have them or they should not be happening to us.  We need to let them move through us so we can move to a better place but this process takes a while and uses a lot of our emotional energy.

I hope the following mediations help some readers.

Accepting Mood Swings

Today I will not be down on myself if I seem to swing in my moods through my recovery process.  Mood swings have been scary to me, so I use them as a way to judge (or misjudge) my health.   I force myself to be in a stable good mood and then I feel I`m okay.  As I re-experience old, repressed feelings, it is possible that I will feel deeply disoriented, angry, rageful or depressed and then two hours later almost high.  This is not just because I can’t control my moods – I am opening myself to all that is going on with me. – I am not longer denying parts of myself so that I will fit into a designated constellation of roles.  I am allowing what happening with me to happen to me.

I understand that my moods may swing in this life changing process.

Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live. 

Goethe

Natural Growth

Today I recognise that my bursts of growth are accompanied by backslides and I accept that as a natural learning pattern.  When children have a learning explosion into talking, walking or whatever, they experience a minor regression.   When I have a learning or growth explosion, I may experience a regression afterward.  New behaviour and awareness stabilise with practice  Today I will not take the regression to mean that growth was not genuine.  I will understand that accompanying a large step forward is a small step backward.  I will allow this to take place,  trusting that my experience of growth will integrate naturally if I allow it to.

Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do.  Where there’s love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.

Ella Fitzgerald

Taken from : Meditations for Forgiving and Moving On, by Tian Dayton

Another wonderful poet : Samantha King

I finally splurged and brought the copy of poet Samantha King’s first published collection : Born to Love, Cursed to Feel on Sunday as a gift to myself.  I wanted to share the first poem in the collection as it is stunning.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :

Perfect

You’re a beautiful kind of madness

a misunderstood truth

O, the things they could learn from

the darkness that is hidden behind your eyes

So gifted, yet your talents are wasted

you gave up chasing dreams

Reality hit and you got a taste of failure

Cautious now about bearing your soul

For if others saw you fully exposed

They may not love you like they claim to

Time and experience have taught you to trust no one

Friends, lovers, and even family have forsaken you

You keep the shattered piece of your heart in a box

Stitching, gluing, and staying up all night

trying to put it back together

Attempting to fill the void that was left

Moving from one man to the next

It seems no one can satisfy the appetite

for affection that you seek

Continually picking at old wouds

they never heal properly

You have no real home, too restless to say in one place

You are reckless, selfish, stubborn, sometimes rude

You’ve bottled up the pain

of so much that has been done

When you’re hurt

You close into yourself, shut down

You love attention and yet love being by yourself more

May God have mercy on your soul

For you are truly lost

Daily you fight your demons

Yet no one knows of that which you endure

You bear it alone, never speaking of it

You can blame the broken home from which you came

Or the environment you grew up in

The people who tore you down so young

You can point a finger at those who have

whispered behind your back

They have all played a role in your development

But looking so deep into the past

will keep you from moving forward

You must love yourself more

that these people claim they do

Look at where you stand now

No one can know the things you have endured

You’ve never claimed to be perfect

Your flaws tell your story

There is no need to hide them

Why self compassion helps us more than ‘self esteem’

Self esteem in later years has been touted as the be all and end all to good mental health and raising healthier children, but is it really, or in our focus on raising self esteem are we really teaching that the true basis of self worth, (which involves acceptance of the fact we cannot always be the biggest or ‘best’ someone) lies in becoming more outer directed and narcissistic rather than inwardly compassionate and empathetic to our own and other’s common humanity which involves a spectrum of all kinds of achievement and non achievement?

It’s a question I have been thinking about, now midway through Christine Neff’s book on self compassion.   She explains how self esteem is often about feeling that our worth is based on measurable things or behaviour, rather than intrinsic sense not only of our own worthiness but of our limitations and foibles as well.  If we think we need to perform in certain ways in order to raise our self esteem and be considered ‘worthy’, accepted or deserving we end up becoming quiet  outwardly oriented, rather than a inwardly focused in sense of  inward security.    We can also become less compassionate.

In counter balance to this self compassion enables us to embrace the whole of our selves even when we may fail to reach goals or act in certain ways not associated with high self esteem.  Self compassion enables us to embrace ourselves in the tough moments and surround ourselves in a blanket of care when we may feel sore or hurting.

The three foundations of self compassion, according to Neff are :

  1. Self kindness.   A sense of being gentle with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgemental.   Finding ways to self soothe and tap into what Neff calls ‘the mammalian – system’.  Doing this has been proven by research to raise oxytocin levels (the hormone of love and bonding) which also raises feelings of trust, calm, safety, generosity, and connectedness while helping us feel warmth and compassion for ourselves.  In contrast habits of self-criticism have been shown to trigger the amygdala and raise our blood pressure, adrenaline and production of the stress hormone cortisol, in turn activating our fight flight brain.  Self criticism also lights up different areas in our brain increasing our stress levels.  Self kindness and self soothing is demonstrated by saying kind soothing things to ourselves in times of stress.  This is really hard right now.  I am with you.   This will hurt for a while but in time the hurt will pass.  It involves tuning in with awareness to how you are feeling or being triggered at that moment, what you are observing, what you are needing and what you require.  When we are not being kind we ignore or dismiss these things maybe because that is what we learned to do as kids due to emotional abandonment, disconnection or neglect.   Working to change inwardly critical self talk is also a huge part of this first component of self compassion.
  2. Recognition of our common human experience.  So often in grief or depression a huge part of our suffering relates to the feeling that we are so deeply alone in this experience and so very far from human aid or care.  This may on many levels be the truth of how it was for us as children in homes where there was not much emotional care or presence or if we are trapped in relationships with non empathic, abusive people.   Post traumatic stress and complex PTSD can also make us feel so alone and terrified at the same time, terrified to reach out only to be hurt again.   We may feel that unlike the rest of the world we are less than or not entitled to care, concern or belonging, when really the truth is that others also struggle with these same feelings as us and we are all worthy of care love and concern.  Such feelings of isolation can then go along with the development of globally negative views about humanity and the state of things.  While it is true that there is so much suffering in the world, the truth is that there is care and kindness too.  However part of a deeply depressive non self compassionate mindset is that we are alone in this, we keep our focus only on the negative as well as those things that hurt, we fail to trust and reach out and understand our interconnectedness and in this state of mind our focus on bad feelings grows.  On the other hand when we realise we are part of a wider humanity in which suffering is an intrinsic part of life we develop more radical acceptance and are more likely to take steps to improve things at the same time as being fully aware of the global nature of suffering.  In reaching out to share or care we move past our disconnection or deep feelings of not belonging.
  3. Mindfulness In self compassion practice mindfulness refers to the clear seeing and non-judgemental acceptance of what occurs in the present moment, including our so called ‘negative’ or difficult states of mind and being.  To give ourselves compassion we have to notice that we are suffering rather than be reacting to our suffering by distancing and dissociating (all of which we cannot notice when we are not being mindful).  “We often fail to recognise feelings of guilt, defectiveness, sadness, loneliness, and so on, as moments of suffering that can be responded to with compassion….When your boss calls you into his office and tells you that your job performance is below par, is your first instinct to comfort yourself?… probably not.”   Being conditioned to ignore our pain, according to Neff means that we are physiologically programmed to avoid it. “Because of our tendency to turn away from pain, it can become extremely difficult to turn toward our pain, to hold it, to be with it as it is. ” When we do this we shut ourselves off from our true emotions and we also lose our ability to learn at a deeper level about the deeper nature of our experience and reactions.  In mindfulness we develop the ability to turn toward our pain, suffering or other bodily sensations becoming aware of them while not exaggerating them.  For example, we can become aware when an emotion such as anger is occurring for us by noticing we are clenching our jaw, feeling heat rise in our body,  feeling a desire to lash out.  In her book Neff gives the example of a man who endured long term emotional abandonment by his mother.  His therapy involved becoming aware of his acceptable anger without lashing out or acting it out in rage on his mother.  With the use of mindfulness as well as the loving presence of his therapist he was able to feel and understand the basis of his anger and become attentive to what it was saying.  He was also in time able to see how his mother’s abandonment was not necessarily associated with a lack of love for him but was due to her doing what she thought was necessary.  He was able to share his real feelings with his mum in such a way that he expressed them, rather than depressed them and they were heard.  Mindfulness was central to this process.  “We are healed from suffering only by experiencing it to the full.”  (Marcel Proust, quoted on P. 118 of Self Compassion)

Mindful ways of working with pain are shared in detail in chapter 5 of Christine Neff’s book, which I highly recommend, she also goes in to more detail about the two other basics of self compassion I have shared in this post.  I have been using a lot of the self compassion practices myself lately,  I used them today when I went for my yearly breast cancer follow up screen check and I was able to calm myself when the therapist left the room for a long tme leaving me alone after telling me I may have a cyst in my breast.

I do believe that self compassion in my own case is far more important to me than high self esteem.  Self compassion gives me a way to be with what is occurring in love and acceptance.  It helps me understand myself and others better.  It is a practice I am very grateful to have found.  It is a practice I want to share more about in upcoming posts.

Self compassion helps us to understand that we are lovable as we are, even if we don’t achieve big things, it teaches us that its okay not to be perfect, to mess up and make mistakes.  It isn’t an excuse for bad behaviour but it is a way of allowing ourselves to soften and go more gently not only with ourselves but also with our fellow humans as we recognise how much we all struggle in the earthly sphere of life where there is often suffering and things are far from ideal and perfect.  It can also encourage to keep growing and be kind in that process rather than self punishing.

Poetry

Poetry 5

There is something so soothing to my soul about reading and writing poetry.  In the past 12 months I have bought several anthologies of poetry and poetry books which I keep in my calm tranquil spot near the open doors at home.  In the afternoon I read them and it brings me so much peace.   One of the anthologies is called : The Emergency Poet : An Anti Stress Poetry Anthology and in its resources index the compiler, Deborah Alma refers to several other anthologies specificially targetted towards those suffering grief or depression.   Something about reading the words of others who struggled can make us feel less alone or will resonate with our experience, they may even bring us to tears so help us with our grieving.  Same goes for a cathartic poem that just comes to us unbidden from the depths, like an ocean wave we catch and ride to breaking point only to beach on the ocean shore of our writing surfaces, it may release us and bring us to depths of understanding and resolution we did not have before.

With this in mind I would just like to share a few poems that touched me today.  I hope they resonate with readers.  I don’t have poem knocking at the door of my consciousness today but as the gentle afternoon sun pours onto Jasper, my dog and I, I just wanted to share these :

Poetry

I know you have seen things you wish you hadn’t.  You have done things you wish you could take back.   And you wonder why you were thrown into the thick of it all – why you had to suffer as you did.  And you are sitting there alone and hurting, I wish I could put a pen in your hand and gently remind you how the world has given you poetry and now you must give it back.

Lang Leav. p. 9 Memories

Flight

The mother blackbird I’ve been feeding

has flown in the open door of the kitchen,

where she flutters against the stuck window,

like a butterfly, finding no way through.

 

A startled eye stares.  In the flap of a wing,

it all comes back : my heart beating

so fast I thought it would explode,

my mind and body in overload,

 

running the corridors, fleeing nurses,

who seemed stanger than another species

then trapped in a room with nowhere to go,

how I was cornered at a safety window,

 

which opened only far enough for air,

how I didn’t know there was no cause for fear,

how they outnumbered me, fastened their grip,

laid me down and injected me, like rape.

 

I cup the bird gently in my hand, like water,

carry her out, as if a Section order

has been lifted, give her to the air,

then watch her spread her wings and soar.

Sarah Wardle

 

After the Storm

There are storms that change the skyline, that leave patches of blue where branches had once spread their brittle fingers.  And in the aftermath, an eerie calm settles over the forest, as shell shocked birds sing warily in the sunlight.  The nervous flutter of their injured wings, barely audible above the hammering of a hummingbird’s heart.

You once told me the wind is silent.  How his sound can only be heard through collision.  Last night, he cried with a violent yearning while he tore through the trees.  As he brought down their twisted branches, I thought of the first time you said my name.

You were the storm that changed the skyline.  After the damage and the deluge, I could see things so much clearer.  There hasn’t been another like you since.

In 1953, we began naming hurricanes so we could remember them beyond the wreckage.  So we could try to make sense of the destruction.  This is the way I remember you.

Lang Leav, p. 17 Memories

Triggered by exercise, joy, power, happiness!

I wondered how many of you get triggered when you start to exercise?   If you were in fearful situations a lot as a child or if like me you suffered a few life threatening events where you pulse was raised, I have read that exercise can trigger panic as the body/mind registers the raising of the heart beat as fear.  This thought is also triggered by a response to a comment I read on another post about self harm where the commenter recommended the gym as a diversion from pain and anxiety.  The person replied about how the gym triggers them.  Ideally we feel our pain and don’t try to escape it but one of the long term impacts of paralysis, freeze or collapse which is such a big part of both Post Traumatic Stress and Complex PTS is that we don’t exercise or even move enough but get locked in self protective patterns which may include ingestion addictions to calm feelings.  That is okay if we turn to healthy food but if we turn instead to wheat or sugar laden snacks it can be a problem for some and as survivor of breast cancer I have had to watch that I don’t turn to those kind of snacks when my anxiety gets triggered in the now.

I was also prompted to write this post as Jasper and I just returned from a good long walk.  I then did some stretching at the bench in the field I sometime sit on to read my book mid walk.  When we drove home I felt such a surge of happiness, joy, power and wellbeing but as soon as I got inside to make a late lunch my thoughts started to race and I felt my heart beating fast and happiness turned to panic and fear.

I then though of all the times when I was attending AA that I was warned to not get too high or happy and when I share this with my therapist she is shocked.  I get triggered by happiness or assertive energy anyway because often as a young child in a much older family I was helpless at the power used over me not always in very nice ways, especially not by my older sister but the second one who used to pass off her own frustration about no one being home with us and having to care for me, onto me.   Also in later years when this sister was supposedly ‘manic’ (to a degree this was true but in some cases she was being pathologised) I began to feel a lot of fear.

Anyway today I was glad to be able to make the association to the way I was feeling.  I know that often my anxiety is manifesting without me consciously registering it as anxiety.  I just have all these strange flooding or drowning sensations in my body and I don’t always recognise feelings as such, at first they appear as somatised body symptoms.  When I spoke to my Mum this morning she was expressing something very similar.  I thought it might be good feedback for a post.  Last week with Kat in therapy I was sharing how I felt my feelings about past mistreatment as a few wild horses in my breast champing at the bit to get out.  My teeth were aching where my denture attached to that two top back teeth and that reminded me of being in bridle head gear every night for over a year when I was 16 and had braces.  I am SO ANGRY I had to go through that :  it was fucking torture for a highly sensitive person and I just had to grin and bear it and swallow it down.

There are some of the things I need to externalise and share here, when I share them at 12 step meetings people get triggered and get in trouble for saying how it really was, which also makes me angry.  But if I don’t speak about it I will get sick and my cancer may even return.

Trauma and silence

The following is partly verbatim extract from the video of Diane Langberg’s talk on trauma I reblogged earlier, and partly some of my own thoughts interspersed.  We so badly need to speak about our trauma and be understood, heard and validated.  The paradox is that so much of trauma is hard to articulate at first, our body carries a hidden burden that often is so difficult to give form and substance to, but it is so important that we try.

Trauma silences human beings partly because there are no words to really describe what that was a like.  It brings emotional darkness, isolation because you feel like nobody cares or even if they did they wouldn’t understand,  it makes time stand still because we get so lost in what happened we cannot see ahead we have lost hope

Trauma heals through : talking :  tears:  time.

When somebody does not talk when all of that is shut down they are broken emotionally (and deeply wounded in a wordless space).  People often will not talk because the pain is so great they cannot find the words. Or they talk over and over again not touching the real deep place.  To remain silent is to fail to honour the event, the memory.  (It is so hard to find the words…. words are often so inadequate when it comes to trauma. After a major trauma in the beginning often there are no words.  (Can we ever really explain what trauma is as it goes into the body?  The body knows!)   Dance it! Draw it!

To recover from trauma we must find a way to live in the truth and not pretend.  Minimising trauma, saying it didn’t hurt, should not hurt or leave lasting effects is wrong.  That is silencing.

Talking says I am here I am alive and for people with trauma that is a huge step.  Most of all letting someone talk or being there for them shows you have ‘care for their broken heart’.

Most especially sometimes what really helps is to sit in silence with the person.  Join with them in the darkness.  Let them know by your presence they are not alone in it.

Most important is gaining power over trauma by learning to tell the story. At first trauma will come out in fragments that slowly have to be pieced together.  Telling and being listened to restores the interpersonal bridge broken in and through trauma.  It CONNNECTS us to others and to our trauma.  When we are believed our trauma is validated.

Thank you so much Broken Blue Sky for sharing Diane’s video with me.  She speaks of things I did with my sister who died and never got free of her deepest traumas, but how could she.  I often just sat with her and held her hand.  How often I have wished someone was there to do that with me.  🙂

 

Deep despair : on pain and being swallowed by the whale

I couldn’t even log on to WordPress yesterday.  I have not had one of those killer days that leaves me feeling like my body won’t function and my mind is in hock for some time now and I guess the only light I saw yesterday when I was in that deepest of dark spaces was shone by the part of me that saw how far I had come before my recent dental surgery in that in the past year I can count on one hand those days of darkness and despair, where as in the years before they were frequent and often crippling.

Yesterday the crush was back.  People who don’t suffer from Complex PTSD or depression never understand what an all encompassing prison it is, nor how powerful are the physical effects.  It was interesting to hear an interview yesterday with a woman who  has written a book on pain which speaks of how difficult it is in modern times for us to find powerful language for pain.  In years gone by pain was less feared and shunned as it is in modern times, people expressed pain metaphorically through poetry and other mediums, but in modern times when both physical and emotional pain has reached epidemic proportions what this woman has found is that we struggle to express pain and also we struggle to have it heard.  We are asked what scale of pain we are experiencing on a 1 to 10 spectrum.  We distance ourselves from the crushing reality of it with numbers which objectify what is a total spectrum experience that can overpower so many of us and affects us so profoundly and wordlessly on every single dimension of our being and experience.

The sad thing her research also found it that the more deeply you experience pain both physical and psychological, the less you are helped.   Often people are shunned if they are grieving or suffering psychologically or in pain.  Is it that others fear other’s pain will kill or contaminate them in some way?   Is pain now a modern leprosy?

The truth is that if we have suffered pain and suffer pain we fare better if we can communicate about it and be shown empathy.   This power of empathy to alter neurochemistry is something I drew attention to in a post last week.

As I write this I am also aware how hard deep pain is to articulate well.   Poetry or stream of consciousness writing are two forms in which through metaphor writers and sufferers try to articulate what Van Morrison has called ‘the inarticulate speech of the heart’.  Much of the appeal of the WordPress blogging community for me is that here others whose souls have been drenched in pain of different kinds make the attempt to reach out and share that deep distress or pain.  Often poems and blogs I read resonate with me so deeply in a way beyond which even therapy helps at times.

As a blogger I know how much I have feared at times sharing deep pain on my blog.   It has been hard to post those posts in which a lot of frustration fury and anger with my family’s lack of feeling and empathy with deeper emotional realities has caused me.   Often I have felt great fear and then the inner critic has lept  in and made me take blogs down.  But the price of staying silent and keeping it shut in, often in the end proves too high.  I always feel better if I can give expression in some form to my own pain.

Yesterday wasn’t one of those days.  I wasn’t capable of much.  I think I was reliving yesterday every single crushing injury, invalidation and painful experience of my life, culminating with the piece de resistance, the removal of my front tooth that supported a four tooth bridge, now gone, never to be seen again just over 10 days ago.  Yesterday I was contemplating the steps to take to get my affairs in order to shift off this mortal coil finally.  It’s not something I felt I could share yesterday, as I didn’t want to ‘disappoint’ my followers, having recently read a post in which someone said they could not read posts that discussed suicide as an intention.

However in the interests of honesty and authenticity, that was where I found myself yesterday, in a dark deep and wordless place in which inarticulate pain had nearly buried me alive.  Beyond sharing that today, I don’t have any other words.  I have shared so much of my pain on here and I really prefer not to be in pain, as we all do, and yet at times that is where I am returned,  a modern Jonah swallowed deep inside the belly of a whale sunk, deep, deep down to the bottom of a murky ocean.   At those times I can only hold fast inside, hoping in time the whale will resurface and I will find myself, head above water and able once again to gain sight of blue sky or dry land.