Giving & Receiving – Pop-Up Clinic Style

Thanks go to our lovely hosts, Gretchen & Emmet at Laughing Frog Gardens, and all the healers, therapists and care seekers who came out.  In all, we had a circle of 13, not including the other sentient beings of the gardens and the homestead.  Formal offerings included:

  • Shamanic Astrology
  • CranioSacral Therapy
  • Reiki
  • Sentient Movement
  • Chair Massage
  • Active Dream Sessions
  • Safe Attunement & Connection
  • Techniques to calm the Central Nervous System

We have more events coming up:

Marshall MO on October 21, 2017

North Village on November 11, 2017

Questions?  Call me at (573) 999-6011 or send me an e-mail at [email protected]

What If The Body Came With A User’s Manual?

What I’ve been noticing lately is a shift in what I feel and think about consuming sweet things (and other “yummy” things) and maybe about rules and rigidity in general.  The word restriction has been popping up for me.  Re STRICT ion, and also the association between eating disorders and “rules” about food.

We want to avoid being overly strict or rigid in our lives.  So it’s good to be on the lookout for arbitrary restrictions that we place on ourselves, and then get curious about them.  I mean, yeah, if I had concerns (evidence) that I might be growing a tumor, I would maybe want to cut out sugar for a while.  I might want to go on a sugar fast or something.  But the sugars actually do have a place on the pyramid.  The refined ones are up there on the very top, but fresh fruits and root vegetables are a source of important nutrients – at least for me….today.  Grains seem to be less important, but not something I need to cut out completely.  Highly processed foods are at the little bitty point up there on the top of the triangle, where the space they take up is very, very small in comparison to the balance of what I eat.

I know, there are so many rules out there about food and what is actually good for us, but what’s important is for us to take personal responsibility and adopt some kind of structure to help us respond to our unique and changing nutritional needs.  Guidelines help us navigate our lives and make choices from the myriad options we face every day.  But just make sure you don’t let your guidelines become too strict or rigid.

One of the guidelines I’ve been using lately (and not strictly) is based on the pH of the body.  Some foods, when we consume them, make our bodies more acidic, others more alkaline.  Remembering that if I eat four times as many alkaline foods as acidic foods – an excess of acidic foods creates acidity in the body which supports the proliferation of parasites and yeast which I understand to be precursors of many chronic illnesses – my body will function better.  If I fill my diet with mostly acidic foods, my body is going to get out of balance.  So while I don’t need to be constantly measuring or restricting myself, I can keep that idea in the back of my mind, and if I notice that my health is slipping, or my energy levels aren’t what I’d like them to be, or I’m feeling that something is off, I can make some adjustments in the types of foods I’m eating.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that starting a couple weeks ago I was having really strong cravings for something.  It wasn’t sugar, though I did veer toward fried things.  But when I sat with it, and asked my body what it really wanted, it seemed more like it was asking for more high quality proteins.  Also entering my awareness from various articles and conversations I was having was the idea that I was needing to increase my consumption of high quality proteins and fats.  So that is the direction I moved in.

In this phase of temporarily self-imposed monkhood, I realized I had begun to associate high-quality proteins and fats with unwanted expense.  So I picked up a small container of cheap, highly processed peanut butter, and quickly concluded that this wasn’t what my body was asking for.  It just didn’t taste like food.  A couple cans of tuna, some cashews and some queso fresco later, the cravings went away.  I will need to make a trip to the gringo getting-place and pick up some tahini and almond butter, which will set me back some $15 or so.  Not a whole lot in the scheme of things.  I’m on it.

Note to Self: If I notice myself skimping, I may need to re-assess whether I’m associating not having what I need with my worthiness or ability to have what I need.  If I can put some attention there, I can see pretty easily that I am worthy of adequate nutrition (what my body needs to stay healthy).  For me, it is sensible and correct to include healthy proteins and fats along with the wide variety of fresh produce that I can get for next to nothing here in Mexico.  I can also assess whether I have adequate margin in my budget to cover nuts, nut butters, avocados, high quality oils, and high quality meats, and usually I do.  I don’t need to go overboard, but I do have enough.  (These things are up there in the top of the pyramid, just under treats and sweets.)  And yes, they cost a bit, but they are also my medicine, one of my best ways of building and maintaining health.

There is no doubt about it, sweetness is something we all need, and if for some reason you have been prohibiting or limiting sweetness in your life, that’s something I recommend you pay some compassionate attention to.

In summary,
  • There are different kinds of edible sweets available to us in markets and selling establishments everywhere. And there is also sweetness available to us from every direction in the form of connections with nature and other beings.
  • If I build sweetness into my lifestyle, I won’t feel like I need to “steal” it (impulse purchases at the check-out lane, etc.).  Sweetness then becomes a normal, built-in feature of my life.  If I include having a cup of tea with a cookie, or even a few little cookies, every day, I have chosen to make sweetness a regular part of my life.  (I tried this and I noticed that I didn’t put any sugar in my tea in order to make it feel like a special treat.  This way, my treat is one that I’m allowed – whole-heartedly – not one I’m “getting away with,” or sneaking off to consume, hoping nobody notices.)
  • Craving sugars, in the past, has pointed to a lack of the sweetness that I can only get through warm and authentic human connections and communion with nature. Now that I have lots of interesting and satisfying interpersonal connections in my life, I don’t notice as many cravings for sweets anymore.  This shift has required me to really pay attention and make adjustments as I go, based on what tastes good to me, and what feels good in my body after I eat it.  It’s an ongoing process, but a super-important one.
  • We are being bombarded by campaigns crafted by the processed food industry to increase our consumption of their “yummy” products (laden with high quantities of salt, sugar and fat), and what seems “normal” can get skewed pretty quickly if we’re not aware and purposeful about what we purchase and consume.

Add to Body-Owner’s Manual:

Having Cravings?
  • Check to see if you’ve been skimping on the relatively expensive high-quality foods that make you feel grounded and well-cared-for and probably build health and a strong immune system. If you are getting enough of those kinds of food, you’ll be less likely to crave those “kiddy” foods – the foods that the immature self wants – which help us know that at some level we are crying out in response to feeling unmet or unseen or uncared for.
  • Make sure to reach out to others and invest time in mutually nurturing friendships.
  • Connect with nature in some way that feels satisfying or nurturing to you.
Noticing Strictness or Rigidity?
  • Being strict is no substitute for staying as attuned and available as possible to the feedback that your body provides. There are a lot of guidelines out there, and if you find one that resonates for you, great!  Experiment with it and notice how your body reacts.  Notice cravings, energy levels, mood and immune system functioning.
  • Realize that your needs change over time, and the guidelines you use will need to be used with flexibility and openness to adjustment as your needs change.

For more on becoming an ally with your body, check out Toni’s Mid-MO Tour, happening in October 2017.

 

Toni Rahman Embodied – Mid-MO Tour 2017

After being south of the border for 4 years, Toni will be coming to Mid-MO in October to share two things:

1) Being In My Body: What You Might Not Have Known About Trauma, Dissociation & The Brain

  • Coffee & Conversation at Heart Body & Soul, followed by Book Signing on October 7, 10:30 am
  • Daniel Boone Regional Library – Local Author Fair on October 28, 10:00 am-2:00 pm

2) Pop-Up Clinics – a new way of networking and connecting with yourself and the abundance around you.  Read an article about Pop-Up Clinics in Ajijic Mexico here.

You can hear an interview with Toni on the Trauma Therapist Podcast here.

Timing Is Everything – A Book Review

Nonviolent Communication, by Marshall Rosenberg is one of those books you see on the shelves of people who are serious about effective communication.  Everywhere.  I kept seeing it.  But when I picked it up it didn’t speak to me.  Now I know why.  What broke the ice, I think, was reading the NVC Workbook, by Lucy Leu, which was incomplete by itself but was enough to motivate me to try Marshall’s book again.

I was already mid-epiphany in my personal life – regarding noticing that when I got analytical, critical, judgmental or when I started comparing myself to others I was actually feeling vulnerable underneath – when I came across this passage:

“Our attention is focused on classifying, analyzing, and determining levels of wrongness rather than on what we and others are needing and not getting.  Thus if my partner wants more affection than I’m giving her, she is ‘needy and dependent.’  But if I want more affection than she is giving me, then she is ‘aloof and insensitive.’  If my colleague is more concerned about details than I am, he is ‘picky and compulsive.’  On the other hand, if I am more concerned about details than he is, he is ‘sloppy and disorganized.’”

That helped me solidify my epiphany and make it a regular part of my mental health maintenance.  Now, when I notice myself judging, comparing, criticizing, or analyzing, I can stop and gently ask myself: What might I be feeling vulnerable about?  Underneath all this chatter, might there be a story that wants to be told?  What, from my past, is this reminding me of?

Marshall Rosenberg is quite a revolutionary, and as it turns out, he’s an excellent writer too.  His book explains how people can communicate with one another more effectively by using a lens of compassion – turning feelings into desires and needs.  Looking back, the reason I could not access his message from the very first time I picked up the book was that I was still very confused about what my needs actually were, I was not clear enough on who I was to be in touch with what I desired, and I was completely cut off from my vulnerable emotions – that is until they built up so much that they overwhelmed me, and I lost control.

When you are at the right developmental stage, this book is a virtual jewel.  I’ve been digesting it since I finished it in March, when I was on the beach with my daughter in Cuba.  Here is another snippet:

“It is my belief that all such analyses of other human beings are tragic expressions of our own values and needs.  They are tragic because, when we express our values and needs in this form, we increase defensiveness and resistance to them among the very people whose behaviors are of concern to us.  Or, if they do agree to act in harmony with our values because they concur with our analysis of their wrongness, they will likely do so out of fear, guilt, or shame.”

When we are alienated from our needs, like many who experienced early relational trauma, we were not encouraged to have a strong sense of self, or we were shamed when we overtly expressed our desires or unpleasant feelings.  What’s tragic about this is that when we are alienated from our needs, we are deprived of what we most need to grow socially and emotionally: sustained human connection.  As Rosenberg points out, “…the more we are able to connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for others to respond compassionately.”

In modern, Western society, women are particularly vulnerable to being socialized to put others first.  As Rosenberg says, “Because women are socialized to view the caretaking of others as their highest duty, they have often learned to ignore their own needs.”

Safe human relationships have been shown to be the most powerful tool for helping people overcome early relational trauma.  These relationships can be built in a therapy setting, but are just as powerful between people who have an adequate level of recovery, adequate attunement with their own feelings and needs, and the language to talk about it.

I’d like to create contexts where people can practice with others this skill of connecting feelings with needs, and communicating in ways that others are likely to have compassion for them, instead of feeling assaulted by their neediness or negativity.  This often happens to people who have unresolved early relational trauma, and when others respond to their judging, complaining, or neediness by defending, retaliating or distancing.  This sadly validates their early programming that people cannot accept them with their vulnerable emotions and backlog of unmet needs.  Validation might feel good, but as they say in Al-Anon, “Would you rather be right or happy?” Nonviolent Communication is a book that offers a framework for blasting through the early programming, and forging authentic connections between people, organizations, and nations.

“All criticism, attack, insults and judgments vanish when we focus attention on hearing the feelings and needs behind a message….behind all those messages we’ve allowed ourselves to be intimidated by are just individuals with unmet needs appealing to us to contribute to their well-being.”  Rosenberg believes this applies to everyone.  And his ideas are now being taught in mediation trainings all over the world.

(Former United Nations Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold) “The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is happening outside.”  Rosenberg says that “If we become skilled in giving ourselves empathy, we often experience in just a few seconds a natural release of energy which then enables us to be present with the other person.”

Rosenberg’s Four Steps to Expressing Anger

  1. Stop and do nothing except breathe.
  2. Identify the thoughts that are making us angry.
  3. Connect to the needs behind those thoughts.
  4. Express our feelings and unmet needs.

I highly recommend this book.

 

Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD  Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion. Encinitas: Puddledancer Press, 2000.

Abundance Affirmations – Take Two

RECALIBRATING…RECALIBRATING…RECALIBRATING…RECALIBRATING
(Making adjustments based on what I desire moving forward)

I choose to address my compulsions directly, and I open to guidance about how this is gracefully done.
It is safe to have plenty of time. I can have plenty of time and not get derailed in anything even close to The Devil’s Workshop. (Unless, of course, the devil is a fine playmate.)
True abundance does not always mean a full calendar, or having several things lined up to do.
My compulsions have served to keep me disconnected from my feelings. I now choose to shift my relationship with my feelings so that my natural tendency is to notice and feel them directly.
I have plenty of money and plenty of time simultaneously.
I do not have to have access to endless abundance to have simplicity and peace, though it sure seems like it could help, sometimes.
I am well supported in managing abundance so that it does not detract from the quality of my life.
I can be trusted with free, unstructured time. I am allowed to play and relax. Playing and relaxing help me reach my goals, effortlessly.
I step up and do what is needed to make wise decisions that help me feel better about my future. I own my power. I am in charge of my life.
My values and integrity stay intact as I become a conduit of great financial flow.
I release any connection between busy-ness and righteousness. That is utter nonsense.
As a fully resourced person I make a bigger impact in the world.

I welcome the abundance that is already mine, and I am so grateful!
Thank you! And so it is!

Photo borrowed from Laughing Frog Gardens.  Check it out here.

Self-Imposed Monkhood

I have in the past year been thinking about money – fiscal flow.  It was last year about this time that the dust was beginning to settle, and I realized that the time had come to shift from spending more money than I was bringing in.  Thousands of dollars of credit card debt loomed – the hard-earned badge of taking chances, and the ball and chain that symbolized my vulnerability for stepping up and helping when I am not grounded myself (No regrets.  Just noticing).

My relationship with credit is one of gratitude and respect, having been the recipient of student loans and commercial credit that allowed me to get an education and the credentials needed to support myself in an honorable and dignified way, but my latest plunge into debt is the shadow side of a larger transition, and it brings into stark relief many of my previously unconscious beliefs and attitudes about abundance and money, no doubt passed down to me from my ancestors, and maybe the reverberating echoes of our shocked and traumatized poor and middle class brothers and sisters who move through life more like the living dead than their great, empowered selves.

Since I made that recent, important shift, I have been thinking about how what I’m going through might be similar to the withdrawal symptoms of a heroin addict, or an alcoholic.  But I try not to get too carried away.  What I have realized is that for me, pulling out of our revered middle-class rituals that have served as the “guarantor” of safety and stability, I have stepped into the unknown.  The result has been a self-imposed experience of low financial flow.  AND having a temporary period of self-imposed “monkhood” has helped me get more up close and personal with some of the baggage I have carried with me about money, wealth and abundance.  I’ll share with you here what I’m taking away as I move forward.  This is going to be an excellent year!

Self-imposed monkhood has served me in managing my compulsions:

  • To buying food in excess of what I need.
  • To buying to distract myself from feeling.
  • To buying things for others to get approval/acceptance.
  • To supporting the illusion that I’m responsible or invulnerable.
  • To keeping me rigidly stuck in my old roles of appearing “more capable.”
  • To taking care of the needs of others to my own detriment.

Not having money has forced me to slow down.  It has served me in helping to keep my life a bit simpler.

  • Fewer distractions.
  • More time with myself, my emotional life and my creative process.

Not having money has “served” me in helping me to feel more righteous.

RECALIBRATING…RECALIBRATING…RECALIBRATING…RECALIBRATING

(Making adjustments based on what I desire moving forward)

I choose to address my compulsions directly, and I open to guidance about how this is gracefully done.
It is safe to have plenty of money.  I can have plenty of money and stay connected to my needs, my personal limits, my essence, my values and my purpose.
I am learning that true abundance does not always mean lots of food in the refrigerator, or cooking in advance so I have plenty of leftovers.
My compulsions have served to keep me disconnected from my feelings.  I now choose to shift my relationship with my feelings and feel my emotions directly.
I can have simplicity in my life and abundant resources and income all at the same time.
I do not have to sacrifice financial abundance to have access to simplicity and peace.
I am well supported in managing abundance so that it does not detract from the quality of my life.
I can be trusted with material and financial abundance.
I will step up and do what is needed to make wise decisions that help me feel better about my financial future.
My values and integrity will stay intact as I become a conduit of great financial flow.
I release any connection between poverty and righteousness.  That is utter nonsense.
As a fully resourced person I can and will make a bigger impact in the world.
I welcome the abundance that is already mine, and I am so grateful!

Thank you!  And so it is!

Self Abuse and the Inner Drama Triangle: Learning to Parent Yourself Well

What is the Drama Triangle, and how does it tie in with early relational trauma and embodiment?

When children witness the Drama Triangle being played by their family members in childhood, and it becomes their model for relating, they miss out on opportunities to develop healthy relational skills, and real problem solving skills and this chaotic dynamic becomes the Inner Blueprint for dealing with stress.  The Weinholds say that the Drama Triangle is the primary cause of childhood trauma, and I’m with them.  “For children who experience or watch this dynamic, their brains file situation-specific pictures, words, thoughts and feelings related to Drama Triangle experiences.  This is the core definition of Trauma.”  Plenty of research is also showing that early childhood stress and unmet relational needs are the foundation for trauma in general, but I’ll talk more about that in a later post.

When an individual of any age lives in an environment that the Drama Triangle creates, the nervous system responds by flooding the system with stress hormones which effectively put the body on the ready for fight or flight.  Disconnecting from one’s feelings is commonly a part of this response. And since there is no “end to the crisis” in sight (in the absence of the skills needed to exit the Drama Triangle) the body does not return to its relaxed, post-crisis state, and natural resolution to the crisis does not occur.

It takes willingness, awareness, and commitment to acquire the skills necessary to help the body return to its natural state of equilibrium. And removing the violence and chaos that the Drama Triangle creates are the important first steps.

I am so pleased to announce:

 

This Online Course is based on the Drama Triangle and how it can play out inside us (with the different parts of the triangle represented by different parts of us in our minds: The Victim, The Rescuer & The Persecutor).  This 6-week course will break the Drama Triangle down into simple terms so that it can be more easily understood.  The skills you take away are designed to help stop inner abuse and self sabotage in its tracks.

During the course, participants will learn how to replace the Drama Triangle with its magical counterpart, the Empowerment Dynamic, to help overcome early relational trauma.  They will also gain a framework for better knowing when and how to trust themselves, which naturally impacts knowing when and how to safely trust other people.

Depending on your level of enrollment, you can take the course alone, receive two one-hour Skype sessions to support your work, or purchase the Deluxe Bundle which includes two one-hour personal coaching sessions and e-mail support between sessions.

The class includes a series of lessons, visual diagrams, quizzes, assignments, a sharing forum, and other materials to supplement learning, facilitate growth, heal early relational trauma and remove barriers to the forging of safe and lasting connections.

Now available!

Fill out this brief survey if you’d like to know more.

 

Becoming Attached – Book Review

Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love, by Robert Karen, PhD.  Oxford University Press, 1998

Robert Karen’s book, Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love, took a while to read, but what a treasure!  It gives an overview and history of attachment theory.  Explains in depth the destructive practices that had been adopted early in the industrial revolution, as parents increasingly were called to work outside the home and nuclear families became the norm.  It connects the dots between early attachment wounds and unmet needs and patterns of relating in adulthood.  Robert Karen locates himself in the material, describing himself this way: “I believe I had an anxious attachment to my mother, which was perhaps mainly ambivalent but had certain avoidant features and looked more and more avoidant as I got older.”

After having read this book, I can better understand some of my odd behaviors as a child and young adult, and my patterns with adult partners and potential partners.  Why did I bite that girl in the bathroom in 4th grade?  I remember chomping down hard, and I felt I could have taken it off.  It wasn’t her I was mad at; I don’t even remember what she had done.  But that was a terrifying, out-of-control rage I couldn’t put into words.  Even as an adult, why did I suddenly feel so infuriated with my sister, Tracy, when I was dependent on her to step in and help; when she was all-out engaged in fixing the situation when my children were being abducted and I was so terrified I’d never see them again? What could explain my identification as “utterly uninterested in affection” and at the same time internally so utterly starved of physical and emotional connection and touch?  Why was my response to my mother “I know,” since at least age 10, and why the unmistakable force behind it?

I can better understand how I had lived so long without a secure base, and how I learned to find comfort most reliably in being alone, since being with loved ones cost me so dearly in terms of emotional and energetic expenditure.  Why I have undermined being given to “in a truly loving way… at every turn; indeed (being given to in this way) feels perversely unacceptable.”

I can better understand my disconnectedness from feelings of loss and vulnerability when it came to “close” others.  Why I have never been able to use a coherent narrative to talk about what my childhood was like, what my day was like, or even about an idea I’d like to share.  How I jump around without finishing my sentences, and am difficult to follow.  How I have difficulty recalling much of my past.  As a person recovering from intimacy disorder, I can look back over my life and notice a suspicious lack of benefitting from the highly-touted idea of companionship and comfort others seemed to be benefitting from around me; the wild vacillating between feelings of superiority to others and feeling too weak, too desperate, and too ashamed to approach anyone for love and support.

I can better understand “what went wrong.”  The origins of unhealthy narcissism, and the thread it weaves into our family and others.  In short, I can better understand to what I might attribute my intimacy problems, when my parents so clearly loved me and provided me with so much.  And among these pages, too, I have access to the scientific data that attempt to identify what children actually need to form secure attachment with their parents, and what that even looks like.

How strange, when I read the words “the usefulness of their anger.” But, as I’ve intellectually known all along, anger has a healthy interpersonal function.  Reading these words help me integrate and process so much.  Included in this book are also how addiction and enmeshment fit into the attachment puzzle, and how we can approach resolution and repair.  For me, there is clearly much to learn and internalize, but this book provides a grounded and comprehensive discussion of the attachment literature.

Below I include some of my very favorite quotes:

“There is another implication here, too, perhaps especially for the ambivalent child, whose hurt and rage and hatred are so volatile and so quickly unmanageable: He never develops the sense that mom is there to contain his overwhelming emotions; that he can have a tantrum; that he can hate her and feel as if he and mom are through, but that she will be soothing and convey the sense that the tantrum will soon pass without causing permanent damage and that even his wish to annihilate her will not have devastating consequences.  In other words, even if his extreme negative feelings are too much for him, they are not too much for her; she can (in Winnicott’s words) “hold” them, and through his relationship with her he will learn to manage them one day himself.” (Pg 222)

And this: “He doesn’t feel he can be openly angry with her, despite the fact that anger, according to Bowlby, is the natural response when a child’s attachment needs are thwarted.  Experience has taught him that his anger will only cause her to become more rejecting.  And so he has learned to turn himself off.  At the slightest hint of pain or disappointment, he shuts down his attachment system and experiences himself as having no need for love.  Unlike the ambivalent child, whose attachment antennae are always up and receiving and who seems to have no defenses to ward off painful emotions, the avoidant child, Main believes, has made himself deaf to attachment related signals, whether they are coming from within himself or from someone else.  He avoids any situation and perhaps any topic that has the potential for activating his attachment needs.”

Even later on, as a child who seems to have accepted life on the edge of human connectedness, who seems to many observers to prefer detachment, the prospect of further rejection is too terrible to risk.  The predominantly avoidant child cannot be warmly affectionate with his mother or go to her when in need. But by keeping his attachment system dampened, he is at least able to stay near her without risking more pain or ruining the connection with his disappointment and anger.  Thus, despite appearances, the strategy of the avoidant child still seems to serve the purpose of preserving proximity.  Psychologically, he is firmly in his mother’s orbit, his thought, feeling, and behavior shaped by the claims of that relationship, but, like Jupiter or Uranus, he abides at a distance that affords him little warmth (Pg 224).

Karen touches on how in our society secure attachment is more the exception than the rule, and how motherhood, as we think of it, is not the best explanation, but rather modern Western society’s growing individualism and the pressures of achievement at the expense of connection.

And as I suspected, he says that there is hope; successfully parenting one’s children, being in partnership with an emotionally healthy adult and effective therapy can all repair anxious attachment and heal attachment wounds.  Read more gleanings from this great book here, or get a copy for yourself at Amazon.com.

People Are Not For Comparing

I am eating ice cream off a stick, tasting the sweetness and feeling the coldness with only half of my mouth.  I put my attention on tasting with the “awake” side with double focus.  The chocolate shell is melting quickly, but I have a plate to catch it when it falls, here at my table in a small ice cream shop in Santa Tere, Guadalajara, where I can watch people walking by on the sidewalk.  The air is hot and dry.  I recall how my mouth dried so quickly when I was sitting in the dentist’s chair, under her bright light, less than an hour ago.

I am thinking about so many things.  About comparing; the energy of comparing.  What happens when I am afraid?  I analyze and judge.  For me, it’s automatic: When I am afraid, I see people in terms of their threat to me.  What I’ve recently realized is that I’ve found “safety” in being “better” in some way.  Growing up, us children divided ourselves into two groups: “the good ones,” and “the bad ones.”  At least that’s how I made sense of the world in my childhood.  Mind you, it wasn’t that I was “good” but that I was in that group because nobody knew how bad I was.  Just me.  And often staying out of harm’s way meant maintaining or nurturing this divide.  Now that I think of it, I am definitely responsible for perpetuating this idea among my siblings.

Problem is, the “safety” I achieved from this strategy wasn’t safe at all.  It might have protected me from disapproval, physical blows and contempt that my sisters received when they expressed dissent, but in terms of relating with people, it put me at a very unfortunate and decades-long disadvantage.  My already stressed-out body responded to this constant inner chatter (analyzing and comparing myself to others) by bracing, warding off confrontation, and maintaining a steady flow of stress hormones.  Judging and dividing my siblings left me with a sense of uneasiness in groups, an inability to let my guard down with people who were different from me, to feel close or to take in the goodness that other human beings have to offer, through their very essence.

Prettier, thinner, more deserving, etc.  In my adult life it has remained mostly unconscious, but it has never left me, particularly in social situations where I do not feel I have enough control.  It has been very, very present: “I am safe if I am on the right side of this divide – you over there; me over here.”  That’s how my attention was oriented.

As I gain tools, and a general understanding that judging and comparing are actually things that signal that I’m experiencing vulnerable emotions (feelings I had learned to automatically disconnect from), I’m vigorously exploring healthier alternatives.

This habit of comparing has affected all my relationships.  I’ve found safety in partners who are “good enough” to make me look good but not quite as “right” as me.  I found comfort in relationships where my opinions were the ones that “counted” (in my mind, for one reason or another).  That required – you guessed it – me feeling somehow “one up.”  I wasn’t at all confident in my ability to advocate for myself or negotiate.  And I had no concept of what it might be like to coexist peaceably alongside someone with whom I disagreed (who must be wrong, of course).

Moving through life like this did nothing but perpetuate my anxiety and fear about my place in the world.  Judging and comparing others always does this funny boomerang thing; fear of being judged and coming up short is always the result.

I did not know that I was chronically afraid, that I felt threatened by the “betterness” of other people, much less how to turn that around.

My lifestyle now offers me a time warp through which, rather than living afraid, I now Iive more consciously and at peace.  And my body, as a result, is learning to relax as my senses come back online.  I follow what gives me pleasure, choose what I desire, filled with gratitude for all that I have.  Since I live with a nervous system that is no longer on high alert, I am more aware of what there is to appreciate in this sacred moment, and in the other beings around me.

There’s a profound difference between seeing others through a lens of guardedness and anxiety and removing that lens and just allowing pure sensory information to enter, no longer needing to be “one up” somehow.  But this distinction is – more than you might imagine – a product of the nervous system.  What has happened to me in the past four years was a subtle but life-changing shift.  It has affirmed in me a deep knowing that I don’t need to pretend to be anything I’m not.  That I am safe, as perfectly imperfect as I am.  That all is well.  That regardless of what happens, I will be okay.  None of this was possible when I was constantly analyzing my safety based on how I measured up to those around me.  That kept my body tense and poised for battle.

In my new life, there is time to do my emotional work.  It is safe to feel what I feel and know what I know.  Though I am alone, I know that I am safe and have adequate support.  Alone, what I enjoy and what I want matters immensely.  I am curious about what amuses and entertains me, and it certainly varies from day to day.  And my interactions with others is based more on what I like and what leaves me feeling affirmed and inspired.

I’m thinking about the other evening that I spent with my sister, Tracy.  It was a very strange visit.  I’d had a long day.  I was returning from the lake, where I pack in a lot of socializing and play.  Back in Guadalajara with Tracy, I noticed my faculties failing me.  I literally felt “retarded,” kind of stunned, not at all able to express myself or even find simple words that I needed.  Her being four years older, there are a lot of things about Tracy that can trigger me.  But this time, while it is true that I was triggered and my body was not acting right, I did not go into an emotional flashback like I have during longer visits with her.

I had been looking forward to seeing her before she left on her trip to Texas.  Throughout our visit I was trying to understand what was happening, holding off on any self-judgment or despair about how stupid I was in comparison to her.  I was able to just notice the sluggishness of my mind.  I didn’t blame Tracy for directing her attention outward and interacting with others in her fluent Spanish from time to time as the evening wore on or for moving at a vibration that was too high/fast for me.  She was excited about her upcoming trip and her travels are always interesting to me.  Besides, it was a short enough visit, and Tracy is super kind, so I didn’t feel judged or even embarrassed, really.

As usual, my relationship with Tracy gives me so much to chew on.  Spending time with her always provides me with information that I can use to grow.  I “got through” the visit continuing to hope that I could rebound and be my fully-functioning before it was over, but I didn’t.  My brain didn’t come back online until after I left.  I did leave fully connected to my sense of humor, my curiosity, and a knowing that I would eventually recover, and that Tracy loved me unconditionally.

Among the triggers that tripped that night were:  Being the little sister.  In our family, Tracy has always been the one who reaches out for what she wants.  That hasn’t come so naturally for me.  Tracy is in full swing with her vibrant, exciting career, a career that she declared so many years ago when she went to school for journalism in her early twenties.  Tracy is many years ahead of me in terms of language acquisition (Español), so our visit threw me back to being two (when she was six) and she got real good at telling everyone what I meant, thought and wanted.  Or so I hear.  Tracy’s home here in Mexico has taken shape rapidly; a reflection of the amount of time she has lived in Mexico and the many harrowing and costly trips she has made across the border with trucks, cars and caravans.  She actually has furniture.

With my sense of humor intact, I could recognize, that evening, that there really was no competition involved here (and there never was), no one up or one down.  I could also recognize that I was not functioning at my best, and that it wasn’t her fault.  Some days I am likely to return, momentarily, to my habitual way of comparing and judging.  I apologize in advance.  But when I do, I more quickly remember that it is no more than a red flag to alert me to my own vulnerable feelings.

And as I do my emotional work, my body relaxes.  Intrinsic to this growth journey I’m on is taking responsibility for who I am, getting clearer about what’s important to me, and through staying connected with my entire system, returning again and again to conscious awareness of not just what is okay with me and what isn’t, but what I like, what I need and what I don’t.  The effect this has had on my nervous system is enormous, and that evening with Tracy gives me evidence of this.

When I am physically relaxed, novelty is the spice of life, and not a threat.  In this state of receptiveness I more readily greet the unknown with playfulness, laughter, and delight.  I don’t have to be perfect to be good enough.  Recovering from developmental trauma involves relaxing the body so that the world can be experienced as the rich and delicious place that it is.  Each of us brings our own gifts, our own essence to share in the world.  We are surrounded by inspiring, talented, brilliant and interesting people.  Not one of us more or less than the other.  Just different.  People are not for comparing.

Decolonization and my Refrigerator

Decolonization.  A great word to describe what is happening in my world today.  It’s an idea that you have to experience to “get.”  For me, it’s a newfound commitment to living within my means.  Not drawing on nonexistent resources or borrowing from the future.  And you know what?  It’s amazing.  Going through life, moment by moment, using my gut as my guide, never wandering too far from joy and pleasure in just the right measure, checking in to see what my purpose really is, as many times as it takes.

This is where it’s at folks.  It is breaking to smithereens all the ways I used to feel about the world, first and foremost that I don’t get what I want, or I don’t get the support I need because, you know what?  I do.  If I can quiet myself enough; if I can receive; if I can listen.

My refrigerator had been giving me fits.  The freezer’s been just fine, mind you, but down below, it’s more like the temperature of a root cellar.  And about a month ago I had figured out how to deal with a different problem: it was freezing everything.  So what I own is a refrigerator that is trying to make up its mind.  I know better than to try to ask some technician to look at it.  That will be an investment of very questionable value in terms of both time and money.  Instead, I get to have this experience, which as it turns out, is kind of fun.  I’m decolonizing.

I have been intimately aware of my addictive patterns around food.  I devolve down a well-worn groove from good intentions to just a little more of the comfort food, to full-on surrender to my cravings.  And I’m forced to find my way back to myself again.

When I came home to my decomposing celery and spinach I got mad.  But then I made soup.  My heart ached because I had just bought whipping cream for my tea but then I made cream of spinach soup and used the sour cream for my potatoes.  It was divine.  I froze what was left of the spinach and I went to the market looking for what would keep better in my “root cellar,” began to make more frequent trips to the market (on my bicycle), and purchasing less each time.  I also had to stay on my toes (conscious) about planning meals around what needed to be used up first.  I made smoothies out of things I’d never used before, and used my dehydrator.  And I became even more conscious about scouting out foods that were on sale or offered as surplus.  When I do this I know that I’m more likely eating what’s in season and local – at least at my neighborhood market here in Guadalajara.

This, my friends, is what it takes for me to avoid seductive patterns that offer the illusion of comfort; that lure me with their “convenience” but actually lull me into unconsciousness and addiction.

Underneath all that, I am discovering as I listen, are my unconscious fears:

  • I’m not going to have what I need.
  • Taking care of myself well is a thankless, all-consuming drudge.
  • My food needs are overwhelming and unreasonable.

Well.

Now I can see them.  Thank you Spirit.  Here is what I’m shifting that to:

  • I have what I need.
  • I am not alone in caring for myself.
  • I am well supported, though support sometimes comes in the form of change and I don’t understand it at first.
  • My needs are normal.
  • Meeting my needs is actually a lot easier than I thought.

The thing is, I need to keep my focus more on the short-term, and not extend my food planning out so far.  This is what it takes for me to come out of addiction, to follow my guidance, and live, fully embodied in the present.  I’m not sure I’m going to ever fix my refrigerator.  I may just begin seeing it as another instrument of God – slowing me down, bringing me back to myself, reconnecting me with my purpose, and helping me to live more sustainably and aware of my body’s needs and the planet.