Archive for August, 2013

The only thing in life we ever actually have control over is our perspective. How we think and what we choose to believe. If you struggle with intrusive thoughts, it may feel as if you have no control. They intrude and interrupt at will, as if your mind is disconnected from the rest of you. You feel powerless. So how can I talk about having control?

Before I answer that, one of the things I am here to do is help you explore new perspectives. I present questions and hold open a safe space for your heart to explore, wander, try new thoughts on, and eventually embrace the those that make sense to you. Remember, no one “out there” can give you “answers.” All they can do is guide you to and through the questions and let you discover for yourself new perspectives that reshape your beliefs about life, god, death, fear, security, and purpose. Don’t ever think that just because you feel broken or lost or too far gone to be saved, that you don’t have the innate power within your spirit to embrace new perspectives. You are designed to do this. It’s in your nature.

Why Your Thoughts Matter

You may have never considered this, but all of our life experience is held and exists in our thoughts. Something happens, we encode it in memory – which are thoughts. Our desires begin with thoughts. Our dreams are thoughts. How we feel is based on a thought that precedes or supports it. Often we are not aware of these thoughts because we simply feel the emotion and are used to operating in a way that says “that’s just how I feel.” We assume we don’t have control over our feelings, or how we respond to life and circumstances. And we’re used to placing the responsibility for how we feel outside of ourselves (she makes me feel this way, etc.). Why do we do this?

Because we are not used to examining what it is we are thinking. We’re not used to challenging our beliefs or perceptions. Many of them were absorbed during childhood and originate from other people — we swallow them whole and never stopped to ask if that’s truly what we believe. We absorb, adopt, and accept much of what we think from our environment and those close to us.

And we keep walking in those embedded thoughts until something comes along and wakes us up.

War will wake you up. Pain will wake you up. Loss will wake you up. Feeling broken and adrift will wake you up.

Truth vs Facts

But wait a minute, what happened, happened, right? You can’t change that. You’re right, you can’t change what happened. What happened is a fact. But what you can change is how you perceive what that event means to you. And your perception of what happened is yours to own.

Thoughts are not permanent. And neither are beliefs. A belief is a nothing more than a thought that you continue to think over and over until it feels so natural to you that it feels like truth. It is truth to you only because you choose to accept it as such. When we get new information about something that lends us new insight, we often change how we perceive truth. In this case, you are not waiting for something external to provide new insight, you are shining the new light on it yourself. Truth is not absolute. Truth is accepted beliefs. You can choose not to accept it anymore, not by willing it away, but by determining that it’s not useful to you anymore.

Thoughts Protect & Serve

Thoughts are designed to serve your safety and well-being — no matter how screwed up or painful they may be — as long as they are serving to protect you from further pain, they’ll keep working and you’ll keep believing them. This is why you can’t just will yourself to “let it go” or “get over it” or “stop feeling this way.” Will power does not work here. Why? Because you are still accepting and believing the thoughts that keep you safe. Until you stop believing a thought by recognizing that it no longer serves you, and reach for a better thought to embrace, you won’t be able to let it go. Now, I am NOT saying that letting go of intrusive thoughts is simply a matter of choosing different ones. No. There are biological and energetic shifts that need to happen as well. But don’t let that stop you from having a serious look at what you are thinking behind those thoughts and challenging their assumptions.

What This Process Looks Like

How do you stop believing a thought? You get quiet, stop distracting yourself, step back and really look at what it is you think. You realize that you are safe, you set an intention to be gentle and understanding with yourself and you ask questions. It goes like this:

I don’t like to be around people.

Why?    Being around people makes me feel nervous. 

Why?   Because I might lose control.

                What would it mean if I lost control?  I might hurt someone.

                                And what would that mean?  That I’m not in control.

                                                And if I’m not in control?  I’m not safe.

                                                                What would it mean if I’m not safe?  I’m weak.

                                                                                What would that mean to me?  I’m not a man.

Who told me that men are not allowed to feel weak?  My mom, mostly. I was always supposed to be tough, not cry, man up.  And when did I first feel weak and hide it?  When my dog died. I was 12.

So when I had a real reason to feel sad and grieving, I didn’t allow myself to show it because it wasn’t acceptable. So, being in control means that I am a man. Losing control means I am weak.

How did this help me in my life so far? Accepting this helped me navigate my mom’s perception about how she defined masculinity – and ultimately, her approval of me. How else has it served me? It has supported me through many tough situations. It is still supporting me today by helping me get through my day without feeling too much pain. It keeps me safe, but alone.

Let’s drill down a bit further.

What does it mean if I’m not approved of by others?  I’m not worth loving. 

So the essence of your belief about you deserving to be loved manifests itself all the way up through feelings that say “I don’t like to be around people.” It’s like an anchored chain, you follow the links back far enough and you’ll get to that thought that supports it all.

This is just a fictional example – and the thoughts that link backwards will be very different for each person. They don’t always link to your parents or your childhood. They may link to something far more recent. It doesn’t matter when and where you absorbed the thought you’re still thinking and anchoring a feeling on. This isn’t about analyzing your childhood or reliving trauma. This is all about finding out whether or not a thought that keeps you in the feelings you have now still serves your well-being. Thoughts that no longer support you are called “limiting beliefs.”

They limit you from growing, moving, releasing, healing, and enjoying your life to the fullest.

Challenging Limiting Beliefs

To find out if a thought is limiting, you start challenging its assumptions. Not blaming anyone, not judging. In our sample scenario, the questions might be:

This thought tells me I am not loved if others don’t approve of me. How do I know that’s “true”? What do I believe about human worth? Could it be possible that I am loved simply because I exist and because the essence of the Universe is love? What if I believed that I was loved exactly as I am? What if I was loved even when I feel weak? What if feeling weak was a sign that I’m hurting? What if losing control didn’t mean that I hurt someone, but that I let myself hurt and feel the loss? What if losing control means that I cry and crying doesn’t mean that I’m weak, but simply that I’m sad? What if I lost control in a safe way, cried, and actually felt better?

Does the belief (thought) that I’m not acceptable if I show weakness support me in the life I want to have now? As a combat veteran, this belief would keep you isolated, alone in your pain, and make it difficult to express the loss and sadness that you’re carrying inside. It may keep you angry so that you could “remain in control” in an acceptable way. Anger would also keep people at a distance. So the “I don’t like to be around people” is, after all, self-protective.  

What would be a more supportive thought?

How about:

I am loved exactly as I am.
I am safe even when I feel weak.
I can lose control and not hurt someone.
I can be sad and still be a man.
I can be sad and accepted.
I can be sad and okay.

Again, fictional examples, but the process is the same:

Get quiet, and if possible, write your thoughts/questions/answers down.
Write down what you are feeling. Ask why and how you know it’s true. And why it may not be true.
Write down the thoughts that emerge as the reasons. Keep digging.
If you start to feel a shift in your energy or emotion starts to move through you, breathe, don’t fight it or resist. They are only thoughts. You are safe. Let them flow. This is not about forcing anything. And you always have the choice to stay with your original thinking.
Keep drilling down until you get to that anchoring thought.
Does it still support you?
What if you didn’t believe it anymore?
What better thought could you embrace that would support how you want to feel?

What is great about this kind of exploration is that you remain in control. You decide how fast and how far you drill down to the underlying thoughts-beliefs. You’re not trying to swallow someone else’s beliefs; you’re searching for new ones that fit and support you now. You go at a pace that feels comfortable.

You get to choose.                

So, all that said, let’s explore a little bit about intrusive thoughts… what if, instead of being a curse, they were a messenger? What if they were your spirit crying out because it’s in pain and needs you to give yourself some care? What if they carried the seed of freedom and blessing in them? What if (yes, we ask a lot of positive “what ifs”)… underneath the intrusive thoughts were perspectives and beliefs that you DO have control over? And if you gave yourself some space, and felt safe to do so, you could look at these thoughts, see if they still “serve” you, and if they don’t, reach for thoughts that feel better?

At the core of trauma are the feelings of fear for your safety and powerlessness. Everything else layers on top of those two core emotions. When we gently look at our perceptions and beliefs about safety and power, we can start walking toward new thoughts that will make the old ones no longer needed. That’s how you start to take back control.

If you’d like to share your thoughts or would like me to help guide you through the questions, please reach out. I’ll walk with you.

Why are you still here?

You survived. They didn’t.

You know it just happened. There was no rhyme or reason. They were with you one moment, gone the next.
And you were left alive.

You’d take their place in a heartbeat to spare the agony you saw in their loved one’s eyes.
A hole in the heart of a family, a missing parent, a child dead before his years.
Why are you still here?

Silence absorbs your question. Guilt crushes you into the darkness.
No answer comes.

You feel guilty for being alive. Guilty for not being dead. Guilty for having another chance at life.
Guilty for not being able – though you’re not sure how you could’ve but surely you could’ve – kept them alive.
You came home.

They went home.

You are here. They are… too.
With you. Flashes of memory. Moments shared. Fears faced.
Boredom overcome. Bonds forged. A date and hour stamped indelibly in your conscious.

Now, they are there. You are here.

The soul asks; it cannot accept sheer powerlessness.
The soul cries out because it forgets. Blinded here in this veil of earth-existence.
Unable to remember the decisions made when the adventure was planned.
The perfect control and power over every detail. Now unrecalled.
It forgets that our time here is but a game.

A game, you say? A game that sears pain so deep you are sliced in two?
A game?? Are tears a game? Rage? A mind that relives a moment over and over and over…
capturing you in sheer powerless night after night after night?
A game?!?

Where is God? Where is mercy? Where is something, anything, to hold responsible for this?
This decision that left you alive and them dead.
That gave you another chance and took theirs away.
Where is the one who decides?

A voice whispers, so familiar.
You listen. And centuries of beliefs give way.
Religion fades. A faint memory returns. Of that time, back there in Spirit World, when you were together, mapping out this great adventure. Planning how long you’d stay and how you wanted to “go” this time around. Of wanting to be tested and of the growth that would come. “How long should I stay?” you asked. “Longer than me,” he said. “But why?” “Because I’ve already learned that.” “Okay.” And you agreed.
Do you remember??

“You cannot lose what was never yours,” they told you, “don’t forget that,” they said. Years on earth left unlived, memories not made, time not spent, a whole “future” gone —
“It’s not gone,” they remind you gently. “For it was never going to be.” You cannot lose what was never yours. “Don’t play your grief forward, don’t stop living when we’re gone,” they warned. “For this is our choice, not yours. And while you will be there when we leave, it will not be yours to blame. So live.”

How do you accept that? How do you let go of the thought that it could’ve been different? A second in timing. A millimeter in distance. If you had just done something — anything — differently, if you’d been taken instead, it would be okay. They’re gone, you miss them, you want them back, they’re never coming back this time around.

Why are you still here?

“Because your journey isn’t done,” they whisper.
There are lives yet for you to reach. Hearts to love. Healing to experience.
And until every life that you are meant to grace has been touched,
Every heart yet to be loved by you and love you in return,
Every joy that you give just by being here,
Every soul that looks into your pain and grief and finds courage for their own,

Until then, this is where you belong.

If you’re dealing with survivor’s guilt and would like to share what’s on your heart, please reach out. I’ll walk with you.

There’s a perception out there that it’s not okay to express sadness, fear, uncertainty, loss, or guilt. They make you vulnerable, they leave you exposed, they give your power away, right? Anger is okay, though. Anger represents a form of power, though it often is a cover emotion for all of the ones that aren’t acceptable.

For many combat vets, rage is the only “safe” place to funnel the deep emotions of war. Blind rage — that boils over for no apparent reason or the tendency to have much stronger reactions to things that normally wouldn’t bother you — is often the soul crying out to release what it’s holding inside. The problem is rage can lead to violence and creates distances in relationships when what you need most is acceptance and love.

Lashing out when your soul is wounded is a natural reaction to a sense of being out of control over your life or past.

Anger, rage, lashing out are challenging, but normal effects of war. The tricky part is that loved ones have a hard time understanding where that deep anger is coming from and why you’re directing it at them. (And you may not be able to explain why either.)

Many combat veterans hide just how vulnerable and uncertain they feel after war. The questions, the loss, the grief, the way they miss war as much as they hate it, the not fitting in anymore, the strange gaps that exist in relationships at home — it’s convoluted, and messy, and no one wants to admit to being a mess. Because, god forbid, you go to war, kill people, nearly get killed, experience the sudden loss of friends to intentional violence, feel both immense power and utter powerlessness at the same time, have shifting perceptions as to what the whole point of it is, escape death, then come home to a silent, blessedly mundane life where you’re supposed to forget all that happened and just be happy making money, getting your education, paying the mortgage — and, no, you wouldn’t have reason to be a bit angry, would you?

**Deep breath**

The point is rage is normal. And it’s more a symptom of other unexpressed emotions than of true anger itself. Yes, there is real anger involved. Anger over what you’ve lost, over how you have to fight with the VA for your rights, anger over what you did or didn’t do, anger over being so fucked up now and anger at yourself for not being stronger than you’d thought you’d be. Anger has a real and valid place.  But sorting it all out can seem too much work and too exhausting, especially when you don’t know where to begin and no one really wants to hear about this dark side of you anyway, right?

So, what are you supposed to do? How do you handle rage and difficult emotions after war?

  • Recognize that you haven’t become a “monster” – your spirit needs attention and it’s acting out to get you to realize that. You can’t emerge from war unscathed. It has changed you. It’s time to accept that you’re not who you used to be. And there’s no going back. The person you are now is someone who is going to become someone new, but the war will always be a part of you. It’s time society woke up and realized that the expectation that you would be unchanged by something as powerful as war is both absurd and stifling. That expectation prevents you from healing. Because if no one acknowledges that there’s something to be healed, the healing will not occur. Don’t let this belief do that to you.
  • It’s your life and while you may feel lost, you are still the only one who can choose to set upon a path toward healing. No one is going to do it for you. There are people, services, organizations, books, therapists, alternative healing practices out there — but unless you choose to connect and explore possibilities for healing, none of them will do you any good. What works for some, may not work for you. But there is a path for you if you keep looking.
  • Healing vs coping. I believe the human spirit is capable of experiencing healing and regeneration. Freedom and growth come when we change our thoughts and embrace new beliefs. But there are some aspects of war wounds that may never fully disappear and may need long-term methods of coping and adapting. While managing PTSD symptoms may be your first priority, the underlying goal is to find the healing your soul needs in order to create a new sense of wholeness and well-being.
  • Honor your own spirit as much as you’d honor a fallen brother. You know how to do this. Most likely you took part in memorial ceremonies and special acts of remembrance that honored the ones you lost. You’ve felt that deep respect for them. What you need now is to give that kind of respect, empathy and grace to yourself. Your wounds are honorable, natural, and they deserve respect.  I know if you’re hurting, “honor” is the last thing you’re thinking about. You’re just trying to cope, to numb out, to ease the pain so you can function and get through another day and night. What I’m talking about here is really an attitude. An attitude where you give yourself a break, you acknowledge your pain is real and valid, you recognize and respect your mind, body, and soul for what it’s endured and for how it’s protected you (even if you hate the methods it’s chosen) – and you start toward healing from a place of reverence and respect for your life.
  • Break the silence. Share your story. Find a safe place where you’ll be accepted and not judged no matter how devastating or traumatic your story is. I know it’s not easy. Your fellow warriors know where you’re coming from, and while they can provide you much needed camaraderie and support, they may not be able to lead you down a healing path, unless they’ve walked the path ahead of you. You need someone with deep spiritual wisdom, compassion, and a strong belief in you. Someone willing to carry your story with you while holding you to your own ability to heal. You need to confide. Lay it all out. Let that person hold you in a healing embrace and trust that your story won’t break them. Words are powerful. Stories that are kept inside often lose power when they are expressed in words. So take a chance and share your story.
  • Find a method to express what you’re carrying inside. Sharing your story through words is foundational to healing, but you also need to express how you feel about your story and what you’re carrying inside. (Don’t be put off by all this talk of “feelings” — the fact is, you have them and they’re giving you trouble.) Stories are made of facts, actions, events. They tell what happened to you or what you did, they don’t necessarily express how you feel about it.  Those feelings are going to come up again and again. They need to be validated, expressed, released. But you don’t have to use words. Creative arts, music, gaming, sports, working out, volunteering, spending time in nature — can all become part of your healing process. The point is to find something non-destructive that you can turn to whenever you need to release pent up thoughts and emotions. Art and creative writing are particularly powerful because you use your hands and heart to bring something into being. You don’t have to be an “artist” or a “writer” to try painting, sculpture, woodcarving, drawing, storytelling. The goal is to pour the energy of your emotions into the form.
  • When blind rage emerges, breathe. Realize where it’s coming from, disengage from the person you’re with, breathe in, breathe out. Thoughts run wild and irrational when rage flows, breathe. When you’ve calmed a bit, have a look at what’s running through your mind. Try to replace those negative thoughts with more logical, factual ones. If you know your rage is coming from a place that needs healing, you’ll start to see your reactions in a different light. The dots will start to connect. You may still need to learn some anger management techniques to find ways to cope, but at least you’ll have a better idea of where that rage is coming from and why you’re experiencing it.

The people around you won’t know why you’re angry unless you find a way to explain it to them. Print off this article and share it with them or recommend this site to them to help them understand where you’re coming from. (If you are a family member, or want your family member to talk with me, I’m more than happy to do so.) When people know that anger comes from a place of unresolved pain, they are far more understanding and see you in a different light. Not to be pitied, but understood. Unfortunately, you may have to be the catalyst to help them gain that understanding. But if you love them, they deserve the chance to realize what’s going on with you.

I know this post is getting long, but the one thing I didn’t mention is crying. Tears are a natural form of emotional release. Children and most women know this instinctively. The concept of men crying gets all tied up in cultural beliefs and expectations of what is means to be a man. But crying is a human response of the heart and spirit. And whether you are okay crying in front of others or not, it really is okay to cry. If you’re embarrassed, cry in private. If you’re worried that once you start crying you won’t be able to stop, don’t worry. You will when your heart has released everything it needs to. You’ll breathe again, you’ll smile again. We’re made of energy, and crying is a form of releasing energy.

Rage, difficult emotions — they’re part of the process. Don’t let them define you. Claim your right to heal.

If you want to confidentially share your story, vent, get things off your chest, and receive soul-level support, please reach out. Life is too short to walk your path after war alone.

What should you do with your life after war? It’s a big question, isn’t it. Most people assume you’ll go right back to doing whatever you were doing before war. It’s easy, right? You’ve been home awhile now, time to move on, isn’t it? That’s what everyone seems to think. So why isn’t it that easy? What’s wrong with you?

What you need to know is that if you are struggling with tough memories, feeling numb, angry, not sleeping, lashing out, drinking too much, looking for a crazy adrenaline rush – you are normal.

That’s right, normal.

You are not weak.

If you feel isolated, alone, that no one “gets it”, that you’re trapped inside yourself – you are normal.

That’s right, normal.

You are not weak.

And until you get that, and really believe it, you won’t be able to move on. And until your loved ones get that, and really believe it, they won’t be able to allow you to move on.

Because you are now in a fight for your life. Not against a tangible, physical enemy. But with war itself. War destroys. And it will keep destroying you.  Until you realize that that’s exactly what war is meant to do. The idea that you can be exposed to the forces of war and not be changed is a myth. When you accept that it’s normal to feel destroyed by it, you step back in your power. You can’t help not be affected, and it is a huge tragedy that you come home to a society who doesn’t get that. When you can see that where you are is exactly where you should be, from there, you walk forward. One day at a time.

There’s help for you. And there’s hope for you.

You are normal. You are not weak. See your mission now to become a new version of yourself, reshaped by war, but still, a warrior for peace.

So fight for peace. Your peace. Do what it takes to get help. The first step is reaching out and sharing what’s on your mind and heart.

Contact me. I’m here to listen.