“I like to Rock!”

“I like to Rock!”

I’m working with a few veterans who have discovered the joys of guitar. Some play contemporary music, but surprisingly, most stick to the oldies. Good ol’ rock n’roll. I love to watch videos they show me of their playing, and the obvious pleasure it brings.

Have I ever mentioned that I also like to Rock?

Van Halen you may think, or perhaps Pink Floyd… maybe the Stones. Before you conjure up frightening images of me in a semi-goth Pat Benatar outfit, with full on spandex pants, high heeled boots, and crazy hair, I’d better stop you.

Actually, I’m talking about something much simpler: the practice of walking the deserted beaches of Nova Scotia, collecting beautiful rocks. I love the stillness of these coves, punctuated only by the sounds of wind, gulls, or a distant lobster boat. Walking with me is not easy, my family members have discovered. I find so many rocks that draw me in that I can’t carry them all. My family humours me and help out. Their stretched out hoodie pockets are a testament to the strength of my passion.

Once I get home, I wash them, and paint them. Simple beautiful images, always involving nature.

This quiet meditative practice stills my ever-turning mind, and brings me peace.

What will you do with them? People ask me. Actually, I love the fact that they have no real function. In a life where I have a million things going through my head at any point in time, there is something so incredibly satisfying about doing something that has absolutely no discernible purpose, except for the enjoyment it provides.

When I paint these rocks, I imagine them as graduation gifts for those of you who successfully complete the Landing Strong Program. Symbols of reclaiming of aspects of self that may have been lost, or been forgotten. A recalibration of overcharged nervous systems that now allows for moments of gentle reflection and appreciation.

I hope you’ll walk with me.

p.s. Spoiler alert: We’ll be doing some rock painting in the program. 🙂

My (not so) Private Obsession

My (not so) Private Obsession

Ever been so obsessed with something that it’s all you can think about? That’s kinda me these days. I constantly think about the Landing Strong Program. It’s almost all I talk about. It’s become a bit of a problem for me. I seem to have sidestepped small talk, and get straight to the point as I’m so hungry to make it happen.

I’m planning the open house, which will be this summer, and imagine what it will feel like when we receive word that we have been offered funding so that people might access services barrier-free.

I imagine myself being active with program participants: hiking, biking, golfing, fishing, swimming, doing yoga, pilates, and stretch classes. Heck as a clinician who sits all day, I’m excited about being active together.

I envision active, experiential learning, where we work in community to remove barriers, address fears, and instill confidence and hope.

I see laughter, and I see tears. Most importantly, I see people regaining the ability to connect with and express their emotions appropriately, even after years of feeling angry or flat. I feel their hope and witness the dawn of comprehension wash over their faces when they realize that recovery is possible.

I anticipate people discovering creative aspects of themselves that they did not know existed, or that have been long forgotten. I’ll know it’s there by the spark I will see in their eyes as they talk about what they’re doing. They will tell me excitedly how they plan to carry it over into the community.

I see families engaged, and happily involved with program participants and our larger community through our family support program. I definitely see us all going to on-tree together. Maybe a picnic at the beach or having some fun at a local gym or pool.

I am planning the intricate details of the graduation ceremony; even making small gifts to give to participants as I plan the celebration.

I see it that clearly. I hope that you are able to join me.

What Inspires You?

What Inspires You?

I had a first responder in my office this week who totally inspired me.

In his journey of recovery, he’s picked up a new hobby. It’s healthy, active, and encompasses much of his free time when he’s not working. He wonders if this new obsession is healthy. He’s been great about being home when his partner is home, but in his down time, he’s all over this new passion.

I asked him about his drinking, which had been reaching alarming levels in the past few years. Attending choir practice is a routine form of debriefing where he works.

“Funny you should mention that,” he responded. “I’ve been so busy, I haven’t had time to drink. I’m down to one beer day.”

“How about your anxiety?” I asked.

“Been too busy to think about it,” he grinned.

Sounds to me like recovery. Recovery isn’t about not doing things. It’s about replacing unhealthy habits with more positive alternatives. Things that bring us joy.

That’s one of the reasons we are incorporating leisure pursuits and physical activities as core elements of the Landing Strong programming. We know that development of hobbies and interests is not easy, particularly when life feels overwhelming.

So we do it together. Have a wonderful long weekend and Happy Canada Day!

Surviving PTSD… like a fish out of water

Surviving PTSD… like a fish out of water

I remember when the kids were little, they had a pet Betta fish. For some reason, that only they would understand, they named it “Llama.” One day, I asked my son to clean the fish water. He happily obliged, but left the small round fish bowl on the bathroom sink (with the fish in it). We went out for dinner, and when we returned, the fish had jumped out of the bowl. A thorough search led to a ghastly discovery… Llama had completely dried up on the bathroom floor. So dry in fact that I could not pick him up by hand, and had to use a putty knife to gently chip him off. His poor dehydrated form came up in one piece, except for a small segment of his fin that remained cemented to the floor. I dropped him into the fish bowl, preparing to dispense of him.

To my surprise, when I picked up the bowl, I noticed that Llama appeared to be breathing. Watching intently, I saw him magically rehydrate, and slowly regain movement and life. By the end of an hour, it would have been impossible to know that he had been near death. The only telltale sign being a small piece of missing fin.

Trying to understand the miracle I had witnessed, I did some research and learned that Betta fishes were discovered living in puddles, drainage ditches, and rice paddies in China. Extreme changes in environment forced it to adapt, finding a way to survive harsh conditions. The instinct to jump, and find a bigger puddle had backfired on our poor friend. Natural survival adaptation, however, allowed it to shut down its metabolism and wait out the “drought” until the opportunity to rehydrate presented itself. Like a dried up puddle being replenished by rain.

Llama the betta fish dried up and came back to life.

Although he made a full recovery and lived for a long time after, he had a chip in his fin (a piece of the middle missing) from the rescue. It didn’t affect his ability to swim, but remained with him, an understated reminder of his resilience.

Recovery from trauma does not mean going back to being exactly the same person we were before our injury. It means learning to move forward: wiser, smarter, and better prepared to protect ourselves against future injury.

“Can you have too much of a good thing?”

“Can you have too much of a good thing?”

“Mom can we go to Italy?” my daughter called out to me when she was little. Wondering why she would ask such a thing, I enquired further, “Why do you want to go to Italy honey?”

“Because it would make me happy,” she replied.

“Happy?”

“Yes happy!” she explained, staring at me like I was missing the obvious.

“But why Italy?” I prodded. “Because mom, that’s where they make Nutella, the Nutella Factory is in Italy, and Nutella makes me happy so we should go there.”

The basic wisdom of her logic touched me. So simple. Going to the people and places that make us happy. I’m not talking about quick gratification… the quick sugar high that comes from eating half a cheesecake in one sitting, or a buzz after too many beers. I’m talking about the pleasure of an evening spent with someone we care about, or doing something that fills us with joy. Mindfully constructing our day so that each contains an element of beauty.

PTSD, anxiety, and depression are all about avoidance. The only problem is, the withdrawal that is associated with protecting ourselves also eliminates new possibilities… like visiting the Nutella Factory.

“It really stinks!”

“It really stinks!”

It really stinks… a corner in the reception area of my office, that is. I can’t figure out why. I’ve looked everywhere for the source of the smell, but I can’t find it. Normally the waiting room area is a fresh sunny place where people comment on the pleasing environment and smells. Our yard is full of blooming lilacs, the apple blossoms are out, and the garden is wonderful. But this does not seem to be transferring to the inside. Not this week at least.

Emily Lane, our Office Manager, who works on this floor of the building has been great. With relentless good nature and patience she has been working to uncover the culprit.

On Sunday, I bought a huge number of gorgeous potted flowers that I left on the deck by the office. On Sunday night most of them froze with that unexpected frost. I took them inside and tried to resuscitate them. It turns out it’s not possible to do CPR with geraniums, but some of the pink did come back with the few blossoms I managed to save.

A veteran who has been working hard on his recovery was in the building yesterday. He was the epitome of optimism, noting that all those lovely plants inside helped hide the unwelcomed smell.  There you go, a silver lining to every cloud.

I suppose PTSD and operational injuries are like that. The symptoms serve as reminders that there is something that needs to be addressed. It generally isn’t something we are eager to do, but the unwelcomed symptoms won’t go away until we dig down and find the source of the problem.

So I’m taking action, enlisting the support of professionals who are experts in their areas, confident that we will figure it out, together. Hoping warm weather and pleasing scents find their way back to us soon.

p.s. The day after I wrote this article I arrived at the office and magically the offensive smell was gone… a week after its mysterious appearance. Maybe talking about things does help after all.

Naked and Afraid

Naked and Afraid

Anyone who knows me well also knows that I love a challenge.

This may be, in part, why I so much enjoy the show Naked and Afraid. It’s not that I have the desire to be dropped in the middle of some foreign wasteland with a complete stranger and no clothing. Quite the contrary in fact.

It’s the survival aspect of the show that intrigues me. The more episodes I watch, the more I realize that the outcome of the 21 day challenge is largely determined within the first 48 hours. Drinking enough water, protecting oneself from the elements, and protecting oneself from predators (which by the way does tend to be primarily blood-sucking insects rather than large mammals) are all very important. Equally important though is the participants’ ability to work together. Participants who work well together do much better than those who don’t. We survive better in tribes than we do solo, particularly in times of hardship.

That’s one of the big reasons why I believe in a group approach to recovery. Sure it’s hard to form the initial trust, but once we have it, the strength of the team far surpasses that of the individual. It’s a concept I’m totally sold on, because I have seen it work. I hope you will come be a part of our tribe.

“It’s complicated!” Could it be complex PTSD?

“It’s complicated!” Could it be complex PTSD?

It’s complicated… a standard line delivered in movies when someone is trying to gently tell someone else why they don’t want to date them.

Dating someone with PTSD for sure isn’t easy. Being married to, or a partner with, someone with PTSD also isn’t easy. Wanting to be able to connect but not knowing how, and feeling the burden of shame that prevents intimacy, can be a difficult road. It isn’t simple loving your family or being connected to your friends when you have PTSD. It can be hard not understanding what is happening when it all used to be so effortless.

Is that complex PTSD? It may seem so, but in fact complex PTSD is what happens when we are exposed to childhood trauma and then again more trauma later in life. We may have figured out how to manage the childhood piece, but under the burden of adult trauma exposure, the face of childhood trauma may rear its ugly head. The adult trauma exposure may not by itself have been enough to undo us, but compounded with the early life experiences, the combined weight might be too much.

As I mentioned earlier, it is indeed complicated. Trauma exposure is not something that happens in discrete units. It’s a cumulative thing.

In order to figure things out, we often need to go upstream, back in time. View ourselves as a whole person, in the totality of our experience. This, by necessity, is a voyage of compassionate enquiry.  Something not meant to be done alone.

Any outdoor enthusiasts out there know these journeys are not for the faint of heart, and certainly not meant to be done alone. Please join us on this journey.

A Steadily Growing Forest

A Steadily Growing Forest

For fifteen dollars on the clearance table at Chapters I find enlightenment. Or so I’m promised. Throwing caution to the wind, I make the purchase. 365 Meditations: A Spiritual Journey on the Path of Wisdom. I flip it open and glance through glossy pages and colourful Zen images. A particular quote catches my eye:

“A falling tree makes more noise than a growing forest.” ~ Lao Tzu

I think about the program we are creating and the community that will be needed to support it. The extent of the problem is well known: thousands of military members, veterans, and first responders injured in the line of duty without sufficient supports in place to adequately facilitate their recovery.  I hear the sound of them falling.

At the same time, I see a forest growing silently and steadily around me.  It takes many forms:

  • A steadily growing group of talented and passionate clinicians, expert in trauma recovery;
  • A community rallying in support;
  • A breathtaking center that is almost fully renovated;
  • An ever expanding list of potential participants, tentatively stepping forward, daring to be the first  in the program; and perhaps most significantly,
  • Over the past few days… signs of  interest from potential funders, willing to join us to help make this all happen.

We’re not there yet.  But I’m hopeful.

There is indeed a forest growing around me. Caught up in the details of the work that needs to be done, it would be easy to miss. I glance back at my bargain Zen book and make a mental note to take a moment to appreciate the wonder of it all.

A Spoon Full of Sugar

A Spoon Full of Sugar

I’m not going to kid you, trauma recovery is painstaking, hard work. There’s no way to sugar coat it.

I remember when I was young (I refuse to tell you exactly how many years ago that was) most of the “older generation” used to take cod liver oil daily. Nasty stuff, I certainly was not about to have it.  Bitter tasting and vile, I turned up my nose.

They also regularly ate Jello for dessert. Jello salads at dinner parties filled with cabbage or carrots (vegetables in disguise), pineapple-marshmallow filled Jello for dessert. Wobbly brightly coloured stuff camouflaged in decorative forms in an effort to increase appeal.

Wow, I’d shake my head thinking how strange that was, and how lucky we are to have invented so many tastier and smarter ways of doing things.

Instead, I pay exorbitant amounts of money for bottles of Omega Oil and Hydrolyzed Collagen Protein

…historically known as cod liver oil and Jello.

Turns out they were right. A small daily dose of a bitter tasting substance can lead to a whole heck of a lot of prevention. Not doing that comes at a cost.

Trauma recovery is like that. Small doses of regular exposure to our deepest feared emotions can prevent blockage and backlog. The same blockage that leads to overload (PTSD symptoms).

So if you are doing the work, and wondering why it is taking so long, or why in Heaven’s name you would regularly do something that is so unpleasant, just think of the wisdom of our grandparents.

Hang in there, with patience, you will start to feel better, even though the process may not be enjoyable.

Just wish it didn’t taste so nasty though…

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