“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…

Finding Your Edge

Finding Your Edge

Recently I received a piece of feedback that produced food for thought. A veteran commented that professionals have been telling him for years to try to go out in public, but when he does, he is quickly overwhelmed.

“…it’s like being asked to jump into the deep end of the pool without properly knowing how to swim.”

He emphasized the importance of teaching people with PTSD to swim before asking them to take up high diving.

I couldn’t agree more.

There’s a common saying “go hard or go home”.  In the case of recovery from Operational Stress Injuries, this is a terrible strategy. The trick is to go forward slowly, with self-compassion.

I remember a yoga teacher once said to me “find the edge, and lean into it”.

“What’s the edge?” I asked.

“It’s that point where you are no longer comfortable, but not so far as to cause injury.” My instructor explained. The edge can even change while you are doing the exercise, so it is important to adjust. The truth is I have been doing yoga for a number of years, and I am still as stiff as a board. So my “edge” isn’t very far out. I used to be hard on myself about it, looking at how flexible everyone else in the class is while I closely resemble a cardboard cut-out figure.

Now I don’t sweat it so much. I’m just happy I made it there. I dropped out of high intensity yoga, and instead take restorative yoga, which is gentler, and more forgiving. Baby steps… that’s the key.

Only you know where your edge is. For each person it is different. If you haven’t been out in a while, it may be simply stepping on your back porch for 5 minutes and feeling the sunshine on your face. It may be writing a text or email to a single friend. It may simply be showing up for your doctor’s appointment.

So please don’t go off the high diving board.  A little toe in the water is fine.

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