I was deeply touched last week when I read an article about Skippy, an 10-month-old barn cat, who crawled home ten days after going missing. He had three broken legs and puncture and talon marks on his back leg. Carried away by an owl, Skippy fought furiously for survival until the bird of prey dropped him, leading to the broken bones. With his one good leg, he somehow managed to drag himself home.
Like Skippy, many of us have an equally strong desire to find our way home; even when it may seem impossible. Although the breaks and injuries might not be visible, invisible wounds can prevent an easy return. Once we have arrived at our destination, that’s often when the real work begins. Will we ever be the same? Is recovery possible? What must happen for us to fit into home as we previously knew it?
This is the work of Landing Strong. It takes incredible resilience to make the journey. We hope that you will join us on September 27th in celebrating the strength, courage, and fortitude it takes for service men and women, veterans, and first responders who are struggling to find their way home.
Another great restorative yoga class this week left me feeling calm and centered (thanks Lisa!). At the end of the class, we practice Savasana, a pose where we lie silently on our backs, eyes closed. This exercise isn’t a physically challenging one, but it is one where the mind tends to wander. During this part, our instructor played a wonderful rendition of the tune “Sea of Love,” the theme song from the 1989 box office movie sensation. In this moment, where we are supposed to be clearing our minds, I was replaying a scene from the movie involving Al Pacino, who plays the role of a burnt-out cop. He is part of a sting operation designed to apprehend people with outstanding warrants, luring them in with the promise of having breakfast with the American Major League baseball star Dave Winfield. Everything was going smoothly until one late-comer shows up holding the hand of his young son.
“Hey, am I too late?” he asks.
“You got an invitation?” Al Pacino demands. The father hands over a piece of paper.
“Ernest Lee, the invitation’s for you only,” Pacino asserts.
“I can hardly meet Dave Winfield without takin’ my boy”, the man pleads.
Not wanting to ruin what was clearly a positive relationship between father and son, Pacino decides to cut him a break.
“We’re all booked up.” Pacino discreetly flashes his police badge, signalling to the father that the baseball player event was a trap.
“Thanks man,” the father backs away with his son.
“Catch you later,” Pacino responds before driving away.
It’s a dark film, about a dark topic, but many years later that’s the scene I remember… someone in a dark place, showing an act of compassion.
Memory and association are closely related. It is not the actual events that create our emotions, it’s how we process and remember these events. If I were stressed out maybe I would have remembered the fact that Al Pacino was a drunk and that the movie was actually about a serial killer. Because I was relaxed, I just remembered the good bit… the compassion.
This is a reminder for me to take the extra time to care for myself. If I take this extra time the bad things I may have experienced don’t seem quite so awful. (And believe me, in my seven years acting as Chief Psychologist in a federal penitentiary, there was bad stuff). If I take the time to process these events, they don’t affect me as much. I am more able to remember the good aspects of my job.
Many of us have experienced or witnessed incredibly traumatic or dark things as a routine part of our daily work. Looking back, how we feel about them is largely determined by how we remember them. The lens of trauma only remembers things the same way, repeated over and over. By welcoming the perspective of others in a safe and supportive environment, we open ourselves to seeing things in a new light, often changing the way these events emotionally impact us.
Link to Al Pacino’s Sea of Love
Recently things have been a bit hectic. I’ve a lot on the go, and am feeling pulled in a number of different directions. For that reason, I decided to spend last weekend centering myself. I thought nothing would be better than to simply spend a day just being: noticing and appreciating the beauty around me. Otherwise known as mindfulness. I’ve been trying to fix up some old chairs, but trying to reupholster them was starting to feel overwhelming. Joe, my supersonic husband, suggested a 25 km bike ride from our cottage to Bear River, and I naively said “great”.
I have to tell you, if you haven’t checked out Bear River, I would recommend it. It’s a quaint little artistic community known as the “tidal village on stilts.” It boasts the Sissiboo Coffee Roaster (fair trade organic trendy coffee shop) and a cute little café called “Myrtle and Rosie’s.” Determined to notice, appreciate and learn, it was here that the universe gave me my first teaching.
Wanting to fill my life sandwich with more knowledge, I ventured out into the countryside eager to expand my understanding of the cosmos. It was here, in the pastoral fields of Clementsville, that I witnessed wildlife that I had never seen before roaming free in Nova Scotia. Zebras.
Feeling I was on a winning streak of enlightenment, I pushed on in my odyssey, and was rewarded with other amazing finds. On the way back through town, I met Walter Wambolt, who appeared to be quite the man about town. Confident and assertive, he was a man of a few words and turned out to be a great listener.
I made the internal commitment to be more like him. Walter beckoned me into a nearby bakery. It was there, in a back room of the bakery, that I discovered a hidden upholstery shop. The baker, it turns out, is a talented fellow who is also able to help me reupholster some chairs I am reclaiming.
So all in all, it was a pretty great day. I did make it home, and could barely walk the next day, but no worries. I felt complete with all the new teachings. I’m going to keep working on this mindfulness thing.
I was going for a hike last weekend when I stumbled across the perfect example of resiliency. A magnificent mushroom, in the middle of a gravel road, pushing its way up towards the universe. Despite everything that says it shouldn’t exist, it appears to be thriving.
It made me ponder the meaning of resilience: not just surviving, but thriving in the face of adversity. Having that wonderful Indian rubber ball “bounce back” quality when life throws us hard knocks.
Many people I work with tell me that I better not expect them to get all emotional because they “don’t do that stuff.”
Ignoring the emotional impact of our experiences takes a bigger toll than we think. Dealing with the emotional impact of our experiences is often harder than carrying out the duties of our jobs in the first place. It’s a completely different headspace than being in operational mode.
When we aren’t able to experience or express our feelings, we create an emotional backlog that eventually catches up with us. It’s only possible to keep this up for so long. This is one of the reasons we see so many military members and first responders people performing at a top level in their careers, only to experience problems after many years of service or following retirement. They aren’t broken, they are suffering from emotional backlog.
By learning to clean our emotional closet regularly, we prevent injury.
How do we do this? By being vulnerable. Resiliency isn’t about being tough, it’s about knowing how and when to take care of ourselves so that we can continue to do our jobs and be okay.
We grow stronger by shining a light on the darkest areas of our lives, and understanding the emotional impact of these experiences on us. Going to those places that we least want to go. Our resiliency comes from fearlessly facing the emotions that accompany them.
So as you can see, courage is tied into resiliency. And the people who are doing the work of recovery are some of the bravest people I know.
We are hosting a Celebration of Resiliency in conjunction with the Grand Opening of our new Landing Strong Centre in Windsor, Nova Scotia. We’d love to have you join us in celebrating the strength of our community, and the military members, veterans, and first responders who serve them. Let’s also celebrate the families who support them, because they are indeed, as the Military Family Resource Center puts it, the strength behind the uniform.
This weekend, while at the cottage, my son Kyle came into the kitchen munching a Jos Louis.
“Where did you get that?” I asked, surprised to see it.
“The back of the cupboard,” he grinned.
“Funny, I don’t remember buying them.” Needing to see this for myself, I rummaged through the back of the cupboard. I soon realized why I didn’t remember buying them… the expiry date was September 28, 2016.
“Stop… that’s two years old!” I warned.
“And never tasted better!” he responded laughing.
Funny, not many things in life are like that. Most things decline with age. There are of course exceptions: fine wines, good cheese, and Jos Louis are among them. Bread found in IMP’s (military rations) are perhaps another. I’ll never quite understand how something can be deemed edible but non-degradable.
Doug Allen, former infantry Sergeant, Program Manager and Social Worker with the Landing Strong Team, is definitely someone who holds his own (and in fact keeps getting better) over time.
Doug spent 17 years in the Canadian Forces, stationed with the Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He has conducted Peace support operations in Bosnia, combat operations in Afghanistan, and various domestic operations here in Canada. Since returning from Afghanistan in 2008, he has been working with ill and injured Canadian Force members helping them to overcome trauma and reclaim their lives.
Doug’s approach to trauma recovery focuses on reducing the ‘charge’ of fight/flight or freeze, and helping to break out of survival mode. He believes that every person has the strength to become well, as long as they are in an environment that inspires and empowers change.
You’ll recognize Doug by the twinkle in his eye, his quick grin, and his cool tattoos. We welcome his leadership and inspired energy. Hmmm, now that I think about it, he doesn’t seem to age… I wonder Doug, do you by any chance eat Jos Louis?
One of the physical hazards of being a psychologist is that much of my working life consists of sitting. It’s literally killing me… hence part of my motivation to create a program that is engaging and physically active. I want to move with you.
Have I mentioned that my family is hard core into fitness? I just returned from a vacation out West where we participated in the Great Canadian Death Race, followed by a back country hiking trip through the Rockies. It’s the Seagram idea of fun. What is the Great Canadian Death Race you ask? It’s 125 km of mountainous terrain covered by a team of five people over a 24 hour period. No, I did not compete… I’m not at that level. I was the support crew.
My daughter Mackenzie, the Landing Strong Director of Wellbeing and Community Engagement, played a vital role with the team, tackling a 38 km mountainous section. She killed it. A graduate from Acadia University with a psychology and nutrition double major, she practices what she preaches. She represented Acadia’s Cross Country Running team for four years, last year making it to Nationals. She has also competed at the Canada Games representing Nova Scotia in a Biathlon; and in her free time summited Mount Kilimanjaro twice. In her down time, she works on getting me to reach for hummus instead of cookies. Shall we say, it’s a work in progress. I’m grateful that we have someone so uniquely qualified to help us get active and engaged! Mackenzie is setting the food plan for Landing Strong, coordinating community activities, and planning outdoor adventures for us. She is also generating much of the health promotion social media content that we are putting out over Facebook and Instagram. The quirky sense of humour… that’s her. I hope you will join me in welcoming her to the Landing Strong Team.
Do I sound like a proud parent? Well I guess I am, but I am also incredibly proud of the huge talent we have assembled in the Landing Strong Team. It’s bursting with passion, expertise, enthusiasm, and commitment. Over the next few weeks, I will be introducing you to various members of the team, so that you have the opportunity to get to know each of us on a more personal level. Over time, perhaps you will share with us details about your journey, so that we might walk together.
[In the team pic attached L to R: Dale Block, Joe Seagram, Kaitlin Proksch, Kyle Seagram, and Mackenzie Seagram.]