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The things we don’t talk about

The things we don’t talk about

Sometimes, difficult memories can feel like we’re living with an elephant in the room.  It can be very hard to lead that elephant out, and so we might do our best to ignore him.  But that big ol’ elephant is stinky and takes up a lot of space.  There’s no room for anyone to get close while he’s around.  He may keep us awake at night, or make us feel small.  No one wants him around, yet he remains.  We’ll call him shame.  

Until we talk about it, nothing will change, and we will be stuck in the room with him.  It’s only by opening up and talking about the hard stuff that we can clear the air.  

By sharing the secrets that keep us isolated, we’re able to transform our experiences, learning to view them through a different lens.  When we tell ourselves the same narrative repeatedly, nothing changes.  By sharing with others, the story changes, allowing us to move forward.  

This week I’m awed by the courage shown by Landing Strong group members as they address the elephant, opening the door so that he might be nudged out of the room.  The result… a closely connected group of warriors, united by trust and respect, learning that maybe they aren’t so alone after all.

The thing is, most of us know what it’s like to live with an elephant.  And it takes a group of strong people, working together, to clear our lives of things that don’t belong there anymore.

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

This too shall pass

This too shall pass

In times of increased stress, we may not be able to carry our usual load with the same ease.  This doesn’t mean we’re getting worse or moving backwards in our recovery.  Rather, it’s a sign that we may need to adjust our approach.  PTSD recovery is a gradual process.  Background stress plays a significant role moderating the speed of recovery.  Needless to say, there’s nothing normal about what’s going on around us.  The end destination is still the same, but the way we need to get there may have changed. 

By extending patience and compassion toward ourselves, we’re able to keep on track rather than getting stuck in a cycle of self-criticism. 

These are hard times.  You’ll get there.  Know that this too shall pass.   

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

If I really listened, what might I hear?

If I really listened, what might I hear?

A few days ago I was shopping for groceries at Sobeys.  A tense-faced woman was having a loud and unhappy conversation on her phone in the middle of the fruit aisle. I scooted ahead, not wanting to be part of her troubled evening. It was the end of the day, and I was enjoying the freedom of deciding what we would have for dinner that night.  I didn’t want her loud voice intruding on my thoughts.  It seemed no matter which aisle I went down, she was a few steps behind me, continuing her tirade.  Everywhere I went, she followed.

It wasn’t until I was outside of the store that I was free of her.  Somehow I knew that her conversation had no chance of going well. There was a lot of talking going on, and no listening.

Native American Elder Sa’k’ej Henderson says “To truly listen is to risk being changed forever.”

What if we were all able to unplug, and simply listen?  How might the world transform in miraculous ways?

I listened to the wind this morning, and heard the promise of snow.
I listened to the quavering voice of someone speaking, and heard courage.
I heard someone speak of loneliness, and felt the group gather around in support.
 
Even if there’s nothing else I do next week, I hope to be a good listener.

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

We never really lose the good stuff

We never really lose the good stuff

I frequently hear people worry out loud that they have lost the person they once were.

Years of repetitive trauma exposure have taken a toll, and they can no longer connect with their emotions.  Perhaps the only emotions accessible are anger, anxiety or sorrow. After many years, it can be difficult to know how or what they are feeling.  

The good news is it’s not really gone.  Just buried deep inside.   

The favourite part of my day is that wonderful moment when clients review old experiences and say, 

“I never thought of it that way.”  

It’s exciting, because I know they’re a step closer to saying “I never thought I’d feel that way again.”

By digging down, through the difficult, we re-discover the good.  Yes, it can be down-right uncomfortable at first, but with time and repetition, we build strength and find a rhythm that allows us to persist.

I’d like to share with you a moving video of Spanish dancer Marta C. González, a former prima ballerina who suffers from Alzheimer’s.  In this clip, a recording of Swan Lake transports her back to another time- to the person she used to be.  Not gone, just long forgotten.   

The clip was actually filmed in 2019 by Música para Despertar (Music to Wake Up To), an advocacy group for music therapy for patients who have memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.  It was recently shared on their social media accounts.

Unlike Marta, injury from trauma is not degenerative.  It’s recoverable.  Take the first step with us and join our Emotions program starting in January. What better way is there to start the New Year.  We encourage people to sign up in advance to avoid disappointment.

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

Growing strong together

Growing strong together

The other week, our Identity and Transition group members were asked to focus on an insight that they have learned in their recovery process; identifying a truth that they might like to share with others who are facing similar struggles.  Karalee led us on an exercise where we imagined ourselves stones thrown into a pool of water, allowing our thoughts to blend together. The voices of many arose as collective wisdom. Below is their story, woven from the theme of each person’s writing.  One can’t help but notice the ripple effect of the group’s group work, the strength of one resonating and amplifying as members grow strong together.
 
Face your truths and own them. Find the path to make things rights. Draw on the strength of others.
 
You’re in charge of your clean up. Find the tools and use what you need.
 
Pay attention to your inner voice. It may be hard to find it, but it is there, and it knows what it needs.
 
Choose something different. There’s a better way. 
 
Kick the struggle in the butt, and don’t accept defeat.
 
Try and try again. One day at a time. No should of’s. No would of’s. Stop Worrying. 
 
Do things slowly at first. Your strength will flex one day. Change will come.
 
Continue to watch. Listen. Understand. Start again. 

Take time for yourself. Be kind to yourself. 

When you shine, everything else grows stronger and healthier.
 
Open your eyes, and you’ll be okay. Side by side in a forest of care makes you that much stronger.
 
Make the world what you want it to be.
 
And dance. There’s always music playing somewhere.
 
 

To the group members…Thank you for the gift of your insights and learnings.
 
Interested in joining our community? Sign up now for our Emotions program in January/Feb and Trauma and Resilience in Feb/March.  Programs are filling up so join now to avoid disappointment.

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

The surprising face of courage

The surprising face of courage

In this line of work, I’m honoured to hear countless stories of courage in the face of adversity. Recently, as part of our Identity and Transition course, veterans and first responders have been putting pen to paper.  Led by our inspired writer Karalee Ann Clerk, participants who claim they can’t write step forward into the spotlight, bearing their hearts to the group. A sacred circle has formed, woven of trust, strength, compassion and courage.  Each week my heart grows as I view their lives through the lens of their experiences.  I mentioned to the group that if anyone was willing to share their weekly writing with the greater Landing Strong community, I’d be happy to publish it.  One of our Veterans (and also a former Corrections Officer) stepped to the plate. 

Thank you R.B. for trusting us with this piece of your heart:

I remember not seeing my father’s car. It was a fire engine red 1965 Pontiac Parisienne. A boat. A convertible boat. He loved that car, and that car was gone. I was 7 or 8 and had just returned from school. My mom told me matter of factly, “Your fathers gone and he is not coming back.” 

At that young age I knew that despite how bad things had been at home and judging by my family’s current trajectory the dissolution of my parent’s marriage meant things were about to get a whole heck of a lot worse. I was terrified for myself and my siblings. 

It was within this moment that I first learned how to numb fear.

I used to think courage is when you think taking an action may hurt you, but you do it anyways because it is in line with your values. It’s pushing yourself through something despite fear.

When I learned how to turn off fear I lost with it my sense of courage. How could I experience courageousness myself when I wouldn’t allow myself to be afraid? Looking back now I wonder if this is part of the reason I found myself in such a mess to begin with. It makes sense – nothing I did could appropriately scare me.

 I’ve always been a risk taker. I used to think it was just who I was. I needed a little something extra to get a kick out of life. Were all of these risks really just a scared child trying to get back his sense of fear?

Masking emotions allowed me to excel as a grownup. I joined the army and really found my place. Here was a place where my risk taking could be rewarded.

Trauma followed me out of my childhood and into the army. Looking back it was as if we were marching in lockstep together. After several major events I knew my psyche needed out and I released after a short but exciting three years.

The experimenting that began with alcohol in my early teens turned into a full blown addiction by my early twenties with a trip into rehab for a month. Eventually fate would land me in prison – as a correctional officer where I spent nine years of my life deep-diving into the never ending well of despair that is our criminal justice system.

Of everything that happened to me, in my childhood, the army and working at the jail, I never considered anything I did courageous. How could I. I was never afraid.

This scares me though. Writing this down, wondering how all of you are going to react. Will you accept me? Will you shun me? Will I even read it?

I feel courageous when I share with people. It excites me in a good way. Will something I say resonate? Will the words I speak ignite a feeling in you? One you haven’t felt in a while, or haven’t been able to express?

I was only able to go back to the memory of my father through years of introspection and therapy. It was through the act of recovery that I was able to see just how courageous I was. Not in that moment as a child. Not because I survived all of the perils life could throw at me. But because I could take that moment, that moment I turned off that emotion of fear, and I could have it back. 

Sometimes memories can be about something that you didn’t see. Like a red convertible in the driveway. I can go back there now.

I can tell that little boy whose father just left him that everything is going to be alright, and the courageous part about my life is now I’m telling it to you.

  • R.B.


Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

Three quick tips to stay right side up in times of stress

Three quick tips to stay right side up in times of stress

These are complicated times, and we’re all facing increased levels of uncertainty.  Background stress is much higher than usual and it may be harder to unwind at the end of the day.  Here are three quick tips to help keep you right side up:

  1. Do less

Instead of opting for a complete home renovation, try doing a jigsaw puzzle while listening to your favorite music.  Take joy in simple things: like the satisfaction of a perfectly chopped pile of wood, or teaching your dog a new trick. “Less is more” is the new mantra as we work to keep ourselves in balance.

  1. Just say “no” to social overload

Factor this increased stress load into your decision making when deciding how much to take on.  This is a time for increased boundary setting.  Do you really want a three hour zoom family reunion following a week overloaded with on line meetings?  Consider dropping in for just a brief time or opting instead for simple in-person social gatherings like coffee with a friend. Get comfortable thanking people for invitations, but letting them know you are focussing on self-care and re-charging during down time.  

  1. Limit screen time. 

 If your sleep is disrupted, it’s a sign that you’re brain isn’t getting the relax time it needs.  Zoom gatherings and online meetings are more mentally fatiguing than seeing people in person.  Try picking a completely junky novel to browse through before sleeping.  Enjoy a long soak in the tub or flip through your latest car magazine.  Consider having technology free weekends, and please, take off your watch that sends emails to you 24/7.  Your central nervous system will thank you.
 
If you are thinking of making changes on a larger scale, consider joining our Healthy Living program starting in November.  You’ll have a chance to reflect on what is most important to you, ensuring the life you’re living is the one you want. 

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

Food for thought

Food for thought

“We are all in this together” 

 It’s a comment we have heard often, but I’ve come to the point of wincing now when I hear it.  Every person’s experience is not identical.  Although we might currently be in the same place, our experience of it varies greatly.  The things we have on our plate differ, and the stressors we face unique.  A colleague captured this when she said to me recently:

“We may be in the same storm… but we’re not in the same boat.”

No truer words were spoken.

Think back over the last seven months.  There was no way we could have anticipated how many levels of stress we were to face or how long the current stressors would have lasted.  I invite you to consider the following questions:

What are some of the things you are most proud of regarding how you have managed?

It’s important to take a moment to acknowledge the things you have managed well.

Now that you have some learning behind you, what are some things you’d like to tweak in order to ensure you stay healthy over the next six months?

Facing tough times can give us a whole new understanding of the things that are important to us.  

What are some of the things you have really come to appreciate?

Looking ahead to six months from now, what are some of the things you would like to be able to say about yourself?

Now is a great time to do some tweaking.  Our Healthy Living program, starting in November, focusses attention on identifying values that are important to us.  Together we will review whether the life we are living reflects the life we want.  We’ll learn simple strategies for making healthy changes.

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

You never know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been

You never know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been

“Don’t look back, stay in the present,” people may tell you, urging you not to dwell on the difficult times. 

Yet…like trickles of rain finding their way through creases in a rock, our minds revisit old scenes and emotions, replaying them in an endless loop that interrupts sleep.

It may feel like you’re haunted, having these old stories replay over and over in your head. In reality, it’s our brain’s way of pointing is to the things we need to examine in order to recover.

“You never know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.” A wise man said to me recently.  Besides the fact that’s it’s a great lead line for a country Western song, it’s also true.  Our brains know that, in order to heal, they need to repeatedly return to the site of injury, working to make sense of what happened.  The problem is, when we do it alone, we tend to view our past the same way, over and over.   Knowing where you’ve been helps navigate the way forward.  Doing so in good company provides a fresh lens through which to view it.

Join the Landing Strong on-line experience.  Call now to register for programs starting in November and January. We’ll help you find your way.

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

Becoming a Master of Reinvention

Becoming a Master of Reinvention

Have I told you about my 87 year old father?  He’s a master of reinvention.  He used to be a high school art teacher, but had an opportunity to retire early at 55.  We’ve all seen the Freedom 55 commercials right? It’s supposed to be great.

In his case, though, the transition wasn’t easy.  I don’t think he quite knew what to do with himself.  Accustomed to a highly structured day with many responsibilities, he suddenly found an endless stretch of time during which nothing was happening.  I remember a lot of TV watching and listlessness that we weren’t accustomed to seeing.  Over time, though, he found his way.  He started to watch the “talking heads” as he calls them, financial advisors and news reporters on TV. 
 
He read about the stock markets and investing.  Before you knew it, he was playing both tennis and the stock markets daily, getting super fit and doubling the income he had ever earned as a teacher, all while working only an hour per day.

Now he still plays with the money markets, but as an artist, he also tackles new creative themes each year.  During COVID, he was obsessed with painting waves.  A challenging thing to capture, perhaps it was his way to escape the confinement of isolation.  Each week, my siblings in Toronto would send me photos of his work.  He’s been painting faster and more than ever before, excitedly sharing his creations.

As I lead the Identity and Transition Program, I’m reminded that we all have periods of change and transition. Times when we need to pause from life, and allow ourselves the time to figure things out.  Making sure our next steps are thoughtful, not rushed.  

For many people who’ve committed their lives to the “job,” knowing what to do in their leisure time is not easy.  That’s why we developed our Healthy Living Program, starting this November. It’s virtual, so even if you don’t live close by, you can still join us.  Call early to enroll so we know to save a spot for you.

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong