How trauma defines us

How trauma defines us

Post-traumatic stress isn’t about what happens to us.  That’s only part of the equation.  It’s more about how we understand and react to life altering events that determines our path.

For decades comic books and stories have been used to show the struggle between good and evil, and the human response to trauma.

Darth Vadar witnessed the brutal murder of his parents by Imperial Forces.  Not having completed his Jedi training, he joined the Dark side as a way of regaining strength.  His trauma got the best of him.

Superman, as a child, was abducted from his alien planet, brought to earth, and re-homed with human parents.  Truly an illegal immigrant and refugee, he learned to hide his differences knowing that he was only safe by blending in to the dominant society.  Showing his differences (and strengths) made him vulnerable, yet he did so anyways, allowing him to be his true self.

In many ways, we are all characters in the story of our lives.  Although we may be injured from things that happen to us, we have the power to regroup, and find the strength to continue and move forward.  The more we are supported in this, the more likely we are to succeed.

We developed PTSD Hero comics to address themes of trauma and recovery. Although the stories are fictional, the characters experiences are based on the actual themes and events facing veterans and first responders.

This week, we are proud to release our newest video based on the second novel, Hero to Zero of our three part Stranger Returns series. Please enjoy this animated adaptation of Jay and his friends continued journey towards health.  Please share this with others to help spread the word of hope, resilience and recovery.

Stranger Returns Book 2 Video: Hero to Zero

If you missed the first video adaption of the Enemy Within, and want to catch up, we’ve provided a link below.
Stranger Returns Book 1 video: The Enemy Within

Warm regards,

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

The discomfort of being in transit

The discomfort of being in transit

Have you ever noticed the expression on people’s faces when they’re riding the subway?  It’s a specific look: slack face, eyes downcast staring intently at an imaginary object on the floor.  Some people wear ear buds, some read their digital novels, others close their eyes and escape to their thoughts to pass the time.  There’s something about being in transit that’s uncomfortable.  We’re willing to endure it, because it doesn’t last and it’s taking us somewhere we want to be.  Like an ill-fitting coat, we’ll put up with it temporarily because we know that, in a short time, we’ll be able to take it off and be somewhere better.

If you’re feeling a bit uncomfortable with the spot you’re in, know that it’s normal.  It can feel like a long dark tunnel, where you’re impatiently waiting to get to your destination. It’s good to remind ourselves that any good trip has periods of discomfort.  It’s the nature of transit.  Don’t let it scare you.  It’s worth the journey.  

Warm regards,

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

Every cloud has a silver lining

Every cloud has a silver lining

Have you noticed that time passes differently now that we’re not going anywhere?  Normally, holidays mark occasions where we reunite with family members.  This year it’ll be quite different.  Instead of travelling cross country, our cars overloaded with gifts, food and luggage, we’ll be spending time in smaller circles.  I’m sad I won’t see my extended family, so I’ve been making an effort to touch base more frequently by phone.  This week I was speaking with my father.  You’ve met him before: an interesting combination of artist, intellectual and eccentric.  He’s constantly searching for new and interesting ways to stay healthy. This week he shared that he’s experimenting with eating crickets to boost joint health.

“Crickets?!” I exclaimed, wondering what on earth is possessing him.

“Yes, they’re ground up into protein powder.  Can’t even taste them. I just add them to my stews” he explained in a self-satisfied tone. “I pick them up at Loblaws.  Expensive, but high quality and convenient.”

Suddenly the thought of not having the opportunity to fly to Toronto to share cricket stew with my father doesn’t seem so heartbreaking.  In fact, I’m increasingly experiencing the sensation of relief.

So when I feel those pangs of sadness, I’ll imagine my father happily slurping up those crusty insects.  Maybe I’ll even explore new and interesting ways of getting healthy over the holidays.  Although I don’t think I’ll be trying crickets anytime soon, I’m inspired by the way my father continues to focus on his health, knowing that he is not too old to find new growth.  

As we all think of ways to maintain or improve health, a gentle reminder that we are running our Emotions program: Stop Faking Good and Start Feeling Good this January.  Enrollment is strong, so we’re forming two groups: there’s a choice of Wednesdays or Fridays.  We’re also taking names for our Trauma Recovery Group: Your Past is not your Future, starting in late March.  And as always, anyone who has taken a course is eligible to attend our monthly Maintaining Health Programs: the third Thursday of each month.   Come jump on the train of recovery.  There’s a seat waiting for you!  Just drop us a line.

Warm regards,

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

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