Alone in this together

Alone in this together

My husband recently took a group of 30 students, aged 11-18 to the summit of Kilimanjaro.  Every one of them made it to the top.  Braving the cold on that last difficult night, the students dug deep to find the resources to keep going when their bodies were shrieking at them to stop.  There is no doubt in my mind that if they were walking in isolation, very few would make it.  With support, encouragement and companionship of others in the same predicament, the venture somehow feels less daunting.   There is, indeed, strength in numbers.

This week I came off an intensive week working with veterans and first responders recovering from Operational Stress Injuries.   Even though they are only four days into a ten day program, I already see a difference: a lightness in their faces; straightness in their back; and a shift in the manner they speak to one another.  What originally started out as a journey of isolation has transformed into a group effort. Accessing emotions that have been long buried they push forward in their desire for recovery. 

Initially avoiding eye contact, they now meet each other’s gaze with respect and admiration. Trained to view expression of emotions as a sign of weakness, they are coming to understand it is, in fact, the opposite.  Facing that which we fear is the ultimate act of courage.  

“We are alone in this together.”  One of them affirmed.   With these words I know that something important is shifting.  For what started out as a solo journey, has now become a group expedition.

Warm regards,

Belinda

Paying to escape

Paying to escape

Have you ever wanted to just get away from it all?  Burst away from the demands and expectations of daily life?  I have.  This weekend I’m going to Toronto to meet with family.  You know what I intend to do?  Pay to be locked up with them.  That’s right…have an escape room experience. 

 I know what you’re thinking:

 ”You need to get out more Belinda.  Paying to be locked up with family members…really!!”

I’ll let you know how it goes.  I’ve never tried one before.

So…the fun may be brief, or you may not see me again…if we can’t figure how to get out.

Honestly though, I think we all just need to escape from time to time.  Do something fun and with people that we care about.  I challenge you all to try something different.  Step out of that comfort zone.  If you’d like to share stories/pictures of your escape, we can post on our Landing Strong Facebook site.  Just send them to Mackenzie at mseagram@landingstrong.com.  Oh by the way, she is part of this as well, so if social media messaging suddenly stops, you’ll know we’re really trapped. 🙂 

Keep your posts as anonymous as you wish.  Perhaps your ideas might inspire others.  I’ll post something of our experience.
 
Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Founder, Landing Strong

Doing the emotional override

Doing the emotional override

I speak to many veterans and first responders who tell me they are having a difficult time feeling.

The problem isn’t that they’re feeling down…it’s that they aren’t feeling at all.  

Over the years, quietly and almost unnoticed, emotional flatness has seeped into their lives. 

“It’s not all bad” they tell me. “I’m not bothered at work by things that seem to disturb other people.  I just shut ‘er down and get the job done.”

You may recognize yourself in this picture:  highly skilled at being functional, even when the going gets tough.  When faced with disturbing or horrific scenes, we’re trained to shut down our emotions.  Because after all…Mission (service) comes before self.  

One of the challenges is that we get so used to being in this mode that we don’t always know when we’re are doing it.

We just notice that we are no longer able to feel like we used to.

The emotional override can be so powerful that that we may not even be able to recognize what our needs are.  Knowing how and when to take time out for ourselves isn’t simple.  Years of training has hardwired us to meet the expectations of strangers before those of our own families or even ourselves.  

Chronic pain, fatigue, anger, anxiety and emotional flatness are all indications that this has gone on for too long.

Recovery is about reconnecting with self.  Listening to our bodies and our minds.  

Change is possible but I won’t kid you, it’s not easy.  Particularly if the override has been going on for many years.

We will be offering a five week program on successive Fridays starting May 24 which will help.  Stop faking good and start feeling good: Manage your emotions and curb your addictions.  Call now to reserve your spot (902) 472-2972 or contact us at info@landingstrong.com

Partners in recovery,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Founder, Landing Strong

Snow day

Snow day

As I sit here in the warmth of my kitchen, smelling the sweet aroma of baking granola, I feel particularly grateful to be inside while the elements rage outside.  Snow day, what wonderful words.  All the busyness of life comes to a screeching halt as I hunker down for a good ol’ time of doing nothin’. 

It feels strangely calming simply standing still in time.  Many people may be stressing about the elements they can’t control in their life today: appointments they can’t make; places they can’t get to; children who are stuck at home.  Although I have a lot of things I was hoping to do today, probably the most important thing I can do is recognize and accept what I can’t control.  Make the best of it.  I’m talking about the art of letting go.  

This snow day situation is perhaps a parallel of what many of you are facing every day in your lives: loss of the ability to do your job or participate in activities that you enjoy and are accustomed to.  Over the years, I’ve come to learn that the people who recover from trauma the fastest are generally those who acknowledge that it is a process that can’t be rushed. They are patient with themselves. Those who push themselves to get better faster take longer to recover.  By focusing on the things that we can control and letting go of those we can’t, we’re honouring the process of recovery.  

For those of you who didn’t get to stay home during this bad weather (perhaps your jobs involve going out in these conditions to help others), I thank you.  For it is your actions that keep us all safe.

Be warm, be safe,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Founder, Landing Strong

Welcoming new perspectives

Welcoming new perspectives

I have a piece of wildlife art on my wall: a majestic stag, staring intensely at me from a forest glade.  When I look at it, my body settles.  In fact, when I’m on a break between sessions, I often sit on my couch and stare at this deer, looking at it as it looks back at me.  A couple moments of mindful reflection in the blur of an otherwise busy day.  

A few weeks ago, I noticed a client standing in front of this piece of art, staring at it thoughtfully.  I immediately assumed it was bringing him the same joy it brought to me.  When I observed him more closely,  I saw a flash of pleasure dance across his face.  I suddenly remembered that he was a hunter.  

“You’re thinking about shooting that deer!”  I proclaimed, somewhat shocked.

“No,” he said to me, grinning slyly.  “I’m thinking of cooking it up over a campfire, and eating a great venison steak.”  

It’s all a matter of perspective. It doesn’t matter what we’re dealing with in life, there are always many ways to look at any situation.  

A snow day this week could be a headache, or cause for celebration.  

Are you aware of the direction your thoughts take you?  Our automatic thoughts are powerful guides in terms of how we interpret the world around us.  They drive our emotions.  It’s generally not a situation that causes an emotion, but rather the way we think about it that drives the feeling.  

If we want to change our feelings, we have to change our thoughts.  We can’t always control our environment, but we can control how we choose to think about it.  

One of the most impactful ways of gaining a new perspective is to work within groups.  We’re able to see ourselves, not just through our own lenses, but also through the lens of others.  A carefully facilitated and safe therapeutic group provides the ideal venue. 

We offer a variety of workshops and programs. Landing Strong members are welcome to join at any time. New programs are being launched on a regular basis (check out the “Programs and Workshops” tab under LandingStrong.com)  We hope you’ll join us. Spoiler alert: Keep an eye out for our emotions management program, coming soon!

Warm thoughts from the Landing Strong Team,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Founder, Landing Strong

We are all affected by trauma.

We are all affected by trauma.

Twenty years ago I did some time in a federal penitentiary. 

It’s not what you might think.  I didn’t break the law.  I was acting in the role of Chief Psychologist for four hundred federal male offenders.  Trying to help them undo the harm they had done to others.

Truth is, there are some wrongs that simply can’t be righted, no matter how hard we try. The dead can’t come back to life, and some emotional injuries run too deep to be healed.  Figuring out how to lessen the emotional impact of such loss is incredibly important, both for the victims and the perpetrators. Otherwise, there is no moving forward.  

During this time I met Pierre Allard, an amazing Chaplain who has been championing the Restorative Justice movement in Canada for decades.  He told me of a reconciliation group he had facilitated, where a group of offenders who had committed murder met with family members of victims of murder.  The goal was for the two groups to sit in a room together, so the men who had committed the crimes could hear how the loss of a loved one had impacted the survivors.  My discussion with Pierre centered not on the actual meeting, but rather, the minutes leading up to it. 

The family members were brought into the room first.  Many were pale and out of shape.  Grief had visibly been affecting a number of them physically.  Their eyes were bloodshot, rimmed by dark circles from decades of sleepless nights. They walked with slumped shoulders and shuffled gaits. Avoiding eye contact with one another, they clutched their coats tightly around themselves, despite the warmth of the room.  They spoke hesitantly, their thoughts jumbled with the powerful unprocessed emotions that they were experiencing. 

Then the offenders came in. They entered with straight backs and sure strides, carrying well-sculpted bodies, the result of countless hours in the weight room. They sat together with comfort and familiarity.  Articulate and thoughtful, they spoke of their deep regrets and immense shame.  Their clear voices were indications of having spent many years processing their feelings and experiences with professional staff within the facility.  

I remembered this story recently as I witnessed the impact of trauma on the loved ones affected by it.  It is not just the immediate victims who are injured.  Those who love and support them are also powerfully affected.  Secondary traumatization can be profound.  In many ways, these people too have experienced a profound loss.  They may not have been in the direct line of fire, but for many, the person who came home injured from work may not be recognizable.  Years, and even decades, are spent trying to restore connection.  Countless efforts are made to end the isolation that can accompany the injury of a loved one.  They wait patiently, looking up a lonely road, waiting for their loved ones to return home. Soldiers in their own right, they travel a journey that is seldom discussed.  Used to turning attention to the injured family member, it can be hard to know how to care for themselves.

Let’s not forget anyone on this journey.  Not those who have been injured in the line of work, nor those who support them. Whether it is in the role of a spouse, partner, child or friend, we are all affected by trauma.   

Warm thoughts from the Landing Strong Team,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Founder, Landing Strong