The Mirrors of My Mind

Reflection by *79Silver CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 deviantART
Reflection by *79Silver
CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 deviantART

I remember as a child being quite captivated by a  poem I found on a bookmark.  It was Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Nolte.  The poem begins:

If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn . . .
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight . . .

It goes on to talk about positive things also.  You can read the entire poem here.

I have been thinking about a version of this recently.  Sometimes I feel that our society gives mixed messages.  On one hand we talk about how important childhood is, as this poem portrays.  And yet on the other hand, when you are struggling as an adult due to things that happened in your childhood some well-meaning people will tell you “don’t dwell on the past” or “just let it go”.

Some things cannot simply be let go, but they have to be worked through.  Sometimes our mental software needs re-writing.  Lately I think of it as a mirror.  One of my favorite books is  Mirror of Her Dreams by Stephen R. Donaldson.  It is a fascinating story of a girl from our world who is swept into another world where mirrors do not reflect, but show scenes from other worlds.  Scenes of things that someone with the right skills can bring forward, sometimes with horrifying consequences.

This is a great analogy of how our minds work.  When a child is raised in a warm and loving home, they develop a mirror in their mind that reflects realty (as much as people can, everyone has blind spots after all).  But when a child lives with fear, even terror, with isolation and loneliness instead of love, their mind forms a mirror that does not reflect reality, but scenes from the past sometimes with horrifying consequences.

Another way to understand this is to think of PTSD and triggers.  A stereotypical example would be a soldier who hears a car backfire and hits the ground because the skewed mirror in his mind tells him it is a bomb going off.   In this scenario, the soldier’s mind is not presenting him a reflection that is true.  War, childhood abuse, rape and other traumas can skew our internal mirrors.

Fortunately, these skewed mirrors can be repaired.  The mind can heal.  During dark times, survivors may wonder if healing really is possible.  Yes.  Yes, absolutely.   Consider these hopeful words from Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood.

“For more than thirty years, Dr. Richard Mollica of Harvard Medical School has treated refugees traumatized by war, violence, and torture.  His travels have taken him to the darkest places on earth, including the killing fields of Cambodia, the massacres of Bosnia, the genocide of Rwanda, and the ruins of the World Trade Center.  Dr. Mollica and his colleagues at the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma have counseled more than ten thousand survivors of unfathomable brutality.  He has helped patients who are physically paralyzed because of their psychological damage.  He has worked with women who literally cannot see because of their emotional anguish, a condition called hysterical blindness.  In all his encounters, he insists that he has never met a person without the capacity to overcome suffering.  “Never a hopeless patient,” he says adamantly.  “Never.. And I don’t say this lightly.”

The mirrors of our minds can be reformed.  There is always hope.

Photo Attribution

Rebuilding When Life Whacks You

I received a big disappointment today.  It was not unexpected, but it still hurt.  So I’m thinking today about how we recover when you feel like one of the moles in a game of Whack-a-mole.

Trouble is this is where I am supposed (by my own rules) to tell you the problem and some how wrap it up in a positive way.  But I’m still stinging and trying to figure out the wrap up for myself.  Maybe we can figure this one out together, what do you say?

The hammer that whacked me down today is another rejection on my book proposal.  My book is about healing from childhood abuse, but different from my blog.  The book is specifically about healing your relationship with God.  The feedback I have received is that my writing is good, but the market is flooded with this topic or the competition is too stiff.  Rejections are part of writing, I know that.  This is far from my first rejection, and far from being my last.  But some rejections hurt more than others and this was one of those.

So I know what the professionals think, and I respect that, after all they do this for a living.  At the same time though, I think I understand something about abuse: the wide-spread nature of it–and the pain and difficult recovery process that they don’t. Or maybe I am delusional.  (That is the reason for my blog name Leslie’s Illusions . . . a reminder to myself not to take myself to seriously.)

What do you think?  If you are a survivor, do you read books about healing from abuse?  Blogs?  Would you read a book like mine, about spiritual healing even though I am not a pastor or have a master’s degree?

Finally, what do you think about self-publishing?  I know what writer’s think (it is a hotly debated topic).  I understand the work involved.  What I want to know is–as a reader what do you think about self-publishing.  Do you have a bias for or against it?

Okay, writing this has helped me clear my head a bit.  Writing always does for me. I am reminded of my heroes.  They are my heroes because they overcame the obstacles in their path.  It wasn’t easy for them.  Heroes are formed from heroic battles whether they be on the field or in the soul.

I don’t know what will happen with my book.  For now I’m going to finish writing it  (I know that sounds weird, but that is how non-fiction works.  First you write a proposal then when a publisher accepts it you write the book.)  So I will finish writing it. Maybe only a handful of people will read it, and I will move on to something else.  Life is like that sometimes.  Or maybe I will get my book out there and it will help a lot of people.  The only way to know the end of this story is to finish the book and get it out there in the best way possible.

What about you? Does thinking about your heroes help you have strength to get up again after repeated hammer blows?  What else helps?  Even Goliaths can be overcome.  Let’s go get ’em.

 

Dream Graveyard

Ship Graveyard by *rmac619  CC BY-NC-ND 3.0  DeviantArt
Ship Graveyard by *rmac619 CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 DeviantArt

Have you ever wondered where dreams go when they die?  Is there some kind of graveyard for their empty shells to rest?  Or perhaps they don’t really die, we just take them to the airport and wish them well on their journeys with other more fortunate people? Maybe they see their limited future with us and quietly slip away during the night.

And what about us? Age thins our hair and wrinkles our skin, what impact does the death of dreams have on us? Do our spirits wrinkle and age?  Is it possible to keep dreaming new dreams when the ghosts of so many others unrealized haunt our waking hours?

Who determines which dreams will come true and which will not?  Which dreams will blossom and which will crash onto the rocks like angry waves?   Is there a Cupid-like imp that grants dream fulfillment to some and not to others?

I’d like to believe that if there is a dream graveyard, there must be a place for new dreams to be born. Not every young boy that dreams of being President of the United States can do that, but he could become a leader in other ways.  Perhaps while we sleep storks bring baskets full of dreams and endow us with new ones?

Certainly there are dream salesmen out there trying to convince us all that we can have any dream we wish if we are just willing to work hard enough.  Don’t be fooled. Sometimes dreams of the hardest working, kindest people slip through their fingers like sand.

There are so many things about dreams that I don’t understand.  But I know one thing.  Dreams are like food for our souls.  We can’t live without them.  So whatever happens, we must keep dreaming new dreams, keep holding on, keep hoping. Perhaps some of us have dreams like Chinese Bamboo Trees which are watered year after year with no change, no growth.  And then suddenly in the fifth year the trees grow eighty feet in six weeks.

Or perhaps dreams sometimes get mixed up and need to be passed around to find their rightful owner.  Maybe we just haven’t connected with the right one yet. Like Thomas Edison, we haven’t failed we just found 10,000 misdirected dreams.

Edison seems to have known a little something about pursuing slippery dreams.  He gives us this encouragement, ““When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this – you haven’t.”   And when we think our bamboo dreams will never grow, remember Edison also said, ““Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”  Let’s commit to hold on together–to keep watering our bamboo dreams.

Photo attribution link

Monday Mitzvahs: Sharing Hope

Do you ever feel like an emotional zombie?  Dead inside but still moving?  That is the kind of week I have had.

DID is a mixed blessing.  I do believe that children’s ability to dissociate is a God-given gift to help them survive trauma.  Without dissociation I would be insane (I mean literally in a hospital unable to function) or I would have killed myself as a child.

So DID saved me.  Sometimes it helps me get through difficult situations today.  It has also helped me get some reprieve from the past and enjoy life.  But other times, it feels more like a curse.  Some days I feel so weighted down by pain that I fear I will suffocate, and I don’t even know why.

“Hey Leslie!” You say, “Monday Mitzvahs are supposed to be light-hearted, did you forget?”  No I didn’t forget, I just had a really, really hard week.  I am feeling better now, though I wouldn’t say I am happy–yet.

Today’s mitzvah is born of this week’s pain.  When I get into emotional quicksand like that, I fight like a wild animal to get out.  That does not mean I always succeed.  This time I was “triggered” out of the bad place I was in.  Who would have thought being “triggered” could be a good thing?

While I was in the pit, fighting to get out, I turned to one of my heroes, Marilyn Van Derbur (should I say heroine?)  I wanted someone who understood my pain to tell me it would get better, and she did.

Marilyn Van Derbur was molested as a child by her father.  She dissociated, in the sense that she did not remember any of it until she was in her 20’s and I believe she really began the work of healing in her 40’s.  During the years that she did not allow herself to remember what happened during the night, she was driven to succeed.  Driven, she realized later, to prove that she had worth because her “night child” who did know of the abuse was sure she had no worth.  One of her accomplishments as part of this drive was to become Miss America.

In the attached video, she starts out talking about the worst day of her life.  A reporter had found out that she was in therapy because of incest.  This was big news due to her status as a previous Miss America.

I love this video and her book, Miss America By Day, because of her message:  There is hope, you can get through this.  You can get to a place beyond the pain, but you have to do the work of healing.

Such validating and hope-filled words!

I have to note also–when she is talking about “the work” of healing, she mentions confronting one’s abuser.  I do NOT think this is necessary for everyone.  I suppose if your abuser is still a part of your life, it could be helpful  (talk to your therapist), but I haven’t seen my abuser for many years and have no desire to initiate contact now.  For me the hard work of healing is going to therapy each week, facing my demons and working through the pain of the past.  I am holding on to the hope she offers that some day this will bring me some peace.

So my mitzvah for today is to share this video with those of you who are also survivors.  Sharing hope.

And YOUR mitzvah, should you choose to accept it, is to SHARE HOPE with someone else.  There are many ways you can do that.  You choose.  You could share hope by sharing a video, or a song.  Perhaps by sharing your story–or like my husband you can give a loved one hope by letting them know that you will always be there — no matter what.  (Thanks Honey!)

 

 

Monday Mitzvahs were inspired by Linda Cohen’s book 1,000 Mitvahs

 

Today’s Coping Skill: Reframing

Today let’s start with a true but embarrassing story.  (Come to think of it most of the stories I share with you are embarrassing, but I digress.)

A couple years ago, I was driving and a drunk ran a red light right in front of me.  I tried to brake and/or swerve to avoid a collision, but to no avail.  You know how time slows down at moments like these, right?  Well in that slow motion moment, when I realized I could not avoid hitting him, I thought, “Uh oh, I don’t have my seat belt on, I hope this doesn’t hurt too much.”

The accident totaled my van (mostly because it was old) and bruised me where I hit the windshield and the dash.  I was dazed and confused, but otherwise fine.  In fact, I went on to work and did my shift that night, although I can’t recall how I got there.

The drunk driver tried to flee the scene, but there was a police officer behind me who saw the whole accident (and told me he didn’t think he would have been able to avoid it either.)  He pulled the drunk over and arrested him.

After that I was a faithful seat belt wearer for–a couple months. Then about a year ago, I was pulled over by a police officer because I wasn’t wearing my seat belt.  I have been a faithful seat belt wearer ever since.

What made the difference?  Was it the fine? Nope, it’s my fear of being pulled over. I am terrified of being “punished” by “authority figures”.  (This has roots in my childhood as you might well imagine.)  So the point of this story is that I am more afraid of “authority figures” than car crashes.  Seriously.

My fear of authority figures is a big problem since I consider a lot of people authority figures.  Doctors, my therapist, leaders in my church, my children’s teachers and, it goes without saying, police officers.   I’m not just afraid of them “punishing me”, I can also become badly triggered when I feel that an authority figure has let me down in some way, or when I fear I have let them down.  Another problem with this: when you are an adult people expect you to act like an adult, having DID and issues with authority figures often made acting like an adult quite complicated.  I hoped in time and with therapy I could overcome these fears and triggers.  Then recently I got an idea for a new strategy. (Something that would help faster!)

Reframing the Holiday by Jessica/goaliej54    CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr

Reframing the Holiday by Jessica/goaliej54 CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr

Reframing.  I thought I invented this idea until my friend Laurel told me they use it in Weight Watchers too.  Exact same idea, exact same name,  there goes my brownie points for originality.  Anyway, in case you aren’t in Weight Watchers, reframing is basically changing the way you think about something or looking at it in a new way.

I decided from now on– no more authority figures.

I accept experts and servants,but no more authority figures, after all, I am an adult (at least physically.) No one is my “boss”.

Doctors are experts in medicine and I look to them for advice about my health, but it is my choice to follow their advice or not.  And if they disappoint me, I can change doctors.  Wow, that feels liberating.

My therapist–when I think about it, he has never pushed me to do anything I don’t want to do, or even seemed disappointed in me if I chose not to face something difficult.  I don’t have to please him, or try not to anger him.  Sigh of relief.

Leaders at church–well, they are really servants aren’t they?  I don’t mean servant in the way that a maid is a servant, but someone who is willing to give of their time and talents to help others.  But they also are not my boss.  If they give me counsel, I am free to accept it or reject it.  If I reject it, nothing terrible will happen. (I’m not talking about spiritual repercussions here people, but the fear of a traumatized child.)

Police Officers–well, that one will take some more work. I can tell myself that they are servants, servants of the law, but I don’t think that will calm the fears of my ‘inner children’.  One step at a time . . .

It’s too soon to say for sure, but this really seems to be helping.  I have used reframing for other issues and it is a great coping tool. What about you?  Is there an issue that you are dealing with that you could resolve with reframing?

Photo attribution link

Art Therapy: So You Think You Can’t Draw

Perhaps by sharing my talented friend, Carrie’s, art work in my recent post about art therapy, I have unintentionally given you the idea that you need to be an artist to do this.  While it is true that Carrie is a talented artist (you should see her other work), it is not necessary to be an artist to use art therapy effectively.

I’m willing to put my own art on the line to make my point.  So brace your self…

My results from the Visual Journaling book
My results from the Visual Journaling book

This is one of my drawings using the method described in the book Visual Journaling by Ganim and Fox.  My notes about this picture say only:  Pondering the source of joint pain.  Drowning in sorrow-surrounded by pain and anger both from within and without.

Snapshot_20130628This picture from my journal has no caption only the date, but looking at it I can tell I was trying to work through some anger and pain.  After all what do you do with the anger and pain of so long ago?

Everyone says, “let it go.”  I’m trying!

As you can see by these pictures, the purpose of art therapy is not to create master-pieces, but to help one work through feelings, sometimes very intense feelings.  I know my pictures look childish, reasonably so since they depict childhood pain.  But I’m okay with that because they are an outlet that keeps me from self-harm.  I’m not tempted to self-harm any more, but at one time the desire was very intense.

Besides giving one insight into themselves as Carrie’s pictures and descriptions show so well, or allowing one to release emotions, art can also help one relax.

I enjoy drawing and doodling, though I have never thought of myself as an artist by any means.  (If my artwork about hasn’t convinced you I don’t know what will.)    So when I stumbled upon Zentangle, I was intrigued.  Snapshot_20130628_6First, I looked at a couple websites on line, and then at a couple youtube videos.  Then, off to the library (website) to find some Zentangle books.  Not surprisingly they were all checked out, but I put a few on hold.   While I was waiting, I created this–with my on-line instruction–Sorry it’s not a very good photograph, but the picture is pretty rudimentary anyway.

Then I received my first Zentangle book from the library, this is one I must buy my own copy of: One Zentangle a Day: A 6-week Course In Creative Drawing for Relaxation, Inspiration and Fun by Beckah Krahula.

Snapshot_20130628_7

With her wonderful instructions, I started to “get” it.  I have to warn you here–it’s only right that I do–tangling is addictive.  I can’t seem to stop.  It really is relaxing, inspiring and fun.  I can’t get enough of it.

One day I showed my pictures to a friend, previously I had never let anyone but my therapist see my “art”.  The friend, who happened to be an art teacher was very generous with her praise, so I let other people see it.  Before I knew it people were saying to me, “I didn’t know you were an artist.”

Believe me, I didn’t either.  Actually, I still don’t think of myself as an artist, but simply an art yogi.  I’m kidding.

Snapshot_20130628_8

What I want to say to you is this:

If you have any desire at all, to try art therapy, then do it!  Don’t worry if your creations look childish–those seem to be the most therapeutic anyway.  Who knows, you might just find a new addiction–err–hobby, as I have.

_______

The Official Zentangle website is: http://www.zentangle.com/

The Zentagle Youtube page: http://www.youtube.com/user/Zentangle?feature=watch

And here is a sample:

Music Therapy: Good for What Ails You

Fox's U-Bet in plastic squeeze bottle.
Fox’s U-Bet in plastic squeeze bottle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Earlier today (Wednesday) as I drowned my sorrows in Death by Chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup, my husband said, “Who needs Prozac when you have chocolate, right?”  Funny dear.

He was trying to cheer me, and often his joking is helpful, but today the chocolate was better.  I realize eating is not the healthiest form of coping though, either mentally or physically.  I am working on other forms of coping. I use mediation, art therapy, journaling and blogging. In fact, I wrote a very raw blog post before I ate the ice cream, but I decided not to post that one (you’re welcome).

Today I would like to talk about music as a coping tool.  I don’t know if what I am thinking of would technically be called music therapy, but hey, we’re not technical here, right?  A wonderful blog post I just read inspired this.  Author Jane Kirkpatrick was responding to a question about whether her background in mental health played a part in her historical novels. She said it did and she also said:

“I worked for 17 years on an Indian reservation and I know that some of the healers there said that when they went in to meet with someone ill they asked three questions. The answers determined how far from health the person had fallen.  The three questions:  When was the last time you sang; when was the last time you danced; and when was the last time your told your story.” Mental Health and Historical Novels by Jane Kirkpatrick

This version of “music therapy” intrigued me.  It is true, I remember singing in the shower one morning, and realizing that I had not done that in a long time.  As the healers said, it was a sign that my depression had lifted.

In addition to singing, I have found listening to music very helpful.  I have different music for different moods.  I imagine you do as well. Just a couple of my favorites:

Spiritual:  My Kindness Shall Not Depart From Thee

Comfort Josh Groban‘s You Are Loved

For anger and depression: Brandon Flowers‘ Crossfire, and several songs by Linkin Park

One night, a friend of mine created a list of suicide songs, which I contributed to (we were both in a very dark place), but I’m not going to share any of those, because it would not be very therapeutic.   The point is there is music for every mood!

Jane Kirkpatrick’s post made me think, what other ways could I use music for coping?

Dancing?  Hmmm, I wonder if Just Dance (WII) with the kids count?

Or how about playing an instrument?  I wish I could play the piano.  I don’t have time to learn right now, but I do have a tin whistle and instruction book that I bought for my husband.  I wonder. . .

I’ll have to give these things a try and report back.  In the meantime, have you used music therapy?  What songs do you listen to?  Do you dance?  Or play an instrument?

And just in case you need it–Top 100 Songs About Chocolate— ahh, the best of both worlds!