Monthly Archives: May 2015

Blog 28: Love & Anxiety, New Associations. Part 1

This past week I got to experience a unique event, a “paddle out” for wonderful Lorton Mitchell. A man in his prime, taken from his family by cancer while he was still so young. For those trapped in the ocean-less midwest, a paddle out is a surfing tradition from Hawaii. When a surfer dies, the community gathers together, jumps on surfboards and paddles out to beyond the breaking waves. There a ceremony is held, one of remembrance and celebration. It’s a solemn ritual and yet some joy leaks in the cracks. Perhaps it’s the magic of ocean water, or the laughter of children, or the safety of being surrounded by loved ones and 100’s of members of the community.

The last blog was about the need to make new associations with old sensations. But making new associations can also occur in conjunction with old belief systems or world views. We can make a new association with the way that we live our lives. Lorton was larger-than-life figure, and the way he lived his life, full of vigor and joy provides an excellent example to emulate as the subject of today’s blog. I want to suggest that those of us who are stuck in busyness, or achievement pandering, or over-scheduled living, need to make a change. We who are stuck in a life dedicated to duty, can make a new choice, a new association. We can to deliberately shift our primary driving force in life from one of Duty to that of JOY.

Imagine with me two large doors in front of you. One is labeled Duty and one is labeled Joy. If I was to offer you a choice of which door’s attitude will most characterize daily life, most of you will pick the Joy door! But if we are really honest about how we live our lives, most of us are unconsciously choosing duty over joy most of the time. One reason why our culture is so full of heart disease, a flood of medications, addictions, obesity and the many other curses of our over-stressed, way too busy modern life.

Ask yourself this question, how much joy to do you experience on a daily basis? Would your family, children, lover, etc., list joyful as one of your predominate traits? Or, are you more focused on what must get done, on checking off lists, keeping ducks in a row, (why ducks, why not cats, they are even harder to control?)

As children, most of us did not struggle through the misery of puberty in order to grow up and turn into a distracted, busy adult who has little or no time for fun. We hoped to grow up and do whatever pleased us, to have fun and to enjoy life. But life’s responsibilities, pressure and stress conspire to turn us into the duty bound creatures that many of us have become. I am not suggesting that life is not challenging, nor that we should throw up our hands and toss responsibility to the wind. There are things that must get done, it is good to be a “high functioning, well-behaved member of society” sometimes, I think? But if our primary focus is on our duty and getting things done, we miss most of the joy that this busy, complicated life has to offer.

Joy is an all body sensation, a vitality affect, and one of the best antidotes to stress and trauma that can be found. If you recall a previous blog where I talked about the two sides of the coin in our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), this blog might make more sense. Joy is the other side of the coin! It is the opposite of stressed and busy, and anxious and traumatized. If you doubt the power and intensity of joy, watch some Youtube videos of babies laughing, or children and puppies (any baby animal really). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L49VXZwfup8 try this one for even just one minute and notice the shift your body experiences inside.Healthy pleasure is a great way to begin to experience more joy in your life. If you have not engaged in self-care or healthy pleasure on a regular basis, it will be hard to live in joy regularly.

While joy and laughter are not the same physiological event, they are related and very connected. The research demonstrates repeatedly that people who laugh often, are happier, and physically healthier and have a more positive outlook on life. Well-parented children laugh much more often than children with lower functioning parents.

This week try to notice your primary outlook on life in terms of duty vs. joy. Which attitude prevails most often in your life? If it is duty, try your best to begin to include choices and situations that bring joy to you. When you feel joy, really notice how it lightens and brightens and enervates your entire body. Let me know how it goes.

Joy, Uganda style.
Joy, Uganda style.

Going deeper:

1;) What is your association with joy? Is it a common experience for you or something you rarely encounter? Who do you know that is often really joyful? If possible, spend more time with them and see how it impacts you. We become most like those with whom we spend the most time.

2.) What is your attitude to duty? If you are one who feels stuck in this place, ask yourself where you learned this? What were your parents’ primary attitudes toward joy and healthy pleasure, another close relative of joy? Are your attitudes similar to your parents or different? Most importantly, are they what you would like them to be?

I invite you to join a 3 week Anxiety Reduction workshop. I provide them in my office as well as at your organization, school, or place of worship. Mention this blog for a 10% discount. Call 619-437-1465 for more information.

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Blog 27: Let the fear fall away- Intolerable sensations and addiction.

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Thanks to my tech savvy sister, I  have recently joined twitter! As all new experiences do, it has really stimulated creativity. (Unfortunately, I also felt the rush of anxiety that accompanies the experience of doing something new for the first time.) But I have learned from experience, if you stay focused on the creativity and keep at it, the anxiety will drop away. This was not always the case though, and this rush of anxiety is one reason many people shy away from new experiences, people, situations, and opportunities. If feels so uncomfortable they give in to it and do not move forward.

This was the topic of my tweet today, intolerable sensations and feelings! In previous blogs I have shared how the body communicates in sensation and feelings, not in words. And, how sensations are the precursor to emotions. That tightness in your chest and belly, the cramping of your gut, the buzzing, zinging energy shooting up your core, these are your body’s words and messages. It is your body, trying to tell you how it feels about what you are doing, and what it needs from you to be at peace.

To understand addiction and to break the addictive cycle, you must understand AND listen when your body communicates.  Intolerable sensations drive the cycle of addiction. Addictions do not start out as a full-blown addiction but as an experience you have tried or used that made you feel good. Then you do more of it to feel better, and eventually you must have it, use it, do it, in order to just maintain equilibrium. Now you are addicted! And, you no longer feel the pleasure, you just do it to not feel miserable. That is what sucks about addiction, the pleasure is gone and its all about staying out of pain. So what differentiates people who drink socially for enjoyment but stop at 1 or 2 drinks and someone struggling with alcoholism who needs to start the day with a drink?  There are quite a few reasons, but the one I will focus upon today is the way people interpret big sensations/feelings as an intolerable feeling.

I have worked with trauma and addiction for 15 years now and every person that I have seen who has the courage to fight the addictive cycle is full of intolerable sensations. Their bodies are miserable and those sensations and emotions are so uncomfortable and feel so strong, that the person grabs the food, bottle, porn site, etc., just to get a sense of relief, or to numb out in order to not feel those miserable feelings. And, if you keep doing that, the cycle cannot be broken.

What needs to happen is you must MAKE A NEW ASSOCIATION WITH THAT OLD UPSETTING SENSATION! When you feel that internal misery and everything in you screams for your addiction, you stop and do something else. You try to be with that sensation that feels so awful and listen to it. This is easier to do with support, such as with a body-focused therapist, or in a 12 step program, but it has to be done. Here is a very simple example, when working with clients who struggle with binge eating. When on the verge of a binge, I have them stop and notice the craving sensation, to identify where in the body they most notice it, and to touch that place kindly and ask their body, “What am I really hungry for?”

Making a new association may sound too simple, but I have used this principle countless times to help clients heal from trauma and break their addictive cycles. See www.traumahealing.org or more information or go to my website www.sdtraumatherapy.com and read about Somatic Experiencing.This powerful, research-based modality, heals trauma and breaks addictive cycles. Simply talking about the struggle or addiction does not solve it. You must work with the person’s body and Autonomic Nervous system.

So this week, if you are noticing some unpleasant or seemingly intolerable body sensations, stop and listen to your body as you would to a new lover, spouse, or a beloved child. Try to discern your body’s messages and work on making a new association with the old sensation, i.e. learning. If you struggle with an addiction, you must learn to listen and settle your body instead of reacting and racing back to your old frenemy, the cycle of addiction. Please write and let me know how this works for you!

(If you want shorter blocks of information from me more regularly, please follow my twitter feed, wandabrosSE.)

Going deeper:

1.) Which sensations do you most often experience? Unpleasant, pleasant or neutral sensations? Which sensations and emotions do you find most intolerable, i.e., tension, anxious, shakiness, empty numbness, rage, fear, shame, disgust, etc?

2.) What do you typically do when you feel intolerable sensations? If you have an addiction or are working on developing one, what is your “substance or habit” of choice? Keeping in mind overworking or being on your phone/device constantly is an addiction as well, just not a ingestible one.

3 week anxiety reduction workshops available. Contact my website for more details.  Mentions this blog and receive a 10% discount.