Updated: Sep 29, 2019
I was listening to an interview with James Doty, a neurosurgeon today. He was talking about vulnerability, of all things. He said "If I am vulnerable, it creates space for others to be."
If you've read a couple of my blogs before then you know that I agree. And you already know that as much as I am a 'nutritional therapist,' I am also a coach in emotional intelligence - because I know that understanding one's emotions, pain, triggers and shame is as important, or more important, than understanding which nutrients that may be missing from you diet, or which body systems are in need of support.
I can no longer talk about health and wellness without addressing everything from food, to anxiety, to vulnerability and our stories. It makes me crazy sometimes, my life would be simpler if I could just talk about food, but I've never done simple, so I have decided to stop trying. It's not me, never will be.
Last night I went to the Watermelon Slim Backyard Concert in Winkler. It was hosted by a high school friends of mine, Lincoln and Rachel. Watermelon wears his heart on both sleeves, it was beautiful. It was blues and all the things that are awesome about the blues, but this guy has soul too. He said he chooses to grieve for the lives lost in our earthly wars. He said that Canada has lost more lives per capita in wars fought with the USA than the USA lost in those wars. He sang the NorthWest Passage' song by Stan Rogers, he sang it with all the hearts on his shoulders and all the soul in his voice. To grieve on our behalf. He is an inspiring man... Which is probably why he was a truck driver and is now retired, and at 70 he gets to tour the world playing music. I'd pay to see him again and again. Vulnerability is a powerful thing. There are a lot of people that can sing the blues, but when you add the ingredient of vulnerability to anything, you can get people to listen to you when you're 70. And 80.
I have been vulnerable in my own story, and obvious in my own frustrations, on purpose - because it creates room for others to feel the same. I rant a little, cry a little - because people sometimes need permission to feel what they feel. In many cases, as it has turned out, it has allowed people to feel things they didn't know they were feeling, but needed to. When I started writing this way I was testing more than a few theories. I was testing everything I have ever learned across the world, in an attempt to integrate them all into my life and my practice. I knew that all the principles and laws I was applying were real, but to teach from a place of certainty and conviction, I had to let it play out in my own life, I had to own it.
If I cannot embrace the totality of my own humanity then I won't be able to facilitate my clients finding space for their own. Never mind larger groups or entire companies. I can't hold a truly transformational space in a workshop in emotional intelligence, if I do not live it out in my own life. I have to make space inside myself to hear the stories people tell me and to be able to respond with empathy and ALSO have a strategic answer for them, a map. If I can't hold my own story then I can't also hold theirs and then their pain will make me shut down - instead of inspiring me to move into an effective strategy mode for them. If I can't hold it, then they will not get the brave empathy and non-judgment that they need - in the form of a witness, from someone that is not them.
If people cannot experience the power of a witness that does not judge them, then they stay stuck in the quicksand of self-blame, guilt and shame, unable to move or evolve beyond their past.
To say it differently - here is the same idea, in three progressive quotes from the queen of vulnerability and shame:
“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”
Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
Brene Brown, I Thought It Was Just Me:
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and
understanding, shame can't survive.”
Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
Can you see the domino effect there? All the steps are crucial - but even all of that is not enough. There is more to know and understand.
What is also crucial is to integrate all the other things that the science of emotions and psychology are illuminating for us these days.
I have wondered lately, what would have happened if I had continued straight down the biology and science path? (instead of detouring, to tour with my band and all the other crazy things I told you I did in 'What exactly do you do anyway?")
I am quite sure the answer to that is that I would absolutely be a researcher in the field of Psychoneuroimmunology right now.
It is the study of the interaction between psychological processes we experience and the effect of them on our nervous and immune systems, and then back around to understanding the flip side - how our nervous system and immune systems can affect us on a psychological/emotional level, positively and negatively.
It is a relatively new field in Western Medicine. If I am going to get a bit cheeky I will say it is a modern field of research that is proving everything that Ayurveda, Toaism, Chinese Medicine, Natural Medicine and Homeopathy, etc, have been saying forever. lol. #sorrynotsorry
Honestly though, I think it's all pretty great. What modern science is doing is an amazing thing. Our ability to measure the frequency of a thought, chemicals produced in the body when a past trauma is triggered in present time, to know how to take a memory that is stuck in the amygdala (where trauma can get stuck if it is not processed in a certain window of time) and bring it forward to our cerebral cortex where it can be processed logically, so we no longer react to it as if it's still happening, is freaking amazing. Science is illuminating the helpful truths that all the older forms of medicine have always emphasized. It is putting cause and effect underneath - and microscopes on top - of those truths. Doing this disperses the superstition around them and brings the truth to the forefront. What you are left with is hopeful, logical and helpful information about how you work as a whole person. This information can help you heal and be happy.
Some of the therapies that have come out of this are, of course, EMDR and also EMI. and a whole host of other therapies that are available. I underwent EMI almost exactly 2 years ago. I had an acute case, that trauma trigger point addressed was less than 2 years old, and it did wonders for me. I still needed other support, I still had other things to deal with, but within 24 hours of the treatment the debilitating exhaustion I had went down by over 75%, the physical pain in my body went down by over half. Obviously a Psychological treatment wasn't going to fix the actual 'functional scoliosis' that I had - that I didn't know about yet. A diagnosis which was a result of an underlying condition that manifested after three minor injuries, (injuries that occurred and went mostly untreated during my pregnancy and after.) However, the psychological treatment DID take the magnifying effect of the trauma based stress response away. The inflammatory stress hormones that made everything hurt more, that had a corrosive effect on my digestive system, that sent me into fight or flight, that created pain everywhere, went a way. When panic and inflammation go down, when past awfulness stops being triggered in real time, life and situations get easier to navigate. For me there was a dramatic shift within 24 hours of one treatment.
I think what is getting missed in all this new information is that it doesn't have to be the worst kind of trauma to qualify as PTS. What we need to start making sure people know is that it just needs to be something that was unexpected, that was experienced in your Amygdala and didn't have the chance to get out and be processed by the more rational parts of your brain.
War torn country, psychological abuse, sexual assault, financial ruin, divorce... who is to say any one of those things can't get stuck in the Amygdala and cause the same damage in the body?
I know. We don't think about it that way. We think there is always someone else that has it worse, so we diminish what is stuck in our own Amygdala. Which is not helpful if something got stuck anyway! So let's not miss the rest of this gem here - two different people can experience that same event, one person walks away and has a great life, the other gets stuck in it and lives a life of sabotage.
My understanding, from the lovely man and counsellor that did the EMI treatment for me at Pembina Counselling, is this: When the 'thing' happens, there is a finite window of time, in which the processing of that 'thing' can be transitioned from the Amygdala to the Pre-frontal Cortex - where it can be processed rationally and effectively. If the right environment, the right support and the right relationships are not there at the right time, to support that process, it gets stuck.
In my world and my preferred language, it gets stuck like Sleeping Beauty. Like Rapunzel. Like Snow White. Like The Little Match Girl, who begins to sell her little matches (self worth) for pennies, instead of taking the tiny sparks of self worth, finding some kindling to start a fire that will keep her warm and allow her to feed herself and thrive.
Get where I am going here?
I love the archetypes in fairytales, the REAL Fairytales, I do. However, I do not love the 19th century reverse-evolution of them.
I don't like Disney's Snow White - it's too watered down, with too many chirping birds that don't have a clue about real life... BUT, 'Snow White and the Huntsman' with that twilight chick? YES, I am all over that kind of soul journey - to find the redeemable masculine, help him heal his loss/wound by walking through the redeeming process of saving the healthy feminine, and then help her slay the wounded toxic feminine? That is so beautiful to me. I'm all over that. I will always bring fairytales and stories in, they have all the maps we will ever need to get back to ourselves. So forgive me, or don't, I will always use them to expose what is really underneath the obvious narratives we like to tell and create, about everything. If that's not enough, how about Disney's Cinderella in comparison to Drew Barrymore in Ever After? She dukes it out, she saves herself before anyone else does, because there is a survival of self worth in her that is more than a match for any bully and any toxic step-mother and step-sister archetypes. A much more empowering story. And don't get me started on 'Moana' and what the Heart of Te Fiti really is and who her chicken represents - because if you do, then my friends Brooke and Kelly and I will have to have an old school sleep over to analyze the crap out of that movie for you. It might actually be on our list of things to do. Haha.
Positive emotions to balance all the stress responses we encounter, are essential for us to survive, mentally and physically. Gabor Mate accurately describes it this way: "The HPA Axis (which is the hypothalamic/pituitary/adrenal pathway, where our stress response occurs) is the way in which our emotions exert their most direct effects on the immune system and on other organs." To find the positive ones we HAVE to navigate through the negative ones, you can't fully feel the light unless you understand the dark.
The feeling of shame is one of the most potent activators of the HPA Axis (stress response) in our body. No one wants to talk about shame, because that is the very nature of it, to not speak of it. If something in your body, your solar plexus or your throat tense up at reading those last sentences, then I have just triggered the shame that operates in your life. If shame is never spoken of, it lives on forever. If we cannot learn to hold and understand the dark, we never get to fully enjoy the light. Holding on to shame about things in the past literally makes you physically sick - via the impact of the stress response as it continually triggers in your HPA axis - when something today triggers something from yesterday.
The only way we can find a way to move through shame is to lean into it, feel it and move it. We often learn best by example and not everyone can afford a year or two of counselling and even then, not everyone finds the right counsellor. When we can watch someone vulnerably walk through the process, and if the things they communicate through the bravery of their vulnerability and conviction is so strong that we feel it in the place where we ourselves are wounded, THEN, if that someone actually walks through it and comes out okay, then we have a chance of believing that we can do that same. And again, that's why I did what I did - all those other blogs. If it helped you, you know. If it didn't, then you are a very fortunate person to not be able to relate. And honestly, the judgement should stop there. It won't, but it should.
The way I see it at this point, is that if we can't find the way through and out, then we resign ourselves to becoming part of the walking stress-case apocalypse going on in our society right now. And it's a very unfortunate apocalypse.
I use a Harvey Jackin's quote in all of my stress and personal boundaries workshops. I call it the definition of a 'stress-case' and I do so in an empathic way. We all have a couple 'stress-cases' in our lives, maybe we are one. There are always reasons why people's HPA axis become so easily triggered and why they become so over-reactive and unable to stay in present time and why they can only manage to react and can't seem to stop for a minute to respond instead.
This is most often why:
"The person...in the grip of old distress, says things that are not pertinent, does things that don't work, fails to cope with the situation at hand, and endures terrible feelings that have nothing to do with the present." Harvey Jackins.
I bring this into team building workshops in companies. It's important to bring this in because what he is talking about here is something that causes unnecessary stress in an office and lends itself to costly mistakes. When physical labor is involved, it lends itself towards accidents. The adrenaline and cortisol that pumps through the body of the 'stress case' pushes them into mental and physical states that do not allow them as much control over their thoughts and their motor skills as they would have if their stress response was not in full swing. If they are unaware of what is happening, if they do not enter a process to understand and heal these things and get some stress management and mindfulness skills while they do that, then the cost to them, their family and the company they work for, can become enormous - on a financial, physical, emotional and mental level. That sentence was too long, I know, but I didn't study english, I studied biology and music and then I learned about communication, psychology and personal boundaries. sorry. haha. If my book ever gets published I'll need a serious editor, I know.
This is getting long again. They will always be long. But here is what I know so far about all this. That first blog from "I'm just trying to heal' lost me about 5 followers/subscribers - it got me 150 more. I am doing this for the 150, and those that stuck it out. This is all for you.
Much love for the journey. And I'll come teach a workshop for you if that helps. Or I'll just keep writing. Either way...
PS. I have a theory. I have a teacher in the UK, she has teachers from spiritual lineages that I don't even understand and whose names she does not say often. But. I have heard her wisdom, phrases and conviction in exact words, in almost every song that Alanis Morrissette has written since Jagged Little Pill ... so... I have a feeling that Alanis and I may possibly share the same teacher... one day I will know... ;)
"Now no more smiling mid crest fall No more managing unmanageables No more holding still in the hailstorm
Now enter your watch woman
I'll be your keeper for life as your guardian I'll be your warrior of care, your first warden I'll be your angel on call, I'll be on demand The greatest honour of all as your guardian"