Congratulations! What happens when you get on the other side of your shit.

Many years ago, at a retreat, I had an intentional encounter with a horse. I timidly walked toward the horse. Within me was all the anxiety and doubt of my struggling and unprocessed traumas. I stood with the horse for a few moments and then it led me to a pile of shit. I thought: of course. Of course this horse would bring me to a pile of shit. Only me….At first, I thought it was a cruel joke. Then, it became one of my more profound lessons: it’s just shit.

Which brings me to now~ A quote that keeps running through my mind:

This is a time of divine fulfillment. The fruits of my labor and purpose of my life now unfold in a clear, harmonious way.

This quote is a favorite of my mothers. I will forever associate these words with her and today they ring true for me. I can’t help but wonder if this was her gift to me, not just the words themselves, but to have the experience of the words. 

To experience is the shift I have made, where the words I have grown up with, surrounded myself with, and those that live within me come alive— and it’s absolutely splendid. 

As I write, on my vision board are these words: The rebirth of Awe. And….

  • Finding real
  • Second wind
  • Instructions for life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. (Mary Oliver)
  • Born to write
  • Join the thousands of people around the world who are opening up, digging deep, and transforming their lives!

It is very possible I have known all along what I am up to. Yet, for many years I had doubt, insecurity and practiced indecisiveness as if it were an appreciated art form. 

The words, so many words, are coming alive right before my eyes!

It is also very possible, that as I earlier said to my father in conversation, that the signs and mystical experience I seek, are all around me and have been with me every step of the way. 

All of this to say, and most importantly, experience the turning of an important corner where the fruits of my labor and purpose of my life now unfold and where I live in the energy of Congratulations!

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash
 

This is where I am. And it does not come without some old guilt-ridden programming. The kind of guilt that needs reminding such as: Nikki, you have worked diligently for 32 years to know and understand yourself. You have opened up to your desire to get through “your shit” sooner rather than later. You have dug deep, so deep to the literal “big mother wound” of neglect and abandonment. You have been twisted and turned through many dark crevices and have come out the other side only to be taken in yet again. You, dear heart, have transformed your life AND you’ve earned every minute of celebration and awe you now experience. 

Own it. Stand in it. Experience it. It’s yours. And if and when you feel ready, share it. 

This is where I find myself today. It is where I have been for the past few weeks and because it was such a new experience, I did not have the words to express what it has been like. But the words come now, through my own voice, but mostly through the voice of others who have come before me. I relish in their generosity. Especially from my dear poet friend, Rumi. This, what Rumi writes, is on the other side of the shit we must all travel through. Bless you dear hearts as you journey through yours. 

 
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

You have fallen in love my dear heart

Congratulations!

You have freed yourself from all attachments

Congratulations!

You have given up both worlds to be on your own

The whole creation praises your solitude

Congratulations!

Your disbelief has turned into belief

Your bitterness, into sweetness

Congratulations!

You have now entered into Love’s fire, my pure heart

Congratulations!

Inside the Sufi’s heart there is always a feast

Dear heart, you are celebrating

Congratulations!

My heart, I have seen how your tears turned into a sea

Now every wave keeps saying

Congratulations!

O silent lover, seeker of the higher planes,

May the Beloved always be with you

Congratulations!

You have struggled hard, may you grow wings and fly

Congratulations!

Keep silent my dear heart, you have done so well

Congratulations!

~Rumi

~The Soul Reporter

To Be Admired

What’s this selfie for?

In the hopes to be admired. 

I want to be admired and I also fight against it. The fight against it has mostly won. And, has come at a price. I hide. I have been stingy with sharing and passive/aggressive about it. I have silently said to readers, followers and potential ones:

look at me dammit. Pay attention to me. Admire my face and my insights. So I show off.

And then on the flip side I’ve said:

forget you. I know you won’t notice me. See I knew it- no likes. Another post of such great words (I mean I have the best words) and no one cares. So I shut down.

This has been my dance with all of you (and my nearest and dearest ones). It’s dysfunctional and toxic and not how I want to show up in the world. Therefore, I have mostly remained hidden. This is also unhealthy because the truth of me, and all that I’ve come to realize about life and myself, wants and needs to be exposed. 

The truth is I’ve reacted to all of you, which is really just my own battle with myself that I’ve drafted you all in, and it comes out of a conditioning that came from my upbringing. 

Essentially, I was ignored. I longed to be deeply seen. I know now it wasn’t personal. It was the impact of being raised by those who did not see themselves. 

Until we see ourselves we cannot and will not see another. 

If the desire to be seen, and essentially deeply known and valued, is not identified and satisfied, this desire becomes increasingly toxic. At its worst it becomes the dance I have described- on one end a compulsion to be admired, which can be as extreme and defined by a narcissistic personality disorder. And on the other end, a complete erasure of self characterized by self-neglect.

The desire to be admired is a trap, part of the psychological mindset, which creates dysfunctional and protective patterns and behaviors. In the age of social media and a particularly exaggerated version of an admiration-seeking U.S. president, we are afforded the opportunity to really look at the deep inner wound of neglect and abandonment. In doing so, we can limit the toxic interplay it does create and instead tease out the toxins and understand, and most importantly feel the hurt of not being seen.

This post is part of my own teasing, a confession in a way to make the dysfunctional dynamics known and to state I want to now come to all of you, readers and followers, and to my family and friends, in a more authentic and whole way. To share only to be admired comes from the smallest of self and truly not worthy of any of us. This way of showing up is also not sustainable and will eventually come back to haunt us us in one form or another.

We may never be able to be truly seen by another or by our primary caregivers. But we always have the opportunity to heal the wound and to fully see ourselves. The more of us that do this, the more we will see each other. Only this will bring the kind of shift so many of us desire in the world.

~The Soul Reporter

Self-Betrayal to Self-Love

The dominant culture, which is mostly reactivity from unprocessed trauma, tells us that we aren’t supposed to let people hurt us. But the truth is people do hurt us. 

My mom hurt me today. And there’s been plenty of other days as well. As her young child I was constantly hurt. I learned to cope and self-protect through a variety of ways. As a child, it was through art, music, books and my imagination. As I grew older, other ways were through perfectionism, OCD and controlling behaviors and the big one: codependency.

Today, I stopped taking her hurt. I set a firm boundary. And then I let myself be hurt. When our mothers hurt us it’s the ultimate betrayal. If the hurt is constant and consistent, we will learn to betray ourselves. We will make choices and create an entire life and get involved in relationships from this deepest wound.

If we are brave and committed to change, we will begin to awaken to our life built from self-betrayal, and we will feel shattered. At the very least, bruised. And, this is the place where we learn self-love, self-compassion, and forgiveness of self and others. It is a deep and holy space of grief, surrender and heart opening. We will learn self-love and begin, little by little, to create a life for ourselves painted from the womb of our rebirth and our deepest reckoning with ourselves. 

We will recognize that we no longer need to protect ourselves from hurt. We will come to experience our heart as strong, worthy, willing and ready to feel feelings and remain stabilized. We will learn the difference between self-betrayal and self-love. We will see setting boundaries and making conscious choices as our gateway to creating new experiences, experiences based and waged in self-love. 

To continue on this self-love journey, my self-reflective practice for the month of November is this….to explore, experience and learn:

What does self-love look like in my relationships…..

Beyond relationships, what does it look like for me in my life…. How do I paint and create my experiences through self-love?

I am excited to begin experiencing this.

~The Soul Reporter

A Daily Glimpse

This is me sophomore year in high school. I’m in photography class (the only class I liked). I see a contemplative person. A deep well doing my best to function in superficiality, knowing there’s more, and feeling my way inward. 

I am still this way except I am beyond doing my best with superficiality. I have moved to that deeper place and I’ve discovered so much about myself. 

The journey so far has been intense and this is because I set a clear intention- maybe around the time of this picture- that I would get through my stuff sooner rather than later.

This “stuff,” is the trauma and neglect of my childhood. It’s the alcohol and mental illness from a primary caregiver. It’s the bullying and feeling left out in school. It’s the why I’m codependent (now in recovery). It’s all of that and more, and how it creates deep psychological conditioning, which creates disruptive relationships dynamics, behaviors and moods. 

It is my sense we are in a great battle due to the wounds of our upbringing. These wounds create psychological conditioning that impact our everyday lives, experiences and relationships. Many of us do not realize this is the case and just assume: this is who we are. But these attitudes and behaviors, that come from this psychological space is not who we are. We are more. And, we can be restored to who we are. Some of us are waking up to this realization because it is time. It is time to evolve and advance, and break the cycles of trauma and neglect.

At 47 I feel I am on the other side of the psychological conditioning and making my way toward everyday, every moment consciousness- one glimpse at a time. 

As I become more awake the desire to externalize all that I have learned also awakens. This is why I have started a new page on social media called A Daily Glimpse. The intention is to share, in a digestible way, the often complex and challenging experience of personal and spiritual transformation. There have been many who made the shift that came before me and helped me along the way. I now notice others coming forward to do the same. Sometimes I wonder, am I too late?

The ego says: why bother then. Well- because this shift in higher consciousness is bigger than my ego and I choose to be a part of the change and that is why I want to offer the messages I have to give. If you’d like guidance and support in making the shift from our psychological conditioning to expanded consciousness follow @adailyglimpse.

follow @adailyglimpse

July Soul Report: The Future is Here~ Slow Down & Surrender

My first and foremost curiosity is: How are all of you doing?

This afternoon, my daughter said she felt off. Tired. Unmotivated. Had no inspiration. Didn’t even want to put on makeup— had tried several looks that weren’t working. The makeup part is unusual for her. She is an esthetician and a talented makeup artist. 

She asked me if I was feeling off. I told her no. I went on, “You might think mom is being woo-woo, but a veil has been lifted for many of us right now. This veil protected us from certain realities and allowed us to live in illusion.” 

I went on, “For some this is an incredibly difficult time. For others it is a time of celebration. I am celebrating. And, it makes sense that you are feeling off— you’ve gone through some big changes.”

Weep, and then smile.

Do not pretend to know something

you have not experienced. 

There is a necessary dying…

Very little grows on jagged rock. 

Be ground. Be crumbled,

so wildflowers will come up 

where you are. 

You have been stony for far too many years. 

Try something different. Surrender. 

~Rumi, A Year with Rumi, Coleman Barks 

Btw: Rumi is a fucking gem! If you’ve not read his poetry, find some. If you have, find it again!

Currently, I am not engaged with a large circle of people, but from my small circle, I can tell you EVERY SINGLE PERSON I know has made seismic shifts in the last few weeks. I am also hearing from fellow therapists and social workers that clients are coming in with an unusual amount of challenges and traumas. 

Me

For myself, during this time, I’ve faced the deeper, if not the deepest, psychological wound within myself. It is a wound made from neglect. A wound that has caused incredible suffering, and has been passed down to my daughters, and was passed down to me. It is the generational trauma of neglect, which so many of us feel. Which so many of us endure. It is silent. It is insidious. It is ours. Many don’t know it is there. But now is the time to surrender to our childhood, generational and historical traumas. To bear witness to them. To feel the pain, fear, and sadness they hold. To understand them and their message. To release them and be transformed. These traumas need not stay in our minds, our bodies, our souls any longer.  

These traumas wreak havoc and prey upon EVERYTHING— from our relationships to the countries we live in. For example, President Trump has an entire closet (and then some) full of unprocessed trauma that is damaging the United States. But, in this post, I am not going to go into that. The focus for this post is to report that the FUTURE IS HERE. The new paradigm, the cosmic shift, the new reality— that some of us have been talking about for a while— happened. In a very real sense, we made it AND there’s more to come. 

For July’s Soul Report the message I am sharing to help assist us is: Slow Down & Surrender 

June’s Soul Report was also about slowing down, slowing down in order to sense the subtleties of energies, patterns and dynamics. This was to help us prepare for this big shift that has now occurred. 

July’s slowing down is about getting clear now that some internal debris has been lifted. It’s about commitment and being conscious participants in our ongoing personal growth and transformation. It is about creating our own Bodhi Tree (under which Siddhartha Gautama became enlightened) moments. These moments are glimpses of insight about who we are and who we are not. These moments build upon each other to become a lighted chain that leads us to greater awakenings of who we really are.  

The root of suffering is attachment.

~The Buddha

As I reflect upon my own journey thus far, it is indeed true that the root of suffering is attachment. How I experience attachment comes from a psychological perspective that has to do with attachment trauma. As infants and small children, if we did not securely attach to an adult, we have already made our first step into suffering. If a secure adult did not answer our cries for nourishment, protection and affection, we attach to this trauma. If a secure adult did not answer our questions about life or we were reprimanded when doing so, we attach to this trauma. If we were exposed to a caregiver who was addicted, we attach to this trauma. The list of traumas are many. 

As adults we now have attachment trauma. We feel neglected, abandoned and empty. We put out our feelers, literally our feelings of fear and insecurity, and find our fix- the thing to fulfill us. Mine was, and is, a 32-year codependent relationship. For others it can be anything: shopping, success, drugs, gambling……….and the list continues. The cycle also continues. And I, who have spent my entire life living and processing my attachment trauma, want to do whatever I can to help and assist others as many have done for me.  

And that my friends, was a tangent, but apparently a needed one. 

And brings me to what occurs as we process our traumas: space. Space in our minds. Space in our bodies. Space in our souls. This space allows for generosity for ourselves and every living thing. This space allows for greater efficiency so that when new traumas or challenges come, we can process them more quickly and easily. This space allows for our natural desires and tendencies to surface and create a more satisfying, deliberate and peaceful presence. This space allows us to see, perhaps for the first time, what our burning desire is— that blue flame inside us all that keeps us going and brings us everywhere. 

What once kept me going was the desire to fill my empty space. But this was only part of the journey and leads me to discover what actually is within that empty space. I am here now, and I celebrate and anticipate its unfolding. 

I am here to process and hold space with any of you moving through these shifts and changes. I am here to answer any questions you might have about this month’s Soul Report. 

Contact me here.

Thank you, and you’re all doing great work!

~The Soul Reporter

The Harsh Reality

My latest Mental Health article at The Volk magazine.

“It is in the homes and in childhood that the wreckage of human life begins.”

 ~Katherine Tingley

The above quote may seem harsh to some, and to others validating. For me, it is validating. At 15 years-old, I understood I had an issue with intimate relationships. I found out in my early twenties that issue had a name: codependency. I read a book called Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie. My copy of the book is full of fading purple highlights. Melody gave what I experienced a framework and language. Often codependency has its roots in the house of a child with at least one caregiver experiencing addiction. This was true for me. My mother had a drinking problem, later prescription drugs, and was in and out of treatment centers much of my childhood. My mother also has a mental illness which was not diagnosed until a couple of years ago. To put it simply, in my home life was unstable; the only predictability was the unpredictability and chaos that came from my mother. I spent three decades sorting most of this out.

Director: Michaela Rae // Camera: Ivy Christina Fashions: Meghanlee Phillips Hair: Kaisa Johnson // Makeup: Mikelle Brown //Model: Tyler Bakken
Director: Michaela Rae // Camera: Ivy Christina Fashions: Meghanlee Phillips Hair: Kaisa Johnson // Makeup: Mikelle Brown //Model: Tyler Bakken

Today the number of people experiencing mental health issues is staggering. According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year. For youth, ages 13-18, 1 in 5 will experience a “severe mental disorder at some point during their life.” Specifically I’d like to discuss two common diagnoses: PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). Diagnostic criteria for PTSD are exposure to traumatic event(s), recurrent and distressing memories of the event(s), avoidance of stimuli associated with event(s), and various changes in mood and behavior, which can include hypervigilance, problems with concentration, and sometimes disassociation (DSM-5).

According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) “Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” Approximately 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event in their lives and 8% have PTSD (PTSD United).

ADHD is termed as a “heritable brain disorder,” where symptoms include inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and can cause anxiety, boredom, and/or mood swings. One in nine U.S. (6.4 million) children is diagnosed with ADHD (Ruiz, R, 2014).

I focus on these two disorders due to emerging research which questions whether attention issues and the overall increase in ADHD diagnosis may be due to trauma. One of the reasons this matters is treatment. Seventy-seven percent of children diagnosed with ADHD receive treatment while thirty percent are treated with only medication (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). From what I understand, ADHD medication will not help a child who does not have ADHD: therefore, having an accurate understanding of a child and their history, particularly trauma history, is important. From this research, this need is becoming clear.

One study of particular importance was done by Dr. Nicole Brown at Duke University. During her residency she began to notice that many of her patients were being diagnosed with ADHD. These patients were living in low-income neighborhoods, often characterized by violence. She conducted a study of 65,000 children.  The parents of these children were questioned about the ADHD diagnoses along with any Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs. These experiences can include physical and emotional neglect and abuse, caregivers with mental illness and/or addiction, or who were incarcerated. She found that sixteen percent of children diagnosed with ADHD did have at least four ACEs. There were only six percent diagnosed who had no ACEs. The recommendation from this study, according to Dr. Brown, is “We need to think more carefully about screening for trauma and designing a more trauma-informed treatment plan.”

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who is a pioneer in the ACE’s study and was just named California’s first Surgeon General, is calling for developmental screenings of Adverse Childhood Experiences much like we do already for mental health when we visit our doctor. The ACE’s study showed that the more adverse childhood experiences we have, the more it impacts our overall mental and physical health well into adulthood. This brings me back to the quote I shared at the beginning of the article.  We are witnessing, and many of us are experiencing, the wreckage of human life.

To point to our childhood homes as the root of this wreckage, again, may seem harsh. I must also state that there are systematic inequalities that can induce and enhance this wreckage. The truth is many of us grew up or are growing up in harsh conditions. This harshness can create trauma, which impacts us in a variety of ways through behavior, mood, relationships, and our experiences. To recognize this isn’t to blame our caregivers. It is to understand ourselves and, essentially, humanity. Understanding leads to a greater capacity for healing, growth, and compassion for ourselves and others. It is important to remember that we are our best resource and often what troubles us has solutions within. For those of us who commit to this, understanding will create less harsh conditions in our homes for our children. Specific to a diagnosis of ADHD or PTSD, it is important to be professionally screened, recognizing that symptoms of inattention can also point to a trauma history. Below you will find a list of resources—websites and books— that further this discussion and offer education on trauma and ACEs, including a site where you can find out your own ACE score.

To find what your ACE score is, go here: https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

Nadine Burke Harris on how childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime: https://www.ted.com/talks/nadine_burke_harris_how_childhood_trauma_affects_health_across_a_lifetime/discussion

The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. 

The Deepest Well, by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D. 


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Nikki DiVirgilio is a Licensed Social Worker and writer. If you’d like to contact her with questions, comments and guidance in going deeper, email her at nikki@nikkidivirgilio.com. To read more from Nikki, visit her blog at www.nikkidivirgilio.com

Be Too Much

Hello. How is June unfolding for you?

Earlier in the month, I wrote about the energies of this month. It was about paying attention to subtlety as a way to be a conscious participant in the changes around us and within us.

Personally, I feel I like I can tune in even more. I can do this by slowing everything down and being present. When I do this, I instantly receive information that tells me what changes are occurring within me.

One of the changes occurring was triggered when my daughter, who is an esthetician, asked to do eye make up on me. I told her to do something bold and bright— something I’d never do on myself. Here is the result:

At first, when I looked in the mirror, I had a two second identity crisis: who the hell am I? When I woke up the next morning, having removed the make up, I felt like it was the first day of the rest of my life. I realized there is big, full life out there for me to experience. Creating a new look on my face helped me to see how much I play myself down in order to not be seen. And this made me feel it is time to grieve the way I’ve been playing and let it go.

Sometimes what we think is our personality— the who we think we are— is actually a product of deep insecurities and fears. Once faced, processed and understood, we begin to see that beneath this—who we thought we were— is not really who we are.

What I am coming to understand is the person I thought I was expressed from an old tape of fear and neglect. Who I really am expresses from a divine intensity inside of me. She is a whole other person who lives, laughs and loves with that intensity— and maybe even wears bright make up.

To end, click on my video I posted today. I came out with no make up giving shout outs to those of us working real hard expanding our consciousness and self-awareness and finding the hope in that. Click here to listen.

I’d love to hear your comments and questions. Leave below or contact me here.

~The Soul Reporter

Living Deeper

Below is my mental health article published in The Volk, Spring 2019

Mental Health: Living Deeper

By Nikki DiVirgillo, MSW, LGSW

When I was young, I looked through a telescope and viewed the stars in the sky. The expansive night sky with its twinkling lights told me I was special: connected to a great force and intelligence.  In my early twenties I lived my life from this acknowledgment and my desires manifested effortlessly. Then, one night as I wrote in my journal, I made a profound connection. It brought a vital link from childhood experiences to what I was beginning to experience internally, which was anxiety. This discovery led to the opening of my Pandora’s Box where I made one childhood connection after another, throwing me in to what some have called a dark night of the soul. The details of this long, dark, night are irrelevant in light of the lessons I learned and the growth that followed.

Photography by: Will Miles
Photography by: Will Miles

The main lesson, from which all the other lessons fall under, is that if we want to become more of who we really are, if we want to “live our best life,” and experience calm within ourselves, then we must live deeper, and then once we do, live deeper still. Many of us work at the surface of life; we are conditioned this way. We begin in a family, however that looks, with adults who are often existing at the surface of life. Then we fit our tiny bodies into a school desk with bodies taller than us telling us what they think we need to know to live a successful, fulfilling life. We move on to a job to pay for the lifestyle we think we should have. Through all of these stages who asks what we want? What we think? What we feel? At what point do we wonder, where are we? Who are we? And, is this all there is? If we don’t, at any point, stop and ask ourselves these questions or listen to those who might be asking us, we will continue to work at the surface level until our bodies and minds break down. Sure, some will earn what we see as success working at the surface, but will they be fulfilled? Will they be living an authentic life?

What we know is there is a mental health issue (more likely a crisis) in our country. According to the NAMI website (National Alliance on Mental Illness) “1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.” What is also clear is that mental illness is on the rise for our younger population as well. There is no truer sign of a culture’s overall well-being than how its children are doing. According to the 2018 Children’s Mental Health Report from the Child Mind Institute, anxiety disorders have increased 17% in the past ten years. From my professional perspective, I have also seen an increase of students in school diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Something is not right.

My personal theory of what’s not right is that we’ve lost touch with who we really are because we primarily work and function at the surface of life and the surface of ourselves. When I looked up at that star-filled, night sky I was tapping into expansiveness, into space, into mystery, truth, and cosmic order. When I wrote in my journal and made childhood connections, I was digging in beyond the surface to a deeper part of myself, an unconscious part, just as vast and mysterious as the night sky. This space was filled with beliefs, memories, trauma, and emotions stemming from my upbringing. This “stuff” has to be processed, and often our first que that we are ready for this inner work is the experience of anxiety and/or depression.

To listen to our emotions, seeing them as a signal to slow down and check in with our selves, is not something that comes naturally to many of us. We weren’t taught this. Further, to listen and be curious enough about what’s happening inside of us, will open us to change. And, change is frightening, especially at first, because we have only known the surface of ourselves. The surface can lure us with its comfort and safety, but the real value is going beneath our surface. We are more than what we experienced as children, and more than what the culture tells us now. Therefore, when something prompts us to live deeper, like the stars in the night sky, there are points of light within ourselves that we must, and can follow to help us along this journey.

Here are my points of light for you- if you are going through a dark night, if you are experiencing anxiety, if you are feeling an urge to step into something more:

Photography by: Will Miles
Photography by: Will Miles

                 Find Space: this can be anything from looking up into the night sky, taking notice of the stars and the moon, and during the day, the clouds or shades of blue to clearing out a cluttered corner, closet or drawer. Space bring perspective and perspective helps us start to see possibilities and pathways that can bring depth and more internal satisfaction. Meditation is another way to find space.

                 Be curious: Once you’ve created space, it’s time to get curious- curious about you. This is time to self-reflect, be mindful and ask questions. Beginning this deeper work requires resources to support us. This is important because we may be processing traumas and feeling feelings we haven’t consciously connected with. Consider a journal and seeing a therapist as useful resources as you explore yourself and books!

                 Seek connection: What I have come to trust and understand is all of us, every single one of us, is looking for connection. We long for deeper connections with ourselves, with our experiences and within our relationships. One of the most important lessons I learned has to do with attachment theory. This theory states the importance of having a secure physical and emotional attachment to a primary caregiver. These attachment needs are present as soon as we are born and continue as we develop and grow. However, it is in our earliest stages that attachment matters most as this will shape our future relationships. If our physical and emotional needs are not met consistently, we will develop insecure attachment. Being insecurely attached will cause anxiety and create difficulties in relationships, along with a disconnection with ourselves. I recommend exploring attachment theory through books or the internet. You will find the four types of attachment and perhaps understand which one best describes yours.  Through the process of understanding ourselves, and evolving from greater understanding we will find our relationships change too. Deeper connections with ourselves and others is possible!

These points of light begin the process of deeper work, the work that will eventually guide us to more clarity, wisdom, connection and peace.

Childhood Trauma

The Information about childhood trauma, in my opinion, is the most essential information of our time. This TEDtalk is one of the better ones I’ve heard on this issue.

He quotes Rumi: “The wound is the place where the light enters you.”

I believe this information is coming out now because so many of us, if not all of us, are wounded and for far too long we have been unconscious of our wounds and acting out through them- hurting ourselves and each other.

It’s time to wake up and get educated about trauma and its effects. It’s time to dig in our selves and find our wounds and feel what we have not let ourselves feel and heal so that we can be the light that we are.

The time is absolutely now. It’s what is going to save us.

Trauma, Triggers and the Myth about Time*

Trigger warning: this article begins with an experience of a car accident.

On September 29, 2011, I was living in California with my family. My mom had just come in for a visit, and my daughters and I were taking her to Big Bear Lake to spend the day. The car was on cruise control at 60 mph and Enya gently played on the radio. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw two round headlights of a truck. I said to my daughter in the passenger seat, “What is this guy behind me…..?”

I never finished the sentence. The white Toyota Matrix hurled through the air doing somersaults. The front end hit the pavement. The backend hit the pavement. Three times this happened until it skidded on its side and stopped at a mound of ice plant on the side of the freeway. Through the cracked windshield I saw my 11-year-old daughter, propped up against that mound of ice plant, bruised, bloodied, shocked. Our lives were never the same.

Some people’s lives seem to flow in a narrative; mine had many stops and starts. That’s what trauma does. It interrupts the plot….It just happens, and then life goes on. No one prepares you for it. ~Jessica Stern, Denial: A Memoir of Terror

We all survived the accident. Life went on. I resented that. I needed life to stop. It didn’t. It doesn’t. But trauma lives on in our bodies. In the book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, author Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. says, “After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system. The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos, at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their life.”

After a traumatic event, many of us move on. Life doesn’t stop, and the messages we hear from the culture around us is: move on. It’s over. You survived. Get over it. And, so we do. We stop talking about it. We stop thinking about it. We get back into our lives. But, really, we are just suppressing that “inner chaos” and in doing so our lives and our selves no longer feel the same. We may stop feeling safe or joyful or content. We may experience flashbacks, which disturb our day-to-day activities. We may have physical sensations that scare us. We may be jumpy and anxious. We also might start drinking more alcohol or taking pills that calm us down. All this can be happening without any conscious reckoning that our bodies are still processing the trauma we experienced.

After our accident, I had flashbacks. I felt my body in that car again. I saw my daughter over and over on the side of the road. I cried. And, sometimes I had this overwhelming urge to scream, but couldn’t. The scream and terror, trapped inside me. For a while, I thought I had Multiple Sclerosis. My hands and feet would go numb. I would wake up in a panic in the middle of the night scared I was dying. What helped me is I had some awareness that was this was trauma processing itself through my body. I was also getting a therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which has shown to be effective in the treatment of trauma.

Recognizing trauma, and treating it is essential. So many of us have experienced trauma. Sometimes just turning on the news, especially lately, is traumatic. We see our fellow human beings suffering in the aftermath of hurricanes, floods, fires and mass shootings. Or we are those fellow human beings caught up in survival, with hardly enough time to consider our mental and emotional states. There are also groups of us suffering from historical trauma, which is experienced multi-generationally by a specific cultural group. Many of us were abused and neglected in childhood. And so many of us keep going through life as if time heals the wounds. Time heals nothing because as Van Der Kolk says, the body keeps the score. It remembers. It holds the trauma, and if not conscious of it, the trauma binds us.

In brain scans, during flashbacks, the right hemisphere of our brains is activated. This is our emotional, intuitive and visual side of the brain. What is also known, according to brain research, is that the thalamus, which Van Der Kolk describes as the “cook” within the brain because all of our sensations join together there, shuts down. This is why trauma is often remembered in snippets of sounds, images and physical sensations and not in a narrative format, with a beginning, middle and an end. Therefore, people experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may receive several of these snippets daily, or several times a day. If there is no conscious connection to the traumatic event, they may feel like they are going crazy. These experiences also make it challenging to focus, concentrate and have new learning experiences. Overtime, if not addressed, a person can begin to shut down, becoming numb and depressed.

Fortunately, there are several interventions, which can help with the symptoms of traumatic stress. According to Van Der Kolk, “The fundamental issue in resolving traumatic stress is to restore the proper balance between the rational and emotional brains, so that you can feel in charge of how you respond and how you conduct your life.” He goes on to say, that we are shoved outside of this proper balance when we are triggered and then, become “reactive and disorganized.” Therefore, we must become conscious of these triggers. For example, recently I was triggered when I saw a car accident on a television show. Immediately, my body felt anxious and I became distracted and could not focus. When I recognized the symptoms in my body, I connected the image of the car accident on television to my own real experience in the Toyota Matrix. Upon making this connection, my mind could orient itself back to the present moment. I took some deep breaths and my body began to calm down. This would be an example of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is simply a state of being aware. Self-awareness is the fundamental principle of recovering from trauma. We just begin to notice, notice what is happening in our bodies. Notice what we are feeling, especially when triggered by either an external or internal event. Developing a meditation practice can help facilitate mindfulness. Journal writing can increase self-awareness. There are also many therapies, as mentioned earlier. Some of them include: EMDR, art, music and dance therapy, Yoga, and Narrative Therapy.

The important realization in regard to traumatic stress, is we do not have to be bound by it. We can be free in our bodies, minds and emotions. We can feel alive again, and take in new experiences. It takes consciousness. It takes desire to understand. It takes support, and we can know the support is there.

*Originally published in The Volk, Winter 2017