The following post is part of a talk I am giving on Friday, May 29, 2015 at the South Florida Spiritual Care Network lunch, an association of clinicians, counselors, clergy, law enforcement, elected officials, and other helping professionals.
Trauma is anything less than nurturing.
--Commonly heard definition for trauma in the clinical counseling community
If this definition is right, then we all have been traumatized on some level, and we all have some healing work to do. I often tell my clients when complaining about their lot in life, "Welcome to Planet Earth." While it may sound cheeky, it does help them to wake up to the idea that life on this planet does not exempt us from problems. In fact, being born on this planet ensures it. Mother Nature can be hostile. So can our own families and loved ones. So can our friends and enemies. So can we ourselves.
How do we bounce back from less-than-nurturing experiences?
Often, those of us in the healing professions are the last to personally apply our own work. We somehow delude ourselves into thinking that as we help others heal, we too are being healed.
And while it's a spiritual truth that in giving, we receive (the Prayer of St. Francis), this truth can't be activated in our lives until we practice another truth: we can only impart that which we have already received.
In short, we have to have it before we can give it to another.
But this begs to ask the question: where do helpers go for help? Where do we receive the strength, knowledge, healing, insight, and awareness to light the paths of those who come to us seeking to come out of their own personal darkness? How do we walk in the light and bring others into it as well?
I've found head knowledge is not enough. Intellectually knowing a healing technique or principle is very different than experiencing it. All of the education in the world might produce a lot of useful information but still in the end be very insufficient to transform the heart.
I suppose it's that aspiration for personal transformation that drives us forward. I know it does me. I find great fulfillment in seeing others transform their lives.
You see, those who work with me--especially those who know me well--understand that most everything I do in life, I do with intensity.
I work hard.
I play hard.
I relate hard.
I strive hard.
I sleep hard.
I weep hard.
I laugh hard.
I give with everything in my being. Rarely do I hold back.
I do so because this creates for a more nuanced and meaningful existence--at least for me.
I do so because I'm convinced that if I'm giving my all then I've done my best and hopefully made a difference in my world.
This last weekend I was walking home from a restaurant and I had an Aha! moment.
It went something like this: I can do anything I want to do. I don't have to do everything I want.
Sometimes it's as if for me the law of scarcity takes over. I have to make up for lost time. I have to do and experience everything because there might not be another chance. We aren't promised a tomorrow. All we have is today. So carpe diem, baby!
But my Aha! moment woke me up again to the idea that I can choose to not do the things I really like to do. I can rest in the place of being. In fact, just being is a phenomenal choice to connect me to myself and those around me. In that moment of my Aha! moment, scarcity vanished, and grace appeared.
I don't know how it appeared, but it did. This feeling of wellbeing came over me. I slowed down my harried and hurried pace. I noticed more the warmth of the sun on my face. I was more aware of the people passing me on the sidewalk. I felt more centered, more grounded, more connected, more calm, more alive. As my dad sometimes says, it was like I was being saved all over again. Saved from the bondage of self. Saved to live again. Renewed, resurrected, reborn, born again, all at once. In a moment, in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, grace appeared.
Now how does one define grace? I was rhetorically asking my friend Richard this, just this morning. He was on his way to take care of something that we--his wife, Lisa, other close friends, and I--had been praying and hoping for, for a while.
I suddenly blurted, "I'm not sure we can define grace, we can only experience it."
Grace is something to be experienced.
We experience grace when we journey with others.
We experience grace when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and we aren't quite as afraid as we used to be.
We experience grace when we embrace the good, the bad, and the ugly in our lives and come to understand that everything belongs.
We experience grace when we realize that we are finite and infinitely powerful all at the same time.
We experience grace when we come to our wit's end and discover that the way out was there all along.
We experience grace when we survive hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and natural disasters--both literal and metaphorical--and come out on the other side grateful for the deeper life lessons we have learned.
We experience grace in the dark night of the soul, when the angry angst of human isolation, abandonment, and shame seek to snuff out our inner light, and we then suddenly realize that when forsaken and alone, we find ourselves in the best company ever.
We experience grace when the inner demons rant and rave and rage and have less power over us than they did before.
We experience grace when we face the inevitable mortality of those close to us and that of ourselves.
We experience grace when we risk vulnerability and share our stories with others and they with us.
We experience grace when we think our story is over and discover it's only just begun.
Grace is a uniquely human experience. Grace is all around. Grace is within you, within me, within all of us. Grace is already there. Grace comes when we ask. Grace even comes when we don't ask.
That's the beauty of grace.
I work hard, and grace appears.
I play hard, and grace appears.
I relate hard, and grace appears.
I strive hard, and grace appears.
I sleep hard, and grace appears.
I weep hard, and grace appears.
I laugh hard, and grace appears.
I give with everything in my being, and grace appears.
I live life fully, and grace appears.
I slow down and breathe, and grace appears.
I do nothing, and yes, grace appears.
So I return to my original questions:
How do we bounce back from less-than-nurturing experiences? Where do helpers go for help? Where do we receive the strength, knowledge, healing, insight, and awareness to light the paths of those who come to us seeking to come out of their own personal darkness? How do we walk in the light and bring others into it as well?
I don't have easy answers to these questions but I do think grace has a lot to do with it. I today choose to surround myself with gracious people. I choose gracious, compassionate and kinds thoughts toward myself and others. I endeavor to live a more gracious way of life.
I offer others the strength and favor I have received which I've done nothing to garner, earn, or gain.
I give freely even as I have received.
For it's in grace I live, move, and have my being.
This is the latest update from my friend Pastor Irick St. Cyr in Gonaïves:
Finally, the school kids' parents have agreed on Friday to pay extra money to cover over 50% of the cost toward the school lunch while all my US sponsors declined assistance. We are only short about $ 300 a month. Please pray if you can help me with $200 a month. The well for the community potable water has furnished so much water, we are now able to collect extra money to pay the light bill for the pump itself and half of the school light bill.
This news encourages me as the people are taking ownership of education--paying what they can afford--and the water potable systems are actually producing income to pay for the school electricity.
But as you can see, there is a shortfall of approximately $300 a month. The US sponsors were unable to come through.
Would you consider making a one-time or monthly donation to support our school? I have been there numerous times and can attest that education is making all the difference in the lives of these children. This is a work of integrity where your gifts are honored.
Your donations are tax-deductible. Please email me at email@example.com and I can put you in touch with the appropriate US address to ensure the funds get there. Or you can utilize PayPal here. Just mention my name and that the funds are designated for the school. Thanks.
I've long been a fan of Anne Lamott. Her books speak to my soul and cause me to live from my higher self. I'm grateful for her voice and writings.
One of my favorite memories with Anne is being in North Eleuthera, Bahamas years ago reading one of her books out-loud to my friend Misi. We had no TV so an even better pastime was to read Anne and laugh together and yes, share some meaningful sighs, touching soul to soul, deep calling to deep as the Good Book says.
I came across this interview through her Facebook feed and wanted to share her wit and wisdom.
She states in it: "It's the most spiritual thing you can do to touch another person."
That truth slows my frenetic mind down and reminds me that the people around me daily are worth hearing, worth connecting with, worth touching. It reminds me to hear deeply and with understanding.
Sometimes this is hard for me--especially when I go to church. My home church is so accepting and very touch-feely. They hug a lot, and people generally want to reach out and connect, hug, and give a holy kiss on the cheek.
I'm generally good with that but sometimes there are ones who come up behind and connect when I'm not expecting. At that point, it's like my inner New Yorker wants to reach out and visit them with a five-fingered blessing across the face. Sometimes my friends laugh at my startled response, and I've often questioned why it is people want to connect when I least it expect it and why it unsettles me so.
I think it's because we all carry a deep need to connect with another human being in a meaningful way. When we see someone that we think carries something meaningful, we want to connect with them in whatever way possible.
So my challenge in being more empathetic to others is allowing them to connect, even when it may not be the most comfortable for me. This means moving beyond my ultra-sensitivities and seeing their need. Because at the end of the day, their need is the same as mine: the desire to touch another human being in a meaningful and most spiritual way.
I've watched with interest this weekend the retraction of Brian Williams and subsequent reaction from media outlets. His misremembering of an event twelve years ago left us thinking something different than what he reported.
This morning I found myself doing some personal Step 4 work around where I'm not completely honest. My daily moral inventory left me thinking, I'm not so different than Mr. Williams. I sometimes embellish a story or may leave people coming to a conclusion that might be slightly more spectacular than the current reality. After all, we love a fabulous story, now don't we? (Not to mention, fabulous people.)
They say the reading we complete is equivalent to that of a PhD program. I believe it. It was like trying to drink water from a fire hose. Lots of information!
There's a lot of stigma and shame tied to any addiction, let alone sex addiction. I learned a lot about the changes in neurochemistry and neuroplasticity of the brain when that addictive switch gets "turned on" (pun intended).
Trauma and Attachment
I also learned a lot about trauma and attachment disorders because that's really much of the psychosocial conditioning that sets one up for neurological changes around arousal. These changes in the brain lead to uncontrolled compulsivity which may result in an intimacy disorder. Put simply, those who meet diagnostic criteria for sex addiction struggle in being emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually intimate with another human being.
As I find them, I'll be adding resources to this blog under the category "Recovery."
You might also notice it's been a while since I've blogged. I thought this topic a great way to kick off my re-entry into my very own blogosphere. A lot has been happening in my life this last year, and I'll do a better job in 2015 of keeping readers and those interested posted via this site.
What if you think you have a problem?
If you think you might have an issue with sex addiction, you can complete a simple survey by completeing this Sex Addiction Screening Test. The 20 short questions will only take a few minutes.