Welcome to my Stories page!

Here you will find stories and my reflections on life, its joys and challenges, relationships, travel, the world out there, the world within, my trauma recovery and healing, creativity, etc, etc, etc. I welcome your comments!

Seven Strategies for Living with Chronic Pain

I am no stranger to chronic pain, primarily related to my spine and head. Low back pain started seemingly out of the blue in my twenties, when I replaced running with walking as my morning exercise. Low impact aerobics were better than no impact aerobics as far as I was concerned.

In my early thirties, recurrent neck and upper back muscle spasms, as well as arm weakness/ numbness/ tingling led to a neurosurgery workup. The myelogram that confirmed a herniated disc also resulted in severe complications (Dural tear and chemical meningitis), leaving me with a 24/7 headache that lasted three years.

I am not kidding.

Yes, three years. Yes 24/7. On a scale of 1-10, it ranged between 4 and 7 on a regular day, 8-10 on a bad day. Burning. Pounding. Like the back of my head was exploding and at the same time someone was trying to pull the facial bones off the front of my head.

Unrelieved by medication. Relieved only by sleeping.

I would eventually undergo surgery, a cervical fusion, and three months later the headache was gone. Oh, sweet blessing of joy!

A couple years later, my "myelogram headache" returned, the result of another neck disc herniation. After treatment with epidural steroid injections - three courses of three injections over the period of three years - I finally stepped away from twenty years of my beloved Operating Room nursing. When people asked me if I missed the OR, I replied that I missed the work, but I did not miss the pain.

Life went on. Pain came and went. I lived with degenerative disc disease, what I jokingly referred to as SFD (shit for discs), and managed, with daily stretching and strengthening exercises, to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. Which included three adventure treks: one each in the Sahara and Jordanian Deserts and the Himalayan Hill Mountains in the Annapurna Conservation Area in Nepal.

In early May 2017, to celebrate the completion of my elderly father’s twice a day post cataract eye drops administration (or as I called it, being the Pop Drop Girl), I decided to treat myself to an ice cream cone nearby. Stepping up on to the ordering area, I slipped on damp pavement. Becoming briefly and completely airborne, I landed flat on my back. In semi shock, I gratefully received a free extra-large ice cream cone for my troubles.

It was delicious.

No surprise, the back and headache troubles resurfaced with a vengeance.

Holistic crack-less chiropractic support, X-Rays, MRIs, a neurosurgeon consult, ten weeks of physical therapy, referral to a local center for pain medicine and multiple procedures later, gratitude for partial relief of head pain and a solid plan to alleviate lower back pain reigned.

Along the way were sprinkled day and weeks that my bed and my exquisite down pillows offered the only relief from the pounding jarring pain in my head and/or the bone deep anguish in my lower back.

What a blessing to sit up, even more so to move around and undertake simple household and outdoor activities. Family and friends came again and again to help with the regular chores beyond my capacity.

Ever seeking the path to optimum health, and knowing that optimum is a relative term, I focused on and now offer these seven strategies to promote the best wellness possible in the presence of chronic pain.

Ill, Still, Chill, Fill, Will, Pill and Drill.

 

ILL: Accept with love and compassion that you are ill with dis-ease,

·      Stop resisting the pain; rather, play with the idea of leaning into it, accepting it. Accepting and loving yourself just the way you are. 

·      Be aware of the sneaky side effect of chronic pain: difficulty concentrating. Don't beat yourself up about this. It's the way things are.

·      Place your hand(s) as close to the source of pain as possible and offer gratitude for all the times in your life that this part of your body sustained you and kept you going. Then offer compassion for the dis-ease you're experiencing, and hope for better days.

·      Pace yourself. You likely have good days and bad days. Honor each of them. Be especially grateful for the good ones and try not to overdo it.

 

STILL: Be still and allow yourself time to rest.

·      Remember, you are not being lazy. Chronic pain consumes huge amounts of energy. It also produces stress, a key culprit in many illnesses.

·      Take a realistic look at your commitments, and adjust them accordingly to free up time for self-care.

·      Learn to pre-emptively say NO.

·      Learn to go slow, or at least as slowly as your life circumstances allow.

·      If necessary, arrange for someone to watch the kids for thirty minutes so you can rest in quiet. An over-the-ears noise reduction headset, soft calming music, and eye pillow offer added respite, even if only for a few minutes.

 

CHILL: If possible, chill the area of pain with a cold pack.

·      If warmth feels better, it’s ok to use that.

·      You can grab a frozen bag of peas, make your own cold pack, or select from numerous products available online for both hot and cold therapy. Elastogel pads are my favorite, especially because they can be frozen for cold and heated in the microwave for hot. I use one specially made for head/neck and another long one for spine.

·      Important! Be sure to limit use of hot or cold packs to twenty minutes at a time, waiting two hours before reapplying.

 

FILL: As much as possible, fill your time and space with that which nourishes you.

·      If you need help, ask for it. You are important and you deserve support.

·      Look around your space. What about it could you change, within reason, that would make you feel better?

·      Turn off the news. Stop reading, watching or listening to it. It's an energy drainer. My attitude is that if it's important enough, I'll see something on Facebook.  Speaking of Facebook… if you are a regular, pay attention to what you're paying attention to. Move on from posts that drain your emotional energy. Give yourself permission to step away, unfollow, leave.

·      Play Reiki healing recordings. Healing energy is healing energy no matter where it comes from, and this is my  favorite.

·      Consider EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) tapping as a powerfully self-loving adjunctive treatment modality. Brad Yates is the master of online tapping videos and you can find one on tapping for pain here 

·      Turn on funny and inspiring YouTube videos. My current favorite is the two young choir boys signing a meow song with deadpan faces. I laugh out loud every time.

·      You can find my all-time favorite uplifting YouTube videos here. Just scroll down to the bottom.

 

WILL: Use your power of intention, your will power, in the direction of health.

·      You may have to live with chronic pain the rest of your life. Remember, joy lives here too.

·      It’s also possible that your chronic pain is rooted in emotional pain and scars that can be healed. For example, when I was meeting with a therapist in 2008, I mentioned I had lived with back pain most of my adult life. Her immediate question, “How were you unsupported in your life?” was quickly followed by my response of “It would be easier to answer that by naming the few times I felt supported.”

·      Be willing to consider professional help. Body/energy, traditional therapy, and/or Somatic Experiencing may change your life for the better. It did mine. You can learn more about resources I’ve found helpful in the last link above.

·      Make healthy choices about what you put in your body, trusting that your body will respond with better health. By the same token, if you're having a really bad day and that sweet treat will soften your distress, enjoy it. My motto: moderation in all things, including moderation.

·      Move as much as you safely can. Take a slow walk. If that's too much, move around the house. If that's too much, move around on the sofa or in your bed. Contract and relax your muscles. Still too much? Then imagine walking, imagine moving, imagine contracting and relaxing your muscles. Believe it or not, even that has benefits.

·      Be willing to release that which no longer serves you. Are you holding on to items or beliefs you no longer need? Clearing the space in your head and your home allows the creation of a new, healing flow.

·      Your pain may or may not change; your heart and spirit definitely will… for the better. 

 

PILL: There very well may be a place for pain pills in managing your pain.

·      If you are using over the counter and/or prescription medication, take each pill with mindfulness and intention.

·      Before taking each pill, pause to consider if you’re doing this out of habit and if you really need it.

·      If you don’t really need it, set it aside for now.

·      If you really need it, take it. Especially if you’re dealing with severe pain, which is hard to get control of if you wait too long.

·      If you know you’re going to be physically active doing things that typically increase your pain, be sure to take your pain medication about an hour beforehand.

·      If you’re using aspirin or any of the NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen) medications, make sure you take it with food. The last thing you want is an ulcer on top of your present pain. If you keep these meds by your bed, keep something healthy to eat, like protein bars or nuts there as well.

·      Make sure you do not exceed the maximum daily allowance of any medication, especially those including acetaminophen and/or paracetamol. Years ago, these alternatives to aspirin were thought to be free of side effects. More recent studies have shown that they can damage the liver if overused.

 

DRILL: Do the drill of using the resources you have at your disposal.

·      If you have physical therapy exercises you’re supposed to do daily, do them daily. If it’s too painful, follow up with your doctor and/or trainer, and ask for an alternative.

·      Create an environment in your home that supports you. To expand on the point above in the “Will” section ask for help to remove clutter if you cannot do it yourself. Looking at a mess does nothing positive for your pain and can add stress.

·      Develop a regular morning and evening routine and stick to it as much as possible. Your nervous system likes routine, and may reward you with an easing of your pain symptoms.

·      Try to get enough sleep every night.

·      Schedule your daytime physical activities to when you feel best.

·      Imagine there's a loving peace-mongering drill sergeant whispering sweetly at you to keep going, you can do this.

One final very important consideration is to keep your sense of humor alive. Laughter truly is the best medicine. It is in a spirit of humor that I share with you this pain process workflow, the idea of creating being a through back to my healthcare informatics workflow documentation days. To best enjoy and learn from it, go through it bit by bit. Follow one train of thought to its conclusion without concern for the other bits. 

 

 

 

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Desert Wisdom

As we approach Thanksgiving here in the USA, we reflect on those for whom and that for which we are thankful. Every year, my mind immediately goes to the basics: faith, family, friends.  Words of gratitude shared, hearts warmed.

This year, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs comes to mind… for the basics - physiologic and safety needs - stand in danger of imbalance in ways I've NEVER experienced in my life. Truth be told (and at a time like this, I am best served by facing the truth), looming scarcity is scaring me... thankfully into an action plan. 

Maslow.png

That said, coming to terms with my financial reality shocks me. How did this happen?  How did I let this happen? Why did I let this happen???

Recognizing these as not enough/fear based questions, I remember to bring compassion alongside curiosity. I am still good. I am still important. I still matter. Though I cannot fathom the bigger picture, I choose to trust. I choose to find my way out of this barren desert with its lessons hard learned. I believe I am right where I'm meant to be, that all will work out. I can actually feel a sense of deep gratitude for my dire financial straits. 

Marie Forleo coined the phrase "everything is figureoutable" and I lean gratefully on that promise today. Next to that, my morning scripture reading comes from the Old Testament, from the chosen people, those who spent long years in the desert. Wisdom 2:23-3:9* speaks to me, calling out to be paraphrased, and I allow myself to be drawn into its somehow nourishing, desertesque mystery... 

Doha concrete wall mandala.png

Desert Wisdom

God intends Abundance Art to thrive;

In the image of his own nature he manifested it through me.

 

Despite best intentions and efforts, the creative livelihood fizzles, desperate.

I feel the doubt and despair of bitter disappointment.

I am overwhelmed by it.

 

Then I remember… Abundance Art remains in the hand of God, 

and no torment shall touch it. I claim this truth.

My dream, my vision, my mission may seem, in the view of skeptics, dead;

this seeming failure thought finished business

and my passion in going forth in it utter foolishness.

 

But wait, I too am at peace.

For if up to now, if spendingselffundingretirementmoneygoneoverwhelmingdebt, indeed, be seen as ridiculous loss,

yet my hope remains full of promise;

 

Pruned muchly, I shall be greatly blessed,

because God tried me

and has found Abundance Art worthy of himself.

 

As gold in the furnace, he proved me,

and as sacrificial offerings he took every clouded dream to himself.

So that at the right time, Abundance Art shall shine brightly,

and shall dart about as sparks in the darkness.

 

Creativity, nourishment, love and healing shall reach nations and touch the hearts of peoples around the world,

and the Lord shall be my King forever.

I shall understand truth,

and Abundance Art shall abide with him in love.

 

Because grace, mercy and prosperity are with his holy ones,

and his abundant care is with me, always.

 *Paraphrased from Wisdom 2:23-3:9. Actual text follows (Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine):

God formed man to be imperishable;
the image of his own nature he made them.
But by the envy of the Devil, death entered the world,
and they who are in his possession experience it.

But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, 
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
They shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.

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Forgiveness and the Five Thousand Dollar Ice Cream Cone

"No thanks" he told me. "I'm ready to go home." This surprised me, as Dad rarely passed the opportunity for ice cream, especially if it was my treat. And this occasion had cause for celebration. We had just completed his post cataract surgery follow up appointment as well as six weeks of twice-daily-eye-drops (or as I preferred to call them, Pop drops).

Delivering Dad home, I pursued the treat beckoning to me from a local popular frozen custard place.

I stepped up onto the pavement, noticing at the back of my mind that the day's rain had dampened the concrete area outside the ordering window. The large wipe-your-feet-mat had absorbed the rain, and I thought to myself "wow - this is soaked!"

My step on and off the soaked mat onto the damp concrete would change my life.

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It's called a slip and fall, and indeed I did slip and fall… flat on my back, grateful for the recently accumulated extra padding on my backside. Thankfully my head did not hit the ground, though the effort to keep it from doing so would wreak havoc with my neck and shoulder muscles, tendons and ligaments. Plus that thing called the spine: it bore the brunt of the fall. I lay briefly, sensing how I felt, realizing with gratitude that I was ok enough to wave off the kind people coming to help.

I gingerly walked up to the counter, acutely aware of the absence of Caution signs. I sweetly asked the young lady behind the counter "Do you give free ice cream cones to people who slip on your pavement?" Her compassionate and spot-on answer was "of course! Are you ok?" I assured her I was, commenting that perhaps this wasn't a good day for me to be wearing my flip flops with the traction long worn off.  I received a really nice cone for my troubles, snapped a friendly photo of it for social media, and headed - very carefully - back to my car.

Little did I realize how impactful (pun definitely intended) this slip and fall would be…

4 the 5k ice cream cone.png

As in massive diffuse injury along my entire spine, neck to tailbone: five bulging discs with nerve root compression left and right at multiple levels in my neck, mid and lower back, with concomitant muscle spasms. Throw in some bone spurs and spinal canal stenosis that had developed over time and the icing on cake - an unrelenting (aka 24/7) and often severe headache, barely responsive to meds and consuming of critical thinking and concentration.

Two weeks later, on a bright sunny day, I returned for another cone. Bright yellow caution signs welcomed, hello! How curious! Aware of the back story (again, pun very much intended), I found it a bit ironic.

I had a specific purpose for this visit: a sort of re-enactment - minus the slip and fall. In keeping with the Somatic Experiencing™ (SE®) trauma healing modality I'd be treated with for the last seven years, this meant lying on the pavement for several minutes, recalling the actual fall, and allowing my body and nervous system the space and time to calm. Something I hadn't thought of on injury day. So there I lay, observing how the concrete felt under my body, listening to the sounds of traffic, smelling the summer day, watching the billowy clouds make their way across the sky. Tasting the yummy ice cream cone I had purchased. My nieces accompanying me sat nearby chatting, familiar with my SE healing routine.

 Taking slow deep breaths in, letting them out mindfully.

Taking slow deep breaths in, letting them out mindfully.

I felt my body shift, legs adjusting themselves just a bit, a sensation of tingling ascending from my tailbone through my spine up to the back of my head. Big yawns emerged, a classic sign of trapped energy being released, my nervous system settling, righting itself. An all around amazing experience. While it did not relieve my symptoms, the experience cleared additional accumulated trauma, allowing me to move forward on an even playing field, so to speak.

Fast forward four months. Claim filed with company's insurance, paperwork submitted, investigation completed, claim denied. Discussion with attorney helped me understand that slip and fall cases are very prolonged and expensive with burden of proof on the injured to demonstrate that the defendant was negligent. They wouldn't even take on such a case. I kicked myself mentally for not snapping a photo of the surroundings that fatefully awful fall-full day.

Having undertaken every feasible avenue of care (doctor appointments, x-rays, prescription anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxants, cold packs, bedrest, holistic chiropractic care, bio-energetics work, MRIs, neurosurgery consult, Physical Therapy, Aquatics Therapy, bedrest, cold packs,  bedrest, cold packs, ad infinitum, I continued to suffer from debilitating pain. Laundry, dishes, paperwork piled up and the little energy I had I devoted to editing my book, keeping social media posts going, creating marketing video slideshows and painting beautiful commission art pieces until my legs, numbed, carried me back to bed.

By now I had paid about $5000.00 out-of-pocket for medical expenses. I thanked God for my personal insurance, for which I pay $700 every month. Because of it, I was spared additional tens of thousands of dollars.  

At the same time, I felt so angry! I felt so frustrated! I felt so sad!

Now calling on the resources I learned through years of trauma recovery, I allowed myself to really FEEL these emotions. To make space and time for my wounded spirit to heal... which would mean forgiveness:

  1. For the company's insurance plan not including a "no fault" clause (like most plans do) that would have paid out $5k. 
  2. For state law that placed the burden of proof that the company was negligent on me.
  3. For the employee who lied about caution signs being out. She's a lovely young woman and I believe she was just protecting her job.
  4. For the insurance company taking the employee's lie over my truth.
  5. For MYSELF, for wearing slippery flip flops on a rainy day and for not thinking to walk extra carefully on the damp pavement. 

And guess what happened? Making room and space for the anger and disappointment actually created more space for acceptance, kindness, forgiveness. The burden of resentment lifted and in its place surfaced compassion and curiosity, both rooted in love, not fear.

Five months to the date from my injury, I underwent a cervical (neck) epidural steroid injection. The procedure? You can google it if you're interested. Having had nine of these in past years, I knew what to expect: an icky quickie. The staff were kind and compassionate, especially when I explained up front that as a trauma survivor I had special needs, and how they could help by allowing me extra time to process what was happening. And not be concerned when I started yawning - really big extended yawns with cat-hiss like sounds. It was all good. 

Such self love! Such validation that I matter!

I imagined the healing medication bathing my inflamed nerve roots, helping them settle down. Now, almost 48 hours later, I'm experiencing some relief for the first time in months. Thanks to the steroid component, I'm also more energetic, which comes in handy as I prepare for a week out of town. 

I may require a second injection in four weeks, depending on the full result from this one. Then it's on to a lower back injection. Wow - it's a relief to know my plan of care and the hope it holds.

Yes, a spark of hope… perhaps it's possible after all to undertake training starting the first of the year in preparation for an Icelandic trek scheduled next July. I'd love that… either way, I've done my best. Patting myself on the back now.

What a wonderful shifting occurs moving from fear to love, making room for me. I deserve that, because I matter. 

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Helped By a Cheeky Little Monkey

Time to share a cheeky peek at my most recent trauma recovery therapy session.

Having completed almost seven years of weekly Somatic Experiencing™ (SE®) sessions with my incredible SE certified therapist, I now go for monthly what I call "maintenance" sessions. And I'm so glad, because stuff continues to come up.

They say we're never really finished, and it's true. I've been deeply disappointed and curious at the lack of sales in my creative business, finally arriving at an awareness that I was mentally/energetically putting up a "closed" sign even as I was marketing and redesigning website content to clear the path for my ideal clients and being two weeks shy of releasing my first Amazon book From Fear to Love How Creativity Saved My Life and Will Change Yours for the Better.

Finally, with the help of my therapist, I spoke the words that have evaded me for years.

I am afraid of being successful/happy because it will all be taken away from me.

It all comes down to abandonment, my very earliest wounding.

Being certified in play therapy as well, my therapist took me through a profoundly moving exercise. At her direction, I chose toys that represented this fear (the orange - oh how I don't like the color orange!- plush octopus, grasping my fear in its tentacles) and happiness (my competent protector lion with its courage and mighty roar, King Kong that had me smiling, and the tiny felt-covered monkey with brightly piercing and beguiling eyes).


 

Happy Trio :)


My therapist had me focus, agenda-free, on the octopus for about 30 seconds, paying attention to what showed up in my body. I then followed her moving finger with my eyes to the pictured characters, focusing, again agenda-free, for about 30 seconds, and again paying attention to what showed up in my body. Back and forth three times. Sort of a playful EMDR. Sort of...

Octopus: I curled away from it, arms protecting myself. Grief and sadness poured out in my tears. I hissed at it, stomped on it with my foot.

Happy trio: I smiled and giggled, leaning in towards them and placing the little monkey on King Kong's head. I cried soft little tears of longing.

After the transitions, I sat quietly, waiting to see how my body reacted. React it did, with random twitches, stretches, contractions... and without tears.

Wrapping up, my therapist told me that this would likely continue over the next few days. When I asked what "this" was, she replied that it was my disorganized nervous system seeking to organize. Made enough sense to me, given the vast realm of releasing and creating new neural pathways I've experienced under her care these last years.

Still, how amazing and quasi-mysterious it all remains to me, a registered nurse turned healthcare informatics consultant turned artist and writer, with a keen clinical perspective and fascination with the anatomical and physiological dynamics of SE.

And how wonderful that my deep sense of abandonment was softened a bit by the whimsical gaze of a cheeky little monkey.

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Proud to Be an HSP

"The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear." - Rumi

Do you consider yourself an extravert* or introvert? How about an HSP (highly sensitive person)?

After a lifetime of extraversion, I began drawing inward as I underwent extensive trauma recovery therapy. Having previously found energy in the company of others, I now sought solitude for safety and protection, renewal and replenishment. 

Had I become an introvert? I lightheartedly referred to myself as an inextrovert, unsure of and curious about just what I really was. It’s not that I needed a label. I just wanted to understand myself better.

Exploring this further found me participating in a brief study held by Jacquelyn Strickland, LPC, HSP, titled Myers Briggs – HSP Overlay. By filling out the assessment and participating in two in-depth interviews via conference call, I had my answer… as a guideline, not a rule book. Most importantly, the exercise helped me make sense of my character traits, which allowed me to more fully understand and embrace my growing authentic wholeness.

Turns out I am an ESFJ (Extraversion, Sensing, Feeling, Judgment), with HSP overlay. Translated in a nutshell, I belong to a rare breed: the highly sensitive extrovert. With my own unique blend of strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths:

  • Strong Practical Skills – check!
  • Strong Sense of Duty – check!
  • Very Loyal – check!
  • Sensitive and Warm – check!
  • Good at Connecting with Others – check!

 

Weaknesses:

  • Worried about Their Social Status – I may have in the past. Not an issue for me now.
  • Inflexible – I used to be. Nothing like over six years of trauma recovery to loosen me up!
  • Reluctant to Innovate or Improvise – I used to hate change, then I came to embrace it.
  • Vulnerable to Criticism – I used to be, and it can still niggle. In his book The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz instructs the reader to not take anything personally, that whatever anyone says is a reflection of their own reality. He goes on to note that this one agreement can be life changing. It was. And is.
  • Often Too Needy – Yep, I saw myself there, though I’d rather remove the word “Too” as I never saw myself as a nagger or stalker(!). Now, I know to ask for support when I need it.
  • Too Selfless – Definitely. This was all connected with my trauma. Praise God, with the help of therapy and the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud, I SO got over that.

 

HSP Overlay

Until this experience, I was what’s called a socialized HSP, meaning that I had adapted throughout  my childhood, adolescence and adulthood to survive and often excel in the dynamics in which I was surrounded. The thing is, I often felt different, like I somehow didn't quite fit. A round peg in a square hole. The little girl that is me didn't have an authentic voice. She had a survival voice.

Allowing myself to transform into an authentic HSP, I learned the value and importance of giving myself the space and time to refresh and renew in solitude so that I could enjoy being in the company of others. My strong startle reflex and sensitivity to my environment, especially to loud or competing sounds and harsh light made sense.

Understanding myself has helped me prepare for and frame my experiences in such a way as to fully support myself. With great love and compassion. 

For example, on choosing a restaurant, I consider the acoustics, steering away from loud places, opting for quieter venues. Finding myself in a loud crowded space, I chose to refrain from trying to talk/shout above the noise. On internet conference calls, when background noises distract me silly, I kindly ask others to mute themselves. I pace myself in my commitments, saying "no" much more readily than in the past. I pay attention to how I feel, both emotionally and physically, and I give myself extra time between tasks, errands, appointments, etc. I go slow. Slowly. Slow.

 go slow, acrylic on paper, 2012

go slow, acrylic on paper, 2012

When I find myself in overwhelm, I take action to reduce it instead of ignoring and pushing through it. That might mean clearing my schedule of commitments, and opting for what truly nourishes me. 

Most significantly, I work with a business coach who, being a successful HSP Entrepreneur, caters specifically to the HSP. Spending time with her and other HSPs via a “Mastermind” group brings a sense of belonging, of peace. The peace of self-love, of total acceptance of and support for the whole of me. I'm home in my heart. Which helps me grow in my business.

I'm so thankful for the strength and fortitude with which I’ve been blessed through my healing journey. For the courage, patience and perseverance to trust, even when things go awry. Owning my sensitivity is a beautiful way of owning my own power as well, which in turn allows me to shift my thinking from fear-based to love-based. 

And that, in turn, opens my heart and my life, creating space for more blessings, more abundance. It brings me into alignment with my soul's highest self. Something we're all meant to know and experience.

Who or what are you? Are you on a path to your truest highest self?

 

*I always thought this word was spelled extrovert. As I was writing my book From Fear to Love How Creativity Saved My Life and Will Change Yours for the Better, I googled to determine the correct version. This result takes the cake: "Folklore has it that when Carl Jung was once asked which was the correct spelling—ExtrAvert or ExtrOvert—Jung's secretary wrote back something like, 'Dr. Jung says it's ExtrAverted, because ExtrOverted is just bad Latin.'"

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Real Me

As I work on my new book, From Fear to Love How Creativity Saved My Life and Will Change Yours for the Better, I'm intrigued by a memory from the summer of 2012, when I was living and working in Doha, Qatar in the Middle East. This is a memory I revisit everyday, one that fills me with hope and love and compassion. You'll see why and how in a moment. 

My painting "Real Me" started as a large (about 36"x48") venting bit of journaling and drawing, through which I expressed all of the feelings and thoughts I was experiencing at the time. Frustration at work, in my trauma recovery therapy, at the heat and relentless desert sun poured out onto the paper. 

Real Me Words, 2012. Want to read the words? You can zoom in by clicking on the image and using your device's feature to expand the image. Full disclosure - I use the f word... once.

After the catharsis of my writing, I gave some space and time to absorb and reflect. Then I set about painting over each section, the words taking on a new form, a visual expression. The colors, the manifestation of my real truth empowered me, delighted me. I could feel myself growing more connected to my truth, my essence. It was a most powerful experience.

To this day, “Real Me” remains perhaps my most authentic piece. Whenever I look at it, I know the story behind each aspect. It hangs in my bedroom, where I see it every morning on awakening and at night as I prepare to go to sleep. I have NEVER tired of it, and I continue to receive its truth,  nourishment, and healing. It, in turn, continues to save my life.

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Trauma Surprise and Resources

On the way to church yesterday, I shared with Dad my awareness of how difficult it is these days to get motivated to work on projects and chores in my house, life and work.

I reflected silently that I've been carrying an image of myself from years past in which I become almost like a tornado, tearing through my chores and errands, energized by the prospect of having my to-do list completed.

Continuing my inward thoughts, I'd been waiting for that tornado-that-is-me to manifest itself again. THEN I would get caught up on my backed-up piles of laundry, paperwork, dishes, outdoor chores, errands and lists of to do items for my business.

Returning to the conversation with my father, I also shared with him that I have slowly come to the realization that it will not likely be that way again. It's ok to content myself with baby steps, knowing that though it all may take longer, it will indeed all get done. That it will be ok.

As I spoke these words, a lump formed in my throat and my tears welled in my eyes. I had just named something both known and yet new aloud, aware of the letting go of something old and deeply entrenched. More time and space would be needed to process this in private, later.

Surprisingly sooner rather than later.

In church, the first Sunday of Lent brings with it the praying of the Confiteor, a confession.

Oh, how I struggle with the harsh words of this prayer:

I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore, I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.  

Without meaning to sound holier than thou, here's how I look at life: I believe God loves me unconditionally, and I live my life doing my best loving him back.

Also, seven plus years of extensive and comprehensive trauma recovery and healing taught me what REAL compassion and love look like. First and foremost, for the little girl that is me. Then for all God's children and all his creation.

Me perfect? Absolutely not. Me a sinner? Yes, when I push God away or purposely ignore his call for help in my encounters with others. Even then, our extraordinarily compassionate God sees our hearts and understands when we're trying our best, even when our best is none too good.

And so, when it's time for the Confiteor, the heartfelt prayer I offer up is a version of my highest truth:

I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do. I ask you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

This morning, as the congregation reached the words,

through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,

a passionate voice deep within me - the little girl that is me - suddenly and silently shouted no! no! no! no! And I just started crying, the kind of crying that wanted OUT. I excused myself to my father, saying I needed to go sit in the car.

Once inside my car, my crying turned quickly to sobbing, coughing, keening, waling and shaking all over. These typical physical reactions in Somatic Experiencing revealed to me that something(s) had triggered a trauma activation, that the best thing I could do was give my body's wisdom space and time to process and release trapped energy safely. I opened the windows slightly to allow fresh air in and released energy out.

The no-words releasing included no-words praying, me tightly clutching a small hand carved and buffed wooden cross designed with curves to be hand held. Because of its small perfect knot defect, I named it Wholely Holey Holy Lord. I held on to it for dear life for comfort and strength, so thankful for my long-ago decision to keep it in my car.

And I reached out for help. I messaged my therapist. I drew a mandala (part of my trauma healing process) on my iPhone and sent it to her so she would have a better idea of what was going on inside of me, and she texted back feedback that strengthened me. We would talk in an hour. In the meantime, I pictured her sitting next to me, supporting me.

The imagination is an amazing healing resource.

I started to journal, another resource in my trauma healing toolkit. This article completes what began in the car. 

My father and my brother the father (a priest, my pastor, a real blessing) both showed up for me after mass with compassion. As I drove Dad home, we talked a bit about my experience, and when I dropped him off he asked not just for a hug, but for a big hug, telling me he loved me. It meant the world to me, that love and support coming from him. So much healing there...

Late in the evening, my brother and I spoke briefly, sharing a special connection.

Somatic Experiencing, depending on the intensity of the work can be very energy consuming. I knew I would require extra rest, allowing for the limp noodle feeling this morning. Resting and working in bed, the cool wind blowing through the open windows, nourished my healing body, soul, and the little girl that is me today.

I thank God for my healing over the years. Yes, there are still surprises, unexpected triggers and activations that come from seemingly out of nowhere. They don’t frighten me like they used to.

I have a magnificent toolkit of resources. 

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The Power of Telling My Truth

As artist, writer, and owner of my own creative entrepreneurial small business, I've learned more than I could have imagined these last few years. Blessed with supporters and consultants who helped me create a strong foundational structure, including my website, I love having a place to share my creativity.

This, my third and final career, was born out of an immense healing journey that has spanned the last almost ten years. Coming from a background of operating room/theatre nursing and clinical informatics, I would find and come to know and love my deepest truest self through trauma recovery and healing.

I would also discover my inner prolific artist. And my vision and mission: to live abundantly by nourishing the world with what nourished me. My passion would include sharing my story of trauma healing through art.

Painting, photography, drawing, illustrating, journaling, poetry, memoir and blogging all found their places on my website. The online store opened a year later. Then, contrary to my previous professional experiences and the expectation that once I built it they would come, nothing happened.

Well, barely nothing. I did make a few small sales, and began to grow my subscriber list. I received positive feedback from friends and family and online coaching communities. Then… comments that there was too much, it was confusing, they weren't sure where to go or what it was I was trying to say, share, accomplish.

Redesign was in order.  I was optimistic and intentional about this being the right path to take.

Upscale photographic metal prints of my Chandeliers from Russia collection would be featured on a separate website, designed with a contemporary, glossy theme.

I would remove all trauma related content from my original website, because it seemed a distraction from the art I wanted to sell.

The new design and redesign proceeded. I confess I felt like I was cutting a part of my own self/soul off as I pruned my original website of its trauma content. Still, I persisted, creating clean and clear cut design and messaging.

No sales. Even with 30%, 50% discount promotions.

I had worked so hard, followed the guidance of paid and unpaid consultants, grown a following on Instagram and Facebook, boosted and promoted, been liked and followed.

But no conversion to sales.

The one thing that kept me going (in addition to my firm conviction that this is my calling and it is meant to be) was that interaction with the world through my Instagram and Facebook posts, as well as my online coaching group. And the encouraging responses I received: Keep going. You got this. So inspiring. Thank you.

Also, I had begun work on my book From Fear to Love: One Woman's Courageous Journey Through Trauma Recovery, an energizing undertaking. And eventually I figured out what was really going on, learning a very important truth:

My story, my journey, my creativity all comprise a complete whole that cannot and should not be pulled apart. They are both meant to be explored. Together or separately. Sharing my trauma healing story, my truth, my ME, makes me feel complete.

With great love, I redesigned the redesign of my original website. I also redesigned the new website a bit to better fit who I am and how I want my beautiful chandelier photos to be experienced online. And I felt better, whole again.

And now we get to the heart of this little essay:

Less than one week after adding those images and poems, journal excerpts and trauma healing stories back to my website, I received an email from a reader, and here are some excerpts:

I just want to say thank you. I stumbled across you today and it couldn't have been more timely for me… your words on working through your own trauma gave me an unexpected sense of peace… Just a few minutes going through your posts has helped me breathe again through my anxieties and re-center myself on all of my abundant blessings. I can and will move forward- I will be better than okay!

I don't know if you have many people who stop to take a moment to acknowledge the good you're putting out in the world…. So thank you. Thank you for sharing your journey, and for your honesty and bravery in doing so. Thank you for putting good out into the world. And thank you for somehow being in the right place at the right moment for me. 

Talk about timing! I felt a profound sense of gratitude learning that the sharing of my story helped someone else. It strengthened my deep commitment to and belief in my calling to nourish the world. That it will all fall in place.

THAT is the power of telling my truth.

May you be blessed with knowing and loving your deepest self. And the courage to tell your truth.

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Ready for Joy

How do you start your day? Do you have a regular self care routine or do you rush about to get out the door?

I find myself most mornings these days spending a few minutes in the modules of the self paced online program Reinventing The Body, Resurrecting the Soul by Deepak Chopra. It mirrors his book by the same name.

Course participants read the module content, reflect on questions, and are encouraged to share their reactions and/or experiences in comments. Yesterday,  as I worked on content related to our physical and energetic bodies and emotions, I shared the following:

Emotional energy: as a recovering trauma survivor, I spent over six years working weekly with a therapist certified in Somatic Experiencing. From a state of freeze, totally cut off from my emotions and my body (physical and energetic), I transitioned over the years of healing to a completely different state of being. One in which I slowly and safely began to experience and learn to name my multitude of emotions, allowing space for all of them. My physical body was able to release the energy trapped by decades old trauma, finding its way out of freeze, discovering fight and flight. I met and fell in love with the little girl that is me, co-habitator of my soul.

As I continue in my journey, I live a deep abiding sense of love and compassion for that little girl that is me, and also for all of God's children and all his creation. On occasion, I encounter triggers and "the trick of trauma" which leads to times of anxiety and depression. When I recognize what'shappening, I draw on the resources I learned over the years.

Sometimes that means clearing my calendar for several days as I lovingly care for myself, remembering to reach out for support, and checking in frequently with the little girl that is me. It might include a call or visit to my therapist to help me untangle what has surfaced.

Throughout these years, and every single day, I choose life. My stubborn (and life saving) determination to see this through to the other side, along with the trust I place in God to carry me when I cannot walk, help me to choose life and love. Every single day. Sometimes every hour.

I've worked so hard, with great courage. I have gone places within that few have dared, facing deep darkness, experiencing my fear and replacing it with love.

The image of the phoenix, who rises anew from its own ashes expresses this beautifully. I am reminded of this every time I pull out my business card case. 

I always believed I am on a healing path.

And now I'm ready for joy.

 

Straightaway, another participant commented: Thank you. You note is felt and appreciated. I feel calmer and hopeful. I think my shoulders even dropped back to offer space for a full inhale & a bit of relief for my heart.

Oh! My sharing HELPED someone! I replied to him, telling him that now I felt better as well.

And then later another comment: Thank you so much for sharing Annette, you have brought comfort within my journey. To bringing Love, Joy and Peace to that beautiful little girl. I'm also learning and healing the depths of trauma and finding my way out of freeze. Great courage, Great Love. :) I also am ready to surrender into joy. Take care.

Oh! I helped someone else! More than that, I'm reminded that I'm not alone, contrary to what the trick of trauma would have me believe. There are people out there that really understand me. This. I am comforted and reassured. I am not alone. 

I think joy may be within my reach.

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From Fear to Love

Do you have any New Year's resolutions? What do you think of the idea that it doesn't have to be something you start on day one and stick to every day? What if it could be a sure and steady and sustained resolution that results in you (and perhaps your part of the world?) being in a better place at the end of the year than at the beginning.

That's my kind of resolution. Besides, being the go slow girl (and proud of it), it's what works for me.

And that takes patience.

The kind of patience I have with myself as I radically redesign my website. I recently blogged about this pruning, which you can read about here.

And now I get to share the other part. Which just happens to tie into one of my New Year's resolutions.  

First, as a quick reminder, this year I finished six and a half years of trauma recovery therapy with Candy, my at-the-time therapist, who has been certified in Somatic Experiencing for well over twenty years. The basic premise with this modality is that the body holds energy trapped during trauma (emotional overwhelm). The body (Somatic) and the central nervous system are able to very slowly (repeat very slowly) release that trapped energy (Experiencing) during therapy. That's it in a nano-nutshell. This short video that Candy and I created in summer of 2016 does a great job of introducing Trauma and Somatic Experiencing. FYI, gswoj stands for go slow woman on a journey.

The stuff I took off the website - poetry, memoir, mandalas, journal excerpts and illustrations - was created during my trauma recovery, and it's still very much around as an expression of my healing. Much of it will find its way into a book that Candy, now my life coach and collaborator, are co-authoring.

A book! One of my New Year's Resolutions!

Candy and I actually started on the book back in late 2014, when we agreed the overall structure, milestones, and story telling approach. We both felt a passion (I had a fire in my belly!) to get the word out about Somatic Experiencing as a very effective treatment modality for trauma recovery.

Do you ever feel like you're ready for something and you find out that life has different plans? This reminds me of the old joke: Want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.

Sidetracked for almost two years with mysterious, repeated and prolonged medical and surgical circumstances, I kept trusting that what was going on with my body was part of a much larger healing path. Somatic, after all, basically means related to the body, and removal of 7 organs over that period of time was certainly a sort of releasing.

Thankfully, the fire in my belly was not removed.

Candy and I were able to resume our efforts recently. Today the framework, Introduction, and Chapter One are in the hands of my editor for review. Our working title is From Fear to Love: One Woman's Courageous Journey Through Trauma Recovery.

I am now patting myself on the back for meeting an important end of 2016 goal. Well done us!

When you undertake a project about which you are really pumped, how do you describe that to someone else?

Let me try: I'm thrilled and energized about how we're manifesting this book and who it will serve.

First, the framework includes three major sections I intuitively understood and named way back in 2008:

  • Discovery - learning what needs healing
  • Uncovery - getting to the bottom of my wounding
  • Recovery- integrating healing and new truths into my life

Within each section, each chapter has its own framework:

  • I tell my portion of the story in first person, present tense.
  • Candy tells her portion related to my story in first person past tense.
  • We include photos of my journal entries and illustrations and paintings as relevant.
  • We wrap up with a summary and resources (as well as at the end of the book).

Next, the answer to a very important question. Because we can talk and write all we want and if it isn't relevant and doesn't serve, what’s the point?

I believe with all my heart that this book will inspire, heal, empower and help these people and more:

  • Therapists who want to learn more about trauma and Somatic Experiencing in particular
  • Therapists who are already certified in Somatic Experiencing
  • MDs, PhDs and researchers who focus on neurobiophysiology and psychosomatic neurology
  • Behavioral science students, social workers, psych nurses, doctors, practitioners and other clinicians
  • Motivational and metaphysical speakers and writers
  • People who know they are trauma survivors and want some point of reference and/or direction
  • People who struggle with life and don't understand why
  • People who live with PTSD, anxiety and/or depression, who are or are not in therapy
  • People who are in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and/or EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) who aren't getting better.
  • The families and loved ones of the people above

Anyone wondering why we are doing this?

The answer is simple. My heart and the fire in my belly keeps telling me to get the word out about Somatic Experiencing.

And it's ok if we work on it all year long.

Go slow and prosper!

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A Bit About Painting

Tonight I am really missing painting.

Between writing and distributing a daily blog, helping my Dad with some health issues, preparing my new website for launch and just daily living stuff, I've not taken time to pick out a new canvas, paints and brush.

In fact, I'm missing it so much that after I finish this, I just might create a little something.

How do you manage to squeeze in the activities in your life that really fill and nourish you?

How about taking a moment now and just enjoy some of the images from my paintings gallery, with or without titles. Just soak up the color, the whimsy, the energy.

About a half hour ago, I was inspired to create a little video tour of my studio/office/prayer and meditation room. It just bubbled up in my thoughts, and the next thing I knew it was done. So now I want to share my creative space with you.

I wish you could sit here and have a cup of tea with me as we look around. And smell the exquisite incense.

Ahh, that was nice...

To think I might have missed this calling. Back in 2010, having spent 35 years in nursing and healthcare informatics consulting, I made the decision to quit my job and answer the little girl that is me who pleaded "Please listen to me! I really need this!"

So, I began exploring my creative side in 2011, on January 12th, my birthday.

Having no formal art education, I worked with Pamela Hawkins, a local artist and at the time art medicine woman. She taught me the style called process painting.

This meant beginning my paintings simply by discerning what colors appealed, how I wanted to move (i.e. in long broad strokes versus swirls or circles or both), and what brushes I felt like using, along with what size I wanted to create. One of the coolest things I learned was that I could always add more paper if the painting called for it.

I was hooked. I set up my own little studio space in my home, starting with tempera on paper. In sessions over the next few years, she provided a safe and nurturing place, along with all supplies, and I painted and painted and painted.

It was she who taught me that I am the painter, the paint, and the painting. 

I've since progressed to acrylic on canvas, all sizes, though am drawn more and more to larger sizes. I love how it feels to move my body back and forth as I'm creating. Then stepping back to see what has shown up on the canvas. I'm often surprised, and there's a wonderful sense when the painting says "I'm finished now."

When a friend saw one of my paintings, he asked, "That came from your head?" to which I replied, "No, it came from my heart."

The truth is, a bit of my heart, soul and love remains in each of my paintings.

Wouldn't it be cool to create something together, you and I? I'm offering Something for Your Soul for those on a healing path and/or celebrating an accomplishment.. 

Well, I gotta go now because I want to paint.

Do reach out to me if you're feeling the vibe to co-create now. Or to make a gift for someone.

Let's manifest something beautiful together!

PS - After I wrote the blog and before I posted the email to my subscriber list, I did a bit of painting: I was so wanting to just fill the canvas with Cobalt Blue. 

So I did. First, gather the supplies:

Then paint. And since cobalt blue has been on my mind, onto the canvas it goes, along with some teal and bronze and a bit of sky blue...

 The Beginning of Cobalt Blue by Annette Hadley

The Beginning of Cobalt Blue by Annette Hadley

I like how it unfolded tonight... evocative of I'm not sure what. I'll check in on it in the morning.

Sweet dreams and peace to all!

 

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Aleppo: Deconstructed or Connected?

Have you had a chance yet to read Blogpost #25 Aleppo? If not, please do so. It remains very much on my mind since I wrote it. 

The regime is telling the people there to leave or die. Yet those who leave risk being detained and/or tortured and/or killed. Plus, I have read that the rebels are pressuring people who want to leave to stay. With no hospitals, invasive medical procedures are being conducted in basements without anesthetic. Talk about being between an exponential rock and hard place.

Ouch. I mean really, OUCH. My soul hurts.

As you know, I have chosen to auction my quadriptych (four panels in one) "Aleppo" painting to support the victims and rescuers in and around Aleppo,  Syria. Yet something niggled ever since that post a couple of days ago. Really niggled. Some thing wasn't quite right.

I figured it out today.

I am meant to give more freely. To model giving more freely out of love and solidarity for my Syrian brothers and sisters.

I had my 25% wrong. I was going to donate 25% of the proceedings, and it's supposed to be the other way around.

I'm going to keep 25% of the proceedings. I will donate 75% to The British Red Cross who is on the ground today outside Aleppo providing emergency aid.

Don't get me wrong. It is my intention to prosper in my business, and I believe with all my heart that success finds me. I'm learning that it is through providing a service to others, by serving, that I can really help others. 

This time, this feels right.

So, here again is Aleppo, my original quadriptych paintings, acrylic on canvas, four 14"x14" panels making up one image 28"x28" image. It it designed to be hung in one of two ways:

Deconstructed - this represents the brokenness and division of the city and its people.

 

Connected: This represents my dream that Aleppo will heal and rebuild in peace.

We can together serve up love and compassion and solidarity and relief. We can raise money for a humanitarian cause, to help in one of modern history's most horrific humanitarian crises. To help our fellow humans, our brothers and sisters in and around Aleppo.

My ask of you?

Come forth and enter your bid below! The winning bidder will also receive an assortment of Abundance Art notecards in addition to the paintings.

And if you can't bid, consider making even a small contribution to a Syrian/Aleppo relief agency of your choice. Just google it. 

And if you can't donate, remember the people in your thoughts, your prayers. Imagine peace.

Let's show the world what love and solidarity look like.

 

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Growing Up With My Dad… These Last Three Years

For those of you blessed with fathers, do you have memories of growing up?

Some great, some good… some not so good perhaps?

What kind of Father's Day cards appealed to you?

What was the best of times?


My best of times is now. My Dad is 90 years old. And we have just - in the last three years - really grown up together. I'm so thankful he has lived this long, and I treasure every moment we spend together as blessing.

Like today when he called, confused about one of his medications. Living just a few minutes away, I went over and helped him out.

It wasn’t always like that.

As I child, I knew he loved me, but I didn't actually feel love coming from him. He was often fun and playful. And strict. I was a bit afraid of him.

After my mom died in 1991, Dad and I grew closer. We grieved together and supported each other.

Then he remarried. And the short story here is that he made his new family the priority in his life.

I write this next bit with great compassionate love for myself and my Dad.

I felt abandoned. Cast aside. I WAS abandoned, cast aside, with the exception of a monthly breakfast and occasional family gatherings. It was a very difficult, awkward and prolonged time, and still I was determined to somehow find my way through it with love and respect.

The year 2010 would be one of great change for our family. Dad and his wife had to separate for health reasons, neither one being able to care for the other's needs. From being largely on the outside for the past eighteen years, my in-town siblings - Kathleen, Mark, Laura - and I were suddenly responsible for his care. How does one person single handedly care for an elderly loved one? We, working collaboratively, couldn't fathom. And the short story here is that we managed, including getting him comfortably settled in a senior independent living facility apartment.

Fast forward to 2013. I'm wrapping up my time in Doha, talking with Dad by phone and crying. Interestingly, he always really showed up for me when I lived abroad, connecting and caring. His support of me during my year in the Middle East helped me decide to return to KC rather than London.

A number of things have happened since my return from there over three years ago:

  • I resumed taking Dad to church every Sunday, after which we go out to eat.
  • I continued my trauma recovery therapy and healing, now processing decades-long suppressed anger and abandonment issues.
  • I continued to find and use my voice, my power.
  • I learned and began to practice healthy boundaries. Scary!
  • Dad had a series of surgeries: fractured left hip hardware, to total hip replacement, to revision total hip, each followed by hospital and weeks-long rehab facility recovery.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It sure took a village to "raise" my father through these recent years. Thank you thank you thank you to Kathleen, Mark and Laura for all your love and sharing of the responsibilities. I think we make a GREAT team.

They also say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I beg to differ.

I doggedly (pun definitely intended) spoke my truth, little by little, over time, to my father, standing up for myself when I felt hurt by his words. It was important for me to be authentic with him, not putting on the life-long happy face. Coming from a generation with a completely different experience, he at first didn't understand my attempts to explain trauma and recovery therapy and my anxiety and depression. Yet he would eventually respond to me in a way that told me he was listening. And processing what I was saying.

And guess what? As I changed, he changed. Our conversations changed. He stopped saying hurtful things to me. He said please and thank you and I love you. And come here, give me a hug.

And over time I began to feel loved. I always KNEW I was loved. But now the little girl that is me FELT and BELIEVED her daddy's love. How affirming!

Know what else changed? I started remembering happy times from childhood, and I lovingly saw how the years had reversed our roles.

  • He taught me how to tie my shoes.
  • I help him put his shoes on.
  • He taught me to ride my bike.
  • I help him with his walker and getting in/out of the car.
  • Sometimes he surprised us with donuts on Saturday morning.
  • Sometimes I surprise him with donuts on Saturday morning.
  • He took us to church on Sunday.
  • I take him to church on Sunday. And he tells me he loves to hear me sing. (!)
  • On the occasion when Dad would take our large young family out for breakfast, he would buy us each a mint patty when he paid the bill.
  • Weather permitting (yet another reason to love the cold), I keep a bag of York mint patties in my car, each of us enjoying one after our Sunday meal out.
  • Sometimes, when he traveled for work, he would bring home a tiny little something for us.
  • When I travel to different places, I bring home a magnet for his fridge.
  • He was cool enough to play our favorite rock station on the car radio for us.
  • I'm cool enough to play the baseball or football game station on my car radio for him.
  • When I had surgery in 1992 for recurrent herniated neck disc, I woke up in my hospital room to see Dad sitting next to me and holding my hand.
  • After his repeated surgeries, I sat next to him and held his hand… when he let me.

My father is a strong willed, determined, methodical, deeply faithful and loving man, with a passion for life. Through the time I spend with him, he is teaching me about growing old gracefully, not giving up. Savoring every bit life has to offer, looking at the bright side.

I am so my father's daughter. And so proud to be so.

Dad and his sibs.png

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Maitri: Unconditional Loving Kindness

Do you ever feel so tired that you just can't muster the energy to do what you intended to do?

More importantly, do you reach out for help and support when you need it?

I'm exhausted right now and I have a blog to write. And, I'm asking for support and it's showing up from the most unlikely source. My cat Maitri has offered to write my blog for me, and I have accepted. One thing you should know - she calls me by my nickname, Nettie.

Over to you, Maitri.


Thanks Nettie. By the way, this blog is dedicated to Zoe, who loved Annie and Craig with all her heart. You are missed!


Ok. Think 2012. Middle East. Doha, Qatar. The hot desert. Where I was a little baby kitty, all on my own. Someone was kind enough to rescue me and get me to the vet for care and fostering. Thankfully, I was socialized early enough in my life that I could be offered for adoption.

Nettie likes to tell the story of how I literally fell into her hands that day. She had brought in her other cat, Lucy (a beautiful and shy but sweet tuxedo kitty), adopted a week previously, for her follow up checkup.

As Nettie passed the cage I was in, the latch opened all on its own (ok, it may have had something to do with me pushing on it from the inside - I'm quite clever). I started to tumble out, and she instinctively reached to catch me in her hands. I was so tiny at the time it was a perfect fit.

All she had to do was look at me, my one blue and one hazel eye staring back at her brown eyes. She took in my adorable face and completely white fur, and these words came out of her mouth with a loving smile:" Oh, you are definitely coming home with me."

And I did. That day! 

Lucy, decidedly unhappy with my arrival, stayed behind a curtain for the first twenty four hours. Eventually she found that we could share the same space and even showed me the ropes a bit.

I had found my forever home.

One thing Nettie noticed straightaway was that I didn't respond to sounds like normal kittens. So she did a little testing, like calling my name and clapping her hands. No reaction. At my follow up appointment with the vet, her suspicions were confirmed.

I was deaf. Nettie said, "Oh, she'll never hear me call her name." And the vet said, "That's ok. She'll be able to read lips." Silly vet.

But Nettie was a bit sad, because she purposely had chosen the name Maitri, which is a Sanskrit word meaning unconditional loving kindness. And now I would never hear it.

She decided to write a poem in her journal about her feelings and experience:


I adopted a kitty - named Maitri

A sweet little white ball of fur

Unconditional loving kindness

Is what I had in mind for her

 

Her eyes, one blue and one hazel

Search my eyes and connect, so I think

With deep concentration she watches

Then pokes mine before I can blink

 

I'm sad as I think of her deafness

She'll never know to come when I call

Yet now as I cry in my grief-ness

She appears, loving kindness and all

 

Her playfulness-goofiness delight me

It's so good to laugh out loud

Her softness and tinyness quiet me

She's Maitri, loving kindness avowed


Isn't that cool? That I don't have to hear my name to be my name?

There's so much more I want to share with you, but Nettie really wants to get to bed. So I'll wrap it up with two calls to action for all humans who are reading this:

Come follow me on Instagram @maitri_memweowr, and learn more about me and my escapades at http://www.abundanceart.com/all-about-maitri

Unconditional loving kindness to all!

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Two Truths and a Lie

Have you ever heard of the game called Two Truths and a Lie?

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It's often used as an icebreaker at team building or social activities where people do not know each other. Here's how it works:

You prepare three statements about yourself in your mind. Two of them are true and one is a lie. Then, taking turns, each person speaks their statements. It's up to the group to determine which statement is a lie. Keep in mind that these people and their life stories may or may not be known to the others playing the game.

Those who are savvy know to make the lie believable and the truth unbelievable.

Like the time years ago my brother said he practiced Bickram yoga. We knew he did yoga, so we said ok, that's the truth. Alas, it was the lie. He practiced Vinyasa yoga. Smartass.

See how it works? Think you want to play? What would your two truths and a lie be?

I've always enjoyed playing, yet in my early days, I struggled a bit with what I would say, wishing I had something remarkably unusual to share as a truth that people would think was a lie.

Truth can be stranger than fiction. As I look back over my life, especially the last ten years, I am blown away by the blessings and diversity of experiences I've had. And I look forward to many more. Life is good and it keeps getting better. 

So, you tell me… which of these are truths and which is the lie? 

  • I am an OR nurse with about 20 years experience
  • I have five sisters and two living brothers
  • I am an award winning belly dancer
  • I had dinner with Archbishop Desmond Tutu
  • I performed the Hallelujah Chorus from The Messiah at St Martin-in-the-Fields church in London
  • My favorite food is fresh squeezed orange juice
  • I was married for almost 23 years
  • I lived and worked in the Middle East for a year
  • I am an international volunteer
  • I lived and worked in London for four years
  • I am fluent in French
  • I can play the piano
  • I have trekked through the Sahara Desert, the lower Himalayan Mountains below Annapurna, and across the Jordanian Desert to Petra
  • I worked in Healthcare Informatics for about 15 years
  • I attended sunrise service Easter Sunday at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem
  • My favorite color is blue
  • I own my own business
  • I am an expert haggler
  • I went sky diving over Stonehenge
  • I am an artist and writer
  • I have traveled to more than thirty countries
  • I have three cats
  • I have moved six times in the last ten years

Now, seriously, I want to play.

With you.

In the comments.

This will be fun!

Your job is to guess which one of my entries is the lie. ( I know, I have lots more that three entries. But I've been waiting my whole life for this!!!)

Then type your two or more truths and a lie and let us guess which is the lie. Keep it clean

But don't do it like this: My two truths are 1) blah blah blah and 2) blah blah blah, and my lie is 3) blah blah blah. Keep it clean

Do it like this: 1) blah blah blah, 2) blah blah blah, 3) blah blah blah. Keep it clean.

Then let us guess. Did I mention keep it clean?

Let the game begin!

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On Journaling

What are you grateful for today?  Or could be a who? Or both? Hopefully lots of each.

When I journal tonight, the first thing on my gratitude list will be my newly unwrapped journal. Made by paperblanks, in the UK, which is where I first found and bought this particular style. I value it for its beautiful cover, its hand bound back, its luscious lined paper. No matter what page I am on, the journal lies flat. It welcomes me. Just as its fourteen predecessors have.

Do you journal? Have you ever? What has the experience been like for you?

Do you keep your old journals, perhaps in a hidden place with instructions for a loved one to destroy them on your death? Do you burn them, offering them as a sacred gift to the universe, a saying good-bye to the past? Do you throw them away?

I'm inclined to keep mine. In fact, I share excerpts on my website. Pam, my Abundance Art graphic designer aptly put it when she said "It's like you're inviting people into your life." Which I am. I feel called to do it.

Deeply, passionately called. Maybe my pain and healing can inspire and encourage someone else.

I first journaled over 25 years ago. March 10, 1991, less than two weeks after my mother died in her sleep at the age of 64. My first entry reads "Heart attack. 50% of all diabetic heart attacks are silent. Mom always was a quiet sort." I would journal sporadically, analyzing the correctness of my grief and anger as if there was a right or wrong way. Writing down excerpts from books I was reading, as if that would sort me out. I stopped after a year.

It would be eight years before I took up the practice again, this time a gratitude journal as I strove desperately to document happiness when deep inside I was broken. An unhealthy marriage had taken its toll on me.

I was so frozen for so long.

Ahhhh … a brief pluviophile respite! There on Feb 2, 2000, I wrote "The rain! The rain! The rain! Awesome thunder through the evening." Even back then, those drops of water and rumbly thunder were balm for my soul.

Now my journals are filled with emotions across the spectrum - no hiding from rage! - and lots of illustrations using water color pencils. Dialogues with myself as inner parent and inner child (a technique learned from Self Parenting by John K Pollard and Linda Nusbaum). And oh! How I love my inner child! I'm so glad I met her and fell in love with her along the way!

I had learned  to allow the wisdom of my body, including my brain, explore whatever shows up.

Guess what? Life shows up.

 IP = inner parent, IC = Inner child, TY with a circle around it means thank you for telling me that.

IP = inner parent, IC = Inner child, TY with a circle around it means thank you for telling me that.

I see now that in my early journaling, there was an unrealized fear that someone would read and judge. Oh, little girl! I'm so thankful we got over that! I'm proud of my outpouring of these last eight years, in the darkest of times, when hope peeked in, when I saw the light at the end of the tunnel only to have it snuffed out… for now, not forever. I'm living safely in the light now, saying hello to the darkness when it appears. I'm raw, honest, real.

There's a different energy, as I use the resources I've learned through years of trauma healing. The energy that's poured into the paper has started to flow through my body and into my life. My healing path continues.

What kind of path are you on? If you haven't journaled, does it feel like something you'd like to do? The only advice I want to offer is that you choose a journal that welcomes you in. Think comfort. For it just might become your refuge.

Come now into my journal, explore the words and images of my journey, including poems. Be inspired and encouraged in your own path. You can start here, where you'll find the Journal section with its own  introduction. If you prefer to dive right in, start with Wondrous Healing and navigate to other entries with the navigation bar at the bottom of each page. (see below, which is also a hyperlink - cool!)

Blessings to you in your life journey!

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From Fear to Love: One Woman's Inspiring Journey Through Trauma Recovery

We all have stories to share. Have you ever felt like telling yours?

I'm in the process of doing just that, in collaboration with my life coach and co-author. She also happens to be my therapist. My trauma recovery therapist. Since 2010.

When I moved to the Middle East in 2012, we continued our work together via Skype. I was blown away at how, as she put it, "energy is energy."

Wait, back up. Are you wondering what, why, how, about now?

I'm glad you asked. And I'm going to answer very simply.

What?

Trauma. Mine. Definition of trauma: not so much the "what" as the fact that it results in overwhelming emotional stimulus. And that the nervous system, our very body, holds unreleased energy from the experience. Bessel van der Kolk explains this in his book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.

Why?

Because on my return to KC from London in 2009, I didn't understand I was living with trauma. All I knew was that I was severely anxious, barely making it through each day. In a demanding job. That although I was working with a very qualified therapist, I wasn't getting better. In fact was getting worse. And because in early 2010, after having coffee with a friend (who also happened to be a therapist), I took her advice to make an appointment with a new therapist in town who specialized in anxiety disorders.

How?

Through the care of my incredibly talented and compassionate Somatic Experiencing certified therapist. Using the trauma recovery therapy modality of the same name, founded by Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, over twenty years ago. My therapy lasted for six and a half years (yes, even the year I lived in the Middle East), and I now go for monthly maintenance sessions.

I'll add that this experience has been bar none the most difficult thing I have ever done. The darkest most frightening years of my life. I wanted to die. I really wanted to die. Instead, I chose life. I clung on during the stormiest experiences ever, and I survived. I journaled and illustrated my way through. I started painting and writing.

And in doing so, I developed a passion for getting the word out about how my life was saved by Somatic Experiencing. Turns out, so did my therapist.

So we, together, are writing a book. We have a basic framework created, with key milestones, and are working on the introductions/prologues and first chapter. Sharing our combined story, alternating back and forth. Mine in first person present tense, hers in first person past tense.

Our goal is by the end of the year to have it ready to promote to agents/publishers.

The title is not set in stone, nor the cover. What is solid however is the truth that through these years, I moved (and continue to move) from a fear based life to a love based life.

This book will help people.

Clinicians.

Clients.

Maybe you. Or someone you love.

Stay tuned. In the meantime, watch this short video to learn more about trauma and Somatic Experiencing. (By the way, gswoj is short for go slow: woman on a journey.)

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Namaste, Namaskar, Namaskaram

Do you have a favorite word?

I do. It's Namaste. You may or may not have heard of it. You may use it regularly.

Also, did you know that this traditional Hindu greeting actually is one of several forms of the same word, all rooted in Sanskrit? Now, I once heard or read that Sanskrit is a dead language, meaning not in use today. I promise you that is NOT the case.

Sanskrit is alive and well and filled with depth and beauty.

Let's start with Namaste: In Sanskrit the words namah + te = namaste which means “I bow to you - my greetings, salutations or prostration to you." It's a sign of respect practiced by Hindus and people of many other religions. In fact, its simple gesture is the same as what I was taught- to fold my hands together, palms facing each other at the level of the chest - in prayer as a child during my Catholic upbringing. I love how I use it now in my ecumenical and Catholic practices. And in my encounters with Hindus.

A true Namaste greeting also includes a slight bow of the head, to convey respect for the intention behind the word, and to the person being greeted… or being said good bye to. Because it's one of those hello and good-bye multi purpose words.

I first learned Namaste here in the Midwest USA. Awkward at first, the more I've learned about it, the more I've grown quite comfortable, offering it freely and with deep intention and love from my heart and soul.

As I understand, Namaste possesses several levels of meaning:

  • "I bow to you, I salute you." The literal translation above.

  • "May our minds meet." More like a prayer, the bowing down of the head at this level is a gracious form of extending friendship in love, respect, and humility.

  • "I honor the divine in you." This recognizes the belief that God is present in all forms of life, human and otherwise, and conveys the deepest spirituality.

So what about the other versions? Not having any scholastic knowledge behind me, I will simply share what I have learned from my friends and encounters with many others.

  • The further north in India you are (or the person with whom you are speaking is from), Namaste is the commonly used word. This is what we spoke in Delhi and further north in the Himalayan Hill Mountains. This also applied in Nepal. Oh, Nepal! The children! This is a MUST SEE video.

  • As you travel south in India, Namaskar becomes more common.

  • In southernmost India, Namaskaram is more common, and there are other versions. 

I'm not sure if the differences are because Hindi is more common in the north and Tamil in the south.

What do you think? What kind of experiences have you had with these greetings?

On a respectful side note, while living in the Middle East, I learned from an Indian Muslim gentleman that just because he was Indian did not mean that Namaste was an acceptable greeting for him. He went on to explain that because Islam's core belief is "There is one God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet" it would be inappropriate to acknowledge that God is in another person. He was quite passionate about this, and I found myself wondering how other Muslims feel.

At any rate, I began to recognize names as being either Muslim or Hindu, and adapted my greeting accordingly, offering As-salam alaykum, meaning "Peace be upon you" to Muslims, and the appropriate version of Namaste to Hindus.

Yesterday as I was paying for a soda in a convenience store, I could tell the cashier was from Nepal or India, so I asked him. Learning he was from southern India and not yet knowing his name, I took a chance and offered Namaskar! Oh, how his smile lit up his eyes, his whole face, as he brought his hands together and replied with a heartfelt Namaskar!

What a small world it is.

Wouldn't it be incredible if all people greeted and really treated each other with such words and intention of love and respect?

Namaste, Namaskar, Namaskaram.