Why? Why Not?

darkest night bridge

In a week like this one, with the deaths and massive injuries in Las Vegas, I hear “why” even more than usual.  But I often hear “why” with those I have the privilege to serve who have and are suffering the impact of severe accidents, those who are so bright and have such positive futures ahead of them and now have head injuries and the recovery is stalled.  I speak with those who have cancer, or whose loved ones have it and are dying.  I speak with people who simply wonder why they haven’t been able to change something they have wanted to so badly.  And truth be told, I also ask myself this at times.

And yet, the truth is, why not me?  What do I think is so special about me, that bad life experiences should not happen?  I remember hearing someone share this very sentiment a few years ago, and wish I could find the source for it.  But I do remember as a younger woman voicing a question of why and someone saying why not you, and I was angered.  It felt like an attack.  I do not mean it in that way at all, and likely that person did not either.  But I do think we need to ask it in the way Eric Church did this week in his sharing and new song “Why Not Me”.  Take the time to listen to him, please, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqCYKFXfRb0 .

As individuals we each need to struggle with this internally and in conversation when the most difficult life events occur around us.  The times we are called upon to rally all of our support and face that most difficult experience in life that we are uncertain we can handle, i.e.:  loss of a loved one, rejection by a spouse or significant other, life threatening illness, end of life, traumatic head injury, life changing event that requires we reconstruct our lives thoroughly, or even an internal life-time struggle that seems impossible to change, each call for specific actions and resources.

Therapeutically we would suggest a person sit with the feelings, see what is really in front and within, and breathe through the feelings.  Journal, draw what is within, in some way allow oneself to face it.  In doing so, we increase awareness rather than run; allow movement of the pain or shame or fear rather that avoid it; and, in the end we are in a new place and not pushed to addiction – money, food, alcohol, work, or drugs; but rather, we regain center.  The same concept is suggested by Pema Chodron in the “no more struggle” meditation.  However, she sticks with breathing and returning, breathing and returning, until the strong feelings are reduced and one is able to face what is going on outside oneself or within and allow it without judgment.  Only then, she says, can the issue or feeling be resolved.  From a Christian perspective, Fr. Thomas Keating would say it is called prayer or centering or contemplative prayer, all with a focus of resting in God.

After we have done this, only after, can we move forward and know how to pick up our feet and keep moving.  Taking the next step ahead in life, but taking it as we move into life, not retreat from it.  A young man mentioned to me something I had hear others say – that a friend instead wanted to retreat and not go out and keep living after the Las Vegas shootings.  After this week his friend had decided to go to no more concerts, events, etc.  His friend, and others I’ve heard say similar things, are not moving through to keep living.  They are stuck in the fear and anger; and have no way to move through into life.  Action is important – freezing and being stuck is not healthy and builds walls, not bridges.

Bridges are very important in life and in moving forward when a huge life event hits us and makes us ask why, or why not, me.  I had never read the poem “The Bridge” by Robert Wadsworth Longfellow until pondering this topic.  I came across it and it is so very rich with metaphor and meaning, but I’m going to take a few stanzas out to focus on in this article.  He says after many years of nights when he went to the bridge when life seemed so difficult and he watched the tide go in and out:

How often, O, how often,

In the days that had gone by,

I had stood on that bridge at midnight

And gazed on that wave and sky!

For my heart was hot and restless,

And my life was full of care,

And the burden laid upon me

Seemed greater than I could bear.

But now it has fallen from me,

It is buried in the sea.

As I read this I thought how often we do have experiences in life that give us pause to think.  We may walk our neighborhoods, much like Mr. Longfellow did when he went to ponder near a bridged waterway.  And if we walk, meditate, ponder, pray, stay with our feelings and thoughts we cross a bridge as we put down our cares.  We no longer carry the feelings of pain, terror, shame, or anxiety.  And so we can move forward into life.  We can move forward despite the fact bad things still happen to good people, life does fall apart at times, cancer ravages bodies, brain injuries can significantly change one’s life direction.  And yet, as author and speaker Jonathan Lockwood Huie says, “The darkest night is often the bridge to the brightest tomorrow”.  Don’t miss your bridge – go seek it out as Mr. Longfellow did, as the young man in my office did, as Eric Church, Pema Chodron, and Fr. Keating have all done.  Calm, serenity, release, God, hope for a new tomorrow are all there once you do.

 

 

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Hope in the Midst of Difficulty

~Beth Sikora, PhD

Love recognizes no barriers.  It jumps hurdles,

Leaps fences, penetrates walls to

Arrive at its destination full of hope.

~Maya Angelou

Someone suggested that I write about hope this week.  I must admit that as I sat down to think about it all I could think of was what the past week or two held:

  • Hurricane Harvey in Texas;
  • Hurricane Irma in Florida, Georgia, and other southeastern states as well as the islands are Barbuda, St. Martin, the Virgin Islands, and others;
  • The memory of 9/11/01;
  • The repeal of DACA and then the actions since hinged to the “wall” between the US and Mexico; and lastly;
  • Suicide prevention week that was from 9/10-9/16 this year;
  • The hacking of Equifax.

Is it any wonder the person suggested hope?  It can feel fleeting and difficult to hold onto, can’t it?

So what is hope, anyway?  Above I shared some pictures that I believe bring and remind us of hope, and perhaps the magic of a picture can speak to weary hearts today.

 

According to Scioli & Biller (2010) HOPE is a combination:

  • Mastery of feeling one can take care of a situation and/or get the help to do so PLUS
  • Attachment or the ability to connect with others PLUS
  • Survival or having the tools to get through tough times PLUS
  • Positive future or looking forward to something in the future PLUS
  • Spirituality of some kind rather than a sense of being rudderless in the sea PLUS
  • Non-spiritual which is the ability to reach out to what is all around and within you.

When we have all of this, we truly have HOPE.  As Emily Dickinson said:  “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.

 

Recommended Reading:  The One-Year Book of Hope by Nancy Guthrie

You’ll Get Through This  by Max Lucado

The Book of Hope by Birgitta Jonsdottir

 

Reference:

Scioli, A. & Biller, H.B.  (2010).  The power of hope.  Deerfield Beach, FL:  Health Communications, Inc.

Highlight on Health; The Whole You

As the flu virus spreads throughout our nation and wellness is a goal for many of us, I thought today I’d consider health in a broader sense, and the benefits of some alternative therapies. How is your back feeling? Have those migraines started up again? Did you just have your first hot flash? Or perhaps it’s a pulled ligament from a workout? Seems we all face physical aches and pains at times and often we can’t figure out from whence they came.

One of the guiding principles from which The Wholeness Institute was born was the need to care for a person as a whole–physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Many of us have gotten a handle on one area of life to find the other areas amiss. It seems a constant struggle to balance all areas.

Philosophers, psychologists, medical doctors, and healers have for centuries argued and theorized about whether the body and mind can and/or should be separated. It seems current research is proving what many have theorized–the body does affect the mind and the mind affects the body. Many, if not most, sexual abuse survivors will tell you of migraines, stomach problems, chronic fatigue and the pain of fibromyalgia. MRI’s are now showing us that early neglect or lack of nurturing prevents neural connections from being made. Chiropractic physicians are able to clear emotions through kinesiological interventions in some cases. Body and mind are intimately connected.

In addition to considering psychological care there are many avenues of care now able to adjunct and even quicken therapeutic results. From optometric to chiropractic to neurological to psychopharmacological to herbs to massage–the possibilities are endless. Here is a brief review of some of the therapies available today.

Chiropractic and Kinesiology can both offer help for not only sore backs but sore minds. Boris Pasternak in Doctor Zhivago so eloquently discussed the body/mind connection years ago:

“The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant, systematic duplicity. Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune. Our nervous system isn’t just a fiction, it’s a part of our physical body, and our soul exists in space and is inside us, like the teeth in our mouth. It can’t be forever violated with impunity.”

Although many of us aren’t able to understand exactly how these sciences work, it is clear that kinesiology is able to bridge between the physical body and the emotions.

Nutrition is an area absolutely essential to our overall state of well-being but is one many find difficult to manage. High fat, low carbohydrate, no sugar, low sugar, no fat, low calorie, gluten free, and vegan are all types of diets most of us have watched cycle through in terms of popularity and nutritional value. It’s important that the person you are working with evaluate your body type, ancestry, and emotional habits to best prescribe an eating plan.

Massage is often thought to be for “special occasions” or pampering. In actuality, it is a wonderful method to treat not only muscular aches but remove toxins, increase energy, and encourage body systems to work more effectively. In addition, the impact on anxiety and stress are profound.

Aromatherapy also offers scents for health! Try some vanilla or lavender candles or oils next time you’re depressed. Lemon and peppermint can increase energy. And rose can increase passion. There is a reason for the recent trend in use of essential oils – consider it next time you’re stressed or not feeling well.

Optometry has therapies such as vision and academic to assist in strengthening not only eye muscles but also address early developmental deficits. Many children, as well as traumatic brain injury survivors, are being found to also have eye coordination problems which can now be identified and treated.

Medicine: We have to remember that many cases of depression are actually due to medical problems such as hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, sleep disorders, and neurological impairments. In most cases we consider this in every intake and ask if depression or anxiety have worsened. But it’s important to also recall this when your physician asks questions or wants to evaluate your mood. Working together we can provide better, more integrated, care.

Integrated health providers are abounding. In fact, in a recent search for concierge doctors I discovered a vast majority of those who came up in the Google search were actually integrated health providers. These individuals, regardless of naturopathic, osteopathic, homeopathic, or traditional medical backgrounds also focused on the methods above as well as herbal treatments, eye color and characteristics, homeopathic treatments, and in some cases even spiritual care. Further evidence that as our health issues increase in the US, as well as the more we understand the head/heart and body/mind connections, the more we are considering balanced care from various methods and sources. These are but a few of the treatments available to you which we’ve found to be powerful adjunctive therapies to psychotherapy. With more awareness and a bit of perseverance we can heal both our body and our mind. Wynona Judd said a few years ago: “I learned again the mind-body-spirit connection has to be in balance”. So, too, must we consider our care providers and methods of treatment.

Post-holiday Blues or Are You Feeling Unattached?

The holidays are over. Lights taken down, decorations packed away, candles blown out. And you’re feeling blue. Many folks experience a case of the “blues” after the six weeks of holiday energy from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. But, feelings of depression, isolation, anxiety or simply “feeling down” that are intense or that last for more than a couple of weeks can be symptoms  of a more serious problem–depression.

Frequently the holidays bring to the surface long avoided feelings of loneliness, discouragement or dissatisfaction with family relationships. You may find you feel disconnected from others, that you don’t count, or that no one cares for you. Often food, music and work are used to push away those feelings. But in bed, late at night, you’re aware of the feelings again.

It is important to determine whether your “blah” feelings are due to a physical cause, are temporary, or are a symptom of depression. If your physician gives you a clean bill of health then it’s time to consider emotional reasons for depression. If left untreated, depression can lead to health, career or family problems. In the most severe cases suicide is also possible.

But, which is it, holiday blues or depression?

Generally the holiday blues will resolve with no extra effort within a few weeks. While you may feel sad, tired or distressed, you are able to handle everyday activities and responsibilities.

Depression is more intense than the “blues”. There are several symptoms of depression and they last two weeks or more and interfere with your daily life. What used to be enjoyable may now feel like a burden. In fact, getting out of bed in the morning may be more than you can handle some days. Other warning signs are:

-Feelings of emptiness, guilt, hopelessness or despair

-Lack of energy–even after eight hours of sleep

-Changes in eating and sleeping patterns

-Feeling irritable and overwhelmed–life seems to be too much

-Difficulty concentrating

-Memory loss

The good news is that depression IS treatable.

Many people are unaware that depression is the number one illness in America. Unfortunately, many of those suffering from it, or close to one who is depressed, are also unaware it is very treatable. Up to 80% of those who finally seek help are helped.

Often we believe we must keep a stiff upper lip and not ask for help for depression. It may be considered a sign of weakness to ask. But the fact is depression is not helped by just ‘thinking positively”. Professional intervention is often necessary. Treatment for depression is multi-faceted.

First, see a therapist for a complete evaluation. We use the Hamilton Depression Inventory to assess the severity of a client’s depression and to plan treatment. Consider help from anti-depressants or herbal treatment as an adjunct to therapy. Recent studies have indicated that therapy along with anti-depressants is more effective than anti-depressants alone. Then, increase physical activity as exercise allows the body to produce more endorphines which increases mood. Minimize the amount of sugar and flour you eat as these foods increase depression. Finally, get adequate but not excessive rest–six to nine hours per night.

If you are experiencing simply the post-holiday blues then following “Blues Busters” shown below may be helpful.

Blues Busters

-Partner with a friend to hold each other accountable to do one thing you’ve avoided. Build on that success.

-Listen to your heart. Do you need time with a friend, a funny movie, or a day with a child?

-Often depression is anger turned inward. Consider forgiving yourself!

-Take care of your physical needs. Set reasonable goals and develop a way to achieve them.

-Plan an outing for March when it’s warmer!

 

Keep up hope.  Help *is* available if you need it!

 

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune, without the words, and never stops at all”
— Emily Dickinson

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Grieving the loss of a pet companion

Quite often I work with people who are experiencing grief and loss in their lives. I’ve dealt with the loss of my own parents among other losses, but until this past month I had not had to deal with the death of a beloved dog of mine. True, a year ago a friend who rents a room from me lost her 14-year-old dog, and that hit close to home as I’d come to love that furry friend. And earlier this year a dog for whom I’d been the surrogate mom for a number of years and then become my sister’s loved furry friend died. And that left a hole. But in late October my boy, Punky, died at the age of 13 following a rapid decline from liver cancer. Diagnosed one day, gone the next. And with his death I came directly, shockingly, abruptly, and painfully to the beginning of learning to cope with the loss of my dear companion and co-therapist. When I’ve worked with others who have struggled with coming to terms with the loss of a pet I’ve had compassion for their loss. The symptoms, to many people’s surprise, are much the same as any loss, and often as or more significant than the loss of a friend or family member. Why? Because the pet companion offers a more unconditional love than many of us humans are capable of with each other. A friend put it in this way recently to me, “I don’t think it’s any mistake that dog and God are spelled with the same three letters and are mirror-opposites in spelling.” Also, often the pet, as was true with Punky, was a witness to my life and activities. I was fortunate enough to also work with him for years. So we had a regular routine and joint comings and goings. He could predict nearly my every move. This is true for many pet-lovers of any length of time, there is a sync to our lives and activities and the loss of this is a unique loss to other types of loss. One step in healing is often to memorialize our fur baby in some way. I chose to write a letter to Punky that expressed my feelings about him and our life together. Here are a few snippets from it:

You walked into my life unsought.

You captured my heart in a moment.

So swiftly, surely, unblinkingly.

A little fuzzy pooh with eyes

That warmed, snuggled in, said so confidently,

“You’re mine. Take me home.”

And I did.

You grew, you jumped, you ran.

You, dearest Punky, taught me searching is ok.

Laughter comes from simple actions.

Joy comes with love.

You also taught me, dearest Punky, love means terror for your safety,

Sacrifice at the most inconvenient of times.

Confidence it would all somehow work out.

As my co-therapist you helped me to wait,

To slow down, move carefully.

Sometimes my clients grew not

From my actions or knowledge or words.

But from you. Your unconditional regard.

You often drew them out –

Helped them relax. Then let me work.

Protected.

I miss your gentle, soft kisses, my dear Punky.

Your tongue that licked so gently to say

“I love you” and “Good morning! Let’s go!!!”

You going up from floor to foot stool to couch.

One fluid movement.

Through you, Punky, my ability

To give love goes on.

Dearest boy, run pain free now.

You can see Punky had much influence on me. I hope to use this to urge anyone grieving the loss of a pet to reach out. Talk to a friend. Make a memorial of your own to your pet. Count the ways you’ve been loved and loved and feel the loss. Honor that relationship. Just a dog? A cat? Another pet? No, I think not. Honor your companion and all that means to you. Only through working through your feelings and dealing with all the small and large changes their passing has brought to your life can you be free to love again. If you need help most humane societies, the ASPCA, some hospices (like Hospice of the Valley), and other related places offer grief support materials and groups. It’s ok. As we know, our friend is free to run in health and we will be free to love in health again.

Dr. Beth

(Punky worked side-by-side with Dr. Beth for most of his 13 years. Many clients have also grieved his passing as they have learned of it given the special work he did and love he offered. Dogs and other animals are used in many forms of therapy including psychological, medical support, occupational therapy, and equestrian therapy for special needs as well as emotional healing. If you would like to help non-profits who provide such work check your local area.)

Dr. Sikora comfort hope

Pathway or Highway?

I have heard two definitions of psychotherapy I’d like to consider. The first one was in a newsletter of my friend and colleague, Dr. Robin Dilley: “a journey into one’s self to help facilitate a deeper awareness about one’s self while developing a passion for living”. The second definition was provided by a psychologist working for a very large managed care firm in town: the process whereby change is made in symptoms that can be measured and that is a result of interaction between a therapist and a client. He went on to state that ideally this should be quick and not a journey on a path but rather a trip down a super highway. Hmm.

I suppose that there is truth in both definitions although those who know me can probably guess that I align myself much more along the lines of Dr. Dilley’s definition than that provided through managed care. Do we want to settle with getting rid of the stuffy nose or do we want to live a life that is challenging, health producing, and joyful? Now the truth is that our insurance policies don’t always pay for the second. After all, the insurance contract is not a personal growth policy but rather a contract that agrees to provide services to return a person to their prior level of functioning.

I urge you not to settle for your prior level of functioning. We only go through this life once, and it is our choice how we live it. To live at your prior level of functioning means that you don’t take the opportunity to grow spiritually, emotionally, mentally and psychologically. It means you do choose to stay where you are. If you are on the pathway then you are choosing to see the ground beneath your feet, smell the air and the flowers around you, hear the sounds of the birds and the animals that are scuttling about. If you choose the super highway you get a fast trip with no smells, few sights and the blare of the other vehicles and their horns blowing.

This year, you can choose the pathway. In her book, “The Invitation”, Oriah Mountain Dreamer speaks of the invitation to live, to grow, to experience life. Much of what she suggests is part of the psychotherapy adventure: “I want to know you can live with failure, yours and mine.” — It is as we face our failures and our successes with another that we learn how to live with them. Psychotherapy provides this opportunity. “I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done.” I would add, can you also stay in bed when you truly need to and take care of yourself? So often we take care of others but ignore ourselves.

Psychotherapy provides time and attention for our own needs and it is through taking time for oneself that one becomes available to others in a truly free and honest manner. Thus so, one can be seen in pain and not need to hide.

“I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back” is a superb description of the group experience one can have through psychotherapy. The women’s groups I have had the privilege of facilitating have born out women choosing to stand in the fire with others and bearing testimony to the pain and the growth.

“I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments”. Ah, the most profound and deeply felt successful therapeutic experience will allow you to say “YES” to this experience.

I would invite those of you currently doing your own therapy to examine your journaling, your heart, your soul to see if you are walking on the path or whether you’ve stopped to enjoy a piece of the scenery. Is it time to move on? Take that next step? Then ask your therapist for assistance with this. If you have been considering taking such a hike, I invite you to call and schedule an appointment with me. If you are already walking down this pathway, enjoy the walk and know it will lead you to further peace, further ability to stand in the fire, and deeper, more meaningful life experiences. As Oriah Mountain Dreamer says, “I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.”

Autumn: A Time of Letting Go

As I reflect on my summer, and on what the next 3 months will bring, I want to move through the last quarter of the year peacefully.  There are changes that always come in the fall; although schedules get back to normal in September with all back in school it is quickly followed by holiday time and the schedule that gets even busier than normal.  And yet autumn is my favorite time of year, by far.  I enjoy the hope of spring, the relaxation of summer, the meditation and new beginnings of winter.  But fall is when my heart and being are calmest, the feel of the season flows deeply in my being, and the smells, sounds, and sights are most meaningful and enjoyable to me.  Fall is home, it’s family, it’s love.  Spiritually it’s a time of balancing light and dark, letting go, and deeper understanding that nothing is permanent.  Think about nature:  we are moving to more balance between sun and darkness, the leaves are falling from the trees, and we learn that even what we enjoy in the summer flowers and play must end as we move forward.

As we face the changes in the season (granted, more slowly in Arizona), it’s a time to take stock.  What are you holding onto that might be better let go of in your life?  In speaking of letting go recently with someone I noted that we often think of it as a one-time action, like letting go of a balloon.  While letting go is actually more of a process when it comes to the psychological and spiritual realms.  When a loved one dies, for example, there are twists and turns in letting go of the person as they were here, and adjusting our life patterns accordingly.  Or when we leave a   career, it’s an action of walking out the door the last time, but we still must integrate into our lives the new career or job or retirement.  There is more than the one moment in time.

What are you in the process of letting go of?  How are you being asked to recognize the impermanence of something in life?  Where is balance off in your life?

Here’s a simple journaling exercise to do around this topic:

Consider and write down your answers to the above questions.  Or, if writing isn’t your thing, draw a picture to represent it.

Include in your writing, or picture, words and colors and shapes to represent how you feel about this change or loss.

Next, write or draw a picture to represent the ways in which this release might be beneficial to you.

Find an object to represent this change you are moving through, this period or experience or person or whatever it is that you must let go of in your life.

Finally, put this object in a meaningful place to remind you of the letting go you are in the process of.  Let this encourage you to allow this to happen a moment at a time, a day at a time.  It takes time for a leaf to fall, allow yourself time to let go of the leaf in your life.

I believe if we face this fall with such action, and using our spiritual resources to encourage and help us to take the steps needed in letting go, we will reach winter in December and be ready for the new beginnings of January.  Don’t rush this fall.  Inhale the pumpkin and cinnamon smells, enjoy the early morning or evening walks that are a little cooler,  decorate a part of your home with fall leaves, pumpkins, or corn husks, and spend some time each day breathing in the depth and wisdom in the letting go.  And as you do so, remember:

Autumn . . . makes a double demand.
It asks that we prepare for the future–that we be wise in the ways of garnering and keeping.
But it also asks that we learn to let go–to acknowledge the beauty of sparseness.
by Bonaro Overstreet

Reflecting on summer and life-long relationships

While walking on the beach of the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego I had the opportunity to collect and marvel over many beautiful shells. Each shell was unique in color, shape, texture, scent. One in particular reminded me of a part of Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh: “It (the shell) was handed to me by a friend. One does not often come across such a perfect double-sunrise shell. Both halves of this delicate bivalve were exactly matched. Each side, like the wing of a butterfly, was marked with the same patterns; translucent white, except for three rose rays that fanned out from the golden hinge binding the two together… I wonder how the fragile perfection survived the breakers on the beach. Isn’t the same true of our closest relationships, and in particular those with our partners?

When we are in an intimate relationship, be it a friendship or love relationship, that relationship is subject to the crash of the sea waves, the intensity of a summer sun, the weathering of rough winds. And yet, it is not unusual for us to spend less time, effort, and concern in protecting this relationship than we spend taking care of our homes.

In relationships with close friends and lovers we work together, play together, cry together. The seas, however, can crush upon us. Disagreements, dashed plans, separations, disappointments, differing life paths cause the shells of our friendships to be changed as the water and weather change the shells we collect on the sand. The intensity of summer sun also burns us individually and in relationships over the years. The hours working together strain, the illnesses worry, the changes in each bring fear for the survival of the relationship. And, the winds of life whip us. These are times we choose to be present and close for the other as confidante, gentle helper, encourager.

While summer storms do threaten to break our shells Lindbergh reminds us: “it (change) moves us to another phase of growth which one should not dread, but welcome.” This fall, pick up the shells of your relationships and brush them off. Wash the sand off the delicate patterns engraved over the years. Celebrate their beauty and commit again to keep the shell. As Heller quotes 53 year old Roberto in Little Lessons of Love: “love endures because you want it to, not by accident”. That’s the most important thing to remember.