Sunday, November 24, 2013

Got Holiday Stress? Readjust, Release & Rejoice!

As the holidays are approaching, I am hearing the sounds of stress all around me!  This week on W4CY Radio, I will be discussing "Got Holiday Stress? Readjust, Release and Rejoice!" But, for now, I wanted to share a true story about expectations - or what I call celebration saboteurs! 

Great Expectations?





After hosting Thanksgiving dinner for my family and my sister’s family for a dozen or so years, both families decided that we needed to make some changes. Our kids were in college and it was becoming harder and harder for everyone to get to one place. In 2001, my husband and I did not host Thanksgiving dinner; instead, we were invited to my husband's niece's home with all of her  family. We were excited to see everyone and it was not too far of a drive, only about an hour away. After inquiring about the number of people and the time of dinner, I asked how we could contribute. We were asked to bring a ham. 

When my husband and I arrived around two in the afternoon, I was surprised at what I found.  In fact, I felt disappointed and really confused.  My initial expectations were far from being met.  First, all the women (my sister –in-law and my three nieces-in-law ) were no where in sight.  I quickly learned  that all the ‘girls’ were out shopping for the day- a family tradition of theirs.  My thoughts were, 

“This is rude.  Why aren’t they hear to greet us – to welcome us?  Didn’t they remember we were coming?”
 
As I looked around the house, everything seemed so surreal to me.  Nothing was like ‘I” would have it! All the guys (my brother-in-law and husbands of nieces) were glued to the TV's with sports blasting from multiple screens.  It was so loud that everyone had to yell to hear what someone was saying.  And the five young grand-children were galloping through the house like wild horses – more loud noise.  After quickly judging the situation, I mumbled to myself, 

“This is not what would be going on  in my home!  My children would have been playing games outside or creating musical performances for our enjoyment later.  And, the noise - yikes!! My brother-in-law would be playing his guitar, softly serenading us while my sister, my husband and I cooked!"

I looked around to see if there was any evidence of a family dinner taking place that day. Putting the ham in the refrigerator, I noticed that nothing was prepared or even cooking, except for some rolls that were thawing.  I peeked into the dining room – nothing. Again, my expectations quickly reared and roared in my head .

“I can’t believe this!  The table is not even set!  I would have had my table set the night before!  Where is the turkey – why aren’t the potatoes peeled?  Why isn’t there anything ready? I would never do this!!” 

I returned to the den with the blasting TV’s and the noisy kids, sulked and continued to pass judgment on the entire situation.  This was certainly not the way I had ever entertained guests or how I would do things.  I continued to wallow in my righteousness,

At around four o’clock, my husband’s sister and her three daughters finally arrived home!  Their arms were full of packages and bags filled with goodies. Entering the house, their happy faces filled the room with love and laughter. The kids went running as they saw the piles of gifts, screaming with excitement.  After everyone had settled down,  my niece Katie (whose home we were in) sighed and casually suggested, “Well, I guess we should get started on  dinner”. 

As I sat slumped on the couch, still festering in my rightful resentment and utter bewilderment,  I cautiously asked, “Would you like some help (still wondering how on earth a turkey could be ready in two hours)?”

My niece replied with a huge smile, “That would be great!  Follow me”.

Over the next two hours, the kitchen started to buzz. As Katie took control of the side-dishes, I set the table for sixteen, peeled and mashed a giant pot of potatoes (with one beater), made a strange mud-like gravy from their family recipe (which was not easy to do without Turkey juices ),  crafted together an unusual mixture that resembled dressing, and prepared the ham. As Katie and I gabbed and cooked, I found myself beginning to loosen up and let go of all  my unmet expectations. And, I started to laugh and have fun.  Then, as Katie’s husband attempted to deep fry the turkey, we all watched in horror as the oil overheated, spilled out onto the cool decking of their pool, and basically petrified the turkey!

After the burnt carcass was retrieved and everyone was relieved no one was hurt in the process, we all
laughed hysterically at the site of the bark-like stump resting on the platter.  For just a moment, I could hear myself think these thoughts,  

“I would never try something new like deep-frying on a holiday dinner!  What is wrong....”

And then I stopped myself.  My expectation was simply a judgment on them.  I stopped and readjusted my thinking.

As I was leading the charge of cleaning up the massive mess of dishes after dinner, with the TV’s still blaring, with kids still wild from the sugar highs of dessert, and with  the ‘men’ conveniently snoring away in their recliners, I reflected upon the evening.

This celebration was theirs. It was filled with chaos and joy and over-flowing with love. And, yes, it was not the way I would do things, but it didn’t mean that mine was any better or that mine was the only way - mine was just different. 



For more on "Got Holiday Stress?"  Join me this week  on W4CY Radio as we discuss  Readjusting expectations, Releasing losses, and Rejoicing in the present! 


* Note - on this broadcast, I reference several exercies for "releasing" . For more explanation and application, please consider "Breaking Through Betrayal: And Recovering The Peace Within".


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Environments of Betrayal: What Victims Need To Know and Do

Tragically, over the years we have heard about horrific cases of abuse, trauma, bullying and other acts of violence. Typically, these inhumane injustices are carried out within familial systems or are random crimes committed by disturbed perpetrators. However, in my lifetime and over the past several decades, we are hearing more and more about assault and abuse cases within professional organizations, as well as social, political, and spiritual institutions where the culture of bullying and of extreme cases of abusive conduct have not only been cultivated and condoned, but they have been concealed by the very leaders and/or members who serve within them.

It is within these Environments of Betrayal, that victims are frequently blamed for the aggressive acts imposed upon them, they are seen as being 'less than or cowardly' for not being able to endure the culture of violence, and their personal and professional lives are in jeopardy for speaking out against the very organizations or  institutions that have perpetuated these normative abusive behaviors.

Over the past couple of years, our attention has been drawn to high-profile bullying cases within professional
sports organizations and educational systems as well as to horrific abuse cases within our spiritual and university   institutions.  More recently, we are being made aware of the wave of sexual assault, abuse, and rape that is sweeping through our military ranks.Within these Environments of Betrayal, it is a wonder that many victims find if difficult - if not almost impossible - to heal and to move forward with their lives.

The Invisible War
The documentary, The Invisible War, depicts and details the narratives of numerous military

service women and men (representing thousands) who have been attacked and traumatized by fellow military members and/or their superior officers. And within the culture of their military organizations, these brave service members' injuries and injustices are magnified by multiple betrayals imposed upon them by the very institutions in which they have served and have risked their lives.

In 2009, after I spent a great deal of time analyzing, researching, and studying the anatomy of betrayal, my findings were published in a recovery book entitled Breaking Through Betrayal:And Recovering The Peace Within. As with much of work that I do in clinical psychology, it was critical that I give readers two key concepts when recovering from a betrayal - of any kind:

 First, understanding what they are feeling and why.
 Secondly, how to move forward - step by step.

For the purposes of today's blog, it is my intention to share a couple of key principles about betrayal and how they relate to the victims' degree of injury and impact. There is more information on today's show on W4CY Radio -  Environments of Betrayal: What Victims Need To Know And Do. I hope you will take a listen.

So often former clients would say to me, "Holli, I don't know why I feel so betrayed? I thought I was getting past this, but I can't seem to move on."  Or, "Holli, I was doing fine, and then....something happened and I feel re-betrayed all over again. What's wrong with me?"  This is completely understandable. Let me explain.

The first key to understanding is the following:

1.  We feel betrayed because we have invested greatly into someone or something, or we have trusted profoundly into someone or something, or we have believed strongly in someone or something. When that investment is rejected, when that trust has been violated, and/or when that belief has been shattered, we feel betrayed.

And, the degree of our investment, trust, or belief is a predictor of our degree of injury or impact. 


Watching the documentary The Invisible War, it is clear that the women and men who shared their stories were extremely passionate about their careers in the military. Several came from military backgrounds where family members had served for years. Most felt the calling to serve and joined with enthusiasm, dedication, and pride.And thus, because of their unwavering commitment to their profession, to their fellow service members, and to their chosen military branch, the victims' degree of injury - physically, psychologically, and emotionally - from their betrayals is deeply embedded and ingrained within the core. It is to be expected that their inner beings are breaking, their foundations are faltering, and their spirits are suffocating.

The second important principle of betrayal is the following:

2. We feel betrayed or continue to feel betrayed because often we are exposed to our betrayer or our betrayal environments, or we are triggered by events/memories/symptoms from our betrayal experience. In other words, if we experience chronic (or on-going) betrayal, or recurrent (or episodic) betrayal, or multiple betrayals, or the manifestations of PTSD from any trauma, we will continue to feel violated.

Remember, the degree of exposure to our betrayer and/or our betrayal environment is a predictor                                                         to the degree of injury or impact. 

In The Invisible War, a brave young woman named Kori described her horrific betrayal.  She was assaulted by a fellow service member while she was serving in the U.S. Coast Guard. Not only was Kori's face injured during the attack but she was brutally raped.  Along with suffering the manifestations of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Kori - today - is in constant pain from disk and bone damage done to her face during the attack. Not only must Kori live with these chronic reminders and triggers of her assault, but she is still fighting the VA which continues to decline her medical claims. Her ongoing and multiple betrayals make it even more challenging to move forward and to recover.  However, it is possible...

With understanding these two principles about the anatomy of betrayal - how it works - I hope that readers will experience an initial level of healing. Because although the betrayers and the environments in which they cultivate their abusive cultures would like you to believe that you just need to 'toughen up' or 'be woman or a man enough to endure it' or that by 'voicing your betrayal you have turned against them', I want you to know that you have one powerful tool right within you - your truth.

Claim Your Truths

Survivors....
  • You know your degree of investment, belief and trust....that is your truth.
  • You know your degree of exposure to your betrayer and/or your betrayal environment....that is your truth.
  • And, you know the degree of impact that the violation of each has had on you....that, too, is your truth.   

 No one can take that from you....
Now, it is your time to honor your truth and use it as you move forward.



For a step by step process for recovery from any kind of betrayal, consider...Breaking Through Betrayal: And Recovering The Peace Within 2nd Edition

For today's show Environments of Betrayal: What Victims Need To Know And Do

For more information about The Invisible War or to show support, go to  #NotInvisible



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Soldiers Project - Part Two: "Helping Our Wounded Warriors, Their Spouses & Their Families Heal"

Although Veteran's Day is just behind us, I would like to continue acknowledging and honoring the sacrifices that our  military members and Veterans have made and are making. For those who have returned home and for those yet to return, many will fight on - battling their visible and invisible wounds of war.  One of the organizations which has been dedicated to providing free and confidential mental health treatment to military service members and Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and their extended families is The Soldiers Project.



The Soldiers Project (TSP) is a non-profit group of volunteer licensed psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and marriage and family therapists who give of their time and services to help our wounded warriors, their spouses/partners, and their families heal. Although most couples and families face many challenges within their relationships, military members and their families are confronted with unique circumstances precipitated by the dynamics and demands of their respective careers and work environments.
    
Couples who have been together for even a short period of time know that is takes a steadfast commitment of mutual respect, patience, understanding, and selflessness from each partner in order to make a relationship work. Effective and timely communication is often regarded as a key in navigating through the stresses, struggles, and set-backs of daily living. For most civilian couples who are with one another on a daily basis, cultivating and sustaining a trusting, healthy and mutually satisfying relationship is hard, hard work.

With long periods of separation, with movement to and from high-intensity environments to home settings, and with a myriad of additional combat and civilian stressors, military couples or partners (and their families) are confronted with issues that can damage and destroy the most solid of relationships.  

In my interview with Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Lani Bain Stoner (who has worked with The
Lani Stoner, MFT
Soldiers Project for three years), she addresses some of the most common challenges that military couples and families face, and she provides healing strategies to work through them. I hope you will take a listen.
The Soldiers Project - Part Two: "Helping Our Wounded Warriors, Their Spouses and Their Families Heal"

Common struggles  include the following:
  • Trust for both the at-home spouse or partner and the away spouse or partner.
  • Problems coping with stress, for both partners.
  • Expectations each partner has about their spouse's role in the household, their duties, and other family responsibilities.
  • Cultural or belief differences.
  • Personality differences and communication styles.
  • Emotional and physical changes.
It is often comforting to know that most, if not all couples at one time or other, will need to work through these issues. However, military couples and their families often find they are ill-prepared to handle these issues which surface abruptly and under extremely stressful time lines, as deployment and command orders dictate schedules.

Although I have not had the privilege of working with The Soldiers Project, I have counseled numerous individuals (couples and families) who have served in the military or who have been first responders, and I specialize in treating abuse/trauma victims. Because of a culture and climate that often regards 'seeking counsel' as a weakness or that it is 'shameful' to admit suffering, I would like to encourage military members and Veterans to start by taking three healing steps:

                                                            First, give yourself the gift of time.  
Time, Healing, and Grieving
After leaving a high-intensity environment, no one can be expected to return to a home environment, transition, and quickly adapt.  This is not realistic, and it sets an individual up for failure and disappointment. Individuals may need weeks, months, or perhaps even years to adjust and assimilate into the home culture. There is no shame in that.  Go slowly - step by step. Go one day at a time; one breath at a time if you need to. But, give yourself time.

Secondly, give yourself permission to heal.
Although this may sound foreign, there is nothing shameful or cowardly about reaching out for help.  As long as individuals stay bound to their past, they remain in their pain. PTSD, depression, or self-soothing in unhealthy ways will not get better by itself.  Military members and Veterans - you are our heroes; you will always be. And, you are human. The bravest thing you can do right now - for yourself and your loved-ones - is to get the help you need. It's time you are your own hero.
   
Thirdly, give yourself ample opportunity to grieve your losses.
I have heard many family members and friends say about their loved-ones who have served, "Holli, he/she is not the same person who left. The person I know now is a stranger."  This is probably more true than most of us know.  Our service men and women have experienced tremendous loss - physically, emotionally, psychologically, relationally, professionally, spiritually, and the list goes on. They, and their loved-ones, must take time to grieve each and every one of these losses.  Our service men and women must work through the denial, anger, depression and bargaining in order to reach a level of acceptance. And then, our warriors can begin again - to reframe and reshape their lives, one day at a time.
  
Always A Hero
Remember....active duty service men and women and Veterans, you are always our heroes.  Take the time you  need to reintegrate back into your home life, rediscover your relationships, and to redefine and renew your body, mind, and spirit. 



For more information, please visit The Soldiers Project   National # 877-576-5343
For more articles written by Lani Stoner, please visit  The Soldiers Project Couples Therapy Series

For today's show and more information, please take a listen.  The Soldiers Project - Part Two: "Helping Our Wounded Warriors, Their Spouses and Their Families Heal"

For last weeks show, please take a listen.  The Soldiers Project - Part One

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Soldiers Project - Part One: "One of the Nation's Top 20 Military Service Organizations that Supports Military Families"

As with so many issues of social/political justice or of wellness, the designation of a given day or month of remembrance, celebration, or call to action sometimes feels so inadequate in comparison to the magnitude of the cause de jour. And certainly, Veteran's Day is no exception.


With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan coming to their respective conclusions and with the continual draw down and removal of troops from those wars, the physical as well as mental health needs of our military service members and veterans require an uncompromising commitment to and sustained support for our soldiers and their families. The Soldiers Project, named by the White House in 2011 as "One of the Nations Top 20 Military Service Organizations that Supports Military Families, was established in 2009 "to provide free psychological services to military personnel who have served during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and their loved ones". In addition to free and confidential counseling, The Soldiers Project also "educates the community regarding the psychological effects of war, and provides in-depth training on combat trauma to our volunteer therapists" (The Soldiers Project ).

I first heard about The Soldiers Project (TSP) several years ago when I had the privilege of attending an introductory workshop for therapists. The workshop was led by Becca Bettis - Director of the TSP, Sacramento, CA (Please listen to our interview on W4CY Radio  The Soldiers Project - Part One-). Not being from a military family and having limited contact with individuals serving in our military, I must shamefully admit that I was taken back by the degree of severity and longevity of injury - psychologically and emotionally - that our military service members and our veterans endure. The following is a quote from TSP:

"Hundreds of soldiers - men and women, most of them young, of all races, colors, and creeds - are coming home every day from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Many are not coming home whole, ready to resume their lives within the family and in the workplace. Instead, they're coming home in pieces, shattered by the wartime experiences no other American troops have ever been forced to endure. While physical injuries may be horrific, the mental and emotional effects can be even longer lasting and more pervasive. They can take a toll not only on the soldier, but on his family members, friends, and even the community at large, as well."


Complicating the presenting issues of many soldiers is their reluctance to share their fears and doubts about their mental health well-being and/or to reveal signs of reduced capacity. Soldiers who are looking to advance their careers are justifiably concerned about disclosing psychological and emotional wounds, and in fact, feel a great need not to show vulnerability because of shame. Tragically, diagnoses such as Acute Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder do not resolve by themselves, and service men and women often suffer silently and severely for long periods of time before seeking and obtaining help. Although Acute Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are two of the many different manifestations of post-war adjustment difficulties, veterans and military members are at risk for depression, substance abuse, aggressive behavior problems, and the spectrum of mental illnesses precipitated by the stress of war ( Brohl and Ledford, 2013 *).  

One of the most healing aspects of TSP is that its services are confidential, thus removing the fear of superior officers learning of the military members involvement in seeking psychological assistance.  Also, as quoted from Dr. Judith Broder (Founder and Board President of TSP),

  "The most important component of healing is making a human connection with someone who can hear what the person has gone through. That human connection reconnects the person to other human connections"The Soldiers Project ).

The therapists who volunteer their time and their services to TSP undergo specific training to prepare them to work with our military population. Along with providing that vital human connection which honors that individual's voice and experience,  therapists are also qualified to address the unique, diverse and on-going needs of their military clients, their partners/spouses and their families. 

Veteran's Day will come and it will go.

 Let's acknowledge and remember that there are organizations such as The Soldiers Project who
remain committed day in and day out to the wellness of our service members and our veterans.

Let's remember that for many of our service men and women who have returned from war and who are yet to return, their physical, emotional, and psychological battles are far from over.  

For more about The Soldiers Project, please listen to my interview with Becca Bettis - Director of TSP, Sacramento, CA.
The Soldiers Project - Sacramento Chapter
                                                                                                                       
For more information email Sacramento@TheSoldiersProject.org
Call 916-792-3728 or toll-free 877-557-5888

TSP National number 877-576-5343

Next time, we will discuss The Soldiers Project- Part Two: "A Therapist in the Trenches with our Wounded Soldiers"
The Soldiers Project: Part One



*  Kathryn Brohl, M.A., MFT and Rene Ledford, MSW, LCSW
The Returning US Veterans of Modern War: Background Issues, Assessment and Treatment (Elite Continuing Education Course, 2013)

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