It’s not yet Christmas and already Valentine items are out. The far future always seems to be shouting before the near future can be fully experienced. One thing that many people are thinking of before Valentine’s day is the New Year. The New Year brings thoughts about what we would like to be different in our lives. We realize that we can’t control the economy and decisions that others have not consulted us on, but what do we want to change? Us personally, about our lives?
Change can mean control or better yet a different, more effective way to respond to something, either internal, like that rumbling stomach and what to put in our mouth, or an external stressor. That external stressor could be who we might be spending the holidays with or any other number of things that show up in our day.
The easiest way to make and keep change in some aspect of your life is to make a very small change. Very small. Make that change consistently so that it becomes part of who you are, integrated into your being and you’ve made a long-lasting change. It has now become a habit and one not easily changed. I can do that! Yes, you can!
When do you want to start?
In order to make a change, you do have to decide which part of your daily dance you want to change and what you want to do instead. Your brain is in a habit and to change that habit it needs to know what we are doing instead of the response that we have been using for the past 10 or more years. The brain loves structure and to make a change? Well, the brain needs a plan.
So step #1 - Decide what you want to change. Eat a piece of cheese instead of a piece of pie? Respond with a smile? Take a breath instead of a comment you’ll regret later? Take a walk regularly? Think small, very small. Success will be easier to achieve.
Step #2 - Start thinking about all the what if’s and then construct your plan for when those what if’s show up. They will. I find that it’s easier to say no to pie/cake/cookies/ice cream when I’m feeling quite full. When I’m hungry and dinner is slow and pie is leftover and I’m only going to have a small amount, just a tiny amount really….
I need to decide and here is the big helpful piece – mentally rehearse - what I am going to do in those moments when I’m really hungry and tired and it’s dark and I don’t want to cook. Pie/cookies/ice cream is a fast and easy fix. But it isn’t change. Which is what we are after.
Mental rehearsal is what top athletes do when they “see” themselves making the catch, making the basket, making the goal. They do this more than once (hundreds of times actually) and they may have started “seeing” themselves as making the catch or the basket as young children or a teenager. The brain is getting into a mental habit and physical practice and mental practice make change more of a sure thing. The mental aspect of behavior has to change prior to, and along with, the physical responses. It is the way we are wired.
Also, don’t forget to ask someone you trust if they will check in with you to see how change is going. We all need someone in our corner and someone we can be accountable to.
Step 3 – Put your plan in place. You have determined what you want to change and you have decided on a small manageable change. You have thought about all the ways that barriers to changing your behavior dance could come up and decided how to manage them (getting real with yourself and writing down these things is very helpful). Keep in mind that there may be other barriers that come knocking that you hadn’t considered. That’s okay. Incorporate those new or unexpected barriers into your plan.
Step 4 - Finetune your plan. New things will come up. People may knowingly or unknowingly pressure you as you work your plan. They may be uncomfortable with your improvement and put psychological barriers in place. That is just fear of change speaking on their part. Know that their discomfort is not about you. Continue to finetune your plan.
Step 5 - Repeat the steps. I would not recommend more than 1 change a month if you are truly trying to make a change that is going to be long-lasting. Once you have some successes in your change corner, you may decide to vary your pace. Don’t underestimate the power that one small change can make in your life. It is like a line of dominos all lined up – one push affects all the others.
I wish you wonderful change and a happy New Year!
11/16/2022 0 Comments
Healing Through The Holidays
It’s not just the holidays. It could be other days as well. Birthdays, a remembrance of a look or a smell, a season or anniversary or when that happened. It is, however, all about connection. That’s what we miss most when the holidays make their appearance.
Connection with others and at times connection with ourselves. Sometimes we don’t allow that “I hate this, I miss them, when will I move past this?” part of ourselves to feel. Instead, we count the days until the holidays are over with or that one day in between Christmas and when Valentine’s Day promotions begin. Getting through the days can be grueling, our soul blistered from loss.
Healing through the holidays? With so many reminders of what is not present. Is it really possible? Yes, I think it is possible to move toward healing during this season as it is possible to move forward toward healing each day. That is the core of it. We only heal a bit at a time – a day at a time. It can be helpful to ground ourselves in some truths.
Healing takes time. Our society often rushes us as if the grief and loss we bear has an expiration date. No one is “over it” on a time expectation. Whether there is a physical death, an assault of any kind, a relapse that caused great or greater destruction, our bodies and our minds need time to process and they don’t always process hand in hand. So, truth #1: Be patient and gentle with the feelings of loss and the wish that things are not as they are.
Truth #2: We are built for connection. Our entire existence is connected with others. We were born out of connection – literally. And that is what makes healing so hard. Humans have hurt us in some way and other humans in caring respectful interactions can help heal us. However, sometimes, we are so fractured we can’t trust humans and then animals can provide the unconditional acceptance that is needed for healing. It’s not unusual for a resident at Busara to dream about, facetime, or long for their pet. It has been their place of safety.
I often think about how brave people are as they go through life doing the daily of life. Yet underneath there is great pain or loss and we never see it. We see their smile, kindness, or competence on the job. We never know how hard it has been for them to get through the day.
I experienced this last month when I was on a call discussing the provision of services for an organization. The call went really well which I was excited about. When the email came for a proposal of services, I decided to be vulnerable and share that my father had recently died and that I needed a bit of time before I could put some training together. The company representative shared that their father had died the day before mine. We were both being very brave and upbeat on that call, never knowing the mourning that was beneath the smile and professionalism. Sharing that information has allowed our relationship to develop in a very unexpected way.
Truth#3: Sharing helps to heal because it highlights we are not alone. Others are experiencing their own healing journey. Our words of understanding and comfort really can make a difference. Choose those whom you trust to share your story; not everyone needs to know the deepest parts of our soul, but many can provide a soothing touch and it does make a difference. We are connected by the common need to be known and understood.
Truth #4: Honor the memory or memories of your survival and those you love. Honor your strength and the hope that lies within for a better day and a better life. You can do this by noticing your level of peace and balance as you go through your days.
Take these truths, add your own, and heal well my friend.
Changing patterns, habits, thoughts, responses, behaviors. It is not easy. If it were easy, none of us would have bad habits, over-anything – eat, drink, shop, you name it - or show the emotional parts of ourself that we later find embarrassing or shameful. We would be the best version of ourselves. Apologies would be extinct. Now that would be a change!
We find ourselves somewhere in those 5 things because at the time those strategies worked for us. It certainly seemed better than the alternative, whatever that might have been. And so, we tried that behavior or thought or response again when the situation was similar and if we had a good result (less bad or better than we expected), then the brain registered the action as a success. A less than helpful pattern or habit was born and we may have not been consciously aware of it. That’s what makes change so sneaky.
Patterns of behavior don’t become engrained only when we are young children. We can experience trauma or other difficult situations when we are any age. The brain is our ultimate protector – it does its very best to protect us under all circumstances. That’s another things that makes change so hard.
The brain says to itself, why mess with a good thing? What the brain doesn’t know is that there may be a better thing. How is that possible? Because the brain hasn’t had the experience of doing something different. It just responds with what has been working. It’s logical that way!
There is also another reason why change is challenging. Our emotions. They are not logical. Our emotions always want us to feel better. To resolve the tension or sadness or anger in some way that make us feel less of any of those feelings. And if we feel vindicated or understood in some way, for example, those very powerful feelings reinforce our strategy or our pattern.
So how does real change happen? How do we change the pattern? We need to be detectives and it helps to have a sidekick. Sherlock had Holmes, Scooby Doo had Thelma. Bottom line, ideally, we need another perspective. Someone that we trust. Someone that is able to say, I notice this, what do you think? And we don’t get defensive.
If you don’t have someone like that in your life currently, you are going to have to pay VERY close attention to you and your behavior and feelings. What is the pattern and how do you interrupt it? What keeps that pattern going? How do you feel when the pattern continues or when you interrupt it? What do you tell yourself?
I have a resident who is working so hard in her recovery. She has figured out that when her body says it wants sugar, it’s really those substance pathways that are talking to her. She talks back and says, I don’t need that, it makes things worse. I don’t need to eat ice cream or cookies, it’s just that part of my brain talking. It’s remarkable.
When you have the information, then you have to know what are the circumstances that produce these not so helpful patterns? They may be a little different each time, but there is a theme. You can practice ahead if you know your theme and decide which part of the pattern you want to change. Remember, change in the pattern no matter how small is a change. It changes the pattern.
Don’t expect to be perfect or catch every part of the theme. However, watching you and deciding ahead of time what you want to do differently will make positive change a reality.
8/25/2022 0 Comments
WHAT HOME LOOKS LIKE
As I was really getting to know my husband while we were dating, I realized that it didn't matter what I looked like- perfect face or not, hair in place or not, grumpy or smiling, he still loved me and was happy to be around me (most times).
8/25/2022 0 Comments
Home Is Around The Table
When my son was young, we ate out more often at restaurants than I'd like to admit. Our time was competing for time! Eventually, the dinner and working thing seemed to get a bit smoother. It helped that our son had become an excellent cook. Conversation found its way into our meals and while meals weren't long or as often as I would have liked, at least we were together.
In our current climate of much to do, many of us have moved away from the consistency of daily meals. Connection is still important - witness the rise of Friendsgiving and many I speak with lament the lack of community in their lives. How do I build a community? It's not an easy task. Much to do in our everyday lives - all of us. No wonder we celebrate friendship when we can!
At Busara, we recognize the importance of community and the importance of sharing a meal together. Dinner together at Busara is an evening ritual. Some residents prep, while others cook and others clean-up. It's a rhythm that is familiar to those that grew up in homes where dinner together was a daily expectation. Creating and sharing a meal allows the sharing of self. Feelings and words make themselves known and the challenges and triumphs of the day and tomorrow's plans are shared. It's a healing and renewing experience, one that we miss when we eat in the car by ourselves or at our desk on a call.
Take the time to eat with someone this week and share a bit about you - something that is unexpected and discover how the day is changed.
8/11/2022 0 Comments
The Slow Squeeze Of Expectations
7/11/2022 0 Comments
“What You Wear, You Partner With”
I heard this statement today and it resonated with me. We seem to wearing so much these days and I'm not talking about clothes. We wear our beliefs about others, about ourselves, how the world should be and how it isn't. We wear what we are not even aware of. Sometimes it's exhilarating. Many times, it can be exhausting and seem like wearing a fur coat (faux or real, doesn't really matter) in summer. You can only get so far without wanting to take that thing off.
The taking off though, really, it means change. Sigh. That is the part that we often procrastinate, push back and sometimes just say no to, even if it means staying in that negative pattern longer. We do know that pattern. It does feel safe, can we just admit it and not judge?
May I introduce you to the Frustration Formula? It's fabricated expectations combined with failed realities. Simple and complex. Maybe the first start to changing what we partner with is changing our expectations of ourselves and each other. Maybe we really look at what we really want to partner with and like a turtle stick our neck out, just a litttttttle bit, willing to do something different. Do enough of that long enough and we may end up wearing our perfect outfit. Donate the coat.
7/4/2022 0 Comments
A Voice From Treatment
Sleep, sleep my beloved, sleep without worry, without fear.…..
As a mental health professional with 40 years in the field, I have literally had tens of thousands of hours with individuals, families, and groups who have internal emotional pain. They are seeking for the roar of that pain be lessened, soothed and to experience healing. The journey often seems so long and for many it is.
While I work with men, couples and families, Busara is a therapeutic home focused on the healing of emotional pain of women. I identify with pain as you do, my kind-hearted reader. We all have our pain- it's inescapable.
How we deal with it- ever heard of drugs, alcohol, too much sugar, too much risk, partners that weren't good for us, cutting, burning, promises to change, too much work? Those are a start. Add in wrecked relationships of all kinds, job losses, never made it through school, etc. The list grows like fertilized bamboo.
The pain seeps out and begs to be soothed in some way. What we use depends on us and what we are hearing ourselves tell ourselves about what we deserve. Not much, that we deserve that is, or maybe we deserve more than we have the energy or belief for. It doesn't really seem to matter.
Then something changes We take a risk on ourselves. Go to treatment, counseling, meetings, sponsors. We start to believe we can. Make a change. Have a future. Live a life.
And it goes well until a trigger shows up or maybe 5, or maybe 10, and then we say “I'm done”. It's too hard. And it is hard. VERY hard. So we go back to what we know soothes us even if it hurts us. And it does.
But a decision comes. To try again. And again. And again. Many of the women that are residents at Busara have had 3-5 experiences with residential treatment. They are incredibly brave. They try every day, sometimes every hour. Sometimes, it's minute by minute.
That's what I admire about women with mental illness. They have the courage of a warrior or shall I say, warrior-ess. They assess the battlefield and remember what happened before. Take a deep breath and try AGAIN.
Their courage seems impossible. Who has that strength? Where does it come from? How is it possible? But somehow in spite of the reminder of failures (it's always plural), there is a determination to say to themselves, I will try, AGAIN. To create the life I would like to have. To be the person I think I can be.
By: Gail A. Chester
Psychologist, PhD, LPCS, LMFT., Author