Trauma Informed Living

I know teachers. Teacher friends, teacher daughters. I had a bunch of teachers in school. Some of those teachers from elementary school through my Some College days seemed to See me differently–like they knew how afraid I was all the time, how I felt wary and watchful, why I cried when I Wasn’t Good Enough, why missing one word in a year of 4th grade spelling tests was cause for High Anxiety. I didn’t know those were things for them to consider in their treatment of me in the classroom because those were my Normal.

I don’t know much about the ins and outs of Trauma Informed Education, but I’m hearing ripples of conversation about it throughout the teachers I currently know. When an educator can look at a child’s behavior as more than Good or Bad and instead view that student as a child who may Come From Crazy (me!) the dynamics change. And like with those teachers who could See me, the classroom becomes a Safe Place, a place where the student feels free to make a mistake, to be less than perfect and still be accepted and receive kindness.

It was hard to notice when my reaction was not your average reaction while in the grips–the very physical grips–of a trauma response. I remember in my high school creative writing class when the job of editing the class’s compilation was offered to me. My whole body began a hard trembling, my head became a confused, swirling buzz, and I fought tears. All I could do was to shake my head and say “no”. The teacher and the students smiled and urged me to accept, and I can only guess that I was well thought of, but every ounce of my will was at capacity just keeping me from bolting from the room. My face was hot and I was losing the fight to not cry. They moved on to pick another girl, a funny, artistic and more composed girl. She did a great job, I remained Invisible–and disappointed.

This wasn’t the first and it wasn’t the last time my body’s response called the shots. I’ve stood in stores, at church, and in my front room, unable to move, waiting for the panicked breathing and full-body trembling to subside. Slowly as I learn to name the Lies and replace them with Truth, I have less Triggery Badness engulf me. And I’m working toward quicker recognition of the signals so I can breathe and tell myself to save the STOP, DROP, and ROLL! for when I’m literally on fire.

I don’t know that I have some huge take-away from this post. I do wish I could thank the Mr. McMahons and Mrs. Swansons who treated me with perhaps a bit more gentleness than other teachers without making me feel like the weird bundle of nerves I was. And I’m thankful for the acknowledgment by the education system that when a child is acting out or withdrawing, they may be dealing with some bad mojo at home, and not just label them Bad or Dumb or Over-Sensitive. Those are horrible Lies for a child to carry in their bones.

The bring your own beverage conversation: Have you had experiences with labels being applied to you, and if so, how did those labels cause you to see yourself?

What tools have you found useful when dealing with a trauma response? I love using belly breathing to calm myself in the moment, and therapy with an awesome Mental Health Professional for the long haul, the deeper understanding, the overall changes.

Laughter is healing! I highly recommend the movie High Anxiety with Mel Brooks.


Learning to let go.


My dear doggy, Morris-the-Moose, Morris-the-Chocolate-Moose, my beautiful chocolate dappled dachshund, had been struggling more and more of late. Little seizure-looking neurological events when the sun got in his eyes were increasing, taking the joy out of his walks along the nearby trail. The only food of interest was either people food or doggy treats as he lost interest in his (rather spendy) kibble and canned dog food. He was stumbling more. He was asleep 90ish percent of the time, but increased his awake time exponentially when I was gone as he paced/barked/howled. Adorable little howls they might be, but the poor guy wasn’t happy. The vet and I were trying to find a protocol to ease the separation anxiety that left him unhappily awake when my friend and landlady or her son or other family were in the house but I wasn’t.

I knew it was time. Having a dog that only seems comfortable and content when he’s right next to you is difficult for both the owner and the dog. I’d used essential oils to rub him down, oils that were meant to soothe and calm. He loved the process and looked deliriously happy as he napped afterward. (See photo above)

15 years of companionship, of cuddling with me during my major depression, keeping me company as I learned to deal with the constant pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia. 15 years of floppy-eared chocolate joy. 15 years of Morris’s food-driven actions, even once leaping onto the dining table from the back of the couch during a family dinner.

Over the years my emotions and the emotions of others felt too big for me to hold. In the times my depression was improving, I was learning to see them for what they were: something that comes and goes. Approaching this awful time of knowing I needed to say goodbye, to let my Morris go, I had the old familiar fleeting thought–what if I am sad forever? What if I always feel this way?

Emotions as a child were overwhelming, and being in a family where everyone was overwhelmed by their own lives didn’t teach me the truth about my feelings, so all the feelings seemed to stick to me, to absorb into my sponge-like self. Feeling like that at 5 and 6 and 7 and so on made it seem that Sad and Terrified and Alone were forever feelings. The idea of loss was incomprehensible.

Thanks to my Favorite Mental Health Professional, my therapist, I’ve learned some Balance in more recent years, so I could hold Truths about my feelings. That my pain and grief would come and go, ebb and flow, but I would live and come out the other side of the loss. I also knew that my Morris was depending on me to take care of him. The decision couldn’t be All About Me because he needed me to choose on his behalf. Yes, my feelings matter and have weight. Sure, there’s pleasure and sadness in my memories of him. But those emotions couldn’t be trusted to make this momentous choice–the growing grown-up in me had to step up.

So I fed him peanut butter toast, thinking that As He Began So Shall He End, bringing his life full circle from the naughty puppy who jumped up and grabbed the peanut butter toast my daughter Corinne was taking a bite from as she sat on the couch. I fed him chocolate, something he always wanted when I was eating it (so like pretty much every day). May my last meal be peanut butter toast and chocolate, I think I would be satisfied.

Thursday, one week after Thanksgiving, one week after he turned 15, I took him to the emergency vet to say The Big Goodbye. My friend Jeanette accompanied me to offer support and decent Kleenex, since my Big Goodbye to Barnaby-dog earlier this year had brought to light the lousy level of tissues used by the veterinary office as it dissolved and attached in tiny pieces to every nearby surface when used.

Hard doesn’t explain it. I sobbed shamelessly and sloppily, holding my sweet little buddy to me. Soon it was over, the drugs having stopped his heart. No more impending congestive heart failure, no more seizures in the sun. No more chocolate.

So it’s done. Goodbyes were said.

And I know I will be sad, but not forever. In time I will remember him with love and smiles.

Poeming: Just Words.



Mama, Mama, write me,
write me
about how you wanted me,
Mama, Mama, five small words–
that I was your best idea.
Mama, Mama, I waited,
forever to hear some words
to heal the mama hole
in me,
a void in this little girl.
When you died, you wrote me,
wrote me
words of rebuke and pain,
sent in the mail by a
lawyer man,
more reproach and shame.
Mama, Mama, look down,
look down,
I’m doing the best I can
to be my own mama and
love myself
and fill the space
you left.





Today I thought I’d revisit a post from earlier in the life of The Lies In Our Bones, Invisible. If you’re feeling Invisible today I hope you know you’re not alone–I’m a recovering Invisible girl myself. 


I was standing beside my mother in line at the grocery store. I looked up at the full skirt of her dress.

I bet I could spin in that! Such are the thoughts of a 4 or 5 year old girl. I gazed up at the pretty brunette lady who was my mom, and my heart filled with warmth.

“I love you!” I said with happiness that she was my mommy, this beautiful lady.
No response.

I didn’t tug on her skirt that was waiting for a good spin, I didn’t poke my chubby little finger into her side. I knew better than to be a bother, so I stopped. I gave up being seen.

I knew the tightness in my chest and the ache in my tummy went with the feeling I didn’t have words for yet: Invisible. Unseen. My body was sad, and it was telling me through the sensations of pain and discomfort. And in time I learned to be glad for the times I was Seen, to save them up and hold the time that my sister told me how cute I looked, to absorb the kindness in a teacher’s eyes. I saved them, but in the long run I began to believe that Invisible was better. If I remained unseen by backing away and being quiet, and by trying to keep the peace by not bothering to even see myself and my needs, I didn’t get those troublesome feelings. Rather, I quit looking at them. I became Invisible to myself.

Our bodies are smart. While I was busy being Invisible to myself and realizing that with some people trying to be Visible brought more roaring and more pain, my body was trying to get my attention, to again become Visible. It was yanking on my skirt, poking me repeatedly in the side. And I kept ignoring it.

One day my body said “Enough!” and BOOM. Fibromyalgia. Constant pain and fatigue that could put me in bed, unable to cope with my regular day. BOOM. Terrible sleep became my companion, leaving me feeling like it was always 2 in the morning and I should be asleep. BOOM. Burning in my body, the feel of fire coursing through my extremities, and aching and more aching in my back, my shoulders, my torso. Simply getting out of bed in the morning was a massive act of my will.

I had to pay attention.

My flaws and frailties, my inability to stand up for myself, had landed firmly in my lap in the shape of a physical disability.

What will  I do for myself today? I will listen to my body. I will risk being Visible. I will stand up for myself.

As of today, October 12, 2017, I can add one more thing I’ve learned: what’s the point of spending time with those who don’t want to see me or hear me anyway? The energy of both brain and body is a precious commodity–let’s spend it where we get the most value for currency, in relationships that build us up.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Can you think of places in your life where you feel unheard and unseen? What about ones where you feel built up and encouraged to be the person you want to be? Which should get more time and energy?

Can we train our brains to let go?

When I read the book The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, I identified strongly with a character. May, one of the sisters in the book, feels the pain of others so strongly it’s as if their pain, grief, horror, is hers. Attempting to manage all these overwhelming feelings, she scribbles names or descriptions on small rolls of paper and pushes the roll into the crevices of a stone wall she’s built–that way she tries to externalize the pain and get it out of her own head.

I’ve felt something similar over my lifetime, but more selfishly, usually the overwhelming feelings have been my own emotions of pain, grief, or horror. At my most generous I’ve felt a strong urge to help someone else feel less pain. Even that has often  been driven by the fact that their emotional pain hurts me. If I can help them feel better, more at peace, then I am more at peace myself.

I want to be an empathetic person, a truly empathetic for the right reasons kind of person. I just want to be able to do it with some balance and flair, like one of those people in a circus flipping from high trapeze to high trapeze in a shiny leotard. (Mine would be aquamarine. With feathers.)

Here was the major roadblock: I didn’t even know I could practice my emotional trapeze technique. I thought I was stuck with the techniques I had at that moment. And being stuck in a constant state of Big Feelings is exhausting.

Better late than never, right? If my life thus far has been in thirds–first third childhood/college/single, second two thirds marriage/divorce–does that make the next twenty years of my life the fourth third? However the math works out, I’m hoping to practice practice practice my way to balance and poise in my emotional state. I want to learn to handle my emotions differently, handle the emotions of others differently. I want to be more authentic in my responses to someone else’s harsh situation and the resulting feelings. This means my motive has to be about them, their pain, not mine.

Knowing how to respond to someone’s emotional upset helps me focus on them, their need, and gets my eyes off my own bellybutton. When we don’t sit with the unpleasant feelings that have rushed in, we won’t process all the way through to closure and acceptance. Here are two similar tools I’ve learned and personalized for ways to deal with the Big Uncomfortable Feelings and Words of life:

Observe those feelings. Feelings come and go. Sometimes they feel like we will never get past them, and maybe there are certain ones we default to because of the way we see the world and the people in it. Without trying to change or judge my painful emotions of fear or sadness or grief and so on, I use a visual image–I am a large rock in the middle of a stream or river, with the water carrying my feelings as it runs constantly over my head and around me. As the rock I notice the feelings as they come rushing toward me, over and around me smoothly. “Yup, there’s my sadness in this situation. There goes my anger at the unfairness of it…and my grief that the situation will never be the way I wanted it to be.” We can sit with our feelings as long as we need to for them to run their course, as they do. It’s calming and somewhat meditative to simply observe them.

In the same way but with a different visual, we can observe the negative words put on us by ourselves and by others. I touched on this in a previous post. The wind is hitting my face, and I see pieces of paper with the negative words I’m hearing, no matter who we may have received them from. Close your eyes and picture the words on the pieces of paper: Foolish. Stupid. Less-than. Too loud. Incapable. No voice. etc.. As the wind blows these notes against your eyes and mouth and cheeks, visualize them hitting but not sticking to your face. Those words of self and other judgment are being swept away by the wind. Keep picturing this in your mind until the words run out and you realize they’ve gone and are now papering somebody’s back garden fence.

Both are simple to do. Either could work for words or emotions. I’m a pretty visual person, so this type of exercise is helpful for me.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Do you have repetitive words and phrases in your head or on your lips that label you negatively? Write a list of them. Do you have any big emotions you wish you didn’t have? Write a list. Use your list with either visualization, sitting quietly for 5 or 10 minutes and letting them clear out your mind of the labels, the painful feelings, and help you move forward. How did you feel after completing the exercise?


Remember that you have worth simply because you’re on this planet! #Ihaveworth


The Good Girl Lie

I tried not to jerk as her acrylic nail shoved into my closed eye. I was getting a facial and she was attempting to press acupressure points just below my brow bones. I’d had this done before by people a bit more mindful of their fingernails, a very good thing.

Why did I feel I couldn’t say “Would you please pull your nail from my eye” or at least turn my head?

I’m often captive to The Good Girl Lie.

A Good Girl can never make someone Feel Bad. A Good Girl can never make someone Uncomfortable. A Good Girl is never to Stir The Pot, Make Waves, or any other liquid or solid analogy that suggests she might have an emotion/opinion/thought that differs.

The Good Girl Lie that is still written in my bones says that my discomfort doesn’t matter, that I should protect the feelings of others above all else–apparently this includes the safety of my own eyeball.

As I write this I hear how foolish it sounds. This Rule, as my therapist/favorite mental health provider calls them, runs deep. I was the youngest of three kids, so I had plenty of opportunity to see how poorly it went when my older siblings had an opinion, had a feeling, had a thought that ran opposite our parents’. I became the people pleaser of all people pleasers, trying to ensure my lovability.

This is a joy I brought with me into adulthood. Our childhood coping mechanisms rarely work well in a grownup’s world–they’re too simplistic, too far off to one side, lacking balance. “I don’t want to get yelled at therefore I will only be Nice” may make sense to a five-year-old, but it doesn’t work well in the real world, where we need another piece, the “I am responsible for my own safety and well-being” part.

Wanting to be Good above all else makes sense to us when we’re kids trying to stay out of trouble with our parents and teachers, but the problem is that we end up taking care of everybody’s gardens, trying to keep everybody happy. No fences or boundaries in this scenario, just lots and lots of neighbors’ weeds and flowers to tend. It’s exhausting! But when we have our own individual thoughts (this is not the relaxing facial I was hoping for) opinions (I don’t like that the esthetician makes it sound like she won’t serve clients unless they buy the pricey products on her shelvesand our own feelings (when she puts her fingernail in my eye it makes me feel grumpy and annoyed rather than relaxed) then we can still be pleasant in the moment while looking out for our own wellbeing. Listening to ourselves can inform our choices and give us options rather than seeing it all from a single viewpoint.

So I didn’t ask her to remove her acrylic from my eye, but it’s a work in progress, yunno?

And I don’t have to go back to her, right? Well, at least not until after the second facial because I paid for two……. *sigh*

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Do you have a personal equivalent to The Good Girl Lie? Something where you haven’t allowed yourself a voice because someone else might not like what you have to say? A place you just give in even though it’s abrasive to your soul? What’s a step you can take, a boundary you can make, to protect your own wellbeing?

Alright, let’s get out there and stay safe!

9/30/2017 Addendum: I realize I totally ate a slimy, undercooked poached egg yesterday just so that I “wouldn’t make a fuss”. It was gross. Still learning.






The beauty of acceptance.

I get so excited and giddy when it’s time to have my hair colored and cut you’d think I was headed for a month in Hawaii.

My hair appointments are two hours of freedom to simply Enjoy. I get to enjoy conversation with my stylist who has made sense of my hair when it went from straight to curly-ish, and who has fought bravely to tame my difficult grays. It’s a problem I don’t have to solve–I can trust her and RELAX.

There are few times when I’m this good and non-neurotic about letting myself breathe slowly and melt into acceptance of the exact place I find myself in at the moment, whether physical, mental, or emotional. Less pleasurable things are of course harder to accept–think dentist appointments. There I am forced to concentrate on breathing, also on releasing the death-grip I have on the chair arms. Pain of any sort takes more work.

There’s a gift to be appreciated in this place of Accepting and Allowing life to be exactly whatever it is at the moment. My second-guessing goes away, and the judgmental voices in my head are quieted when I’m present in the moment. Balance lives in this space where I’m simply observing my life, not obsessing over the past or the future.

I’m fortunate to have an amazing therapist who has helped me find my way out of the minefield scattered with all the Lies in my bones, and here are some articles I’ve found while wandering through Psychology Today online that speak to the ways we can change our brains and learn to be present:

  • How to develop “Zen Presence”  This is the type of mindfulness that helps us to be aware and observant of our thoughts and emotions as we move through our days.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy I don’t know if my Favorite Mental Health Professional (my therapist) calls it this, but it certainly describes much of what she’s been teaching me. Basically, what good does it do us to avoid/judge/deny our emotions? If there’s trauma or depression or chronic pain etc., denying our feelings will only cause more distress. Better we should learn to accept how we feel, learn from those feelings and find ways of moving forward and being productive.
  • Meditation: Ancient Practice With 21st Century Application In the third sentence the guy uses the word “fart.” Of course he’s my favorite. ANYway, this article does a great job of explaining how meditation and mindfulness practice work together to quiet the mind, ease stress and so much more, all by actually changing our brain chemistry! How cool is that? I’ve seen more self-acceptance and less judgment as I’ve learned these techniques.

I’ve been using the Headspace app on my phone, and it’s been helpful in teaching me different aspects of meditation. The app has a variety of topics like Anxiety, Focus, Pain Management, and even some sport related ones to explore once you’ve completed the basic 30 day introduction meditation sessions. I was relieved to find there’s even a way to look at the inevitable thoughts that start darting about while trying to focus on your breath.

Calm is another app suggested by both my doctor and the therapist teaching the pain management class I’m currently taking. I’ve been playing around with it the past few days, and it has quite a few ways to help you get a better night’s sleep–music, nature sounds, stories read quietly, meditations. Other topics include resiliency to stress, relationships, anxiety, even commuting.

There are others out there, have a look around and find what suits your needs. Both of the apps I’ve tried have some initial parts you can use for free with a cost after that. But if you keep looking I know there are some freebies out there too.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What is a space or activity where you are in the moment and happily accepting of the circumstance? Are you willing to do some work to gain that same acceptance and lack of judging in other areas?

Remember–all of life is a process, and the good stuff tends to take practice!