A Tiger Named Covid

I’m a big fan of tigers, jaguars and panthers. I love how they live in a pack, are caring for the little ones, and are so tough. And yet they are used a lot as reference to the things our bodies fear the most. Have you heard the expression “your body is afraid of the tiger in the bushes?” We either flee them, play dead, or try to fight back. In today’s current global crisis, Covid has become that tiger. Our body prepares to keep us safe by bringing up times we were in harm’s way, similar to an alarm system. Our ancestors surely faced more dangerous tigers, and we still embody this primitive, reptilian reaction in our present life.

I’ve spent my career supporting others who are healing from trauma, both relational or developmental trauma as well as birth trauma. I’d like to think I know a few things about how to help others heal. In fact, I am so passionate about helping people heal from their past trauma and believe that they can. I have gone through my own experiences of trauma and pain. And yet, I have never gone through a pre-traumatic event with any of my clients or community.

None of us have.

This pandemic is the first collective trauma of this kind any of us in this lifetime has endured. Of course, some of us have endured other forms of trauma including relational abuse and war. Some of have faced institutional oppression, racism, and genocide. Some of us have ancestors who experienced violence and trauma and still are impacted by it – as well as us as our bodies have inherited that lived experience of trauma. In today’s pandemic, we may not be impacted by it in the same way, and yet we are all experiencing some level of pain from this global health crisis.

Our body and brain are experiencing some levels of stress. Some of us still have to leave their homes to work and that is anxiety-inducing. Some of us have family members who need to leave home to work and that is nerve-wracking. Others of us have to stay at home with someone who is abusive towards them, and they are in a constant state of activation. Others have lost income due to jobs that are no longer there, or have family who has been diagnosed with Covid19.

The current collective trauma is a re-traumatizing experience for those that experienced trauma in the past. Being stuck indoors reactivates the body’s reminder that it cannot leave and needs to flee in order to be safe. Some clients have shared with me that their former trauma is really resurfacing for them as their body recalls similar sensations as in the past trauma experience. Their bodies feel stuck, they can’t release their feelings, or feel like they are walking on eggshells in order to not cause a volcano explosion – their partners, theirs, or their children’s. A lot of us are just within or outside our Window of Tolerance of regulation.

We do not have to be trauma survivors to experience fear and trauma during this crisis. Double trauma is the new experience mixed with old ones, and peritrauma is the potential of becoming traumatized during this event. After all, trauma is defined as something too big, too much and too fast to bear. I know I am experiencing a lot right now that is too much and too fast to digest.

Trauma is an embodied felt sense after experiencing something hard we are not able to rebound from. Trauma lives in our body as well as mind so we need strategies that help both parts heal. This helps us move past a startle defense response that keeps trauma active in the body.

We are now past the initial “Honeymoon stage” of life temporarily in Quarantine and Distancing. Some of us have found some ways to imbed a new routine and others are feeling more activated by the ongoing pandemic and its impact on our everyday lives. We have the potential to bounce back after this experience, but the uncertainty of when it ends keeps us feeling stuck.

Our brain’s Central Nervous System is made up of 2 parts – the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). Our sympathetic nervous system helps us prepare for things and keeps us protected. You many have heard of the term “Fight or Flight” as reference to our body’s way of reacting to feeling unsafe and needing to either flee the tiger or fight off the tiger. Two more ‘f Words’ are Freeze and Fawn, which are at the other end of our brain’s way of responding to threat to safety. Each are an innate instinctual response to threat, as our body’s alarm system is activated to respond in a pre-determined way. We can’t typically change how we respond but we can lessen the impact and severity.

An embodied sense of trauma is not so much about what happened to us as how it lingers in our body, so we don’t need to talk about the event itself. Rather, what we need is having empathic listening, resources, and rest. We have an innate capacity to move through trauma, it just needs to be supported. It helps to have someone bear witness to us so that we don’t hold inside the trauma in absence of a compassionate witness. In my previous post, I shared ways to build this community so you feel less alone in your experience.

Trauma processing work doesn’t erase the trauma but rather minimizes how it grabs us. A main goal of therapy is to uncouple trauma-based emotions from the sensation that is stored in your body. This will then help you integrate the impact in your body as a memory rather than a real-life reminder in the here and now.

You can definitely do things in the here and now to lessen the impact of peri-trauma in your body. While therapy is a key support, it is not alone in ways to help yourself.

Things to do for you now “Without tools trauma rules”

We build resilience as we build our capacity to take care of ourselves after trauma. It may help to notice what your response is. Do you have a sense of this already? If not, this article may help a lot as it may be beneficial to sit with your thoughts as you reflect on times in your life where you reacted to something that upset you. Try not to think of something too big as it may make you re-live it, but rather a time when you were surprised and how your body responded.

For instance, I am a Freezer. I freeze when I am scared. My body feels stuck in place and my feet feel like they are frozen in ice. And not like Elsa. Let me share this story to paint the picture a bit better: my son fell down the stairs once when he was not even 2 years old. As he inched closer to the stairs, I noticed my alarm system react. But I felt stuck in ice or quicksand and could not move to rescue him. I screamed and responded to him when he was already at the bottom of the stairs. He was fine, and only bit his lip. Now, whenever he or his sister is at the top of any staircase, I recall this sensation in my body.

My son is a Fighter – even the lightest tickle will turn my son into a green mini-Hulk. He cannot bear the sensation, even if by accident and he will hit with fists to protect himself. My daughter is a Fawn who seeks closeness to us when scared, and also is more quick to bounce back and people please after a conflict.

Once you get a sense of the reaction in your own body, it makes it easier to know the tools, resources and exercises that help you in the here and now moment of your SNS kicking in. Here are some tips to help you when your Alarm system (aka SNS) is on and you can’t access the parasympathetic part of social connection or rest. Accessing these resources may help you get back into regulation during this pandemic.

Flight
* Go outside – take a drive, even your balcony, and look for nature prompts to stay in here and now. Play the 5 Senses Game to stay present.
* Walk around home space or go for a walk outside safely. Do a mindful walk or ecstatic dance and move your arms. Let your arms take flight as your reaction may feel stuck in the core of your body. Moving your periphery is very stabilizing
* Orient in the space around you with your eyes – move your head side to side to help you see different perspectives. This bi-lateral work is great for your brain to regulate.
* Do a sun salutation yoga sequence to get you flowing
* Breathe work – try a Self-Compassion Break exercise

Fight
* Roar like a Lion – Have an outburst of anger and scream as tension in your body gets stuck in the throat so breathing helps it be let out.
* Move your breath down to your belly – short breaths are connected to running, and we associate running from tigers. If we can breathe deeply then we are not scared. It sends a message to your brain that you are safe.
* Have a cool shower to regulate the heat that is rising with anger
* Run in spot then bring breath back, jumping jacks, box in pillow to get the anger out in a safe way
* Give yourself a small smile too as it loosens the tension in the jaw and sends a message to your brain that you are okay
* Push your hands against a wall, with your feet planted firmly on the ground
* Do some yoga Warrior poses

Freeze
* Warm UP – the felt sense of numbness, disconnection, chronic pain, disconnected from emotions needs warm so use a warm bath or blanket. Get your shoulders to feel the weight and warmth of it.
* Do some breathe work with the word Vooo to release some of the stuck energy.
* Body exercises like alternate foot step, progressive muscle relaxation, or playing catch with a ball helps your brain also get stimulated and distracted. This movement also warms your body up.
* Guided visualizations of a warm soothing place
* Lie against a wall and put your legs up the wall – this helps your flow and energy change and your heart beats more rhythmically.
* Find a restorative yoga class to follow online

Fawn
* Connect with others – join groups online or classes, or reach out to others
* Listen to podcasts to hear another voice in your home to decrease feeling of loneliness
* Heart breath work including placing your hands over our heart and breathing out more slowly than in but saying ‘shhhhh’ outloud
* Visualization of a happy memory activates estrogen, a bonding hormone
* We orient to others to engage so turn your neck and eyes from side to side, to seek out someone in a photo, the radio, on TV
* Write a letter to a loved one or look at photo albums
* * Give yourself a hug or get a hug from someone, try the Butterfly Hug. This helps slow down the stress hormone cortisol and slow breathing into your chest. Hug a pillow and breath out – we need to get to belly breathing here too

Not knowing when the trauma or fear is going to leave is what re-triggers the body in the here and now. Our brain stays stuck in the activated part to keep our alarm system on, but it works too hard and doesn’t know when to shut off. Kind of like that fire alarm in your home that doesn’t stop when the battery runs out. With any of these reactions, think of a part of you that needs to know it can move – feet, arms, orientation of periphery and tend to it. You can massage your feet, dance, move, walk around. Send lovingkindness, compassion, and gratitude to your body for being there to protect you.

Think of learning these resources like a way to enact a Nervous System bubble. In our current situation, think of things that are activating you. Is it wearing a mask? Is it seeing others in masks? Is it going to the grocery store? Or is it being stuck at home and unsure of what the future holds? Once you have somatic resources like these listed above, you are better able to respond to the need and titrate the sensation.

In previous posts, i have shared the concept of Titration; it allows us the experience of looking back at the trauma in the body but in a way that is controlled and not overwhelming. As we start to look at this, our body can resist and get overwhelmed because it’s been so used to holding back or stopping feelings from coming up again. So, pause and think of a more gentle memory. Slow down the overwhelm or anxiousness that enters your body but intentionally connecting to what you sense.

I love to garden and April is meant for planting seeds of intention, so having this affirmation handy may be a way of taking care of your heart too: you are the medicine for your own trauma. Dig deep for only you can make those wildflowers bloom again (source unknown)

Having a natural curiosity to explore your options to heal trauma is a key ingredient to heal. It may feel scary to do this work in this moment and yet staying with your feelings and doing somatic mindfulness work in the here and now is what will help your body know you are safe right now. Of course you are scared and overwhelmed – that makes so much sense with what we are living through right now. Give yourself the practice of self-compassion – speak to yourself about yourself with a kind heart, give yourself grace and patience.

How to Soothe Yourself During Times of Crisis

I know I’m not alone with having a lot of mixed feelings during this global health crisis. It’s times like this that I am grateful that my work choice gives me access to many tools for emotion regulation.

This week was supposed to be a gentle staycation with my kids, as it’s the start of March Break. Instead, we are home and needing ways to co-regulate.

I’m reminded of the importance of routine in our daily life, as it helps us foster the resilience that is in all of us. As I’ve written about before, children need 3 things to have the best chance of resilience – play, rest and access to feelings. I’d say that adults also need these.

There are many great exercises to help regulate ourselves during a crisis or in everyday stressful situations. Here I’ve collected some of the ones I know work because I do them for myself and my family.

Resource #1 Find time to Rest Play Feel
When was the last time you got to stay home and rest your body? Especially in this day and age where productivity is most valued, being told by those in power to stay home feels confusing, to say the least. Seize this opportunity to do less. Do not pressure yourself to do all the things every day this week. We need a relaxed and healthy nervous system so that we don’t stress our bodies. A body in stress is more susceptible to illness.

Instead of working and cleaning, running a home school and doing chores, play. Laugh, do a messy craft. Go to bed earlier. Talk to people about what worries you (make sure to ask them for permission to be slimed by your fears first). Dance to a good playlist. Eat good food (not just healthy but the good comfort food too). Write in a journal and process these thoughts. Find some free yoga or meditation classes online to help your body get to rest. And yes, do get outside! Nature is healing in so many ways, and the Spring that is sneaking up in my garden is a good reminder of resilience.

Resource #2 Connection
While we have been advised to social distance ourselves to keep us all as safe and healthy as possible, that doesn’t mean we can’t connect with others. Reach out to friends and families. I am so glad that I have a couple of chat groups that are keeping me connected – my peer consultation group that holds space for each other, and my friend group where we talk about what worries us, what angers us, and what confuses us. And it’s not always about the Virus. We compared favourite TV shows and how to keep our white laundry still white.

My children and I made cards for family, and will Skype call them this week and next. We cuddle with each other, read in the family bed, and we go outdoors where some trusted neighbour-friends also venture out.

When we know we are in community, we also then see that we are not alone in this fear of situation. When I worry about how to pay my expenses next month, I remind myself that everyone else is worried too. When I am struggling with my children squabbling, I can share this feeling with others and know that so many of us are in this together. That Shared Humanity is a crucial part of self-compassion work – we are stronger together!

Resource #3 Titrate Your Attention
We are getting all sorts of information and news about Covid19. That doesn’t mean we need to read them all. Choose the places that you trust the most, and pace yourself with getting access to the news. Then, intentionally go to a better place in our mind. That may be your Happy Place. Notice the sights, smell, sounds, body sensation, and flavours that linger in your mouth in that place. This process helps your body access this place more easily and linger in our body. It literally then helps your nervous system regulate.

Pendulation is a helpful way for your body to slow down the impact of stress. It intentionally works by pendulating back and forth between something good and something hard. This article shares more about it. This intention helps you lessen the impact of a negative or scary thought. You balance it intentionally with positive or more soothing thoughts. You can do it but thinking of something that is hard for you, noticing how it sits in our body and where it is, then go to a more gentle thought. Embody this new positive thought and then go back to the first one. It’s a way to slow down by envisioning a volume control button, dimmer light switch, or remote control as you do this.

There are some great resources online that walk you through some of these exercises and meditations. Here is just one source. It shares a bit more about Somatic Experiencing and how it is so helpful during times of crisis like now.

Titration is literally a way to notice just one part at a time, like a puzzle piece instead of the whole puzzle. It’s a way to separate out and work on only a small bit of the emotions or sensations and leave the rest for later, when you are more resourced. Speaking of puzzles I’m working on an epic one with my family this week and it is a great tool for distraction and focus!

Resource #4 Eyes Smile Nod
Gordon Neufeld talks about this tool to help parents ensure they have their children’s full attention. This is a great tool for anyone in contact with others – when we can make eye contact and smile, we are literally accessing the Ventral Vagus Nerve, that is used to help us get to a more relaxed and rested Parasympathetic Nervous System. The vagus nerve lives in your body right behind your eyes, cheeks and mouth and continues down to your perineum. The nod also accesses that part of the brain that bilateral stimulation is engaged. EMDR also does this, as does tapping your feet in alternate steps, or swaying side to side. This is so soothing for your nervous system.

Want to learn more about this theory? Stephen Porges has given us the gift of Polyvagal Theory. Irene Lyon is a great source of info too, and she combines polyvagal theory with Somatic Experiencing tools. Check out her video here for more info. And, you can definitely incorporate ways to access the vagus nerve with how you model co-regulation with children. This article shares some ideas.

So, even if you are not in direct contact with people the next few weeks, when you are on a video call with them, or across the room or street, make a point to give them your eyes, smile and nod. Your nervous system will thank you.

Resource #5 Hold on to a Good Moment
Our brain has a natural tendency to focus on the negative. It’s our brain’s way to protect us from that tiger in the bushes. Our sympathetic nervous system is built to keep us safe and go into Flight Fight Freeze Fawn response when it needs to. That doesn’t mean we need it all the time. When you notice that you are activated or triggered by upsetting news right now, you can instead make a point to balance this fear by telling your brain that you are safe. One way to do that is to go to that good moment in your memory bank. This moment is stored in your body as well as your brain. A somatic tool helps you access it by getting to it from the bottom up, meaning from your body. Up. To your brain last. I can share a memory from my childhood with my beloved gazebo as an example. It has many good memories attached to it, and the image of a treehouse is a perfect analogy for your brain to get to the upstairs part versus where the amygdala lives in the downstairs part of the primitive brain.

Here are the steps:
After recalling the memory, notice first what the body sensation is connected to this moment. For me, it’s a warm glow in my heart when i can picture myself in the upstairs room of the gazebo. The glow is warm and yellow like a sunflower in my heart.

Go through the 5 senses to bring out the image more – the white gazebo fence, the sounds of many birds singing, the smell of flowers in my mom’s garden, the feel of wood on the chair I’m sitting on, and the taste of chocolate (i imagine a lot of Mr. Christie’s chocolate chip cookies in this playhouse)

Now notice the body movement with this memory – as you recall it, what does your body want to do? For instance, i can picture running up and down the staircase and feeling the breeze. So I feel the movement in my thighs moving up and down

Now, think of what is the emotion attached to this moment? I was happy here; this place felt cozy, safe, fun, playful, and content, even if my world didn’t always feel that way.

Finally, what is the thought that comes with this memory – the house symbolizes a felt sense of happy child and imagination for me.

Resource #6 Say Hi to your Hero
This is a good time to seek out your support circle. I don’t mean the people in your actual life, but the superheros or characters that have had your back over the years. It could be you cat, Captain Marvel, or June from Handmaid’s Tale. It can be people in your life but in the past. Who are the Recalled Resources that have held you in scary times? I have some goddesses I look up to and some are online like Gottess or therapists with fabulous instagram pages. When I seek out their words, my whole mind body and spirit are hugged. When the world is sharing this collective fear, call upon those you trust and look up to for their strength, wisdom and fierceness. Spend time reading their work, or watch their movies, read books about them. You get the idea. Make a plan for a personal development project with their expertise in mind. Channel their wisdom and strength. For me, that means taking cat naps like my cat, strengthening my body with home yoga/walk/dance sessions, emerging myself in more moon studies. And yes I’m watching Marvel superhero movies and staying season 3 of Handmaids Tale.

#7 Have a Room of Your Own
When we are all self-isolating to some degree, that may not be from our own direct family. Some of us may find this time especially hard or unsafe. It’s important to plan a safety plan that incorporates how to ask for hep when the person who is hurting you is home with you. Think of code words for friends to listen for, hide your browser history, connect with people regularly to check in and confirm you are safe.

It is also important for all of us to find ways to regulate ourselves so that we can keep community with each other. That means, in order to regulate back into our Window of Tolerance, we need to adopt Virginia Woolf’s idea of the room of our own. Even if that means for 15 minutes a day, you lock yourself in the bathroom and have a long soothing shower, pleasure yourself (remember I how i mentioned above that the fabulous Ventral Vagus Nerve goes right down to your perineum!) when everyone else is in bed.

Make an agreement with anyone you may live with that it benefits all of you to get planned time alone. You don’t have to be an introvert to need this. It will help even more to find time for self-reflection, practice gratitude, and also have time to yourself so that you can repeat this all again tomorrow. Write in your journal and answer questions like this 1) what is something I’m grateful today 2) what is something I can let go of 3) I forgive myself for … 4) I’m looking forward to ….

There is always room for hope and looking forward. It helps if you spend time with it intentionally, so your body can feel it too.

Take care of you these coming days.

On the Day of Your Funeral

Please note this is a raw and heart felt poem I wrote as I held space for my client. It was also a way to process the grief I felt. I share it now as a reminder of the many layers of trauma.

I learned recently that a client of mine died unexpectedly. Her death was more peaceful and gentle than her life. Her final hours were not so peaceful. At the end, she died doing something she was familiar with, that had been a coping tool for too many years. She died because she was trying to quiet the sadness and demons that were living in her.

On this day of your funeral, i am crying quietly to myself. I’m so sad that i never got one more visit with your vibrant and curious mind. I loved our loud sessions, and your hope for better.

She died because she had internalized the abuse and shame that had been poking at her for too long.

On this day of your funeral, I’m so angry at the economic context that criminalizes drug use at the same time as not having more support for trauma survivors.

She died because she was sexually abused as a child and her childhood was taken from her.

On this day of your funeral, i am present thinking of all the sexual abuse survivors i have known, worked with, supported, and been a part of their healing journey.

She died because people feel uncomfortable with mental health and ‘those people.’

On this day of your funeral, i am holding space for you and all that you had to endure. To say that you lived a life of trauma and suffering is an understatement. You deserved a better life.

She died because she had fallen through the cracks like so many women, who live in poverty, with mental health diagnoses and addiction.

On this day of your funeral, i am so proud of your resilience – you had overcome so much and were working on a better life for yourself. I know that your final days were not the main part of you, but rather parts of you that were too wounded still.

She died because her body was carrying around so much baggage and pain from being sexually assaulted and physically abused for all those years.

On this day of your funeral, i am honoured that you shared your life with me and trusted me with parts of you that were so vulnerable, ugly, unspoken, and raw.

She died because the world doesn’t give a fuck about how trauma impacts us, but instead values success and independence and white picket fences.

On this day of your funeral, i’m so sad that you were alone when you died. That you felt alone and hopeless. There are so many people who loved you for who you are

She died in pain – her heart was broken and her body was exhausted.

On this day of your funeral, I am curious what you’re wearing as I know your style was a big part of your reclaiming of your body.

She died dying to reclaim her body and find pleasure again – her sexualized sense of self was still a work in progress.

On this day of your funeral, i’m sorry that i wasn’t there more to bear witness to the parts of you that struggled to come out.

She died because she wasn’t seen and we let her down.

On this day of your funeral, may your next adventure be the one of your dreams.

A New Dawn, a New Year

I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions, but i do appreciate taking time to reflect, take stock, and work on my dreams. While i do a smaller version of this each month, during the Full Moon and New Moon days, I also like to reflect on what is important to me each year.

It’s a chance for me to get humble and vulnerable, to hold space for my imperfectedness. It’s also a beautiful opportunity to pause and be intentional with my life.

This month, why not take some time to yourself and do a year-long plan? Get a journal, or download one of the many good FREE workbooks out there. I created a more simple page as a journal prompt, that you can check out here.For longer and more in-depth guides, give yourself an hour or so. This one is a longtime fave of mine . I also love Tiny Ritual’s guide, that you can find here. For a guide on the past year, here is one i really like for reflecting. I haven’t yet tried this journal (Year Compass) but i have heard good things and plan to work on this week. Based on what has come up in these exercises, think of some key words that can help guide your new year. These are the anchors that help you set your intentions.

This week’s Full Moon on January 10 is a perfect time to reflect on the year (and decade) that just was. Later on this month, on Jan 24, you can look forward to the year that is just coming up the horizon. Who said you have to commit to these plans right on January 1? There is research that shows that going cold turkey doesn’t work anyway. So practice these goal-setting plans with self-compassion and look at ways you can practice it for the whole year through.

Some things I’m going to reflect on are that i became a mom a decade ago, I started a private practice in this past decade, i bought my own paddleboard this past year, and i have become more embodied in my own life and work.

One thing i do is a yearlong Goddess Oracle spread. Each month is championed by a Goddess, and the intention that she carries. For instance, this month i am guided by Shakti who represents Energy through the chakras. I put the card on my temple and she keeps me company for the month. I love this ritual and how it plays a role in my year.

Another ritual i have is a meditation on a word that will help be my guide or chaperone for the year. It is my Word for the Year. I know it’s getting a lot of buzz right now, but for me it really works. Having a word as an anchor helps me make more deliberate and purposeful choices in my everyday life. In years past, it has been Balance, Breathe, Love. Last year, I also included a word for each season and it helped me manifest my goal even better. The support words were Refreshing, Joy, Nourish and Cozy. Feel free to read my old journal entry here to read more about that.

I also do a Tarot spread for myself on the Word. I ask for guidance on how to bring in my wanted feeling, what obstacles may be in the way, and what path to take. I find this exercise to be a lovely way of grounding my intention as well as bringing it all together.

This year, my anchor word is R H Y T H M. It is similar to Balance surely but also is giving me more access to things that I want back in my life. Like dance (a new class maybe?), music (i have forgotten to play music at home like i used to). The supportive words to accompany it are Pause, Align, Self, Grace,). Not all of them are chosen because i want to reach them (like grace for instance), but rather i am curious about them and seek the challenge of looking at what their place may be in my life with rhythm.

So, when i am grappling with a choice or decision, i will ask myself “how will this bring my rhythm?” Or “what can i do right now that will help me find my rhythm?” Having a word may help choose the right path, or the better path. It may also serve as a reminder to not react impulsively, but rather to pause and take a full breathe in and out before responding.

So for me, i am curious to see if Rhythm is a path to getting to Me better.

Trauma-Informed Care put into Practice

A trauma-informed approach is defined as a strength-based program or system that realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery, the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, and others involved in the system; it then responds by integrating this knowledge into its practices and seeks to actively resist re-traumatization

I’m so glad that there has been a movement to implementing trauma-informed principles in all sorts of workplaces. Yoga classes, massage and physiotherapy, dental clinics, schools, and family lawyers have all made commitments to be more trauma-informed. While therapists may work with people who have experienced trauma, that does not always come with being trauma-informed. One would assume it’s part and parcel. That is not always the case, unfortunately. Further, someones the therapist is but their office or clinic does not work from a trauma-informed practice. Over the years of my work, I have both learned and implemented key principles and practices to ensure that my work is trauma-informed. For me, that includes doing what I can to help people I support feel safe and respected by me, that they are valued as the expert in their lives (versus me as a professional), their voice is empowered and have choices, as well as working from an intersectional anti-oppression framework: I work with compassion, collaboration and non-judgment. Being trauma-informed for me also includes knowing that everyone has a right to resilience and recovery/healing and trust is earned. I also know about the impact of trauma on people and have tools to assess for the symptoms.

As a Feminist Therapist for over 20 years, I strongly believe that being trauma-informed is deeply connected to my work: I’ve been a trauma-focused therapist for over 14 years. For instance, I know that people who identify as women (whether it is cis-gendered, trans or genderqueer, non-binary) experience gender-based violence at a far greater and disproportionate amount compared to their male peers. When I work with a new client, this informs my work – while she may be coming to me for support about adjusting to parenthood, she may have witnessed or experienced violence first-hand in her past. This may implicitly impact how she sees her role, workload, and role as a parent. Unresolved trauma lives and manifests in our bodies and lives in a way that keeps the trauma storied part of us activated.

Further, as a therapist who works with sexual violence, I also know that people who are giving birth who have a history of sexual assault may be very likely to experience triggers during pregnancy and birth – the birth process can be quite re-traumatizing in fact. This includes both the birth itself as well as the early postpartum period.

There are so many good models of trauma-informed care (TIC). I have put together this one with the 6 key principles that inform my work. For instance, I take the intake and assessment process slow. I don’t expect clients to share with me their history of trauma in the first 1-3 sessions (typically it’s seen as required information in order to get service). That disclosure should come with time, established trust and rapport, and the development of a relationship. I am a relational therapist – I value alchemy between us, I self-disclose my own lived experience at times (i.e my own miscarriage loss), and I am committed to work from a place of non-judgment and compassion. We build our work together on compassion and collaboration and they navigate how the sessions go – be it how and where they sit in the room, and what they want to talk about in session. As I’m trained in several therapy modalities, I also believe it’s important to use what is best for my clients, and would refer to someone else if it’s not the right fit.

Being a trauma therapist does not mean I expect to hear the trauma story itself. In fact, that may not happen at all. To me, being a trauma-informed trauma therapist means I work to help people access their resources (strategies that are physical, relational, spiritual, emotional and mental) so that they can find ways to integrate their trauma part (i.e traumatic birth experience) into their everyday life now, so that it doesn’t remain a fragmented part that still triggers them when it’s the anniversary/birthday. As trust is earned, it’s important to me that we build this connection slowly, and pace the trauma work so that people feel safe when they leave their session with me. While I don’t think anyone can guarantee a 100% safe place, I make it a practice to do my best to collaborate my clients.

Trauma-informed care for me also means that the person seeking my support is the expert in their own life –Clients are their own expert. I am just a guide that is there to support them. I don’t carry any expectations of my own. I also bear witness to the various social locations and how that can impact their healing i.e from birth trauma and the intersection if they are a racialized or otherwise marginalized person. I also overtly acknowledge my privilege as a white cis-gendered woman, who also has power as a psychotherapist. I make this intersection explicit in my work name the oppression for what it is, instead of minimizing. Making links to the systemic forms of discrimination is an important practice of TIC as it holds space for truth instead of internalizing shame and guilt.

Working from a trauma-informed place also means that I am their advocate if they need or request it. I share resources with them if part of their chosen healing journey includes taking legal action. There are great organizations and advocates that can support someone in their healing process. As big component of post-traumatic growth is when survivors advocate not only for themselves but others as well. That’s why movements like #metoo and Birth Monopoly are so powerful. It is inherently healing to feel interconnectedness with others who have similar stories. It’s part of my role and responsibility to share these resources with the people i support. I also bring it into my practice even when people don’t ask for it overtly – we don’t know what we don’t know is available as a resource.

Trauma-informed practice also includes how I take care of myself as I can be impacted by vicarious trauma. I have tools, activities, and regular practice of self-care. I also think it’s necessary to keep learning about my work, and push myself to be even better as a therapist. I seek out peer and clinical consultation and believe that all therapists need to do this, regardless of them being in practice for 5 or 25 years.

When you are seeking support from a therapist or practitioner, ask them what their definition of trauma-informed care is. If they don’t have one, that may be a sign that they are not thinking of the inherent impact and context of trauma. Not everyone works in a trauma-focused profession but if they are not at least trauma-informed in the practice, that means they are not keeping your safety and needs at their forefront of their work. Trauma does not have to be complex and Big T, but anyone who has lost a job, grieved the death of a loved one (including a pet), moved to a new city with no support, had a significant injury or illness have all experienced trauma that still lives in their body.

We deserve better. We deserve to get support that honours what our body knows. As Pat Ogden has so wisely shared, “the body always leads us home.”

An Eternal Flame – How to Say Hello to Mom Burn-Out

I’m a mom. I’m a feminist. I’m a therapist for women. I am a feminist mom wholeheartedly. And yet i am faced with that beautiful vulnerability of being flawed like anyone else: I am burning out.
My little flame is wavering a bit.

It is not lost on me that i am a therapist who supports new parents, especially mothers, with the transition into parenthood. And i can’t help but feel the grasp of imposter syndrome that I too am immersed in the impact of Impossible Parenting. I do all the things i suggest to others. That’s not the point – in fact, it’s much bigger than me and what i can do for myself. As i grapple with parenting my children in real life, and in public, i feel a self-imposed burn of pressure to be Mary Poppins perfect – what kind of model am i to others if i too am struggling to keep my kids’ (and my) shit together at the Grocery store? Ugh – the pressure can be too much, and then i seek out my self-compassionate voice and breathe a bit better. I love the lists of ways to heal from mom burn-out, but those are band-aid solutions and not touching on the root of the problem.

I chose to be a parent, i wanted kids and i love the idea of the matrescence rite of passage. And yet, part of me wonders if this is all it is?

I love my life. I really do. This isn’t a passive aggressive way to try to get a message to my partner. (though this open letter to dads is great!). I also recognize my vast privilege as a white cis gendered woman who is able-bodied and partnered to a cis man who i love and have a healthy relationship with, where both of us have permanent work.

And yet…

I’m so tired. And irritable. And cranky. For a while, I thought it was work overload then I wondering if I’m not practicing what i preach with work/life balance. So i read some books, slowed down some evenings, met up with friends here and there, did less work after-work hours. And still…i was crabby.

I love the work of Esther Perel that reminds us how we put on our good work pants for work, only to take them off when we get home. Then proceed to show our own family our more authentic and messy side. Like I should still be wearing my nice pants all day, or at least notice how i present my good side only at work.

At first, i thought ‘oh oh’ I’m not being so kind to my family and felt self-critical of my own internalized want to have it all at the same time. I was sad with myself for putting work first, and being tired by the end of the day, when my kids needed me. And then i realized, “huh, what is playing a role in me feeling this way.’ Surely it’s not just my own doing.

I think I’m more right about that side of the coin.

A few weeks ago, i had to point out to my beloved dependents that people come to see me on purpose to help them when they are sad or stuck with a hard feeling and decision. And yet, my kids will yell over me to keep arguing with each other. For a while, i would be ashamed that I could not be able to help them de-escalate or regulate their feelings – that’s what i do ALL DAY long at work after all. I realized then and there that maybe i am better at helping others who want to be supported, and that my kids need me in a different way.

Sure, i know they need me to model self-soothing behaviour and emotion regulation. Sure I have the tools – i even make a real toolbox for them.

I’ve begun to resent weekends. Sure, i practice what i preach – i take time for myself in the evening and don’t always do the dishes, unpack lunch bags, put stuff away. Sometimes i watch a show by myself or write articles like this one… And feel guilty about it. The idea of a mini mom vacation sounds decadent and yet i know it’s just a band-aid solution.

I do live from a family-centred place and attachment theory is my jam. I get hugs and love from my family, even a thank-you and I’m sorry sometimes. I don’t want to be worshipped per say, but to be more appreciated and noticed would be great. What i need is less work and chores and tasks and requests and and and..

I love all the articles on social media that remind us of the mental load of mother’s work (and yes it’s quite gendered still, and also still seen under the umbrella of women’s work). I’m glad we are acknowledging this burden and current iteration of sexist division of labour. Motherhood is still tasked by the same glass ceiling that we feminists fought for some many years ago. I wish i could turn off the brain thinking part of the mental load of mothering. Yes, it’s a verb now too.

For instance, here’s a run-down of some things that i carry in a given week:

* I once woke up in middle of night to pack a swimsuit for my kid’s class – i went to bed knowing i forgot something!
* I keep the health cards even though I now hate the sight of blood (and I learned that after my son fell off a tree into a river on a vacation and needed stitches – that i wanted to get him but my partner’s didn’t think were necessary)
* On that note, i wake up through the night whenever my kids move, or cough, or cry out
* i am a sous-chef that knows my son only likes raw veggies and tomato soup and my daughter hates the idea of sandwiches
* I have to get the rascals out of bed while he makes lunches – yes I’m grateful he makes lunches because it’s a yucky job, but what’s easier?
* I know exactly how to pour their juice in the morning so that one is not jealous that the other got more to juice (not to drink it mind you, but you know “fairness”)
* I coordinate playdates for the weekends that I work or it’s not my turn to take a day off for a PA Day
* I know what their favourite socks are and where to find them
* I know when they have homework, or class trips, or birthday parties and send in the forms and RSVPs
* I book childcare for the 4-times-a-year date nights
* I know when the birthdays are of their friends!
* I feel guilty when i am at work on a Saturday or can’t make it to them if the school calls mid-day
* I know when the tooth fairy is going to visit and save the coin for that night
* I have forgotten twice and felt so shitty

There is no such thing about a maternal instinct. You read that right – there is NOT one but rather we are taught and learn how to be moms. Who reading this has babysat at a young age, or was taught how to mend socks and buttons, or what is best for a sore tummy since you were a child yourself? Yes i do know that men of my generation may have learned this too, but are they doing all the other things too? Do they stay up thinking about all this too? When we list what we do and thing about, especially during that 3rd shift of labour in a day, do our partners say “i took out the trash, or changed the litter box.” Yes thank you sweet lover, but do you also wake up worrying about your kid’s strained friendships or start planning their birthday party 2 months ahead of time?

Just look at all the books dedicated to this – they all are geared to mommy blog readers, or mommy mojo sex fullfillment, or mama rage. And guess who reads these books and articles? Yup, moms and women. So, while I’m a glass half-full gal at the best of times, I’m not so sure this will change.

Don’t get me wrong, i read all those books and enjoy most of them. This photo is just some of the books i am reading right now, in fact. My partner has yet to finish one parenting book – but he chose a good one so I’m glad he has that under his belt. And i do love my self-identified label of mom. I even loved it was the first word of both my babies. And yes, i identify as a mother, not a parent. Go figure. I even loved it was the first word of both my babies.

And again, i will remind you that i love my partner dearly, our relationship is absolutely solid, and he is a very hands-on, active, and available dad to my our children. This is about him nor needing to change our roles, gendered or not. It is bigger than just us. I am so grateful for all my partner does. The homemade bookcases and winter tires and …

And yet…

(( written by a tired and grumpy Middle Aged perimenopausal woman ))

How to Have a Dialogue with Your Inner Critic

Have your ever noticed what you say to yourself after doing something wrong? Is it mean or extra critical? Is it offering advice without you asking for it? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have an inner critic at times. There are definitely ways to put the voice to rest, or at least have a more balanced conversation with it. Hare some some tips that work for me. And yes, i am my own client!

As much as i know that my inner critic is trying to help me, i also have learned that i can choose not to listen to you, and even tell it to go away. Just like learning any new language, being able to talk BACK to your inner critic takes practice. Here are some tips that can help you be fluent in this process.

1) Somatic Sense of Inner Critic
First, it’s important to recognize what your inner critic voice is. What do they say? What is their voice like? Do they blame your or push you down? How do they undermine you.

When your inner critic shows up, see where they live in your body – is it a loud dull pain in your chest, or a sharp scratch on your shoulders. A tool that can help is PATH – notice the pressure, air, tension, heat that may rise in your body. Where is it located? Spend some time noticing this. This mindfulness is a great tool to help you notice your inner critic more quickly. If you can locate the felt sense in your body, you can tend to it more quickly.

You can also do the great tool by Tara Brach called RAIN – recognize what is going on in the given moment allow the experience to be there, investigate with kindness and be open to Nurturing the new awareness with self-compassion. Click here for a lovely guided meditation that Tara has created using this tool.

Be really clear about when the inner critic shows up. They are not your only voice so notice if there is a pattern or consistency when they come up. Notice what your physical reaction is – is there a knot in your stomach, does our throat feel tight, is there a heaviness in your legs? This is the inner critic speaking.

2) Name them
I call mine Pam. She was someone that bullied me when i was in grade 6. I also love these meme: “My inner critic is An Asshole” and find it inspiring.

Acknowledge it is here, but like a vampire, you can tell it to leave. It’s an emotional vampire after all! Say hello to them, and then tell them they are not wanted. Externalizing the voice helps keep it separate from you. As a tool of Narrative Therapy, it is so helpful to externalize this voice as it helps you not take all the blame or responsibility on your shoulders.

The inner critic is an external voice that has been internalized. Spend some time hearing the voice – what does it sound like? Is it your voice or someone else’s? Can you remember when the inner critic was born? Our inner critic is usually related to not allowing ourselves to be proud of our accomplishments. Can you recall what it was like for you as a child? I know that at times, my inner critic has a Serbian accent that is similar to my mom’s. I definitely hear her (now helpful) voice at times, if only when i’m cooking or doing laundry at this point. It now carries a tone of guidance.

Also, it’s totally okay to be rude and interrupt this voice! By doing so, you are establishing a new habit and helping your poor brain make the changes it needs too.

3) Reflect
Spend some time at the end of a day and see how you often your inner critic showed up – we don’t always notice it in the moment. Stay with the feeling to help move through it. You might want to start a journal that helps you record when your inner critic shows up. Is it daily or after a certain thing – like going to the gym, or scrolling through Instagram. Make a point to recall how it felt in your body when your Inner Critic was crashing your party. Then spend some time writing a list of positive things about yourself – work on self-compassion and witnessing your own gains to balance out the judgement. Take a look at Kristin Neff’s work and the helpful journal prompts and exercises that help you reflect. One of my favourite questions form her workbook with Christopher Germer is “Is your Inner Critic tiring to protect you in some way, to keep you safe form danger, to help you, even if the result has been unproductive?”

While it doesn’t always seem like it, but your Inner Critic is a part of us that is trying to help. It is always loudest right before the breakthrough. The inner critic can be a protector for you, as a part of you that helps soothe your worries. It lives in our sympathetic nervous system, that part of the brain that is ready for flight or fight response to a threat or scary challenge. It truly is trying it help, if only in the all the wrong ways.

When you are reflecting, make sure to make a point to also allow space for self-love and acceptance. Talk to yourself like someone you love. Self-affirmation work can be a direct OFFset to the inner critic. Developing a compassionate inner voice can counter the critic. Ask yourself what you can say with love back to the critic. Acceptance is about being good enough or good-ish, very perfect. It is about being okay with what is.


4) From Inner Critic to Inner Guide
Your inner citric needs love. It is trying to help you. It is usually there to protect you from potential shame or failure. Explore what it is trying to tell you. And put it to work. If it’s telling you that what you did is not good enough, as it to do better.

We need a bridge to get to positive so work on being neutral first. It is about being both/and – both a critical lens to help you make sure you got it right AND a compassionate lovely voice that encourages you to try. Bring in a dialogue – add your cheerleader, warrior, nurturer, or wise future self – like Toni or Frida and bring in some self-compassion – remind yourself that your thoughts are not always right so add more to the conversation. When you feel sad about being hard on yourself, give yourself time to feel this and then move on.

For instance, instead of saying…
I am a terrible cook BUT RATHER i am learning to cook
I am a bad mom BUT INSTEAD i am good at taking care of boo boos
I can’t do this TRY I’m going to try my best for today

Sometimes that inner critic is trying to be a guide or reminding you of something hard, but instead of being supportive, it is keeping you stuck. You can thank the critic for supporting you and then say it’s job is no longer needed – the writer Donna Tart has said that she uses criticism as a guide to getting stronger because she treats it like a vaccine. It makes you stronger. Put your Inner Critic to work with something useful! Laura Markham of Aha Parenting speaks further to this idea here.

This might be a tricky question so bear with me, but try and see what part of your houses your Inner Critic? I am not referring the body now, but rather the part of that is wounded. Is it your Inner Child, work-in-progress Goddess, protector, Adult Self, or your Worker Bee? I’m not suggesting we have multiple personalities persay but we are made up of parts that are shaped by the experiences in our life – both the good and the challenging ones. So, this is a chance to re-parent yourself. This Inner Guide may have a calm and warm voice. It cherishes you and accepts you as you are. In time, this voice will become your own and will be more present. Channel this voice as much as you can – it is a practice after all. You truly are learning a new language and what better way to do so than to practice it in a dialogue with someone else!

5) The Four Agreements
This book is to help us be more intentional and loving citizens of the world. So, why not use the 4 principles and apply them to your own self? The book itself is a small book, but it’s quite powerful. The photo here captures the essence of the 4 agreements and I especially like the one “don’t take it personally.”

Speaking of good books to read, here are some great ones that help you become even more fluent! Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, Your Resonant Self by Sarah Peyton and
Healing your Emotional Self: A Powerful Program to Help you Raise your Self-Esteem, Quiet your Inner Critic and Overcome Your Shame Beverly Engel

As you start to practice this new intentional relationship with your inner dialogue, be kind and gentle with yourself. Notice the criticism or impatience and send it the kindness you would anyone else that is learning a new language for the first time.

Resilience after the Punch

My youngest was hurt by another student recently. She was holding the door open and he sucker punched her. Because she said No to him. He had overheard her talking with friends about snails. She said she liked them but never wanted to be one. Then, at the door, he called her a snail and she said she didn’t like that and he needed to stop. Then, boom, she got punched in the gut.

The mama bear in me is fierce right now. The trauma therapist knows how this may sit in her body – she was intentionally punched in the stomach for saying no to someone. What does that say to her now? The parent in me knows that 6 year olds are still learning how to regulate their emotions so I am working on empathy for the other student. The therapist worries about the boy and where he learned to do this. And the feminist in me knows that boys that hit girls make me mad as hell.

I was at work when i got the call. I left pretty soon after to tend to her, and see how she was coping. And you know what, she is the definition of resilience. She was able to share how it made her feel, she was able to find ways to play regardless of the event, and she was able to rest that night and cuddle with me. Gordon Neufeld talks about what children need in order to be resilient. It is a sound foundation of attachment and then access to Rest, Play and Feelings. This helps them bounce back after adversity.

((This photo captures her making friends with another child at the beach where we camped this summer – she makes friends as easy as she breathes))

My daughter is also fierceless – be it an incident like this or when she fell on the train tracks this summer. She was going over a tricky train track on her bike. We were able to discuss it that night and help her prepare to go over it again. We were able to access her upstairs brain (thanks Dan Siegel) and know that she could get over the tracks again.

It’s no surprise that her dad and i helped her access her feelings – we made it clear that she did nothing wrong, and that we were proud of her for going to the teacher. She followed her instinct to bring in the support of the staff at school, and felt seen by them. My daughter was able to recognize that maybe the boy’s bucket was empty whereas her’s is full – she has a community of friends and he is new to the class. My daughter was also about to reflect that a sucker punch is different than a fight with her brother. The fact that it came from nowhere hurt her more than the punch itself.

Each year, there is an event called Take Back the Night. It’s for women-identified people and children to reclaim the street and fight for the right to feel safe at night. I have been going for years and love the energy that the group commands. I have also taken my kids since they were babies and toddlers. It feels like the timing is perfect this year, as it is this coming Friday in Toronto. I think my daughter needs to march and know what her right is to her body and saying NO. Check out this link to read more about it – there are events like this all over the world.

Don’t get me wrong – we are still working on co-regulation of her emotions too and she has her own struggle still with impulse control and the infamous 6-year change. Just this morning, she was so mad that her brother (who’s older) got a smidge more of juice in his cup. She refused to bike to school with him.

I told her this was emptying my cup, literally. I tried to remind her of bucket filling and she told me that it was a juice cup, not a bucket so it didn’t count. Go figure.

Let That Good Feeling Linger

Sunflowers are my absolute favourite flower – they are strong yet fragile, bend to the sun, and keep facing upwards. I also love their cheery colour and reminder of hot summer days. I went with my family recently to a sunflower farm, where we were about to walk among hundreds and hundreds of rows of them. I took in the felt sense of this experience and it lingers in my body in a happy way (kind of like that smiling flower in the photo here). I’ve been practicing this a lot lately.

Since summer break is coming to a close this week (for many of us it feels like the end of summer as a whole), I want to share this experience with you as it may come in handy when you need to hold on to the good feelings in your body.

It was my anniversary this summer and my partner and I were able to have an extra long date. While it happened over the course of a seven-day long therapy training for me, we were still able to stay present in the date. It might be because I am immersing myself in somatic-based therapy work but we were able to put our good feelings from the date in an imaginary jar.

We love bike riding in the city, both with our kids but definitely without them as well. After a delicious meal at one of our favourite places, we took a long bike ride along the harborfront. It’s such a gift that the city I live in has a great lake connected to it. As an ocean lover, i know that it may not be an ocean persay, but a Great Lake is a close second. As a water loving person, I know I never spend enough time in its presence. So, we decided to bike along a new path that is right beside the lake. It just opened recently – that itself was such a nice gift as we may not have done it with our children.

I was able to use the bike ride as a way to share with my partner more about Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP) and how it works. There are 5 core organizers that are the main base of how SP therapy helps connect the body to the mind both in healing trauma but also in everyday mindfulness. It’s a great way to help good feelings linger in an intentional way, like an imaginary jar of a good date you want to hold on to.

The 5 core organizers are body sensation, five senses, movement, emotion, and cognition, and in that order. So on our date, we decided to blend all of them and this is what we came up with:

1) Body Sensation: My body felt like a warm glow in my heart and my core, and a freedom in my shoulders that experienced the wind
2) The Five Senses: The feel of air touching my arms, the smell of the lake, the beautiful skyline of the city, the sounds of life around us, the taste lingering from my delicious dinner
3) Movement: We brought awareness to our legs pedalling both up hills and around us. It was an incredibly hot day so we also noticed how the pedalling felt with our warm bodies
4) Emotion: I carry with me now such a deep sense of love and happiness both for that experience, to share with my partner, and to be with my partner in that moment
5) Cognition: I acknowledged how grateful I was that we had that time together, and shared this talk with him so that we could hold onto it together

Now when life gets in the way, and we are getting stuck in the grind of everyday life, all i need to do is to recall this date and my body will respond. I will embody the memory and not just think about it. When I’m forgetting a detail, all i need to do is to recall the smell of the lake, or the body sensation in my core. As i bike daily, i get a quick hint of the memory whenever i feel the breeze on me or grip my handlebars. I don’t need to recall a big part of the story, but rather a single moment and my body and mind are united in recalling the happy moment. It’s a lovely way to practice more intentional felt sense of positive moments – we are so prone to minimize them and rush through them. It’s like I’m peering into that jar of happy memories or giving myself a warm hug by recalling this night.

As summer is coming to a close, you can try this tool. What memory from these last 2 months do you want to cherish and hold on to?