December 12, 2012

A Beyond Survivor's Story: Filling an Empty Tank on the Road to Recovery

Today I share with you the final post by Cynthia Krainin. It has been a real pleasure learning from her. Enjoy!

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At the very least, traveling the Road to Recovery is exhausting.  As survivors, we feel our energy and resources being depleted on a daily basis as we try to escape the hold of our abusive past.  Many describe themselves as running on fumes! 

Each one of us has our own issues and reactions based on our abuse histories.  We get triggered (something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting us back to the event of our original trauma) through our senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.  Different things trigger different people.  We react with an emotional intensity that is similar to that at the time of the actual trauma.  For many this is draining.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we expend much energy trying to avoid situations and stimuli that trigger us.  My goal has been to identify my triggers and devise step-by-step methods to manage each reaction at the moment it occurs.  A personal example:

Trigger: I hear two people arguing. I automatically start sweating and shaking. I feel intense blame, shame and guilt. If this were Star Trek, Scotty would have recognized my trigger and immediately beamed me back in time to the traumatic event when I was blamed for two people arguing.

Trigger Management: First, I need to disconnect from the argument, the source of my trigger. I do this by forcing my eyes to look elsewhere and coughing to drown out the sound. Through discipline of my senses I am able to refocus my awareness. Next, I ground myself to bring me back to the present moment. I take three deep breaths and, if need be, silently count backwards from 100. I repeat to myself, I am safe and these feelings will pass. The feelings pass and the episode is over in one to two minutes.

As abuse survivors, we learned that the world was not safe.  Most of us share the belief that we were somehow to blame for what happened to us; we did something to deserve it; or conversely, we were hurt because we did not provide what was required, etc.  None of this made sense.

Our sense of what was happening was in stark contrast to the reality we were forced to believe.  We were deeply wounded and many types of pain were our constant companions.  Not knowing what we did or did not do to cause our abuse, we learned that we could not trust ourselves.  We were not okay.

Without trust, how could we feel confident in ourselves and our abilities?  What did we have to feel good about?  We had no foundation from which to build self-esteem or a positive self-image.  We were left with what felt like an empty tank.

With a strong negative impression of ourselves, how could we believe our boss at work when he said “great job on that report."  We cannot trust what he is saying because on a scale of 1 to 10 our self-image is at a 2, while the feedback is at an 8.  The disparity is too great to be able to hear or take in the compliment.

For some of us it is next to impossible to acknowledge that we did something well or feel deserving of anything good in our lives. When something good happened to us we called it a fluke ... we were just plain lucky.  When our self-image and our reality are so far apart, the result is that we go through life feeling like a fraud.

Many of us have spent our lives looking over our shoulders knowing that at any moment, someone is going to discover what we have known about ourselves since our abuse started: we are not who they think we are.  We are a fraud.  We have nothing to give and we are exhausted from the stress of waiting to be “found out.”

Throughout my abuse, I was used to morphing seamlessly between an innocent, na├»ve child who was a sponge for love and affection to a building contractor who had to put up walls with steel reinforcement beams that could bear the load of childhood abuse.  I felt like a fraud.  I am so grateful that I have built up my self-esteem and no longer have to build walls!

Fast forward many years and we find ourselves driving down the Road to Recovery with an empty tank.

So this begs the question: How do we fill our tank along the Road to Recovery when there are no service stations around? 

We fill our tanks by transforming old beliefs and behaviors into healthy, nurturing acts of kindness that we bestow upon ourselves.  Every kind act raises our energy levels, builds our self-esteem and changes our perspectives.  Each time we are gentle, nurturing and take care of ourselves, we add fuel to our tanks.

Nurturing and self-care are critical to creating a healthy, balanced life and need to become part of our daily routine.  These practices enable us to move from being reactive in our lives (which we learned as children of abuse) to a proactive way of being.  Ultimately, we will replace sabotaging behaviors with new healthy behaviors. 

At first, making these changes might feel awkward, forced and uncomfortable.  With a little time, you will come to treasure the respite and count on it to refill your tank. 

Some ways I routinely nurture and take care of myself are listed below.  In addition, every difficult task or challenge on my to-do list is assigned a treat or reward.  This helps me get things done while at the same time nourishing my spirit and filling up my tank.

Nurturing and Self-Care: starting my day by sipping my favorite tea and repeating an affirmation; looking at a favorite picture; performing a comforting task; making a list of my positive attributes.

Treats: spending twenty minutes using social media; taking a walk; fantasizing about taking a vacation; calling a fun person; doodling; eating a favorite healthy food; performing a random act of kindness for someone else. 

Rewards: taking a day off; going to a movie; trying a new restaurant; getting a massage; visiting my sister; eliminating a stressful activity from my life; lunching with a friend following a nerve-racking meeting.

Make your own lists.  Each time we do something positive for ourselves, we feed our souls and add a cup of fuel to our tanks.


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Cynthia Krainin is a Certified Work-Life Coach, Writer, Presenter and Workshop Leader.  She recently celebrated her 30th year as President of Career Resources in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Cynthia has written many articles on living and working with the effects of past trauma for national and international publications.  She is co-author of the book Thriving At Work: A Guidebook for Survivors of Childhood Abuse, which will be sold exclusively through The Surviving Spirit Web Store starting in 2013 http://www.survivingspirit.com/index.html.

Cynthia holds the belief that it is because of our past, that we have the strength, courage, resilience and spirit to leverage our experiences and learn techniques that will allow us to thrive at work.  She can be contacted at survivingatwork@gmail.com.

December 5, 2012

A Beyond Survivor's Story: Propelling Ourselves Down the Road to Recovery

I am so pleased to bring you the next post by author and beyond survivor Cynthia Krainin. This week Cynthia shares some valuable tools for stepping onto and continuing to move down the "Road to Recovery" Enjoy!

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Is there any abuse survivor out there that looks forward to traveling the Road to Recovery?  Thanks to the legacy of a traumatic past, our daily lives have been riddled with potholes, roadblocks and detours, not to mention our inner road rage.  So why would we willingly subject ourselves to a potentially rocky road trip?

Those that have traversed the Road to Recovery before us say that, in comparison, life will feel like a big vacation once we reach the Land of Healing.  For some reason, knowing this doesn’t make us dread the trip any less.

Survivors derive great comfort from that which is familiar.  So many of us tend to retreat.  But there comes a point when staying at home and looking out our window of isolation is no longer tenable.  So, with tour book and roadmap in hand, we pack our vehicle and head out to the open road to do the work that is necessary to lead us to a future that is not shackled to our past.

The good news is that there is a Road to Recovery that crosses each one of our states, whether the state is one listed in the DSMR or it is part of our collective united state as survivors.  No matter which state we hail from at the present moment, we must travel The Road to Recovery in order to heal.

At the on ramp to the Road to Recovery there is caution sign with large letters which reads: 

Problems have been reported with certain service facilities and information stations along the Road to Recovery.  Due to gross generalizations, outdated navigational materials and some misguided service providers, there is a chance you may encounter services along this road that will be counter-productive to healing.  In this case, seek an alternative route immediately.

The message was clear.  When something is not working, make a different choice.  This felt like permission to switch gears if something did not feel right.  Sage advice.

The struggles of daily life leave great numbers of survivors feeling drained, which means we start our healing journey with what feels to be a partial tank.  Many survivors I have talked to say they are running on fumes!

I knew I was depleted and my fuel tank was low as I began my healing journey. “Red flags” went up, but I ignored the warning signals.  I was used to traveling “on empty” and knew from experience that I could push myself to the brink if necessary.  It was a shock when I realized that the coping mechanisms that worked for me in the past, did not help me now as I drove through this new and uncharted territory.

I hadn’t traveled very far and I had already gained an insight.  I needed a new coping mechanism that would sound an alarm when my “red flags” went up.  And I needed to heed the warning. 

That first day out was jam-packed. I learned a major life-lesson as well: AAA does not provide roadside assistance along the Road to Recovery.  So what was I going to do—I had just run out of gas!

And to make things worse, I was fighting an uphill battle so pushing myself to the brink, or anywhere else for that matter, was not an option.  How was I going to fuel myself?  Wow—is this a high-octane question!

First, I needed to calm myself and find a way to feel safe.  I knew that when I worried about my safety, it was impossible for me to be present in the current moment.  In order to get past the first day of my trip, I needed to de-stress and get grounded so I could figure out how to get moving again.

I learned from a tour book that when faced with a dilemma en-route, pull off the road and try some grounding techniques to calm down and clear the head.  I immediately tried some of my favorite grounding techniques.
  • Take deep breaths
  • Tell myself, “This feeling will pass”
  • Surround myself with white protective light
  • Grasp the car steering wheel for thirty seconds, then release it
  • Imagine I am a tree sending roots deep into the earth where they are firmly planted
There were hundreds of other options including taking a walk, visualizing a favorite color, performing some gentle stretches, etc.  Then I remembered some suggestions my meditation teacher had given me:
  • Smile—your brain doesn’t know you are not happy.  So sitting on the side of the road, I forced a smile on my face and much to my amazement, within thirty seconds, I started feeling a chemical surge throughout my body and I was no longer scared.
  • Repeat an affirmation.  Say out loud in the present tense that which you want to be feeling and repeat it at least 25 times.  I found paper and started writing what I wanted in that moment.  After some word-smithing, I came up with the following: I am safe, courageous, creative and have the resources I need to keep myself moving forward. The more times I repeated this phrase, the more confident I felt.  Amazing!
Once calm, I called 911 and they came with some spare fuel and directions to the nearest gas station.  I was on my way again.

With only one day on the Road to Recovery, I had already learned invaluable lessons about myself.  Even though I had great trepidation about the rest of my journey, I knew I was on the right path (literally and figuratively) and was committed to see it through.  This work would give me freedom from my past. I owed this to myself and all of the people who will be part of my future.


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Take some time and write down techniques that calm and ground you.  Make a list and keep it close by.  You never know when it will come in handy.



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Cynthia Krainin is a Certified Work-Life Coach, Writer, Presenter and Workshop Leader.  She recently celebrated her 30th year as President of Career Resources in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Cynthia has written many articles on living and working with the effects of past trauma for national and international publications.  She is co-author of the book Thriving At Work: A Guidebook for Survivors of Childhood Abuse, which will be sold exclusively through The Surviving Spirit Web Store starting in 2013 http://www.survivingspirit.com/index.html.

Cynthia holds the belief that it is because of our past, that we have the strength, courage, resilience and spirit to leverage our experiences and learn techniques that will allow us to thrive at work.  She can be contacted at survivingatwork@gmail.com.

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