April 27, 2011

Stop Being a Victim

In the world of recovery, there has been a shift from using the word “victim” to “survivor” when describing those who have been abused or suffered a trauma. This shift shows up in all areas of abuse/trauma: cancer, divorce, child abuse. It's even shown up in the workplace, as in "merger survivor!"

This new label was chosen in order to convey strength, to empower, and to embolden the person as one begins the journey of recovery. The intent was also to distinguish between the moment of the trauma/abuse (victimization) and that of the present existence and experience (survivor).

Moving from victim to survivor is an important stage of recovery. During this phase, the person reflects upon the experience, actively engages in facing and owning what happened, and recognizes the connections between the abuse and the way they feel, think or behave. However, this recognition and sense of empowerment is not enough. While "survivor" is a much better label than "victim," it does not go far enough in framing an identity that leads to a thriving and powerful life.

Imagine with me for a moment that the abuse or trauma you’ve experienced has left a scrape on your knee – just as one you might get by falling down on hard concrete (in fact, we often feel battered and bruised as a result of abuse or trauma). This scrape, for many people, remains unhealed for years and years. At times, they may bandage and tend to the wound a bit, but they never fully heal. Worse, they come to believe it can never be healed.

Now, in the case of an actual physical wound, the skin does eventually heal and leaves a scar. We look at our knee, see the scar, and remember that day when we were wounded. Yet, we don’t feel all of the pain or other emotions that occurred at the moment we were hurt. Nor do we continue to compensate for the wound by changing our behavior – such as not fully bending our knee for fear of reopening the wound.

I strongly believe that the wounds of trauma and abuse can be healed and looked backed upon in this same way. We can see the scar that was created, but do not feel the pain, need to compensate, or constantly re-bandage the wound. However, this requires another shift – namely, from survivor to beyond surviving.

I remember very distinctly the moment when I thought, “This is ridiculous! I don’t want to survive my life. I want to live it!” For that reason, I use the term “beyond surviving” to describe myself and my clients. With this simple shift in language and labeling, the objectives and goals of recovery shift as well.

It is my goal to support clients in reaching a place where they no longer feel it necessary to manage behaviors or cope with thoughts and feelings that have resulted from abuse or trauma. Rather, clients gain insights and skills that make it possible for them to live abundant, powerful lives that are no longer mired in the past. They see the scar but are no longer wounded.


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April 6, 2011

Lessons from the Country - Part 2

It's amazing to me that only a few weeks ago I was in a cabin in the country spending most of my time in a state of either relaxation or reflection. Now that I'm back in the city, responsibilities and appointments are back on the table, but how I'm managing and balancing things is very different now due to another lesson I learned from the country.

As I sat at the bar next to one of the local guys who was very kindly sharing bits and pieces from his life story, I would from time to time send a text or check email. He laughed a little and broke off from his story about playing baseball to jest, "Ya know, like back when people could talk without a machine involved..." I didn’t feel offended or chided. Rather I appreciated this jovial reminder that I was, after all, here partly to unplug. So, I tucked my phone away and enjoyed the rest of the evening chatting and learned a lot about the surrounding towns and the history of Clear Lake.

I also noticed as I strolled the small town streets that there were no near bodily collisions due to the text & walk action you see on city streets. People were strolling, taking in each other or their surroundings. They seemed to know and remember life without a harried pace that required constant effort, communication, and progress.

So, as I returned to the city I had it in mind to make a few changes as a result of these kind reminders. The first thing I wanted to do was break up with my phone. We had a long talk and I explained that, while I loved many things about it, I needed to have more time for myself and others. So, the phone has been banned from the car, the dinner table, when out walking, and any time when my attention should be on working or enjoying the company of others. To be sure, I might break this rule from time to time, but nowhere near as often.

Next, I carved out at least 30 minutes a day for time when there is no computer, no TV, no phone – a time of sanctuary in which to relax and reflect (so that maybe, when I go to the country again, it won’t be to recover but simply to enjoy the change of scenery). This is actually something that many time management coaches recommend. We’ve bought into the idea that every minute of the day should be filled with productivity, but research actually shows that we are more productive when we give ourselves regular breaks.

All in all, I’m trying to enjoy the country pace while still managing the demands of day to day life. When I start to feel rushed or overwhelmed, I just remember what my dad used to say, "Chickens may run faster with their heads cut off, but, honey, they have no heads!"

I encourage you to try one or two of these little tricks to help you slow down, unplug, or tune in to what's happening right in front of you!


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