The secret to belonging I discovered

I’ve been petrified of not belonging. I will avoid feeling on the outside at all costs, and yet there I often find myself – outside. Close but not close enough.  Good but not good enough.  Wanting to be seen for who I am but masquerading as whatever people want me in order to fit in.

I don’t know one person who doesn’t feel this way.

Here is one thing that unites us all: a great desire to belong, to be seen and understood. To find our tribe that “gets us” and we “get” them.

What’s the secret, then?  How does one fit in?

You don’t. That’s the secret.

The courage to belong…. but belong nowhere

A few months ago, I read Brene Brown’s new book, “Braving the Wilderness”.  It deeply impacted me.  She quotes Maya Angelou in her book, “You are only free when you realize you belong to no place, you belong to every place, no place at all.  The price is high, the reward is great.”

I didn’t like that quote at all. For years I’ve been teaching resilience to students with the message that “we are one another’s courage”. I’ve seen courage rise in students when they felt the support and compassion of their classmates. The idea of standing alone completely went against what was proven to me time and time again: when we belong, we become. When we belong, we are resilient. The only reason I didn’t brush the quote aside with a scoff was because Maya said it. When Maya talks, I listen, but this time I was going to wrestle with her on this one. What I discovered has given me more freedom than I have ever experienced.

I discovered that I belong.

That’s it. I just belong. No one gets to dictate whether I belong or not. I just do. Because I belong, I belong anywhere I go. I can travel the world to different countries and enter the home of someone who speaks a completely different language and belong. I can mingle with the “outsider”, even “the enemy” and still belong. I can have conflict with someone and still come out knowing I belong. Someone can spit in my face, push me, and call me all kinds of profanities and it wouldn’t change anything. I belong.

Because I belong, I can be courageous.

Because I belong, it means I can extend a hand of belonging to anyone.

Anyone.

Why? Because they are not the source of where my belonging comes from anymore. Someone’s acceptance or rejection of me does not dictate whether I belong or not, or whether I welcome them into my world or not.

I love what Brene Brown says in the book, “If you go around looking for where you don’t belong, you will always find it. Stop looking for evidence in others that you are not enough.” 

So then the opposite is true as well: if you go around just assuming you belong, it could possibly change everything for you. You may actually experience for the first time what belonging actually feels like.

Belonging isn’t something you accomplish, it’s something you already have. Imagine you faced the world with this perspective? The truth is, true belonging is spiritual. It’s coming to the realization that you belong to God. You are sacred.  This is why when you present anything but your authentic self, it feels toxic. It is your birthright as a child of God to be radically you.

This is where you will feel life flowing through your veins again.

It’s time to rewrite the stories of the broken: how we can all see change in mental health issues

It’s time to rewrite the stories of the broken.

  • it’s time for those who feel imprisoned by chains of anxiety, depression, disorders, shame and isolation to find freedom.
  • it’s time for lives that have been devastated for generations to be rebuilt.
  • its time for those who have been marginalized, misunderstood to be brought close and renamed: welcomed, beloved, worthy.
  • it’s time to rewrite the stories of the broken.

But how?

We have to tackle one of the greatest barriers to healing; Our self, our isolation.

The problem is we think we write our own story. In fact our culture celebrates those who make it on our own.  We often face our demons in isolation. We turn to self help books to increase our self esteem, self motivation so we can gain more self improvement and be more self aware.  I go to yoga, to church, to bookstores and am surrounded by people – yet very alone in my inner turmoil.

  • Surrounded yet alone.
  • This is what we have bought into as normal. I’m not saying it’s not good to do those things.  It’s never a bad thing to read and participate in things that help us grow and work on weakness.  The problem is that we’ve never been more self aware, and yet in the last 10 years anxiety has only risen.  One in five people struggle with anxiety.  One in five.

Something is missing.

The truth is my story is very much influenced by you.

Before you were born, people were already telling your story.  What gender you were, a possible name, what features they hoped you would inherit, and what features they hope you would not.  Maybe the story being told about you was that your parents longed for you, or maybe no one wanted you. Maybe the story being told about you was one of fear of the world you were coming into; a teenage single mom, poverty, or a home filled with domestic violence. Your story started even before your parents story began and goes past your parents, parents.  Our family history creates the foundation from which our story picks up. When we come into the world others continue to add to our story: “Isn’t he cute?”  “She’s a little chubby baby.”  “Why is he so small?”  “Such a colicky baby.”

Others further add to the story as we grow. “She’s just shy.” “Don’t mind my lil monster, he’s a handful.” “She’s uncontrollable.” And further still, she’s anxious, he’s depressed, she has ADHD, he’s oppositional, What’s wrong with you?! Weirdo, freak, geek, slut, gay, jerk, delinquent, lazy. The additions people make to our stories never stop and this influences how we tell our own story.

Who influences our stories the most is those close to us like: parents, foster parents, teachers, intimate partners. What I tell myself, the story I write, is influenced by these relationships.  Our story we tell ourselves right now is being held by a larger story.  Our story is encoded by our implicit memory.  Implicit memory has no record of time.  It remembers what was spoken and created in us – even to the extend of what wasn’t spoken, but we wished would have been.  60-90% of communication is non verbal.  We pick up what what is being spoken without words and remember it in our implicit memory. Our actions and emotions reveal what was written on our implicit memory. This is why we go into situations already assuming what will happen, “They will think I’m stupid.” “This isn’t going to work.” “No one ever stays in a relationship with me.”

You could call the underlying “emotion” created by the events in our implicit memory that has shaped us, shame.

More than any diagnosis or mental health issue, shame is our nemesis. It’s an epidemic. It’s dangerous because we often shape our stories around shame because shame is created in us by those closest to us. When we experience shame it’s de-habilitating.  The story I have created in my mind from shame, whether true or not, has now shaped my perception of the world around me, and of you. Shame didn’t enter our story through one large life event, but snuck in through a series of small events. We think to ourselves, “No one else struggles with this.”  Anxiety is often shame in disguise, “I am not enough to handle this situation.”  This makes us feel anxious.

  • So what do we do?  We hide.  We hide from our co-workers and aquaintances, but we also  hide from our partner, our kids, our family. We are present, but not present. Often when people become brave to tell their story after their struggle you will hear them say “No one knew.” The problem is that shame only grows the more we hide in isolation.  Being hidden is the opposite of being known, but being known is the answer to conquering shame.

Being known requires more courage than you will ever know, because to be known to takes the participation of an “other”. Shame wants to disconnect people, but hear this. If we become courageous enough to tell our story to people attuned to us… our story becomes rewritten. Our stories are rewritten when we find safe, compassionate, community.  It literally rewires our brain. When we rewrite the stories of others it doesn’t just rewrite their story, but the stories who will come after them.  It rewrites the stories of generations to come.

You need to read that paragraph again.  Do you see the power of when people are seen?

  • When we see one another it gives what every human needs: to be seen and understood.  You could say that we create one another’s stories.  It is a great responsibility we must remember.  When mental health issues rise, we must look within with courage and look to how we are contributing to others as the problem, but also as the solution. We are agents of redemption.  This is our mandate, our responsibility that does not require a degree, but a heart of compassion.
  • It’s time to rewrite the stories of the broken by courageously choosing to face ourselves and others. We can’t embrace compassion and attunement for others without experiencing compassion for ourselves. This is where I believe the Divine comes in. Can I in myself cultivate the kind of compassion needed to write others’s stories well if I can’t myself?  Perhaps there is an opportunity to be “known” by a loving Creator to embrace our belovedness. What would it look like to be restored to be a restorer?
  • We are dependant on one another for our stories. This is a risk because there is no guarantees when it comes to people. Learning to tell our stories in safe community heals us, connects us, rebuilds us… together.

More like this?  Follow our new venture @villagemwm on instagram and YouTube where we are strengthening the Village of parents, teachers, and children.

*this post was from a speaking engagement done at the Ria Mental Health Conference in Calgary, AB.  Research based from sources such as the book, The Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson.

What could stop racism and indifference?

People are your temperature gage for how much you actually love God.

In a world where people love God there is no

racism

bullying

hatred

indifference

anxiety

When people belong – it looks like the kingdom that Jesus had in mind.

To go deeper into a life of worship means we need to look at an aspect of worship we often overlook or don’t think of at all.  We do “just me and God” very well.  We spend time in prayer or meditation. We close ourselves in on a Sunday morning so it’s just us and God.

But then people happen.  And we want to smack them.

Jesus defied the idea of worship of just being about us and God.  I want to share about that further through the story of the Last Supper. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all talk about a part of the last supper we all know about.  However, there is something about last supper we haven’t thought much about.

It’s important to remember that Jesus knew that was the very last night he would spend with his disciples.  I don’t know about you but if I knew this was my last night to live, I would want to tell my kids the most important things I would want them to remember before I left.  Jesus’s words at the last supper were important because this was the last night he had. If the disciples didn’t get anything else he said his entire time with them, he wanted them to get this.

He said, “When you gather together.”  In other words, he wanted them to still gather together after he was gone.  He didn’t want them to go their separate ways.  He didn’t want them to be isolated from one another, He wanted them to continue to come together despite their differences.

Jesus’ disciples were a band of misfits. They were very different from one another.  They came from different socio-economic backgrounds.  They had different ideals and goals in life.  Therefore Jesus was also saying, “When you gather together with people who are different than you”, giving us the mandate to eat with those who are not the same as us.  People who don’t think like us, talk like us.  People who rub us the wrong way.  People who are of a different race and class than us.  This was not the first time Jesus talked about inviting “different” people to the table.  Jesus said to invite the poor, the weak.  Why?  He’s asking us to get beyond our tribe and lay down our walls of self protection against the “other”.

He then said, “When you gather together, remember that this is my body that is broken for you.  This is my blood that is spilled for you. Do this in remembrance of me.  We often think of this as and individual reflection time to remember what he did on the cross for us; that he died for our sins.  This is true, of course.  I remember that Jesus died for me, but is it just me and Jesus?

Remember the statement: “Broken for you”.  “Spilled out for you”.  “Emptied for you”.  Jesus’ last prayer before ascending to heaven was this, “I have given them the glory that you gave me; that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity.” (John 17:22-23)  Jesus was saying, when you gather together remember how I laid my life down for you,

….now lay yourselves down for one another.

We don’t often think of that do we?

John demonstrates this by telling another part of the last supper that the other disciples didn’t mention.  He doesn’t mention the bread or the wine, but the water basin that Jesus used to wash his disciples feet.   Because of the dusty roads and wearing of sandals, people’ feet were filthy.  There was always a servant that would wash people’s feet when entering someone’s home so the house wouldn’t be covered in dust.

The night of the last supper, there was no servant to wash their feet, only the Servant of All. Jesus bent low and washed his disciples feet, demonstrating that no one is above one another.  Here was the King of Heaven lowering himself doing the lowliest of tasks. It’s interesting to note that when the disciples entered the room and saw no servant to wash their feet, they never thought of washing one another’s feet.  They would rather live in their dirt.

Jesus was revealing that he was willing to get down to their level into their mess and wash them.

He desires for us to do the same for one another.  We often forget that while worship involves our heart for God, allowing him to wash us, but then also a heart for others, to serve and “wash” them.  To lay down our glory for one another.  To empty our desire to rule over one another or be better.  It says in James, “Confess your sins to one another and you will be healed”.  Why would it say that?  Isn’t our individual confessions to God enough?  God knew that if we tried to live life on our own we would fail.  The humility and vulnerability it takes to reveal our weakness to one another, and the humility it takes not to overpower or control one when they have exposed their weakness brings healing to our souls. God covers the rest.

God made it so we carry one another. So many struggle in their faith because we miss this.  We miss the second part of our worship which is to remember that we belong to Him, but we also belong to each other.

Worship is being brave enough to allow God to wash our feet.  To accept his brokenness for us.  Worship is also washing one another’s feet.  Laying our lives down for one another.  When we do this, there is no chance for racism, prejudice, indifference and bullying to survive.

This kind of worship changes the atmosphere.

Addictions will only continue until we learn to resolve our issue with this one thing…

In my journey of studying addiction I was led by the question of “WHY?”  Why do people find themselves in deep rooted addictions when we all know that no one dreamed of that as a child.  What happened?  And why does 1 out of every 2 people in Canada struggle with some form of addiction?

I discovered that addiction reveals that our society doesn’t know what to do with pain.  If we can’t medicate it medically, we attach to other things that promise to bring healing, but don’t.

Culture is meant to serve it’s people by helping them face adversity.  This is something our western society clearly lacks.  Sociologist James Davies states that during the 20th century most people living in our society are confused to why they suffer emotionally. The problem is that when we face circumstances that seem out of our control and no one can explain why this pain is happening to us, it creates unrest and resentment in a society. This only continues to create more drive, more striving for success.  If we don’t help people make sense of suffering that that is unexplainable, this leads to social instability.  The instability we see in the increase in addiction, mental health, anxiety says we have some explaining to do.  People are suffering and all we know to respond is to say, “Just find your own personal happiness”.

If life is all about happiness, then there is no room for suffering. Ego demands that suffering gets pushed away quickly because when suffering hits us we feel exposed.  It feels unfair.  It causes poisonous thoughts such as, “Here I was doing all the right things and karma came and bit me in the ass.”  All you can feel is resentment, like others have it much better.  “I need to work harder, hustle, find my inner peace and start manifesting all this greatness everyone else finds easy to attain”.  We all know this isn’t true, we’re just not telling one another.  “Pain is not wrong. Reacting to pain as wrong initiates the trance of unworthiness. The moment we believe something is wrong, our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat the pain.” (Tara Brach).

When culture fails at instructing on how to make use of our suffering, we get consumed with the WHY.  Why did my father have to die?  Why didn’t I get the job I’ve worked so hard for?  Why did my best friends betray me?  Why did tragedy strike MY family?  These “why’s” can make us feel like we are the only ones this is happening to, which is dangerous for a society because then we breed a people who are constantly hiding their struggles masked with happy faces, a car we can’t afford, and a life that looks better online than it really is in reality.

This only increases our need avoid pain at all costs, especially if we feel that pain isn’t “normal”.  Wine takes the edge off.  Weed helps to relax.  The shopping eases my purposelessness. The food comforts me.  Meanwhile, we put the focus on decreasing “stress”, but this alone doesn’t give anyone the ability to overcome pain with the patience needed.  The focus only is to manage and cope?  Think happy thoughts?  None of this gets to the root so it’s no wonder we are all still suffering.  When we don’t see meaning in the hardships that come our way, this can easily lead to unhealthy attachments.

Suffering happens to good people and bad people, to the one from the good side of the tracks and the one from the shady side, to the family still together and the single parent family.  Pain is not immune to your income, race, or education.  It happens to everyone.  We are deceived if we believe we can control and defeat pain with knowledge alone.  Pain has deep roots.  “Always after a defeat and respite, evil takes on another shape and grows again.” (Lord of the Rings).  You may conquer one part of pain only to see the ruins of your heart exposed by not allowing yourself to grieve when pain hits again from another side.

But there’s another option of seeing one another go through hard times yet “bathed in hope” (Timothy Keller).  “You desire to know the art of living, my friend? It is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering” (Henri Frederic Amiel).  If we are going to be brave enough to learn how to make use of suffering, it’s going to take more than our own resources.  More than wisdom on our own, and certainly much more than just seeking to determine our own happiness.  Happiness is not purpose, it’s an attachment.  Suffering can actually be a great opportunity to bring people’s best out of them and to find what happiness looks like with depth.  Suffering takes away artificial happiness.

It is humbling to look inside and see where pain has been brought on by our own heart failures.  It’s despairing when pain hits us from the side when we did nothing in ourselves to cause it.  Yet, “everything difficult indicates something more than our theory of life yet embraces” (George MacDonald)

Therefore,

Instead of turning to the bottle, turn to one another.

Instead of lighting up the joint, lean into others.

“Me” creates isolation and more addiction

“We” create safety and healing for others.

Deep community solves social problems.  Safe community takes suffering and makes it possible to come out on the other side of it better than before.  Supportive community helps us become better through life’s difficulties. The truth is, many find themselves alone with their difficulties because we don’t know what to do with one another’s struggles.  Our friends seem to disappear when suffering appears not because they are jerks, but because of this issue with not knowing what to do with our own suffering, let alone the painful experiences of others.  The greatest gift we can give one another is to forgive and choose to admit that facing pain is hard.

This can do dramatic things! Instead of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, people can experience Post Traumatic GROWTH!  It’s possible with supportive friendships that don’t give bandaid answers but says to the one who suffers: “I will walk with you through this.”

I am producing a show on addictions to bring community together to see more post traumatic growth become a reality and to let art take on the role in society to help people process pain.  The show is in Calgary June 8-11, 2017 at the Big Secret Theatre.  Tickets can be purchased online through this link.  There is healing when we come together.

 

 

 

Addiction is not about the substance, it has more to do with this…

One in five Canadians are experiencing a mental health or addiction problem.  In fact, people struggling with mental health are two times as likely to have a substance abuse problem coinciding (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health 2017).  Why is that and what can we do about it?

Addiction doesn’t start when substance is used.  Addiction starts in the brain, where the environment that surrounds that person at home, work, school has literally shaped that person’s mind. In last week’s post, I talked about how the family literally determines the mindset of children.  You can see more of that post here.  Our responses to stress influence us and our children.  When parents are stressed or anxious, this decreases an infant’s ability to regulate their own mind as well.  This is not to give addiction the excuse,  “I had poor regulation due to my environment”, but only reveal that addiction is not just about making a decision about whether to have a drink or not, or whether to smoke weed or not.  Every addiction has brain chemistry behind it.

Self regulation is not defined as “good behaviour”, but as mind integration; where there is balance between all of the mind’s functions of fight or flight, problem solving, creativity, differentiation (where others emotions do not define your own), etc.  Self regulation depends highly on environment.  A person with good regulation does not shift up and down dramatically from emotion to emotion, but is able to overcome when life’s challenges come their way.  This is called resilience.  When a person suffers with a disregulated mind, their emotional life and behavior can seem out of control.  Much of what is hindered is in the prefrontal cortex, where our ability to creatively problem solve and learn social interaction comes from.  When someone is disregulated, they may struggle socially, which ironically is exactly what they need in order to escape addiction.  Research showed in rats with destroyed frontal cortex’s were only able to function immaturely, showed signs of impulsive aggression and being sexually inappropriate.  The disfunction in the mind is what opens the path to addictive behaviors, not because the person woke up wanting to be addicted, but because the pain caused by the dysfunction and the irregulated mind pushed them towards it.  All because of one thing:

DOPE

Dopamine, where we get an old slang word for marijuana, is the key chemical in the mind involved in addiction.  All addictions seek to appease it.  Dopamine is about feeling the reward of stimulating what a disregulated mind is missing: connection.  But because of poor Prefrontal Cortex  development or damage, social skills are lacking to create this.  Substances don’t require social skills.  In fact, they promise to assist with it, or so it seems.  These “substances” that increase the dopamine in the mind don’t have to be drugs or alcohol, they can be anything we attach to to give us that “fix” such as shopping, eating, sugar, sex, extreme sports, instagram likes, video games; all of these activate the same chemical dope that drug and alcohol addictions do.  And the more you fill the brain’s chemicals need with your substance of choice, the more it will need next time to get that fix of dopamine released in the mind.  What’s even crazier; dopamine release acts even before the partaking of the substance.  It is arroused even with familiar sights and smells that signal to the brain that your drug is near.  And we wonder why it’s so hard to quit?  That chemical wants to be satisfied and is literally playing with your mind till you get it.

It’s not about what your drug is, it’s about the dope you seek to fill what is lacking in the mind that wasn’t provided in your environment.

And so the cycle repeats: The environment that shaped your brain regulation that caused the need for dopamine increase in your mind that initated your addiction has now led to a creation of the environment you are creating that only continues to damage your decision making abilities and shape your disregulated mind into needing more dope, feeding more addiction.  And around and around we go.   “It’s sometimes like with my addiction…. I’m a child not released” (from In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate).

See how it’s not as easy as just going into rehab, or vowing to quit?

We’re not addicted to substance, we’re addicted to the brain chemical called dopamine and it is ruthless.

All is not lost, however.  If healthy environment created by loving connection can cause the brain to be regulated, then you and I have a powerful tool.  If we are willing to work on the environments we are creating around people, there is hope for US to be the dope others need.  I always tell parents with young children; YOU are your child’s dope.  Just like substances release dopamine in the mind, so does a loving parent looking into the eyes of their child.  It’s all they need.  It’s all we all need; to feel the warm effects of belonging to appease the brain chemical in the way it was meant to be satisfied.  This keeps addiction at bay.  Supportive friendships and healthy communities are the real dope we long for.  When we provide that for one another, social issues like addiction don’t stand a chance.

Community is powerful.

Some local Calgary artists and I are making an impact on mental health and addiction in a way you wouldn’t expect, through the sounds of jazz fused with hip hop for the show, Attached, at the Big Secret Theatre June 8-11, 2017.

These young artists are passionate about using their art to inspire social change.  The original musical score has been composed by Haven Vanguard, a collective of three young men ages 22-25.  “When we started composing the main body of music for the show, I was in a dark point in my life.  The songs I have written were inspired by these dark times turned hopeful”, says Timothonius Alai, Haven Vanguard. The lyrics from young spoken word and rap artists ages 23-28 contain raw, personal stories of addiction.  “Creating authentic art with a tribe is the best way to understand and heal suffering.”, says Braden Lyster, one of the show’s rap artists. “I believe the genuine honesty and self reflection of our human experience will be as powerful for every audience member as it has been for us”, Zoe Shusar, cast member. “This show has helped me find peace with my own mental health”, Vila Chanthaboula, Spoken Word artist in the show.

People struggling with mental health are two times as likely to have a substance abuse problem coinciding (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health 2017).  We are tired of bandaids.  In this show, we bring our audience back to experience our humanity in community.

A special Social Impact Matinee of the show will happen on Sunday, June 11 at 2pm featuring panelists: David C Bonk (Social Impact Entreprenurs),  Kotaro Kajita (John Howard Society), Carissa Muth (Psychologist), Patricia Morgan (Author of “Love Her As She Is” – a story of her journey through her daughter’s addiction), Gerry Melsted (Executive Director Recovering Acres).  This special matinee is to give the audience a chance to interact with community heroes who are working in the mental health/addiction field on the daily.

The cast not only seeks to inspire the audience through the show but also through follow up resources after the show such as a psycho-ed session with Psychologist and Attachment Therapist, Carissa Muth, and a retreat led by one of the artists in the show, Krizia Carlos, who is also a mental health nurse advocating for art therapy in mental health.  The show will also be fundraising for Recovering Acres, a place where men and women can recover from addictions.

For more information about the show, please contact me at mpactmovement@gmail.com or the ticket link on our website by clicking here.

 

 

How your parenting NOW can save your child from addiction

help meWe as parents have the capacity to make a difference in our children and see them live a life free of addiction.  What I’m about to write it’s going to be hard to read.  Believe me, it was hard to write.  To bring freedom from shame, I am going to be very open about my failures as a parent.  Resilience in our children isn’t created through perfect parenting but in the repair after relational ruptures.

When a child is born, the interaction between mother and infant literally forms their brain development.  This brain development at birth and even while in the mother’s womb is the key to determine whether this new baby will be vulnerable to addictive behaviors in the future.  It has been believed that addiction is the fault of the substance alone, but research has shown that the cause of addiction largely has to do with the experience in early childhood, states Dr. Felitti.  This isn’t to take genes out of the equation, or take away responsibility for the addict’s actions, but to reveal the power environment has on brain development which as we will see, plays a large role in addiction.

The brain is developed through our experience.  Good experiences lead to a healthy brain.  The opposite delays brain development and increases coritsol.  Cortisol depletes ability to process emotions, a very important brain function in learning to cope with stress.  If this remains absent, vulnerability to addiction is high.  Remember addiction doesn’t always means drugs or alcohol; it’s anything we do to seek to regulate our minds and numb the pain from the void of dis-attachment with caregivers.  Addiction can mean shopping, video games, workaholism, people pleasing….

“A child needs an attachment relationship with at least one reliably available, protective, psychologically present non stressed adult” – Gabor Mate.  Ummm…. is it just me, or does any parent out there fit that description??!  Emotionally nurturing, present, non stressed parents today are hard to find. I know I fall short of this on the daily.  Many parents are under enormous pressure to work to be able to live in today’s economy.  They come home exhausted from life with sometimes little left to give our young ones.  It’s an injustice parents feel in their bones and most would change it in a moment if they could.

Children learn how to handle stress from their parents.  We are the ones who help organize our children’s brains.  Whoever thought that was a good idea?? Most days I miss the mark on this.  My children’s younger years consisted of me flying off the handle having no idea what their ADHD brains needed from me.  I would send them to their rooms and tell them they could come out when they were ready to be good.  I didn’t know any better, as I was just going on how I was raised.  I didn’t know that by bringing them closer instead of sending them away, their brains could regulate and be nourished.

Infants need to be picked up, consoled and comforted.  This important nurturing teaches their brains to regulate.  Predicability in the adult to manage their environment is key to develop a resilience to how to handle stress when they get older.  A child who is stressed as an infant will grow to overreact and will struggle with anxiety. When given the choice to numb through a substance, a disregulated mind will more easily choose the substance to ease the discomfort. “From early infancy, it appears our ability to regulate emotional states depends upon the experience of feeling that a significant person in our life is simultaneously experiencing a similar state of mind” – Daniel Seigel.

Having a parent around is not enough.  Parents feeling love for their children isn’t enough.  Parents can be physically present but not there emotionally. What is needed is attunement.  Attunement is being tuned in to your child’s mind and emotional state.  Children need to feel understood by their parents.  Too many times we as parents are trying to get our children to understand us.  A disregulated mind in a child is crying out constantly: help me!  Please understand me and help me sort this out.  Don’t judge, criticize or condemn me.  Don’t push me away, bring me closer and let me know it’s going to be ok.  Don’t look at my outside behavior, look to inside of me.  Every parent loves their child deeply.  This needs to be expressed through consistent, emotionally stable connection in order for it to be felt by the child.  This regulates their brain and develops the prefrontal cortex – the problem solving, reasoning part of of the mind which also holds the ability to empathize.  I regret how busy I was in the early years of my first born. I was trying so hard to prove to myself and the world I could be a mom and still be a rock star.  My intention towards my son to be the best mother was present, but my distraction spoke volumes to him as well.

You could say we have an epidemic of prefrontal cortex under-development in our society because disregulation is rampant among children today.  Empathy isn’t coming natural, children are less flexible.  Healthy brain integration needed for love, connection, and motivation depend on the quality of attunement parenting. When a child doesn’t feel secure or is in a consistent stressful environment, the brain doesn’t create what is needed for healthy regulation.  The nurture we give as parents will influence how much serotonin the brain develops.  Serotonin is needed to balance mood.  Research also shows that stressed or depressed parents pass on negative emotional patterns to their children.  That one was hard for me to read.  When both my children were born, I struggled with depression afterwards. I wasn’t rational sometimes and that caused an inconsistent, stressful environment.  I can’t turn back time and make it right.  It is what it is.  It can be disheartening to read studies such as this, especially when you see the effects in your children like I have.  I see the lack of regulation in the prefrontal cortex.  My oldest has to take medication to help his serotonin levels.  I remember crying over pages of my research and feeling such shame.  But then I heard a voice whisper: “BUT GOD”.  I may not be able to mend that season of my life and what I passed to my children but I believe that having faith in Someone greater puts hope back into the equation.  Research and science are a gift to know what we need to do to improve our society, but it doesn’t get the final say.  Hope restores and makes things right. I have full faith in that.  And the decisions I am making now based on this knowledge are making certain my children’s future is full of hope.  Nothing is ever final.  There is always hope to restore and change things.

What we need is to call parents back to the plate.  To take our place as the nurturers in our children’s lives.  This hasn’t decreased because parents don’t want to, but because we have no blinkin’ clue HOW to.  Not only that, with the absence of a village parents are left to figure all of this out on our own, and we were never meant to.

How we parent our children now will make a difference in the face of addiction in the future.  That isn’t to say that all addiction comes from lack of attuned parenting, but the truth that we can do our best to help regulate our children’s minds by connecting with them can make a world of difference. “Addiction isn’t so much a substance abuse, but a learning disorder.  When children don’t learn how to regulate through attuned relationship with their parents they use other methods” – Shelby Leiding.

And remember, resilience doesn’t come from getting this parent thing right, but in the repair when our relationship with our children has experienced a rupture. Saying a genuine “sorry” and making things right, speaking words of blessing and reminding our children of their worth is more than enough and is something we all can do on the daily.

These blog posts on addiction are leading up to a show I am doing on the topic at the Big Secret Theatre in Calgary June 8-11, 2017. You can find out more information at this link.  I’ve never been interested in talking about the bandaids we put on social issues such as addiction.  No one woke up wanting to become an addict, so why does one out of five Canadians struggle with a mental health or addiction problem?! (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). My goal is always to dig deeper, much deeper into the issue to see where the problem and SOLUTION lies.  This particular one on parenting and family relationships isn’t spoken of much.  You don’t hear about solving family problems as a way of preventing addiction, but I believe this may be one of the most important things we can do as a society is create opportunity for families to be connected and healthy.  This coming year I will be starting a new adventure to do what I can to create health for families.  If this interests you for your school, workplace or just in general, please contact me at culturerebelonline@gmail.com.

For more information on Canadian Stats on mental health and addiction, visit this link

The real issue of addiction is not the addiction. It’s this.

addictionNo one dreams of becoming an addict as a child.  No one woke up one morning saying to themselves, “I think I’m going to become an alcoholic today.”  So then why does it happen?

I know for myself, it happened suddenly when my family was facing a crisis that I didn’t know how to handle.  It seemed all hope was lost.  I couldn’t face the pain, so each night after my family went to bed, I downed a large glass of whiskey to knock myself out.  I did this for a year.  I’ll never forget hearing a voice inside me say, “Would you like to deal with your addiction?”  Instantly I went into justifying why I didn’t have an addiction; “I’m a good person”, “I speak about resilience for a living, there’s no way I have an addiction”.  When I finally broke down, I found myself saying, “Ok maybe I am struggling with it, but I have a good reason! I’m helpless right now!”  Addiction can always be justified by the one struggling.

But I did.  Lucky for me I chose to be brave to admit it, find support and haven’t had a problem since.  It surprised me that I could fall easily into addictions trap.  It was humbling to think that someone with education, a good upbringing and purpose could find myself there.

But it’s easier than we think.

Addiction is there when we are needing relief.  It becomes our way of redeeming ourselves, to numb the pain, to escape despair.

“My question is never why the addiction, but why the pain?”, Gabor Mate.  Trying to solve addiction is barking up the wrong tree.  No one wants to find themselves emerged in addiction, so when they end up at the end of a bottle that doesn’t end one needs to ask what is that person trying to numb or escape from?  There you find your solution to addiction.  All addictions start with pain whether the person is aware of it or not.

Think about it, why would anyone put themselves or people closest to them at risk over a hit?  Whatever situation drove them to that addiction is louder than anything.  They need to forget and nothing will sway them; not the threat of death, not potentially losing family and friends.  This itself should speak volumes to how far down pain’s path that person must be in order to forfeit such valuable things in life.  What they need is to be brought back to hope and life, not judged and told to “get it together”.

Before we are all quick to judge the addict, how many of us have found ourselves “needing” a glass of wine at the end of a hard day to “take the edge off” or feeling the need to smoke a joint in order to ease anxiety or social interactions?  We may not be overdosing on the street, but the root that we all feel is the same: someone or something please take away my discomfort!  The sad thing is that it works.  It not only takes away the pain, but also helps the world become full of excitement for a short moment in time.  That in itself is addicting.

“It makes me brave in ways I can’t be without it”, I once heard someone say of marijuana.  Is the issue weed?  No.  The issue is someone doesn’t feel they are enough.  They believe they are not brave and need something outside of themselves to create it for them.  “Nothing bothers me when I’m high. There’s no stress in my life”.

“The reason I do drugs is so I don’t feel the feelings I feel when I don’t do drugs”. “I’m not afraid of dying, sometimes I’m more afraid of living”, said a few clients from rehab.

It is the role of culture to help its members know how to deal with pain and suffering.  Our culture has no idea how to deal with suffering.  Without direct words, we drive people into isolation only to resurface with their remarkable story of transformation, which usually is still only a mask over the pain that leads to further pain and possible addiciton.

“No society can understand itself without looking at it’s shadow” (Gabor Mate).  It’s time we get real about our pain and be able to embrace hearing about other’s suffering as well.   Never underestimate the power of vulnerable, safe community. It exposes shame that drove us to the addictive behavior and heals us because pain is healed through connection.  Pain is also prevented through loving connection.

“Confess your struggles to one another and you will be healed”.  You and I can be someone’s courage by our listening, supportive ears.  Every time we make sure our loved ones are cared for and loved, we are solving the issue of addiction.

One of my greatest passions is to create safe spaces for people to be courageous about their struggles that brings people together into community that heals.  One of the ways I do this is through my annual shows where my goal is to take the audience from “oh those people” to “Oh my, me too”. There’s power when we can empathize with those struggling.  It means there is hope for restoration.  My next show, Attached, which is all about addiction seeks to do just that.  It’s playing at the Big Secret Theatre in Calgary, AB June 8-11.  If you’re in the area, I would love to have you come.  You can find tickets and more information by clicking here.

 

How to work with a child with difficult behaviour

bigstock-angry-child-yelling-58855205-514x342I have two boys, both of which have ADHD.  My oldest son has anxiety/depression, asbergers, and has also been given a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiance Disorder, which I personally do not believe exists.  There are indeed children with a good dose of counterwill (Gordon Neufeld), but regarding ODD, what a horrible label to give a child.  What does that speak?  “You are oppositional, you are defiant, you have a disorder.” It’s interesting that if you put any child with ODD in a room by themselves they show no symptoms of it.  That’s because it’s an emotional, behavioral reaction to environment.

For years we struggled with how to work with our oldest son.  Yelling matches, frustration, hurtful words, despair, battles for control, shame… these were experienced on the daily.  It was a desperate time.  I had no idea how to parent my son, and I know that my lack of knowledge and skill only spiralled my son further down into his mental torment.  It’s humbling to reflect back.

Does this sound familiar to you?  I want to pass on some tangible, simple things I have learned that have changed my parenting.  I’m not perfect at this in the least, but I can say I’ve made significant gains.

Here it is.  Plain, simple, and strait forward.

1.Realize that underneath a child’s behaviour (or anyone’s for that matter) is an underlying emotion that is driving it.  

I’ll give you an example.  My oldest son had a friend over.  The friend introduced himself to my youngest son, who then insulted him right to his face, really hurting his feelings.  Is my youngest son mean?  No.  So why would he say something so horrible without even knowing this boy?  We had to get curious as to why so we could work with the root, rather than just go after the behavior.  Looking deeper we were reminded that our youngest son has had to deal with the rejection of his older brother and his friends.  Insulting a new friend was our child’s way of protecting himself.  He was going to reject before he could get rejected.

In the past I would respond out of my emotion: “I can’t believe you were so mean to that boy!”, would be a long the lines of my normal reaction.  This reaction, which is probably natural for most of us, doesn’t get to the root of the problem and only drives the child further into shame. He’s most likely to repeat the behavior because he hasn’t been given any tools to change, other than to likely hide his behavior from me if he can in the future.

I guarantee you that no child wakes up wanting to make mistakes or fail miserably.  No one wakes up wanting to throw fits of rage or be too stubborn to work with.  Underneath behaviour is something waiting to be discovered by us.  If we go after behavior alone, all our children learn is to hide from us.  But if we can get curious about what’s driving the behavior, our children will feel SEEN.  Who doesn’t thrive under feeling understood?  It’s an amazing foundation to build from.

2. Identify what you believe is the driving emotion behind their behavior.

To use the example of my youngest son, “Chris I can understand you’re used to Ben and his friends not wanting you around and that hurts your feelings doesn’t it?  Does that make you sad?”  Daniel Siegal calls this “name it to tame it”. By identifying with their emotion we are helping them learn to identify emotions.  This also helps them learn to manage their emotions. This attachment gives them the security to know they are safe to learn how to navigate their emotional world and that we are here to guide them along the way.  I now often identify the emotion behind the behaviour and then hold my child till I feel their anger or frustration melt.

Taking my past response of, “I can’t believe you would say something like that!”, only escalates his fight or flight emotional state and he’s left to his own wits end to calm himself down, which usually doesn’t happen easily.  He never learns to navigate his own emotional world, causing his emotional responses to grow in length and intensity as he gets older.

3. Ask your child what was happening in the moment of their behavior.

Key: do not do this in the climax of the behavior.  During these episodes, our children are not in their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain at the forehead that helps us with problem solving.  They are in the back of the brain, the fight or flight section of the brain that does not reason.  Ask this after they have calmed down.  They may not know what was happening inside them, which is ok, but sometimes they can tell us what was really happening.  This is wonderful, because they feel listened to and are learning to verbalize their internal world.

Reminder: we are our child’s navigation to work out their internal world.  This means we need to be willing to be brave with our internal worlds.  How can we help our children navigate their emotions when we’re raging and lashing out ourselves?  This has been a great challenge for me to overcome in the past few years.  I’m encouraged to see years of intentionally working on this starting to pay off.  It’s one thing to have the knowledge of what to do, it’s another thing to actually do it.  I really does take intention and focus on our part to change our habits.  Yelling for me has been a hard habit to break.

4. Don’t just say “no”, say “yes” to something else.

This is where we want to confirm our values.  “Chris, in this house we do not hurt with our words”.  But instead of just ending there, we need to give them something they can do.  Children with ADHD find this particularly hard.  They really want to follow through, but lack the wiring of the neurons to do so.  We can come alongside and help them rewire so problem solving and new patterns can arise.  For example, “Chris, what do you think we can do next time Ben has a friend over to help you feel more secure?”.  Help with the solution if needed, but the important thing is you’re talking openly about the real problem which makes your child feel secure enough to be able to grow in their mental health.

Did you notice there was no typical discipline involved in this?  Most of the time I’ve noticed with my boys that by the time I’ve gone through all these steps, I haven’t yelled once or given every consequence I can think of.

I’ll never forget when a psychologist asked me what I would do when my oldest son would throw fits of rage.  I told her I would send my son to his room, reminding him when he was ready to be a “good boy” he could come out.  This was considered a good way of parenting in my mind.  She gently shook her head and stated, “Oh no, you never send the hurting away from you; you bring them closer”.  This statement has rocked my inner world. First of all, I never realized my son was hurting.  All I saw was his raw edges and violence.  I also have seen the amazing transformation that can happen when I’m willing to be with my son in his mess.  It’s easy to say, very hard to do. I have realized how disturbed I am with emotions such as anger.  I just wanted to send him and his anger away.  To this day I am disrupted in my mind by anger.  I’ve had to learn to manage my anxiety so I can manage the anxiety in my son.

Being with my children in their distress and mess has done wonders for the amount of time it takes them to settle.  I used to battle with them for hours. Now, if I just invest 10 minutes to listen and hold them, I find it can be over that quick.  I wanted to pass this on to any parent or teacher in the struggle as it’s helped me enormously.

So friends, be brave to be with yourself in your own mess and in your children’s. We won’t get it right every time.  It’s ok, that’s not the point.  The point is to protect connection with our children and that we are vulnerable enough to try.

An ex-pastors conversation with her psychic-loving friend about peace

peace-candleThank you for joining me on my journey through advent.  I probably didn’t go in order.  I’ve always been a little unorthodox…

I had a friend call me recently asking me to pray for him.  His psychic told him he was spiritually off centre.  This left him disturbed, as he felt he was doing ok; mediating every morning, chakra’s functioning, in fact, he felt like he was in a great space.  This brought much confusion.  I prayed for him and told him what so many in our world seem to need to hear:

It is finished.  And you can’t finish it any more than it’s already finished.

What’s finished?  Let me get to that in a moment, but first another story.  Over coffee another friend shares with me that no matter how much she does for God, she never feels good enough; never secure in her faith. She is scared to death of God’s judgment and being sent strait to hell for never getting this “Jesus thing” right.  I told her the exact same thing I told my energy-loving friend:

It is finished.  And you can’t finish it any more than it’s already finished.

Both my friends responded the same: there must be something I have to do in order to make myself right.  As I would call it, some hoop to jump through.  The ultimate test of faith is to believe that when the baby in the manger died and resurrected, all was finished.  Peace was brought between God and man.  Peace for the troubled soul in torment with itself.

“I was raised by the gospel of fear”, I once heard a young man say.  From my experience being a gypsy in this world floating between a sub-culture of church and the  liberal artsy types, I see fear speaking everywhere.  Fear whispers to us of our inadequacy.  It lies to us, telling us there must be more we can do to gain that place of “enough”; more meditation, more focus on the chakra’s, more prayer, get to church more, manifest more, do more, be more…

More hoops, more and more hoops.  Dance monkey dance.

Two different belief systems, yet still struggling with the same roots of fear and shame.  Yet it is finished.  It’s already been won.  The prison doors are open and we’re still inside.

Peace has come as a person and finished it all.  There is now peace between God and man but only the awake see it.  “There is now no punishment for those who are In Christ”, I read.  Many of us view punishment through the lense of the fires of hell we heard about through the man yelling on the soap box, but I beg that God goes far beyond just that and says; you are free from the torment you put on yourself to reach me.

He speaks, “I’ve already reached you”.

No punishment.  No fear, no shame.  I am yours and you are mine.  Nothing can reverse it, it is finished, for those who are In Christ.  “What does In Christ mean?”  God gives us the gift of this life to figure that out.  “He who started a work in you will be faithful to complete it”.  He gives me a crown too big and gives me grace to grow up into it.  Do we trust Jesus to be more than just a guilt remover?

His message has been reduced to sin management when it was meant to be a loud announcement of freedom.  This peace with God has no borders.  It stretches to the transgender, the buddhist, the hindu, the atheist, the energy-loving, the Christian.  It reaches past who we think deserves it or who can grasp it and shocks us every time.

We’ve had it mixed up the whole time; we didn’t believe in God, God believed in us.  And through Christ we are made enough.   All things are made new and all we have to do is receive.  He takes fear and shame and trades them in for his abundance.

Simple faith without striving.  It is already finished for you.

Peace.

An broken woman’s issue with Joy – the ex-pastor’s advent series continues

joy-adventMost of the time I feel more broken than I do whole, more pain than joy.  My problem isn’t with suffering, my problem is with happiness.  Happiness reminds me of all that is missing, and no matter how hard I try, it always seems to be just out of reach.  I’m talking about the brokenness that feels like the dark; fear, aching, hellish dark.

How does joy fit into fear, aching, hellish dark?  When all you can think is, “I’m not enough for this”.

I know how to avoid joy.  I’m an expert. Joy requires being known, and the last thing I want when I feel the depths of despair is to be seen, let alone known.  Because to be known requires revealing.  It takes admitting my deep rooted pain and no one wants to see that.  What do we do with pain?  We hide it, we medicate it, we attach to anything that can save us from it.  I’ll never forget the days my son in the pit of his depression was threatening to kill himself.  I drank myself to sleep every night for a year.  The temptation is to put the makeup on, pretend it’s not there, and for the love of God don’t admit weakness.  We form our gods out of our coping mechanisms.

Yet to be known means your shame and guilt come into the light so you can be healed.  I find myself saying over and over: “I can’t fix my pain.  I can’t put the broken pieces back together again”.  Maybe that’s where joy finds us? In this very place of desperation?

Belonging, or the lack of, is our worst fear.  To show up in our mess only to be rejected. Is this not the deep seated root of some of our greatest suffering?

Turns out joy is actually a person; you may know him as a baby in a manger.  The same baby who showed up only to be rejected.  To see “No room” written on the doorpost.  To have the only place of welcome a lowly stable.  Yet there he is, Immanuel – God is with us.  He reaches to us in our suffering and offers up himself and says “You are welcome, in your mess, your grief, your pain – you are welcome here”.

 

You can pursue happiness or you can pursue joy.

 

The same baby in the manger grew into the one who said to a large crowd, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for they are the ones who receive the Kingdom of Heaven”.  The original word for “blessed” is actually “happy”, “to be envied”, “when God extends his benefits”. So those who are broken are the ones who are happy, to be envied in fact, and are the ones God has extended his benefits to”.  Seriously?  I fit the “broken” description but happy is far from how I feel. But maybe that is the mystery of God – to move underground, past our feelings to establish something unseen in the crevices of our soul that becomes the foundation for these God-benefits.

Happy isn’t a feeling and joy is offered to the broken.  How upside down. “Our brokenness opens the door to the Father’s heart” Paul Millar.  Why?  Because God knows a lot about brokenness.

“This is my body broken for you”, said the Christmas baby turned man.  His wounds heal our wounds. His brokenness exchanges for life.  Out of his suffering comes abundance.  What do you do with your brokenness?
Invite the abundance of God right into the middle of it.

“Brokenness happens in a soul so the power of God can happen in a soul. Shame is a bully, but grace is a shield. The miracle happens in the breaking.” Ann Voskamp

I have had it out with God on numerous occasions.  One time when I was particularly in a dark night of the soul I cried out to God in desperation pleading, “What do I get out of all this pain?!”

He replied, “Me”.

And surprisingly, that brought to me the first deep impression of what I would describe as joy.  It wasn’t a feeling, it wasn’t a decision… it was Him with me.

Immanuel.  God Is With Us.

Joy.

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