Repairing with Gus

By Andrew Lesniewicz PCC-S

I don’t share much deeply personal material on social media, but feel open to sharing this. When my second son Gus was born this past May, I was happy, excited, a bit overwhelmed, and filled with love. But as the next several months unfolded, I found myself really struggling in a way that is unaccustomed for myself. I had a hard time feeling connected, more easily overwhelmed, and this really old ache inside came into my awareness as life continued. I loved my new guy, but also felt like I had this wall up around my heart, which kept me from being fully present with him.

The Situation
Confused and overwhelmed, I constantly tried to look at and reflect on what was happening.  Mind you, I thought about my situation with my oldest son, Vincent. I was worried about not showing him enough attention as well. Quite the conundrum. I’m sure many parents feel something similar with the advent of second and third children. It felt awful. In essence, not only was I not feeling close with Gus but also now having a barrier with Vincent.  My attachment relationship with both boys was being affected.  Yet there was still no immediate answer, just a pain and ache inside that also contributed to a sense of failing as a dad. I was letting them both down.  As I explored this ache issue, talked with therapist friends, and had more of my own therapy, I became aware that this was something much deeper than just a seemingly surface awareness.

The Root
I am the oldest of three.  The birth span between my younger brother Kerry and I, mirrors the birth span of time between my own first-born son Vincent and newborn son Gus. In actuality, there is chronologically just a 4 days difference between myself and my brother, and Gus and my oldest Vincent. I had always had this awareness I was excited about my baby brother coming into my life. In fact, prior to therapy it was actually my earliest memory. I remembered him coming home from the hospital, myself seeing him, with the sense that my best friend was here. But as I became increasingly aware, I also had a great deal of sadness and loneliness, which was showing up in my life presently with both my boys.  This sadness was experienced, naturally, as a 2-year-old that suddenly doesn’t have all the attention that a first-born child receives.  It had been lingering in my system for the last 41 years, lying dormant to me, but now seeping into my parental life.  It had been contained by a sense of excitement and love for my brother, of the event of him coming into my life. The reality though, of adjusting to daily life with a new infant, left a well of unmet sadness for both myself as a toddler and my role as a father.

The value of therapy is that it can allow for different endings based on different actions, not taken from a place of emotional pain, negative beliefs, or procedurally somatic posturing.  As I worked with validating and accepting this old sadness of my 2-year-old self, I also was able to let this younger part of myself know that he was still important, still a priority in a way he, I, was able to take in and accept. 

 

The Action of Transformation

Then one day, this past December, when it was just Gus and I.  I spoke to my then 7-month-old son from my heart- I started with, “Gus, I really need to apologize to you for this wall I have had up with you.  I have had my own fear and sadness from when I was little and when my brother was born, that I wasn’t able to meet you in the way you deserve.  I know you may not understand me or maybe you do get it, but either way, I ask that you forgive me for the wall I have had up. I am sorry it took so long.”  My tears unfurled as I shared this with him.  I started to notice in the next few hours, days, and weeks, this wall around my heart was gone.  I could feel a love for Gus, coming from the same source that I felt for Vincent all along.  Gus seemed to be reaching for me more, and maybe he was before, but I couldn’t see it because of my own barrier.  I see his face light up when he sees me and I towards him.  I feel him and see him now, not through my own place of hurt, but for the love that he needs and deserves.

 

 

Problematic Positivity

By Andrew Lesniewicz M.A. PCC-S

There is a general idea in our society that you just need to think positively about situations, and that will magically make it all better.  And while there can be value in thinking positively, it can prohibit us from coming to terms with our more difficult feelings.  Mind you, as more research goes into understanding the biopsychosocial role of emotions, the majority of us, aren’t skillful at navigating the weather systems of our emotions.

People frequently walk around in their daily lives and/or come into counseling with this notion of just thinking positive will make it all better. “Just think positive… Look on the bright side, at least…”  They look at what they’ve experienced in their past and have this message that if they just think positively about it, they will be able to find the silver lining.  But, what happens when we rush to get to this place of positivity is that the emotions that naturally would come along with a difficult experience, never get a chance to fully resolve, to fully metabolize or integrate into our system.

The truth of it all…jumping from A to C without the B.

 …And while jumping to the silver lining…the positive…does seem better than being in an emotional terrain that we have yet to learn how to skillfully traverse, it still has a residue to it that can linger for years.  We rush to get to the good stuff, to the feel-good moment, because, well,… we believe it will feel better. We want to get from A to C without going through B.  We may rush to forgiveness without being angry, minimize the pain of a relationship ending, and deny the value of feeling our difficult emotions like sadness and/or hurt because we don’t always know what to do with this material.  Often, we hear or learn that we just need to think positive. What happens though is that the importance of allowing oneself to feel and experience the difficult emotions which were denied early on in life, and historically throughout a challenging experience are never fully metabolized, integrated or healed. And while I completely agree with Nietzsche’s famous quote, “What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger,” more strength comes from allowing oneself to completely be with the difficult emotional content in a way that does not, judge it, push it away, act out, ignore it, or numb it.

How does one develop the skills to be with these difficult emotions?

Giving oneself the internal space to mindfully and with self-compassion, fully acknowledge and validate the legitimacy of the feeling(s) is the first step.  Step two involves our knowing and trusting that we do not have to live with these feelings for all eternity. Instead, we can trust that just like a storm that eventually passes, so will our difficult emotions. Being with these difficult emotions in a way that is accepting, open and expansive, aids in our emotional healing.  Additionally, and maybe the most important step, is finding a person to be with us, to witness and hold space with the utmost acceptance and validation of our feelings and experience so that we may heal.

 

How to choose the "Healer" with whom to do your work...and why it matters.

How to choose the “healer” with whom to do your work...and why it matters.

We live in a society where we blindly trust those we see as authorities and/or individuals, who state they are experts or specialists in a particular area. We trust the title and don't go beyond that with questions like "What makes you an expert?", "Where did you receive your training?", "What certification process did you go through and are you actually certified in the field that you state you are an expert or specialist in?". Furthermore, it has become increasingly easier to create an image of “expert” through social media sites simply by posting content, images, and attending events in the area in which you claim to be an expert. As a psychotherapist, I am specialized in the field of trauma and have been working in this field for over 20 years. I am incredibly passionate about the mental health care people receive in working through their trauma/emotional disturbance and feel motivated to share information to those in my community and at large in an attempt to help increase awareness and understanding.

Over the past two decades the words “trauma”, “Post traumatic Stress”, and PTSD, have become more present than ever. The incredible research that has taken place over the past 20 years has helped to expand our understanding and treatment of trauma and how treating it correctly can result in complete healing. Determining if your trauma expert is really credible is critical because it makes a difference in your treatment outcome.

Begin by asking yourself a few critical questions. Ask yourself "Do I want to heal my emotional distress and symptoms?” or "Do I want to mask, bandage, redirect, disconnect, or avoid my pain?" If you answered the latter, then maybe the expertise you consult is non-pertinent. I would like to convince you otherwise. Our healers, friends, family, alcohol, drugs, etc., can all help us bandage most things temporarily or even maybe for longer period of time depending on the strength of the bandage and how often you get it reapplied. There are really good “band aiders” out there. However the danger of the bandage approach is that it contradicts the basic inherent drive that our body has toward healing. Our brain is wired to heal wounds. We are not wired to walk around with infected wounds. But take a look around; we have a lot of wounded people carrying their infected wounds around day in and day out. Some people are so good at covering up their wounds with barely detectable bandages but the wound is still there and is more than likely going to get bumped. What happens when that pain/wound gets bumped? The answer is that it hurts because the debris, infection, the psychological pain -the trauma- whatever you want to call it, has not been effectively healed-it is stuck and needs some professional expert help. Let me circle back around now to why it is important to carefully consider the person with whom to do your work.

Education, Training, Experience, Self-care

Understanding what goes along with the entire process of psychological pain that is stuck-TRAUMA-involves an in-depth understanding of neurology, psychology, and then the training on how to assess and treat. Just as critical to the educational component is the mastery of your therapist’s ability to skillfully and artfully sense the unique way your system holds onto and deals with the pain you are experiencing. These particular skills get developed when your healer has years of meaningful experience, is attending advanced training workshops relevant to recent research in the field in which they are specialized, participating in regular case consultation with other specialists in their field, and participating in their own mental health self-care practice. Currently there are two therapies that are endorsed by The World Health Organization as being effective and evidenced based therapies for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with children, adolescents, and adults. These two therapies are Trauma focused CBT and EMDR Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. You are welcome to explore exposure therapy which is effective but painful-Who wants to go through hell twice ? To summarize my point-ask your therapist/healer questions regarding their training, their approach to trauma, why they consider themselves to be an expert, and how they take care of their own mental health.

Trauma

Disturbing life experiences range from Big T traumas (war, death, rape, assault) , Small T traumas, and attachment trauma (the trauma that is insidious and pervasive within a primary caregiver relationship) Helping individuals with trauma involves more than just hearing about the person’s trauma. Conversely, healing your trauma means more than just sharing or talking about your trauma experience. Trauma can get stuck-like a sliver that if not healed properly can create a VERY LARGE and PAINFUL infection. Simply talking about the sliver in your thumb does not remove the sliver and the resulting pain. In fact, research is finding that when we are stuck in the trauma experience and encouraged to rehearse or tell the story over and over, symptoms can actually intensify and the stuck sliver just gets stuck a little bit deeper. When we effectively treat trauma, the “Stuckness” or “block” of the disturbing life experience is removed and transformation of the emotional distress and the accompanying symptoms occurs. The sliver is not only removed, but the infected wound itself is successfully cleaned out and closed. No more infection means no more being triggered...because there is nothing left in the wound that hurts when it gets bumped. The only thing that remains is a scar, an awareness that the trauma happened along with a neutral or even positive thought experienced both in the mind and body...maybe thoughts like “I survived it”, “I am strong”, “I matter”.

Triggered

Now imagine for a minute, working with your healer and having all of this trauma opened up (scab removed) and then not being able to appropriately process it? Imagine what it might feel like to walk away from an interaction with your healer with all of that pain open? Now imagine how someone walking around with that open wound might respond to help manage that pain they are feeling? Often times, the management tools we developed to deal with the pain intensify. Maybe the alcoholic decides to drink more, the drug abuser uses more, the rager rages more, the controller controls more. This is what happens when we are triggered-wound bumped, scabbed removed, trauma not healed. Being triggered is an incredibly painful state to be in. The triggered person is out of their window of tolerance and their autonomic nervous system takes over. The triggered person finds him or herself in a state of hyperarousal- out of control, angered, scared, overwhelmed, irritated, frustrated, panicked and/or hypoarousal-depressed, defeated, numb, overwhelmed, disconnected etc..  Credible experts in the field of trauma know how to handle these situations and the care you receive from them greatly impacts the outcome of your healing.

Trauma, being triggered, and being stuck in a state of suffering is both concerning and serious. What emerges from these conditions affects not only the individual’s mental health, but those in relationship to them and the community at large. My hope is that by now you are beginning to understand why it is so imperative to make sure your healer is a credible expert in the field in which they claim to be one. This applies to life coaches, school psychologists, counselors, victim advocates, pastors, priests, psychotherapists, reiki masters, massage therapists, yoga instructors, and any other healing arts that connect with the psychology held in one’s mind and body.

Your mental health is a critical part of your foundation. Choose someone to help you heal your trauma wisely. Your mental health depends on it, and your healing journey is one of the most important journeys of your life. Our area hosts several professionals who are not only trained academically in the healing field and therefore are licensed to diagnose and treat by the state, but also extensively certified and specialized.

If you need a referral, we can connect you with some great referral options. Healthy therapists know that they will not be a perfect fit for everyone. So if you begin your work with someone and realize after the first or few sessions that it's not a good fit, you're allowed and we encourage you to ask your therapist for a referral. A healthy therapist will not take this personally and chances are they feel the same way. Healthy therapists want to make sure clients get the care they need! Even if it's not with them!

On behalf of myself, my team and the fellow trauma therapists from our Northwest Ohio EMDR Regional network, I would like to invite you to connect with any of us should you be in search of someone to do your trauma work. We have a strong commitment to mental health, our practice, educating individuals in our community, and healing lives.

For more information about EMDR Therapy go to www.EMDR.Com

To connect with our team of therapists go to www.karunahousellc.com