Sit down this new year’s and make your bucket list. Really look at it as if this year may be your last. Imagine what it would be like if, at the end of your life, you looked back and felt that you had done everything you truly wanted to do. Imagine the legacy you could leave behind to your family, setting the example of allowing each day to count, making each day vital towards accomplishing all the special and magical things you could dream of in your life.
“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” Mother Teresa
Many situations in life cause pain. Scorching , excruciating, soul-searing pain. It can come out of nowhere, your lover leaves, you lose your baby, cancer. All destined to turn your world on its ear and to leave you with deep, abiding pain. Alice Cooper described it as feeling like “the man with no skin.” Sleep is evasive, being awake is intolerable, and it feels there is no escape. The only thing that is for sure is that it feels like it will never end.
The more we struggle against this psychic pain, the more difficult it is on us. Like having our wrists bound with barbed wire, the struggle drives the barbs deeper and deeper. The saying goes “what we resist, persists.” There is relief to be had from the pain, but the remedy sounds too radical to be real, too dangerous to risk trying. Believe it or not, love is the cure, because only love heals pain.
There is a point, when you have fought all you can fight, resisted with all your might, and finally have come to the end of your strength, where something amazing can occur. You see, at the end of you lies a miracle, where only the brave dare to tread. It is a place so terrifying, so beautiful, so radical, that I hesitate to direct you there, lest you fear I have lost my mind.
When you’re finished being pissed off, finished fighting, finished trying to create a different outcome by manipulating the world like a Rubik’s Cube, a phenomenon occurs that feels much like what J.M. Barrie describes in his book Peter Pan. “When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.” When you let go of attachment to “what should have been”, and you roll over in acceptance, you will find that your ego shatters into a million tiny little pieces, and that an ocean of bright, beautiful love comes from your soul, radiating out in a tsunami so violent that it threatens to flood the world. Then you can love your pain.
Yes, I am suggesting loving cancer, and loving loss and loving grief. You see, as terrible as they are, they are your tutors that bring you to this beautiful land of love. They are the signposts on the path to a love so satisfying that it feels like you have transcended this world and have been transported to the next. This journey is not for the feint of heart, but if you want to weep with joy at the beauty of a sunset, or be brought to your knees by the sound of a bird singing, this is the path for you. It’s only a simple shift. Just roll over from the fighting, the anger, the fear, and decide to love.
By giving up, you save yourself. As Antoine St. Exupery said, “A single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us. To live is to be slowly born.” The journey is not pleasant, few would choose to begin, knowing the cost on the road, but the destination is surely splendid.
Receiving the news about the Connecticut school shooting this week was bone chilling and heartbreaking. Parents everywhere ran to hug their own children while feeling grief and pain for the parents of the school children, myself included. The world does not feel like a safe place when we cannot even expect that our elementary school aged children to be safe receiving an education.
It is overwhelming to add another fear to the anxious mix that parenting brings. How can you focus on doing work during the day when your mind reverberates with news stories of small children brutally murdered? Especially when your own children are in a classroom very similar to the one these dear babies were in. It can feel like the world is closing in on you, and like there are threats everywhere if you allow your thoughts to have their way.
In order to regulate your emotions, I urge you to notice when your thoughts wander towards “rehearsing” a stressful scenario in your mind. When you play the movie of all the horrible things that could possibly happen in your mind, it affects your body as well. The anxious thoughts trigger a hormonal cascade that can serve to put you on “high alert”, inducing a state of hypervigilence that can be very uncomfortable, not to mention bad for your body. Being in this state is like idling a car on high for long periods of time. It depletes your adrenal glands and leaves you exhausted. Thought stopping is a technique that can be helpful with this. Every time you notice an anxious thought, use it as a signal to name three things you are grateful for, immediately converting that energy of anxiety, to a higher vibrational energy of appreciation. Learning to stop these thoughts is a discipline, but it is worth the effort.
Practicing mindfulness is beneficial, especially during times of uncertainty. Focusing on the moment, being really present with your children, is the path to mindfulness. If you find you are feeling anxious, really focus on their faces, as if you were seeing them for the first time. Look deeply into their eyes, and notice how beautiful they are, looking at their eyelashes one by one. Really tune in to their voices and notice the cadence and intonation. Pay attention to how your body feels in their presence. Breathe.
Your children feed on your energy, so at stressful and tragic times like this, it is important for you to take care of yourself emotionally so you do not inadvertently give off any messages that your children are not safe that may cause them to fear. It is the temptation to ignore the children while watching the news and to have conversations in front of them that may be anxiety producing . Making sure that your children are not exposed to a constant influx of traumatic images coming into your home via the television or radio or conversations about the news stories is one way you can protect them. Having other adults to discuss your feelings with about the tragedy outside of your children’s presence can go a long way towards helping you maintain emotional regulation in the presence of your children and protecting them from adopting your anxiety and pain vicariously.
Reassure your children that they are loved and that you would do anything to keep them safe. They need to hear these words in uncertain times. They may also need to understand and grieve, just like you. Playing a game where you start by asking them to draw pictures of ordinary things and life events, eventually allowing them eventually draw pictures of what they have heard or seen can help them process their feelings.
Watch your children for signs of trauma, such as manic activity followed by periods of sitting and staring into space. If you notice nightmares or unrealistic or unfounded fears, talk to your child, if they do not subside, then seek a qualified mental health professional to assist your child in processing the trauma.
Talk to your children about what happened, reframing the events to help them see that there is still good amidst the evil. I love the precious words of Fred Rogers, who touched on the topic of tragic events in the news in his book “The Mister Rogers Parenting Book,” the last book he worked on before he died in 2003. In fact, his own mother’s words helped him make some sense of tragic events.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,'” he wrote. “To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
I would like to leave you with some more wisdom from Mr. Rogers:
Even if we wanted to, it would be impossible to give our children all the reasons for such things as war, terrorists, abuse, murders, major fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes. If they ask questions, our best answer may be to ask them, “What do you think happened?” If the answer is “I don’t know,” then the simplest reply might be something like, “I’m sad about the news, and I’m worried. But I love you, and I’m here to care for you.”
If we don’t let children know it’s okay to feel sad and scared, they may think something is wrong with them when they do feel that way. They certainly don’t need to hear all the details of what’s making us sad or scared, but if we can help them accept their own feelings as natural and normal, their feelings will be much more manageable for them.
Angry feelings are part of being human, especially when we feel powerless. One of the most important messages we can give our children is, “It’s okay to be angry, but it’s not okay to hurt ourselves or others.” Besides giving children the right to their anger, we can help them find constructive things to do with their feelings. This way, we’ll be giving them useful tools that will serve them all their life, and help them to become the worlds’ future peacemakers — the world’s future “helpers.”
Carolyn Tucker is a psychotherapist in Atlanta, Buckhead and Conyers who specializes in anxiety and divorce issues. For more information call 770-789-0847 or see www.carolyntuckertherapist.com.
Custody issues are stressful enough, having to communicate with your spouse or former spouse over them can be a minefield. Being expected to communicate and coordinate schedules with someone that you may have a contentious relationship is at times difficult and at other times impossible. Fortunately technology is available to make communications and coordination easier, and it is increasingly being applauded by lawyers and judges.
Technology also enables the non custodial parent to have more seamless access to their children, enhancing relationships. Online custody management tools, Skype and cell phones have revolutionized how former couples communicate, enabling parents to make arrangements without having face to face dispute and facilitating parent/child relationships. It is a win/win for the children and the parents. Unfortunately, if you aren’t tech savvy the prospect of depending on technology to manage your child custody calendar, medical expenses, communications with your former spouse, communications with your children, child support management, etc may feel daunting.
In helping my clients navigate the waters of the divorce process both before and after, I consider the technology piece a major boon to assist in keeping anxiety levels low during the process. In addition to learning coping skills and interventions to address the inevitable life stress that comes with this transition, getting connected with technology to help make life easier is now a standard part of what I do.
Fortunately there are people who are well versed in this technology and are able to get you set up in a way that will facilitate good record keeping for the court, interaction with your child’s school, coaches, etc, and communication with your former spouse. In my psychotherapy practice specializing in pre and post divorce issues this is commonplace. By taking some of the conflict out of divorce by making communication more collaborative and cooperative we help the parents feel more secure and less anxious. More secure and less anxious parents make for more secure and less anxious children, which in the end, is what really matters.
If you are having difficulty adjusting during the pre or post divorce process, or if you just need some support around the technology, please reach out to a qualified professional to help make the transition a time of growth and discovery for you.
Carolyn Tucker LAPC is a psychotherapist specializing in pre and post divorce issues and anxiety. For more information please call 770-789-0847 or see www.carolyntuckertherapist.com to set an appointment.
Going through a divorce is tough, really tough. Going through a divorce during the holidays is excruciating. Everything you have known about the holidays changes, and if you have children it is complicated exponentially. There are few situations that inspire more anxiety than figuring holiday schedules for children and planning how you will fill the hours while they are with their other parent. Even if you do not have children, the holidays represent a death of the norm.
Grieving is normal and natural during this season. Your singleness is magnified by images of happy couples gathered with their happy children around the tree, while you try to figure how you will pay for gifts and groceries on an income that has been decimated. Not spending holiday time with the family that had become like your own can be a painful part of the loss that no one acknowledges.
There is hope for you if you are going through a divorce during the holidays. Despite the fact that nothing feels secure until the divorce is final, you can learn to thrive during the ambiguity. I know that thriving may sound like a stretch. If you are like many, you spend much of the time curled up in bed trying to sleep the time away until the divorce is final and all the arrangements are in place. Learning to live mindfully can help you begin to appreciate your life again. Even though it may feel like you have had a giant bomb thrown into your life, learning to live in the moment can help you get out of bed, put your feet on the floor, and start all over again.
The first step is learning to breathe again. Yes, you heard me, breathe. When is the last time that you took a really deep breath? When we are anxious and grieving we actually forget to breathe. When we focus our attention on our breath, and really notice how luxurious it feels to throw our heads back and take a deep belly breath, we become engaged in the process of life again.
Remembering the little things that we love about the holidays is a big step towards learning to thrive again. A glass of eggnog in front of the fire, the twinkle of the lights at night, the smell of the Christmas tree, the feel of the winter chill on your cheeks when you step outside in the morning are all precious moments if we notice them. It is REALLY noticing the little things, the special moments, that make for quality holidays. When you string together several special moments, you have created a lovely day. Once you have created a lovely day, then you have the pattern for creating a delightful holiday season.
Making new memories is another way to help you flourish during the season. Time with friends, a chance to travel, shopping or seeing a newly released movie can all become thrilling adventures if you reframe how you expect to experience the holidays. Engaging with other single people or joining in celebration with another family can begin a tradition that will provide you with beautiful memories. A nice bottle of wine and your presence may be all that is required in return.
If you are having a really difficult time I recommend that you volunteer at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. There are people everywhere who are in need of encouragement, of a warm body to remind them that they still matter, that they are important. It is amazing how connecting with those less fortunate than yourself can give you perspective on your blessings.
The game plan for thriving through the holidays as you are going through a divorce is to put one foot in front of the other. Do the next thing. Keep your mind in the moment. Do not think about the future, do not dwell on the past. Take a deep breath, and realize that right now, this very minute, is enough.
Carolyn Tucker LAPC is a psychotherapist and life coach specializing in pre and post divorce support and anxiety. To find out more information call 770-789-0847 or see www.carolyntuckertherapist.com.
Living in an imperfect world is stressful. Imperfection can look many ways. It can look like an argument with a loved one, being let down by a friend, losing a job or even not being able to pay the bills. When things do not go how we want them to the imperfection seems to mock us and get us twisted into a bundle of nerves. Many of us walk around in distress much of the time due to our circumstances. Most of the discomfort we experience is from negative emotions wreaking havoc in our body.
We have two primary emotions, love and fear. The discomfort comes from resisting fear and thus trapping it in our bodies. Fear in our bodies can manifest as anxiety and can cause many physical symptoms. Our muscles tighten, we get knots in our stomach and lumps in our throats,our heart rates increase, our breathing becomes quick and shallow when we experience fear. It can feel almost unbearable.
We are hard-wired to have the fight or flight response from the beginning of time. It does not serve us well because we rarely encounter a pterodactyl waiting to devour us for dinner these days. The evolutionary response that saved our lives when we lived among carnivorous beasts is killing us now. It causes our bodies to idle at a high-speed, exhausting our adrenal glands and wearing out our minds with repetitive thoughts of “danger”.
Fear is literally an energy in the body, as are all of our emotions. When we recognize it as such we are able to visualize control over it, being able to manipulate it and to help it shift. We usually resist uncomfortable energies, because it feels like if we focus on them they may consume us. Actually dropping your awareness into the area where you are experiencing the energy and noticing its presence is helpful in taking away some of its power and causing it to dissipate.
Making a conscious choice to shift to the place of love inside of ourselves is the cure for this discomfort. Fear and love cannot exist at the same time. To make the shift we focus on the area of our heart in our bodies. We begin to call into our presence picture the faces of those we love (their smiles and hugs, picturing them at tender and vulnerable moments), remembering fond experiences from childhood (playing a game, enjoying a toy that we loved so much, playing with a special friend), we focus on gratitude to the universe for all we have.
As we do these things we will notice an energy being created in our chests directly above our hearts and we then begin to consciously visualize swirling that energy of love and happiness down into our entire bodies. Notice how when the energy of love reaches the area of your body that experiences the fear, that you can literally feel the fear leave and be replaced by to love.
The more we practice this intervention the better we become at shifting from fear to love. The ultimate goal is to shift right into love when an anxious thought hits. If we intervene immediately we save ourselves from the unpleasant physical effects of fear. If we learn to exist in that energy of love, we can forgive ourselves for not being perfect, our relatives for not being perfect, out mates for not being perfect, and our circumstances for not being perfect, and we can begin to be alright in the midst of imperfection.
Carolyn Tucker LAPC is a psychotherapist and life coach and energy healer who provides services face to face and via SKYPE. For more information call 770-789-0847 or see www.carolyntuckertherapist.com.