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Paramedic Nat

A Blog About a Paramedic's Mental Health Journey

Month

March 2015

Grateful ‘Safe’ Sadness

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It’s been 6 whole months since my last drink, and 6 whole months since I was transported to the hospital almost dead (again). Six whole months since I saw no light in this world. Six whole months since I thought my family and friends would have been better off without me and the demons that consumed my every waking and sleeping moment. It’s been 6 whole months…that I have been healing.

Six months may seem like such a short period of time to you, but for me and my sobriety and health it feels like an amazing life-time. I’m going to try to put into words how life feels to me now. But bear with me because these feelings are so new, that articulating them isn’t going to be super easy. I think explaining them through life moments may help me a bit…so I will.

Going to Homewood was a blessing beyond my wildest imagination. Not only because it helped me so much with my PTSD, but because it exposed my alcoholism. Through my 12-step fellowship I have grown into a happy and healthier mom, woman, sister, daughter and member of society. After balking at a program that I thought couldn’t possibly be for me, I finally surrendered, and have grown to heal not only my alcohol addiction, but I’ve also made leaps and bounds of improvement in my mental health. Life…IS…GOOD!..Words which are becoming less foreign to me now. But this good life still takes hard work to maintain. I pray and meditate every day that I do not take advantage of any blessing a new day brings. And I shake my head in awe as I type this, because 6 months ago I only prayed for God to take me away.

A few days ago, my daughter and I went for an 8-hour drive to and from Windsor for a University open house. We got up at the crack of dawn to make the long trek, and chatted and sang songs as we drove. Miracles seem to be happening to me a lot (and maybe they were before but I was just too sick to see them) and as we came into massive amounts of construction in Windsor, a huge miracle happened right there in the car. Caroline looked at me and said, “Mom, you know that a year ago you couldn’t have done this’. My heart skipped a beat as I remembered the exact day last year that I told her I couldn’t take her to Windsor for an open house she had been looking so forward to because my anxiety was too bad and my depression wouldn’t even allow me to muster up the energy required to brush my teeth, let alone drive for 8-hours only to stand in a crowd of noisy, pushy teenagers and parents. I looked at Caroline, smiled and said, “You’re right.”

I was then suddenly mindful of the calmness I possessed for the trip. I was aware of the absence of any craving to hurry up and find a restaurant with wine, or to hurry up and get home so that I could drink my anxiety away for the night. I was simply at peace! The old Natalie would have been cursing the construction and how sore my tailbone was from sitting so long. The old Natalie would have been so irritable and would have taken away all of the excitement Caroline should have for the day. But the miracle didn’t stop there… Caroline then told me how she doesn’t wake up and walk on eggshells until she can decipher my mood anymore. She told me I was just happy now, and patient. What a true moment of bliss. Hearing those words from my daughter’s mouth literally made my heart pour out joy! We were enjoying a day I never could have enjoyed before, and words simply cannot express the gratitude I felt at that very moment, and now.

Oddly enough, not all of the miracles I’ve been experiencing involve smiles and happiness (which you would think all miracles would)…I’ve now been experiencing what I call ‘grateful sadness’. Sounds crazy I know…but let me explain. Save My Life School, Grad School, the Buddhist Centre and Homewood have taught me SO MUCH about how to not be afraid of my emotions and how to allow myself to feel them, let them move through me, and then leave. It’s becoming second nature to me now as I practice mindfulness of my emotions all day, every day. But experiencing ‘grateful sadness’ yesterday was one of the most enlightening emotional moments yet.

I’m working on step 4 of my 12 steps which involves a ‘searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves’. And as I moved through my moral inventory and analyzed my resentments, old and new, as well as my shortcomings and selfishness, flashes of the ‘old days’ flipped my stomach over, and made me very, very sad. I was warned by my sponsor that this type of emotional response would quite possibly happen, so I allowed myself to feel all the emotions the inventory brought forth. And when I got to reviewing recent relationship losses I’ve experienced, I cried, and cried and cried. I sobbed, loud, gut-renching cries which made me feel out-of-control and uncomfortable…feelings I would have most definitely numbed in the past. But I didn’t numb, I didn’t even think of it, I simply felt, and when I was finished crying (half a roll of toilet paper later) I realized I then felt…fine. I didn’t feel depressed or anxious. In fact, the only thing that reminded me of my depression was that I was in my bedroom. Then another huge epiphany occurred to me…It’s so hard to explain in words, but I discovered that this sadness was a safe sadness. It was what healthy people felt! It was normal and didn’t hurt me…it was actually helping me! After my cry I got in the shower and got ready for my 12 step meeting. NOTHING in me wanted to stay in my room and wallow in self-pity. NOTHING in me wanted to dissociate and hide for the rest of the night. I was ok!…and I loved it!

And if learning what ‘grateful sadness’ is, isn’t enough of a blessing, while I was crying another miracle occurred! Caroline heard my sobs (as most of the city probably did) so she came in to hug me along with my friend Lana. But after she had given me a good solid hug, she left the room and went about her day. When I told her I was just ‘normal sad’ and not depressed, she believed me right away. She trusted me! She didn’t need to worry this time that she would find me unconscious on the floor in an hour. She was just a healthy girl, seeing her healthy mom have a good cry. Pretty amazing if you ask me!

Don’t be worried that I’m in over my head with all of this positive change. While I write and reflect about what has changed for the better in my life over the past 6 months, humility still races through my veins. I know that one bad choice could lead me back to the darkness I felt for so many years. I know that my recovery will always be a work in progress. But once in a while it’s nice to share the good experiences I’m having to show you all that there is always hope. My 12 step book tells me that, ” I was in a hopeless state of mind and body”, but I’m happy to say that all of the work I’ve put into my recovery is actually working! Remember when I said that I always wondered how someone I saw walking down the street even on a beautiful day could be happy? Well I don’t think that anymore…now I wonder how could they be sad?

Shedding The Armour on Our Hearts

As I grow along this journey of enlightenment in which I’ve clumsily stumbled upon, I continue to possess this deep desire to continue sharing with you. I liken the desire to how I felt as a child when it was show-and-tell day…do you remember that feeling? Excited and nervous…not knowing exactly what to say so that everyone watching ‘gets’ how important the object is to you. Sad when time ran out and your turn got postponed to the next-day because you just couldn’t wait to share. So connected to the belief that once you shared, others would ‘feel’ the same level of appreciation as you did for the object. And also proud when someone came up to you afterwards and expressed how much they liked the object too. Well that’s how felt anyway 🙂 Ok, moving along, I would like to attempt to ‘show’ and ‘tell’ you about the importance of acceptance, and how I am learning about its healing qualities in a forum I am grateful to have been exposed to.

A few mornings ago, my sister-in-law and I bundled ourselves up on a damp, dreary day (coffee in hand) and excitedly travelled to a yoga studio about 30 mins away from home for a seminar on ‘taking and giving’ delivered by a brilliant Buddhist teacher. As mentioned in a previous blog, we have become quite fascinated by these mindful teachings and can’t seem to get enough of them. When we arrived, we nestled in for the 3 hour class, which included 3 guided meditations, and proceeded to open our minds to enlightened possibilities.

During the beginning portion of the class we were introduced to acceptance which reminded me of the ‘distress tolerance’ I have learned in save my life grad school, but on a much more vast and spiritual level. Early on I could feel myself get nervous when we were encouraged to meditate on a recent upsetting emotion and rather than closing our minds and hearts to it, like so many of us do as a human reflex to limit or even completely avoid pain, we were to open our minds and hearts and allow it in. SUCH a foreign idea to me less than a year ago! So I went all in and did my very best to recall the feeling I felt when Ian moved out. It was a scary task because I’ve done a really good job to date moving on from this emotion, so feeling it again was extremely uncomfortable. Through the meditation we were guided to slowly shed the armour on our hearts heavy piece by piece, and let the emotion move in. Once we welcomed it in, we were reminded that we could still survive without any cold and uncomfortable protection on our fragile hearts. Who knew? We then imagined the emotion flowing through us, and moving on into the universe in which it came from. How interesting to see that we didn’t need to keep it in our hearts forever.

Moving on through the afternoon, we were taught how ALL painful human emotions are universal. We ALL feel guilt, sadness, fear etc, at some point in our lives. And not only do we block many of these painful emotions from ourselves, our egos also contain them so tightly behind our armoured heart that even the human beings closest to us (who could help and support us) have no idea of the pain we are experiencing. We don’t want to admit that we may be depressed, or sad, because so much of western society has taught us that these emotions equal weakness.  So we lock-up our hearts and throw away the key…sometimes forever…and how tragic is that?

The teacher shared how giving any emotion permission to exist as it does, moves our minds away from constrictive ‘protection’, to an open acceptance which can lead to peace…if we allow it to. What a mind-blowing concept. But to me it makes sense! For example, take the emotion guilt…a relatively common emotion which can bring about immense personal pain; unless you’re a sociopath, we’ve all felt it. Personally, this emotion makes me feel ashamed, and for lack of a better word, gross; not a sensation I would choose to have and experience. But none-the-less it exists and has consumed me for years because I buried it so tightly in my heart. It was never something I wanted to talk about because it made me feel weak. But according to the teacher, if I would have accepted the presence of this emotion, dealt with it rather than hiding it, and let it move on, I would have been free from it a lot more quickly. I thought hiding it took strength, but accepting it was actually the strong knock-out left-hook.

Acceptance of our emotions doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with the events they result from. For example, if we are in an abusive relationship it’s not ok to stay and ‘accept’ the abuse. But regardless of where they originated from, our emotions are delivering us powerful messages filled with the possibility of self-growth and inner-peace.

Maybe try to remove one layer of your armour today? See where it takes you and what it teaches you. Maybe try to accept that whatever you find shielded inside your heart is a universal emotion…and that no matter what you tell yourself, you are NOT alone in feeling it.

Tornado Warning In Effect

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before (as this is my 79th blog!… topics are starting to blend together on me) but I have had tornado dreams all my life. These dreams would always involve me seeing a tornado in the distance approaching family members or friends. I would yell to warn them, but no one would listen; kids would keep playing in the yard, adults would just keep walking around. I would scream and try to get them to hurry as I would watch the tornado get closer and closer. In some dreams I would finally get everyone to go inside. But it was chaos trying to corral them all because they waited too long. I couldn’t understand how they didn’t see the urgency needed to save their lives (MY ultimate irony!). Inevitably the tornado would try to lift us away…then I would wake up. These dreams always felt so real! And I never understood why I had them so often. Enter todays ‘save my life grad school’ lesson…how important distress tolerance and facing life’s chaos is WHEN it occurs.

‘Rocket science’ didn’t bring me to the conclusion that my tornado dreams meant that there was some type of chaos in my life, and that they were so frequent because chaos seemed to be my life. Growing up I didn’t know how to process and heal from sad experiences through natural grief; which sadly is probably true for lots of kids. I didn’t realize that emotional pain would be temporary and was necessary to throughly heal; I would ignore any chaotic pain and try to hide from it because, well, pain is painful. This poor coping skill stayed with me for all the years of my life, and over time, the burden of these losses built up and caused even MORE pain and suffering. Over time the tornado just grew and grew…and in exponential proportions. What use to be an F-1 as a child became an F-5 by the time I was in my 20’s.

While taking care of my mom after her aneurism when I was 20, as well as my 1-year old daughter, and my 5 year old brother, I didn’t make time to grieve the loss of the mom I had known before her brain injury. Furthermore, I didn’t make time to grieve the heartache that occurred when I was sent away when pregnant, and the loss of important relationships it had caused. I didn’t make time because things needed to get done, mouths needed to be fed, doctor’s appointments needed to be made, laundry needed washing, and homework needed to get completed, kid’s needed baths, prescription’s needed to be filled, bills needed to get paid, all while trying to manage my mom who was battling side-effects from her brain injury so serious I can barely describe in words. My life was a tornado…and not only did I not have any clue how to stop it…I thought that I didn’t have any time to.

I would cry when I went to sleep at night (a lot) but that was the extent of my emotional healing; and I never truly felt better. I was stuck in a life I didn’t necessarily want to be in, and I was only 20 years old. Back then I didn’t know any different. I would just go day by day doing the things I had to do, never realizing how much not dealing with my tremendous losses was hurting me. I responded to the life I was given the best I thought I could, and tried to look away from the tornado. If I only had known what a mess it was leaving behind.

18 more years of tornadoes inevitably brought me almost to my death. I did everything I could to ignore any distress in my life, including the distress certain calls at work would cause me. I filled up many years with certificates, diplomas and degrees, but never graduated from distress tolerance kindergarden. I tried to avoid pain at all costs (I drank, I slept, etc.) and didn’t know how to accept that pain was a natural part of life, and that I could heal if I stopped avoiding it. Bitterness silently made me more mad year after year, loss after loss. I foolishly thought that my  efforts to avoid pain would make the pain go away! However, pain from original situations that were supposed to be temporary turned into long-term pain and suffering and that got harder and harder to ignore. No wonder my tornado dreams became more frequent as I got older…my psyche was trying to tell me to open my eyes to the chaos in my heart and mind. “But who has time to deal with tornadoes anyway?” would have been my statement less than a year ago. But now after all the emotional work I’ve done to date, I feel like I’m an emotional weather radar tracking system, tracking the smallest of storms…preparing for them…managing them as they come…and more importantly, staying away from tornado alley.

After my last overdose, with a lot of support and encouragement, I slowly came to ask myself, ‘when is enough, enough?’ Yes, it hasn’t always been a smooth transition from being the ‘queen of tornadoes’ to a ‘common citizen who carries around an umbrella just incase it rains’. I have A LOT of destruction to repair after attempting to avoid my pain through self-destruction. Thankfully I have come to realize that by mindfully confronting what’s going on in my life, and how my life is going, rather than hiding from every little storm cloud, I can get control of my life and experience relief, peace and joy.

Recovery doesn’t come easy when the amount of destruction seems impossible to repair, but I am slowly learning to be patient and wait for positive changes I’ve made to take root; like the seedlings planted after the storm. (The old impatient Natalie would have went to Lowe’s and purchased an expensive full-grown tree). Today ‘save my life grad school’ presented this amazing food-for-thought with regards to accepting pain and distress during ANY recovery filled with any amount of destruction:

“When we have an injury or are planning surgery, we usually ACCEPT that it will be painful…and it will take time to heal. We EXPECT and ACCEPT the TEMPORARY PAIN. We expect to EVENTUALLY feel better. We make LIFESTYLE CHANGES to get through this time. We MAKE THE BEST OF THINGS, GO ON WITH LIFE, and WAIT FOR THE RELIEF that comes from TIME and HEALING. (Gordon, M. Out-of-Control, 2009. page 302) So why should we expect to heal emotional pain any other way?

I haven’t had a tornado dream since being home from Homewood. Maybe I’ve finally moved from Kansas.

A Lotus, A Ladybug, and The Wizard of OZ

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Life lessons seem to be hitting me in the gut left, right and center lately. Just when I think I’m due for a lesson-lull…Bam!…I get hit with a doozie! Do I have a sign on my back that says, ‘please rattle my view of the world and humanity’?…it’s totally possible. Ok, let’s see how I can describe how I’m feeling in words. ‘Overwhelmed’ doesn’t seem right… I feel that word sort of has a negative connotation, and what I’m feeling is anything but negative. ‘Mesmerized’?…partially. ‘Gob-smacked’?…I don’t really know what that means, but it sort of sounds appropriate. ‘In-awe’?…yes, but it’s still not right. ‘Awakened’! Yes, that’s it…last night’s life-lesson has awakened my knowledge of a topic I admit has baffled me for years; LOVE.

I had this awakening when I joined my sister-in-law for an hour and a half at a Buddhist Centre last night. Upon arriving, all I knew was that the topic of discussion and teaching was ‘love’ (gulp), and that meditation would be involved, but I didn’t know what else to expect at all. I was thrilled to be invited as I have been practicing meditation at night to help me fall asleep sans prescriptions drugs and I love it. But the mediation I participated in last night was much more challenging than the ‘count David Beckham’s…I mean sheep!’ technique I am use to. More challenging as in it took what felt like a small eternity to complete. (I’m use to only reaching sheep 32’ish). However, I muscled my way through it and sat as still as possible because the analogy of the guided meditation spoke volumes to me.

The Buddhist teacher told us to close our eyes and envision a lotus seed in the murky, muddy water. This seed represented our potential to find the purest of love. We then envisioned the lotus growing out of the dark water and blooming into its breath-taking colour. With a little more patience the beautiful flower revealed its jewel inside. This jewel represented a love that would have been hidden for eternity if the seed had not been brave enough to make its journey through the darkness. It wasn’t always easy for the lotus to grow in its dark conditions, but none-the-less it did…and was beautiful.

After the meditation we were told that the ideal meaning of love is found in the phrase, ‘may you be happy, may you be well’. Love simply wishes someone happiness and wellness….that’s it…that’s all…no hidden clauses or fine print…no expiry dates or restrictions applied. Love is pure and simple. Love doesn’t say ‘may you make me happy and well’, love is selfless and giving, and comes from a special home in our heart.

We as a society are so use to thinking that someone’s love for us ‘completes us’, but it doesn’t; only we can complete ourselves. We think that love from another person is what is necessary to make us happy. We can also unknowingly attach ourselves to someone who we feel happy around, who we think ‘fills a void’, because we’ve mistaken that happiness for love. We don’t want to lose that feeling for fear of being not-whole again, and the attachment this fear causes puts a lot of strain on a relationship. Furthermore, we often idealize the way a person treats us at first through that glorious ‘honeymoon’ phase, and make no room in our head or heart for natural evolution of the relationship. Sadly we believe that any change in the relationship, means a change in the love we have for one another.

This miraculous journey of awakening I’ve been on has made me come to realize there is no such thing as coincidences. I now believe that each and every event in our lives happens for a very specific reason, and they are all part of a bigger picture. And last night as I pondered the emotion, rational and wisdom of love, and where it comes from in me, I believe that not coincidentally, a very dear person sent me this clip from the Wizard of Oz and the message, “Despite our adventures, we have always been able to go home”. http://youtu.be/xvj85cOWD54

I also found a ladybug in my windowsill this morning.

No one ‘completes us’ or is the key to our happiness. Pure happiness comes from accepting ourselves with all of our faults and blunders, and in the ability to give love to another human without hidden resentment, ill feelings or expectations. Love simply says “may you be happy, may you be well”.

Wisdom In The Ring

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Some of you may know that I have a love for MMA (mixed martial arts). I’ve been to every UFC fight ever held in Toronto. This passion came from years of watching boxing growing up with my brother (Oscar De La Hoya being our all-time fave). Most guy’s jaws drop when I can have an extensive conversation about fighters from the past, present, and hopefuls for the future. The series ‘Ultimate Fighter’ is pretty much this girl’s ‘Days of Our Lives’. Crazy I know 🙂

One of the main reasons I think I love this sport is that I admire the skill it takes the fighters to wisely take control of their physical and emotional selves to fight effectively in an out-of-contol atmosphere. If emotions are not controlled they would suffocate any attempt at a mindful and effective fight. Emotions are a definite part of any fight (getting punched in the face is surely going to piss you off and fire you up), but being in control of these emotions takes practice…a lot of practice. And I respect that.

This fighter analogy brings me to this week’s save my life grad school topic; how to use our wise mind. Quite simply, this ‘mind’ turns on when we blend emotional mind and rational mind together. While learning about this wise mind I imagined an experienced fighter in the ring who remembers to play by the rules and make mindful choices, versus an emotional mind fighter who doesn’t rationally analyze their opponent, breaks the rules, and fights strictly with impulsive reactions. Sure, a fighter who uses only emotional mind may get lucky and win a fight from time-to-time with a rage-filled punch, but their career longevity is limited; your luck will eventually run out when fighting with 100% emotional mind…thankfully mine hadn’t yet.

Before save my life school and Homewood, I was a 100% emotional mind fighter through and through! When I felt an uncomfortable emotion I reacted immediately. I would throw that figurative rage-filled punch over and over without even noticing that I was barely winning the fight. And more often than not I would instinctively fight myself and throw in the towel before even putting on the gloves. I thought that ‘being strong’ (aka stubborn and bitter with life) was the only characteristic I needed on my UFC resume. I thought my wisdom of a topic made my fighting strategies irrelevant. And I thought that retreating would make my opponent go away. Only when I was finally down and out for the count would my rational fighter awaken…but by then it was too late…I was already a bloody mess, and no one was in the crowd anymore. And when I finally pulled myself to my knees, all I would do was rehash the emotional fight over and over in my head, or beat myself up for retreating, never even getting close to using my wise mind. The only way I ever knew how to fight in this world was through unnecessary exhaustion and pain.

I’m now learning that taking the time to practice getting to, and using wise mind before throwing that emotional rage-filled punch is a key to having peace and stability in my life. I can still ‘be strong’, but show my strength through patience and mindfulness. I don’t need to knock everyone out to protect my heart. And I now know that I will have to feel a punch or two in life, rather than numb myself, in order to grow. Furthermore, I am learning how to mindfully decide if a battle is even worth the fight at all! Side-bar: Jerseying a girl in Walmart when I was 21 because she got all up in my grill about me flashing my high beams at her after she took MY parking spot…not worth the fight. But MAN it’s an awesome story!  Moving on… 

When I look at all the impulsive things I’ve done through 100% emotional mind I feel foolish and embarrassed; I don’t think that shame will go away for a long time. But now while in crisis, mindfully moving through emotional mind, rational mind, and then on to wise mind, allows me to see that I have way too much to lose by acting impulsively. The consequences of me jumping into the ring of pure emotions and swinging are too damaging. After all those years watching boxing and UFC, never did I think I would be called into the ring for the fight of my life, literally. But I’m no longer the under-dog. I’ve been practicing this life-fight for 38 years…and I’m FINALLY winning.

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