Growing Better and Better
by Gloria R. Nash
THRIVEnet Featured Story - Fall 2003
In July of 2002 you published my story on your websites. I continue to receive positive feedback from individuals all over the country with regard to understanding resilience.
So much has happend to me in the past couple of years. I can't really say that I have achieved all of my dreams yet, but I have made enormous leaps of growth in healing my mental and emotional attitudes.
With best wishes,
Updated story, November, 2003.
From the time I was a child I had a natural interest in human potential, not realizing at the time that my intention to move toward my highest potential simultaneously meant facing external adversities and internal dark parts of my personality.
Of course, back then I had little of the awareness I have today. All of what I have discovered over the years has been through hindsight. In fact, most of the gold I have begun to "mine" from the trials of my life was learned in the past 2-3 years. My success, if any, lies not in my resilience but in my courage of persistence and determination, my resistance to not giving up. So many times I wanted to give up but fear and my incompetence at giving up have prevented me from taking that turn in the road.
Having resilience was not a conscious decision. I had no guidance, did not know there was such a thing as "resilience" or that the choices I was making could be thought of as such. It had nothing to do with my thoughts. If anything, my belief system and thoughts at most times in my life were terribly negative, judgmental and confused.
I was simply following the path that felt the most natural and authentic to me. That's all.
I can always remember being in touch with an energy inside me. Nothing to do with god or religion, but simply an awareness of energy that either left me feeling expanded or contracted. The former felt good, the latter did not. Not very complicated.
I experienced this sparkle of energy as internal and external responses. The energy either pulled me to move in one direction or pushed me to go in a different direction. I learned to follow the energy of the choices that left me feeling expanded and said no to the choices that left me feeling constricted.
The earliest I can recall sensing this energy or "inner glow" was whenever I heard pieces of music that powerfully moved me. All kinds of music captured my attention but some pieces had a powerful effect, such as Copeland, Debussy or Wagner. Art and literature acted as a similar elixir on me, as did animals and nature.
In 1982, I experienced being at bottom-my first "emotional landslide." I felt a call to move out west. In retrospect this was one of the two important turning points in my life. Nothing had impacted me as did the beauty of the South Western landscape. Driving across the country and embracing the awe-inspiring land gave me an inner security and humility that helped me come to terms with God. Encountering blizzards in New Mexico and Arizona, deadly floods in Nevada and Utah, an earthquake in California, and other weather related challenges assured me I was not in control but just a tiny meaningless sparkle of energy given the gift of life in this time and place. Frank Lloyd Wright was right; he had said that he believes in God but that he spells it N-A-T-U-R-E.
Prior to 1982 I had an innate belief in some Power bigger than me, but since all my prayers went unanswered I was left mostly with doubts...about life, about God, about myself. I have come to call God, love, spirit, nature, etc. the invisible "energy."
What I felt from these moments of nature, music, cats, and art were experiences of love. They had the power to tap into some part of me that felt expansive, good, positive, healed, if only for a moment. Drugs and addictions also gave me these feelings, but these were always followed by consequences that were negative and costly in terms of my health and resources. All of these states were quite different from my usual feelings of hopelessness, constriction, lack of love, deprived, sad, lost, and alone.
The heart felt energy of love is a great motivator. It drove me on a search to seek out natural ways to experience this state more of the time and from within me. I did not want to have to depend on anything outside myself to achieve these positive feelings. I intuitively sensed the difference between covering emotional pain with a temporary Band-Aid solution as opposed to a solution that is stable and generated from within.
I wanted not just to resolve my pain but to dissolve it. Of course, I did not realize then that I would be 49 years old before experiencing even a partial healing of my pain.
I continued listening to the energy in my heart and flowing with it. Using trial and error, I learned to recognize the choices that expanded my energy and to avoid the choices which depleted and constricted my energy. This was a difficult process and over the years my mistakes and poor judgment cost me dearly in terms of wasted decades and losses of resources, relationships, opportunities, money, work, etc.
It was only recently that I viewed my ability to sense this energy, my sensitivity, as an asset. Paradoxically, it was also a liability because I was so emotionally sensitive I was a victim at the mercy of my reactivity, riding up and down my emotional roller coaster.
My sensitivity and sense of being a victim was strongest when it came to dealing with the pain of parental abandonment and neglect. Being deprived of human connection and living with the awareness that I was an unwanted child whom no one wanted to care about or take an interest in my well-being--well this was cause to react.
The results living without human love had on my development were emotional immaturity, social inhibitions, cognitive deficiencies, and physical weakness. These consequences and their symptoms are what I have spent my lifetime reacting against.
Never afraid of reaching out, I sought help in overcoming my symptoms professionals in the fields of medicine, mental health, social services, career guidance, etc.--anyone who would listen. Over the years I was labeled various psychological disorders.
Years after I conquered all of my addictions to illicit substances, doctors and therapists gave me legal medications in the name of mental health "care." These drugs were Band-Aids that never addressed the root of my symptoms and often made me feel much worse. Some of the medications caused me to feel suicidal. Being dependent on these drugs seemed no different than being dependent on illegal drugs which I used to self-medicate myself so I could feel "normal." Either choice was not healing my problem.
I also sought help from individuals in the growing alternative health care field. Natural holistic healing was and is becoming increasingly available...but only to those with the financial means of paying for it. However, it was through holistic health care that I discovered I didn't have to stay sick or be dependent on anything. Alternative healing meant healing from the inside out, at the root cause of the problem, so I could recover the emotional and mental peace I innately knew was mine deep at my core.
Intuitively I knew that what the traditional mental health care system was offering me was a Band-Aid that only covered up my symptoms and gave me temporary relief. The cost was experiencing negative side effects to drugs that that my sensitive physiology couldn't deal with, and that mentally and emotionally I needed to depend on. I was not offered healing or care but coping with my problems which was hiding and ignoring it.
Intuitively I knew I was not "sick" but I was simply expressing symptoms that anyone would express if they had not received the human love and attention all humans require to successfully develop their physical, emotional, mental, and social maturity.
Along my path I meet "angels" who helped make my life easier however I never had the one person who took me under their wing to guide me to my success. What I did receive in abundance was books. Over the years I was led to read hundreds of books, each coming at the right time. I learned that I was not alone and that the natural concepts of health and well-being that my intuition was telling me had validation.
Following the energy of my heart, I applied the information I learned, and used what worked and expanded me while letting go of what didn't work and constricted me. That was my simple bottom line. I learned about psychology, physics, biology, energy, communication, and philosophy. I discovered tools and techniques that helped me become aware of the emotional, mental, physical, and social layers of my being. As I worked on myself over the years, layers opened up and the emotional pain, mental chaos, and physical weakness gradually dissolved. The work was slow and painful but once symptoms were healed they never returned. I began to feel better.
Traveling the path of natural and holistic healing also gave me additional obstacles to overcome. These health concepts were not aligned with the traditional mind set of the western society and health care in which I lived. Western ways of thinking are more rational and reductionistic, focused on analyzing parts of the whole. They are less intuitive and holistic, seeing each of the parts as integral to the system as a whole.
Society and health care are beginning to invite some of these concepts into their existing paradigms, but generally the western reductionistic views remain intact. People are viewed as parts rather than having different levels of being. Human emotions are viewed as having little value. The rational mind is seen as superseding the emotional or physical levels rather than seeing all three at once, using a more integrated and balanced perspective. And the intimate and powerful connection between the mind and the body is still not understood nor having any reason to learn about it.
Learning about these holistic concepts and applying natural tools helped me to alleviate many of the traumatic symptoms that were the consequences of the multiple adversities I experienced. I was on a path that enabled me to receive the gift of healing so I could recover my health and allow my natural adult development to grow mature.
Using hindsight, I can now see that I intuitively followed the energy of my heart to face my adversities and traumas by actively seeking out the gift in these events. In other words, rather than reacting by caving in to and indulging in my inadequacies I persisted in finding a way to deal with them so that I could experience the peace inside of me. This was not a conscious choice because none of this information was available to me. I simply followed the energy of my heart and made the choices that energized and expanded me while saying no to the choices that made me feel small and constricted.
In my first story at Dr. Siebert's website, I said that in the Chinese language the word for both crisis and opportunity are the same. Since writing that, I discovered a quote by Albert Einstein, "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."
It has only been in the past two or three years that I have learned about this process. I have come to view adversity as only one half of the whole. This epiphany is what has now enabled me to grow through adversity rather than just go through it. This helps me to make sense of suffering so I can release my past and its traumatic effects more easily. And that allows me to have more of my self available to live in the present.
Life orchestrated my circumstances by forcing me to live on my own for much of my life. The upside of this challenge was that I did not have allegiances to people, places, or groups that may have influenced my judgments or belief system. This meant that I was almost always free to follow my heart rather than authority figures. Of course, the downside of this isolation was the disconnection from people I experienced that was not by choice. Never anti-social by any stretch of the imagination, I was born innately gregarious and love being around people. I had not developed the mental, emotional, or social maturity early in life that allowed me to form healthy sustained connections with people over time, either in my personal or my professional life. Ironically I was forced to live with the paradox of wanting the stability that comes from having a family.
Eventually I came to see this pervading sense of disconnection in my external world as a mirror of my internal disconnectedness. I chronically felt a sense of emptiness, not belonging, and feeling shattered which I experienced as being rootless and ungrounded.
To make matters worse, I was unable to articulate this experience until recently. I learned to respond to my traumas by inhibiting and repressing my emotions. My authentic energy was hiding beneath layers of pain which I did not know how to access.
The hunger for inner peace propelled me in search of answers to alleviate the limiting and painful experiences that obscured my good feelings and my potential. I was on a downward spiral of disconnects and losses in my personal and professional relationships that resulted in chaos. I reacted by feeling more and more traumatized.
I knew that healing was a lifelong process and commitment. So much of the time I wanted to quit. But whenever experienced the natural and innate state of love, balance, and wholeness I was after, my hope was renewed.
Throughout the past few years I have gradually been able to recover parts of my shattered self. The work has been tedious, lonely, and painful as it brings to the surface all of the suppressed and buried pain which I had spent most of life blaming others for, ignoring, avoiding, and hiding from.
Since the summer of 2002 when Dr. Siebert published my story on his website, much has happened. The period I am currently in, from August of 2002 until now seems to be the second of the two major turning points in my life...ironically it has been exactly 20 years since the last, in 1982-3. Because there were so many crises I was forced to stop and listen as opposed to reacting by avoiding or running from what was going on. This has allowed me to experience much personal growth and many epiphanies.
In late August of 2001, I moved into my first apartment in 17 years. It was located six blocks from my office and 35 blocks from the World Trade Center where I had worked at one time. The first night in my new apartment I slept on the bare floor and had brought only one item with me--an old ornament that spelled out the letters P-E-A-C-E. The two years I lived there was anything but peaceful. Prior to moving out this past August the blackout in the northeast caused me to react with more tension and trauma.
But change was coming. Last summer I discovered one of the first treatments that was effective in healing trauma. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is one of the new energy psychology treatments. I tried it and indeed I did find some relief from the constant unrelenting trauma I experienced and reacted to in my life.
Traumas had left me feeling blocked and numb. Frozen. These were the words I used over the years to describe to health professionals the chronic experience of my mental and emotional states. No one connected with what I was saying. More of the same disconnection...unfortunately, I was getting used to this. I didn't like it. Something in me persisted to continue my search for inner peace by finding a solution to heal the symptoms of disconnection and lack of grounding I experienced day in and day out.
In August of 2002, on a sleepless night, I got out of bed and did an Internet search using the words, "Frozen Emotions." Nothing came up when I had done the same search two and three years earlier. But this night was different.
For the first time in 49 years I found an article using these same words that I had used all my life to describe to others my indescribable emotional state. It was on a website belonging to Peter A. Levine, a healer with a Ph.D. in medical and biological physics.
The information on his site reminded me of two graduate school research papers I had written two years before. I wrote one paper to discover why people like me chose to use certain illicit drugs. I discovered the self-medication theory and how people often avoided the discomforts of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) by using illicit stimulants. I wrote the other paper to discover more about the kind of individuals who tended to self-medicate. I discovered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
As a graduate student in psychology I was fascinated by the nature of PTSD (aka trauma, shell-shock) as it appeared in the DSM. Unlike the vast majority of other disorders in the manual, the symptoms were broken down into emotional, mental, physical, and social categories. Looked like a holistic breakdown to me.
PTSD is the experience of feeling disconnected from one's self. Repeated childhood traumas create a split self, that feels shattered and fragmented. It is the antithesis of the experience of energy, health and wholeness that I was seeking. Emotions are experienced as frozen and withdrawn rather than fluid and flexible. The natural ability to experience the human range of feelings has been replaced by chronic states of anger, resentment, sadness, despair, and hopelessness. It can be like playing the piano with access to only the black keys. Mentally one may be guarded, scattered, unfocused and have difficulty making decisions. Physically one's energy is often low, stagnant, and depressed and problems with memory, sleep, and appetite are common.
The younger a person is when a trauma occurs the less likely the individual will be able to develop into a mature adult able to care well for themselves. Comorbidity rates of alcohol and substance use, abuse and dependence in people with PTSD are high.
These were the symptoms I had experienced most of my life. What amazed me was that even though I had presented these symptoms to the many professionals I saw in the traditional mental health field, no one ever assessed me for PTSD. And to this day most traditional and alternative health professionals still have never heard of PTSD.
In the traditional field of psychology and mental health there are few effective ways of treating this disorder. Sometimes traditional psychotherapy is utilized or medications are prescribed. Those I have tried have had some effect over the years but none has ever allowed me to achieve true healing.
In the non-traditional field of natural holistic health care there are many treatments and "tools" available. The ones I have tried and found to be effective are time consuming, gradual, costly, and not covered by insurance. But they have successfully helped me to begin to defrost the frozen state of my feelings and clear the confusion in my mind. I am beginning to be more grounded inside my body as well as being able to begin the bonding process within myself and between others that I missed during my childhood development. Modalities I have used include: EMDR, Seemorg Matrix, Levine's Somatic Experiencing, Donald Epstein's Network Chiropractic, myofacial release, sacral cranial work, yoga, Anodea Judith's work with energy centers of the body, Voice Dialog, energy psychology, bodywork, vitamin therapy, meditation, and visualization.
I think all the services I've tried in both the traditional and the alternative mental health fields had some value at different points in my healing. Eventually I expect that my physical, emotional, and mental development will mature fully, thanks to the gift of plasticity that is innate in all human beings. Thus I will recover my full range as a free human being and be fully available to live in the present and achieve my potential.
I have gained much inner peace knowing that solutions exist to heal my lifelong reactions to adversity with emotional trauma. What was the ultimate gift of my adversity, the lesson I needed to learn? I can't even begin to understand but I think the answer can be found in the ways I reacted to adversity. I reacted to my crises with emotion, drama, blame, victimization, repression, and resentment. I did this for most of my life because I did not know better. I didn't know I had a choice.
What I didn't know years ago that I am grateful for knowing now is that I could have made the choice to respond instead of react.
That every human being faces challenges is inevitable. The crisis is relative to the individual, whether it is chronic stress at work or a terrorist attack, being shouted at once or a lifetime of neglect, losing a mate or a child or an empire, surviving in a war, at a job or in a family. The event does not create the problem. Only our perception is the judge of whether a circumstance is negative or positive, dramatic or mundane. Each person responds differently to similar events, based on what it means.
What counts is how we respond. I think this factor is the key in determining how much or how little the event affects us and changes our lives.
Like most of us, since I can remember I learned to react to "negative" circumstances by giving them the power to control my emotions. I caved in and collapsed. Consequently I lost my humanity and reacted on automatic. This resulted in my staying stuck in immaturity, frozen in my story of trauma. My energy became constricted and I lost my freedom and peace as well as my ability to respond fluidly in the moment, fully present and emotionally available.
What I didn't know years ago that I am grateful for knowing now is that the adverse circumstances I encountered had the ability to call forth my innate ability to respond by rising up and meeting my challenges. This would have resulted in my energy expanding so I could grow into my potential. Instead, by reacting over and over I caved in and collapsed beneath adversity and this kept my life constricted and narrow. I learned late in life that I always had within me the ability to make either choice.
When I grew aware of my natural ability to respond to my circumstances in more positive ways it took quite a bit of time and effort to change my lifelong conditioning.
The choice to grow requires commitment and faith. It's a process that goes on for a lifetime and is made each day, moment to moment. The choice to grow is a choice to heal and requires that I overcome judging my circumstances and learning to use these events that life hands me as opportunities to help me uncover more of my authentic self, the core energy that I am. This choice invites me to accept the challenge of embracing both the negative and positive events I experience. Each is part of the whole of life, the shadows and light which Carl Jung wrote about.
How a person chooses a strategy to use in handling a challenge in their life is up to individual preference. Options include choosing to become healed through facing circumstances (this solution removes the root cause and promotes growth and expansion and natural energy but requires temporarily enduring emotional pain), choosing to cope with circumstances (this solution avoids and represses the pain and requires constant covering up of the problem using "Band-Aids" which often creates additional problems), and choosing to deny or avoid circumstances (this solution works for awhile but almost always proves costly by expressing itself at some point in a person's middle years--e.g. mid-life crisis--it can create many limitations that might include lack of energy, physical, mental, emotional and social disorders).
None of the choices are right or wrong, simply different in their results, usually experienced by each person as differing degrees of energy and expansion--freedom-or constriction and limitation. At different stages in my life I have chosen each of these strategies depending on how conscious I was in making my choices. I will say that the more I grew in my awareness the more I was naturally attracted to choose to handle my circumstances by growing through them. This provided me with results that felt most energizing. Like onion layers each stage of growth opened to a new layer. As each layer is healed more hidden symptoms are revealed. This is the way of healing, the choice to regain one's wholeness, one's balance and integrity.
You may contact Gloria Nash via phone or email:
Gloria R. Nash, MA
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©Copyright 2003, Gloria R. Nash. Copying permission required by author.