Categories
Breathwork CPTSD healing Meditation Recovery

How I recovered from my family’s botched drug intervention and became even stronger

A few years ago my family staged an intervention. The event caused a disruption to my life that forced me to double-down on my own mental wellness and inner work. The intervention shocked my body, and afterwards I found a series of helpful strategies to help me regain my strength and health. Some of these tools include meditation, breathwork, sound baths, yoga, journaling, group healing, and therapy. 

After decades of working on my own healing, I did not realize how my own healing would cause ripples in my family, which caused a giant wave to crash onto me. While I am on a life-long path to wellness, self-love, and self-acceptance, my family acted confused, controlling, and unwell. 

I am doing well now, and feel more resilient than ever. I got through the intervention, and I wrote some actions and takeaways to help you in your own quest for a healthy life. I’m far from perfect, yet I strive to make daily progress. I have a lot to be grateful for. I want to be clear that I felt great before the intervention, and after building myself back-up, I feel great now. 

The day after the intervention 

It is 5:00 am and the sun isn’t yet up. 

The sound of an Amazon delivery person slamming a package on the concrete outside the front door startles me awake. 

I am hungry, scared, and lying on a couch at my friend’s house in Venice, California. 

I have a new reality on my hands. 

I have no idea where my children are. 

For the past seven years I have known where my children have slept, until now.

My heart is shattered in a thousand pieces on the floor.

I do not know when I’ll see my children again. I miss them greatly. 

I feel acid reflux in my stomach after the stress combined with a loss of appetite come together with my feeling of deep loneliness. I had no appetite the night before—my body was still in shock. I feel hungover as if I had drunk half a bottle of tequila last night, yet I am stone cold sober.

I rest, covered in a blanket and my head on a couch pillow, wishing I were sleeping in my own bed. As I reflect on what happened the night before, I cry. 

I am scared. I know my life will never be the same. I am heartbroken. 

 Just twelve hours earlier, my family botched a drug intervention, for weed. 

After my diagnosis of C-PTSD, a form of on-going childhood trauma, I had been using a small amount of cannabis before practicing yoga or meditation. 

I have been into yoga for decades and cannabis helps me to deal with the physical pain of the practice. As a newcomer to meditation, cannabis helped me get into twenty minute sessions within a few weeks of practicing. Eventually I was going into forty minute sessions after a few months of practicing, it was helping to sooth my body.

WTF is going on. I openly shared with my wife that I have been taking cannabis, which is a plant-based medicine. We even went to a cannabis dinner a month prior to this intervention. 

Cannabis greatly helps me to process the physical pain in my joints, wrists, hips, and ankles. 

The cannabis helped to treat my pain when I experienced PTSD flashbacks during the practice. 

Don’t get me wrong, in my twenties I smoked my fair share of cannabis, and it could have been seen as excessive. Yet, at this phase of my life, I felt the medicinal benefits of the cannabis plant to help with the physical stress of healing my trauma.

I’m grateful that I live in California, there is a cannabis dispensary a mile from where I live. 

In order to helpmyself find answers, I meditate. I reflect on what happened. 

The last moments of my pre-intervention life are walking home from a church.

For an hour prior to the intervention, I attended a community-organized meeting at a neighborhood church with a few other local parents. We discussed a local ballot initiative to tax corporations who are avoiding paying their share of taxes. A teacher from the local school ran the meeting, and he is hopeful to sponsor a California ballot initiative to return the tax money to fund public education. 

Leaving the church, I check my email. I see a bizarre email from my wife, who is forwarding me an email from my brother-in-law. 

The email subject says: 

Fwd: ryan letter

The email is blank, and includes an attached letter. I don’t bother reading the letter, it feels too random for me. 

I text a friend about the bizarre email because my brother-in-law has rarely emailed in my ten years of marriage to his sister. In fact, he doesn’t have my email address, which I later learn is why my wife forwarded it. We have only ever chatted on the phone less than five times. 

My brother-in-law has a low key southern drawl and speaks with few words. He is well over six feet tall with blonde hair and speaks in a meaningful way so that each of his words count. Years ago he shouted at me to argue that the Confederate Flag was not racist, and that was the most in depth conversation that we have ever had.

Walking in the darkness of night, I am calm. My wife is out of town in North Carolina visiting her family with my two young daughters. Her sister just had a baby, and they are off visiting the new bundle of joy. 

My wife also has blonde hair, and is a few inches under six feet. When she is around her family her southern accent comes out, yet while we are living in California I rarely hear the draw. I can usually tell when she’s talking to her family on the phone based on how much of her accent comes out. 

My wife is supposed to be out of town, and seeing her alarms me.

I continue walking. I am a bachelor in spirit, excited to saunter home, take a bath, meditate and snooze. I am peaceful. I am excited for some alone time. Except I am not alone as I walk towards my house.

I have a work bag on my shoulder, and in it my car and house keys. 

I am shocked to see my wife in the driveway. She is supposed to be on the east coast, or so I thought. 

I get a pit in my stomach. I am scared to imagine what she is doing back. Her entire body language looks off. 

She carries herself more like a police officer than my wife, and I do not like it. 

It had been a few months since our marriage counselor diagnosed me with a form of insidious, ongoing childhood trauma called Complex PTSD. Now, my wife surprises me by standing in our driveway. What was she doing here? 

My wife’s presence was the first sign that something is about to go terribly wrong. 

I walk in front of my next neighbor’s house. This feels like a spooky Halloween movie where I am waiting for someone to jump out and scare me. 

My wife exclaims in a concerned tone and no southern accent: “Ryan’s here,” motioning to a group of people in the yard.

In shock, I sternly say: “Katherine, what are you doing back?” 

“Hi Ryan,” she says blankly, with no emotion. 

WTF is going on here, I say to myself again. 

I see bodies in the background that appear to be my two brothers who live in Northern California, and my brother-in-law. 

Then I spot a stranger, a long haired man lurking in the nighttime shadows in my front yard. 

They are all approaching me.

As I write this I am feeling the fear again in my body.

The random person I see looked like my brother Michael’s friend named Andrew. Andrew has long hair, and for some reason I think Andrew’s in on the intervention. I am scared.

“Andrew’s here?” I blurt.

“What the f*ck is Andrew doing here?” I demand.

My younger brother blurts out: “Ryan it’s not Andrew. I love you bro.”

He opens his arms up and is walking across the yard, motioning to give me a big hug.  

My brother used to have blonde hair, and now has more of a receding hairline style buzz cut. When my younger brother is upset, he has the energy of a pit bull. 

The last time we had a meaningful exchange about our family he texted me to “f*ck off” and that “I think we both agree that it’s in our best interest to not speak for a while.” 

I took him literally and we haven’t spoken very often since then. He can go from happy to angry without a moment’s notice, and I’ve enjoyed us taking a break from one another. I don’t need a hug from him.

His energy is off, he is trying to close in on me. I think to myself: 

Oh sh*t, are they trying an intervention?

I see the long-haired guy back-pedaling into the shadows. It isn’t a good feeling. I later find-out this person is an interventionist, focusing on drugs and addiction. I see his floppy hair waving in the wind, as he walks backwards hiding. 

He does not identify himself which is a sign that this is not a safe environment for me. If he wanted to engender trust I would expect him to raise his hand and introduce himself and the goal for the conversation. 

In my head:

This isn’t cool. It feels unsafe. Why isn’t this strange long-haired man identifying himself?

As everyone lunges towards me, as if they are about to ambush, my intuition kicks-in.

It feels like I was reliving my childhood trauma in real time, but I am not a kid. I have options. 

My survival instincts immediately fire up. 

Conveniently my car is right in front of my neighbor’s house. I grab the key in my hand, open the driver’s side door with the key fob, and jump into my Prius. 

Like Lightning McQueen around a turn, I peel out from my street, looking for somewhere safe to drive to. 

Thinking to myself:

What the hell is going on here? And where the hell are my kids?

I find a church a few miles away, and park close by with plenty of lights around me. I feel safe. I exhale.

What the hell just happened?

Since my Complex PTSD diagnosis, I have been aggressively working with both eastern and western methods of healing through therapy, journaling, psychedelic medicine, yoga, and meditation. I vociferously read books on trauma and healing, specifically Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery. She writes that in the 1970s, people who’d experienced various forms of trauma were labeled as “hysterical” when talking about their pain. 

Some of these patients were taken to insane asylums, clinics, and doctor’s offices to be “cured.” I got scared of thinking of myself strapped to a chair against my will, while some doctor in a lab coat experimented on me. I immediately went to the worst place when I saw these people.

After meditating in my car for a few moments, I made some phone calls. I need some grounding and reassurance that I am not crazy. I call some people who know me, and can help calm me down. 

I called my marriage counselor, but she is on another call.

I then call my two friends. They both are shocked at what is going on, and have no idea that anyone in my family wanted to stage an intervention for me. They know me reasonably well, so I am surprised to hear that they are not dialed into this intervention.

Friend number 1 is a doctor whose heritage is Hispanic. We once traveled to Istanbul, Turkey together. On the plane ride over we were both asleep when someone yelled “is there a doctor on the plane.” He instinctively woke up and went to attend to a sick person on the flight. He is surprised on the phone. 

Friend number two is a low key and mild mannered friend of Indian descent. We had recently spent a weekend together over the summer hanging out at the OC fair drinking beer, eating fried food, and watching Michael McDonald perform with Chaka Khan. He is easy going. He is a lawyer and also surprised to hear the news.

I am sweating, incredibly nervous at this point. I am breathing to stay alive. If I do not breathe, it feels like I may not live. I am anxious, scared, and very alone. 

I give my friends my wife’s phone number, and brothers’ numbers, asking them to check in with my wife and family.

Friend number 2 reports back in a few minutes, they are now at a restaurant/bar called Upper West having dinner. I exclaim:

“They just had an intervention and are at a f*cking bar eating burgers!” 

Friend number two calls back and says that they want to speak with me. I agree, and await for our marriage counselor to call me back. 

My marriage counselor, finally gets back to me after what feels like an eternity.

She is in her mid fifties, with grayish black hair, and has shows empathy for her clients. She initially diagnosed my C-PTSD and I am forever grateful for her work. She has a service dog named in her office which helps calm her child patients down. She also sounds surprised. 

“Hey, what is going on? Katherine staged an intervention, do you know anything about this?” I ask both confused and angry.

“Ryan, I have no idea what is going on,” she says, equally puzzled.

“Wait, you don’t know what is happening? How do you not know?”

“I have not spoken to your wife since our last session in which she said she was no longer going out of town.”

“Well, she changed her mind, again. And she went out of town, and came back early. She brought some out of town family and staged an intervention. WTF is going on?!”

She calms me down and says, “Why don’t we call her on a conference call.”

After trying her for a few minutes, my wife finally gets back to me.

On speaker phone, my adrenaline is pumping. 

I angrily demand that she answer a simple question: “Katherine, where the hell are our kids?”

“Ryan, they are safe.”

Terrified, I keep talking with my face in my hands: “Katherine, and whoever is on the phone right now, where are my children?”

“Ryan, we’ll tell you that when you meet with us.”

Frustrated and ready to pull my hair out, I reply: “What are you talking about? Are our kids here in L.A. or back on the east coast?”

“They are safe, and we need to meet with you.”

Why is she so adversarial? 

I have the most adrenaline going through my body, possibly ever in my life.

I am furious that they will not share my kids location.

Then in a feverish outburst, I hear a series of voices telling me such things as:

“Ryan, you’re addicted to cannabis.”

“Ryan, you’re on the verge of a psychosis breakdown.”

“Studies show that cannabis can cause psychosis breakdowns.”

After a confusing phone call with no clear agenda, we say goodbye. The people on the call demand that I meet with the interventionist, and then they will share my kids location.

My kids are now the center of a hostage negotiation for a meeting. I am appalled. 

When it’s just the two of us, the marriage counselor says to me: “Ryan, that isn’t the wife that I remember talking to during our last session.” 

I tell her thank you and we log off.

I am still terrified that they would not tell me where my kids are. I do not want to sleep in my house that night. I am scared they would come back and try another intervention. 

I think:

What the hell is wrong with legal cannabis? Are they following the outdated Nancy Reagan Just Say No to Drugs campaign? Cannabis is a plant and it is medicine. My younger brother smoked pot out of a soda can in our basement when he was in middle school. What is he thinking now? I am confused as to why no one ever mentioned this addiction before.

I received no calls from my family, in-laws, or wife prior to this intervention ever confronting me for an addiction. No one has ever asked me if I have a cannabis problem. There were twenty steps between doing nothing and taking my kids away for an intervention. WTF?

I call my friends in Venice, and they put me on their couch for the night.

Waking up the next morning helped me realize that while my heart is broken into a thousand tiny pieces, it’s up to me to put it back together. I am powerless against my family, my wife, and the drug interventionist. 

While this is a nightmare to contend with, I ultimately spend 5 weeks apart from my children, while my family attempts to shove rehab down my throat. 

I refuse to entertain any rehab, psychological evaluation, or their request to send me to a psychiatric hospital for an overnight stay. 

Over the next few weeks I created my own program to recover from my C-PTSD, that includes these elements for how I healed with over 100 sessions in a 5 week span:

  • Sound meditation baths
  • Yoga
  • Breathwork
  • Therapy sessions
  • Journaling 
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Meditation
  • Group healing in support groups
  • Ancestral healing by making amends to distant relatives

I also gave up alcohol and cannabis for the remainder of the year. 

Additionally, I celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s without my children for the first time in my life. 

I cannot control other people. I can only control my actions.

I prioritized rest, meditation, and being honest with my truths. 

I did not let anyone twist my truths into their agenda. 

In the spirit of mental wellness I share this story to help recover from my C-PTSD and the worst 14 hours of my life as an adult.

Interventions are cruel, inhumane, and punishing things. There is no due process. 

I had nothing else to do except take care of myself. I even thought about taking him to court in order to strip him of his license, except that is too much work. This man helped break up my family, and it devastated me at the time.

This felt like capital punishment as my kids were taken away without getting a hearing, or even a courtesy heads up that anyone felt like I was an addict. There was a small mob of people outside my house ready to bring me to the executioner with no just cause. Led by a man in the shadows—a stranger with long hair. 

I later found out that my parents had sponsored the intervention behind my back. It was a gut punch to get the news.

I did learn a lot after the intervention, and in some ways am grateful for it. I realized how sick my family is, and how much work I’ve done to improve my mental health over the years.

How I changed after the intervention: 

  • I am more gentle with myself. I am kinder to myself when I make mistakes.  
  • I accept that I did not cause my family to run an intervention. I cannot control them or their behavior, the intervention was their choice, not mine. 
  • I can only take care of myself and my children, otherwise I am powerless over people. 
  • I made a New Year’s intention to love myself and my children, and no longer spend time with people who are not serving me. 
  • Live and let live, I cannot change anything in the past. I accept what I cannot change.
  • I take life one day one at a time, and focus on the next step to take, focusing on the moment

The cannabis helped me go deeper into each practice, enjoy the deeper state of my mind, while soothing my pain. 

Meanwhile both my family and in-laws have generational alcoholism in the family tree. 

A few weeks before the intervention, I confronted my father-in-law about his alcoholism over the phone. He father-in-law has grayish hair, is around 6’5”, and in his mid-seventies.

He often has a Bud Light bottle in his hand anytime I see him after 6pm. When I come to visit him he usually buys me a six pack of a favorite beer, and we spend time talking about football or basketball. 

Separately around the same time, I had recently confronted my Dad about his anger and bullying ways towards me. My Dad is also in his seventies, and has a quick temper. He has two modes, calm, or enraged. here isn’t much middle ground. 

A few weeks before the intervention he yelled at me over the phone. I called him to ask a question about the time frame and urgency overbooking Christmas travel airline tickets, and he shouted at me. 

His anger upset me, and a few days later I texted our family that i would not be attending Christmas vacation with our family this year. For the first time in a long time I opted out of a family holiday trip. 

Did I shake up the family trees? Did I confront two powerful men about their own character defects? Was this intervention retaliation? 

I’ll never know. It doesn’t matter. I created my own program and now it’s up to me to keep doing the work to help myself, my children, and anyone whose love comes into my orbit.

It took me an entire year and a half to publish this piece. In my heart I knew I was right, I just had to pick the pieces and put it back together.

I have not spoken at length with my brothers or parents since that night. 

They have told me to “deal,” “get over it,” and “we don’t know how to help you.” I learned  that unsolicited feedback is criticism. So I move on.

If I had to do it again, I would not change a thing. The intervention really clarified my position towards my family. I love them. I do not think that I will ever trust them again, and that is okay too. 

I am truly happy in my life. I love myself, and that is what matters. 

I have been doing the work for decades and it is paying off. I have a solid health and wellness tool kit, and I hope that my stories can help you too. 

Big thanks to my editors:

Sara Campbell, Drew Stegmaier, Lyle McKeany, Tom White, Julie Trelstad, Zachary Zager, Maria Sweeney, Katherine Canniff, and Joel Christiansen.

Categories
healing psychiatry Recovery

I Fired My Psychiatrist, Experimented with Ancient Healing Methods, and Feel Healthier Than Ever

Sitting on a brown leather chair, wallet and car keys resting on a side table. It is winter and I’m wearing a black sweater, blue jeans, my right leg rests on my left knee. 

Tears streaming down the side of my cheeks, I wipe them with a tissue, and take deep breaths to calm myself down. 

Next to my possessions lay a white notepad with Pfizer emblazoned on the top, a pen with Zoloft printed on the side, and a box of tissues. The musty room smells like an old library. 

On the wall straight ahead are numerous awards from organizations such as The American Psychiatric Association and plaques with MD, PHD, and other degrees. To my right is a bookshelf of literature, many of the books are written about medicine, art, and Greek history.

Across from me sits a seventy-year-old Greek woman, with eyes wide open, a witness to my tears. She is my psychiatrist. I see her a few times per year.

“Ryan, you aren’t well. How often are you crying?”

“I don’t know. I am not keeping track. I guess once a month.”

“You aren’t well. I’m recommending an antidepressant for you. I recommend that you go on Lexapro.”

I exclaim: “I’m supposed to cry in here. This is why I come to see you. You are prescribing me a drug for crying. What the f*ck?”

She pulls out her pen and paper.

“No, I won’t take this drug. I am not going back on antidepressants,” I push back.

Noticeably uncomfortable, the psychiatrist gets up from her chair, and walks over to her desk. She grabs a notebook that contains the details of my work with her. She grabs the files and comes to sit back in her chair, acting as if the files will somehow validate her decision. 

The tension rises, I’m not supposed to reject the prescription from a doctor. 

Smiling with calmness, I retort back, “I’m not going to fill the prescription. Feel free to write it. I am not going back on an antidepressant because I cried in front of you.” 

She is frustrated and so am I. Our session ends.

At this point, I am done with this psychiatrist. Going back on antidepressants isn’t happening. 

What a joke. 

I march down the stairs from her second story office, to the parking garage.

Opening the door to my Toyota Prius, I see the psychiatrist’s Mercedes in the spot next to mine, I think, ”What the f*ck?” 

I drive home past a Whole Foods, Starbucks, and local overpriced West Los Angeles coffee shop – I’m stressed. Looking back, I’m in one one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city, of course my drug pushing doctor drives a Mercedes.

I am embarrassed to admit that charges $600 per session. We meet for less than an hour of work.

When I fired my psychiatrist

I call my Dad a few days later and tell him: 

“My psychiatrist is a con artist. She writes her prescriptions with a pen that says Pfizer, on a sheet of paper that says Serzone, and has stress balls in her office from Eli Lilly. She is sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry. I’m done. It’s over.”

I had to fire my psychiatrist. 

I was done with the pharmaceutical industrial complex. 

I take control of my health, ending my relationship with a white collar drug dealer, who practices corporate psychiatry.

For decades I went down the conventional pharmaceutical route for treating anxiety and depression with Big Pharma drugs, psychiatry, counseling/therapy. The treatment had some benefits, but I hit a brick wall. Does this sound familiar?

If you have been on and off antidepressants, I can relate. 

If you have seen enough therapists that you can count the number on two hands, there are millions of us.

If you have experienced the sexual side effects you hear about on antidepressant TV commercials, then I’m right there with you. 

And if you’ve wondered WTF, why are prescription mental health drugs being advertised on TV to begin with, I’m feeling you.

Going the modern mental health route made me desperate. It took me decades to figure it out.

The drugs managed some of my pain by treating symptoms, while not healing the root cause.

After firing my psychiatrist, I forged a new path, which was unconventional. Using ancient methods, a recovery program, and native/indigenous techniques for healing, I got results. 

The ancient healing methods I tried

It took me six months to familiarize myself with the different modalities, and a year to truly feel like I had a handle on my health again.

Here is what I did to improve my mental health the natural way:

  • Meditation – Practicing meditation became a daily ritual. Whether it was alone listening to an app or practicing with a teacher at an in-person studio, I worked to ease my body, mind, and soul through the practice.
  • Journaling – I journaled after every meditation session. Sometimes I would write long outlines of ideas, other days I would write anything that brought me to tears, some days I wrote my ideas for future writing projects.
  • Psychedelics – I experimented with microdosing psychedelics. For each session, I set an intention of a phrase like “I am healthy” or “I am well,” and repeat the intention for several minutes. I integrated what I learned through talking to professionals and journaling. 
  • Yoga – I practiced yoga 2-3 times per week on the mat. The poses (asanas) helped me calm my body, increase my physical stamina, and decrease my physical pain. I also practiced the breathing part of yoga, yoga nidra (yogic sleep), which helps PTSD survivors.
  • Breathwork – Breathwork helps me calm my body down, giving myself permission to relax my mind. During the first months of sessions, my left side body would get triggered. I learned to calm myself down as I unpacked a lot of trauma that resurfaced.
  • Therapy – I went through three different therapists during this recovery process. I found that my therapists did not have a tool kit to talk about integrative healing and mental health, which is why I went through three different ones.
  • Recovery program – Spiritually I was unwell, and I needed a new peer group to aid in my recovery. With weekly meetings, the program acted like an ancient healing circle, which became a “chosen family,” that helped aid my rehabilitation. 
  • Advocacy – I got very interested in uncovering racism in American culture. I looked at racism as more of a disease, exploring the root causes of my own role in it. I marched in a Black Lives Matter protest and started talking to my white friends about racism. 

I was spiritually unwell, and corporate drugs weren’t helping anymore

Looking back, I realize how unhealthy my psychiatric experience was. I trusted a doctor who wanted to prescribe drugs for pain management, rather than helping me to heal.  

When I told her that I ended our relationship, she demanded that I come see her. She acted like I was doing something wrong or ill-conceived by stopping our work together.

She wanted to see me for another session, where she would charge me another $600. It was like she couldn’t quit me or let it go. And somehow I was in the wrong, like she had some strange attachment issue.

We went back and forth over email for months with her wanting to talk to me. I had nothing to say.

I sent her a check for $600 and I did not realize that I owed her for two sessions, which was $1,200. 

Wanting to end the relationship, she discounted my final two sessions to $300 each, for $600 total, and stamped my invoice as PAID.

Mental health in the corporate system did not work for me. Healing comes from within, not from a bottle of pills you pick up from Rite Aid. Paying $600 in retrospect was a total rip-off. 

Doctors are profiting off a system that is taking advantage of depressed, anxious, or unwell people. While we are like guinea pigs, testing our moods with chemically created pills, they are beholden to these corporations.

We are not cars that need to be serviced. Mental health isn’t like checking wheel alignment, rotating our tires, or servicing our engine.

Human beings are complex creatures. We have a heart, a brain, and a soul. 

My psychiatrist lacked a true sense of spirituality with her practice. 

Meanwhile the solutions for healing laid before me the entire time. While breathwork, psychedelics, and meditation may seem fringe or new wage to some, they have been around for centuries.

In retrospect, I was spiritually unwell. My sickness contributed to unstable moods, anxiety, depression, and suffering. The natural medicines helped increase my spirituality, which subsequently improved my health. 

Through the years I tried Serzone, Zyprexa, Lamtical, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Lexapro, and other drugs. 

I was looking for a magic drug to save me. There is no silver bullet in healing. I had to experiment to find out what worked for me. It’s not like weightlifting where you can see your muscles grow, and an increase in weight. 

I learned to be gentle on myself. Accepting that no one was going to rescue me, no corporate drug pusher was going to be my savior, and I had to do the work myself. 

I implemented some of my own ancient healing practices, and they helped. I feel good, and my health is what matters. What is important is how I feel, not a clinical definition from a psychiatrist. 

What has been your experience with psychiatric drugs? Leave a comment or subscribe to my newsletter and shoot me an email, I’d love to swap stories.

Big thanks to my editors: Chris Holinger, Ali Q, Drew Stegmaier, Lyle McKeany, and Joel Christiansen.

Categories
Meditation Recovery

What is Loving-Kindness? Practicing Meditation with Jack Kornfield

 

 After decades of filling prescriptions of antidepressant, mood stabilizing, and antipsychotic drugs, I finally rejected conventional psychiatric wisdom. Using ancient methods, I went against doctors’ orders to heal. Through these methods, I treated the root cause, not merely the symptoms. I charted my journey in a series of essays. 

I write bi-monthly articles, publishpodcasts, and host workshops on healing, recovery, and the root causes of pain. Sign up for two stories per month, that’s it. I charted my journey and this first article is Complex PTSD: When Your Therapist Thinks You May Be F*cked. My second article is How Breathwork Helps Process Stress, Pain, and Trauma: Why I Practice.

I am sporting a blue hoodie that says ‘Des Moines: Hell Yeah’, unmatched striped colored socks, dark blue jeans, and a black baseball hat.

I’m in a room of over 50 strangers, my mustache, chin beard, and blue glasses starkly contrast to the crowd of mostly white, baby boomer women.

Some people rest on blankets on the wooden floor, while others sit in chairs with their feet firmly rooted to the ground. 

Legendary monk and mediation teacher Jack Kornfield sits in front of us. 

He rings a Tibetan bowl three times. 

“Good morning,” he says, his voice sweet and soothing.

If he was a Crayola crayon in a box of 64-colors, his color would be Calm. 

The room is full of unfamiliar faces, and I have never meditated in a room with this many people. My shoulders remain unmoved as I try not to make any noise above the hum of the heater purring in the background. 

Jack and his wife Trudy Goodman are hosting a Sunday Morning Sit in Santa Monica, CA. at Insight L.A. Sitting in a meditation class with Jack and Trudy is like attending a PhD-level course in meditation. 

What is loving-kindness?

Today’s meditation is loving-kindness, also called metta. 

Though the loving-kindess practice I learn to how to intentionally give and receive love.

Loving-kindness can be super-helpful if no none ever taught you to love yourself. As a child, no one showed me how to love myself. This is how it helped me.

The goal of loving-kindness meditation is to focus unconditional love for yourself, and others. You want good things to happen to other people. You are wishing well to other people and yourself, while you are in mediation. 

Metta is the ancient word for loving-kindness and is translated to mean friendliness, goodwill, fellowship, and non-violence. 

According to Jack, the loving-Kindness meditation uses words, images, and feelings to evoke loving-kindness and friendliness toward oneself and others.

In today’s thirty-five-minute meditation, we move positive energy towards people in our life, to ourselves, and the entire world. 

The practice is in four parts: 

  1. Give love to a friend whom I have an easy relationship with. 
  2. Give love to myself. 
  3. Give love to my community and the rest of the world. 
  4. Give love to a person whom I have a difficult relationship with 

Giving loving-kindness to a friend

Jack speaks at a volume just above a whisper. After a few minutes of sitting together, Jack begins the loving-kindness meditation:

Picture someone with whom you have a loving relationship. As you picture them, then begin softly inside, repeating simple phrases of well wishing and kindness.

I think of my cousin Kathy, someone whom I love. 

Jack asks us to think about this person and reflect on them, giving them loving-kindness and well wishing. 

I feel positive heat surfacing up in my body. From inside my core, the warm energy is pushing itself out to arms, legs, and then feet and hands. 

With a gentle monotone voice, Jack repeats the words again:

May you be filled with loving-kindness.

May you be safe and protected.

May you be well, healed, and strong in body and mind.

May you be filled with loving-kindness.

I sit, thinking of my cousin. As Jack says the phrases of well wishing, I send love to my cousin Kathy, whom I love. I have an easy sense of care for her. In sync with Jack, I say in my head:

Kathy, may you be filled with loving-kindness.

Kathy, may you be safe and protected.

Kathy, may you be well, healed, and strong in body and mind.

Kathy, may you be filled with loving-kindness.

Kathy lives on the other side of the country, and I am sending her love from my body. There is a rush of energy warming me.

As a kid, I would meet up with Kathy’s family, going swimming in my Aunt and Uncle’s backyard pool. 

Envisioning Kathy in my mind, I care about her. I imagine Kathy in her house, eating at her kitchen table, and then going on a brisk walk outside with her dog. It’s winter and she is wearing a cold weather jacket. She sees her breath in the wind. Her dog loves running around outside. I send well wishes to Kathy and her dog.

There is a tingly sensation coming from inside my body. 

Giving love to myself

Jack continues speaking and asks us to move onto ourselves. He wants us to give ourselves well wishing. 

 Spoonfeeding me a sorely needed healthy serum of love, my eyes are more relaxed.

Instead of looking outside for validation from others for love, I am looking inwards at my own body. It’s not easy. 

Inside my mind, with Jack’s voice as my guide, I repeat his words:

May I be filled with loving-kindness.

May I be safe and protected.

May I be well, healed, and strong in body and mind.

May I be filled with loving-kindness.

As I give love to myself, the left shoulder gets stiff, while my left hip is throbbing. My body’s left side is where I keep the majority of my physical stress. I send love to my body as I imagine loving myself. I struggle with the pain, which feels like trapped negative emotions from my childhood.  

Through the practice, I learn to take care of myself. I learn to soothe myself. I learn to love myself. 

In retrospect, I see that loving myself helped me to become aware of my body. Finding physical self-awareness comes in the form of love. 

Giving loving-kindness to my community and the rest of the world

Jack requests that we practice loving-kindness for the world. 

He asks us to think about our neighbors, the people sitting next to us, and the members of our community. He says:

May you be filled with loving-kindness.

May you be safe and protected.

May you be well, healed, and strong in body and mind.

May you be filled with loving-kindness.

Scanning my life, I’m sending love to a college friend Edward, who passed away in his twenties. He is no longer on Earth, yet I feel his spirit. 

I say to myself:

Edward may you be filled with loving-kindness.

Edward may you be safe and protected.

Edward may you be well, healed, and strong in body and mind.

Edward may you be filled with loving-kindness.

I envision Edward and I seeing a concert together when we lived in Nashville. We are dancing in a sea of people at the Exit/In bar. He’s grooving in the front row with me, shaking side to side.

We then pick up BBQ sandwiches at Hog Heaven, a local divey BBQ shack. It’s next to a dive bar where we would drink Natural Light beers, play pool on an uneven pool table, while the jukebox blares Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones.

In a dream-like state, I hear his voice in my head for the first time in decades. 

An old nickname from him, “Sugar Boy,” rings in my ear. It’s like Edward is over my shoulder talking. “Sugar Boy.” I hear it again. 

I tear-up, thinking about his spirit. I have not properly grieved for Edward since his physical passing (Later I realize this!). 

Warm energy rushes into my body. I love the memory him. 

Giving loving-kindness to a person you have a difficult relationship with

Jack asks us to give love and well wishing to someone with whom we have a difficult relationship. I think of my relatives with whom I have not always kept in close contact. 

Scanning my relatives, I bring love to my Aunt Dolly, Uncle Jerry, Uncle Seamus, and cousins who I have not seen in many years. I send love to my entire extended family during the practice. Our relationship is always delicate, and I give them love.

Alongside Jack, I say to myself:

Aunt Dolly, may you be filled with loving-kindness.

Uncle Jerry, may you be safe and protected.

Uncle Seamus, may you be well, healed, and strong in body and mind.

Mary Ellen, may you be filled with loving-kindness.

As the meditation continues, Jack’s voice goes silent. He suggests that we sit with our feelings in silence. 

Mentally, I am underwater. For a few moments, it’s like I cannot breathe. I am exhausted.

I miss my extended family, and haven’t kept in very good touch with them through the years. I am filled with deep emotion, I would like to quit the meditation. 

I love my family.

I fight to not open my eyes. 

It’s overwhelming to think about loving all these people. 

I hear a ring from Tibetan Bowl. Jack asks us to open our eyes. The meditation is over. 

I stretch my body out. My left shoulder is tight. My left hip is stressed. The love that I give helps to heal my stressed body. 

Through today’s practice, I expand my capacity to love others. I expand my capacity to love myself. As a child, I did not learn to love myself. 

The practice can shift your thinking into helping other people. The practice is a gentle way of looking at the world. 

I learn to hold onto these feelings of love. 

Self-love is a practice. 

Loving one’s self takes discipline, and it never dawned on me to practice it. 

Loving-kindness is an antidote to the trauma, stress, and suffering,  it calms the body down. 

Loving-kindness helps you find new neural pathways that connect your brain. While it opens open up new ways to live a more whole life. 

Loving-kindness can be super-helpful because no one taught you how to love yourself.

You see how much loving-kindness has helped me. You can try Jack Kornfield’s Loving-kindness meditation live from InsightLA or his Loving-kindness recording online

Big thanks to my editors: Drew Stegmaier, Piyali (Peels) Mukherjee, Elisa Doucette, Nanya Sudhir, Joel Christiansen, and Kavir Kaycee.

Links:

Jack Kornfield’s Loving-kindness meditation at InsightLA

Insight LA

Jack Kornfield

Trudy Goodman

Categories
CPTSD Meditation Recovery

Meditation is a Practice of Self-Care – How Backyard Meditation Brings Me Healing

After decades of filling prescriptions of antidepressant, mood stabilizing, and antipsychotic drugs, I finally rejected conventional psychiatric wisdom. Using ancient methods, I went against doctors’ orders to heal. Through these methods, I treated the root cause, not merely the symptoms. I charted my journey in a series of essays.

I write bi-monthly articles, publish , and host workshops on healing, recovery, and the root causes of pain. for two stories per month, that’s it. I charted my journey and this first article is . My second article is .

In my backyard, I sit upright on a gray deck chair. My bare feet are squarely grounded on the Earth. I feel small blades of dry grass in between my toes. I am settled, wearing blue jeans, a black ball cap, and a t-shirt that says Des Moines: Hell Yeah. I remove my blue glasses and place them on the circular glass side table. I faintly hear speeding cars racing to work on the freeway in the background. The early morning sun sprinkles its rays while I relax under the shade of a purple flowered jacaranda tree. My hair, mustache and goatee are un-showered and unkempt. I prepare to close my eyes. My backyard is a sanctuary for my practice. Wearing ear buds, I push play on my iPhone to begin my morning meditation. I am ready for my daily ritual of thirty minutes of meditation. Today’s choice is Waking Up by Sam Harris.

The next thing I know, I drop into a memory during the practice. I sob uncontrollably. A moment from my life comes to mind: I am on stage giving a business talk to a packed audience. This is a familiar space, a place where I led marketing workshops throughout the past five years. I am due to host an event there in a few weeks. Tears stream down my cheeks while I am on stage. I hope someone from the crowd comes up to hug me. I am sad. No one helps me. From the stage, I see an old friend Lisa in the crowd. I have been through so much with this friend. I feel a deep connection with her. I want someone to comfort me, and no one helps. I continue to cry, while my body is frightened. I think “We’ve all been through so much together, and I need a hug.” 

After my Complex PTSD diagnosis, meditation became a regular ritual. During the first five months of my recovery, I meditated over 2,500 minutes, which is over two whole days of my life. Meditation became a mini-hibernation to rejuvenate my body. The meditation slows down my breathing and heart-rate. I stopped taking a mood-stabilizing drug called Lamictal. I now feel intense and painful triggers throughout my body that the drug suppressed. On the surface, the drug comforted the symptoms of depression and anxiety. It helped me to manage my pain. I spent years in denial and ignored the root causes of my problems. Like the crew members moving deck chairs on the Titanic as the iceberg approached the ship, I discovered that I too was in denial about my reality. In my backyard, I learned that mindful meditation is a gateway to a new reality. Meditation opens the depths of my mind and it changes my life for the better. I learn to take care of my pain and suffering. Meditation becomes a spiritual healing practice. 

Meditation is a practice of self-care

Back in the meditation session, I lose control of my emotions. I am panicking. My body is sore. The left side of my body is tight. My left shoulder is triggered, while my left hip feels stressed. Even my left toes, ankle, and knee are tense. Taking deep breaths, I gain control. I feel badness and goodness in my body. I am scared of the past that I have not dealt with. Meanwhile, the future feels unpredictable. I am exhausted. I learn to love myself. I soothe my tight shoulder. I repeat to myself in my head, “It’s okay. I am safe.” Awakening from meditation, I struggle to breath. Tears run down my cheeks. My nose is congested from the sobbing. However, my left side body is more relaxed. I recognize that my left hip, shoulder, elbow, and knee need to be loved. I look after my sore body. 

I am healing. 

During the backyard meditation, my 6:00am sessions bring up many flashbacks. The grassy lawn becomes a sacred place for me to be alone. The decades of suppressed triggers resurface throughout my body, from my shoulder to cheek to hip to foot. I need to heal emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. During my initial recovery period, my backyard is a sanctuary. The early morning routine sets my day on a path to recovery. I treat meditation like a job. I meditate on the bus to work. Wearing my sunglasses to cover my closed eyes, I hope that no one looks at me strangely. During my lunch break, I practice in my coworking space’s dark meditation room. Before bed, I practice to ease into a deeper sleep. It is a lonely journey, yet I am determined to heal. Additionally, I attend two therapy appointments per week. Therapy helps to ease some of the burden. 

Meditation creates space to heal

I often get flashbacks to past life events and flashforwards to future events. These feelings are common with people healing from C-PTSD. I am scared and paralyzed by past events, and anxious about future potentialities. The meditation provides a safe environment for my fight or flight tendencies. I learn to focus on the present. I process the flashbacks in the moment. “I think to myself, “Wow, I can heal pain from decades ago.” Meditation is a practice of self-love. Many of these memories come from deep within the practice, sometimes twenty or thirty minutes into a session. 

The memories are visual snapshots into the deeper recesses of my mind. From different backyard meditation sessions, I conjure up vivid childhood memories like this one: 

My family has a ritual of picking up fast food at the drive-throughs of Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco John’s, and McDonald’s in Des Moines, IA. My Dad and I are in the McDonald’s drive-through to pick-up our dinner. I love Chicken McNuggets and I can’t wait to eat them. We return home and I dip a McNugget in my favorite barbecue sauce, and take a bite. I spit out the McNugget, it tastes gross. Looking at the McNugget, it is red and raw inside. The food is disgusting. My Dad, trying to save my dinner, puts the McNuggets in the toaster oven to continue cooking them. He gets frustrated with me and pressures me to eat the McNuggets. I spit them out again. He yells. We then drive back to McDonald’s to return them. I still do not want to eat the McNuggets. I stopped eating McNuggets that day and still haven’t had one since. 

Meditation brings radical change

On some days after a thirty minute session, I am strung out on my feelings. I sweat out the trauma. It feels like stuff is stuck in my body, as if I am breaking a fever. Gross, nasty, and icky are some of these memories from my childhood coming through. Basic emotions and feelings coming out of me. Sweating out the toxins, I want to be normal. Unsure of what normal even looks like, I am alone, and there is no one to speak with. Guilt, shame, and frustration set in. My body hurts. Physically, mentally, emotionally, I am exhausting myself. Closing my eyes, while focusing on the breath brings me comfort. However, it doesn’t always bring self-love. During one session, I recall my Dad’s trauma. This makes me feel like some of my pain is not mine, but other people’s in my family. It is intergenerational trauma, and my parents passed it down to me. I am not living in the moment during these meditations. I am stuck in between the past and the future. During one session I flashback to a few years ago:

I am in conversation with my Dad. He opens up about giving his own Dad CPR after a heart attack. Reflecting on the men in my life, I recognize my Dad has trauma from his childhood, trauma that he rarely speaks about. My Dad tells me that he gave his Dad mouth to mouth resuscitation in the family business office. I wonder if my Dad lives with guilt over his Dad dying months later. My Grandfather’s health was never the same. My Dad is dealing with the trauma of his own Dad dying. My Dad may be a high functioning person, but he is hurt. 

Trauma recovery brings spirituality

One some days, I feel like a new person after practicing thirty minutes of meditation. My backyard is a spiritual place. It is a safe environment for me to explore my life. I never realized it before, but I’m a trauma survivor. Doctors diagnosed me with depression, anxiety, and other normal-ish symptoms around mental health, but never trauma. During these meditation sessions, my body feels gross. My shirt has beads of sweat on it. However, I learned the practice of self-care through this healing journey. 

During one session, I envision telling different friends and family members about the C-PTSD. I have this vision many times, and each time I am ashamed of telling loved ones about my diagnosis. I feel judged. I flash ahead:

Tears fall down my cheeks. I am sad. Whether it is my Dad, friends from college, or childhood friends- I am heartbroken. Sharing with them my diagnosis makes me upset. During one session, I tell a college friend whom I haven’t spoken to in years, and by the end of the session I am crying. During another session, I share my C-PTSD diagnosis with a childhood friend who I haven’t seen in decades, and I sob. During another session, I tell my Dad, and I’m balling my eyes out. I am ashamed. This is all in my head, I meditated these shamed feelings out of my body. 

I treat recovery like it is a job. I full-court press myself to get better, determined to try every last option to find a solution. Since college, I have seen psychiatrists, tried group therapy, gone to one-on-one therapy, and tried cognitive therapy. In my head, I am close to the finish line. This is a twenty-year journey in the making. Mindfulness is a gateway to a new reality. It gives me power. My backyard practice heals leftover feelings of helplessness. It opens up my mind to depths that I need to reach. I discover a radical recovery device that changes my life for the better. 

Through the backyard meditation sessions, I open my mind to a higher consciousness. A steady diet of meditation helps me to rediscover myself. It opens the door to more self-exploration, feeding my soul. I learn the skills of self-care in a new way. Meditation proves to be a gateway to exploring other ancient healing modalities. Whether it is practicing a calm mind with the Dalai Lama, or breathwork to process stress, pain, and trauma, sound healing to help soothe my body – meditation opens the door to expand my consciousness. 

Links:

Waking Up Meditation, by Sam Harris

Editors:Vandan Jhaveri, Abu Amin, Lyle McKeany, Steven Ovadia, Joel Christiansen, Oliver Palmer, and Drew Stegmaier.

Categories
Meditation Recovery Uncategorized

The Dalai Lama’s Guide to Finding a Calm Mind – How Meditation Balances My Emotions

After decades of filling prescriptions of antidepressant, mood stabilizing, and antipsychotic drugs, I finally rejected conventional psychiatric wisdom. Using ancient methods, I went against doctors’ orders to heal. Through these methods, I treated the root cause, not merely the symptoms. I charted my journey in a series of essays. 

I write bi-monthly articles, publishpodcasts, and host workshops on healing, recovery, and the root causes of pain. Sign up for two stories per month, that’s it. I charted my journey and this first article is Complex PTSD: When Your Therapist Thinks You May Be F*cked. My second article is How Breathwork Helps Process Stress, Pain, and Trauma: Why I Practice.

How group meditation balances my emotions

I am twelve minutes late to a five-hour Cultivating Emotional Balance (CEB) workshop. I am anything but balanced. Walking briskly down the sidewalk, I burst open the doors of the Insight LA meditation studio. I remove my shoes and ask the receptionist if I’m too late to join the class. In a whisper, she advises me that I can still register. Using my credit card, I watch her process the transaction, which feels like it is taking forever. I skim over the literature about the event. Today’s workshop is inspired by a 2000 meeting in India, between The Dalai Lama, leading Western behavioral scientists, and Buddhist monks to create a “new map of our emotions for a calm mind.” I grab the card, sign-in, and thank the woman behind the counter. I walk into a large meditation room that sits around fifty people. 

Eve Eckman is my teacher today. She introduces herself to the group as an emotion researcher and trainer. I am determined to find a calm mind with Eve and The Dalai Lama’s wisdom. Wall to wall, people sit quietly in chairs. I’m nervous about being late. Luckily none of the other students in the room seem to notice. Sliding around in my socks on the wooden floor, I grab a yoga blanket from a stack against the wall. I find an open seat in between two empty chairs. Everyone looks like a stranger. There is something calming and reassuring about not knowing anyone in this room. I do not envision ever seeing this group of people again, which makes me feel like I can be honest and raw in a more authentic way today.

Sitting down, I let out a quiet sigh of relief. I’m finally here. Eve explains that her goal today is to teach the Dalai Lama’s secular (non-religious) approach to bring awareness to our emotional behaviors, experiences, and triggers. As I get comfortable in my chair, I try to relax. Head to toe, I am tense. Earlier in the year, a social worker diagnosed me with a form of childhood trauma, Complex PTSD. After years of running the gauntlet of antidepressant, mood-stabilizing, and anti-anxiety drugs, I discovered the root cause of decades of pain: childhood trauma. I recently stopped taking a mood stabilizing drug, Lamictal, because I have decided to go against traditional health advice to heal my trauma through ancient methods. I am in this workshop to integrate the wisdom of modern psychology, mindful meditation, and emotional research. 

Finding a calm mind with meditation

Eve leads us in a meditation. She asks us to find calmness in our breath. I am stressed and I avoid making any sounds. I have never meditated with such a large group of strangers. Not wanting to annoy anyone, I silently sit, trying to keep my legs still. My main goal is not to disturb the people next to me. The room is dead quiet. I’m worried about bothering the practice of my seat neighbors. I am calm, yet I am anxious. I’m not able to relax until the very end of the meditation.

Towards the conclusion of the forty-minute practice, an image of Muhammad Ali appears in my mind. Ali’s face shows up in my brain as if clouds in the sky are opening up. His vision in my head surprises me. I have had previous mystical experiences on psychedelic drugs, and this moment feels like one of them. I am in another world. No longer in my own body, I am connected with this image of Muhammad Ali. I am in a state of consciousness where mentally, I am no longer in the room. Sitting with the image for the final few minutes, I am lost in deep meditation. I am no longer stressed about showing up late. I temporarily forget where I am sitting. For these moments, I am no longer recovering from trauma. I am alive.

Eve rings a copper Tibetan bowl to conclude the meditation. I open my eyes with wonder. Looking around the room. I think to myself, “Did anyone else conjure up an image of Muhammad Ali?” Everyone in the room starts to bring movement back into their bodies. I am relaxed. The meditation slowed down the stresses I brought into the room. With my Ali still on my mind, I ponder his life, reflecting on his career as a civil rights champion, professional heavyweight boxer, and Olympic gold medalist.

I think to myself, “Wow, what a heavy experience to have in this group.” I am nervous to tell anyone else about this mystical experience. In my quest to treat my trauma, I would prefer to avoid any negative labels. Having past diagnoses of depression and anxiety, the last thing I need is someone judging me based on this vision. People may call me crazy. 

What the hell is happening?

After we meditate, Eve guides us through an exercise to map the triggers on our body. She hands out worksheets with images of a human body and a face. She asks us to label all the triggers in our bodies. I am tasked to draw out anywhere in my body where I feel stress, unhealthy emotions, and pain. I am ready to get to work. I draw lines and circles on the worksheet, as seen below.

As I write on the worksheet, I am learning that my body is a trigger factory. Analyzing my triggers visually shows me how f*cked up my body feels. I draw small circles and lines on my left temple and cheek, as I feel tension there. I tag my left hip, knee, shin, and ankle as points of stress. I mark my left shoulder, neck, forearm with lines and circles. I label my tailbone with a small circle. Visualizing my pain helps to make me feel less tense. In my decades of talk therapy, I rarely spoke about my physical pain. In this session, I am leaning into the physical. It’s a relief to name the stress, and where it lives in my body. Often, I focus on the emotional side of my feelings, while ignoring the physicality of it all. I note that my left side contains more stress than my right side. As I write these triggers out, it is helping me. Outlining these triggers makes me feel a little bit more seen. After years of therapy sessions, I am sinking my teeth into something more meaningful. I feel heard in a new way from this exercise. 

Why journaling after meditation balances my emotions

After we diagram our triggers, Eve explains that the workshop gives us space for our emotions. She tells the group that today’s session is about confidentiality and trust. Everything we discuss stays in the room. The anonymity of healing in this anonymous group is helpful for me. I am safer sharing personal details about my mental health with non-judgemental strangers, than with people who I know more deeply. I do not plan to see any of these people in the room again. These people are not my family, friends, or co-workers. Due to the anonymous feeling, I do not feel judgement. It is a relief to spend this afternoon checking out from my routine. This workshop is a much needed escape. 

Eve shares that she wants to help recognize destructive emotions that harm the world, and turn them into constructive emotions. That sounds like an impossible task, yet here I am. When I meditate, I go deep into the recesses of my mind. During this workshop, I learn how important journaling is for me, especially after long periods of meditation. In a meditative space, I make time for myself. I detach from the world and find peace. In this state of mind, I conjure up a lot of memories, images, and ideas. Writing out these ideas helps me to communicate my thoughts. It’s different than traditional therapy, where I talk through my problems with someone else. When I journal after meditation, I am forced to focus on myself and how I feel. Today I acknowledge the root causes of my pain. My goal is to end the cycles of trauma in my body. 

After journaling for a few sessions, Eve drops many nuggets of information about emotions. 

  • Emotions are supposed to last a total of ninety seconds. 
  • Any trigger lasting more than ninety seconds is rumination. 
  • Ruminating is when one emotion becomes an entire cycle. 

This blows my mind.

During one writing session, I journal about a traumatic episode from my childhood. I write about a memory that comes up with my Dad yelling at my brother. I associate the diagrammed triggers in my left shoulder with pain from this memory. As a kid, my older brother lost his wallet at the mall, and my Dad yelled at him over it. I recognize that I may have stored the stress from that incident in my left shoulder. 

I write:

“My left shoulder felt anger for my Dad, for how he treated my older brother. Screaming, yelling, and belittling him. I couldn’t hear my Mom’s voice, yet I imagined her blessing this outburst. I cried inside. I witnessed it.

Now my elbow is feeling like it is convulsing, perhaps it is healing and taking control. My brother had lost his wallet. I heard this yelling through the bathroom, listening to my father’s anger through the door. My brother had gone to Valley West Mall with his friend Todd. He was probably in 8th grade. I am thinking about it in a whole new way. I’m going to shake hands with this fear, by being compassionate to the two boys who felt that angry episode.” 

Reflecting on the event, I assess my inner child feelings. 

I journal:

“I hide under covers. Wincing. Shoulder pain. Every word. Familiar feeling in defeat and despair. I immediately suppressed these feelings. My family acted acting like it never happened. Witnessing my brother’s pain hurts. I felt shame for not sticking up for him.”

The power of anonymous group healing

Again, I am heard. Eve splits us into dyads, and we work with a partner on the diagramming. Having a complete stranger in this trusting environment gives me relief. I am free to open up, knowing that I will never see this person again. I share personal details about my life without hesitation. There is a safe feeling in my body. He is more of a witness than a friend. I tell this sixty-year-old looking white man about my childhood trauma story, and it feels cathartic. He also tells me about his journal entry, and I listen.

We do a few more writing sessions when I see a friendly face in the crowd. My friend Kat is also in attendance. I am surprised to see her. I debate if I want to say hello or not. Part of me wants to keep the anonymity. I wonder if she does not recognize me. I have grown a thick goatee and mustache since I saw saw her. At the end of the workshop, Eve leads a final discussion. She asks the crowd if we have any questions or comments., Even though I’m nervous, I raise my hand. I share with the group that I conjured up the image of a 1960’s civil rights icon as I meditated. I hide the detail that Muhammad Ali was who came to mind. Not wanting to be judged by this group, I do not share the specific vision about Ali. 

 

Afterward, I approach Kat to say hello. We grab a burrito together at the Mexican restaurant close by the studio. It’s now 6pm and I am in a much different headspace after today. I eat a chip with salsa. I share with Kat the vision of Ali. She is excited for me. She explains that I was channeling and that it is totally normal. I’m not even certain what channeling means, yet it is comforting to hear. She offers to send me a video on channeling later that night. Having not told too many people about my Complex PTSD diagnoses, I open up to Kat about how I feel. She is supportive, which is refreshing. I feel less judged and think that maybe I will be better once my recovery is complete.

During the following weeks, I intentionally thinking about Muhammad Ali while I meditate. I also re-watch the Oscar nominated documentary When We Were Kings. The film chronicles an epic boxing match, The Rumble in the Jungle, between Ali and George Foreman from 1974. Ali is the challenger to the undefeated heavyweight champion Foreman. Ali comes in as a massive underdog. Ali deploys a rope-a-dope technique in which he plays the majority of the fight staying on the ropes. Finally Ali waits for Foreman to fatigue, and came out swinging in a later round, knocking out Foreman. Ali shocked the world by knocking him down.

I have spent much life on the boxing ropes in different traditional Western-based therapies. Like Muhammad Ali, I’ve survived many blows. Yet, I never fully healed. I absorbed a lot of metaphorical blows to the head, chest, and gut in my life. Doctors prescribed me numerous types of antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and even an antipsychotic drug, which made me fall asleep at work. Ancient medicine is my missing link to feeling fully healthy. My goal is to recover by knocking out my opponent with a flurry of punches. I deployed the rope-a-dope in my healing.  Like Ali, I waited until a later round in life to deliver the knockout blow. I am an underdog, and have only myself to prove. 

Links:

Insight LA meditation studio

CEB: Cultivating Emotional Balance

His Holiness the Dalai Lama 

Many thanks to Blake Reichmann, Noah Maier, Sara Campbell, Joel Christiansen, Kyla Scanlon, Asad Badruddin, and Drew Stegmaier in helping with the editing.  

Categories
CPTSD Recovery Uncategorized

Complex PTSD: When Your Therapist Thinks You May Be F*cked

This is part of a larger series of writing around my recovery from Complex PTSD. After decades of filling prescriptions of antidepressant, mood stabilizing, and antipsychotic drugs, I finally rejected conventional psychiatric wisdom. Using ancient methods, I went against doctors’ orders to heal. Through ancient healing, I treated the root cause, not merely the symptoms. I charted my journey in a series of essays. I’ll be writing bi-monthly articles, publishing podcasts, and hosting workshops on healing, recovery, and the root causes of pain. Twice a month, I send out a personal story of healing. Sign up for two stories per month, that’s it.

“Ryan, I think you have a form of insidious ongoing childhood trauma called Complex PTSD. Let’s talk more in the next meeting.” 

Towards the end of the couples’ therapy session, our social worker looked at me and said those exact words. 

That first sentence rocked my world.

I was shocked, surprised, and scared.

What does insidious mean? 

What does it mean to have trauma? 

I had the pressures of a family, work, and being a dad. 

How would I go through trauma recovery?

I felt desperate. After years of following the traditional rules of mental health: chatting about my feelings on therapy couches, ingesting mood-stabilizing drugs like candy, and trusting medical doctors’ advice—I felt that Western medicine abandoned me.

Since college, I ran the gauntlet of mental health professionals. I saw a therapist, psychiatrist, group psychologists, cognitive behavioral experts, and many different doctors. I accepted that I was in pain and had to manage it. I knew there was a better way to live, yet  no one showed me how to get on that path.

Healing trauma with ancient methods

To heal my trauma I went against traditional health advice. I sought out the wisdom of fourth-generation sound healers, and connected with some of the best breathworkers and meditation leaders in the United States. I experimented with psychedelics, plant-based medicine on the bleeding edge of mental health, dove into an emotional balance workshop through the Dalai Lama, and met with modern-day shamans to build myself back up. I conversed with the legendary Buddhist trained monk Jack Kornfield, learned Vipassana meditation with Mingyur Rinpoche, studied Pranayama breathwork meditation under David Elliott, and worked with sound healers who liberated my body with Tibetan singing bowls.

Now a year later, I’ve survived to live another day. By the grace of God, I finally found the healing practices of thousand-year-old eastern traditions. Many of these practices are from India, pre-colonial America, and indiginious tribes around the world. These ancient methods helped solve my modern mental health problems. Resiliency came through my bones. My healing work culminated in a series of mystical journeys that changed my life.

How We Treat the Symptoms, and Not the Root Cause

I’m grateful that my wife and I opted into marriage counseling. On that day we were in a dimly lit room, sitting next to one another on a small couch. While in the offices of a clinical social worker Dr. Julie Hoine, Wally, her service dog, ran around the floor. Julie sat across the room, on a sturdy black office chair, with a desk and an Apple computer behind her. 

I always seem to misremember things. However, I would not soon forget this day. I had been taking a drug called Lamictal for well over a decade. On the surface it stabilized my mood. In addition to therapy, I had been seeing a psychiatrist for years. While the drugs treated depression/anxiety-like symptoms, they also covered up the root cause of my pain. I recall specifically crying during one therapy session over a painful childhood memory. The psychiatrist’s solution to my grieving was a prescription for an antidepressant. I began doubting this psychiatrist over the past year. Like many Americans, I numbed the symptoms of my problems, while living in denial that there was an actual root cause. 

Julie told me something that shook up my life, my family, and my mind forever. 

“Ryan have you ever been diagnosed with trauma?” 

“No. What do you mean?” I replied. 

“You sound like you’ve been through trauma, would you like to go through a trauma checklist with me?” 

After hearing this, I stopped breathing. In utter disbelief, I agreed to do a trauma checklist with Julie. She asked my wife if it was okay for us to go down this trauma rabbit hole. She said yes. 

Julie spun around her chair to her computer, and searched online for a trauma checklist. I had no idea what she was doing, and was equally curious and shocked. In my decades of searching for answers to my symptoms of depression, anxiety, frustration, sadness, relief and anger, I had not heard the word “trauma” any time in any doctor’s office. 

What is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Complex PTSD)?

Wally was now on the floor resting on her back, no longer running around. The room was calm and we waited an eternity for Julie to pull up the complex trauma checklist. She then asked me if I sometimes felt like I had: 

  • A lack of emotional regulation
  • Changes in consciousness (dissociation)
  • Negative self-perception (extreme guilt or shame)
  • Difficulty with relationships (lack of trust) 
  • Loss of systems of meanings (feeling hopelessness and despair).

I barely recall my answers. My mind felt blank. Complex PTSD is the result of prolonged exposure to trauma over long periods of time, often during the formative years of childhood. It’s different than PTSD, which is often a result of one single traumatic event. C-PTSD is a result of ongoing and long-lasting trauma. The trauma can last for a series of months or even many years. C-PTSD is repetitive trauma, and if left untreated the effects can last a lifetime.

Some of the most common aspects of C-PTSD are:

  • Nightmares 
  • Memory issues (often blocking out reminders of the traumatic event) 
  • Heightened irritability 
  • Decreased interest in once-enjoyable activities 
  • Dissociative flashbacks (oftentimes emotional flashbacks) 
  • Severe feelings of guilt and shame 
  • Difficulty maintaining close and trusting relationships with others

Suddenly I felt exhausted. I learned from my therapist that Complex PTSD and complex trauma is under-diagnosed. To which I said, “No shit.” 

Since graduating from college, I’ve been on as many different pharmaceutical drugs as you can imagine. Feeling like a human guinea pig, I’ve been prescribed antidepressants, anti-psychotics, and mood stabilizers. None of them has completely worked. 

Past doctors diagnosed me with depression, anxiety, and other normal-ish symptoms around mental health, but never trauma. Complex PTSD sounds like something that military veterans and survivors of sexual assault have, but I had experienced neither. I was a father and husband with a career, and I was floored by the diagnosis. I thought to myself, “WTF?”. I felt totally f*cked. I asked myself, “what does recovery even look like?” I wondered, “How am I going to meet my client deadlines next week?”

How Recovery Works

Now I am in recovery; something I will happily continue for the remainder of my life. In the coming series of essays you’ll hear how, why, and which ways I’ve healed. I merged Eastern and Western treatments to get better. Rather than return to the well of psychiatric and psychological evaluations, I forged a new path. I’m the happiest I’ve ever felt. I have to thank microdosing psychedelics, breathwork, meditation, practicing gratitude, journaling, and yoga for some of this continual effervescent feeling that I have. Now in retrospect, I understand what worked for me. Equally as important, I learned what did not work for me. I’ll share my results, as I experimented with many different types of healing methods. I waited decades for my oneness with the world to bubble up to the surface from down below. I genuinely feel whole, connected to people, and believe that my best days are ahead. This feeling is a stark contrast from how I felt just a year ago.

I want to share with the world the story of how my final trauma therapy uncovered the truth. I would like no one else to go through the decades of pain that I felt. What many people call healthy isn’t necessarily right. Rather than fighting a traditional mental health system of what we define as healing, I invite you to follow along so that you too might chart your own path through the recesses of the mind and psyche. The needless suffering that I went through must end now, and we can all collaborate to work on a more human experience to help people who’ve been traumatized. There are more people like me —zombies living with unknown pain, looking for answers to questions that they don’t even know exist. I invite you to follow along so that you too might chart your own path through the recesses of the mind and psyche. This is the journey to getting unf*cked.

Big thanks for edits from: Ross Gordon, Stew Fortier, Tom White, Joel Christiansen, Drew Stegmaier, Sara Campbell, Richie Bonilla, John McGarvey, Chris Holinger, David Rosenblatt, Lyle McKeany, Steven Ovadia, Charlie Bleecker, and Joshua Mitchell.