Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Thursday's Therapy - Self Care: "Conscious Living" Amidst Grief and Trauma ~by Tommy Prince

Thursday's Therapy

Self Care:

"Conscious Living"

Amidst Grief and Trauma

~by Tommy Prince

I was elementary-school age, at a summer day camp with my younger brother. In one of the more memorable activities of camp, the camp counselors took us out to one of the area lakes (Knoxville has about five lakes within it) and then put three life-jacketed kids in a small sailboat by ourselves (3 kids per boat, with around 6-8 boats in all), and set us off to sail with the wind at our back, so we could only follow where the wind was blowing. There was no teaching involved; we had to just get in and figure it out by ourselves, and learn the hard way. The only thing we knew to do was sail with the wind at our back. We used the rudder to steer somewhat, mostly side to side.

The instructions were, that when the whistle would blow, it would be time to turn around, and come back in! Well, the whistle blew. But we had no idea what to do to get our boat turned around. So, in order to come back in, I jumped out of the boat, and by swimming and kicking my legs, I was able to push the tail of my boat around so that the front of the boat was headed back to shore. Great idea, but big problem, I couldn't get back in the boat! When I attempted to get back in, I tilted the side of the boat down and a LOAD of water rushed in with me, and my brother, three years younger than me, shut his eyes, threw his head back, and started screaming for dear life, thinking we surely were going to drown!

Sound familiar? How many of us grievers swimming in the depths of our grief with no sight of land anywhere, begin to wonder,

"Am I just going to drown in all this grief???"

The camp counselors were in a motor boat and came around to all of us to tow us back in eventually. Now, maybe I am looking for a camp counselor to get me out of this grief morass, but there's not one to be found, it seems!

Bessel A. van der Kolk, M.D., stress and trauma expert, highly recommends the book, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. ~ I love this quote in the introduction to the book:

"Sailors have to develop a sense of mindfulness about them, watching all the elements, and learning to work with the wind to get them where they need to go.

"If you hope to make use of the own force of your problems to propel you, you will have to be tuned in, just as the sailor is tuned in to the feel of the boat, the water, the wind, and his or her course. You will have to learn how to handle yourself under all kinds of stressful conditions, not just when the weather is sunny and the wind blowing exactly the way you want it to.

"We accept that no one controls the weather. Good sailors learn to read it carefully and respect its power. They will avoid storms if possible, but when caught in one, they know when to take down the sails, batten down the hatches, drop anchor, and ride things out, controlling what is controllable and letting go of the rest. Training, practice, and a lot of first-hand experience in all sorts of weather are required to develop such skills so that they work for you when you need them. Developing skill in facing and effectively handling the various "weather conditions" in your life is what we mean by the art of conscious living."

~Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.

Angie and I are in the "training" stages of learning to deal with this tsunami of grief by first learning to condition our bodies to be effective instruments to manage our grievous stress. After learning I had a sporadic range of volatility in my blood pressure that could be very dangerous to my cardiovascular system, I had to learn to do what I could do to manage that problem first. So I began my daily aerobic training for 20 minutes a day, first thing in the morning, before any coffee could be had!

This was after many sessions of negotiating with my doctor that I did plenty of yard work, and that should suffice for aerobic exercise, etc. Finally he lowered the boom, in regard to conquering the blood-pressure monster:

"You can do this! But, you have got to do this 20 minutes of aerobic exercise EVERY DAY! You will find that you will begin losing weight, you will lower your cholesterol level, and your blood pressure will normalize and not fluctuate so much."

Given several months of sporadic working out, hitting a lick here and there when I "felt like it," I finally got down to business. Amazingly, 16 days after starting such a 20-minute-in-the-morning-aerobic-exercise-regimen (plus watching my salt, watching my diet, getting 8-hours of sleep), I discovered I had lost ten (10) pounds, and my blood pressure had normalized throughout the day. (I had to buy my own blood pressure monitor.) So I am feeling pretty upbeat about getting my body better conditioned to handle the tumultuous stress of my child-loss grief.

I went to a neighborhood planning meeting last night and came home very bummed out and depressed because I had gotten triggered. So, out of curiosity, I took my blood pressure to see what it was. For the first time since getting everything normalized over the past seven days, my blood pressure had shot up into the abnormal range, and I realized that cortisol had begun to course through my system from being triggered. Within the hour, with deep breathing and meditation, I was able to get my blood pressure back into the normal range. I am training myself to be mindful of what is going on inside my body so that I can take better care of myself. I am learning that my grief and trauma "will follow me all the days of my life," so I am doing what I can to learn to manage it through "conscious living" amidst my trauma and grief.

Picture, thanks to


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