How do you go about Emotional Healing?

 

Let’s say you have recognised that emotional healing is crucial to your wellbeing and a contented, peaceful life. But now you are faced with the million dollar question: how do you actually go about emotional healing.

The main reason why I want to share my personal story of the traumatic illness of my late husband and my own recovery from that loss and trauma is this: I would like to plant the seed in you that emotional healing is possible. I am not saying it’s easy or smooth or fast. But it is my hope that you might open the door to possibilities.

Today as I write this article I can say that I am happier within myself than I have ever been. This inner connectedness and fulfilment does not erase my pain of loss. But the pain of loss no longer erases my happiness. The two co-exist.

I feel so strongly about sharing my story of loss, recovery and emotional healing that I am writing a memoir about it. I believe that emotional wellbeing is possible, even after experiencing trauma. It is important to be aware though that emotional healing and wellbeing is not something that happens by accident. It is an art. Even the most talented artists don’t become masters without practice. Emotional wellbeing needs to be nurtured. It needs to be given attention and input.

There are steps that you can take to consciously bring contentment, fulfilment and joy as a state of being into your life. It’s a gradual process. Immediate change bit by bit. Also, remember, you don’t have to do it on your own. Emotional support is available. This may be through friends or a professional who is trained in being able to offer guidance, care and resources. When seeking emotional support from people that are close to you, be aware that your friends and family are emotionally connected to you. If they care about you deeply, your distress may cause them distress. Also, they bring their own set of beliefs and points of view to the situation you wish to resolve, and this may present a roadblock to your own recovery. This is not necessarily the case; it very much depends on the situation and the person. Friends can be an enormous support. You just need to be aware that they are not neutral towards the situation.

I had incredible emotional support from one girlfriend in particular. Whilst my husband was in hospital, almost every day, certainly every week dramatic and often traumatic incidences happened. Because he was locked in his body, unable to move  at all, so much started to go wrong with his body. His muscles began to contract wildly causing enormous pain. I was a layperson, without any medical knowledge. I would be given snippets of information from a registrar, then other information from a specialist and yet different info from a nurse. The most disheartening thing was the negativity from many doctors with which I was confronted, causing additional and unnecessary heartache.

Here is one of many incidences. My husband had a tracheostomy[i] as he could not breathe on his own. One day I was told that he could have the tube removed. This, I was informed, involved the physiotherapist slowly weaning him off the tracheostomy tube. The process was started. One morning, the registrar made a point to see me in order to tell me that he thought the removal of the tracheostomy tube was not going well and that I should know that “your husband may never have it removed”. This was extremely distressing as my husband’s transfer from the hospital to the rehabilitation clinic was conditional upon the removal of the tube. Otherwise – where would he go?? The thought of my husband living in an aged care facility at age 42 was too much to bear. No other facility offers rehabilitation such as highly specialised physiotherapy – and with it hope for any future quality of life. I was shattered and devastated by this news that he may never have it removed. Shortly after receiving this news, the physiotherapist informed me that the weaning process was going well. (Weaning refers to the process of learning to breathe without the tube). The tube was removed.

During these distressing times which occurred regularly and frequently over the nearly eight months that my husband was locked into his body I needed someone to talk to about my despair and shattered hope. I had never experienced despair in my life before. My girlfriend was always there to listen with incredible empathy. Not that many people have the gift to offer such a level of empathy. I was fortunate to have such a good friend who showed up for me in such a caring and supportive way.

I would like to share the tools how I personally recovered and healed from my trauma. There are tangible things you can do to address your emotional wounding. Here are 7 signposts to guide your way towards emotional healing and wellbeing.

1. Decide To Be Happy
    You must decide that you really want happiness in your life.

    No-one else can make that decision for you

2. Gratitude
    Appreciate whatever is wonderful in your life, however small, every day.

3. Releasing Resistance
    This is the path to inner freedom. It takes courage & willingness to let go.

4. Accept Where You Are Right Now
    Accept all of your emotions, desires & mistakes– they require no justification.

5. Embrace Your Emotions
    Your emotions are your GPS system into your heart and subconscious

6. Have An Optimistic Attitude Towards Your Life
     An optimistic attitude means that you expect good things to happen to you

7. Forgive Others Who Have Wronged You

     Holding onto blame and anger is detrimental to your wellbeing.

     Feel the hurt or rage when it occurs appropriately to an experience – and then let it go.

 

Every journey starts with its first step. It is much easier to walk a clearly sign-posted path than to stumble aimlessly through the bush. Your emotional healing will not happen overnight but gradually. Please bear in mind that each step that you take does make a difference. Also, remember to seek emotional support. We are social beings interconnected in a tight web with others. Emotional support will ease your process of recovery.

I will be addressing each of these points separately over the coming weeks, so stay tuned.


[i] “A tracheostomy (TRA-ke-OS-to-me) is a surgically made hole that goes through the front of your neck and into your trachea (TRA-ke-ah), or windpipe. The hole is made to help you breathe.”

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/trach/

We Live our Lives as Stories

I have just returned from a few days camping with a community group in the southwest of Western Australia. This is a precious region of unique, breathtaking forests. Large species of Eucalyptus trees, such as the Karri, Tuart, and Marri trees, rise high into the sky. Many of these species do not grow anywhere else in the world.

“The Great Walk” is a unique group that only exists in Western Australia. Sometimes people from other states fly across to join in our bi-annual walks. This bushwalking group camps in nature, often on the land of farmers or sometimes in National parks, cooks on an open fire and goes on walks during the day. Twice a year, in spring and autumn, 10 day trips are organised by volunteers. People can come for the whole time or part of the time. The group consists of people from very different walks of life who share a love of nature. In every day life many paths would not cross, so it is an amazing opportunity to meet different types of people.

After the death of my husband this group became a haven for myself and my children, then aged 9 and 12. It has contributed significantly to our emotional healing. The Great Walk became our extended family, and some of my closest friends are from this group.

And not only the group has been an amazing emotional support, but also being in nature, away from the computer. Even our phones are out of range. Nature offers us the opportunity to ground ourselves.  What has really struck me this time is another reminder of how much loss we as people experience in our lives. Any time I spend time with any group of people, personal stories of loss and trauma are revealed. There are stories of childhood abuse, with the loss of innocence and a safe world, which casts its long shadows into adulthood and old age. Particularly hard are multiple losses. A little while ago I met a teenager who has lost her mother. The family lived on a farm. The father’s health was poor and he was unable to continue to look after the farm and the daughter. The farm had to be sold. Father and daughter had to move to the city to live with relatives. The girl not only lost her mother, but her social network and the country lifestyle she treasured.

Life confronts us with losses: death, illness, loss of our home or job or the breakdown of relationships or friendships. Despite the diversity of these losses, there are some core similarities in the ways people grieve.

The most immediate effect of any profound loss is the way it disrupts our life story.

 

We live our lives as stories. And we construct our sense of self in relation to the stories we tell about ourselves. Our stories have a distinctive ‘plot’ structure, related to the events of our lives, who reveal to us our sense of self and they also shape who we become. Our stories include a variety of characters, main characters and minor characters that come and go, who interact across time and space.

When we experience a major loss or trauma our life story is instantly disrupted. This particular story, which we expected to continue to develop, comes to a sudden end. We find ourselves in a position where we need to construct our disrupted life story anew. I liken this to building a house from scratch.

Without the experience of major loss or distress, we tend to go about our lives and often let life trickle along as it is, with some aspects going well and others perhaps not. However, we usually don’t pay much attention to the aspects that don’t go well with an attitude of “things will work out ok”. So our house only receives the absolutely minimum necessary maintenance. And even if we decide to renovate, this amounts most likely to the repainting of one room or the addition of another. People rarely undertake major renovations without a catalyst.

However, when profound loss strikes and disrupts our life story, the demolition sledgehammer comes crashing down on us and bulldozes our entire house in one big sweep. Our house lies in crumbles and needs to be rebuild from the foundations up. We can no longer sit on the fence, the fence is gone….

How can we rebuild our entire house? How can we reconstruct a new plot structure after the sweeping demolition that destroyed our life story, and with it our existing worldview?

One way of rebuilding a coherent life story is to tell and retell our story, either by writing it down or by talking to a caring listener. This narrative act will prompt the evolution of a new narrative. Our stories are a way of putting some order and meaning into our confusion. When we tell our personal story of distressing or traumatic experiences, we are attempting to find answers to the burning questions: “Why did this happen?” and “What does it mean?”

By sharing our stories with others, we seek help in finding answers. We look for other perspectives that are helpful to us in our quest to find answers. Others can’t give us answers, but they can help us to order our thoughts, to make us aware of connections we might have missed that may provide a vital piece of the puzzle we are trying to construct. Narratives, our personal stories, help us to heal emotionally and to recover from major loss.

Research has shown that sharing our feelings and stories of loss and pain with others is indeed healing. Sharing our feelings leads to improved psychological and physical health.