Transition is change. Change is a constant. It is life’s way of inviting us to reflect and reexamine our present way of being urging us to develop and grow as individuals.
Transitions are all around us. The seasons seamlessly bring endings and new beginnings. Each day transitions from light to dark. The phases of the moon grow from new to full each month, all in constant movement.
Just because transitions are a part of life and nature, doesn’t mean they can’t feel uncomfortable and unwanted. They can be expected and unexpected, such as a sudden loss.
Transitions can bring uncertainty…
Even an expected, desired change, such as a dream job can cause resistance to moving into a new way of being because transitions bring uncertainty. Some examples include marriage, becoming a new parent, aging, a new home, questioning one’s faith or spirituality. It is normal to feel the challenge of these times and to feel a sense of loss.
There are some things you can do to alleviate resistance to this change. Taking time to feel the grief of loss can be helpful and healing. Reaching out to your support system can also be beneficial.
Ceremonies have been part of every culture for as long as we have known. Marking transitions with the process of a ceremony is a way of both honoring your past self while making space for the new.
Ceremonies can be simple such as a few words of gratitude. They can also be more in-depth and include important people you want to share the space with. Perhaps, you might select an item, create a special song, or hold a fire ceremony. Another idea is to imbue a small object such as a stone, a shell, or something meaningful with a thought or intention.
What Works for Me
Personally, I celebrate the transitions into each of the four seasons with an invitation to friends and family to join me around a fire. We create a circle and whoever feels like it can drum, rattle, sing or dance in honor of all that is alive. We offer gratitude for our connection to nature and for the wisdom that nature brings to our awareness.
Each person quietly holds an intention they wish to manifest in the new season while leaving behind what no longer serves their higher self, just as a robustly colored autumn leaf knows when it is time to fall away from its branch at winter’s doorstep.
Often, we write in pencil on a small piece of paper, what we wish to manifest or release. We toss the paper into the fire and let the smoke carry our message away through the universe who is always listening and conspires to meet us where we are at.
Taking the time to recognize transitions can help to make it a special time of reflection where the old and the new, grief, and joy and personal growth can all be honored and celebrated.
I would like to welcome Leslie Wolf Baker to the Cleveland Emotional Health Family. Leslie’s private practice is located at 95 Allens Creek Road in Brighton (Rochester NY). If you would like to work with Leslie, please contact her directly to schedule your counseling appointment: firstname.lastname@example.org
As a flawed human being, I consider myself a work in progress no matter how old I become. Over a lifetime of gaining wisdom in human behaviors, including my own, I have found great value in gaining an understanding of the important differences between “wanting” and “willing” and I share with you, my philosophy.
“The concepts of both wanting to… and willing to… have completely different outcomes.”
Wanting, is a cognitive process where one is actually “wishing” they could have something or do something. For, example, I really want to lose weight; or, I really want to change jobs; or, I really want to leave this relationship, or _________________________(put yours here).
To Have the Will
Willing takes on the forward-thriving ability of, “I am going to make real changes in my life,” or “I will do what it takes to become healthy,” or “I am really driven to reach this goal.” When you are willing to do something, you have embraced your emotional and passionate powers no matter the hurdles to achieving the task.
What holds you back?
You have probably noticed, that in some parts of your life, you are very good at having the will of productivity, accomplishment, and self-care. But in other parts of your life, not so much.
What prevents you from moving from wanting to willing? Most likely, it is avoiding your emotions. For instance, fear (avoiding the fear that holds us back rather than working within your fears); social anxiety (worried sick about what others think or how they will react); being addicted to your (unconscious) deficits thinking, letting shame and guilt run your life and drive your behaviors, and addiction to creating drama.
Nonetheless, having an honorable sense of loyalty to the ones you love, and do not want to hurt, can also prevent you from executing any type of personal will.
Signs that you or someone is not willing
Good intentions make us feel connected, but they can also put barriers up to having the fulfillment and the joy you desire. “I really want to lose weight” or “I really want to change to make you happy” remember, these are just thoughts and wishes. And these thoughts are a façade to the true emotions (what we are avoiding) that are preventing you from taking action to change or reach your goals.
Another important sign that someone is not willing to do something is when you ask them a question and they never give a complete or definitive answer.
Here are some examples: 1) Would you like to go out Friday night? Sure, if you want. 2) Are you going to stick to your diet? I’m gonna try. 3) Are you going to finish your project? Well, I’ve got a lot of stuff going on; or, that is the plan.
There are so many consequences of not being willing. However, the consequences may not outweigh the strength of your fear, anxiety, and behavioral addictions. For instance, if you are not willing to change your unhealthy diet, the consequences will be a heart attack, a stroke, chronic aches and pains (inflammation), and a poor quality of life.
So, do the logical consequences of not taking action (for change or goals) outweigh the strength of your emotions (fear & anxiety) and addictive behaviors? Not usually, and especially not without the support of someone you trust.
So, how do you move forward to make real change?
First, admit to yourself and commit to what is holding you back (fear, anxiety) – this is not easy. You must be honest and open with yourself.
Pay attention to the excuses that you are making to stay where you are at. Are they helping you?
Confide in someone you trust that will not judge you and will hold a caring and loving space for you. This is called vulnerability and being vulnerable (with the right people) takes strength; vulnerability is not a weakness.
Give (or ask for) definitive answers – yes, I will; or no, I will not. Not only should you require definitive answers from others, but you definitely need to say them to yourself (eg. I am willing to do what it takes including reaching out for help).
Know that being willing is a process. It requires action-taking where insecurities (fear of failure and low self-worth) and emotions (fear, anxiety) can become overpowering. When this happens, start over from no. 1
As always, take small steps. Sudden and grand changes can be overwhelming and trigger intolerable levels of anxiety and fears (and the feeling of being alone in your journey) When this happens, start over from no. 1
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Fear and uncertainty can happen at any time. The recent Coronavirus has had a way of shining a bright light on the fears that every human secretly harbors. This type of fear and uncertainty originated from an environmental phenomenon.
But what are the fears that live within us?
To better understand the fears and uncertainties that live within us, I will give you a few examples of both conscious and unconscious categories.
The fears and uncertainties, which we are aware of, are conscious. For example, I know, that if I see a snake, I will always jump back and get a physically uneasy feeling (my body will shiver and tense); even if it is a tiny or harmless garter variety.
Another example. Whenever I have to give a presentation in front of colleagues, who are more knowledgeable than me, I am very conscious of my public speaking/presentation fear. I call it anxiety and I feel it in my stomach to the point that at times, I will want to vomit.
So, what is unconscious fear?
Unconscious fears are fears that are not presently in your conscious awareness. Everyone has unconscious fears. Recently, I have unearthed some of my unconscious fears. And, from this, my new enlightenment, I now know that my unconscious fear and uncertainty (now conscious) was preventing me from living to my full potential to engage in desired activities and adventures.
How did I know this?
A few weeks ago, I was sitting on my couch reflecting about my life (rebuilding after my house fire) and I came to the realization that I am afraid! There are a lot of things that I want to experience, but I am not because I am afraid.
Here is an example, I like to go hiking and I want to go to new places. I want to venture out and experience the beauty of the region in which I live.
But, I am not. Why?
Well, I realized, as I was having my couch epiphany, that I am always relying on others to go with me to do things that I am interested in. So, if my husband or friends cannot or do not want to join me, I get either angry, upset, or disappointed. And, I have been using their lack of collaboration as my excuse to not venture out.
Rather than being conscious of the fact that I was simply afraid to do some hiking on my own, I would get angry. I would get angry at my husband because (of course) it was his fault that I was not doing what I wanted to do. I would get sad because I did not have a friend that was available to accompany me.
The anger and the sadness were displaced onto others. This displaced was actually covering up my _________________________?
That’s right. This is my unconscious fear. While sitting on the couch, I said to myself, out loud (no one was home), “I am afraid!”
What was amazing, was that my self-revelation was a type of acceptance. I accepted, (out loud) that I am afraid to do (some) things on my own. And that is okay. I know that you cannot change what you cannot accept.
I am afraid of a lot of things. Maybe it is a lack of self-confidence or self-worth. But I am not afraid of everything. I do a lot of things where others remark “I don’t know how you do that” (e.g. extreme skiing, Ph.D. torture;-).
What to do?
What I did about my fear, was nothing but accept it. I accepted that I was afraid to explore new places and venture out on my own. So, I googled ‘hiking trails near me.’ Then, I headed out one morning and I was so proud of myself for doing this beautiful adventure. The fear and apprehension did not, however, go away, but I learned, that acceptance of anxiety (based in fear) is very empowering.
Accepting that you are afraid
Speak out loud or write down what you are afraid of (trying new things, change jobs, leaving a bad relationship, going back to school, public speaking, being alone).
Be specific about your fears and express them without judgment
Stop blaming and displacing your fears onto others
Work within the fear rather than trying to avoid it
Keep growing and learning and enjoying your accomplishments
The Take Home
Accept what you are afraid of. Don’t try to eliminate the fear or uncertainty. AVOIDANCE of emotions never works! Acceptance allows you to control fear and carry on regardless. Avoidance allows your emotions to control you…
It is not commonly known that emotions are stored on your body. When an emotional event happens, such as verbal or physical harm, you have a visceral response from the sympathetic pathways of the central nervous system. These responsive pathways can be experienced as an impulse of either fight, flight or freeze.
Using your imagination from your own experience, which one (or ones), fight, flight, or freeze, have you experienced as a result of harmful or potentially harmful events? For example, if someone is being verbally abusive, my impulse is to shut down and not respond (freeze). This impulse, I feel, protects me from an escalation of the situation. I believe that if I stay calm, maybe the aggressor will deescalate or at least not get worse. It is kind of like paying dead when you cannot escape the big scary bear that wants you for their dinner.
Some other examples…
The fighting impulse can look like yelling and temper to keep at bay a potential predator. The flight impulse is when you feel so uncomfortable (social anxiety) that your body wants to get up and run out of the room. These are just a few examples and of course, your sympathetic impulse in response to perceived harm is unique to you.
Whenever you are experiencing any kind of trauma (even the cultural trauma of COVID-19), it is always felt in the body. However, you may not be aware of what happens to your body in these emotional states. But the body remembers. As Bessel van der Kolk postulates (see video below), the body always keeps the score.
So, what can you do? The first step is to pay attention to what the emotion is that you are experiencing in the face of harm. Fear is likely present in the moment. Anger toward the aggressor is the most common after someone has harmed or oppressed you; however, you can be experiencing several emotions at once. The next step is to pay attention to what your emotions feel like in your body. The consequences of not properly processing (avoiding) your emotions from past events are the continuance of your version of fight, flight, or freeze. Emotional avoidance causes you suffering and disruption in your daily life. Another consequence of unprocessed emotions is high levels of anxiety, which again, can disrupt your life, your experiences of joy, and prevent you from having or reaching your goals.
Keep in mind, that chronic avoidance of emotions and anxiety can eventually manifest as physical pain or other chronic health issues.
During these trying times of social isolation and fear of the unknown, many people are experiencing anxiety due to this unexpected cultural trauma of the COVID-19.
Undoubtedly, if you are feeling high levels or chronic levels of anxiety, it can mean that most of your energy is focused externally and not in the present moment. In these times, it can be helpful to take a pause and ask yourself, “Have I been letting my fears take over? Am I overwhelmed?”
A great technique to alleviate your anxiety is to turn your energy and attention inward and enter the present moment. As you focus on your inner world, without judgment, and with compassion, it is a place of the present moment, a deep inner peace. The very act of pausing and inner energy focus can calm the mind that is anxious about the future and the unknown. Ask yourself these questions. How am I right now in this present moment? Am I safe? Am I okay in this present moment?
Try building these small moments of self-connection and inner energy into your everyday life. The more you do this, the more you will be able to find your inner peace and self-compassion. When you can find satisfaction from being in the present moment you won’t feel so disconnected and anxious.
Also, In the present moment, you can release yourself from concerns of the past and the future and simply be with yourself, right where you are, right now.
Please watch this video…
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I am writing this letter to you(me) to remember all the things I have accomplished in my life that I want to express my gratitude for, my homework for trauma group at work. First and foremost, I am grateful for choosing to have and love my children their whole lives. I am grateful that while I was never perfect as a parent, I chose to make my children the most important people in my life and still do. My heart bursts with joy and love when I think about them, remembering all the joy they have brought me. While I crave grandchildren, my children are and always will be enough to fill my heart with love.
I am also grateful for all the work I have put into the relationships with my family. My boundaries with my sometimes dysfunctional family are always being worked out, but I am so glad that I am my authentic self now and that I no longer go along to get along. And sometimes, I react with more careful thought, rather than emotion, to family members when boundaries are being tested. Even if others haven’t changed, I have. My healthier interactions are now a reflection of my true and authentic self. I will always be a work in process, but now that I respect me, and others respect me too.
I am proud that I take care of myself too. Self-care is so important to me that my swimming 3-times per week has become no longer enough. Now I am going to look into a couple of after-work classes or morning yoga.
I am Grateful…
I thought writing this letter would be easier. I have come through so much and I am so grateful that I somehow came through each adversity stronger than before. I have a more optimistic outlook than I have ever had in my life.
I am grateful that I chose, and choose, to not drink alcohol anymore. I choose to be present in my life now, present and clear-headed. At times it is harder than I had ever imagined, but sooo very worth the hard days to stay sober. My physical health has improved, my mental health has improved, and while I have had some absolutely fabulous friends, mentors, coworkers, and counselors help me on my journey, I am ultimately the one who has stuck with it and I did the work.
My Life’s Path
And, to this I have to tell myself, how very, very grateful I am to have taken one of the biggest risks of my life and started a brand-new career path at 50 years old as a certified peer support specialist. I work with others in recovery with addiction and help them with their mental health issues.
The world has opened up for me and I feel more valued, committed, influential, important, worthy, competent, appreciated, inspired, open, energized, believed, validated, and respected and loved than I have ever felt in my whole life.
I own my life now, my thoughts are my own, and I Express them more than I ever have. Thank you(me) for taking a leap of faith. And thank you, Lord, for having my back, as always.
One of the most common things we do when feeling anxious is to avoid our anxiety.
When you are feeling anxious, what do you that you do to avoid it? Some people may use substances (e.g. alcohol, nicotine, THC), engage in impulsive behaviors (e.g. judging others, temper, binge eating, hoarding, OCD) or shut down (e.g. ruminating, low motivation, physical aches and pains, headaches/migraines).
If you are in the process of learning how to face your emotions to alleviate your anxiety, this can be a very difficult undertaking. So, I want to share some mindful practices that I use to “keep it together and carry on” in the face of deeply disturbing anxiety.
Box Breathing & Mantra
The first one is breathing deeply or box breathing (breath out for 4-hold for 4-breath in for 4-hold for 4-repeat; see video). I practice this breathing technique daily and often.
The second is having a mantra that I use for calming my mind. For example, I went for a jog this morning, and when my body and mind wanted to quit, I kept repeatingfeeling good-looking good, feeling good-looking good, and this kept me going without slowing down my pace. Mantras also work well with breathing meditations.
Another way to reduce and tolerate anxiety is mental toughness. Mental toughness is a philosophy of learning and growth. Mental toughness is facing difficulties and suffering from a positive and open mindset. Watch the video below on mental toughness.
If you are interested in learning more about adaptive and mentally healthy ways to work through your distress, Below is a book I recommend reading (at least twice) to better understand the phenomenon of mental toughness philosophy.
On the evening of January 16, 2020, I was attempting to be attentive during my theories and practices class while my phone, buried deep in my bookbag, was buzzing relentlessly. It was about 6:20 p.m. when I finally gave in to sneak a peek at what was up with my phone. When I saw the never-ending green blobs as I scrolled down my phone, all the messages seemed to blur except for the one. “Call me now!”
If any of you know my husband, he does not text, at least not me, ever. I am sure he had called and left messages but, he must have known that I would not have attempted to answer, and I would be more likely to see his text. I immediately stood up from my seat, in the middle of class discussion, walked out of the classroom, and made the call.
My husband’s voice was cracking, and he was clearly crying through his words. John had been skiing all day with family and friends. As anyone’s would, my mind immediately went to the worst-case scenarios. You are in the hospital, you broke your back, neck, leg…oh my God!
“Honey, the house burnt down, it’s gone, everything.”
“Is Cash okay?”
“Yes, he got out. He is in the truck. He is fine.
“Are you okay?” I am okay. I gotta go, the fire inspector needs to talk to me.”
Without any forethought, I opened the door to my classroom while my professor, Andre, and my peers were conversing over the required reading. “Andre, would you come out here? Please, I need to talk to you.”
Those of you who know me, know this is not something I would ever do; disrupt a class or disrespect my professor for anything other than dire reasons. Andre got up and came out without hesitation. At that moment, I was still composed or at least I thought I was. However, my expression and demeanor may have told onlookers another story. I told Andre of my situation. He gave me his genuine comforting concern which brought my attention to the fact that my body was now physically shaking. My eyes were beginning to hurt, but I was planning my next steps leaving my tears at a bare minimum.
My drive home was almost an hour from the University of Rochester which gave me plenty of time to process my present situation. I need to stop at Walmart; buy a dog bed, dog food, chew toys, and food bowls. We need toothpaste, mouthwash, underwear…
When I arrived at what was left of my home, there were way too many fire trucks and emergency vehicles to take in. Four or five fire departments were there, I am not sure of the count. Ambulance crew, firemen, Sheriff deputies, the chief of police, and the fire investigator littered the property and the nearby roadside. If I had to guess, there had to be at least 60 uniformed first responders moving about the eastside of our picturesque, creek lined property.
As I walked up my long and slippery driveway weaving through the trucks and the hoses, I noticed that several firemen were in a circle on their hands and knees while inspecting debris from the fire. They were in the vicinity of the forever-gone front stoop looking through the ashes brought up from the basement where they suspected the fire began. The investigators eventually concluded, from the tiny metal-like pellets, that the fire started in the electrical box of our 12-year-old home.
The only other non-uniformed person, besides John and me, that got past the nearby barricaded roads, was our good friend, Bits. Bits, one of John’s best and supportive friends, own’s Walter’s house. Walter is a 9-year-old beagle and is one of Cash’s favorite playmates. Bit’s and Walter’s dog-friendly environment was ideal for us to accept their generous offer to take us in for as long as we need. Thank you, my friend.
The only thing that I did not lose in this devastating inferno, was my computer, my car, and the clothes on my back. The fire was so hot that it melted Cash’s car that sat about 30 feet away from the house. Cash’s car is a 2007 Fusion full of dried mud and dog hair which comes with his own on-demand chauffeur (John or me) to take him on his daily outings for a hike or ski in the nearby parks. The control panel on John’s relatively new plowing tractor melted, along with the siding on our small gardening shed located about 40 feet north of the house. This was a brutally hot and dangerous fire.
The Only Moment that is Real
Some of the most valuable things that I lost were things without much monetary value. I lost my father’s WWII duffle bag covered in writing, in languages unknown, from all the different regions during his travels through the Panama Canal all the way to China. In addition, I lost my grandfather’s NYPD Captain’s hat along and other family heirlooms dating from the early to mid-1900s.
Nonetheless, without despair, my heart is not distressed over the things we lost. Throughout my education and practice as a mental health counselor, I have learned a great deal about processing and living through traumatic events. No lives were harmed or lost from this horrific fire for which I am truly grateful. The fire is no longer. It is in the past. Our present moments feel warm and safe. Many people are reaching out to offer their sympathy, empathy, and if there is any way in which they can help. Some amazing soles have offered to open up their homes to shelter their newly homeless friends, and we truly thank you.
Now, when I start ruminating about things I no longer have, I remind myself that these are only thoughts. These thoughts are not real but what I am constructing. Living in the present is good. It is the only moment that is real, and it is good. We have what we need, I have my family, and I have them with me.
The Truly Endearing
The very next day, I was honored and comforted to spend the afternoon with two of my BFFs, Jenn and Jules. The purpose of our mission was to do some speed shopping for the basic necessities such as clothes, winter boots, and toiletries. Shopping with your girls is fun, right? No, I hated it. The last thing I wanted to do was shop. My mind was in a fog and I had not eaten in I can’t remember when. Jenn & Jules took such good care of me doing tedious jobs such as finding sizes and digging through sales racks. But what really meant the most to me was that these to insanely busy fulltime workers, doctoral students, researchers, and pet parents, canceled their appointments, set aside their homework and family’s needs to give me a full afternoon of their undivided attention.
Several years ago, I remember there was a group of Tibetan monks that came to the University of Rochester to create their beautiful sand mandalas. To have experienced the time involved, the skill, and cooperative detail needed to create these beautiful works of art was simply mesmerizing. But only after a few days it was gone! Why? How can they destroy such beauty when it brings so much joy and awe? This was the defining moment when I learned the valuable lesson of the theory of impermanence. Nothing lasts forever, nothing. When I catch myself thinking, I can’t believe I don’t have that anymore, I remember the meaning of the theory of impermanence. If I mindlessly ruminate over the loss of my material possessions, I will be creating more of own my suffering. So, I remind myself, nothing is meant to last forever, not even me. And now, I feel better and I can move on.
Now we Move Forward
So, we are okay. Our needs are being met. Our jobs, our passions, and our love still exist. This tragic event makes me reevaluate what I am truly grateful for and what brings meaning to my life. My reflections on this recent event had given me time to think of how we will rebuild our new and comforting safe space.
One thing I know for sure is that I want less. I want to value the things I have and not want for things I don’t need. I want our home to be warm and inviting with minimal intrusive “stuff.” I now realize that happiness from stuff is fleeting, only to drive the want for more stuff. Going without, without unnecessary stuff, foregoes the wanting. The wanting limits present moment joy that comes only from within. I will cherish and embrace such a valuable lesson.
My joyous memories, my loved ones, my creativity, and my drive is what truly fulfills me. And, from this great loss, I find new enlightenment.
Thank you for my story reading,
Thank you to all the volunteers and first responders. Your generosity and compassion do not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Thank you, Andy you are a rare and true friend. Thank you, to Jenn & Jules. You got my back! Thank you, Michael, for your generous efforts to replace our ski gear. Thank you, Julie for setting up a gofundme page. And thank you for all for your love, support and well wishes. It is truly comforting as well as appreciated.
Every human has anxiety. Anxiety is a natural part of human existence. Anxiety keeps you aware of yourself and of your environment. It protects you from harm and prepares you for action. However, when your anxiety is too high, and for too long, it causes negative physical and psychological symptoms and these symptoms can get in the way of everyday life.
What is Acute Anxiety?
Acute anxiety is normal for everyone. Acute anxiety is a physical reaction to an event (for example, giving a performance or a public speech). With acute anxiety, your anxiety dissipates, and you quickly return back to normal functioning.
What is Chronic Anxiety?
Chronic anxiety (including social anxiety and panic attacks) can negatively impact schoolwork, employment, relationships, concentration, appetite, social engagement, and self-worth. Chronic anxiety is when your anxiety lasts longer than you want it to, both in time and duration (over a lifetime). In some situations, it may seem like you cannot get any relief from your anxiety. Chronic anxiety can cause ongoing physical, emotional, and interpersonal problems.