On The Myth of Sailed Ships

The Ship That Sailed

I have been learning how to play the guitar. I really wanted to play when I was younger, and tried briefly – and unsuccessfully – to teach myself how to play with a book. As I got older, I sometimes felt jealous of people in my life who knew how to play the guitar. I was jealous that they chose to learn guitar when they were younger, that they had natural musical ability, and that they had the wherewithal to actually sit down and practice. I figured that for me, a congenitally arrhythmic adult who never had guitar lessons, that particular ship had sailed.

But last year, something clicked for me and I realized that if I wanted to play the guitar, I could just go ahead and learn. It’s a simple idea – that if I wanted to know something, I could go about learning it – but I have to admit that in the moment the idea felt entirely shocking and revolutionary.

So, long story short, I borrowed a friend’s guitar, did a quick internet search, found justinguitar.com, and got down to jamming out.

 

Jamming Out

Sometimes we have to do things in painstakingly slow succession over long periods of time.

Sometimes we have to do things in painstakingly slow succession over long periods of time.

Or rather, I got down to watching several videos explaining the parts of the guitar, how to hold a guitar pic, how to get a guitar in tune, and how to strum. A few days later, I got down to learning the A, D and E chords. Then I got down to playing them over and over again in painstakingly slow succession until I built up some callouses on my fingertips. And then, over weeks of practice, some speed. 

Truth be told, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be waiting in a long line to see me at the Grand Old Opry any time soon. But, I now get to have the pleasure of learning a song, playing it on the guitar, and belting it out at the top of my lungs during carefully chosen parts of the day when my neighbors are not home.

I also have the pleasure of experiencing myself improving at something – a concrete daily reminder that we are all capable of growth and change.

 

Willingness to Begin at the Beginning

 

One of the things that has been extremely vivid to me in the experience of learning the guitar is how much willingness we have to exhibit in order to allow ourselves to be novice at something. Justin, my internet video guitar teacher, is very adamant about spending time in each practice session just working on the basics – chord changes, listening exercises and practicing with a metronome. But I don’t always want to! Sometimes I just want to play one of the songs that I can already play with some modicum of musicality. Over and over again. 

What’s been especially interesting to watch is that inevitably, when I focus for too long on the thing I’ve already made progress on, I stop making progress. So if I want to keep going, I have to get myself back to the basics, like learning a new version of the F chord and playing A minor / F / A minor / F / A minor /F over and over and over and over again until I can make that chord change smoothly.

Without allowing myself to fumble and lurch, my skill set and my confidence don’t grow.

 

If “Fumble/Lurch” Then “Competence/Confidence”

At first LC didn't know "sit." Now he's really, really good at it.

At first LC didn't know "sit." Now he's really, really good at it.

This is as true in other tasks of life as it is in learning a new instrument. How often have you felt like you don’t have the confidence to do something, but when it really comes down to it, you just literally don’t know how? This could be in any kind of process, from not knowing how to start a conversation with someone at a networking event, to not knowing how to self-soothe when you’re panicking, to not knowing how to soothe a child who is crying, to not knowing how to how to write a long research paper.

Of course competence is not the only solution to confidence. Many of the people who come to see me for help healing from shame and fear related to their worthiness or felt sense of competence are actually extremely competent in many measures of their lives. In these cases, the work of skill-building is more around exploring expectations and managing emotions then getting better at the thing itself.

At the same time, many people have experienced such high levels of confusion, anxiety and shame around a particular life process – take for example interpersonal situations – that they are actually missing some skills, like how to ask questions, how to meet someone new, how to gracefully end a conversation, or how to ask for things or say no in a way that is effective. 

They aren’t missing skills because they have some defect at the core of their personalities, but rather because they weren’t able to learn the skill at a younger age. Maybe there was no one in the family to teach them, or maybe there were painful or distracting internal or environmental experiences that prevented them from learning.

So while competence is not always the answer, there are probably instances for each of us where part of why we don’t feel confident about something is because we literally haven’t learned how to do it yet. And now, as adults, sometimes we are so scared of being “found out,” that we don’t take the risk of admitting how little we know, and going about learning.

But what if it doesn't have to be that way? What if we could just start now, and then in a few months or years, have competence? Might the promise of a bigger world make it worth it to fumble through the frustration and embarrassment that come with not being expert... yet?

The Invitation

So I’ll invite you to get curious about your own experience in this arena. What is it like for you to be novice at something? When was the last time you allowed yourself to really articulate how much you don’t know about something? And to have the willingness to do research, ask someone else how they do it, or watch how other people are doing it? When was the last time you allowed yourself to practice a new skill, to sit with yourself during the period of time when it’s just not smooth yet?

Wonderwall Goals...

Are there areas where you are both competent and confident? Areas where you are actually extremely competent, but lack confidence in yourself? Areas where you are confident but could benefit from shoring up your levels of knowledge and skill?

Is there something new that you want to learn because it sounds fun? Or helpful?

And what does it mean to you to hold yourself with grace and compassion when you do allow yourself to be novice at something? How do you find gentle humor in your mistakes, and then learn from them? How do you encourage yourself when you get frustrated with not being already expert at something? With what kind of voice do you use to remind yourself to practice your chord changes when all you want to do is play Wonderwall over and over again?

Or... whatever?

Posting with the hope for more play, exploration, learning and healing. 

Sunday Sessions!

Trouble finding weekend therapy on the East Side of LA? As of next week I'll be offering sessions on Sunday afternoons. What better way to spend an hour on Sunday than finding relief from suffering and learning how to take care of yourself?

Give yourself the gift of compassion and get in touch for more information!

Hey Pasadena! Therapy on Sundays is here.

Hey Pasadena! Therapy on Sundays is here.

Is Recovery from Depression Possible?

A few days ago I was sitting with a friend and the question came up – “do you really believe that it’s possible to recover from depression?” For whatever reason, maybe the tenor of our conversation leading up to that question, my immediate response was unsure. I was surprised by this – if I don’t believe that recovery from depression is possible, where does that leave me as a human, as a therapist?

"Does that mean I'm depressed again?"

"Does that mean I'm depressed again?"

I left my friend’s house thinking about this question. Was it possible? Who did I know who used to be depressed and now isn’t depressed anymore? Anyone?

In my mind at that moment, depression was like a light switch –  on/off. Depressed always or never depressed.

But of course, that’s not how life works. There are levels of depression. There is the mild dissatisfaction with everyday life, the irritation, the difficulty getting going. There’s the nagging thoughts and haunting sense that you don’t really exist, not really, and that you’re not going anywhere fast. There’s the deep pit of depression that you feel all over your body, like a lead blanket that keeps you in bed past your alarm, past the start of the work day, that stalls your hand from answering the phone when it rings. There’s hating yourself so much that you want to destroy yourself. There's the tendency to see the negative in everything, even when you know logically that life is more complex than that.

All “depression.”

Life is more complex than that.

Life is more complex than that.

If I’ve been feeling really good for a while but then have an extra beer, feel hung over, skip yoga, and then start procrastinating, start doubting myself, start to feel slow and lonely, and don’t make it out to see my friends because the only viable place for me is under the covers watching netflix, does that mean that I’m depressed again?

When I finish binge watching and the dog licks my toe and I remember to look at him, like really look, and I realize that he wants to play catch and I get up and toss the ball for him, and he's so cute, and he loves me, and I know it, does that mean I’m recovered?

Most of us feel better or worse at different moments in our lives. We can never unfeel the way we felt, or unthink the thoughts we have had. There are dark shadow times and incredibly bright moments of joy and connection, but a lot of life happens in between.

We can figure out, over time, what makes us feel better. More connected. More committed to the things that we care about. And we can continue to return to those things. With these practices we build the groundwork of a life worth living. Then even when we stray, it gets easier and easier to find the path again.

The path gets easier to find.

The path gets easier to find.

Those practices may be literal practices in the world (hike, breathe, know when to walk away, take medication, go to acupuncture, go to the park with friends, make art, pay attention to the dog, tell the truth, ask for help, etc.), or they may be new ways of attending to your darkness and cultivating your courage and joy.

I don’t know anyone who could entirely stop doing the things that make them feel better and still feel good. But I can think of a list miles long of clients and friends who have grappled with deep depression and who now live rich, connected lives that they are excited to step into in the morning.

So if that’s what constitutes recovery from depression, then hell yes. I absolutely believe that recovery from depression is possible. And I take my hat off to everyone who chooses to walk that path, even on the bumpy days.

The What and the How of Healing

“What do I need to do to feel better?”

Most of us know at least part of the answer to this question, although the answer might be different for each of us.

"I need to remember to breathe."

"I need to remember to breathe."

“I need to spend less money on things I don’t need and be more proactive in calling my friends,” you might say.

“I need to be more mindful with my child and learn how to set healthy boundaries.”

“I need to practice grounding.”

“I need to work up my hierarchy of exposure to things I’m afraid of so I feel less fear.”

“I need to remember to breathe.”

 

Okay. Yes. Your answer to this question constitutes the “what” of healing. There is probably immense truth and wisdom in your answer.

Over the course of the healing process, your answers will become more fine-tuned. You will learn more about mindful awareness. You will learn more about tools for setting healthy boundaries. You will learn more about sleep and working with difficult emotions and budgeting and prioritizing and values. You will learn about things that you could be doing that you might not have known were skills that existed that you could master in order to achieve more health and balance and fulfillment.

All of these skills and practices constitute the “what” of healing: they are goals for healing. Behaviors you want to change, do more of, less of, whatever.

So we set the goal. Maybe it sounds like, “I want to get more sleep.” We name the what.

And then what happens?

At the beginning, we often approach the process of healing with the same energy that we bring to the rest of our lives.

WHAT: Roll around on the grass. HOW: With utmost abandon.

WHAT: Roll around on the grass. HOW: With utmost abandon.

If we carry high expectations of ourselves, we may set unrealistic goals and excel at meeting them for a short amount of time before we grow exhausted and resentful and stop. If we carry low expectations for ourselves, we may dip a toe in and then withdraw, fearful of the outcome of change, preemptively disappointed in our limited capacity for novelty and risk. If we carry judgment, we may try a new skill and then lambast ourselves for all the ways in which we could have done it better, or more, or less, or more like how our friend’s sister does it, because she’s better, she’s better at healing, and we, well, we are failures. We have always already failed.

This is the “how” of healing. How do we hold ourselves when we try to approach the “what” of healing? How do we have compassion for our inevitable failures, lapses and confusions? How do we acknowledge and celebrate our progress? How do we have perseverance in the face of a task that is new and difficult?

Do we ask for help? Do we allow curiosity and humor in the face of setbacks? Do we learn to peer through the shame and disappointment in order to learn about what went wrong and try again? Do we allow time for the process of change?

Do we balance the work of change with the practice of accepting ourselves just the way we are: flawed, human, messy?

Or not yet?

And can that be okay?

I write this not with an answer or mandate, but with a call to curiosity. And the knowledge that like anything else, curiosity takes time to cultivate.

As we often say paradoxically in the practice of mindfulness, “try not to judge, and when you find yourself judging, try not to judge your judging.”

And on and on.

Posting with a deep breath and a shrug of the shoulders. Onwards.

 

 

 

 

 

Staying Safe on Mother’s Day

For Survivors of Maternal Abuse and Neglect

 

What does it mean to celebrate mother’s day if your mother abused or neglected you?

Or maybe the better question is, how do you survive mother’s day – a day when you have to be reminded relentlessly that a consistent, safe, nurturing relationship with a mother is something you will never have?

It is supremely normal to have strong urges to hurt oneself or lash out at others when we are triggered by memories of abuse and neglect. For each of us this looks different. It might be subtle – not opening mail, skipping self-care activities, or picking a fight with someone who matters.

It might be loud – hurting our bodies or the bodies of someone else, lambasting our hearts and telling ourselves we are bad, we deserved it, we are not, after all, loveable, like other people are loveable. The old behaviors pop up – whether it’s food, alcohol, drugs, money, sex, self-inflicted violence – the thing we did to take ourselves out of ourselves might suddenly (re)appear as an option.

We might not even notice as it sidles up to us and says, “hey, I’m here, don’t worry, I got you.”

When we hear the echo of past hurt we often find ourselves sucked into the old ricochet of violence and loathing. Like getting caught in a rip tide, sometimes we look up later and say, “I’m so far out, I didn’t mean to.”

Or sometimes it feels more like – “I couldn’t hold on any longer. What’s the point. I will never have the love that I need.”

Sometimes we say, “help.”

Sometimes we look back towards the shore and it feels so far away that we think, “no one will come. No one can hear me out here.”

And this is it – the old logic – the logic of abuse and neglect, when the only person we can turn to is the person who hurts us, or isn’t there. We have to do tremendous things to survive under those conditions, and it can be very difficult to leave behind that coping, no matter how dark, when our conditions have changed.

There is another way. With time, courage and healing, mother’s day, and other reminders of the old wounds, don’t have to turn into tunnels of loneliness and self-harm.

Here are a few ideas for staying safe this mother's day, and beginning to think about healing.

 

Compassion for the Urge

 As contradictory as it may sound, for many people, honoring the urge to hurt ourselves can be the first step towards healing. We are all human, and we do the best we can. Sometimes the only thing we know how to do is something that hurts, or isn’t effective in the long run. But it doesn’t mean we aren’t trying. And if your mother didn’t mother you, then we have to learn later in life how to mother ourselves.

Taking a Step Towards The Present

On days like mother’s day, getting grounded in the present becomes especially important. If our bodies believe that we are in the past, we are more likely to enter that tunnel of self-destruction. There are many ways to get grounded in the present, but here is one practice that can help:

 

 

Click here for the full text and some other ideas for grounding.

Self-Care

And from this place, this place of feeling safe, and now, and here, you can ask yourself – what would help me feel more whole today? Is there a friend I can reach out to? Is there something gentle I can do for myself? Maybe that means making a meal, having a glass of water, sitting in the sun, taking a walk, cuddling the dog, watching a good movie, cracking open your journal or box of paints, or putting on some music. Or maybe it means signing up for that Muay Thai class you’ve always considered taking. Who knows? You know. 

Because you’ve survived to this point. You have what it takes.

And you deserve to feel safe, loved, nurtured – safe, loving and nurturing. On this day and every day.

Finally: Reconceiving the Notion of Motherhood

For some, reconceiving the notion of motherhood is the essence of beginning to heal. “How do I begin to connect with the people who act the way I wish my mother had acted? I will never have the mother I needed then, and I cannot have a new mother now. But how can I fill my life with mentors and friends who can show up for me and treat me respectfully, teach me things, and witness me in the full range of my human experience?”

“How do I show up for myself the way I wish my mother had shown up for me? How do I treat myself respectfully, learn new skills, and witness myself in my full human experience without judgment?”

The answers to these questions may take a while to figure out, but beginning to ask the questions in a safe place, maybe in a journal or with a trauma therapist, can be the first step towards healing.

With love and hope.

 

Girls Soccer Network

This week I got the opportunity to share some thoughts on self-love and eating disorder prevention with the Girls Soccer Network, an awesome holistic resource for girls who play or love soccer.

In their own words: "Girls Soccer Network is a supportive online community for those who love the beautiful game. We cover the latest in news, style, fitness, well being, entertainment, friendships and all the things that matter most to the young women playing the game at this exciting time."

Team sports offer incredible opportunities for girls to build confidence, strength, skill and friendship. Unfortunately, sometimes unhealthy dynamics in a sports team or with a disordered coach can become extremely dangerous for the mental health of players. My hope is that by reaching out to this community, we can make the fields, pools and stadiums in our communities safe and nurturing places for body, mind and soul.

Please check out the article and share widely with the athletes and sports lovers in your life!

 

It's Eating Disorders Awareness Week

This week I have been thinking a lot about clients that I've worked with who were or are living with eating disorders. Eating disorders make a lot of promises. They might promise happiness, thinness, strength, fulfillment, acceptance, safety, or numbness from unimaginable pain.

Unfortunately, they often deliver a much darker reality. When people choose to seek treatment for eating disorders, it is often because they are afraid. What can start out as appealing, seemingly benign rituals can often morph into a kind of cage, leaving little to no room for relationships, creativity, or activities that used to have meaning. Eating disorders can leave people with loneliness, lies, fear, obsession, and ultimately death.

It takes so much courage to admit to being in pain. It take so much persistence to decide that enough is enough. It takes tremendous faith and trust to reject the promises of an eating disorder and believe that a life worth living can be better achieved in recovery.

Recovery is possible. It's rarely a straight line, and sometimes it's not immediate. But I've absolutely been honored to witness clients stake their claims on life and, with support, hoist themselves forward into a richer life.

So this eating disorder awareness week, I encourage you to think about your relationship with food and your body. I encourage you to reach out to someone you may be worried about. I encourage you to check the body talk and remember that eating disorders impact EVERYONE, including men, older adults, people of color, and individuals of any weight range.

I highly recommend exploring the NEDA website. There you will find resources for screening, for friends and family, and for seeking treatment. And as always, I invite you to follow up with any questions.

 

Writing this with a full heart and tremendous awe for the badass warriors I have known.

 

The Practice

I am thrilled to announce the opening of my private practice in Pasadena. In a cozy office near the Paseo Colorado, I will be offering psychotherapy services to adults, adolescents and couples. As I embark on this new moment in my career, I feel a tremendous sense of excitement, urgency and pride.

Over the last few weeks, the question of values and ethics has been at the front of my mind. I like to think of myself as having strong values as both an individual and a professional, and as such I asked myself what values will guide my practice. As a clinical social worker, I naturally look to the social work code of ethics to guide my practice. There is one particular quote from our professional code that I would like to highlight today:

Value: Dignity and Worth of the Person

Ethical Principle: Social workers respect the inherent dignity and worth of the person.
Social workers treat each person in a caring and respectful fashion, mindful of individual differences and cultural and ethnic diversity.

This principle from the social work code of ethics highlights my responsibility as a psychotherapist to remember that my clients are individuals with innate dignity and wisdom. Additionally, each one of my clients has traveled to this point from unique circumstances that are necessarily different from my own. I believe that this is something to be remembered and celebrated. What a profound thing - to truly, radically commit to sitting with any person as an individual.

So as I invite you to visit me in my new space, I also make a few commitments. I commit to a collaborative approach that honors the unique experience of each person who walks through my door. I commit to an approach that builds on the strengths of my clients and prioritizes learning and growth. I commit to holding my role as a psychotherapist with compassion and humility. I hope that with this value as a cornerstone of the practice, my new space in Pasadena will become a safe place for exploration and healing.