Becoming Comfortable with Change

My wife laughed when she saw the title of this post. She knows that my number one pet peeve is when a store rearranges its shelves. I’ve reflected on this, and determined that there are two reasons it irritates me. The first is that it takes me longer to find what I came to buy. I don’t want to wander around your store endlessly searching for things that, just one day earlier, I could find in my sleep. That’s the second reason I despise store resets – I know they are manipulating me, hoping that in wandering around searching for the things I want I will find other things that I will buy. What they don’t know is that on principle I never buy any extra items after they shuffle things around. Take that, you retail bastards!

We all resist change to one degree or another. It upsets our routines, or our understanding of our world, or our sense of safety, and so we push back. Consider the Buddhist teaching that says everything changes all the time. Some of those changes are so insignificant we don’t even notice them. Consider that dust settles constantly in whatever room you are sitting in reading this post, and you aren’t even aware of it. Other change we welcome. If you are sick right now, you would welcome the change of recovery. None of us get too upset that new mail comes to our mailbox regularly, unless it contains a jury duty notification. Then there are the bigger changes that we despise. Someone close to us loses a job, or is getting divorced, or receives a bad diagnosis at the doctor. Our world is turned upside down, and we cry out against change. How could this be? How could this happen to him/her/us/me?

It helps to work with change before a big change comes along and knocks us onto our heels. We can take a few moments at the end of our day to reflect on what changed today. Did we fill up our gas tank? Stop at the store? Get a day older? If every night we make a list of five to ten things that changed today, we will gradually come to see that change is constant. Of course, when we receive devastating news we will still be upset – but we won’t be asking ourselves “how could this happen?” We will understand that everything changes all the time, and that knowledge will free us energetically to respond to the demands of our new situation.

Trauma and A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far is a World War II movie about an Allied offensive that tried, as the title

a bridge too far poster

implies, to go a bit too far. Released in 1977, I loved this movie – but I probably wasn’t aware of all of the reasons I loved it. Elliott Gould was definitely not one of the reasons I loved it. For those too young to know, Elliott Gould was an earlier incarnation of Jeff Goldbloom – the kind of guy some women seem to love, but who most men would prefer to bitch slap until he cries, force him to wear a tutu, and then make him get us a beer. I digress, however.

Those of us who are trauma survivors are only too aware of the mentality that launched this offensive in WWII. In fact, if we could go back in time and examine the histories of those who pushed these kinds of overly ambitious plans into action, I would wager we would find more than a few trauma survivors among them. In a much more pedestrian way, those of us in civilian life who have endured trauma frequently push ourselves toward a bridge too far, failing to respect our limits because we have been taught to ignore them. If taking the dog for a two mile walk is good, then taking her for a four mile walk is twice as good, and an eight mile walk even better. Never mind that after eight miles our feet (and quite possibly the dog’s) will be blistered and bloodied. Never mind that we will be so stiff the next morning that we will walk as if we’ve spent the night riding a horse.

a-bridge-too-far-lg
Elliott Gould.

Trauma survivors tend to be disconnected from our bodies in varying degrees because we have been taught that bodies and feelings don’t matter. Only appeasing our abusers mattered. I sailed through basic training because no matter how many screaming lunatics in military uniforms and smokey the bear hats you lined up, they had nothing on my family of origin. In fact, they reminded me of Elliott Gould. As I see it, the biggest problems for trauma survivors as they move through life is that (1) we don’t respect ourselves, and (2) because of that we are easily manipulated.

elliot gould
Elliott Gould

When you are in your twenties you may be able to literally run through walls, but by your forties you start bouncing off them. We may not respect our limits, but at a certain point in our life cycle the universe starts enforcing them. Wherever we are on life’s journey, now is the time to start listening to our bodies and our feelings. If we don’t know how, a good therapist can help us. Living life while disconnected is not living a full life. In fact, it will make us reach for A Bridge Too Far.

God: No Test, No Plan!

I know I have written about this before, but since the whole world apparently doesn’t follow my blog so it needs to be covered again. Please share this freely, it is so very important…

If you know someone who is suffering for any reason and they tell you about it, there are some things you should never say. Certain segments of religion, primarily Christianity, have developed some pat answers for such situations. While these little tidbits of advice are often offered by well-meaning people, they are horrifying. These ideas are terribly bad theology, and they are nothing anyone should ever say to someone they care about. They are popular things to say because we are uncomfortable with hearing people express their emotions, especially if those emotions are painful. Here they are:

karlinbed1. “God is testing you.” Equally bad is its corollary, “God has a plan.” Here is what the person hears when you say either of those: God is really just messing with you right now for God’s entertainment. Your pain and your suffering are just entertainment for God, who may or may not relent at some point, depending on how God’s mood swings. You need to just shut up and put up with it, or it is proof you don’t have faith. I am frankly amazed that more people spouting this tripe don’t lose friends over it. A God who would mess with people for his own amusement would be a terrorist and no God at all. Someone who is suffering is in distress, and your cheerful willingness to identify God as the source of their distress is not only profoundly insensitive but it also has the potential of taking away from them any solace their faith may provide in difficult moments! When you cast God as a kind of cosmic Pol Pot rather than a loving God of comfort, you may well take away the only resource they have left.

2. “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” I hate to break it to you, but the person already has more than they can handle or they wouldn’t be suffering! What’s more, the next verse finishes the thought and says that God will provide the suffering person the resources they need to make it through. Here’s a newsflash – that resource is partly you, but if you are shutting down the suffering person with one of these terrible little truisms then you are in no position to be a helpful resource! In fact, you are actually inflicting harm by indirectly telling the person you don’t care to listen to them.

A Better Approach

1. Close mouth, open ears. What a suffering person needs most of all is for people to listen and understand. What’s more, the truth is that we really don’t have the resources to fix the person’s problem anyway – but we can listen.  We can also empathize, we can say we understand what they are saying, we can say things like “that must be hard.” What we shouldn’t do is pretend that we know their experience, unless we have had that same o-comforting-a-friend-facebookexperience ourselves. If our friend says something we don’t understand, we can ask for clarification. In short, we can be supportive while not being dismissive; listen without feeling compelled to offer explanations or to fix anything.

2. Get used to talking about feelings with someone you trust. It’s the best practice for those moments when a friend or loved one comes to us in their suffering. Also, know that if you are listening to someone who is suffering and it gets to be too much, it’s perfectly alright to say you need to take a break for a few minutes.

3. Practice sitting in a room with someone you trust without either of you speaking. This is great practice for being with someone who just needs company but doesn’t feel like talking. When we are suffering, we all have times when we just don’t want to be alone but also don’t want to talk about it. Americans are used to sitting in silence with someone, but it’s a great skill to develop. It might help to imagine you are in a library.

4. Give yourself permission to be imperfect. None of us handle these situations perfectly. We all make mistakes. When you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to say so. Your friend will appreciate your honesty. What’s important is making the effort! Your friend will be glad you did, and so will you!

Busy?

Do you find that you never seem to have much, or any, down time? Are you involved in so many activities that it’s hard to keep track of them all? Do you sometimes double-book activities and discover you are supposed to be two places at once?

More importantly, what do you do when you have free time? Do you have any? When you have nothing to do, how does it feel? Do you feel the need to fill that time with an activity? When you walk in you home, do you turn the radio or TV on even if you don’t intend to watch it? How does silence feel to you?

Many people who schedule every moment of their time with an activity are in reality running away from something. They are driven to run and do because on a deep level they are afraid of what might come up if they slowed down. At times like that, a spiritual guide or therapist can help us sort out what’s really going on. The result is that we actually feel better, enjoy the things we choose to do, but no longer feel compelled to keep running. Cilontact me if you would like to chat.