My Journey to Now

I’ve moved a lot, starting when I was six weeks old. (Sometimes others look dizzy when I get out a world map and show them all the places I’ve lived.) This exposed me to people with a vast variety of ethnic backgrounds and social lives. I acquired the ability to tune in, appreciate, and get to know different kinds of people. I am fascinated with how people meet life within their cultural contexts, their family, their community, and as individuals.

As I navigated new places and cultures, I found comfort and inspiration in nature. After high school, my love of wild country motivated me to get a Bachelor’s degree in Forestry, as well as to immerse myself in outdoor recreation.

During my early-twenties, I lived in the wilderness of SE Alaska along the Inside Passage: no neighbors, no electricity, and no running water. I discovered an inner quiet that was fed by the harmony of my surroundings. When friends came 10 miles across water to visit, I often treated them to a sauna and a massage. I emerged from that period wanting to assist people to find more ease in their body and a sense of peace in their being.

A few years later, I had established a thriving massage therapy practice in a university town nestled in the Rocky Mountains. I witnessed in myself and my clients that relaxation is important, but it doesn’t necessarily create positive change. I observed that patterns developed during childhood were brilliant to help us cope in our early environment, but they can become outdated maps that fail to guide us towards well-being. I began to explore “What makes transformation possible? Is it possible?” I came across much that claimed to have easy answers. But I didn’t achieve any major shifts, nor did I witness them in others.

After several years of wanting to conceive and then having a drawn-out miscarriage, I began to tell my friends, “My baby’s still coming. She’s coming in a basket.” Several months later, we adopted our daughter as a newborn infant. (And yes, she arrived in a basket.) I was immediately enrolled in  “Transformation 101.” Along with wanting to be the best mom I could, adoption-issue challenges motivated me to learn about “attachment principles” and how to foster them in myself. For over a decade, I studied, took courses, and worked with an attachment coach. Today, my daughter and I are quite close.  I also have the privilege and joy of my two beautiful granddaughters being a part of my life.

Through our attachment journey, I discovered the relational elements that help wire our brain and nervous system for resilience. Ideally, all humans would have parents who generally provide safety and tuned-in connection– and when they fail, they reconnect with their child and make repair. But any time in life, safe connected relationships can help us grow the ability to more effectively support ourselves, meaningfully relate with others, and adaptively meet life. This is resilience–and this is what I aim to help my clients develop.

When my daughter was a young child, I experienced a tragedy that left me overwhelmed and exhausted by anguish, terror, and physical and emotional trauma. I felt alienated from the world and utterly vulnerable: like I had no skin to protect my nervous system. I was clueless how to navigate back to a sense of safety and normalcy. Nothing in my history had given me the skills I needed to re-enter life with my dismantled beliefs and my new, unwanted reality.

Most of my pre-tragedy map for how to cope with challenge was useless. I did not understand the repercussions of what had happened and how to heal; neither did the many well-meaning health-care professionals with whom I worked. Nowhere within me could I find a hint as to how recovery would ever be possible. “Time is the Great Healer” was not my solution.

My motivation to recover was fueled by my love for my daughter. I desired to heal so I could mother her well. For her, I was determined to model not just surviving, but thriving. I reluctantly embarked on a voyage that would call forth and demand the use of every strength and value that reside in me.

Fortunately, a few significant aspects of my pre-tragedy life carried over: A handful of friends were able to tolerate the discomfort of being around what I lived with, and stuck with me. I also had retained the habits of nourishing self-care around food, exercise, my home environment, and being in nature. In the midst of my vulnerability and confusion, these elements were hugely supportive, but not transformative. They did not build new, adaptive ways of holding my pain while effectively engaging with myself, with others, or with life.

After about a year of fluctuating between turmoil and collapse, I began working with a body-mind trauma-recovery counsellor. As we explored my experience, I soon discovered that no amount of willpower (my personal coping specialty) was going to reorganize my tangled nervous system, rebuild my shattered energetic boundary, or discharge the terror that kept me responding in flight, fight, or shut-down modes.

My counsellor gave me books on trauma resolution that made sense of what was happening with me. I also wrote and sometimes drew pictures to help externalize the inner intensity. One day when I was alone and listening to music, I danced. I began to wonder if perhaps my traumatized condition was not a life sentence.

More than I could bear at first, I gradually developed skills that enabled me to tenderly hold immense pain and remain present. In the midst of loathing what I’d been dealt, I found I could also love and be grateful for what is precious to me. As an antidote to the resentment that was poisoning me, seemingly miraculous moments of self-compassion brought light to my whole being.

My healing process included the growing desire to share what I had received: I envisioned supporting others who were trapped in the trauma tangle, and teaching people who were trying to help them. (Trauma is confusing to all.) I attended several courses on trauma resolution. I became aware of why relational connection is so important for healing, and how restricted relationships often becomes after trauma. I learned about the impact of trauma on the brain and nervous system. I was taught specific tools that can help expand a person’s tolerance for the intensity of what they hold, and eventually reorganize their tangled nervous system into a more coherent state.

Three years after my tragedy, my trauma-resolution teacher asked me to fill in for her: Would I spend a few hours as a companion to a woman who had a recent brain injury? This was my beginning of ten years in rehabilitation support with adults who had acquired traumatic brain injuries. Because of my personal experience and the trauma studies, I knew my clients needed me first to provide safety and respect. I also was aware that our work must be appropriately paced in order for their efforts to be integrated into daily living.

Recovery and adaptation was a difficult process not just for my clients. Their friends and family were at a loss for how to deal with a situation they had never imagined would be their reality. In order to broaden my support, I took a two year life-skills coaching program that provided me with new tools, which I successfully integrated with my clients and their families. I witnessed them engage in their life in ways that they had not envisioned. I also began to help others with issues such as quitting smoking, building a business, clarifying next-steps, family dynamics, and dealing with cancer treatment.

I noticed that people frequently needed more than what coaching offered. Often, they fell back on worn-out coping strategies. Here was that theme again: How do I support transformation? I did not want to fix people or make them into somebody different. I wanted them to harness their already-existing strengths, to live in alignment with what they found important, and to have greater capacity for choice (rather than being locked into automatic behaviours). My professional goal was to find how to help others increase their well-being and create lives that they valued— no matter what they had been dealt. Reflecting on my own experience, I started to comprehend that I had not “transformed” myself; I was “evolving.”  I had not changed into somebody else. I was developing more authentic and effective ways to gracefully receive life’s blessings and meet life’s challenges.

This launched me into several additional educational undertakings: a three-year program in cranial-sacral therapy with a focus on the autonomic nervous system and the social engagement system; a Master’s Degree in Psychology with emphasis on Attachment Theory, Positive Psychology, and Interpersonal Neurobiology; and four years of post-graduate training in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy for trauma recovery and attachment/relational repair. (That’s a mouthful! All of these are explained under: Counselling and Trauma Recovery.) I also immersed myself in the public speaking program Toastmasters International and earned my Competent Communicator credential. I’ve studied mindful self-compassion, and healthy living tools while living with chronic pain. These endeavors grew in me the knowledge, the skills, and the discernment I was searching for.

I currently am a B.C. Registered Clinical Counsellor in private practice. In addition to counselling, I offer massage and enhanced body-awareness sessions, classes, workshops, and personal retreat support. I honor that all people’s journeys unfold in their unique and precious ways. It’s not about eradicating what we don’t like or what we fear. Rather than checking-out or being unkind to ourselves and others because we are overwhelmed, we can learn to reform outdated coping patterns, to stay connected with our experience in the present moment, and to regulate our nervous system. I witness people move from the rigidity and chaos of the trauma tangle, to states of clarity that allow for more empowered action and centered calm. People more gracefully meet life on life’s terms, even when it’s hard.

This is an ongoing process: a lifelong possibility for which I am grateful.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

-Mary Oliver