May is Mental Health Awareness Month!
We hear a lot about mental health these days, especially around the impact of COVID and social distancing. The fact is, it’s been rough for many people for a while. COVID has made is harder.
At Avalon, we feel hopeful. We know that research has opened many new, effective pathways for healing mental health challenges over the past twenty years. We know more about human development and the impact of trauma, as well as how to treat it. Effective therapies continue to evolve and real healing is possible.
A New Model
We are moving from a pathology-based medical model of mental illness to a developmental trauma-based model of mental health care. This means that we asking, “what happened to you?” rather than “what’s wrong with you?”
This shift in understanding means that mental health professionals are listening for the things that happened to people that shouldn’t have. We listen for the things that should have happened, but didn’t. We know that many mental health challenges develop from these experiences. Often, the concerns that bring people to therapy are rooted in coping mechanisms that served them at the time, but are no longer useful. Now, these mechanisms get in the way.
Therapies that are trauma-based, such as Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Internal Family Systems, Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, and several others, work with the brain’s organic healing processes to repair unmet needs and increase mental flexibility and resilience in very real, felt ways for clients.
Many practitioners are excited about the promising research being done today that explores therapies using psychedelics. Medications such as MDMD (Ecstacy) and Psilocybin (Mushrooms) show real promise in the treatment of trauma. It is believed that when these medicines are used as therapy tools by trained professionals, they quiet the Default Neural Network in the brain which allows the client and therapist to quickly facilitate the healing processes of the brain. When followed up with integrative therapy, these treatments are showing real promise to relieve pain and suffering.
Not Me. Us.
This new, developmental framework for understanding mental illness and therapy requires that we recognize how interconnected we are with each other. There are many systems that impact our lives. The mental health impact of oppressive systems on women, children, BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color), LGBTQIA+ Folx, Disabled Folx, Fat Folx, and the many who identify with multiple oppressed identities, cannot be ignored. We belong to each other. It’s not “my mental health.” It’s “our mental health.”
This “we and us” not “me and my” perspective on mental health speaks to a fundamental truth of our human experience: we need each other. Just like all other mammals, we need safe, secure connection to each other in order to have good mental health. As Brene Brown, PhD says, “we are wired for connection.” Our problems lie in our disconnection from ourselves and each other. Experiences that reconnect us, internally and with other people, is a primary source of our healing.
Having good body image…means letting go.
For most people, especially female-identified people, we want good body image, by having a “good” body.
This “good” body has all the “right” numbers (weight/size/height).
This “good” body has the “right” hair, eyes, skin, nails, feet, chest, and even genitals.
This “good” body is strong, flexible, abled, healthy, and perfect.
We wake up each day, clinging to the dream of having this “good” body.
Why wouldn’t we?
“Good” bodies get all the social goodies, right?
“Good” bodies get social, economic, and reproductive power.
“Good” bodies are revered.
“Good” bodies slip, sinewingly (yes, it’s a made up word), past rejection, ridicule, discrimination, and even violence without a thought.
“Good” bodies are loved, not abandoned.
“Good” bodies don’t get revenge, they are revenge.
“Good” bodies can go anywhere, wear anything, and talk to anyone.
“Good” bodies make the person good enough.
“Good” bodies never scar, never stretch, never stink, never wrinkle, never get hairy (here or there), never age, never get sick…do “good” bodies never die?
“Good” bodies are never sad, mad, or scared.
“Good” bodies are madly in love and have the best sex.
“Good” bodies are never down.
For “good” bodies, everything is wonderful.
Who wouldn’t want a “good” body?
Most people do.
Many people spend their whole lives dedicated to acquiring a “good” body in every way that money can buy.
Many people are so fiercely devoted to this pursuit that to suggest otherwise is inconceivable.
What if, despite what every diet program, workout regimen, fitness influencer, commercial, or “healthy lifestyle” coach tells us,…
You and I and everyone will never, ever have a “good” body.
With a lot of money, time, attention, and obsession, can we fly higher into that sun?
But, at what cost?
Is it ever good enough?
Do we ever arrive?
If, after all of that effort, we touch the sun, what does it take to stay there?
Is it a life a body wants to live?
That’s the thing about bodies, they don’t care about being “good.”
Bodies care about being alive.
Bodies care about getting enough to eat.
Bodies care about getting enough rest.
Bodies care about touch and other bodies.
Bodies care about joy and laughter and the richness of life.
Bodies work hard to carry us through life and they just want to be loved by their inhabitants.
Afterall, when we judge, criticize, ridicule, and hold with disdain this and that about our bodies…who is it we’re talking to?
Who receives these harsh, unrelenting words?
It’s our own vulnerable selves, sister.
Deep in the quiet of our bodies lives our own, perfect self, just wanting to be loved exactly as she is without the slightest concern for her body…
And it isn’t the love of others that she seeks.
No, it is the warm, kind, gentle affection of ourselves that we long for most.
You see, good body image isn’t about believing you have a “good” body.
Good body image is about letting go of the dream of all that we imagine a “good” body will give us.
It is a tall order.
Having stared into the sun for so long, we are blind to all that we have been missing.
We have not been able to see that the love we seek is already ours to give.
We have not been able to see that what we truly, deeply long for is acceptance, connection, meaning, and purpose.
The pursuit of a “good” body can look an awful lot like each of those things.
It is not.
Good body image is about letting go.
Good body image is about knowing that the body holds your precious self and it is not your self.
Good body image is about living in connection through your body not because of your body.
Good body image is about a definition of health that includes many ways of practicing well-being, not simply the pursuit of a “good” body.
Good body image is being willing to turn away from that sun and believe that when our eyes adjust, there will be a whole universe of life and love to discover.
All bodies are good bodies. Right now.
Love is both a feeling and an action.
Many people describe love as a feeling of warmth in their heart, chest, or stomach.
We often feel a sense of affection for the object of our love. We reach out to touch, caress, hug, hold, pat, kiss, and otherwise be near this person or pet. Healthy attachment is regulating to our nervous system.
Those warm feelings feel like safety and yumminess.
We need, and can have, many different forms of love in our lives.
Love for a partner.
Love for a child.
Love for a friend.
Love for a sister/brother/parent/cousin/grandparent/etc.
Love for a pet.
Love for a person or people we serve.
Love for someone we’ve lost.
Love for someone we’ve found.
Love for time we share with someone who shares an interest.
Love for our colleagues.
Love for a hobby or passion.
Love for a time that once was.
Love for the hope of what will be.
Love for who we were.
Love for who we are.
Love for whom we may become.
Many of us learned we were unlovable.
Many of us decided then to un-love ourselves first before we could be taken by surprise by those who would reject us. This un-love, this fear, this strategy became True and we were divided.
When seeking to return to love of ourselves, acceptance feels frightening and we rebel against it.
Start by accepting THAT you don’t accept. Accept fear. Accept pain. Accept sinking doubt, searing shame, the desperate desire to hide. Accept that you don’t know how to accept.
Ah, yes. This is what’s here right now.
You may find that with this little drizzle of acceptance for non-acceptance, there is a little softening and a little relief and the tiniest possibility of acceptance of more of who you are.
Love, acceptance and pleasure for someone for who they are right now, is the rain, sun, and soil in which each of us blossoms.
May you reach and stretch for a little of your own sunlight.
May you drink from the well of your own affection.
May you eat from the table of your own acceptance.
May you feel yourself blossom right where you are, no matter how imperfect the conditions.
With Love and Yumminess,
Today, and every day, resolve to love yourself better.
Loving ourselves does not mean we “think we’re so great,” or that we recite empty affirmations about our vague worth or likableness.
True, radical self-love is the practice of slowly and gently changing the way we talk to ourselves, the story we believe about ourselves, the expectations we have of ourselves. We do not have to live with self-aggression to be motivated to change. We do not have to become less of who and what we are in order to be worthy.
True, radical self-love means getting up each day and deciding to see ourselves as the vulnerable, needy, child that we are longing for acceptance, longing for approval, begging for permission. To. Just. Be.
There are many cultural traditions around self-denigration. We confuse humility with low self-worth. We confuse self-sacrificing giving to others with love.
We are not at our best when we don’t feel safe in our inner world. Self-criticism might feel comfortably familiar, but it is not safe. We’ve simply internalized the self-aggression of others and made it our own.
Yet, our young inner selves, now hidden deep in the being of a performative adult, longs for that adult to turn inward, to see her. Really SEE her. Acknowledge her vulnerability. Speak to his fear and his need. Slow down and give space for the truth of their very reasonable longing for compassion, comfort, and protection.
This type of love looks simply like stopping in the middle of the day, placing a hand on your chest, closing your eyes, and saying, “Yes. This work/parenting/event IS scary. Yes. Of course I feel this way. And I can slow down and breathe. I can let you know that you are not bad, no matter what happens. It is ok that the house is a mess. There isn’t enough time to do it all. We are just one doing the best we can.”
By doing this kind of in-the-moment, spot-check, radical self-love, we can, stitch-by-stitch, repair our relationship with ourselves and create the happiness and contentment we have so longed for.
We find that as we trust ourselves more and fear less, we no longer need many of the strategies we tried so hard to beat out of ourselves. We become more of the best of who we are and find that the best of who we are is truly all of who we are.
Today, and every day, resolve to love yourself better.