Change, Grief, and Beauty Among COVID-19

Change is hard.

This time is challenging.   Even for an introvert.  Even for a therapist.  For a human.

At times, the world seems to be spinning.  The ground seems to resemble quick sand.  

What will life be like in the future?  What will life be like tomorrow?

Before I continue, let me say that there are different types of grief, though all grief comes from some form of loss.  Individually, people are experiencing the loss of loved ones, the loss of a job, the loss of connecting with friends.  For this piece, I’m going to focus specifically on societal grief, which incorporates individual griefs coming together as well as the loss of life as we knew it, also known as change.  However, many will find this applicable for various types of grief.

When we talk about grief, many people will most widely know the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her description of the 5 Stages of Grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Can you look back at your own process since the beginning of March when life started to change because of COVID-19? Where are you now?  AND, if you can’t identify with one or any of the stages, that’s okay too.  We’re humans, not machines, and the stages were created as helpful sources of information, not sticky labels.  

Okay, so we have all these uncomfortable feelings like sadness and anger.  But here’s the question:  WHY are we feeling them?

Since this article is a monologue, I’ll just have to tell you:  on the other side of grief is joy, love, happiness, and gratitude.  Grief, sadness, and anger over a loss only comes when we’ve had something, or someone, that also brought us joy and love.  

Martin Pretchel describes this best in his speech “Grief and Praise” which I highly suggest you go find on YouTube after you’re done reading this.  

In our case of the COVID-19 era ,  a lot of us are missing simple things.  Hugging our loved ones. Hugging strangers.  Going out to eat and sitting inside a restaurant. Traveling.  Not just to another country but to the city over. The crying baby sitting a seat over from us on the plane.  Not thinking about and analyzing everything we touch and who might have touched it before us.  Some of these things listed were always great.  Some of them we only realize were great now.  Ahhh, the gift of hindsight.  

The second idea I’m going to ask you to consider is a bit tougher: the possibility that grief and beauty can exist side by side. I remember in early September of last year when I got the call from my mom telling me she had cancer, less than 2 years after we found out my older sister had cancer.  I kept it together on the phone (partially because I was still in shock/denial) and then about a minute after I hung up collapsed to the floor in a pile of tears, snot, and slobber (my dog always licks my face when I cry).  For the next few minutes, I just let myself be consumed in the darkness of grief.  Then, somewhere still in a dark grey haze, I got up and moved.  The next day, I decided to carry on with my plans of running in the Wild Basin area inside of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Suddenly, I was consumed in the beauty of Mother Earth, the Aspen trees just starting to turn gold, the low hanging clouds around the mountains. I smiled.  It was then that I realized that I had the capability of holding both sadness and joy, the darkness and the light, simultaneously.  It was like discovering a new super power.  (Both my mom and sister are still fighting.)

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My guess is that others too have found joy and reasons to be grateful during the past 2 months, in spite of Stay at Home and Safer at Home orders.  Some of us have been able to spend more time with our kids, found time for hobbies from not needing to commute to work, discovered what it feels like to get enough sleep, or even found ways to deeper connect with others by virtual means.  We may have cried and laughed in the same day, in the same hour, even in the same 5 minute span. That is beautiful.  That is being human.  

Now we’re entering into this phase of what people are calling the “New Normal”.  Still, no one actually knows what that looks like.  It feels really unsteady.  But guess what?  You’ve already gone through this stage.  Probably several times.  And if you’re reading this, you’ve made it through.  Every. Single. Time. 

When we look at it more closely, life is actually a series of transitions, essentially leaving behind the old and stepping into the new.  More notable transitions are from adolescence to adulthood, single to married, childless to parenthood.  While I myself am not married or have kids (besides the fur baby), I’ve gone through several transitions in the past year, some unconsciously and some consciously.  The basis for any transition is letting go of the old, or parts of ourselves that no longer serve us, and into the new, be it a time period or more developed part of ourselves.   In Rites of Passage work, there are three stages: severance (letting go), liminal (not who we once were and not yet who we will become), and the incorporation phase (bring our new selves and gifts into the world).

As you’ve probably guessed, as a society we are somewhere in the liminal stage.  The liminal stage is usually the most uncomfortable phase, and it often feels like we are wandering around in a dark forest without a headlamp.  However, we don’t have to stay lost forever.  As soon as we add intention to the liminal stage, it’s like the moon suddenly comes out from behind the clouds. We may still not know exactly where we are going, but we’ve got a light to guide us. I call this the “wanderlust phase” (hence the name of my counseling practice, Wanderlust Counseling).  

We’ve lost pieces of the life we once had and mourned (and may be still mourning) that loss.  Most of us are still somewhere in the 5 stages of grief, but getting closer to acceptance, sometimes still fluctuating back and forth between acceptance and denial (which is totally okay).  With acceptance,  we allow an opening for the new to come in.  The questions then become: “What do we want to invite in?”  “What is our intention?”  “What can we and do we want to create, especially with the gift of hindsight?” 

And I have to wonder, is it just a coincidence that this all occurring in the year 2020?

These are questions that I suggest we all consider individually, but as a society, we can consider them together too.  In the past few weeks, I’ve heard the terms “The Coronation” and “The Great Realisation” where the writers contemplate things like waste, pollution, consumption (of goods and animals),  technology, communication and what is truly meaningful.  What do we want for our Earth?  What do we want for future generations?  How do we want to live our lives going forward?

I know most of us reading this don’t have nationwide political influence.  But many of us may have influence in our communities, or workplaces, our families, and in our own choices.  And so, when you are ready, I ask you to consider the main question in the last stage of transition, incorporation:  What gifts do you have to bring to the world? Because we come together with our gifts, we open up to the possibility of something more, maybe something better.  .

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” 

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

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These Winter Winds

These winter winds

That lay deep inside

Amongst the stillness

They howl and rage

From the northwest

Caressing the mountaintops

An extra layer of ice

Blowing through my soul

Or with my soul

Stirring thoughts around

Harsh against my skin

Awakening the heart

Eventually

They quiet down

Until there’s on a wisp of drifting snow

A whisper

The Earth is never dead

Just resting

Just dreaming

And so She hums

A lullaby

Not into my ear

Into me

I watch the clouds move over a bright sliver of moon

Yes, my own too will pass.

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A Call for Connection and Community

*I originally started writing this post as an article for my local paper several weeks back…and then, well, I fell off track.  I finally finished getting my thoughts together and decided to post it here instead.

The other day, my partner and I were having a discussion on the mental health impacts of social distancing among people in the community.  Actually, as a mental health professional, I lean towards the term “physical distancing” simply to highlight the fact that humans need social connection, even if it’s in alternate forms than what we’re used to.  

That’s not to say we can’t all benefit from some solitude, especially in nature (I’m a nature-based therapist after all!). I’m guessing a lot of people in the Estes Park community have spent days to weeks by themself in nature as a way to renew their spirits.  Still, we come back to people, community, the deep belly laughs we can only share in the presence of other kindred spirits.  While Henry David Thoreau may have “went to the woods to live deliberately” he hardly did so without the companionship of friends and visitors.

What happens in the absence of connection?  Depression, anxiety, addiction…

One of my favorite mental health quotes is found in the book “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs” by Johan Hari where he said “The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s connection.”  

You see, humans are wired for intimate human relationships.  

As infants, we learn soothing techniques from our parents.  When a baby cries, the parent goes to comfort the baby. This often includes holding the baby close to the skin.  In this moment, the hormone oxytocin (to name one) is released, which reduces stress levels and allows the infrant to feel safe.  As we age and form more bonds through relationships, we still have chemical responses.  Oxytocin, dopamine, (natural) opioids are released, combining to give us feelings of security and love. 

Personally, as someone who has a naturally sensitive nervous system, I need these bonds to help me feel connected and to help regulate my emotions.  For example, if I’m in tears, whether from receiving bad news or from watching a sad movie, my dog inevitably comes over and starts licking my face.  Not only does this help me take the edge off my sadness, but it usually makes me laugh until I’m one blubbering, giggily, sniffling mess. Still, as much as I love my dog, I need human companionship too.  When I come home anxious from what I perceived to be a stressful trip to the grocery store, or from spending too much time on social media, spending a few minutes talking to my partner or relaxing in his embrace can bring my heart rate back down.  In other words, he helps regulate my nervous system.  (The catch is that this works best when the “listener” stays relatively calm.  If both people are feeling dysregulated, it may be best to take a break.)  

When touch isn’t an option, simply expressing our worries can be therapeutic in any relationship.  Expressing our fears and worries to others, even when hearing the same fears and worries back, can help us feel like we are not alone.  

Humans also have these neat things called “mirror neurons”.  Have you ever watched one of your favorite athletes win a big match or race?  Did you watch as they cried happy tears as they tried to talk to a reporter minutes after the victory?  Did you start crying too?  Well, that’s because mirror neurons are at play.  Watching someone else’s facial emotions may illicit similar feelings in yourself.  So even if we can’t be with our friends or loved ones physically, seeing their face via Skype, Zoom, Facetime, etc. may be enough to restore a feeling of connectedness.  Additionally, even hearing the voice of a friend can bring forth positive emotions.  

Psychoeducation behind us, I’ll come back to our main point: we need connection and community now more than ever.   

So what is connection?

In technical terms, it simply means being joined or linked together.  In terms of human relationship and what we need to thrive, I’m going to add the words love, empathy, sacred, and shared humanity.  Then the definition for human connection becomes: A sacred unity that revolves around love, empathy, and a shared humanity.  (Again, I’m an animal and nature lover, so truly I rather use “shared living experience” but I don’t want to lose anyone or go on too much of a tangent.)

Community has a few different pieces to its definition, but in the case of Estes Park, the basic definition would include a body of people living within a defined area.  But aren’t we more than that?  We may have different interests and beliefs, but through our shared connection we can conjure up something much stronger.  Truly, for me being part of a community means being something bigger than myself.  On the hard days, knowing that is what helps me pull through.  

Most of us have already found ways to connect using technological means: Skype, Facetime, text, phone calls, taking virtual classes, etc.  I’m personally a big fan of old-fashioned letter writing too (taking proper precautions of course).  Still, that’s not all we can do.  When we pass people on the bike path or in the grocery store, we can look them in the eye, as if saying “I see and acknowledge you.”  We can smile at them (true smiles come from the eyes) as if to say “I’m glad you’re part of this community.” When we speak, especially with those who have different viewpoints of us, we can check within ourselves to make sure we are speaking from our hearts.  Then, not only seeing and speaking but acting.  We change our attitude from “there might not be enough for everyone, so I’m going to make sure I have all that I need to survive, to something that more closely  resembles the famous phrase of the three musketeers “all for one, and one for all.”  When we look at each other as fellow community members, we lose the illusion of the separate self and that we must do it all on our own.  Instead, we trust that there will always be a hand to pull us back up, and a promise we’ll do the same when it’s our turn to share our own blessings.  

“When I confront a human being as my Thou and speak the basic word I-Thou to him, then he is no thing among things nor does he consist of things. He is no longer He or She, a dot in the world grid of space and time, nor a condition to be experienced and described, a loose bundle of named qualities. Neighborless and seamless, he is Thou and fills the firmament. Not as if there were nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light.” Martin Buber

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(Me and a bunch of other goofballs who decided to get together for a very snow run in December.)

OCD Nation: Are We All Destined to Become OCD?

Here’s my short answer:  NO.

First of all, no one can actually be OCD, although someone can have OCD.

But let’s backtrack a bit.  What actually is OCD? OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is “a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.”

We tend to throw around the acronym OCD a lot.  Sometimes, we’re partially accurate in describing the low-end of the spectrum, such as when someone needs his books in perfect order on the shelf or uses hand sanitizer everytime she shakes a few hands.  Other times, we’re much less accurate, like when we say it to describe someone who always goes back to check to make sure their car door is locked. That actually has to do more with conscious memory. A lot of times when we go to lock our door, or put down our keys, we’re thinking about 10 other things and don’t consciously think about the action we’re doing. We’re so distracted that we don’t even remember doing it, so we go back and check.  Really, this is more of a lesson in staying present.  

I could go into a bit more of what qualifies as diagnosable OCD according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders-5 (DSM-V), but honestly, I don’t love using the DSM-V and I don’t want to bore you.  The main thing you need to know is that what constitutes for clinical concern is when the behavior or habit negatively impacts a person’s everyday life. For example, if someone’s habit to keep his bookshelf in perfect order makes him feel better, even if it seems over-the-top to others, I’d consider it a positive or neutral coping mechanism.  On the other hand, if someone needs to switch a light on and off 7x, or clean their house all day to make sure there is not a speck of dust on any surface, even if no one is coming over, and their thoughts are telling them they have to do this even though they’d rather go spend time with a friend, then I’d probably want to work with them figure out the better coping tools and see what’s at root of their habits.

Now that we have a little bit better understanding of OCD, let’s apply this to COVID-19.  Right now, most of us are on high alert in fear we’ll come into contact with the virus. We’re washing our hands more, carefully dis-infecting our packages, keeping physical distance, covering our faces with masks, etc.  This is all important, and taking action to prevent ourselves from getting sick may actually help reduce anxiety.  But what happens when this is all done? (It will be, eventually.*)

*There may be a “new normal”, but we have the opportunity to make it a better normal.  A bit more on that topic below.

We can acknowledge the good take-a-ways.  Most of us, including myself, can afford to wash their hands a bit more and for a bit longer.  Some of us can learn to be a bit more diligent about coughing or sneezing into a tissue or their elbow rather than into open air.  

Also, a lot of us may remember from school that there’s a lot of good germs (bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa) out there. Actually, as a nature-based therapist, I recommend digging your hand into the soil (some studies say that soil can act as an antidepressant).

So what’s going to keep us from compulsively washing and sanitizing our hands or obsessively thinking that everytime we go out we may contract a deadly virus?

Knowledge. Choice. Courage. Love.

Let me clarify, for someone who has a clinical form of OCD, it’s hardly a choice.  It is, however, a fear-based coping mechanism that has roots, often in some traumatic experience.  We also know that the symptoms of OCD can be greatly reduced with exposure and talk therapy. 

* While many people do find our current pandemic traumatic, by working with our emotions and thoughts in the now, we can limit it’s impact on our mental health.

What irks me the most when I hear others say that “we’re all going to be OCD after this…” (besides the “be” vs. “have” part) is that it ignores human resilience.  By saying everyone is destined to be OCD removes our ability to choose our paths forward. Sure, there are some things beyond our control, but whether it is by our actions, attitudes, or responses, we always have a choice.  As Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Victor Frankle said “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

For us, if we can step away from our fear for a moment, we have the ability to look at our options for the future.  To step back from our fear, we must first realize what it is: a natural and primal response to a threat. It activates our flight, fight, freeze response, which is a great response if we’re being attacked by a large predator, not so much if for an invisible-to-the-human-eye virus. In the brain, intense reactions to fear stem from the amygdala, while our prefrontal cortex, the thinking, rational part of our brain, goes offline. In order to get back into a prefrontal cortex, we often need to do an activity that helps us relax.  There’s a ton of options, but physical exercise, deep breathing, going outside, and journaling are the tools I most often share with clients.

When we give ourselves this space, we can then start asking ourselves questions like: What does the science say about the spread of germs?  How do we want to live our life and what is important to us? What behaviors are helpful, and what behaviors keep us from truly living? Collectively, are there any actions we can take to mitigate another pandemic or similar event? (Ex: Vote!)

That fear may still be there.  It may not leave for a while. But remember, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” (Franklin D. Roosevelt).

If the fear and anxiety seem like too much right now, it also takes courage to ask for help.  Actually, asking for help may be the most courageous act of all, so I encourage you to talk to a friend or seek out a therapist. 

To end, my friends, wash your hands (20-30 seconds is just fine!), but remember to take the courage with you that lives deep inside your hearts.   

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Trying to keep your house nearly dust free with a dog, especially when you live on a dirt hill= impossible!

Rants of a Therapist: Stop Using #SocialDistancing

It’s not that I don’t get the term…though it’s not super scientific (more on that below).

It’s that it’s anti-therapeutic.

Social distancing does NOT = equal social isolation. 

Unfortunately it seems like the equation some people are using is that social distancing = social isolation.  And THAT is making people sick.

Maybe not physically sick, not at first.  First it’s sad, lonely, anxious, depressed.  But the physical symptoms do come in.  It might be tired, lethargic, or a racing heart.  And eventually that could lead to a weaker immune system.

Let’s back up for a moment and look at the history of social distancing.

When I first heard the term in early March, it appeared to mean avoiding large social gatherings.  That made sense.  And then it transgressed to basically avoiding contact with all people, keeping a minimum of a 6ft distance between you and the nearest person.

Now I’m not disagreeing with that policy.  I mean, I’m a mental health therapist, not a scientist.  BUT that’s PHYSICAL DISTANCING.  It doesn’t say we can’t talk to each other, that we can smile at others and send all the good vibes we can.  And for our close friends and family who may live in the same household, or who we know have done everything they can to practice good hygiene, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hug them tighter than ever.

I’ll get into the importance human connection more in a later post, so for now I’ll just say human evolution is based on it (and I’m not just talking about reproduction.)

Now if  we dig into Google Search a little more, things get really interesting.  When I first searched for “social distancing definition” the first definition I can across was from Wikipedia! What’s more interesting is that I just did a quick search again (March 30, 2020), and there’s now 99 references and requests for updates, including a request to change the definition to physical distancing!

On March 16, 2020 Merriam-Webster.com came out with their definition: the practice of maintaining a greater than usual physical distance from other people or of avoiding direct contact with people or objects in public places during the outbreak of a contagious disease in order to minimize exposure and reduce the transmission of infection.

Where Merriam-Webster.com really helped was a note at the bottom that said the first known use of social distancing was in 2003.  That search led me to a great piece of research by David M. Bell and the World Health Organization on SARS: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3329045/.  In their research overview, they didn’t use use social distancing as a definition. What they did use a few times was: measures to “increase social distance”.

Look, I get that #socialdistancing may sound like a cool buzz word/phrase to use and that not everyone is using in the wrong way.  However, it’s time we really start to really rise above buzz words and bumper stick quotes and actually starting thinking about the words we use.  Because it’s not just semantics.  It’s peoples’ health (mental and physical), happiness, and lives.

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For more on the links between connection and mental health: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MB5IX-np5fE

How to Manage Anxiety About the Coronavirus

First of all, let me highlight the title of this article “How to Manage Anxiety About the Coronavirus.”  The key word here is “manage”, both because the article cannot offer a miracle cure, but also because anxiety in itself is not a bad feeling.  In fact, anxiety is often a form of protection. It’s what we do with our anxiety and how we respond to events that matter.

Briefly, let’s take a look at what anxiety/fear/worry/stress is.

Even though we live in the year 2020, our brain still acts as if we lived in the Stone Age when under threat.  For example, if we were being chased by a bear, it would immediately tell us to go into a flight, fight, or freeze response depending on which action would be most likely to keep us alive.  Then, after the situation was over and we made it out alive, our brain would tell us that we were out of immediate danger and our body would relax.* 

*The freeze response is a little bit different, but for the sake of brevity in this article, I won’t go into detail here. 

Now looking at the coronavirus, or COVID-19, we can see that it brings with it the additional issues of being a long-term and uncertain event that makes direct action difficult.  However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things we can do. In fact, our anxiety has most likely already been a protective factor, making us more mindful of frequent hand-washing and keeping us away from physical contact with people we don’t know.  In other words, thank your anxiety!

Still, we don’t want to let our anxiety get out of hand, making us react rather than respond or completely take control of our thoughts.  When I’m feeling anxious or worried, I like to ask myself a few questions in addition to what we just covered.

  • What part of the worry is realistic?  What is unrealistic? (Many of us tend to instantly go to the worst case scenario, without knowing the facts or taking into account how resilient we are.)
  • What can you control?  What is out of your control?
  • For what you can control, what actions are possible?  (More on these last two in a bit!)

Okay, we’ve broken down some of the basics around anxiety, so let’s move on to other actionable steps specifically related to the coronavirus. 

  • Practice social distancing, but make sure you connect!  This means talking to family and friends who you love and feel safe speaking to.  Even if we are all feeling a little anxious, talking to others we love can help us regulate emotions and let us know we are not alone.
  • If you need additional help sorting through your thoughts and emotions, reach out to a therapist.  Many therapists are currently offering teletherapy sessions for clients.
  • Get your news from reputable sources.  For information on the virus and the best ways to protect yourself and others, the best source is the CDC.
  • Limit your screen time.  This includes social media and the news.  Pertaining to social media, there is a lot of misinformation out there, as well as a lot of well-intentioned friends continually participating in re-active posting that can elevate our anxiety.  As for news, even if it is 100% trustworthy, our minds and bodies need a break from the constant flow of information, especially before bed time. This is going to be different for everyone, especially due to different jobs, but I would try to keep social media use down to 20 minutes per day and news to 1 hour per day.
  • Don’t rush into big decisions.  At Girls on the Run, we teach “Stop and Take a BrThRR” (Stop, Breathe, Think, Respond, Review).  This will keep us from thinking with our primal brain and back into our prefrontal cortex, the rational part of our brain.
  • Make time to let your body calm down.  This may mean time outdoors, Yoga, or meditation.  In particular, body-centered meditations that guide you through relaxing each body part will be particularly helpful during this time and many great videos can be found on YouTube.
  • When possible, take action. For many of us, this is as simple as washing our hands, covering coughs and sneezes with tissues or your elbow, avoiding close contact with people we don’t know, and seeking medical care early if sick.  For those of us who may be feeling sick, your best action is truly to self-quarantine and get better! (Also, I still recommend connection, even if it is through FaceTime or Skype…we need each other!) For those of us who are healthy and have time, we can be helpers in our community, offering to get our more vulnerable neighbors groceries, shoveling driveways when it snows, etc.
  • Find the light in the darkness.  Laughing and doing things we enjoy does not mean we are ignoring the immensity of our current situation.  As human beings, we have the capability and capacity to hold the good and the bad. In order to keep the bad from overwhelming us, it is even more important that we find the enjoyment of playing board games with our family, taking a solitary stroll outside, or read that book we’ve been meaning to get to. 
  • Finally, just be kind!  Smile at others. Be mindful when shopping and your impact on others.  Support local businesses while continuing to care for the earth. Truly, the health and well-being of our community does not lie in the false notion of  “survival of the fittest” but “survival of the kindest.” 

Estes Valley, we are “Mountain Strong.”

Ray Nypaver

Owner of Wanderlust Counseling

 

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Growing Up (in the) Church

Preface:  These thoughts come to me in the midst of a new, budding relationship.  Yes, there is a “new Boy” who’s been nothing but kind and thoughtful.  Still, it’s been a hesitation of mine from the start that he “identifies” as Catholic.  I know identifies is a funny thing to say in defining someone’s religious choice, but for me he’s not the Catholic I grew up with—he’s more of the John Pavlovitz type—to the point where there are times that I want to say to him, “You’re not really Catholic then.”  In my mind, to at least help me make sense of it all for now, I’ve divided it up to the Catholic Church as a business, and Catholic the religious practice.  But to back track a bit, he’s seems (and has stated) that he genuinely does not care that I identify as spiritual.  Which makes me question if I am hypocritical in my own spirituality that I do question the sustainability of our relationship because of our beliefs.  I won’t let myself completely off the hook with that thought, as I do want to make sure that I don’t deny others of the religious and spiritual freedom that I was denied growing up.  However, I do want to acknowledge the weight and heaviness of the religion classes and lectures I sat through as a kid.  I thought I had processed it all before this relationship, but it seems that the Universe is offering me a new challenge.  As a brief example (with the rest being in metaphor below)…I’ve felt the need to bring up things that I normally would not want to do so early in a relationship so the new Boy has a clear idea of what he is getting himself into.   After much stumbling on my words, I told him I had no plans to ever get married (leaving out that if I ever change my mind, I want to get married outside the confines of four walls and by a woman).  I can’t blame all of that on the Catholic Church…part of it has to do with my parents’ divorce, my young and married uncle dying before turning 30, and the narrative I created in childhood around that.  But there is the religion class where we were told that the obligation in marriage was to procreate…and while I love kids I’ve never wanted them for myself (plus, Pacer is the best little girl I could ask for!).  And the whole “two become one” thing always seemed skewed in the man’s favor.  Finally, there’s the whole patriarchal and oppression thing that surrounds most religions…but that’s been written about more eloquently by others, so I’ll end this very long preface now.

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I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe

I try to cry

But I am drowning

Cleansed, I hear them say

But from a made up sin I did not commit

My clothes are white

But then my body grows, and its back to black

I run down the street on wobbly legs

I’m screaming:

Hear me

See me

Acknowledge me

All heads turn the other way.

I am but a ghost.  A Ghost?

No, for I am a woman.

I trip and fall.

I am but a ghost with bloody knees

Is this my cross to bear?

I choose to wear only bones

To be more like a Man or further hidden,

I no longer know.

Still, without this chest

Without my life-giving blood flow

There’s less force to do the things that I am told

Like my body is only for him

And the children to come after

For that is what is required for me to become seen

If I am good

Am I good?

It is only years later that I inhabit my body again

That I realize it wants to sing, to dance

To come forth as only the feminine spirit can

So I choose to run

And run

And run

Miles, valley, rivers, and mountains later

I break free of the chains, my cross

Finally, I have found my Heaven within.

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The evening after writing this, I cam across this amazing video: Be a Lady They Said

 

 

Conversations with the Mountains: Stop Playing It Small

And the mountains said to me:

Stall tall, stand strong.

In our shadows we’ve humbled and strengthened you.

Each summit you’ve earned.

Together we’ve weathered the storms.

Small in stature does not mean small of heart.

Pretending slightness does not serve you,

Nor does it serve us.

For we are not apart.

The scar on your left shin,

A symbol of what you’ve left, what we’ve left in you,

The blood bond that can not be broken.

Our magma core, the power of our love.

Your power to shine.

Like a wildflower growing between the rocks.

The freedom of flight in your wings, no longer climbing but flying between peaks.

With the strength of the mountains, you will soar.

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I Worship with the Trees

I worship with the trees

Everyday, we whisper our praises to the wind

So our prayers of peace may spread

No four walls can contain the magnitude of our love

 

To whom do we worship?

Not a whom or a what

For the too trained mind, we fear you may not see

 

I worship with the trees

We stand tall with our roots, connections to our tribe

We give glory to the birds, nesting in our branches, whose wings grant us higher perspective

 

I worship with the owls

Together we hoot and holler as we

Welcome another starry night

As the deer nest in the fallen leaves below us

 

I worship with the stars

We shine bright as we look down at the lovers staring back up at us

We send our light to them, so filled with hope, despite the surrounding darkness

We, the beacons that will allow us all to find our way home

 

I worship with the mountains, strong and steadfast

We welcome each season, rejoicing in the hot summer sun, 

The changing leaves of fall.

The blanket snow of winter, 

The sweet rains of Spring. 

 

I worship with the rivers, the rivers that carry our tears away

We shout with joy as our grief turns into mighty waters of something more

We watch with wonder as our tears give reason for the wildflowers to grow

 

I worship with the wildflowers

We turn our faces to the sun, soaking in its warmth

We grow as hues deepen, and celebrate the insects who feed from our sugars

 

I worship with the dogs

We run wild and free on trails that run high and deep

We renew our faith with cool sips of snowmelt

 

I worship with the Sky

We part the clouds and with the show of our rays we praise all that lives below

Could we love more? 

Mother Earth in all Her beauty…

 

I worship with the Earth

We stare up at the endless Father Sky, where possibility hides

We rejoice and cry with our children wandering our plains and valleys

 

I worship with the humans

We laugh and celebrate at the kinship, the strength, a simple touch can bring

We share our secrets, our fears, our ideas, our dreams, our love

 

I worship with the trees

The angels of the Earth

If a tree is near, never can we say we are alone

And so we deepen our roots, raise our branches

Touching the ground below and the sky above

All worlds, all beings, as one

 

I worship with the trees.

 

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Marijuana Use & Sales: Dear Community Members…

(Recently, a community coalition that I am a member of decided to write a letter to “opt out” of legislation that discusses the future sales & regulation marijuana.  The week after, the community voted down a bill that would allow for marijuana hospitality operations.  The coalition still plans to send out a letter, making the topic of marijuana “closed” in our small-ish (6500 people) mountain community.)

 

Dear Respected Community Colleagues,

I’ve been considering this letter for a long time, until now deciding that I wouldn’t write anything, especially as I realize we already voted on the matter to request Estes Park “opting out” on future legislation.  But truly, my wish is that as a community, we remain open to various possibilities of marijuana sales and consumption in Estes Park, despite the fail of the bill to allow for the sale of marijuana in town.

For those who wish to learn more, I’d like to dispel a few myths and share my side as a mental health therapist who has researched this topic and interned at Harmony Foundation.

As a therapist, I am not against the use of marijuana. There are people I know who have used it a few times and have not become addicted.  Some choose to continue to use it recreationally, and others who have decided they do not like and have never used it again. On the other hand, I know of people who have developed some degree of an addiction, and/or used marijuana to self-medicate.  A particular friend of mine did not have access to mental health services and carried deep, traumatic wounds. I never discouraged marijuana use with this friend, as I knew the other option for this friend would have been self-harm and possibly suicide.  In conversations, we talked about some other mental health tools and possibly making more changes when they were ready… if I would have pushed, it would have cut our lines of communication, not unlike if I tried to push a client to quit who came in for therapy and wasn’t ready to quit.

But to get to my points more quickly:  Addiction comes from pain, trauma, attachment wounds… I am not saying drugs/marijuana do not have addictive components, but they are never the sole reason, nor are genetics.  Sure, I can say someone who comes from a family with an addictive parent has a high susceptibility to develop an addiction themselves, but no one can say if it is from attachment issues passed down from the parent, or genetic reasons…especially as research has not been able to find an “addiction gene.”  There are reasons why some people become addicted and others do not. Furthermore, we also know that some people become addicted to fast food and/or sugary foods…but as far as I know, we’ve never written a letter to the town to ban McDonalds or the several taffy shops. Why? Well, these are “socially acceptable” addictions (that also bring the town income)…despite having negative health consequences that include those brought on from society from being overweight (depression, anxiety) and well as physical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and yes, death.  Which brings me to my next point…

Drug prohibition is directly related to the prosecution of minorities.  Even at Harmony Foundation, I knew very well that the white people were receiving treatment while people of color were going to jail.  For more on this topic, I highly suggest reading Johann Hari’s book “Chasing the Scream”. One of my favorite quotes from the book is “The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety.  It’s connection.” In fact, I can not remember speaking to one client at Harmony Foundation felt that in the depths of their addiction that they had meaningful, honest, and heartfelt relationships with others.  Connection may be the most important factor of group therapy.

In addition to the continual oppression of minorities, we also know from research and history that people in pain and have addictions will find other ways to obtain marijuane/their drug of choice, even if it is illegal.  In the case of the sale of marijuna, it is almost a given that anyone who consumes it will go down to the valley to make their purchase, before driving up the canyon. We can hope they wait to consume it until they return to Estes Park, but again, we can only hope.  While our town only has one Lyft driver, I believe that knowing what we know about drug use, it would be highly worth our exploring if it is in fact not safer to buy and consume the product at a designated location in town. For now, I’m going to dismiss the slippery slope argument of marijuane being consumed outdoors and in public areas, as current cigarette smoking laws lead me to believe that argument has no realistic basis. 

Dr. Gabor Mate is one of the most well-known physicians and speakers on the topic of addiction.  He is the author of the book “In the Realm of the Hungry Ghost: Close Encounters with Addiction”.  If I can encourage community members to do anything, I ask that you please watch this video with Dr. Mate speaking on the topic of cannabis and addiction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2R3_728Xxc 

Finally, to remain closed to further discussion on any topic, and in this case marijuana use and sales, is an unhealthy sign in any community.  Research on recreational and medical use of marijuana is still be conducted, as well as on how the sales of marijuana affect a community.  It is important that we trust future community members and leaders to have educated discussions on how to implement regulations.

Ask “not why the addiction, but why the pain.” -Dr. Gabor Mate

Kindly,

Ray A. Nypaver