brainspotting and grief by jen davis

January 13th, 2018

This week we have a guest blog written by my very-talented associate, Jen Davis. This is an intimate portrayal of her first experiences with Brainspotting as she learned of her mother’s terminal condition.

It is 6am. The sun is not yet out. I am bracing myself for the long journey from Los Angeles to Costa Mesa for my first introduction to Brainspotting with Dr. Pie Frey. Exactly one month ago we discovered that my mother had cancer; cancer that had spread undetected throughout her body. I have just arrived home from days in the hospital in New York. Within three weeks she will be gone, but I do not know this yet. I only know that I am terrified and bone tired and that I have to be at the training by 8:30.

I do not feel like a “therapist” today; I feel very, very human. I consider the idea of being an expert at grief, at loss. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. I have been practicing the art of losing those I love most for a decade now. I have tried to out run grief and found that it is faster than me, and I have said to grief, “okay you are in charge, take me through this,” and grief brought me to the other side. There is a hypothesises in Physical Cosmology termed The Big Rip, in which the universe is blown apart, atom by atom, galaxy by galaxy, star by star, exploding in order to serve the expansion of the universe. The Big Rip; I have found no better words to illustrate the process of loss.

Pie enters the room. She is warm and funny, intelligent and passionate. I am beginning to wake up.

There are three things that I always share with my clients. I tell them that when animals in the wild endure a traumatic experience, they isolate from the herd and physically shake out the trauma. I ask them what they they are attempting to do in their lives to shake it out, and we begin to explore if that is an effective solution for them, for their growth. I discuss the benefits of mindfulness meditation, and the ways that it can effectively begin to break apart our sensations and the stories we have attached to them, creating more space within ourselves to create a new narrative. And I talk to them about the brain. I love the brain. Every brain contains one quadrillion possible connections. To me, the brain is pure possibility.

Mid way through the morning presentation, I begin to feel as if someone has taken everything I love about psychology and created an effective formula for healing like none I’ve yet to experience. I keep thinking this is what it must have been like when Sscientists discovered antibiotics.

I volunteer for the first demonstration with Pie. I am nervous. We find a brainspot that heightens my sense of feeling, and within minutes it feels like a door in my brain has opened, a door wheren I hadn’t realized that there was a door. Possibilities. I feel as if I am watching a slideshow of my life. I do not feel scared, but curious. I am noting the sensations in my body. I am crying and I am watching. I am amazed at where my mind is taking me; it feels like a treasure hunt ,- thoughts, feelings and sensations unfolding before me. Afterward I feel exhausted, but I also feel as if a giant weight has been removed from deep within.

Over the next three days, I will witness and experience this process over and over again. I will be in awe of the healing, in awe of our bodiesbody’s ability to shake out the trauma if we only get out of our own way; if we have the feeling instead of the latte, the tv show, fill in the blank.

I am able to go back to New York and be fully present with my mother. I am holding her hand as the final tear streams down her face and she takes her final breath here on earth.

In Daniel Siegel’s book Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, he writes, “Loss of someone we love cannot be adequately expressed with words. Grappling with loss, struggling with disconnection and despair, fills us with a sense of anguish and actual pain. Indeed, the parts of our brain that process physical pain overlap with the neural centers that record social ruptures and rejection. Loss rips us apart.” The Big Rip.

The process of grieving is subcortical, it is primal. The DSM used to call itdiagnoses it as Uncomplicated Bereavement. It is my experience that there is nothing uncomplicated about bereavement. Many times a day I am struck by my inability to answer the question, How are you? As Siegel suggests, I cannot find the words, my language feels suddenly lost to me. With brainspotting, I have found a place of deep healing where words are not necessary.

braving the wilderness

December 29th, 2017

Once again, Brene Brown has hit it out of the ballpark with her latest book, “Braving the Wilderness”. Based on her extensive research, she shares her empirical perspective on universal truths–this time focusing on “belonging”. She asks the challenging question of all of us, what is “True Belonging”? She answers, ” True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

Instead of looking through the lens of fitting in, Brene Brown recalibrates the definition of true belonging and makes room for the possibility of being part of a larger purpose as well as covering the ground that you stand on. This balance gets talked about at length and challenges the reader to examine when you brave the wilderness and when you play it safe in order to blend in.

She also takes a look at the correlation between loneliness and shame, what she calls the “inextricable human connection” we’re biologically wired to thrive, and how love, belonging, joy and gratitude can be infused into this awareness and ongoing conversation.

I encourage you to savor the latest Brene Brown has to offer us. It’s definitely a holiday treat.

departures

December 10th, 2017

I’ve been part of a “group therapy book club” for the past seven years, and I’ve made a decision to leave this professional family for new adventures. As part of group therapy, we’re always looking at the group dynamic and the group process at all times. With this particular group of colleagues, we’ve been explorers of group therapy literature as we’ve applied these works to our groups, our book club and to ourselves. Very rich and rewarding to say the least. We’ve had members come and go, members have babies, and tragically, two members leave us through death. The club has been full of poignant hellos and goodbyes.

Now I’m moving into uncharted territory, as I move forward with a book project that has been incubating for about this same time frame–seven years more or less. Because I want to put my absolute best foot forward with the book, I’ve decided to clear my calendar from any extraneous commitments and focus primarily on the book entitled, “It’s Not About the Sex: Moving from Isolation to Intimacy after Sexual Addiction”. So this is one of those moments when I’m choosing to leave a very familiar place and step into a very unfamiliar place. Both scary and exciting.

The gratitude I hold for my book club is enormous as the group held my growing edge for all this time, and I was able to internalize the love and genuine care my friends showed me throughout this time. In contrast to death, I get to continue these relationships in a different way. Not in the usual space, but instead, both in my heart and possibly in our ongoing crossing of paths. Departures are always bittersweet, but suiting up and showing up for this goodbye gave me the opportunity to give and receive the trust and respect we’ve established. May our paths cross again in new and different ways.

media misunderstanding

November 18th, 2017

The media is doing their best to keep up with the sexual abuse/sexual offending allegations that are rampant in recent times, but there is one thing they haven’t quite gotten yet. Sexual addiction isn’t sexual offending. The allegations usually involve one person “the perpetrator” violating the sexual boundaries of the victim. And yes–the victim is being victimized because they are being intruded upon sexually in ways that they did not ask for. Although a sex addict can participate in sexually-offending behaviors, and a sex offender can have sexually-compulsive tendencies, they are not to be confused.

When it was reported that Harvey Weinstein had a long history of sexual offenses, apparently, this was common knowledge in the industry. But, unfortunately, it was reported that he was going to treatment for sex addiction which may be part of the story but only a small part of it. Only the evaluating clinician can tease out the issues with the client, but it’s important for the media to report these offenses accurately and not throw them automatically into the sex addiction category.

Yes–it’s confusing even for mental health professionals, but it’s an opportunity to understand these differences and treat the wounded individual accordingly.

humility

September 25th, 2017

Socrates said, “All I know is I know nothing.” I love this statement of humility because it’s so true. As much as we know, we really don’t know. As a seasoned therapist, sometimes I forget this simple truth. I believe that many of the answers are inside of my clients–not somewhere on the outside. And many of these so-called answers are only partial. We need others in our life to get reality checks. We need humility to remind ourselves that it’s ok not to have all the answers.

Last weekend I was a member of a training group with a very talented group therapist from Austin named Katie Griffin. I’ve actually known Katie for many years but not until she came to Los Angeles to facilitate our group therapy conference did I really see her in action. In the training group I became very aware of my own primitive needs for deeper understanding and to be seen for who I truly am. It was a challenging weekend in many respects but also quite satisfying in spite of my so-called needs only getting partially fulfilled. Because we will be meeting every 4 months, I’ll have other opportunities to process these relationships, and it left me longing for more.

As I sat in the group for nine hours over the course of the weekend, it was a terrific reminder of the group experience my group members have each week with one another. Uncomfortable at times and warm and fuzzy at times. But always a chance to learn about oneself and help others learn about themselves. Humility above all.

asking for help

September 8th, 2017

As a recovering perfectionist, I used to think that mistakes were lethal. When I was in 2nd grade, I had an egg carton project that I didn’t understand. Instead of trying to understand the instructions better from my teacher, I suffered in silence. You see, I was too perfect to ask for instructions, directions or anything that might leave me feeling foolish. So I stewed and I stewed and I stewed some more until the pressure cooker broke open into uncontrollable crying.

Why do I remember this seemingly innocent and imperfect moment? Because it was traumatic to me–something I wanted to control but couldn’t because i was a seven year old who wasn’t supposed to know everything about life and certainly not about egg carton projects. If I recall correctly, my grandmother came to my aid and helped me understand that this was a relatively simple problem leaving me with the task to go back to my teacher for further clarification.

So what does this have to do with recovery? Well, perfectionism leads to shame and shame leads to withdrawal and withdrawal leads to acting out. Acting out in some form or another to escape and numb out the feelings of shame and profound loneliness. When I was 7, I didn’t know how to ask for help–I had the idea that I was supposed to be self-sufficient. Nowadays, I still carry the distorted belief that I am supposed to pull up my bootstraps and solve all of my problems on my own, but the ongoing challenge is to practice humility and depend on the dependable people around me.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have emotionally-reliable people in my life, and these are the folks to lean on. Not the myth that it’s all up to me and certainly not trying to find someone unavailable to rescue me. But to know who “my people” really are and to cultivate and cherish those solid relationships around me.

The Joy of Sexual Recovery (Part I)

August 27th, 2017

THE JOY OF SEXual Recovery (re-issued from 2010)

Long-term sexual recovery is quite different than early recovery. At the beginning stages recovery focuses on stopping self-destructive, out-of-control behaviors while long-term recovery welcomes new, life-affirming experiences. Early recovery requires the acknowledgment and recognition of a dangerous problem while long-term recovery can be a time of expansion and resourcefulness. Early recovery sifts through the wreckage of the past while long-term recovery makes room for the exploration of the limitless possibilities for the future.

Although it’s crucial to learn how to stay away from depleting and sometimes self-destructive behaviors of the past, there seems to be a lack of information, support and research for those who have been sexually sober for many years. This two-part article takes a look at this growing population through the lens of coaching, Somatic Experiencing and 12step wisdom—a journey of those who have crossed the threshold beyond early recovery and entered into this uncharted territory.

In recent years there has been a paradigm shift in the healing professions from focusing on what’s going wrong toward what’s going right. Mental health professionals no longer limit their research and clinical work to psychopathology or deficits—positive psychologists led by Martin Seligman, PhD at the University of Pennsylvania now study What Makes Life Worth Living. Time magazine even coined this brand-new field of study The Science of Happiness.

I believe that it’s essential for those in long-term sexual recovery to take a closer look at what’s going right. Because the tone of the 12step rooms in sexual recovery (i.e. SAA, SLAA, SCA, SA, SRA) often follows the disease model of addiction, there becomes a focus on the so-called illness and what’s wrong. Sexual recovery fellowships have smaller participants than more-established groups like AA resulting in less old-timers in the rooms. As a result, sharing often focuses on the trials and tribulations of stopping behaviors rather than building more capacity for healthier patterns of sex and intimacy. Taking the lead from positive psychology, I’m curious what would happen if more shares focused on joy, gratitude, self-compassion and forgiveness.

Another fundamental difference exists between process addictions (i.e. sex, food and money) and chemical addictions because sex, food and money remain an ongoing part of one’s life. Long-term sexual recovery focuses on integrating sex and intimacy as a healthy element, and integration requires a self-exploration of what this means to the individual. The vision that I hold for myself, my clients and my sponsees focuses on living life to its fullest by creating greater capacity for all that life brings our way without a collapse back into old patterns of acting out.

Webster defines joy as the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires. This implies that someone knows what one desires, and here lies the initial challenge. The longer someone is in recovery, the clearer they usually become in knowing what they want and desire. Priorities have usually shifted away from the superficial and toward deeper pursuits of meaningful connection. I’d like to invite you to take a moment to reflect on the following: What brings you joy in your life today?

As part of the 12 steps, there are several types of inventories focusing on different parts of you—resentments, character defects, fears, etc. One exercise you may consider for yourself and/or your clients is to complete a joy inventory. Beginning with your earliest joyful memory, list as many experiences that you can remember. You might divide your life into a few separate time periods— childhood, adolescence, young adulthood or whatever works best for you. In addition to listing the specific experiences, you might add what made each experience especially joyful for you.

In his book Overcoming Addictions, Deepak Chopra posits that the absence of joy is the cause and the effect of addiction. A client recently illustrated this theory because he had a lot of difficulty identifying joy in his life before his addiction which took hold when he was 19. During his addiction it seemed like fun, but in retrospect it’s become clear that authentic joy was foreign to him.

In Part Two of this article we’ll explore what I call joy-builders—ways to invite more joy into your life and recovery.

the big sick

July 13th, 2017

I rarely post movie reviews, but this one was a stand-out for me like no other recent film I’ve seen. The Big Sick is an autobiographical piece that explores what happens when a lost love comes down with a mysterious illness and a culture clash begins. Because the lead character was raised in the USA but comes from an Indian family, he is “supposed to” marry an Indian woman. He is being fixed up by his mother with many, many prospects all of whom he rejects because his heart is already taken by a Caucasian woman who is very, very sick. In the hospital he gets to know her parents quite well–much better than he ever anticipated–and a mutual respect grows among them.

This is one of those films that brings tears and laughter-sometimes at the same time– and manages to strike up a balance of authentic family dynamics, racism, illness as well as the love that is pervasive throughout. Run, don’t walk to see this very clever, well-written, true-to-life story.

Intergenerational Trauma and Love

June 9th, 2017

Decoding the Tablecloth: Next Weekend–A Must-See!

Recently, I had the opportunity in New York to see this incredibly powerful play which integrates themes of immigration, abandonment, separation, family and love. Not only was it a beautifully-acted piece, but it portrayed a version of my own family’s immigration in the early 1900s. As a result, I see my grandparents and my family’s immigration through new eyes. I was deeply moved by Gabriela Kohen’s performance and hope you’ll join me in June as part of this worthwhile fundraiser.

Here are more specific details: Critically acclaimed New York actress, playwright, and drama therapist, Gabriela Kohen, will perform her autobiographical one-woman show Decoding the Tablecloth at Congregation Kol Ami in Hollywood at 7.30, Saturday, June 17. She will also perform on Sunday, June 18 in Venice at Beyond Baroque at 3 pm. There will be a wine and cheese reception after each performance.

In English, Yiddish, and Spanish, Ms. Kohen portrays over 20 characters from five generations. Her Jewish/Polish grandmother escapes from the holocaust to Argentina and the family later immigrates to Brooklyn. Intensely moving, and at times humorous, her narrative provides insight into the transmission of trauma, resilience and wisdom from one generation to the next.

Gabriela Kohen, MFA, received her acting degree from the American Conservatory Theater. She is a drama therapist at Sanctuary for Families and Restore NYC in New York City, a faculty member of the Therapeutic Arts Alliance of Manhattan, and an advanced candidate at the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies.
Advance admission is $100. Student admission is $80. Admission is a tax-deductible donation to the Group Foundation for Advancing Mental Health. Advance payment must be made by contacting the Group Foundation at 1-877-668-2472. Proceeds will go to the Group Foundation for Advancing Mental Health and to the local Group Psychotherapy Association of Los Angeles to fund scholarships and provide group therapy services in emergency situations.

the bittersweetness of mother’s day

May 13th, 2017

Not all people look forward to Mother’s Day. In spite of the Hallmark hype of the holiday, everything doesn’t always come up roses. For example, I had a mom who did her best with four sons and a marriage that wasn’t always a loving one. My mom had a big heart but didn’t always know how to show it to others. I don’t believe she intended to be self-absorbed and walled-off, but unfortunately, this was her way of being in the world–not just with me, but with all people in her life.

As a kid, I always tried my best to do something special for Mother’s Day, and I believe, on some level, it was appreciated. But as I grew older, I felt more resentful and less inclined to go out of my way to find the right gift or the card that accurately expressed how I felt toward my complicated mom.

Six years ago my mom died of lung cancer after having been a lifetime smoker. In the final months when she was on hospice, we found a way to connect just a little bit more to one another. I believe it was a mutual desire to get a little closer before it was time for her to take her final breaths.

Nowadays I hold the memory of my mother with bittersweetness–the occasional, intimate moments that were few and far-between, but I remain grateful for them. And more than anything, I know that my mom will always be a part of me–I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for her influence. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Tomorrow is really just another day of the year, but for those of you who have a complicated relationship with this particular day, keep in mind that it’s ok to have mixed feelings about it, and Monday is just around the corner.

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