The Gate Passage of Endings

A few days ago, you brought this year to a close.

It’s an ending. For some, it's a welcome end. For others, not so much. Either way, as a culture, we aren’t great with endings. 

Endings are Gate Passages. They lead you from one thing to another. I’ve shared some of my own Gate Passages this year, and I’m in the midst of another one -- closing the psychotherapy office I’ve had for the past 9 years. 

It's been a slow dance of breathing, witnessing, feeling, and allowing.

This ending is very different from how I used to end things. In my teens and twenties, destruction was the only tool I had. From situations to jobs to relationships, I'd blow it to pieces, angrily blame the other person, and move on before the dust settled.

It pretty much sucked, and I felt like hell every time. After a long while, I realized it was NOT a very satisfying way to end anything and I learned how to do it differently.

In my years as a psychotherapist, I’ve seen over and over how difficult endings are for all of us. 

It’s not like you're taught in school how to do it (but this kind of learning would benefit you far more than memorizing the multiplication table). The good news is that you can teach yourself.

The next time you're faced with an ending, I offer you some things think about: 

  • How can I end things with grace and honor?

  • How can I end things without denying or blaming the other person, and with owning the part I've played in it?

  • How can I loosen my grip on the things that hurt and embrace what felt good?

You can start with this ending -- goodbye 2017 and hello 2018.

Deep Share, part 2 (aka getting off of anti-depressants)

This summer, I did a deep share about one of the Gate Passages I was going through in getting off of anti-depressants. In my 15+ years as a psychotherapist helping kind souls through trauma, I’ve seen firsthand the silencing effect that the stigma of struggling with mental illness can cause. With the new Moon in Scorpio happening November 18th, the time is right to share rather than be silent. It's time to continue telling this story.

It’s been more than 6 months since I took the last dose — a minuscule cluster of tiny white balls stuck to the end of my moistened right pointer finger. I took a super longtime coming off — more than 2 years. By western medicine standards, this is unusually long. Typically, docs recommend 2-3 months, which I say isn't nearly long enough.

It’s been a wild ride. 

The first few months were a dark time of recurrent and prolonged panic attacks that triggered my survival fight/flight/freeze response, with a heavy heaping dose of sobbing spells. I felt as if I could feel all of the agony on the planet without a filter. It was all of the feels, all the time. Even though I had so little of the medication in my system by the time I took that last dose, I still felt the withdrawal effect big-time, which is not uncommon for sensitive people.

Between you and me, I’m relieved that I survived this part. There were moments when I didn't think I could. I did it with tons of support. I did it with the sheer knuckle-down determination to use all of the healing tools I’ve learned ... every single one of them and especially when I felt like I couldn’t do it.

Since then, I’ve noticed some interesting things about being off of anti-depressants.

All of them have to do with my heart. 

First, I cry all the time. I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m sad. I cry when I read about homeless dogs. I cry when I read about people doing kind things for others. I blow through tissues like they're going out of style.

Next, my sensitivity is off the charts. Anti-depressants by design take away the extremes of feeling — the dark lows and the happy highs. Most people wind up humming along in the middle. That’s where I hung out. Along with erasing the extremes, the meds dulled this sensitivity. It didn’t erase it by any means, but I'm surprised how the meds covered it up. I feel this sensitivity most in my heart center. 

I deeply long to feel connected to people. This too was something that I couldn’t feel so much on meds. I knew it was there intellectually, but now it’s a persistent ache in my heart. It's what neuroscientist Stephen Porges talked about at the trauma conference I went to a few weeks ago when he said that we human beings are wired for connection.

Lastly, I notice a lot grief for stuff I never dealt with. Lost loves. Lost opportunities. Although it should not surprise me given the work I do, I was pretty freaking surprised how much grief I've stored in my heart saying not now, maybe later. This grief is now demanding like a screaming, hungry baby that I face it now, and I am.

No matter how ...

you look on the outside or what you do for a living, Gate Passages are hard for each of us. Even so, they bring gifts. All of these things going on in my heart since that last dose is a gift.

If you need support going through your own Gate Passage, I'm here.

Meanwhile, pass the tissues.

Polyvagal Theory (aka you're wired for it).

A few weeks ago,

I attended a trauma conference in NYC. I got the bug in grad school for helping people heal from trauma. Even though I call it Gate Passages these days, I’ve been madely in love with it ever since. 

One of the reasons I signed up for this conference was to learn more about Polyvagal Theory from the person who created it — Stephen Porges, PhD., a neuroscientist in the department of psychiatry at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Polyvagal Theory is a fascinating body of work about the vagus nerve and its role in how the body responds during a traumatic experience (fight, flight, freeze), as well as how we safe and social we feel with each other and in the world. It’s been called the science of safety, and it has very interesting implications for the trauma and attachment work that I do. If you want to learn more about it, click here (note: the audio isn't 100% sparkling clear).

I may write more about Polyvagal Theory in the future. For now, there are a few things want to share about Steve’s talk.

He started out by saying this: 

“Our nervous system evolved to co-regulate with another creature. We did not evolve to be by ourselves. Don’t believe the news. We need to love, nurture and care for each other.” 

I could hardly believe my ears. This coming from a neuroscientist!  Then he started talking about connectedness. Be still my heart. Connectedness is one of my most cherished values. 

He defined it as “the ability to mutually, synchronously and reciprocally regulate physiological and behavioral states.”

Let's zero in on one of the terms: synchronous. I define it is occurring at the same time. Right now, the connectedness we're  having as you read my words is not synchronous. Texting is (mostly) not synchronous. Facebook and Instagram? Not synchronous. These activities are not opportunities to co-regulate. They do something else, which is sometimes enjoyable and sometimes not. 

I love what technology can do in terms of being able to get to know each other and the worlds beyond the reach of our geographic locations, to organize us around common causes, and to find information lickety-split.

With that said, we are wired for the kind of synchronous connectedness that Dr. Porges describes. Face-to-face and voice-to-voice.

Experiencing trauma can disrupt this wiring. Pull up a chair, love, because I could talk for days and days about this. For now, however, I’m glad that science may be catching up to what many of us have already noticed for some time.