June Converse

Thriving After Trauma - Author and Writing Coach

The last two posts I have shared with you a problem that occurred while vacationing in paradise with my family (husband, daughter, son and future daughter-in-law). Basically, I got my feelings hurt in three ways (having breakfast alone every morning, my children not reading my novel, and my family playing without me). I used Tara Brach’s R.A.I.N method to settle my elevated emotional state. Now, let me move on to what happened next …

My husband showed up for breakfast and I started out calmly trying to tell him that I wanted him to spend more time with me – i.e., at least come to breakfast so I didn’t have to eat alone. That went fine but when it came time discuss my hurt feelings about my kids not reading my book and not playing games (which I brought along to play while hanging by the water), my hurt resurfaced and tears ran down my cheeks.

What I wanted my husband to say – what I needed him to say – was “You’re right, honey, it would hurt anyone’s feelings if their own children ignored their achievement.” AND “I think playing games sounds like fun. Let’s do that this afternoon when it’s too hot to be in the ocean anyway.” AND “I appreciate your getting up early every morning and making sure the family gets the best chairs in the best spot.”

What he said was ….. drum roll …. “Do you think you should take some Xanax?”

boxers

KAPOW!

All right, now let me say right now that my husband is wonderfully supportive, always always in my corner, has had to handle a lot of turmoil because of bi-polar disorder. He often – usually – says the right thing or at least doesn’t say the wrong thing.

But, I guess he’d had too much rest or too much sun or too many frozen beverages. Because what he did say was exactly the wrong thing to say.

Gaslighting

Do you know the term gaslighting? I think it actually comes from the movie Gaslight, which was produced in 1944 with Ingrid Berman and Charles Boyer.

The exact definition is: manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.

There is even an article on it in Psychology Today: (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201704/7-stages-gaslighting-in-relationship)

Now, my husband does not manipulate me in any way. In no way do I want to make light of the psychological effects of such manipulation. I am not a victim of gaslighting. But, this one episode made me feel like I was losing my sanity.

Feeling Crazy

Let me see if I can explain this better. I often worry that I’m “crazy”. My husband (and others) assure me that since I do worry about it, I’m not. According to him, only truly crazy people think they aren’t. I don’t know about that but it sounds good.

Anyway, when he asked me if I needed Xanax, it was as if he said, “You really are crazy and you need to be medicated.” This forced me to question if I was wrong to believe my kids should read my book, or wrong to want my family to spend time doing things we all enjoy, or wrong to want to eat breakfast with my husband. Was I just wrong? Was I being too emotional and was there no “rational” reason to be hurt and angry?

What made it worse is that the statement was from my husband. Remember, I said earlier that he is always calm with me, always patient, always helping me manage my distress. So, when he said this it felt like he was saying, “Okay, you’re going too far into crazy-land. Take a chill pill.”

Now What?

I spent the entire day in a bad place. Angry one minute. Despairing the next. I tried to stay in a shell as much as I could but there was no way my family didn’t notice that mom was distressed.

I was “over it” the next day – or at least, had put it on a back burner of my heart. But when we returned home, I felt …. I’m struggling to find the exact right term … distant, discordant, distrustful. It was like we existed on two different planets. I was on the “I’m getting mentally healthier planet.” He was on the “my wife’s got some serious problems planet.”

We got along fine. It was that I no longer trusted him to see me correctly. I felt like he saw me through the lens of mental illness. And, while I still struggle and always will, I am much healthier and able to recognize my symptoms and implement management strategies.

Help!

I began to seriously think we needed couple’s counseling. I felt so far away from him. We peacefully coexisted but we weren’t a team or a couple. Not a good place. At one point, I wondered if he’d notice if I moved out.

Thankfully, I had an appointment with my therapist. I told her about the entire scenario and she validated that my feelings are always right. She further reinforced that I did an excellent job using R.A.I.N to handle what in the past would have been debilitating emotions. When I mentioned my husband’s comment about taking a Xanax, this is what she said …

“For most of your marriage, he has lived with someone who didn’t handle overwhelming emotions in a productive way. You have gone through a significant change. You are a different person and he needs to re-learn this new you. Because you have changed, your relationship must also change.”

I likened it to a couple facing the empty nest or a couple with their first child. Life no longer looks the same. My often-unbalanced-self has left the home and we now must re-create our lives with this new, intuitively-grounded-self. Do I live in a perfectly adjusted wise mind? Heck no! But I’m better able to see when I’ve gone wonky and I’m letting emotions control the world. I also am able to sense when I’ve let my boundaries lapse and make the necessary adjustments.

I use R.A.I.N. faster and because of that, I am able to understand where my emotions are really coming from. That allows me to address the real problem.

I have been able to explain all of this to him and we are in a better place. Counseling may still be warranted – and he’s more than willing – we’ll just see.

This episode was very difficult but I think I learned to do better about figuring out what I need and asking for it in a very specific way. I think my husband is doing better not jumping to a “she’s just being too emotional” mindset. After 26-years, we will make it. One day at a time.

A Note To Dave

Dave edits these blogs so I can’t keep any secrets. So, Dave, thank you for all your years of rescuing me from myself. I think I can handle the life vest now! I don’t believe I could have ever faced all of these issues without knowing you are in my corner.

Also, feel free to write your own comments at the bottom of this. Every story has two-three-four sides and I never want you to feel your perspective is discounted.

Dave’s Comments:

So, to be honest, your statement of “Okay, you’re going too far into crazy-land. Take a chill pill.” was probably dead-on. I certainly didn’t “mean it” that way or certainly in any derogatory way, but that’s probably a pretty accurate statement and I certainly understand why you felt that way. I was shocked at the time that it upset you, because I’ve probably said that 20 other times over the past few years and every single time previously you have said something like: “Ya – that’s probably a good idea”.

The other thing from the “other perspective” is this: You stated “I got my feelings hurt in three ways (having breakfast alone every morning, my children not reading my novel, and my family playing without me).” I strongly supported (in my mind at least), the point about the kids not reading your novel. I said that I was very disappointed in that – didn’t defend them and thought it was a crappy thing to do. While I know they didn’t do it to hurt your feelings, it was something they should have done just to be nice if nothing else. I totally get “why” this hurt your feelings – and I feel those were totally “rational” and valid for anyone. The other two I’m not sure I “get”, but they’re still your valid emotions. From my perspective, the breakfast thing is really unfair as you went out of your way proactively to encourage me to sleep in every day since I was so tired and stressed from work. You even went so far as to say things like you enjoy your quiet time in the morning with your coffee – I bought-in that you were truly OK with it. And, I genuinely appreciated it (and still do). I believe (although wouldn’t swear to it) that I told you upfront if you ever wanted company, feel free to wake me up. And, on the ‘playing without you’ or playing the games you brought, my perspective is you simply should have asked to play games– we would have all been very happy to play. And, we did end up playing them and we all had a great time. Yes – it would have been nice for one of us to bring it up or suggest it earlier, but no one was trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. On the other activities, I did ask you virtually every time if you wanted to do it (although I knew you probably didn’t) so not sure what to do there – I know you want us to do stuff like that………. So, while I see two of them from a different vantage point, I do understand your perspective on those two as well – I really do. I just didn’t see them that way at the time. Reflecting on it now, I wonder if one thing hurt your feelings and the other two were mostly kerosene being thrown on the fire? NOT saying they didn’t hurt your feelings – just wondering if you could have handled them OK if the reading piece didn’t happen……

I love you – and I love your progress – and agree it’s a good thing for me to re-evaluate my going-in “take” when I see you being “too emotional” from my where I sit. JYou are a different person (as am I). And, yes – we’ll make definitely make it. We both need to tweak and adjust as we navigate the journey ahead, and that’s part of the joy of the journey. I look forward to sharing it with you.

Resource:

Tara Brach has many excellent resources. Use this link for an excellent article specifically on RAIN: https://www.tarabrach.com/articles-interviews/rain-workingwithdifficulties/

She also has several YouTube videos on this topic. Simply search: Tara Brach RAIN

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ

I am not a therapist. I have no relevant diploma. I have no fancy letters behind my name. I am a sufferer with years of therapy. I am an expert only in the sense that I am enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks. But hard knocks are an excellent teacher. If you suffer, I highly recommend you find a professional to help you and develop a personalized treatment plan. This blog is MY experience and while I pray it’s helpful, I am not qualified to diagnose or treat anyone for anything. (Well, I am a great math teacher—especially fractions!).

Last week, I wrote about hurt feelings turning to anger while I sat in a paradise. I walked through the R.A.I.N process and stopped when I got to I[nvestigate]. In order to investigate, I had to ask myself: What am I believing about myself? How is this situation feeding my story? That sounds easy but is in fact quite painful.

The caveat, however, is that I’m supposed to ask those questions “with kindness.” I’m not supposed to beat myself up or get on a negativity train. Hmmm, now that’s more challenging.

Allow me to quote Tara Brach from Working With Difficulties: The Blessings of RAIN (https://www.tarabrach.com/articles-interviews/rain-workingwithdifficulties/)

“We need to offer a gentle welcome to whatever surfaces. This is why I use the phrase “Investigate with kindness.” Without this heart energy, investigation cannot penetrate; there is not enough safety and openness for real contact.

Imagine that your child comes home in tears after being bullied at school. In order to find out what happened and how your child is feeling, you have to offer a kind, receptive, gentle attention. Bringing that same kindness to your inner life makes inquiry, and ultimately healing, possible.”

Let’s give this a try:

I[nvestigate] with Kindness:

Immediately, when I asked myself “what I’m believing”, my brain/heart/soul shot these exact words (these were rapid fire thoughts):

  • “You’re a terrible mother. Why would your kids bother with reading your book?”
  • “Or maybe they did read it and it sucked so bad, they are pretending they didn’t read it because that’s easier.”
  • “Give up writing. Give up everything. Just hide in the house because every time you try, you disappoint or are disappointed.” (note: disappoint is a trigger word for me)
  • “You depend on Dave too much. Don’t be a wimp. If you want the kids to read the book, then say so.”
  • “Dave’s not having breakfast with you because you are so high maintenance that he needs a vacation from you too.”
  • “Everybody would have more fun if I wasn’t here. I wish I could go home.”
  • After this, I went to “proving” all of this true by remembering the times I was a terrible mother and the times I was high maintenance and other times I let people down.

Brutal. Can you tell me how to handle those comments with “kindness”? I’ve not yet mastered that aspect of R.A.I.N.

I took several sips of coffee, woofed down an ooey-gooey roll. I swallowed past lumps in my throat and forced myself to pretend my child had come to me with this scenario and these horrible thoughts. What would I say?

First, I acknowledged that emotions are just that – emotions. They are not right or wrong, good or bad. Negative emotions are the soul’s way of alerting us to investigate, step back and open up. I asked my “child” if it was hurt feelings or true anger. It was easy to realize the problem was simply hurt feelings. I also admitted to jealousy – the rest of my family is athletic and likes paddle-boarding or rock climbing or white water rafting. I don’t enjoy these so I often feel left out. My emotional brain labels this as “ostracized.”

I asked my child-self: “What is the best way for you to handle this? Can you label what you need and then ask for it?”

Surprisingly, that was simple too. I needed my husband to spend more time with me on this trip. I wanted my desires to be a priority every now and then. (Note: I had brought games to play at the beach and four days later we had not opened them.) I wanted my family to do something I liked even if for just a little while.

Uh oh – my emotional brain was triggered and spouted this: “If you have to force them to play games with you, then they are doing it out of obligation and not because they want to. That will be worse. You’ll know they don’t want to be with you and that you forced them. Maybe it’s better to just be ignored.” ---- A blog for another day ---

Anyway, I shut that down to deal with later. I resolved that when Dave finally came to breakfast, I’d tell him how I felt.

He arrived and unfortunately I was still in turmoil (although RAIN was helping) … he saw my distress and asked what was wrong. I wanted to be calm, to just tell him what I needed. I think I started out all right but then emotions welled and I was harsh and teary. UGH.

You will not believe what he said to me … that will be next week’s topic … but let me just say that it’s been six weeks and we, as a couple, are still not quite back to normal.

N[on-Identification]

Let’s move on to N in RAIN. “N” is ‘non-identification’. Again, let me quote Ms. Brach because she’s much more concise than me:

Non-identification means that your sense of who you are is not fused with or defined by any limited set of emotions, sensations or stories….there’s nothing to do for this last part of RAIN—realization arises spontaneously, on its own. We simply rest in natural awareness.

What did I realize? Did R.A.I.N work for me in this scenario?

I realized that I can relax simply by anchoring myself in exactly what is. Right now, I am sitting on a hard chair, my shoulder muscles are screaming, it’s raining and the cat is taking a bath on the table (which I hate). These are truths. There is no emotion associated with what is. Emotion only arises when I seek to judge what is. I do believe that RAIN helped me calm and reflect.

I also think that if I’d had a few more minutes to ruminate and handle myself more gently, I would have been able to talk to my husband with a calm request for what I needed in that moment. Instead, he arrived, said the wrong thing and I went backwards.

I’ve used RAIN many times – as a matter of fact, I use “R[ecognize] Reality” and “A[llow] Reality” as my go-to calming strategies. It works every time. When I move to investigate, I struggle to be gentle. I often end up beating myself to death, validating my “crazy” and scheduling a therapy session.

In the next post, I’ll tell you what my well-meaning husband said that negated all the R.A.I.N. but did not bring the sunshine!

Resource:

Tara Brach has many excellent resources. Use this link for an excellent article specifically on RAIN: https://www.tarabrach.com/articles-interviews/rain-workingwithdifficulties/

She also has several YouTube videos on this topic. Simply search: Tara Brach Rain

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ

I am not a therapist. I have no relevant diploma. I have no fancy letters behind my name. I am a sufferer with years of therapy. I am an expert only in the sense that I am enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks. But hard knocks are an excellent teacher. If you suffer, I highly recommend you find a professional to help you and develop a personalized treatment plan. This blog is MY experience and while I pray it’s helpful, I am not qualified to diagnose or treat anyone for anything. (Well, I am a great math teacher—especially fractions! J).

Seventy-five degrees. Swaying palm trees. Heaven. Paradise. Free food, free drinks and even pool boys to deliver. Warm blue water. Paradise. Heaven.

It’s 7:15AM and there I sat. The sunrise filtered through the trees and reflected off the pure white sand. The night before, my entire family laughed and teased and simply enjoyed each other. My coffee cup was full and the fruit was fresh. Tears streamed down my face. I was most unhappy in a very happy place.

Why would anyone be unhappy sitting in paradise? Well, this was day four of our vacation and day four of my sitting ALONE for breakfast. Every morning I rose at 6 AM, tagged the family beach chairs, read until 7:15 and then went to breakfast. Everyone else slept and slept and slept. That was fine at first. But on this day, I was lonely and …

The day before I had discovered that while my kids bought my first published novel, they had not bothered to actual read it. Wow! Punch in the gut. That hurt and as I sat alone (again), the hurt festered and became anger. Once the anger kicked in, warring factions in my mind started to fight.

Picture a boxing ring. In one corner stood “Rational Mind” and in the other corner stood “Emotional Mind”. Ding Ding Ding … let the fight begin:

boxing ring with masked cartoon boxer

Round 1:

Rational Mind: Dave has been under such stress. He deserves this time off. You should be glad he’s getting this time to sleep.

Emotional Mind: I agree – or I agreed – but come on, he could get up with me just once and have a nice breakfast. He would get up if daughter wanted to have breakfast. (Uh-oh, my jealous self has entered the fray).

Round 2:

Rational Mind: You haven’t even told him you want him to get up. As a matter of fact, you’ve told him you don’t mind getting up – that you enjoy the early morning. Etc. Etc. Etc. Do you expect him to read your mind? You know he would gladly get up if you just mentioned it.

Emotional Mind: He should WANT to have breakfast with me. At least once. I should not have to beg for my husband’s attention.

Round 3:

Rational Mind: It’s lovely here, isn’t it? You were worried about this resort being subpar. But, everything has really been great. As a matter of fact, you said that this is the first place you’ve come to you’d want to return to. Now, look at you!

Emotional Mind: Do you see that I am the only one sitting alone? Every other family is together. It’s embarrassing sitting alone. And now I’m crying. People are seeing me crying and wondering what the hell is her problem.

Rational Mind: I’m wondering the same thing…. What is your problem?

Round 4:

Emotional Mind: It really hurts that my own kids didn’t read my book.

Rational Mind: I agree! That does hurt and it’s okay for that to be hurtful.

DING DING DING

Somehow my therapist’s voice stepped between my fighting selves and suggested I use the RAIN technique to help me handle these overwhelming/competing emotions. RAIN is a mindfulness technique that “directs our attention in a clear, systematic way that cuts through confusion and stress.”* RAIN is an acronym for Recognize-Allow-Investigate-NonJudgment.

I’ve used RAIN effectively many times – either in the moment or afterwards to try to understand what happened and why I made a certain decision. It’s easy, private and can be done sitting in traffic. For me, the entire process requires that I develop a mindset of curiosity. In other words, I’m not trying to fix anything or find a solution. I’m just trying to move forward. There is no true goal with RAIN except to relax and get back living in the present.

Let’s let it RAIN in paradise:

[R]ecognize: What is Happening?

This is the easiest step – take a few minutes to feel your body, notice your surroundings and recognize the emotions swirling around.

My body is tight, my shoulders are pulled to my ears, tears clog my throat. I have an intense desire to tear a napkin to shreds and then take a taxi somewhere and let my husband worry about where I’ve gone. I’d like to climb back in a bed and howl at the moon.

The breeze is lovely across my shoulders. My coffee needs more cream. The eggs are making my stomach wonky.

My feelings are hurt because my children did not read my book and because my husband did not denounce them for that.

Rather than “hold” these hurt feelings, I am spiraling to anger. And once in anger, I am seeking justification to be angry. I am also bullying myself nasty names.

[A]llow– Just accept that this is where you are right now. Say “yes” to the experience.

The way I do this is very simple. I say – loud enough for only me to hear –

  • “The breeze feels nice.”
  • “The sun is warm on my back.”
  • “I feel sweat forming on my neck.”
  • “I am sitting alone drinking my coffee.”
  • “I am experiencing hurt feelings and some anger.”
  • “The man next to me has on a Hawaiian shirt and has a large plate of pineapple.”
  • “I would like more pineapple.”

By forcing myself to notice all that is around me, I am also forced to be in the moment and not in the past (where the insult occurred) or in the future (which I cannot control). I literally just state WHAT IS in the moment. Facts only.

[I]nvestigate (with Kindness)

I am often more settled and calmer during the “Recognize” and “Allow” portions of this process. But, because I could still feel the anxiety deep inside (which meant it would too easily take back over), I did this step too. But, “with kindness” is tricky. You’ll see what I mean …

There are many different questions you can ask yourself in this step. But what I find most helpful are these:

What am I believing about myself? How is this situation feeding my story?

--- this is a good place to stop for today … next week, I’ll open my heart and delve into what I believed about myself during this scenario. It will be a painful admission and likely will require more R.A.I.N.


Resource:

Tara Brach has many excellent resources. Use this link for an excellent article specifically on RAIN: https://www.tarabrach.com/articles-interviews/rain-workingwithdifficulties/

She also has several YouTube videos on this topic. Simply search: Tara Brach Rain

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ

I am not a therapist. I have no relevant diploma. I have no fancy letters behind my name. I am a sufferer with years of therapy. I am an expert only in the sense that I am enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks. But hard knocks are an excellent teacher. If you suffer, I highly recommend you find a professional to help you and develop a personalized treatment plan. This blog is MY experience and while I pray it’s helpful, I am not qualified to diagnose or treat anyone for anything. (Well, I am a great math teacher—especially fractions! J).

June Converse with purple hair
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....
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