Apparently, women can’t even be trusted to make decisions about their gluten intake.

This morning, I woke up to this satirical HuffPost Blog about “basic” white women and their decisions to go gluten-free. These authors, along with countless others throughout the last couple of years, seem to believe that they themselves have a much better handle on what is actually going on within women’s bodies than the women themselves do, and thus they are warranted to publicly shame and berate them for their dietary choices. They cite mockingly how doctors don’t even think gluten intolerance is a thing, implying that women really aren’t in any position to listen to their own bodies and decide what to eat accordingly (or to have the right to follow a diet for whatever reason they chose, body attuned or not).

So I have to fight for you to trust me to make my own reproductive choices, my choices around what clothes I wear, to take my word on when and how I give sexual consent, and now my choices about my gluten intake? Really?

Reading through the comments, countless women posted long-winded reasons for why they made the personal choice to go gluten-free, usually including lists of health symptoms they preferred to avoid. Their tones carried an all-too-familiar powerlessness and frustration; a sense of “owing” these strangers a justification for something that is really none of their business.

I speak up here because these instances of disempowerment, both small and large, hurt women. Policing women’s bodies and their choices, whether it is subtly through sarcasm or on a larger scale through political legislation, is traumatic. It takes away our power, our voice, and our connection to our inner wisdom. This is unfortunately one of the heaviest burdens I work through with my female clients. It starts when we are girls and it perpetuates the world we live in, even on progressive publications like HuffPost.

And so I call on you to help:

Start small; start with gluten. Next time you find yourself judging someone for how much or how little gluten they consume, let it go.

 

Healing the Trauma of Abortion Politics.

abortion politics Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to address a group of college students on the topic of abortion and emotions. It was a panel discussion, hosted by the student group Sacred Sex Salon at Naropa University. Before I took the floor, a representative from Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center, my favorite clinic (yes, I have a favorite abortion clinic. It’s been an interesting life…) spoke on the history of reproductive rights in the United States. Aside from the excitement of learning all sorts of new facts, I noticed myself fill with a fieriness somewhere along the edges of pride, power, angst, and fury in recalling what women and men have undergone to bring us to where we are, and also at how far we still have to go. My chest puffed out as it was mentioned that Colorado was the first state to legalize abortion and that same ball of energy dropped deep into the pit of my stomach as we reviewed today’s abortion situation in Texas.

Though I have presented many times on the topic of emotions and abortion, I had never followed this type of political discussion. I was infinitely grateful that I had, because it allowed me to articulate, perhaps like never before, what the full experience of abortion can be like in our country.

The experience of having an abortion and the experience of doing so in the context of our culture today are so intricately interwoven that when a woman undergoes this procedure, she is holding our collective consciousness in her bones. She is not only rehabilitating her womb from its contractions and purging, but also from politics, from aggression, from the conflicting wishes of those around her. Her blood may change, pushing through it a sense of isolation she has never before experienced. Though one in three women will share her experience, she may feel like she is the only one in the infinite universe who chose what she chose and feels how she feels.

The woman who has an emotionally taxing abortion is not just reconciling her own intimate experience within herself—that relationship she has had to her pregnancy—but she is often forced to reconcile relationships outside of herself. With her partner, her family, her community, her culture. She may be left with the decision to keep a secret from those she is close to or risk losing them forever. The shame she may feel in having “made a mistake” may keep her from sharing with even her most supportive friends. She may feel like she doesn’t deserve support, even though unplanned pregnancy is one of the most common of all human experiences. Even though, if she is like most of the strong and beautiful women I have worked with, she made her decision out of love (either to best support the children she already has or out of her desire to not only provide a future child with birth, but with a flourishing life).

It’s our time to invite the stories—as told by the women under the paper sheets—into our conversations, our media, and our hearts.

It’s time to tell women that there is enough space for their right to choice and their right to their unique experiences, as messy and unexpected as it may be. We need to start saying out loud that sometimes good decisions are really, really hard, and that hard emotions are welcome in our world. That they deserve to be heard, in all their pain and wisdom, without judgment or moral analysis.

That silence is traumatic, and we won’t take part in it any longer.

Three ways to use the holidays to heal and grow

IMG_0008As we descend into the darkest month of the year, we may notice ourselves bracing with closed fists and gritted teeth. For some, the cold and darkness keep us tucked away from the present moment. For others, the holidays bring a blizzard of emotional turmoil that is hard to understand. We are supposed to be joyous and celebratory; it can feel confusing and isolating to feel differently. It can feel embarrassing, even shameful, to dislike the holidays, especially when we don’t have a clear understanding of why they cause us distress. We may feel angry with ourselves that we are unable to enjoy them. We wonder what is wrong with us.

Truth be told, the holidays are rough for a lot of people. We as a culture don’t talk enough about this. It’s hard and sometimes shameful to admit.  Family is complicated and personal; it can be painful to have the spotlight shown on family dynamics. Old family dysfunctions that we can generally avoid suddenly take center stage as we reunite with one another. The holidays can also remind us our losses, whether an empty chair at dinner or a missing part of ourselves.

While the inclination may be to ignore difficult feelings, drowning them in eggnog or whatever our seasonal coping mechanism may be (shopping, eating, peppermint schnapps), we can instead use this season to grow, to incubate, and to heal. Here are some of the nurturing ways in which we can approach difficult holidays:

  1. Using the holidays to grieve.

Walking through the mall around the holidays may feel unbearable. That six-year-old girl sitting on Santa’s lap reminds us of the child we might have had if we hadn’t had an abortion six years ago. We wonder what sort of toys we would be buying her, what new rituals we would make as a family, had we chosen a different life path. We think about playing draidel together, or making Christmas tree ornaments out of Mason jar lids and glitter, just as our moms taught us to do so many years ago. These thoughts bombard our consciousness uninvited, and haunt us even when we plea for them to leave us alone.

Or maybe that six-year-old girl, smiling and laughing, her parents rejoicing in the magic she sees all around her, gnaws at a much older wound from our own childhoods. The sexual abuse we endured at that age enters our minds, and we realize that we were robbed of not only magic but also of safety. The thought of sitting on a stranger’s lap terrifies us. And even if it didn’t, there was nothing to ask of Santa because even at age six, nothing mattered. Even then we may have lost hope. And suddenly we resent this child. We wish we had had memories like hers—memories of innocence in a time when innocence is so quintessential. And we wish there was a family to go home to visit now, though we haven’t spoken to our abusive parent in years. Instead we are alone still, stung by the frostbite of these thoughts which never cease to appear each year.

The holidays highlight innumerable losses: divorces, lost pregnancies, lost childhoods due to abuse or neglect. Deaths in the family, estrangement from family, lack of family, family who seem stable on the outside but ignore who we are in those subtle ways that hurt so unbearably. We cannot change the ways in which the holidays bring these wounds up. However, we can use these experiences to allow ourselves to grieve—to allow ourselves to feel whatever we are feeling without trying to change it: sadness, anger, resentment, fear, loss. We can choose to give these wounds a voice by letting them be, just as they are. This is a complicated journey, and one that can require professional guidance as to prevent overwhelm or retraumitization, but is worth pursuing as part of the healing process.

2.  Allowing ourselves to hibernate.

Sometimes with the lack of light and warmth, it feels only natural to go inward during the winter—inward into our homes and inward into our own consciousness. All beings need to rest and recuperate; winter can offer some of that. Often shut away from spending time outdoors, we can turn to introspection and contemplation, to reflect on the year and set our goals and intentions for the future. We can enjoy our own company and the space we call home.

While some may not want to hide away for long periods of time, or at all if they struggle with depression or other emotional difficulties, for others it can be helpful to enjoy some of the inevitable alone time during the winter. We can get to know new parts of ourselves—spend time listening to different parts of our brains and hearts. Re-examine old thoughts and beliefs. Find refuge in solitude.

3. Keeping our hearts open to joy.

Even if we feel like scrooges during the holidays, we can ourselves to take in the positive moments; they may sustain us through the rest of the winter. While this may seem obvious, if we are in pain during the holidays, enjoying any part of them may feel invalidating to our experience; we may feel like we are ignoring our feelings or “selling out.” It is important to realize that nothing is black and white; if the holidays bring us mixed and complicated feelings, which they so often do, we can invite in the entire spectrum of our experience. We can make a seat at our dinner table for both pain and joy, understanding that not only is there room for both, but also that both need to be invited in, fed, and listened to.

Letting loose with our coworkers at the holiday party can be a much needed reset from the deadening routines we create together and can bring levity back into our working relationships (especially if done in ugly sweaters). The way the city lights up, trees and lampposts and houses glowing and twinkling against the snow, always reminds me of the resiliency and optimism of humans when they loose the light of the sun. Allowing ourselves to put on ice skates, or to eat special once-a-year things, or to decorate our homes with treasures from our grandparents, can help to balance out the difficult feelings. It’s ok to have sadness around the holidays and to also enjoy parts of them. Giving ourselves permission to indulge in these joys can be hugely nourishing.

If we are ready, welcoming in all of the emotions that arise during the holidays—grief, solitude, joy, and others—can help us to make peace with the inevitable tornados of the human experience. It is when we hide from them, when we shut them away, that we find ourselves suffering more.

Reflections on EMDR

IMG_1649As I finish the last requirements of my Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) training, I feel more compelled than ever share the gift of this therapy with the world. Having sat on both sides of the room, experiencing EMDR as both a therapist and as a client, I continue to be amazed at the changes I see, both in myself and in those I work with.

I notice myself making new connections about my habitual patterns. The roots of everyday suffering have become cleaner and clearer; I find myself more honest with them. I am more honest and less resistant, more flexible and less stressed, more curious and less avoidant. Most of all, I am finding myself more resilient than ever before. This was highly apparent to me during the chaos of the recent 100-year flood, an event that had a great impact on my life. What could have easily been psychologically traumatic was instead within my realm of tolerance. Beyond that, I was able to make meaning of my experiences and grow, even while the waters were at their height.

I am not a new person; I am simply more intimately in contact with my core self—in contact with my strength and power and flexibility and wisdom. I can weather the storm, more grounded than ever before.

I went into my EMDR training very skeptical. On the outside, the therapy appeared to be too rigid and formulaic for my style. Because of its predictable structure, I assumed that it lacked room for spontaneity and creativity. I thought because of this structure, my clients would feel as though therapy was being “done to them” and they would not have freedom to explore their own therapeutic processes in ways that were most helpful and resonating to them as individuals. Truth be told, EMDR is structured. There is a very clear formula and protocol. But what I didn’t realize before beginning my training was that this structure was the skeletal frame that could support a very creative, investigative, and nondirective process. My experience of EMDR has been a polar opposite of my past stigmas.

So what is EMDR, how does it work, and what is it like?

EMDR is a type of therapy that can be extremely helpful for both traumatic and difficult life experiences. Unpleasant symptoms that cause distress occur when such experiences are stored in the brain in an unprocessed way.  In other words, they get “stuck.” EMDR helps to unstick and process these experiences, reintegrating them in the brain so that they are no longer disturbing.

In EMDR, we use bilateral stimulation with eye movements, tactile sensations, or audio sensations while remembering a memory or symptom. This allows for processing and integrating of stored and/or unconscious material, thereby decreasing unpleasant symptoms. Though we are not sure quite how EMDR works, it has been shown by research to be a highly effective method of therapy. One theory is that by using bilateral stimulation, we create a state in the brain similar to REM sleep, which allows for our system to process material that is otherwise stuck.

During an EMDR session, a person experiences a combination of images, thoughts, somatic sensations, and emotions as though they were on a train, watching them go by out the window. It feels a little different for everyone, and part of the process is learning to trust that your experience is unfolding as it needs to (with guidance, of course!).

One thing I really love about EMDR is that it creates safety in a way that makes processing difficult experiences manageable. It gives clients control over how deeply they want to go into painful experiences, and highlights the importance of self-care and trusting one’s own limits. In this way, it promotes self-compassion and self-awareness. It’s empowering. It puts us in intimate contact with all parts of ourselves, from our shiniest defenses to our shadowed wisdom.

*Interested and want to know more? I am happy to do free in-person or phone consultations if you are considering EMDR with me. I am also happy to help connect you to other resources as well! Contact me here.*

[Sources: EMDR International Association: EMDRIA.org. , Maiberger Institute: maibergerinstitute.com].

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Rachael Uris, MA, LPC is the owner of Atacama Counseling, LLC, offering sex therapy as well as individual and couple's counseling for issues surrounding sexuality, love, and pregnancy. All services are located in downtown Boulder, Colorado, and are provided in English and Spanish.
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