The Only Way Out

Like Alice in Wonderland, the only way out of the mad world of denial is through the looking glass.

Denial is not always the clandestine villain its often portrayed. It can act as some solid protective gear amid danger. The child who is abused or the hostage with a gun to their face likely needs a hefty source of denial to get them through their toxic environment.

But the denial we allow ourselves to retain post a traumatic event can wreak havoc on our daily lives. We might numb the pain with anything from drugs and alcohol to gambling and compulsive buying. There are also the more subtle forms denial takes: the physical pain that sweeps through our bodies, alerting us that we are not listening to the inner teacher residing within each of us.

Avoidance is the child of Denial. We keep busy, psychologically hiding behind to-do lists, appointments, Netflix binges—you name it. It is human nature to avoid the uncomfortable and downright painful. But I’ve learned firsthand, the only way out is through. Those little, seemingly innocuous avoidance behaviors are like spiderwebs, gossamer thin individually, but overwhelmingly powerful as an intricate whole that you can’t untangle yourself from. Avoidance is the spiritual equivalent of those Chinese finger tricks: the more we fight to avoid the pain of our past, the stronger the spiritual and physical hold on us.

According to author and teacher, Byron Katie, when we are bravely willing to examine the terrain of pain, we are also liberating ourselves. She offers four simple yet powerful soul-provoking questions:

“Is it true?”

“Can you absolutely know that it’s true?”

“How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?

“Who would you be without that thought?”

When I was twenty-six, my husband died. For years, my denial, not over his death, but over my feelings surrounding his death, were too painful to bear. In Judaism, when someone passes, there is a formalized mourning period known as Shiva. The immediate family of the deceased is not meant to do anything but mourn. Mirrors are covered. Food is brought to the mourning family. There are no distractions from the loss. The Shiva provides a way through the pain.

Unfortunately, I didn’t sit shiva or sit at all with my pain. I returned to work within a week, started dating, dancing, doing anything and everything to keep myself busy, busy, busy. The idea of sitting alone with my thoughts terrified me. My avoidance took the form of a jam-packed schedule, running to the brink of exhaustion, my M.O.

Fast forward to today, and I am a woman who misses the young man who was my sweet and thoughtful husband. It took facing my fear, asking questions like the ones above from the wise Byron Katie to begin healing. I went from avoiding the pain to embracing it and finally, made peace with my beautiful husband.

Our relationships, all of them, are an opportunity for us to know ourselves better. Once I embraced the pain of losing my husband, I was able to embrace myself in a way that rendered me more grounded and comfortable in my skin than before I even knew him.

If there’s something in your life that is keeping you in the Land of Denial and you are ready to make a change, I highly recommend delving into Byron Katie’s four questions: https://thework.com

Trigger Happy

Our triggers just might be a hidden gift waiting for us to discover…

We all know the term “triggered” at this point. A good decade ago, the word may have referred to a psychological meaning related to PTSD or some other mental disorder. Yet today, you don’t need letters after your name to be familiar with the slang of someone who gets “triggered.”

According to Urban Dictionary, “triggered” refers to “when someone gets offended or gets their feelings hurt, often used in memes to describe feminist, or people with strong victimization.”

Regardless of whether one is experiencing an emotional reaction based on a genuine trauma or mild offense, the reaction is real: the blood boiling, the heart racing, the urge to scream, cry or express negative sentiment. The individual experiencing the “trigger” is in emotional pain.

But what if we could look at the cause of one’s trigger as an opportunity to grow? What if identifying and acknowledging our triggers could be the first step towards changing? What if we considered our triggers as gifts to open and observe rather than Jack-in-the-boxes to avoid at all costs?

Consider Terry Wright, the sixty-five-year-old woman charged with resisting arrest after refusing to wear a mask at a Bank of America in Texas last month. Wright is certainly entitled to an opinion on the mask issue; she is not, however, legally permitted to go mask-less into a private institution (i.e., Bank of America) that requires a mask for all visitors.

For whatever reason, following Bank of America’s mask policy to wear a mask for a mere visit triggered Wright. It triggered Wright enough that she perceived herself as a victim: 

“Hold up! Hold up! Some old lady [Wright] is getting arrested here!”

Wright’s trigger created more misperceptions:

This is police brutality.” The video cam shows no police brutality and audibly offers several bank witnesses flat out disagreeing with Wright.

Yet there was one form of brutality: Wright’s cruelty to others and herself. Her inability to reflect on her actions and continue to see herself as a victim instead of an agitator is the true crime. 

The irony: Wright stated on a phone interview, post her childish scene at the bank (and Office Depot shortly after):

“My civil rights were violated.”

One of the first definitions of civil is “cultured and polite, as in someone who is civilized.” Wright’s behavior was the antithesis of what it means to be civil, to think about others within the community and our interconnection to each other. Wright was too steeped in pain, lashing out at others instead of reflecting inward.

The next time we feel triggered, consider an alternate choice; consider the opportunity for growth. Ask yourself:

What is the lesson here for me?

What does my potential reaction say about me?

Is there another way to perceive this situation?

Is there another way to react in this moment?

When we consider a potential trigger to be a blessing instead of a curse, our perception changes and so does our reality.

*Sources: KPRC 2, Vocabulary.com, Urban Dictionary