The Lighter Side of Transformation

with Lisa Wessan, LICSW

Say Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything, by Viktor E. Frankl

Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything by Viktor E. Frankl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I appreciate the succinct and compact composition of this unabridged audio book. As much as I loved Frankl’s earlier book, Man’s Search for Meaning, this one extracts the essence of Frankl’s Logotherapy (the power of meaning and purpose in life). He provides valuable ideas and interventions geared towards Solution Focused therapy.

I continue to be touched, moved and inspired by Frankl, on ever deeper and more meaningful levelsūüíô



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Walk and Talk Therapy featured on Boston Chronicle with Lisa Wessan

Lisa Wessan featured on Inside/Outside episode

09.09.20 – ABC News/The Boston Chronicle, Inside/Outside episode. Finding Peace in the Great Outdoors. I was interviewed by great team from the Boston Chronicle concerning my work with Walk and Talk Therapy. This was part of a longer story about how we are taking our work outside during the pandemic.

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Coronavirus Retreat Tip 2 on Distress Tolerance Skills

Stay Home Stay OM

We are all struggling to feel safe, stable, useful and effective during this pandemic challenge. I know for sure that when I feel peaceful and useful, everything else falls into place.

Feeling peaceful and useful is the foundation for a great life…trying to be “happy” or “ecstatic” all the time is worthless to me.¬† Happiness is fleeting, and as much as I love ecstasy, it also does not last long enough. Being peaceful and useful, however, offers long term gains, which often bloom into happiness and sometimes the ecstatic joy of living.

HOW DO WE BECOME MORE PEACEFUL DURING THE PANDEMIC? 

There are many different paths of coping as you trudge up this pandemic mountain, the question is which path works for you.¬† I suggest you keep trying these methods — and others — to see what works.¬† Over time you will have a colorful tool kit with many different coping methods that you can use as needed.

Today’s tip has some useful skills for increasing your tolerance to distress and anxiety.¬† There are two key principles at work with the TIPP skills.

‚≠źFirst, every thought becomes a chemical reaction in your body.¬† Change your thoughts, change your experience of your life. Mind/Body medicine works both ways.
‚≠źSecond, “the issues are in your tissues.”¬† When you release the stress and toxins in your flesh, bones, muscles, skin, you feel a tremendous mental release and relief.
Let’s start with the empirically verified TIPP Skills¬† for quickly changing your body chemistry:tipp
Source:  Adapted from Linehan, M. (2015).Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets. New York: Guildford Press. P. 329.

Let me unpack these TIPP skills and add in my suggestions:

Temperature – you can create what’s call the “The Dive Response” in a few ways.¬† The Dive Response will lower your blood pressure and relax your nervous system.¬† Ways to shift temperature include:

  • Set up a bowl of cold water and dunk your face into it for as long as you can hold your breath. Do this a few times, until you feel relief.
  • Take an ice pack, wrap in a towel and place on your cheeks, brow, neck.
  • Hold ice cubes in your hands.
  • Freeze a lemon or orange, and squeeze the frozen citrus.¬† Provides cooling effect plus aromatherapy.
  • Take a washcloth and moisten with cold water, but it on your brow (better effect laying down.)

Intense Exercise – in addition to the jumping jacks, push ups, running, walking fast, fast dancing, Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga etc, I recommend the “Cross Crawl.”¬† You can do this standing up or on the floor.¬† This is a movement that gets your heart rate up super fast, can be done in place, and in five minutes you will feel the shift and release. It also provides excellent mental stimulation and has been shown to improve memory, creativity and focus as the cross-lateral activity heightens the exchange between the left and right hemispheres of our brains.

“Therapeutically, cross crawl refers to any intentional cross-lateral activity in which you cross the mid-line of the body, such as touching opposite hand and knee or foot.¬† Performing this movement builds the bridge between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, allowing for electrical impulses and information to pass freely between the two, which is essential for physical coordination as well as cerebral activities, such as learning language, reading, and hand-to-eye coordination.” (Source: https://www.yourtherapysource.com/blog1/2019/06/16/cross-crawl/)

Paced Breathing – Whether you do the “Take 5” method, which is inhaling to count of five, holding for 5 and then exhaling to 5, or any variation of slowed down breathwork, it will work. ¬† The only way to do this wrong is to not do it at all!¬† When we do this in my DBT Skills Groups, I add on the physical hand movement of placing the dominant hand on the heart area and the other hand on the naval area.¬† Touching these two power centers (Solar Plexus and Heart chakra) has an additional calming effect. ¬† The body feels more centered and cared for, a sense of compassion flows, and we feel we are doing useful self-parenting in this position.¬† This is also considered the Reiki I position, which begins a deeply relaxing sequence of psycho-spiritual¬† events in the body.

Paired Muscle Relaxation РThis is when we begin to scan our bodies head to toe or toe to head, and start to tighten and release muscle groups.  This can be done sitting or lying down. It is most effective to inhale, tighten, hold for a few seconds, and then release.   I sometimes like to pair the muscle contractions with cognitive suggestions, e.g. Breathe in harmony, breathe out chaos. Breath in unconditional love, breathe out fear. Breathe in acceptance, breathe out anger.

You can find many free versions of Paced Breathing and Paired Muscle Relaxation at Insight Timer, and all over the internet.   Insight Timer has versions as short as 2 minutes, and as long as 90 minutes for each of these processes. (I also have a few videos on YouTube concerning Body Scans and Paced Breathing as well.)

May these TIPP Skills enhance your Coronavirus Retreat today!

Onward and Upward in good health,

Lisa Wessan

 

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2020. All rights reserved.

 

 

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My Ongoing Battle of the Bulge Continues…I reached my 50 lb. milestone!

For those of us who have more than a few pounds to shed, it is usually requires a multimodal and multidimensional effort…To that end, below please find a brief summary of my Fabulous Foursome for Successful Weight Loss and Good Health.¬† Learn more here as we hasten slowly towards our best health and lifestyle ever!¬†

09/19/19 |

So it turns out that after taking at least 10,000 roads to wellness over the past 50 years, my sacred formula for success is a multimodal treatment plan combining Weight Watchers (WW),  Yoga,  Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Forest Bathing.

I’m grateful to share that I feel light as a feather…even though I have a long way to go.

For those of you still struggling with the 3Fs (Food, Fat, Fear), I’d like to invite you to pick at least one of these paths to wellness and begin to unpack the multidimensional conflicts that keep you in the Plus Sizes.

I’ll briefly describe each one, and may you find your solution soon!

1. WW (Wellness WINS! aka Weight Watchers)

First, let’s deal with the food. Good food, good mood, right?¬† Who is ever happy living in deprivation, with an “all or nothing” restrictive food plan?¬† For years, I used to manage my weight by eating no sugar, flour, booze, fried food and more restrictions. ¬† I would be slim for a while, sometimes as long as seven years, but then as soon as I picked up one of the Forbidden Foods, e.g. chocolate, or wine, chips or whatever, I would blow it, fall off the wagon and spiral into a relapse of some sort. I believed the mythology that I could not eat one of anything, that for cookies, “One is not enough, but a thousand are too many.” ¬†¬† I was caught up in a kind of cult-like belief that I was a food and sugar addict and had to live my life in a Black and White, All or Nothing paradigm or else I would binge my brains out and be morbidly obese.

I even found doctors and research that supported this idea!  Fun fact:  this is NOT true.

I needed some serious cognitive restructuring, which I finally received. I had to let go of my former Belief System (B.S.) and move into a new realm where I knew nothing about food. Oh yes, I reached the critical point of being sick and tired of being sick and tired,¬† the best place to “achieve” the sweet surrender of the Beginner Mind.¬† I finally let go of my B.S., and opened my mind to a new way of looking at food, fat, carbs and more. It happened to be unexpectedly delivered by WW.

WW is an international organization, so you can join anywhere in the world you have internet service.¬† To sweeten this experiment, if you click on the link below, you can get a free month to try it out, and see how it goes.¬† That’s what I did.

[GET YOUR FREE WW MONTH TODAY!]

Fast forward to 2019… now it‚Äôs easier than ever to eat what you love and lose weight. Click HERE for one month free to explore… You can refund your misery after 30 days if this does not work for you!

The best part of WW is the Mindfulness training…there’s a lot of brilliant cognitive restructuring built into the weekly lessons and discussions in the Workshops, and in the online Connect community. Plus the WW App is totally genius for tracking your food (comes with the membership). I’ve used MyFitnessPal and other weight loss/fitness apps – this one beats them out hands down.

Good health is wealth, GO FOR IT! ¬† [Note: don’t bother getting the WW cookbooks, because all of the recipes are online and the App.]

2. YOGA AND WEIGHT LOSS

I originally went to yoga just to STRETCH, to avoid getting injuries.  In the past, I would get Plantar Fasciitis,  shin splits,  and other sports related injuries because even at my top weight, I did a lot of walking, hiking and working out but not enough stretching. Yikes. It was a bitter and painful lesson to me, that not enough stretching causes incapacitation!

Imagine my surprise, when I started attending yoga classes, and discovered how much unexpressed grief, rage, sadness and other negative emotions I could release on the mat.¬† It was powerful for me, and continues to be a very helpful emotional release.¬† I need it.¬† It is definitely part of my weight loss success here.¬† See if you can find a yoga studio near your home or office.¬† Gentle suggestion: If you are new to yoga, or have any kind of physical challenge/injury/Plus Size body, start with the Restorative Yoga, which is deeply healing and relaxing.¬† That’s what I did.¬† I went from Restorative Yoga to more active Vinyasa Yoga (a bit more cardio).¬† I do both now.

3. DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOR THERAPY (DBT), SOLUTION-FOCUSED THERAPY AT ITS BEST

These skills of Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, Interpersonal Effectiveness and Mindfulness  are necessary for the cognitive restructuring you need to move away from that toxic All or Nothing mindset, designed for Recovering Perfectionists like me.

Big Bonus:  DBT relieves depression, anxiety, mood swings, OCD spectrum and other behavioral issues that can be barriers to weight loss, and other long term goal driven projects. 

Grateful and shameless plug: If you follow my blog, you already know that I am a passionate DBT Skills trainer, and believe that these courses should be taught in third grade to all humans.

That said, if you are north of Boston, or near Westford, MA, you could check out my DBT Skills Groups. If not, search for your nearest DBT group in your area. ¬† (As it happens, our next round of DBT groups for teens and adults on Mindfulness & Emotion Regulation are starting in January, so if you are interested, fill out this contact form and I’ll send you the new flyer and registration info.)

4. FOREST BATHING: DEEP HEALING FROM HIKING OR WALKING IN THE WOODS

If you’re still reading this, you are clearly motivated to make a change.¬† So are you truly sick and tired of being sick and tired?¬† Is this it?¬† Are you DONE suffering with the 3Fs?¬† If so, put on your walking shoes, sneakers or hiking boots and spend a little time on the trails.

It has been my experience that there is a healing force field that is very strong in the woods.  You need to drag your tired self over there and walk, even for ten minutes, to get into that healing field. Even better,  hug a few trees.  See what happens.

Selby 1
Selby Gardens, Sarasota, FL (December, 2019)

Notice if you suddenly feel as if your head has cleared, and you feel a bit more peaceful, or, dare I say it, even joyful?¬† I am 100% confident that the time I spend in the woods has contributed to my weight loss, and not just because I am burning fat on the trails.¬† No, it is the good energy shift I feel.¬† It helps me make more loving choices with my food, and my thoughts are transformed into better thoughts. ¬† If you are curious, you can learn more here…

You might also enjoy this article I wrote, that was published in the SOCIAL WORK VOICE journal,  about the clinical benefits of walking in the woods,  Wessan, L. (2018). Walk and Talk Therapy: Moving Towards Wholeness. The Social Work Voice. Sept/Oct; 16-17.

In sum, I hope at least one of these four options — WW, Yoga, DBT or Forest Bathing —¬† help you in your journey towards wholeness, lightness and feeling good in your body. ¬† May you find that peace with your food soon, however you get there!

Onward and Upward,

To your best life ever,

Lisa Wessan

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2019. All rights reserved.

 

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One of my favorite dialectical quotes…

#DBT du jour:

“Love tells me I’m everything. Wisdom tells me I’m nothing. And between the two my life flows.”

– Sri Nisargadatta

What does dialectical mean?  Learn more HERE.

If you are challenged with depression, anxiety, social issues, relationship troubles, impulse issues or addiction, DBT skills will help you become healthier, stronger and more capable of coping with your emotions.  DBT is a Solution Focused therapy that gets effective results, and quickly!

Up Next:  Mindfulness and Interpersonal Effectiveness skills training in Westford, MA starts 11/06/19. Learn more HERE.

Fun fact: when you worry about the past too much, you become depressed; when you obsess about the future, you become anxious.¬† Learning to live in the present moment, aka practicing Mindfulness, can reduce 90% of your depression and anxiety.¬† Yes, you will still need to learn better ways to solve your life’s issues, but if you learn to stay in the¬† present¬† you will be so much more peaceful and useful.¬† Learning Mindfulness skills helps you get there.

If this speaks to you, please visit lisawessan.com and complete the CONTACT FORM.  I will contact you within 24 hours to discuss joining our next DBT group or working together individually, whatever you need.

Onward and Upward,
Lisa Wessan

Four leaf DBT

 

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On the “Myth of Closure,” Ambiguous Loss and Complicated Grief

“Everyone experiences ambiguous loss if only from breaking up with someone, or having aging parents or kids leaving home. As we learn from the people who must cope with the more catastrophic situations of ambiguous loss, we learn how to tolerate the ambiguity in our more common losses in everyday life.”¬†

– Pauline Boss, Ph.D.

In my immediate family, several of my nearest and dearest have battled with cancer over the years…both of my paternal grandparents, may they rest in peace,¬† my dear first cousin Stephanie (may she live to be a super centenarian) and my delightful and fierce Aunt Yvette (known as “Auntie”), who is currently receiving hospice care.¬† It has been a long and grueling journey with cancer for all my loved ones.

Sometimes I struggle with feeling powerless, and living so far away from my family in Sarasota, FL. When they lived in New York, it was so much easier to visit. Sadly,¬† I can’t make frequent visits to Sarasota. The only “power” I do have is to send intentional healing and loving energy to my Auntie and family…and to practice radical acceptance so that I will function with some measure of inner peace here in my world.

For a while, my Auntie was in and out of the nursing home while she battled her cancer and other complications from treatment. Her life was severely compromised by her illness.¬† As harsh as this has been is for her, since April 2015,¬† I have also been witnessing how Auntie’s dying process is affecting everyone around her.

My cousins are fraught with anxiety and grief. Others in my family are a hot mess, watching Auntie dying so slowly, not being able to process their feelings and find some relief.¬† Some people get trapped in the “Blame Game,” and are always looking to find ways to defocus their pain by pointing at others.

We are all coping with the ambiguity of Auntie being here, yet not here.  She is no longer resembling her true self as we knew her.  Sometimes she is delirious, sometimes she is too weak to talk. As her body deteriorates, she is no longer living the full and robust life she once enjoyed.

ambiguous loss1

This pain we are all experiencing has a name…it is called Ambiguous Loss.¬† “Ambiguous loss¬†is a loss that occurs without closure or understanding. This kind of loss leaves a person searching for answers, and thus complicates and delays the process of grieving, and often results in unresolved grief.” (Wikipedia)

There are a variety of types of ambiguous loss.¬† One type is when people go missing and the body is never found.¬† For example, a person does not return from a sailing trip, or from a hiking excursion, or war, or they are kidnapped.¬† Their loved ones still feel a lack of closure because the body was not found.¬† ¬†“Maybe they will return…” lingers in the mind.

After 9/11,  all of us in NYC were processing personal and professional ambiguous loss for all of our New Yorkers who were lost in the pile of bodies that were never recovered.

Another kind of ambiguous loss is when people experience a new emotional boundary that hurts.  This happens when people get divorced, or when someone ignores you, stops talking to you, shuts you out of their life.  Any kind of break-up creates ambiguous loss, because the person is still here, yet not here. They are alive, but dead to you.   This is considered more painful loss than when someone actually dies.

ambiguous loss3

Medical illness and addictions cause ambiguous loss.

Ambiguous loss also occurs when a loved one has Altzheimers or dementia, and they no longer recognize social connections. Similarly, when someone is very ill, such as my Auntie. We have ambiguous loss because the illness is transforming our loved one into someone other than the person we always knew. We are mourning the living remnants of our loved one while she is here…so excruciating and bitter.

When someone is living with an addiction, this too causes their personal relations to deteriorate and they are not fully present for their loved ones. Again, they are here but not here.

I have a friend who had a beautiful daughter in Cambridge, MA,  who chose to be homeless.  Her daughter was an alcoholic.  My friend tried all methods of intervention and help. Nothing worked. My friend suffered with ambiguous loss for so many years. Her daughter was a pianist, absolutely lovely.   She died a few years ago,  at 35, and it was one of the most heart wrenching tragedies I experienced.  My friend is still recovering from this painful loss.

Learning to live a good life with ambiguous loss

I recently listened to a wonderful and insightful podcast interview with ambiguous loss pioneer Pauline Boss, Ph.D.,¬†who originally coined the term “ambiguous loss.”¬† ¬†Krista Tippett hosts Dr. Boss on her podcast, On Being.¬† You can listen here:

The Myth of Closure [UNEDITED VERSION, 1.5 hours]

The Myth of Closure [EDITED VERSION, 1 hour]

I prefer the unedited versions of Tippett’s interviews, because there are sometimes fascinating nuances that are deleted to make the long form interview fit into an hour. But I’m sure whichever one you listen to will be rewardingūüíô

One of the ideas I took away from Dr. Boss’ talk was that we will never have complete closure from our ambiguous losses, or from our complicated grief.¬† What we can do is become¬† more adept at processing our negative feelings and difficult thoughts. Dr. Boss has some wonderful suggestions on the process.

Cognitive restructuring, which can be learned, is a big part of the solution.¬† Dr. Boss’ stories and explanations are very helpful in deconstructing the different kinds of ambiguous loss that we all have in our lives.

Even though I learned about ambiguous loss and complicated grief in graduate school, it seems I keep deepening my understanding of it every year.¬† I learn more about ambiguous loss from clients who are struggling with painful divorce, adult children with addictions, my Auntie’s battle with cancer, harsh racial and homophobic incidents and for all the ongoing loss of freedoms in the world that never seems to subside.

Fun fact: Ambiguous loss is clearly part of our psychospiritual journey — for it forces us to grow and move to new levels of compassion and acceptance of things we cannot control.¬† “Lack of power, that is our dilemma,” says Alcoholics Anonymous¬† (Bill W., 1976).¬† Yes, in our culture, we seek to control, cure, fix and manage everyone and everything as much as possible. We don’t like messy endings.

Yet what I have come to know, is that true mastery of life is being able to live in ambiguity with peace, even joy.¬† My life is far from perfect…yet I am more often feeling positive, grateful,¬† uplifted, inspired and anticipating good interventions that will transform it.

If we can learn to live in that “not knowing” place and be peaceful — that is a vast improvement on “hating ambiguity” and perhaps yelling at G-d or the Universe, or twisting into knots over why bad things do happen to good people…again, very messy, so annoying.

The truth is, when it comes to matters of love, there is no closure. As they say at the Grief Toolbox,¬† “Closure is not part of the grieving process, nor is it necessary for healing. A connection formed in love can’t be closed.”¬† Dr. Boss confirmed this with her years of research on ambiguous loss, leading to her forthcoming book on “The Myth of Closure.”

ambigousloss5

As Dr. Boss discussed in the interview, our Western culture wants neatly packaged endings and for everyone to move on as quickly as possible.¬† ¬†There is plenty of ignorant shaming that goes on, as in “Aren’t you over that yet?”

Sadly, our culture does not tolerate ambiguous loss very well at all.¬† It requires more Eastern, dialectical thinking.¬† To be able to say non-binary statements such as “She is alive, but also dead,”¬† “He is not here, but he is possibly still alive,”¬† or “She looks like Auntie, but this is not Auntie anymore,” requires a leap from dualistic thinking to a more dialectical thinking which allows us to embrace opposite beliefs without sinking into a deep depression or disruptive anxiety vortex.

Solution Focused Suggestions

For today, I invite you to learn more about ambiguous loss, and start to apply these non-dualistic, non-binary, dialectical thinking ideas to your situation.

  • Listen to the podcast above, and learn some skills to help process your ambiguous grief.
  • Perhaps find a good therapist who can help you learn to cope better with your struggles.¬† Good news: coping skills can be learned!
  • Learn to laugh at the absurdities, paradoxes and incongruities of life (Gavin, 2010; Wessan, 2013).
  • Practice your Distress Tolerance skills …join a Dialectical Behavior Therapy group.¬† You may then find it easier to work through the painful moments, and allow yourself to live in ambiguity with, dare I say it, some joy!

 

Onward and UpwardūüĆü

Lisa Wessan

 

References

Gavin, J. (03 Sept 2010). Laughing with the Joys and Troubles of Life Leads to Growth. The Chelmsford Patch. Found at https://mirthmaven.blog/2010/09/16/lisa-wessan-interviewed-in-the-chelmsfor/

Pauline Ross, Ph.D. https://www.ambiguousloss.com/

W., Bill. (1976). Alcoholics Anonymous : the story of how many thousands of men and women have recovered from alcoholism. New York:Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. Fourth edition, Chapter 4, We Agnostics. P. 45. 

Wessan, L. (2013).  Using Humor and Laughter in Therapy. Focus Journal. National Association of Social Workers.  Vol. 40, No. 4. 3,11.

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2019. All rights reserved.
www.LisaWessan.com

 

 

 

 

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Laughing with the joys and troubles of life leads to growth…

Reporter Julia Gavin did a very nice job on this article, with special features, one case study and more….thank you Julia!

Reference:

Gavin,. J. (2010). Laughing with the Joys and Troubles of Life Leads to Growth 
The Chelmsford Patch.

 

 

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