Healing Self, Healing Spirit, Intimacy and Parenting 0 comments on When the waves of grief come…

When the waves of grief come…

As we have identified, no one goes through cancer unscathed. Recently, this has been coming up in a number of different ways- personally, it is seeing the lingering impact on my youngest son who was 5 and starting kindergarten when I was diagnosed. Knowing that I couldn’t fully protect him from that experience- and the lingering stress that follows, is something that weighs heavy on my heart.

Another way that it has come up is related to survivor guilt.  From my perspective, survivor guilt manifests from the experience of watching people we love go through cancer treatment and/or having them die from cancer.

Just like someone who walks away from a plane crash, we wonder why were spared and they were not… we feel helpless to soothe their loved ones… we feel badly when we are not fully grateful… the list goes on and on.

Yet, we are tribal people and we need the connection to others who have been there… being connected is a crucial component of healing AND it also asks us to confront how unjust life can be, how little control we have over outcomes, the mortality of others and ourselves…  As Robert Neimeyer wrote:

We are wired for attachment in a world of impermanence. How we negotiate that tension shapes who we become.

To be fully alive and present, we need to find ways to allow ourselves to process the many losses that come along with life. Death is certainly a loss and a grief process that we see as valid, although we frequently underestimate the time needed to fully grieve. All endings, not just death, have components of grief and loss, in part because when something comes to an end, we reflect upon the experience and the thoughts, feelings and expectations we had about it.

Grieving when you are also experiencing survivor guilt becomes more complex, because we share the common experience of having cancer and thus inevitably we think about ourselves.  The tension that comes from trying to do both can cause us to shut down, withdraw, become overwhelmed, judge ourselves… and this tension can easily go unnoticed and underground.

The taboos about talking about death and dying, the difficulty of honoring our own process and needs when we know someone “has it worse”, our tendency to compare and to ruminate about things that are out of our control…

All of these things add to the shroud of silence that often accompanies the waves of grief. For the waves of grief inevitably come with the gift of life.  As the quote from Havelock Ellis in the meme above reminds us:

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on

In order to walk through our survival guilt, our grief, we need to find small ways that we can practice letting go and holding on. When we do this, we find the ability to release the tension that keeps us stuck and unable to be fully embody what we have been through. When we do this, we begin to find the ability to be alive and connected to ourselves and to those we love, learning to surf the waves despite the challenges we and our loved ones face.

Tell me, what is a small gesture or act you can do right now to practice letting go and holding on? I’d love to hear it, shoot me an email, send me a PM or write below. XO

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, she works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, workshops, and this weekly blog. Check out the individual packages. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healing Spirit, Survivorship 0 comments on Staying connected to the connections that nourish us

Staying connected to the connections that nourish us

Last weekend I had the opportunity to be an exhibitor at the YSC national summit for young women diagnosed with breast cancer. It was such an amazing experience to connect with others who have been through similar circumstances. I had a lot of meaningful conversations with attendees and other exhibitors, the energy of sharing purpose and passion is invigorating.

In this world of technology, we don’t always get the opportunity to meet face-to-face.  I am forever grateful for both technology and the ability to meet face-to-face, because both help us to decrease isolation and increase our ability to feel better, knowing that we are not alone and that many of our concerns are shared.  As the Swedish proverb reminds us:

Shared joy is double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow

I am still digesting the experience of being surrounded by my community, so in honor of that this week’s post is about maintaining the connection to the connections that nourish us.  Often we can’t have ongoing face-to-face time with our community, so finding a way to hold onto the experience is just as important as having it.

I like the image of a camel, a beautiful and strong animal who can store away the energy of food and water to allow it to pass through a dessert, where resources will be scarce. A camel can go a long time without replenishing its stores, yet the camel must be mindful of its needs, so that it can survive.

Taking this metaphor of the camel, can you take a moment to recall a time in your life in which you felt really connected with others.  A time in which you felt understood and in which you gave the gift of understanding.  What do you notice?  How does it make you feel?  Can you visualize (or draw) what your camel hump looks like?  What does the hump need to easily circulate this nourishing energy throughout your system?

If you happen to be one of those people who struggles to add yourself to a priority list, you may often walk a very fine line between that which is necessary for survival and that which is harmful self-depletion.  If that is the case, it is really important to work with someone who can support you in examining why this is and what needs to change in order to shift the cycle.  In my work with others, I often find it is our deep seeded beliefs that drive these actions of deprivation and depletion. If this sounds familiar to you, set up a consultation call to explore the possibility of working together.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. I began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, I work with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, workshops, and this weekly blog. Check out the individual packages I offer. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

Healing Self, Healing Spirit 0 comments on Finding Inspiration

Finding Inspiration

This week my thoughts keep circling back to the importance of inspiration… I like to think of inspiration as the energetic fuel that keeps us going when we are going through times of great transition and change.  The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel that bostlers our spirit.

Inspiration also means the act of drawing air into the lungs.  Air, naturally, is the most basic need that we have for survival.  Therefore, inspiration not only is perhaps the fuel for our spirit, but also the fuel for our bodies.

When we practice the art of mindful breathing- or inspiration- we practice the art of being in the NOW.  Being able to stay in the present is so valuable for our ever busy minds, that wish to dash off and dash away from the present. Thus we have inspiration to thank for calming the mind.

When we feel inspired, when we are breathing, when we are finding a stillness in our mind and body, we find our way back to ourselves.  We might not always recognize the person we find, because cancer can impact us in fundamental ways, but for most of us there is at least a glimmer of who we have always considered ourselves to be.  Especially if we focus on the act of simply being with our breath.

You don’t have to do extraordinary things to connect with inspiration, although it is always inspiring to see examples of authenticity and bravery- like the remarkable breast cancer survivors who walked the catwalk this week at New York fashion week, representing AnaOno Intimates. Or the story of Patti McCarthy who hiked through cancer treatment in order to keep herself reminded of her passions, “A passion that would let me live life, and not be swallowed up by cancer”.

Whatever form it might take, take some time to find inspiration.  Feed yourself, feed your soul and share it with others as a reminder to breathe.

As Marty Rubin reminds us:

Sometimes just breathing is enough

And I might add- the only thing that is possible for you at this time…

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Self, Healing Spirit 0 comments on For the new year

For the new year

This week I am taking a little break from writing, but I wanted to close out my final #TherapyThursday post with some classic, inspirational words by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.  And when we bring what lies within us out into the world, miracles happen.

When you have or have had cancer, what lies within you is the foundation for resiliency.  Honoring our needs, setting realistic expectations of ourselves, taking space from relationships that drain us while opening up to relationships that feed you, these are the components of a strong foundation.

Working through the trauma that comes with cancer allows us to tap into our deepest sense of self, the part of us that has evolved towards self actualization, a process that continually unfolds. When we allow that part of us out into the world as we work through the trauma, miracles do happen for that helps the collective conscience of us all.

I wish you all a Happy New Year, should you have a topic that you would like me to address in an upcoming blog, write in the comments below or send me an email: creativetransformationsllc@gmail.com.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Self, Healing Spirit 0 comments on The Yin and Yang of transitions…

The Yin and Yang of transitions…

We are getting into a time of year that often involves a strange mix of busyness and contemplation, joys and sorrows, togetherness and separateness.  The darkest day of the year for the northern hemisphere and the lightest day of the year for the southern hemisphere.

It is interesting to contemplate this yin and yang that is ever present in our lives and the world… even if we have lost our ability to see and feel it.

When we are on the precipice of a birthday, new year, or new beginning, we often feel compelled to take stock of where we are at.  A time of setting intentions for some, and a time of setting demands on self for others.  The difference lies in one’s ability to be compassionate with self, the ability to accept where one is, and the capacity to have reasonable expectations while finding inspiration to move ahead.

When I think about the three new years since my diagnosis, I recall the flavor of each one.  The first was in the middle of my chemo.  The impact was beginning to wear on my body, and I needed to stay truly present to the moment to moment changes in order to keep myself taking one step in front of the other.

The second new years, I had just gone through my final surgeries, and my final “outside of the home” trip that year was to a doctor’s office to see how I was healing.  While I wouldn’t have chosen that for my final act of 2015, it was so appropriate.

The third year, I had the opportunity to go out by myself for a cross country ski in sparkly new snow.  The sun was out, and it mirrored the deep joy I felt at being alive and well.

When things feel turbulent, I often turn to words to find solace, hope and a guiding light.  A few years ago, I stumbled upon the beautiful poetry of John O’Donahue.  In his book, To Bless the Space between us, was the most moving poem about transition. Perhaps it will offer you today the words you need to hear.

Titled, For a New Beginning, it reads:

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

Whether you are planting a small seed of hope to nurture into life or contemplating a significant life change or adventure, staying true to our selves, staying true to our core values, staying true to acts of kindness, can bring us through the turbulence onto solid ground.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Spirit 0 comments on Holidays and feelings

Holidays and feelings

It’s that time of year here in the US, when the holiday season descends upon us and we gather together with family and friends.  Independent of our personal circumstances, the holidays tend to stir the feelings pot- as we reflect on what our traditions have been or still are, as we take stock of our life circumstances, as we think about those who we have lost and those who we have gained.

The fact that we are marching towards the darkest day of the year tends to add to the intensity of the feelings pot, because so often darkness brings us closer to thoughts, feelings and memories that are painful.

This isn’t always a doom and gloom scenario, but so often the holidays pressure us to present only the “good” feelings, which can cause us to shut down to attending to those more vulnerable parts.  When that happens, it signals that somehow a part of ourselves is not acceptable, making those feelings go underground rather than paying them the homage they deserve in order to allow them to be released.

The line between joy and suffering is truly so thin, and we can’t quite know one without the other.  When we give ourselves permission to feel both, they can find a way to flow with more ease in and out of our lives.

This year, I am feeling a resurgence of feelings from the loss of my mom 17 years ago.  I no longer play through the experience of being with her as she died from breast cancer, as I once needed to do in order to heal.  It was the experience of losing her that lead me to become an art therapist, for which I am eternally grateful, as processing her loss through art and writing were critical components of grieving.

This year, I am feeling a tenderness towards the things I wish I could have shared with her on this earthly plane.  As I have healed emotionally from cancer, I realize that she once again she was guiding me to understand that process, because she did share with me the fears she had following her first diagnosis of cancer and how she approached her physical healing.

I am so thankful that she did, because while she could not be at my side physically to help me through cancer, the memories I had from how she handled it and what she struggled with, provided me a guidepost through the murky place that is “survivorship”.  It gave me something to work off of, to ground the groundless experience of cancer and it’s aftermath.

If you are reading this post, I wonder what you are reflecting upon as we approach this holiday season and the march towards solstice.  I hope that it finds room to breath, to express, and to circle out into the greater collective of experiences that we all share.  May our sharing with those who are willing and able to listen, bring healing to one another.

Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self. And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others ~ Harriet Goldhor Lerner

So wherever you find yourself today or during this holiday season, my thoughts are with you. Namasté.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.