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Paramedic Nat

A Blog About My Mental Health Journey

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No Experience Is Ever Wasted

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Everything in the past and future has a relationship to now. Where I have been and what I have done in my life has brought me here, to this hour, this second, this moment. And what I will do and become tomorrow will dance before me like an intricate ballet of cause and effect. As I mark the passing of one full year sober and healthy, I can’t help but reflect on all of the experiences I’ve had along the way. All of the ups and downs which have provided me with invaluable opportunities to change. I don’t believe in coincidences anymore…life to me now is more like a platter of perfection, masquerading as irony, at first appearing to serve a dish of disappointment, but if you look close enough, it’s actually serving exactly what you need.

September 23, 2014, I drank copious amounts of wine and ingested a bottle of Benedryl knowing full well that the possible consequence of this could be death. I didn’t care. I didn’t feel. I was so tired of thinking about suicide every day, that having death ‘happen’ would have been a gift to me. I didn’t want to have another nightmare, I didn’t want to watch my relationship fall to pieces, and I didn’t want to feel guilty anymore for all of the inadequacies I believed whole heartedly that I possessed. … I don’t remember that person anymore. She’s gone. She somehow climbed out of the darkness that was suffocating her slowly, breath by breath. It feels like a tornado of emotions and experiences had swept me up, and has finally spit me out; and leave it to me to need a tornado as my healing vessel, I don’t seem to do anything the easy way!

The transformation of my mind has changed me forever. I’m alive. I’m happy. I’m able to feel emotions in a healthy way. I am an amazing parent, modelling a life of hope and love for my children. I am beautiful. And I am free. I don’t blame others for my feelings anymore, and I am not obsessively attached to the fulfillment of my dreams. I now prefer to live a life that maintains the passionate wish to prolong my health and wellbeing, without harsh expectations. I let life guide me, rather than trying to guide life. I’ve realized that when I thought I always had to be at the wheel, I continued to crash into a sea resentment when things didn’t ‘go my way’. Now I breathe. I walk. I smile. And I love.

I consciously try to build a mind of love every day now, which effectively eliminates my previous negative and deluded states of mind. I have learned lessons I never could have predicted in a million years, like how to reframe my experiences so that they remain congruent with my wish to be happy. I see difficulties as my teacher, ever reminding me of the importance of humility. And try to consciously abandon non-virtuous, toxic minds. Life is perfectly imperfect (I forget where I’ve heard that line before), and one day at a time I experience its imperfections, never wasting what they are always trying to teach me.

My Incredible Experience as a 12-Step Speaker

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One of the most amazing gifts I have been given as of late, was the opportunity to be the ‘speaker’ at my dear friend’s 1 year recovery celebration. It’s sort of a big deal being asked to share your experience, strength and hope with fellow 12-step members. And being that I only have 10 months of recovery, I was SO surprised when she asked me, and of course I excitedly said yes!

Like I have mentioned before, 12-step meetings are not what most people imagine. Movies and television portray their environment as glum, and dreary. They make it seem as if we don’t want to be there, and that we are all unemployed and depressed. Now to be fair, there are some unemployed and depressed people who attend meetings, but there are unemployed, depressed people everywhere. Painting every 12-step member with that paintbrush is simply not even close to realistic. After following the steps, and embracing the promises the program has to offer, we don’t ‘white-knuckle’ our way through a sad, recovery life like many people may think. In fact, many of us, if not most, enjoy happy and fulfilling lives without the obsession of mind for our vice at all; lives which we never believed were possible! At Homewood I could have saved myself a whole lot of grief if I had clued in earlier to the fact that these 12-step programs actually work when I learned that there are over 300 types of these programs around the world addressing more addictions and emotional illnesses than you can imagine!…but ‘learning the hard way’ and I were BFF’s back then. Insert ‘what was I thinking’ head shake. 

The night I was the ‘speaker’ was extra special because I brought a friend, my daughter, and her boyfriend to the meeting to hear me speak. It was so nice to be able to show them what it was like behind the mysterious 12-step walls! And it was so wonderful to be able to introduce them to my friends and prove to them that we have fun and laugh and support one another more than most people could imagine. We’re a pretty fun bunch!… who knew right?

What a night it was! When I took to the podium, I was blessed to see 100 sets of smiling eyes starring back at me. I had an idea of what I would talk about, but decided to speak from my heart and let the words come to me naturally. So away I went, and over the next thirty minutes I was able to share the story of my alcoholic childhood and the battles I conquered while being a teenage single mom. I shared of my love of being a paramedic and how sadly a double murder call that I did in 2012 gave me PTSD which partially caused me to spiral into a deep depression, lose the love of my life, and almost cost me my life with a suicide attempt and multiple overdoses. I spoke of how this mental illness and my disease of alcoholism reeked havoc on my family and friends, and how I ended up almost completely alone with Children’s Aid restricting the contact I had with my son, and my daughter dangerously ill in the hospital. And with chilling memories running up and down my spine, I shared with the audience that less than 1 year ago my family had seriously discussed my funeral arrangements and planned what to do when I was gone…not if. 

Now I want to let you know, and possibly eradicate another false 12-step assumption, that the purpose of being a speaker at a 12-step meeting isn’t to glorify the bad that happened in our lives. On the contrary! It’s by sharing our journey that we are able to take pride in the magnitude of our recovery, and even more importantly, hopefully inspire others to continue with theirs. Being a speaker doesn’t involve puffing out your chest and showing how your struggle was worse than anyone else’s. It goes without saying that every participant in the room has fought the fight of their lives while suffocating under the darkness of their disease. Furthermore, sadly every 12-step goer in the room has been directly and/or indirectly affected by the loss of familiar faces who once shared their honest stories too; some lost to the return of the obsession of their vice, and more often than I had expected, some lost by death related to their disease.

As a speaker, the main purpose of sharing life-stories is to show that through the darkness their IS light! And as a speaker it was my honour to shout from the depths of my heart that a happy life in recovery IS POSSIBLE! I am LIVING testament to this fact! I was able to share how waking up in the morning is a gift. And how the feelings surrounding my heinous obsession with suicide are actually hard to even remember now. I was also able to share how I live my life mindfully with my Higher Power, God, leading the way. And how even though I still have nightmares in my unconscious sleep, I know that my conscious wakefulness will be filled with new found patience, peace and love. In short, I was able to share with so many surviving souls, that their strength and perseverance is WORTH IT, and that HOPE and LOVE are what will launch them into the ‘4th dimension’ of recovery FREEDOM!

How happy am I that I don’t need to hold a glass of wine up high to ‘cheers’ to my success’ anymore. On this very special night, I was given the gift to celebrate my success’ by holding my head up high instead.

The Beautiful Side of Life’s Spectrum

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I recently posted a blog entitled: Appreciation of Life Through a Paramedic’s Eyes for which I have received wonderful feedback and many shares (thank you!). This important post highlighted the contrast between life and death, and how as first responders it is so important to not only be mindful of the death side of the spectrum of life, but also the beautiful life side as well.

So, I asked YOU, the amazing first responders out there, to share YOUR beautiful life stories, and the response was overwhelming! So here are a few stories of hope and happiness from services all over North America. Keep the beautiful life stories coming, (natalie8816@hotmail.com), and I will continue to share 🙂 I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did! …. ps. get a tissue! And let the tears of happiness begin….

Nicole from Orangeville wrote: My partner and I had picked up an elderly female patient from a nursing home and brought her to the hospital as she was septic and sadly wasn’t going to survive the night. We were at our local hospital waiting for a room for the patient.

A lady had walked by earlier to visit a patient and when she was walking out to leave she looked at our patient and asked us if our patient was going to be OK. We said no, she was not doing very well and would probably not make it through the night. Well that lady said that she wasn’t able to see her father as they had sent him home without her knowledge. She asked if she would be able to pray with our patient and offer her comfort in our patients time of need.

Of course we said yes.

That lady stayed and prayed with our patient, holding her hand and just being with her when she was alone and there was nothing that we or the hospital would be able to do for her. The lady stated that there was obviously a reason that she was brought to the hospital, and it wasn’t for her father, but to be with a complete stranger in a time when she was alone and dying.

It was such a touching moment for me, I still cry when I think about it…..one beautiful soul helping to comfort another soul in need. It gave me a new perspective on things, including that sometimes all you can do is hold a patients hand and let them know that they are not alone.

Dan from Mississauga wrote: It was another long tedious day. Crews are lined up down the back hall in the emerge. Endless hours of waiting ahead. Medics were doing what medics will do when left to their own devices and bored. Which is rarely good.

My partner was joking with one of our colleagues. I stepped out to bug the triage nurse about the delay. When I turn to go back I see Rob doing cpr on the patient of the crew he had been joking with as they were moving the stretcher down the hall. Did someone miss something? No, STEMI negative. They had checked several times. No previous nitro use so they gave him ASA per protocol. They had reported properly to triage. His Vital signs were stable and there were no available beds, so it was “join the line up in the hall”. He was alive then he wasn’t.

We slapped on defib pads and shocked him. Moved him to the resus bed and started cpr again. Slowly his hands moved up to my wrists, pulling me off his chest. His eyes were opening and that “what the hell just happened?” look was on his face.

I turned around to see his daughter standing there, realization dawning, unsure whether to be scared or relieved. She had been there the whole time. Waiting in the hall wondering why her dad wasn’t in a room. Watching over him when he stopped responding. Watching helplessly as things started to happen too fast for her to comprehend. She knew something bad had happened, but was it still happening? The only thing that was certain was that she was scared, and bewildered.

A quick discussion with the ER Dr followed by a transfer to the cath lab and everyone could start to breathe again.

A month or so later, and some sneakiness by my supervisor, I’m looking at the face of the patients daughter again. A smile, a hug and a “thank you for giving me my dad back”.

Anonymous from Canada wrote: We are often referred to as medical interventionalists and I guess to some degree we are.

However working in this job you very quickly realize that its actually pretty rare that you get to “intervene” in a medical sense, although depending on your temprement, there are many opportunities to intervene on a humanistic level.

For me, that is the most precious element of my profession.

___________________________

I was recently asked by a colleague and former instructor, to write a positive story I recall from work, and so here we are.

__________________________________

For me this human element of my work was highlighted by as particular call I did working for a rural service in the North of Ontario.

Transport times can be long so It’s not unusual to be in the back for 60 minutes or more monitoring and Interacting with your patient.

On a hazy morning we were called out at 06h to respond to the far side of our coverage area. It took nearly an hour to arrive on scene and then another hour to the nearest regional medical facility.

I walked into a house to find an elderly gentleman in his 80’s , AOx3 but not looking too healthy, sitting slouched – sweaty and concerned, at his kitchen table. He had been out working on his boat yard when he began to suddenly feel weak and dizzy.

He was a strong, proud man. The kind that had worked more for the sake of others – than others had worked for him – but I could tell, despite his hiding it, that today he was scared.

I went through my usual routine, and packaged him for transport. A few questions, 2 aspirin and some strapping and my two years of college training was exhausted…

Then the real work begins.

As we sat in the truck discussing the patients medical history, I realized that both he and the road we were on, had the same name. So I asked:

“How come they named this road after you?”

And he began to tell me about how his father, after serving during The Great War, had been discharged and returned home to Canada.

However disillusioned with society and the sights he had witnessed on the battle field, his father had chosen to move North, to the woods to escape.

At that time the country couldn’t afford to pay returning soldiers, but instead offered them tracks of undeveloped land in the back of beyond in lieu of cash.

And so his father moved. Found love and together, built a very rustic log cabin. Etching a living from felling trees and manually chopping lumber in the back country.

It was onto this dirt floored world my patient had emerged some time later. And it would be there he’d make his life.

Continuing his fathers tradition of hard work, he had built a small but successful boat launch company, raising and supporting his family and eventually their families as well.

That’s what he was still doing that morning, well into his 8th decade – working for his family’s benefit.

As he recounted his story to me, I could see the tears forming in his eyes as he remembered his own fathers kindness and pondered each of their mortality.

It seemed appropriate, so I placed my hand on his arm, thanking him for sharing with me.

At that point, I wasn’t a medical interventionalist and he wasn’t just “my patient”.

We were two humans caught together in the rip tide of life.

Impotent, and unable to control the external situation, but united in our humanity, sharing an unspoken beauty.

It’s exactly these moments that I live for within my career. Actually if I’m honest, within my life.

They’re real, without pretension. Honest and raw. I feel privileged to experience them, honoured that these individuals allow me to witness it.

As we said our goodbyes and I transferred care over to the hospital, he took my hand and thanked me for listening. I could see the gratitude within his eyes as he asked me to ” Please, never forget those stories.”

I promised him I wouldn’t. In fact I’d share them with others…. (see told you).

In fact I doubt I ever will forget. At least not until the dementia kicks in… if i make it that far.

You see, in this job, sometimes all you can do is just be there.

A witness to the passing of events. A little slither of humanity within the darkness of another’s passing.

‘Dispatch Monkey’ from Canada wrote:  The world of police dispatch is by nature a very stressful environment. Many of the calls received at any given time, are usually quite serious in nature. Most people who are calling the police, are doing so because they believe that they or someone else are in some sort of danger. Basically, it is not usually a “happy” environment. However, there are moments that are happier, or end on a happy note.

I have been a police dispatcher for just shy of 10 years (including my training period) and I am posted in a busy communication center in Western Canada. In those 10 yrs, some of the calls that I find affect me the most are ones that involve the children and/or the elderly. These affect me because I am also the father of four wonderful boys and still have two living grandparents. When I receive these types of calls, I can’t help but think of my own children, or grandparents.

I recently took one such call, involving a child, when I was working a day shift on a very busy weekend. The call volumes into the center were very high that day, so needless to say, it was stressful. I had just finished up with a simple complaint and moved quickly onto the next call. On that next call, at the other end of the line was a very frantic and emotional mother. This sort of caught me off guard, as I had just finished with a “routine” call and wasn’t “ready” for this crying mother on the other end.

Apparently, this mother’s three year old son had disappeared from the house. One moment he was playing happily in the living room, while mom was busy in the kitchen and the next moment he was gone. Now some people will say “How can a child disappear like that?”, or “Shame on the mother, she should have been watching more closely!”. However I have never thought that, because as a parent of very active boys, I know how fast and sneaky children can be. So I did not scold her, nor did I get upset, because the last thing that this mom needed was a police dispatcher getting mad at her and telling her “what for”.

After my initial, “Gee, I’m not ready for this call” moment (which realistically only lasted a few seconds), my training took over and I got down to work. I calmly assured this mother that I would do my best to help her and send officers right away. Then I walked her through my questions: What does her son look like? What was her son was doing last he saw her? Where he was when last seen? Etc. She also informed me that when she noticed that he was missing, she started looking and had her neighbors join in the search. After about 45 minutes with no success, she decided that it was time to call the police.

As I was finishing the gathering the information, the mom suddenly exclaimed that her neighbor had found her son. I could here the relief in her voice as she began to cry. At that moment, I asked her if he was alright and when she confirmed that he was, I also felt a deep sense of relief.

With these types of calls there are so many scenarios that run through my dispatcher’s mind and none of those end well. So, when this type of call ends the way this one did, I consider it to be a “happy” call, knowing that the outcome could have been very different.

Kate from British Columbia wrote: It was a hot summer night in August. I got called to work a night shift at a station I don’t usually work for. It was a total fluke and I just happened to be available.

The call came in at 01:30. Gun shot wound to the head for a 16 yr old female. I recognized the area we were going to. A small community down a small country gravel road notorious for weird things happening. We pull up to the house, and there’s no electricity. A place full of squalor. Where you can feel the sadness and despair the moment you walk in. We package and treat our young patient the best we can and go lights and sirens to our local trauma centre. I was driving that night and all I can think about on the drive is my own attempt at my own life at her age where the paramedics saved me. I couldn’t help but feel like I was trying to pay them back for saving my life. In the end she didn’t make it. We watched her take her last breath at 0430 and went back to the station.

I watched the sun come up, sitting on the gravel leaned up against the bay doors outside. I couldn’t help but feel the sadness that the sun wouldn’t come up for her that morning. I drove home at 0800. I walked in the door to the sound and smell of sizzling bacon and pancakes. My husband making our 3 year old son breakfast. My son came running to me with bright eyes totally unaware of the nights events or where I had been. Kissed them both and had to cry. At that moment my heart was filled with so much love and appreciation for my own life and those who had saved me. I’ll never forget that sunrise or that morning coming home. I have this beautiful life . I got a second chance. And I love that I can one day give a second chance to someone, the same that someone else did for me.

Jeff from Canada wrote: My partner and I got a call for chest pain/sob after a male patient went out onto the ice to rescue his dog. En route we get an update that the pain is getting much worse. When we arrived in scene, fire was there, kneeling beside the patient who was laying down on the front porch. My partner looked out his window and said “oh that’s not good, they just out pads on him”.

We make patient contact, and confirm he is VSA. One shock, and about a minute or so of CPR and the patient opens his eyes, and then a few seconds later sits up fists clenched and swinging! We are able to get him calmed down, and onto our stretcher. We start transporting and while doing all that I had to do, I start chatting up the patient about everything. Asking what he last remembers, does he still have chest pain – particularly in the area where the defib pads are, what he was doing on the ice etc. I was amazed that this patient was VSA, we shocked him and within a few seconds he was talking to us as if nothing had happened. This is the first time I had ever seen someone regain consciousness post arrest, especially that fast.

Fast forward a few months when our base hospital hosted their annual Survivor Day. This patient spotted my parter and I from across the room, and ran over to us, giving us a hug and thanking us time and time again. He remembered everything that happened, everything we talked about, remembered the re assurance I gave, and was so happy to be there with his family.

I often get asked, as I’m sure ALOT of paramedics get asked, “what’s the worst thing you have ever seen?” and I reply with “let me tell you about the best day of my career”

Steve from Toronto wrote: I’ve been fortunate in my short career that my exposure to death and trauma has been somewhat limited. I appreciate that it’s a number’s game and eventually my time will come, but for now I try to appreciate the limited number of haunting images in my mind.

I was transporting a palliative patient to hospice, and he was barely concious during the transport. In the back he started to feebly grasp at the buckles as he seemed to have become slightly distressed by it. I took off my glove and held his hand, and he instantly relaxed. Judging by the way he stroked the back of my hand he was holding his wife’s hand. He didn’t know he was dying in the back of an ambulance, and the look on his face said he was remembering better times.

That look of peacefulness on a dying man’s face is why I do this job. Sometimes you get to genuinely be there for somebody when they need you the most. It isn’t always trauma, tubes and drugs. Sometimes it’s just holding somebody’s hand.

Paul from Arizona wrote: A long time ago …

Early after sunrise, responded to a “check deceased subject.” Arrived to find an elderly man having died peacefully tending his vegetable garden. Nature was already doing her business, as the ants made their way about the nose and ears of the body. This man’s wife of many years awoke to find him as such, and she was standing alone out of the way, quietly watching responders go about their duties. I asked her to sit on the garden bench with me, close to where her husband lay. I don’t remember what I asked after I had information for the report, but I let her talk. We sat together for a good while, chatting about her and his life together. Before we cleared, I gave her a hug, knowing how radically her life was changing.

After we cleared the scene, my veteran partner said, “I have never seen a paramedic do that before,” taking time to slow down and have a family member talk about recently deceased loved ones.

Looking back at that call, it took me a while to appreciate the most important skills of an EMS provider in the proper order. Communicate. Alleviate suffering. Once in a great while, save a life.

We can be that calm in a storm – kinda awesome, really.

Been through some rough patches over 27 years in the field. Took a while to mindfully appreciate life.

And last but certainly not least… I wanted to share a blog post from a good blogging friend, Tim from Chicago, about his experience with PTSD, the lessons he’s learned, and how, in his word’s, “if you can move yourself from the dark back into the light, nothing will be impossible. Life will no longer seem impossible”.

A Year of Healing Gracefully

Dear Readers,

It has been over a year now since I took the first step towards healing from PTSD, and I want to share with you some lessons learned. I will start from where I was, to where I am now. I can most certainly say that this has truly been an amazing year of healing gracefully. Here are my thoughts as written during the magic of 4 a.m.

It was in April of last year that I hit my low point with PTSD, although I did not know it was an issue I carried with me for over 16 years. Once I was shown the light it became very clear that I needed help to heal. At the time of my epiphany (so to speak), I hated mankind in general and it was a real struggle for me to sort out or recognize the good from the not so good. It did not matter to me because most people were being lumped into the bad category, and this ran counter to the oath I swore to serve others in need. This inner turmoil is what I believe caused me the most pain.

I have extensively chronicled my healing journey in this blog so it does not bear repeating. After a combination of counseling, acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage therapy, exercise, nutrition response testing, meditation, and now Kundalini yoga; here are my greatest lessons learned:

1. PTSD is something not to be taken lightly as it can be an all-consuming social anxiety disorder. In order to effectively heal from the wounds, one must make the concerted effort at creating a self-care (wellness) plan. An individual must take this first step forward because no one is going to do it for you. My advice is to seek treatment before you are compelled to by either the courts or an employer.

2. Once one makes the decision to become well, know that recovery is not an easy task and will require daily effort on your part. It takes great courage to make a trip around the dark side of the moon and face the demons of your past. More than likely you will find out that it was not just one specific incident, but rather a lifetime of micro-traumas that lead to the erupting volcano inside your mind.

3. Seeking help should not be viewed as a sign of weakness or social stigma. In fact, the more you share your story with others, the easier it becomes to tell with poise and dignity.

4. PTSD is not going to just go away, and it will be a life- long journey to maintain this peaceful state of mind. I realize that I stand on a very narrow ledge between a balanced life and jumping back in to the throws of PTSD. Hence, why I continue with acupuncture and have added meditation, yoga, and nutrition response testing to my regimen. Just when I think I have faced everything that has caused me pain, something else seems to creep up from the basement of my mind. However, I now tackle these issues one at a time, on more rooted ground.

5. As a first responder, I still work within a stressful environment that can exacerbate the symptoms of my PTSD, and these hits will keep on coming as long as I wear the uniform. The only difference between then and now, are the arsenal of tools I possess that help me to cope.

6. It is paramount to journal your healing experience (s) for two reasons. First, it helps you to purge the most painful moments in your life. Second, you have a written record of these events that can be shared when you pay it forward and help others in kind.

7. This last lesson is not really a lesson at all, but rather a gift. After a year of healing I am once again beginning to recognize who is a good soul in this world (my healers would fall under this category). To me, a good soul is someone who uses their God-given talent in the service of others, with no other agenda other than to do just that-serve others. This applies to not only wellness practitioners, but also the general public-at-large. If I come into contact with someone who runs contrary to this belief, I now show compassion rather than contempt, because they may be suffering from his/her own inner struggle(s) that are not recognizable to me. I must constantly remind myself “Who am I to judge another?” This type of inner dialogue will also take a life-long, thoughtful effort

Today, on this Memorial Day let us pause and remember those who have given their lives in the service of others, because it is their sacrifices that have led to our freedom.

In closing, know that living with PTSD is not the end of the world, and some suffer more greatly than others. However, with treatment, a detailed wellness (self-care) plan, and a solid circle of support, you too, can navigate life’s obstacles with grace while firmly grounded to this Earth. If you can move yourself from the dark back into the light, nothing will be impossible. Life will no longer seem impossible.

Find Tim’s blog at http://abalancedlifeselfcare.blogspot.ca

Thank you to everyone who contributed! If you keep sending them…I’ll proudly keep posting them!

With Deepest Gratitude ~Nat xo

Meditation 101…Give It A Try

I just woke up from the most amazing, restful nap!…and I would love to teach you how YOU can rest just as deeply and peacefully. Now those of you who know me well, know that I have always loved a good daily nap, but now that I’ve added listening to guided meditation just before I fall asleep, my body feels SO much more rested and my mind feels so much more clear in 30 minutes than it ever has before.

To be honest, I always doubted the healing power of meditation. Sure, I thought that it could possibly clear my mind for a short period of time, but just as my alcohol buzz would eventually leave me with my crazy life again, I thought “what’s the point of meditation? I’m just going to ‘wake-up’ back in my chaotic and restless world anyhow!” Sigh. This was a pretty typical ‘old-Natalie’ way of thinking. Before I gave this healing tool a try, I thought that throughout my busy day of being a mom, paramedic, teacher, loved-one, friend, and superwoman, I had no room for taking ‘time out’ to meditate! Well, the irony of this past mentality, is that because I lived such a superwoman life, I should have been taking the small amount of time needed to meditate even more! When I thought of meditation, I pictured a monk on a mountain in silence for days. And granted, there are monks on mountains silent for days, I didn’t have to be anything close to that to reap the benefits of this magical mindful skill.

Step 1 to basic meditation is, be open-minded! Rather than kicking a potential benefit while it’s down (like I did), allow yourself to give it a fair try. And once you’ve completed step 1, step 2 isn’t far behind…try and try again. Meditation takes practice. Sure it may seem like a simple concept, but us human beings sure do have a lot of junk running through our minds 24/7, making sitting quietly a pretty tall order at first. So my advice is start small, start simple and start ‘guided’ if possible.

Guided meditation is just what is says…you are guided through peaceful, mental images by someone else’s voice. The theme options of the guided meditation are endless, but generally speaking most start with some type of focused breathing exercise or body-scan. For example, the guide may ask you to focus on your inhalation and exhalation, and to invision clear air moving into your lungs, and grey toxic air leaving your lungs. Or, they may ask you to focus on specific body parts allowing these parts to relax even more deeply.

These are two of my favourite simple guided meditations:

The last of these 2 meditations refers to what are called ‘chakras’. Very simply put, chakras are energy points in our body which correlate to specific human functions and human psyche. To be clear, they do not correlate to any religion, they simply represent energies in which every human body feels. By using a guided meditation related to chakras, we allow blocks in these energy points to be removed.

chakras

You don’t need to be a spiritual guru to reap the benefits of a chakra meditation. The result of focusing deeply on any of our inner emotions and physical feelings (chakra or not) can bring a deep sense of peace and clarity. So for you skeptics out there who scanned through this blog and saw the image of the ‘spiritual person’  and thought right away that this blog wasn’t meant for you because you don’t believe in that ‘weird spiritual stuff’, well you’re wrong 🙂 This blog is for ANYONE who wishes to achieve more peace and clarity in their daily lives…it’s as simple as that.

Meditation has allowed my day-to-day life to be so much more mindful. I enjoy moments I never would have before because with practice, my mind calms on its own, and gets rid of the clutter that use to block so many possible mindful moments in my life. I even find myself doing breathing meditations while I drive (eyes open!…lol), and I simply…be. When I focus on my inner-peace, I have no time to focus on unnecessary inner-pain. Yes, inner-pain needs to be addressed and dealt with…but not felt relentlessly! Our minds and bodies need a break and a rest from pain in order to heal years of damage we may have done physically and emotionally.

So take my advice, and grab a set of earphones, find a comfy place to rest, and click on one of the meditations I suggested, or any you may know. And ENJOY! And remember that there are only 2 steps to learning how to meditate.

1. Keep an open mind & 2. Keep practicing.

~Love Nat <3

Hey Nat! Where Are You At?

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As my recovery progresses, I’ve realized that many people have the same interesting questions for me. So I thought I’d dedicate a blog to answering some of them as I love to educate 😉

Do you still crave alcohol every day? No, not at all actually. In the early days of my recovery from my alcohol addiction I craved it quite often. But as I have completed the 12 steps, my obsession of mind has been removed. As it has been taught to me, alcoholism is but a symptom of a greater malady. In short, alcoholics use alcohol to numb and hide from deep rooted issues, and by honestly progressing through the steps which tackle root causes of our alcoholism such as resentments and fears, we recover from our malady and joyfully do not need alcohol any more. I do still have dreams of drinking, which I’ve been told is quite normal, but the actual desire to drink is gone.

I remember thinking that people in 12 step programs must be miserable and constantly trying to avoid their cravings and battle their inner demons…but it’s not like that at all. At meetings we discuss our new found happiness and purpose for life. We rejoice in having our families back, and the opportunity to live in a world that we actually love. At meetings we enjoy a fellowship that is based on courage and mutual support, not negativity and sad stories. We go to fun events and celebrate on a regular basis. I actually look forward to going to meetings to laugh with my new-found family. Meetings are nothing close to what I had imagined (or what many movies portray), and probably nothing close to what you have imagined either.

Are you a Buddhist now? I always giggle at this question. No, I am not. However, I have definitely enjoyed learning about the gifts of love and compassion in which the Buddhist culture thrive on. Attending classes at the Buddhist Centre has also taught me how to meditate more effectively; a healing tool I originally learned at Homewood. Furthermore, classes have definitely taught me to live mindfully in the moment and have allowed me to experience deep spiritual healing through guided mediation. And icing on the cake, is that I attend the classes with my sister-in-law.

Have 12 step programs made you religious? Once again, the answer is no. 12 step programs are not a religious, but they are spiritual. A life-saving component to a 12-step program is that we (the addict) accept that we could not manage our own lives, that probably no human power could have relived our alcoholism, and that a God of our understanding could and would if He were sought. ‘God’ can be anything to us. We individually develop our own understanding of a power greater than ourselves. My concept of God may be vastly different than any other person’s in the program, and that’s ok! The purpose is to realize that we couldn’t recover from our life-threatening disease by any human means, and by turning our will surrounding our disease over to ‘God’, we take the burden off of our own shoulders, and trust that faith and rigorous honesty can allow us to recover from a ‘seemingly hopeless state of mind and body’. For millions of alcoholics this acceptance of spiritual strength, not religion, has worked. And I am testament to such a powerful, life-saving component.

Do you ever regret being a paramedic? Absolutely not! I LOVE my career and the opportunities it has provided me. I still have the urge to jump in and help every time an ambulance drives by me, or every time I see ORNGE fly over my house. Being a paramedic is a gift! The lives we impact on such a positive and monumental level is profound! And the power of the relationships we develop with our colleagues is beyond words. Yes, being a paramedic made me sick. But being sick has now opened doors I never could have imagined otherwise! I have been able to educate and connect with first-responders and their families from all over the world, and have also been able to learn so many valuable tools regarding how to heal from PTSD and have been able to share them with thousands of people. I miss being on the road every day, but I cherish the time I have been blessed with to fully-recover, and hope to become an even stronger paramedic one day soon.

Do you still talk to AB? At the present time AB and I have parted ways. I love her dearly and always will, but our views on what I could manage on a personal relationship level through my recovery became different, and I needed to go my separate way for my own personal health (and probably for hers as well). My recovery is a life and death matter, and there is NO DOUBT that AB firstly saved my life, and secondly was a profoundly loving part of a major portion of my journey, but opinions change, as do people, and we respectfully have given each other space for both of our own benefit. I do believe that there is a season for everything, and maybe AB and I will reunite one day. But in the meantime I wish her happiness every day! And will NEVER discount or not cherish the gifts she has given me.

Where do you see yourself in the next year? For now I am still taking things day-by-day. I am enjoying life for the first time in my life, and making concrete plans for the future doesn’t sit well with me yet. However, I can say that I am working alongside a friend, developing a presentation I am excited to share with all of you soon. My recovery work will never end, and I look forward to seeing where this new, healthy path may lead me. Happily, I now trust in whatever the future holds, and I look forward to sharing it with you. 🙂

Happiness and Possibility

Happiness

Happiness to many is a very simple emotion to grasp. You want it. It feels good. You get it. Right? Well, it’s not that way for everyone. Crazy as this may sound, happiness can also be a very scary emotion for some people. But why? Why is it easier for many of us to stay content with emotions that block happiness? Why are we often more comfortable having emotions like anger sewn into the fabric of our personalities? It certainly doesn’t feel good to be angry. But at the end of the day, when it’s all we’ve ever worn, it feels…comfortable.

I think many people are afraid of things that feel different…even if that ‘thing’ is suppose to feel good. I bring up this topic because at times I notice that when I am not mindful, happiness seems to hide in a corner, even completely separate from my depression and anxiety. After all of the healing I’ve done, I at times find myself subconsciously content with an undertone of anger in my gut. It’s like an old friend who shows up unexpectedly, convincing me that I should let them in. I’m comfortable with that friend…we’ve been together for a very long time. So I sit all ‘cuddled-up’ with my friend ‘anger’ and let it slowly convince me why my dreams are impossible to fulfill, or that I don’t deserve to be happy. It can convince me that happiness just isn’t my forte. In fact, lots of negative emotions can and will convince me that answered prayers or granted wishes only lead to responsibility…and who wants that?

Equally threatening can be the concept of possibility. Many of us don’t like not knowing what ‘possibilities’ may lead to? In fact, we often lock possibility’s proverbial ‘open door’ before we even take a look outside. We shy away from a road which may lead to fulfilled dreams and joy because the road is so unfamiliar. When the saying, “the possibilities are endless!”, falls upon the ears of a happy person it’s like, well…music to their ears. But when those four words land on angry ears, the promise of anything ‘endless’ can be far too intimidating.

If your dreams were scheduled to come true tomorrow, would you say you’re ready for that? Or when the time came to act upon your dreams, would you rather retract the dream for fear of the unknown? Finish this sentence; I’m afraid that if I start dreaming…  What is your answer? And if you do have this fear, how can you overcome it? I personally think that a lot of our fear of happiness and possibilities comes from the fact that in order to truly appreciate them, you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Take the happiness of ‘love’ for example. It takes courage to love. The emotional stakes are high when the possibilities of the heart are exposed. When we are in love, it’s like our hearts are beating behind a cellophane wall…so easy to see, and so easy to break. Therefore, rather than possibly experiencing the magical happiness that only love can provide, we hide behind our armour of anger, which in turn protects our hearts from damage…or does it?

Will I always have a difficult time clearing my mind from my cunning ‘friend’ anger? Or will I continue to feel the peace possible if I practice mindfulness enough? I hope for the latter. But if there is one thing I do know, it’s that this girl is ready for her happiness to continue to grow each day. I’m good with making vulnerability my new ‘friend’, and seeing where the possibilities of this journey continue to take me.

Tornado Warning In Effect

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before (as this is my 79th blog!… topics are starting to blend together on me) but I have had tornado dreams all my life. These dreams would always involve me seeing a tornado in the distance approaching family members or friends. I would yell to warn them, but no one would listen; kids would keep playing in the yard, adults would just keep walking around. I would scream and try to get them to hurry as I would watch the tornado get closer and closer. In some dreams I would finally get everyone to go inside. But it was chaos trying to corral them all because they waited too long. I couldn’t understand how they didn’t see the urgency needed to save their lives (MY ultimate irony!). Inevitably the tornado would try to lift us away…then I would wake up. These dreams always felt so real! And I never understood why I had them so often. Enter todays ‘save my life grad school’ lesson…how important distress tolerance and facing life’s chaos is WHEN it occurs.

‘Rocket science’ didn’t bring me to the conclusion that my tornado dreams meant that there was some type of chaos in my life, and that they were so frequent because chaos seemed to be my life. Growing up I didn’t know how to process and heal from sad experiences through natural grief; which sadly is probably true for lots of kids. I didn’t realize that emotional pain would be temporary and was necessary to throughly heal; I would ignore any chaotic pain and try to hide from it because, well, pain is painful. This poor coping skill stayed with me for all the years of my life, and over time, the burden of these losses built up and caused even MORE pain and suffering. Over time the tornado just grew and grew…and in exponential proportions. What use to be an F-1 as a child became an F-5 by the time I was in my 20’s.

While taking care of my mom after her aneurism when I was 20, as well as my 1-year old daughter, and my 5 year old brother, I didn’t make time to grieve the loss of the mom I had known before her brain injury. Furthermore, I didn’t make time to grieve the heartache that occurred when I was sent away when pregnant, and the loss of important relationships it had caused. I didn’t make time because things needed to get done, mouths needed to be fed, doctor’s appointments needed to be made, laundry needed washing, and homework needed to get completed, kid’s needed baths, prescription’s needed to be filled, bills needed to get paid, all while trying to manage my mom who was battling side-effects from her brain injury so serious I can barely describe in words. My life was a tornado…and not only did I not have any clue how to stop it…I thought that I didn’t have any time to.

I would cry when I went to sleep at night (a lot) but that was the extent of my emotional healing; and I never truly felt better. I was stuck in a life I didn’t necessarily want to be in, and I was only 20 years old. Back then I didn’t know any different. I would just go day by day doing the things I had to do, never realizing how much not dealing with my tremendous losses was hurting me. I responded to the life I was given the best I thought I could, and tried to look away from the tornado. If I only had known what a mess it was leaving behind.

18 more years of tornadoes inevitably brought me almost to my death. I did everything I could to ignore any distress in my life, including the distress certain calls at work would cause me. I filled up many years with certificates, diplomas and degrees, but never graduated from distress tolerance kindergarden. I tried to avoid pain at all costs (I drank, I slept, etc.) and didn’t know how to accept that pain was a natural part of life, and that I could heal if I stopped avoiding it. Bitterness silently made me more mad year after year, loss after loss. I foolishly thought that my  efforts to avoid pain would make the pain go away! However, pain from original situations that were supposed to be temporary turned into long-term pain and suffering and that got harder and harder to ignore. No wonder my tornado dreams became more frequent as I got older…my psyche was trying to tell me to open my eyes to the chaos in my heart and mind. “But who has time to deal with tornadoes anyway?” would have been my statement less than a year ago. But now after all the emotional work I’ve done to date, I feel like I’m an emotional weather radar tracking system, tracking the smallest of storms…preparing for them…managing them as they come…and more importantly, staying away from tornado alley.

After my last overdose, with a lot of support and encouragement, I slowly came to ask myself, ‘when is enough, enough?’ Yes, it hasn’t always been a smooth transition from being the ‘queen of tornadoes’ to a ‘common citizen who carries around an umbrella just incase it rains’. I have A LOT of destruction to repair after attempting to avoid my pain through self-destruction. Thankfully I have come to realize that by mindfully confronting what’s going on in my life, and how my life is going, rather than hiding from every little storm cloud, I can get control of my life and experience relief, peace and joy.

Recovery doesn’t come easy when the amount of destruction seems impossible to repair, but I am slowly learning to be patient and wait for positive changes I’ve made to take root; like the seedlings planted after the storm. (The old impatient Natalie would have went to Lowe’s and purchased an expensive full-grown tree). Today ‘save my life grad school’ presented this amazing food-for-thought with regards to accepting pain and distress during ANY recovery filled with any amount of destruction:

“When we have an injury or are planning surgery, we usually ACCEPT that it will be painful…and it will take time to heal. We EXPECT and ACCEPT the TEMPORARY PAIN. We expect to EVENTUALLY feel better. We make LIFESTYLE CHANGES to get through this time. We MAKE THE BEST OF THINGS, GO ON WITH LIFE, and WAIT FOR THE RELIEF that comes from TIME and HEALING. (Gordon, M. Out-of-Control, 2009. page 302) So why should we expect to heal emotional pain any other way?

I haven’t had a tornado dream since being home from Homewood. Maybe I’ve finally moved from Kansas.

Mindfulness and Valentine’s Day

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Valentine’s Day…Blah! A day I’ve never been too fond of anyway has involved me finishing ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’ at home in my pajamas with my Valentine (dog) Walter, (he totally forgot to get me flowers…but whatever, he would have eaten them anyway), drinking copious amounts of coffee and taking cold FX to hopefully ward off my sore throat…how romantic. But as this silly day of love has gone by, I’ve been very conscious not to let my emotional mind start to take over for fear of heartbreak rearing it’s ugly head 10 fold. And by being so conscious of this, I have also been thinking a lot about how important mindfulness is to recovery, and also how a day of mindlessness is equally as important when needed for sanity.

Last week in save my life grad school we discussed the topic of mindfulness quite a lot. Simply put, mindfulness is awareness in the moment, in the here-and-now. It involves being aware of what we’re doing and what we’re thinking about doing. This is a skill many people implement instinctively when they are in an upsetting situation, but not I. One of my biggest problems in the past is doing before thinking, especially while I’m in an upsetting situation. In fact, in the past when I was upset my emotional mind would tell me that the only way to feel better and to calm the demons in my head was to drink, A LOT. I used to never ‘play the tape to the end’ and be mindful of the consequences of my actions. All that mattered at that moment was getting rid of the gross feeling in the pit of my stomach or of the memories that kept me awake at night. So with today being Valentine’s Day and my heart still only partially healed, the old Natalie would have used this day’s sadness as the perfect opportunity to numb! But on February 14th, 2015, I am proud to say that the only numbness I’ve felt today is when my nose was about to fall off while walking Walter outside in what feels like winter in the Yukon Territories.

A common theme I have noticed with mental health therapies is balance. A healthy life involves taking a little from column A and mixing it with column B. (At the beginning of my recovery I called this balance, ‘confusing contradictions’). For example, while in recovery it’s very important not to isolate, BUT, it’s equally as important to take time to meditate on your own. Confession time: Us Homewood U student’s quickly learned that the secret to being able to take a nap, was to say that we were ‘meditating’. Another secret was that if you wanted chocolate milk you’d better be early for lunch because it was gone faster than a parking spot on Christmas eve…but I digress. Another example of this ‘balance’ is when we are told to practice mindfulness, BUT, to also keep ourselves occupied every day so that we don’t just sit and let our minds ruminate. Can you see how life school can be a bit confusing at times? No wonder I study every day. So on days like today a little mixture of mindfulness and mindlessness may be the perfect balance for this girl. I’m mindful that I need to keep my emotions in check, but I’m mindless enough to forget to put deodorant on. Too much information?…oh well, I’m WAY past that point anyway 😉

I’ve been mindful that I’ve been quite sad at times today, and a bit lonely. I couldn’t help but think about the good times Ian and I had and how nice it was when we first started dating. It’s difficult on Cupid’s Day to not think about the flowers he would bring me home, or the first time he told me he loved me, but I didn’t beat myself up over thinking about it. I reminded myself that the feelings I had today are normal, and that I am human. In the past, these thoughts would turn into emotions that would kick-start the perfect negative self-defeating cycle of rumination and self-pity…I was a pro at it! If I was heartbroken a year ago pre-life school, I would have been a blubbering mess. I don’t even want to think about the drunk texts I would have sent! But overall I’m super proud of myself. I’ve been managing all of my emotions in a positive way today, and reminding myself that they are only temporary and that I will feel better. I’ve been saying my prayers like I’m suppose to and asking God to keep me on my recovery path and to trust that he still has good plans for my heart. And even though I honestly was not up for a meeting tonight, I was mindful that not going is typical relapse behaviour and I got my butt out that door!

So if ‘mindfulness’ is Column A, in order to keep mental health balance today, I’ve also added a little of Column B – mindlessness. Way more fun! I’m equally as proud to say that I’ve mindlessly eaten what feels like 457 of Caroline’s Valentine’s Day chocolates, had 2 naps, ate cinnamon buns for breakfast, lunch and dinner, snuggled Walter when needed, and sang in the car louder than usual on the way to my AA meeting. BAM! How’s THAT for balance?!

So as my Valentine’s day is drawing to an end, I will mindfully remind myself that the love I have in my life is immense. There’s no need to numb, or be sad. And that even though Ian and I are apart, his love taught me more than words can say. And above all, I now have love for life every day, not just on February 14th.

Exhausting Dreams

Tornado

Dreams in general are exhausting for me; both the ‘aspiration’ kind, and the ‘bedtime’ kind… most likely because they are both so intangible to me. They are out there, but so out of my control. I’ve noticed that ever since the Travelodge trial, and especially since my last overdose, my bedtime dreams have been completely absurd!… And night by night the level of the absurdity is progressing. Allow me to explain. I know that most dreams don’t make sense anyhow, but lately mine are off the charts outlandish! Screaming Wizard of Oz witches fly over my head while I try to jump off a Disney cruise ship because a gang of prisoners are chasing me. Like seriously? Or I’m frantically selling mashed up paper in a mall as a meal replacement. What the hell is up with that?

Then when crazy witch dreams aren’t enough, I’ve been adding a night terror or two to my nighttime regime; a new unwanted reoccurrence in my life. I wake myself up screaming, covered in sweat, often scaring my family in the next rooms. A terrifying feeling…for everyone! Even worse than that, the other day my daughter asked, “Mom what were you doing downstairs at 0330 for a half hour last night?” WHAT? I was never downstairs! All I could remember was that a night terror woke me up, and I thought I went right back to sleep. But no…I was sleep walking…TOPLESS! I had no shirt or bra on that night because I took them off after finding them soaked in sweat post night terror. (Gross but true). Thank goodness Caroline wasn’t having friends over late that night! Could you imagine!? AB also remembers me walking around one night outside of my room and I don’t recall a single second of it. (Luckily with a shirt on).

I’ve had reoccurring tornado dreams for as long as I can remember. (Probably 100 times without exaggeration). In that dream I’m always yelling at my family to go in the basement, but everyone ignores me. I can see the tornado, huge and dark, right behind them. So I scream some more, but they still don’t look my way. Then, just at the last minute, they slowly follow me to the basement where we can look out the window and see that it’s about to hit our house. It feels SO real!…Even after the 99th time. The bricks in the wall start to shake while the wind howls! I try to cover everyone with stuff or my body as the roof rips off. I can see the swirling darkness coming our way. Even in my sleep I feel sick to my stomach. Then just as the tornado is about to lift me away…I wake up…every time.

I researched what the tornado dreams mean, and according to the dream dictionary, ‘we have dreams of tornadoes when we are experiencing powerful emotions brewing (sounds familiar). It may also suggest that perhaps there is a potentially destructive situation in your waking life, or maybe you are feeling overwhelmed or lack control (my life to a tee). A tornado can represent a difficult period you are trying to get through (pretty much all the time). They can also represent general stress and huge changes in your life’ (BINGO!). My waking life has pretty much been a tornado, so it’s fitting to add tornadoes to my sleeping life as well I suppose. (Screw you Dorothy!) 

Moving right along…I’ve now done a 180, and for many nights now, I can’t sleep at all! (That is without medication). Maybe it’s because having horrible dreams is exhausting. (Ironic?..possibly. Oxymoron…most likely.) So the only dreams I have lately are my aspirations…I have a lot of those. I dream that I will be healthy one day and that I can return to work as a kick-ass Paramedic. I dream that this nightmare (pun intended. Ok, I really have to stop this… lol) will end and be nothing but a tiny memory in the past for my family, friends and myself. I dream that I will fall in love again one day. I dream that mental health illnesses will lose their stigma in my lifetime. I dream that Paramedics, Dispatchers and First Responders of all kinds will never be afraid to talk about what’s on their mind, good or bad. I dream that I will one day fall asleep forever, when my time comes…not because of my actions. And most of all, I dream of peace and serenity.

Sweet dreams 🙂

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