Today has been COMPOST DAY.
Finally, I got to a job that has been waiting for a while. Today the various planets aligned:- the weather was dry; my energy level and inclination were primed and yesterday’s computer-heavy day required an outside day today; AND the bees that had taken up residence have finally moved on!
So, I moved compost from my (‘dalek’) bins into the blue broken paddling pool that I bought years ago for my dog. He hated it, he was all about real water – lakes, streams, sea, ponds… not small plastic apple-shaped ridiculousness. Well, I love a good recycle. It makes for the best compost turning container.
And as is my way, amid the physical effort of turning the layers with my gardening fork, watching and chatting to the worms, picking out the sticks that would take the next decade to decompose, there was a lot of awe and wonder.
Awe + Wonder
I am in awe that the ‘rubbish’, the left overs, the peelings and clippings and cuttings of life can, given the right environment and balance, evolve into black gold…
That the very bits that could so easily be thrown out to fill up landfill, can so easily be kept and save me oodles of ££ not needing to buy compost each year.
And my other ponderings were around the metaphor of it all.
I pondered about the importance of composting the things of life we would otherwise wish to just throw away. The experiences we wish we could discard, disown, distance our very selves from.
All those things stay with us, and whether we like it or not, they affect us. Especially if we think we have put them behind us, got over them, and are OK now… the chances are, if we haven’t allowed them to settle, to be turned over gently, respectfully, to allow the mess and the impact of it to spill out into a safe container of someone else’s presence… then we are most likely not as ‘over it’ as we thought.
The tough stuff of life impacts our nervous system. It’s no surprise – the thing that we were created with to help us keep ourselves safe, and respond accordingly when we are not, never turned off. It has been witness to it all. All of it. And the surprise comes often to those who don’t realise that our incredible nervous system can get stuck. If we never completed the full process with an event, we never did our composting, then our nervous system is still holding on to it somewhere in our muscles, our breathing, our behaviour, and yes, deep in our subconscious. However old we are, our survival response can so easily become our normal… if we try to by-pass the composting part.
The Most Important Work of All
If you are a parent or work 1:1 with a child in any capacity, then this is really important.
- If you are a school staff member this is really important.
- If you are SLT, or a Head this is super important.
- If you are a therapist working with children this is requisite.
- If you are a Children’s Guardian this is really important.
- If you are a social worker around children, this is fundamentally important.
It can be really nice to hide ourselves away in the business of children’s lives when all along we are still running away from the reality and impact of our own. Avoidance. Denial.
So my invitation is to get composting. Get a quality container… a sound, trauma recovery equipped therapist. Get with a trained and qualified professional who truly understands how your brain has changed. Work together with someone who is trained and knowledgeable on how your body has been impacted all these years and what it will take to allow your nervous system to get ‘unstuck’. Get, or maybe…prioritize… Make time to make it happen.
Because when we have taken the time, made the effort (and my body right now, knows the composting work that went on today absolutely was effort!) and turned the decomposing, smelly, I’d-rather-not-have-to-go-near-that-again’ off-cuts of our life into beautiful black gold, they don’t smell any more. They are not icky to touch. We can hold them. Own them. Integrate them. The pain doesn’t crumple us like before. Instead of running away from, distancing ourselves from the memories of it, we now find our selves resourced in a whole new way.
A store of good compost is the gardener’s richest treasure. If we want to do anything, grow anything in our life, doing it with our own, well-processed compost, sets us up well for future events. Our healed experiences become part of our wisdom. Our processing in the presence of another equips us for safer relationships to come. Our courage and commitment to our recovery strengthens us. Our body actually becomes stronger when the things that caused stored stress are re-processed, re-formatted and flow is restored again to our system. We become a more stable, grounded, resourced, understanding and insightful part of the future. And if we are around children… they are way more likely to sense us as safe to them. If we choose to be around hurting children, then the amount of our own composting we have done/continue to do, means our very body and our essence is a beacon of authentic hope to theirs. A promise. We can become a light in the darkness…
When your area of specialism is trauma and bodies, you know it, spot it happening for others even when they might not realise it themselves. Trauma happens in all sorts of ways, and this is a common one that has impacted so many dog owners. If we don’t recognise our experience as traumatic (if it actually was), then it is harder to process and the impact of this time can linger in our heart, our nervous system, and wider body for a long time. I wrote this for a special someone I know… I’m sharing it here in case it helps you too.
I am thinking of you. I am so sorry you are having to walk through such a tough time at the moment, and just when it seemed like things finally were feeling lighter for you. There is something I want desperately to say to you, but I know right now in these first few stunned hours, you will probably not want to hear it, be able to process it or even have any inclination to spend time connecting with me. Today you need your own time and you need to be uninterrupted by other peoples’ thoughts…so I will message you simply that I am thinking of you. I will write out what my heart is holding for you here, and maybe when you are ready for this you can come to it in your own time.
You know, people will say all sorts of things to you now. Things that you may or may not find helpful to receive. Please remember, so often they are speaking from their own needs. They care about you, they mean well, but they will tell you the things they need to hear, the things that they are comforting themselves with. If what you hear helps – great. IF what you hear doesn’t help or support you – no worries.
One thing you may hear directly or maybe just implied…
many other people have been through what you are going through…
I understand exactly what you are going through…
and here’s what I want to say to you.
You are unique
They have not and cannot understand exactly what you are going through. You are unique. As are they. Their life is, was, has been different to yours. Their personality, their way of coping, their hopes, dreams, their connections all different to yours…. the details of how this unfolded… and their relationship with their dog was different to yours too.
You have your own treasured moments, memories that will, in time (and it may be a long time), be a solace… but for now you are alone in the uniqueness of your grief and I want you to know I understand that. It is horrible and it is so hard. It may feel too much – or numbly nothing right now. You are still seen, and respected, and supported. The process you are in now and the one you will be going through (as it does change) for a while… are honoured by me.
Many people realise that hearing unexpected tragic news about your dog is devastating… and especially when it comes as a surprise, after so many other vets have said there is nothing really wrong. Not many people realise it is often, actually traumatic. Professionally, I know when to use that word accurately, and last week was one of them. From now on, when you consider the traumatic things that have happened in your life, hearing that news just a few days ago needs to be on the list. It will have changed you – not just your heart but your body, your nervous system… and now… there is grief too.
Here is something people often forget. Trauma and grief are different. We can go through trauma without grief. Sometimes we experience grief without trauma. They are different things, impact us differently and need different things to help us recover. Sometimes we experience them together. They enmesh, yet are still different.
The one thing I know to be helpful at times like this is to let your body lead you. Cry when you need to without any need to hide or apologize to anyone or even yourself. If there are no tears right now, make no apologies for that either. There are no ‘ought’s and ‘should’s at the moment. Sleep when you can whatever time of day it happens. Eat whatever you want when you can – it doesn’t matter what it is… just something to keep your blood levels steady and your body’s cells resourced to help you through this life-altering time. Drink water.
Be around whoever you want to be around… and leave when you want. Speak to whoever or no one. You get to call the shots right now and you have people around you who will respect that (even if they don’t fully understand- see my point above, they will be expecting you or advising you to do or be how they would or want you to.)
You have permission to be however you need to be. Today. Tomorrow and for days to come. You are loved. Your journey is yours.
The dynamics of connection, belonging, understanding, acceptance, knowing, fun, partnership, responsibility, trust and meaning that happen when there is a precious bond between a human and a dog are just some of the facets of the treasure life was with them. You will know, it is hard to put it into words. The hole of their absence is also indescribable.
Life has been interrupted again. It will never get back to ‘normal’ because your precious one is forever gone. There will be different life… eventually…. if you let you take your time… your body can recover… one day there will be ‘ok’.
In the meantime… you know where I am. x
written by Claire Wilson for someone special… and everyone.
Claire is a Trauma therapist. A dog lover who lived through both trauma and grief with her furry one.
The author of Grounded, TEDx speaker and the Founder of GROUNDED GrownUps®
Did you see the waves come through?
Did you feel the tremors?
Did you notice everyone hold their breath and freeze, go faster, do more or panic out loud with previously unheard screams; loss and pain that may yet reverberate through generations.
Did you scream? Cry? Hold your breath? Did you stop, retreat, collapse, or push through, push on, push out?
2 years…. And still counting…
It is not over.
The waves are still coming.
The tremors still rumble and all around structures are being shaken, falling, failing, disintegrating.
Danger often comes from outside. We are held safe and supported or impacted – even threatened, by what is going on around us. Jobs… culture… services…structures… leadership… legalities. Squeeze. Contract.
And the hardest part. The additionally traumatizing part of it all… is when leaders don’t see.
When they hide their eyes. Deny impact. Disconnect. And like a child shutting down in a classroom, can’t help their behaviour. They simply live out their patterns. Their own curated collections of trauma still unseen, un-visited, pain unacknowledged. Upper lip stiffened years ago. Lip service all they can muster. Bluster. Souls still toughened with danger-proof steel. Focus narrow. Numbers. Tangibles. Tables. Survive chaos by control. Deflection. Distraction. Control.
When they keep going and going and going and….
When they get smaller, and bigger, and tighter, and less authentic and more powered. More power-fuel. Their conundrum of mis-alignment growing with each new challenge. Shock. Blow. Still unbroken. Lips unquivering. Unflinching. Unaware without and within. Perpetuating impact for others. Amplifying Pain.
When they deem the best way is forward. With blinkers and denial and blame and formulated standards. Power used for preservation. Subconscious intention.
When they grab back the boxes. Grapple a way back to ‘normal’.
But it is not normal.
Normal got swept away by the waves that were higher than the highest buildings.
Normal was buried under the rubble of these times.
We need to bring you flowers. To place candles and vigil in the streets. We need time to mourn you too. It would help us, to demonstrate and collate, to slow and be still and acknowledge our loss of precious, steadfast, idolized, idealized Normal.
These times. Now. Not familiar. They are turbulent. Still.
Life has been changed. We have all been in the sea of it. All of us. Some got boats. Some died. Others are drowning. Still.
Gasping. Desperate. Too long spent existing beyond themselves. It is not over. Still.
Change and uncertainty remains. Exhaustion flooding. Tolls are being taken.
We could survive together. We have better chances together.
All of us need…all of us.
But when leaders continue to cling on to their survival patterns of disconnection. When leaders remain ignorant of themselves. They can not empathize. They cannot be together. Their bodies simply cannot be.
There is no allowance for grieving Normal. No tolerance for tangible truth. No sense in wasting time being still. Not good optics to be seen standing in streets acknowledging such cosmic change. Impact.
Trauma from years back changed them. Then. Now. It is no longer possible to connect with others. To acknowledge pain. It is too much. May crush what’s left of them… their survival selves… their remains… they cannot allow that. They cannot stop. CanNOT be weak. Must not be broken. Must not look back. Must carry on. Pretending. Functioning. Freezing. Desperate. Numb. Brains on over drive. Doing the only thing they know to do. Survive. Preserve. Power. Assert. Rules. Direct. Clamber back control.
And all the while appeasing those leading them.
STILL by CLAIRE WILSON
Founder of GROUNDEDGrownUps®
For more insight on nervous systems and the impact of the past, check out her book
GROUNDED – Discovering the Missing Piece in the Puzzle of Children’s Behaviour
or her TEDx talk
Fresh Insights on Corona Virus : What we can learn about ourselves and othersTelling someone who is scared not to be is about as supportive and effective as telling someone who is ranting to calm down.
It doesn’t work. It doesn’t help.
The thing about a big event like this pandemic is that it affects us. It restricts us. This invisible ‘thing’ is now the reason we cannot do what we want to do. We cannot live the way we want to. We cannot travel. We cannot work. We cannot go visit our family who may be sick. Even if we are not feeling the physical effects of the virus, many of us are feeling our lives be curtailed by this thing we didn’t see coming.
Some of us are ok with it.
Being calm is easy. Empathy abounds. We have no problem seeing ourselves as a significant member of our national / global community. We are flexible, resourceful, creative. Being logical is no big deal.
But for some of us it can leave us feeling overwhelmed. Feeling small. Feeling powerless.
And if there is any event back in the earlier pages of our life story where something happened that had us feeling these same feelings; small, overwhelmed, dis-empowered, then our current reality may well be accompanied by the music of that time. Our body instinctively moving the same dance: muscles extra tight. Our heart rate elevated. Our breathing quicker and our view of the world the same : not a happy or safe place to be. We have to give in. We want to hide.
We want to whisper “please don’t tell me to stop feeling scared. You have no idea of the nightmares that have been triggered in me. My body remembers… This is how things are. We are being overwhelmed by this ‘thing’. We can’t get away… it’s out to get us and it will. That’s just how it is.”
And for some of us it can leave us feeling on edge. Anxious. Wondering what is coming next. Waiting for the inevitable… next.
Because if there are moments, even far back in our story, where we lived this way before, where we were used to being on the look-out, waiting, anticipating the next bad thing to happen… we learnt that there is …. always… a next… And those harmonies will accompany our current experience. And our body will start that dance again… tight muscles, sweaty palms, racing thoughts, butterflies in the tummy and hyper-focusing on every detail of what is going on around us…
We want to beg “don’t tell me to not worry. Don’t tell me It’s nothing. I am scared, and my body remembers. I am at the mercy of this invisible force out to hurt us all. I need to watch its every move. Need to keep moving. To duck and dive, to run. I can smell it coming… my nightmares have begun again.”
And for some of us it can leave us feeling annoyed. Feeling angry. Feeling disrespected.
The echoes of not being noticed, not being honoured, from times gone by now pumping their revengeful war-dance through our entire system. We want to shout ”I will not be pushed around! I will not be dwarfed and belittled by this force. I will defend myself. Defend my rights. I will survive. I will do what it takes and keep moving. I am full of energy and I will shop and travel and keep living MY life on MY terms. I will make sure I am the bigger one this time! I cannot, will not, allow myself to do otherwise.”
You see for most of us right now – trying to be logical and explain facts will not help. We live from our nervous system state and if our body has us in a defense state (mobilise or shut down) then it is impossible to truly hear and comprehend facts. It is impossible to discern truth from hype. It is impossible for your brain to calm your body when your body memories have been a-woken and are screaming messages of un-safety at your brain.
So What CAN We Do now?
Let us not tell each other to calm down – but let’s lead ourselves. Let us be the change we want to see.
It is for each of us to really pay honest attention to our own response to this situation and extend ourselves some compassion and permission to listen to the music we are hearing. To listen out for the internal strains of fear, overwhelm, or defiance… To notice the dance we are doing in our body and quietly ask ourselves when we learnt those steps?
To consider what this experience reminds me of?
To pay attention to ourselves in a new and gentle way.
Because the truth is – it is unlikely we have actually lived this exact situation before.
The truth is that it just feels like we are unsafe now the way we were unsafe in the past…
Now we can notice ourselves and our body.
Now we can move – our arms and legs, we can get up, we can move from room to room, into the garden, or outside.
Now we can acknowledge the pent-up energy in our body and express it safely, or honour it and soothe it.
Now we can choose what we will focus on. We can listen to the story our body is singing and see where we may still need to befriend ourselves, to heal and to grow in order to bring that old music to a close.
Now we can reach out and connect with others who are safe for us. We can use technology and still benefit from their calming smile, their twinkly eyes, their soothing, honouring, respectful presence, and their ability to help us giggle our way to safety, and find logic and perspective again.
And when we are brought into a state of safety within, then and ONLY then, we can intentionally choose our own response to the way our life is being altered and find the good in it, the things we can be grateful for, the space, the time, the peace, the spontaneous fun.
This review appeared in the summer (2019) edition of Play for Life, an International journal for Play Therapists.
GROUNDED ~ Discovering the Missing Piece in the Puzzle of Children’s Behaviour
CHEW Initiatives, 2018
Paperback 131 pp
Claire Wilson has many years of experience in working with children, parents and teachers. Starting out as a teacher, a youth worker and helping to run retreats for adults, she became a play therapist in 2008. She is now an accredited play therapist, supervisor and has an MA in practice-based play therapy. Her vocation is further demonstrated through being the founder of CHEW initiatives, (chewinitiatives.com) and an advocate for children’s mental health.
“Grounded” is a concise text written for all adults that care for children both professionally and personally. It is written from the heart, with a genuine passion and dedication to enlightening and supporting the reader with the message that adults possess the most significant variable in influencing children’s behaviour. The book is engaging, very easy to read and has a clear, appealing layout with diagrams to illustrate the key points. Claire seamlessly incorporates evidence from neuroscience, predominantly Porges’ polyvagal theory, (with neuroception as a key element), and the work of Bruce Perry. She has astutely outlined this theory in a very accessible way. Case studies from her work and personal life are used throughout the text, really bringing the book to life. Practical ideas are also offered, lending it to being a book to revisit time and again.
Although not written specifically for Play Therapists, I believe that “GROUNDED” will be of deep interest to those at all levels, from just embarking on the certificate course, to seasoned practitioners. Claire highlights the link between the mind and body in a trauma informed and holistic approach, compatible with PTUK’s model. “Grounded” offers a powerful reminder about the value of human connection and relationships as the keystone to managing behaviour. The author accentuates the notion that all key adults can unwittingly influence the behaviour of children; I found it incredibly useful to have neuroception explained in terms of this impact. For me personally, this book has encouraged me to introspect on how my own physiological state is “neurocepted” by the children I work with. Equally, when attempting to unravel a child’s behaviour when the cause is not obvious, it has highlighted to me the significance of considering the influence of other key relationships. Consequentially, this has encouraged me to reconsider the benefits of working with parents alongside their children in these terms.
The author briefly outlines the trauma-healing modalities of somatic experiencing and TRE, in which she is trained. These may be of interest to more experienced practitioners as areas to consider for CPD.
Because of the considerate, supportive and straightforward writing style, this book is one I will recommend to parents and teachers; the author is non-judgmental and kind to the reader. Recently, I have delivered a staff meeting on de-escalation and found it useful to convey the key message I got from the book: Bodies speak louder than words; it is only when we are grounded that we can fully help a child to calm, (Wilson, 2018).
Claire Wilson’s genuine commitment to the message she delivers is demonstrated through an invitation to join an online supportive community in which adults can further explore their journeys in becoming more grounded. I thoroughly recommend this book to everyone who has a desire to influence children in a positive way. Not only is it informing, encouraging and supportive but offers an attainable way in which all adults, in becoming more grounded, can pave the way to enable children to be their best selves.
Helena Cole, PTUK Certified Play Therapist
I recently heard about a group of children who were told that they were important but that all the adults who work with them were replaceable.
It is incredible to me that someone would say that to children…. that someone would say that at all…
and as far as children go, in my professional opinion, it is absolute rubbish.
Children survive and thrive in relationship. If you have read GROUNDED then you will know the inside info on how this works, but let’s simply say here that the relationships they have with the people around them MATTER. Which means, if you are a grown up around children in any capacity; YOU MATTER. You are UNIQUE. You are NOT replaceable.
The relationship that each child has with you is unique. That relationship is NOT replaceable. If you were to go away the child (and you the adult) looses that unique relationship. It is gone. It lives on, only in memory.
Children need role models… and they will model themselves on the grown-ups around them. The media would have us believe that the only role models children value are the out-of-touch celebrities they see on TV or the slightly more ‘reachable’ YouTubers.
It’s not true. Yes those people have some influence. However, children learn how to be, how to do life, by watching closely the people around them. Their brains and bodies react and respond positively to the people they feel good around, the people who understand them, respect them and make them feel safe.
So let’s get personal. Let’s really bring this into your world. Let me ask you – what’s your number?
I’m not talking contact details… 😉
I want to ask you if you have ever stopped and thought about the number of children who love the fact that you are in their world? The number of children who would be significantly impacted if you weren’t there anymore. The number of children you influence?
You Have Influence
It’s worth taking time to think about it. Maybe even write it down. Here is a little list to help jog your memory:-
- kids you are related to
- kids you share home with permanently or occasionally
- kids who visit your home for any reason (play dates, meals etc)
- kids you take places (car runs etc)
- kids you work with 1:1
- kids you work with in groups
- kids you work with in classes
- kids you are responsible for, who know your name and who see you regularly
So add them all up – What’s your number?
That number represents lives you influence, lives you impact, lives YOU ARE IMPORTANT to.
I wonder, when you really stop and think about it, how do you feel about that?
It can be so easy to get swept along in the busy and fall into the trap of
thinking our relationship with all these children is somehow one way – that we think about them, that we plan for and look after them, that we notice when they are not ok.
Let me tell you it goes both ways. If you have influence in a child’s life, they see you too.
What you do matters.
WHO YOU ARE matters.