Specializing in couples communication issues and relational trauma, divorce and co-parenting, premarital counseling, teen depression and anxiety, and illness.

 

  

 

 

Let’s get started.

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Sometimes it feels like we’re dragging through our day, burdened with a sense of loss, confusion or uncertainty, pushing to make it to sundown, just to spend another evening wishing for some other life than the one we are living. We may be unique in how we ended up feeling stuck, angry, or in pain, but we tend to respond to intense emotions in similar ways. We agonize over needing to know the answers to questions dominating our thoughts and consuming our energy. How did I get here? How could she have treated me like this? Doesn’t he love me? Why do people always leave me, lie to me, hurt me? Is there any meaning to life? Is this all there is? Who am I if I am not my job, my title, my role? Why me? How could I let this happen? What is the point of all this anyway?

Not only do we incessantly repeat these unanswerable questions, but we also spend hours wondering how things might have turned out if we had only said or done something different when we had the opportunity. We rerun the story with a new ending each time, envisioning how the scene could have played out if we had been better prepared. Once again, wasting precious time and energy ruminating about “do-overs” that never come.

Living like this is exhausting. The relentless negative mental activity drains the life energy from our bodies and with our tanks on empty by mid-morning, we are once again forced to face another day feeling heavy, hopeless that things might ever change. We need a break from these emotional fits of rage, sadness, fear, anxiety, and grief. The desperate search for finding a moment of peace can bring us harmful ways of misusing meds, cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, sex, or a combination thereof. Whatever it takes to get some rest from the pain, just for a bit, just enough to keep going.

What if we could retreat to an intimate relationship, a loving supportive environment, a sanctuary where we feel safe and seen. Sometimes we need a helping hand and a loving embrace to hold us while we work through our painful emotions. But intimate relationships require emotional vulnerability. This means we risk being abandoned and unfortunately, many of us cannot tolerate the prospect of feeling rejected, humiliated, or shamed by another. Once you add up all the things that can go wrong, the possibility of experiencing love and support in a relationship may feel scary and not worth the effort or the potential risk of failure. Yet if a part of us persists to yearn for meaningful human connection, the absence of it will continue to cause much hurt and suffering.

The pull of what is familiar lures us away from trying new things. It might be counterintuitive, but we choose to spend our days in anger, depression, resentment, or anxiety because we have become skilled in knowing how to survive with these emotional patterns. We find an odd sense of comfort waking up each day and knowing exactly how to move through the hours the same as every other day, versus trying something new and stepping into the unknown and the unfamiliar. That is why we prefer to continue working in unfulfilling jobs, staying in abusive relationships, or remaining alone and isolated. We have a lifetime of practice keeping ourselves safe by staying quiet or screaming in rage, disconnecting, or becoming co-dependent, disengaging, people-pleasing, caretaking, … the list goes on. We have become experts in a narrow range of skills and this expertise has kept us alive and served us well… until now.

At some point, we start to question our choices and begin to wonder if there is more to life than this, whatever this might be. Some of us are inspired to make a shift but most of us will have experienced grief, illness, or a major loss, pushing us to question our status quo and to finally consider a different approach to the way we’ve been living. “Different” is scary and it will take courage to examine our core beliefs and acknowledge our part in all we have created. Accepting where we are is the first step to allowing for the possibility of change in different areas of our life including career, love, family, friends, and most importantly our relationship with ourselves.

I believe this is where a therapist can help support an individual’s process, by lovingly holding your hand and truly listening to what is being said from your heart, mind, and soul. Together we will go to the places that hurt the most, causing pain or anxiety, preventing you from living your dreams and desires. No one else can fix you or tell you what is best for your life. But we can experiment and get curious about what you require to help figure things out on your own. I will not lie; it is a lot of hard work and sometimes it feels like you are pushing a two-ton boulder up a steep slope. But I wholeheartedly believe it is absolutely worth the effort. With every arduous step you take up the hill, you have the chance to behold previously hidden landscapes and vistas, different ways of seeing the world around you, bringing hope that you have everything you need to create the life you want to live. So … let’s get started.

couples

Mmm, the delights of intimate human connection. Is there anything more delicious than being wrapped in a lover’s embrace? Well, it depends on who you ask. Think of times spent with friends, when you laughed so hard your stomach muscles began to spasm or you had to squeeze your thighs together to keep yourself dry. While the following paragraphs only focus on intimate relationships, we hope sharing our thoughts and suggestions does not inadvertently send a message in any way diminishing the moments of ecstasy and joy we experience in groups, or alone with ourselves for that matter. The concepts offered here can be applied to a broad spectrum of individuals and relationships, but our brief journey together will be limited to intimate partnerships between two people and their adventures in coupledom. Our focus on this narrow definition does not imply a one size fits all mentality to relationships, so feel free to try out what resonates and discard the rest.

Now, how exactly do we want to define intimate relationships? We are obliged to at least mention the massive scientific research explaining the instinctual programming in our evolutionary DNA constantly nudging us to find a mate and reproduce, the same as all other creatures working on the survival of their species. Other related discussions further explain how we are biologically hard-wired to connect and seek the safety of a tribe or a herd. Considering the number of books written about and the countless classifications bestowed upon human relations, whether it be monogamous, polyamorous, open, or friends with benefits, it seems pointless to attempt to summarize or rephrase any part of the extensive volumes already available for review. Yet, regardless of the existing data, supporting theories and various explanations about the choices we make to share life with another human being, there remains ample opportunity for us to explore this topic and spend a bit of time pondering the challenges we routinely face once we actually decide to pair up.

How we show up in relationships is heavily influenced by childhood experiences with our primary caregivers, but we also carry within us a myriad of confused illusions mingled with a multitude of societal and cultural expectations outlining how our lives should unfold when we fall in love. Our relationships are expected to carry all of life’s promises as if finding “the one” is so incredibly magnificent that everything else will pale in comparison. Unfortunately, more often than not, our fantasies about finding our other half or settling down with a partner to grow old with burst into flames as soon as we experience that first disapproving look of criticism for failing to deliver whatever it was our partner was expecting, and we use anger or rage to mask our sudden pain of feeling inadequate and unworthy of love.

Our dating profiles rarely proclaim, “seeking partner for Saturday night brawl”, but they should, because no matter how tenderly we start off in a relationship, many of us are shocked to witness our cruelest selves show up with people we claim to love the most. Being in a committed intimate relationship usually includes opening ourselves up and inviting our partners to witness our true essence, hoping they will accept our limitations and flaws. We long for someone to make us giggle and hold us with compassion and empathy when it comes time for us to weep. How wonderful to know we have a trusted confidant we can count on to throw us a lifeline if we start to sink in the harsh realities of this world, helping us feel seen and understood. A meaningful relationship has the potential to provide a safe haven where we can rest, speak with honesty, and find our strength to be the best versions of ourselves. As we begin to feel safe, we share more of ourselves allowing deeper feelings to surface. It is in this vulnerable state that we connect to repressed emotions such as sorrow, fear or rage, revealing all the open wounds still festering inside us.

Whether we suffered from childhood traumas, witnessed gruesome scenes on a battlefield, or survived a heinous crime, we may or may not be aware that hidden below the surface these gashes are still bleeding and screaming for attention. Sometimes the damage is so severe that we suppress the anguish and bury it deep, fearing total mental and emotional collapse should we ever slow down long enough to feel anything. It takes a lot of courage to drop the defenses protecting our hearts and allow entry to visitors, because our guests will undoubtedly, and often unwittingly, touch our injuries and compel us to drop all pretense and force us to confront the unbearable pain of hurt parts pleading to be healed.

Many of us prefer to steer clear of these messy predicaments, even going so far as to lecture others on how outdated these relationship institutions truly are, restricting our freedoms to be self-defined and impeding our ability to follow whatever destiny we choose. While we absolutely support and respect everyone’s right to pursue individual ideals, it’s worth taking the time to regularly examine our life manifestos and ask, do we hold firm to such principles because it is our personal truth, or is this just a convenient way to avoid vulnerability altogether. Many of us already know we are injured and simply prefer to be left alone, choosing to keep away from anyone showing us interest and instead maintaining a cool and casual distance from all potential lovers. Some of us succeed in avoiding companionship, constantly pushing people back, but for most of us, we find ourselves promising “Never Again!” one week and searching for our next connection the week after.

Considering how much work partnerships seem to be, you might have thought more people would have given up and abandoned all hope in ever finding a suitable match, but something seems to keep dragging us back into relationships with a desire for deep connection. Science might say we can’t help but follow our animalistic drive to procreate, but what if it’s much more than our biology. What if it’s something akin to a core guidance system, always setting a trajectory for continued expansion and self-discovery, urging us to heal and find ways to evolve. You might call this force your soul, your spirit, your intelligence, your purpose, your essence, your blueprint, your conscience, … or whatever suits you most. This guidance might then continually pull us to partners who are experts at being super salty because they can help us find the open cuts and scrapes that still need to heal as we advance on our path of personal development. So, if you find yourself annoyed, irritated, frustrated or the like, because your partner seems to be pushing every “button” imaginable, then you are probably on track to figuring out how, when, and why these buttons were installed in the first place.

The goal here is not to encourage you to suffer needlessly in a miserable and hurtful relationship because you must now regard every lovers’ quarrel as a fantastic opportunity to learn more about yourself. But, if you are aware that you will absolutely take your baggage with you from each relationship to the next, then it might be worth the effort to unpack a few suitcases and lighten the load for your travels. Let’s be extra clear here, learning what you can from a triggering relationship before making a decision to stay or go is in no way the same as staying with an abusive partner for the sake of personal growth, and if you are not sure which you may be experiencing, it is important to speak to a professional and ask for help.

Saying relationships are hard work is like saying the Grand Canyon is a ditch, but it may be worth the investment of time and energy because, for many people, a healthy, nourishing, mature partnership is nothing short of heaven. We often hear people complain about how impossible it is to find someone “out there”, a perfect match or a good fit, but the truth is our real challenge is to first understand what’s happening “in here”, inside ourselves. We need to remember that creating relationship bliss is incredibly challenging and absolutely exhausting for both parties involved because the hard work is never about the other, it’s about each individual taking the time to learn more about themselves, how they function and the core beliefs that drive their life choices. It’s essential for partners to own their participatory roles in the overall process and take responsibility by confronting personal self-worth and self-esteem issues, as they each relive younger versions of themselves, not feeling good enough to be worthy of love. Truth is, regardless of what happens with your relationship, in the end, you are the only person you must take with you no matter where you go. So as long as you take responsibility for your actions and are accountable for your own progress and advancement, then each day will feel like paradise because your companion (you) will have learned to love, trust and accept you exactly as you are.

illness

I believe I manifest my reality, so imagine my surprise when I was diagnosed with cancer. Reactions to a diagnosis range from complete denial to an immediate declaration of war against the threatening disease. A cancer diagnosis does not have to be a death sentence, but regardless of how it ends, the physical, emotional, and financial toll sustained from dealing with such an illness can be a grueling ordeal.

At some level of awareness and understanding we do realize there are absolutely no guarantees in life, and everything can be taken away in an instant, yet we never properly prepare for the one thing that is certain, death. Faced with a life-threatening illness, we might start drowning in a whirlpool of terrifying thoughts even before we have time to schedule a follow up appointment. What will happen to the people who rely on me when I start radiation? Will chemo take my eyebrows and eyelashes too? Will insurance cover all the extensive treatments required? Can I drive myself to appointments or will I have to burden my family and friends? Will I still have a job if I take too much time off? If I die, who will raise my children, support my ailing parents, take care of my disabled sibling, make sure my animals are cared for and loved. Our lists vary based on our individual situations, but the accompanying stress and anxiety is usually common to everyone.

Receiving distressful information from medical professionals can be very triggering and traumatizing unless the communication regarding diagnosis and treatment is calibrated to the needs and sensitivities of the patient. No matter how much we prepare by speaking with knowledgeable friends or reading relevant medical journals, the level of care and attention our doctors and surgeons invest in how they explain the specifics of our case will directly impact the degree of shock and trauma we endure as a result. We might feel terrified in the doctor’s office but are left powerless to fight back with rage or run away in tears because cultural norms dictate that we politely sit and listen to the experts with authority as they describe the distressing details of our illness.  Regaining our sense of agency and reconnecting with our personal power is an important part of the healing journey and if we are unable to achieve this on our own, then it might be useful to seek professional help in working through our emotions.

Reaching out to friends and family can be incredibly helpful but it can also be frustrating and disappointing if they are unable to meet our expectations. Most people are not trained to support loved ones who are suffering. They may try to help you feel better by saying things like “you are strong” or even better, “you are the strongest person I know, if anyone can do this, you can”, or some similar statement with that sentiment. Folks in general have a difficult time dealing with their own emotions when they hear the news about a loved one being sick and might fall apart, not realizing how their weeping and crying makes the whole situation completely about them and not the actual patient in crises. The person with the diagnosis may end up feeling unseen and alone, without the option to panic or be in fear because they can’t risk creating any more anxiety for the people in their lives. Again, working with a professional who can hold a safe space for our expression of sorrow and suffering can help us feel more seen, heard, and understood.

Invariably, at some point in the process we will experience loss and need to deal with grief. Most people only notice our visible side effects such as hair loss or extreme weight fluctuations. But there are other devastating losses caused by cancer meds including losing our sense of taste and smell, leaving us longing for the day we can once again enjoy the delicious flavors of our favorite meals. We are also robbed of energy, feeling too drained or exhausted to patriciate in life affirming activities such as going out with friends, doing exciting projects at work, or playing with our kids. Many times, the illness and or treatment come with the most intense physical pain imaginable and we understand why someone would wish for death, losing faith in all that is and all that could be.

While some losses are temporary, it is difficult to foresee with any degree of confidence whether certain scars or side effects are more permanent. Although no one can predict the future, it is unbelievably painful to have to imagine a life without the opportunity to participate in our favorite activities or sports, travel to our dream destinations, or give birth to a child because of some life-saving surgical procedure or highly toxic drug.

There is much sorrow in witnessing the changes happening to our bodies but deeper still is the sense of loss that comes from questioning the truth of our existence, our values, our dreams, and our desires. Who are we if we can no longer play the role of partner, friend, parent, boss, caretaker, or lover? We are a collection of the people we know, the places we visit, the projects we accomplish, and so on. If an illness takes all that away, then what do we have left?

The answers will not come easy, and maybe there are no answers, but after all the turmoil, how we define our time here is still up to us. The fear of death is real. Feeling isolated, misunderstood, abandoned and alone is also real. The grief, depression, and anxiety are real too. We did not choose to get sick, but we can choose how we live in this moment with our sickness. It is way easier said than done but sometimes we just need to sit in the muck we are experiencing in this very moment, take an accounting of what is real and true in our lives, and from here, choose the direction of our next step. Every step we take will bring new information, new emotions, new risks, and possibilities, requiring us to become still once more, account for where we are, before choosing yet another step.

Be kind to yourself. Ask yourself, how would you treat you if you loved you right now, and then give yourself whatever that might be. Remember to ask for help. We are a connected consciousness and when one suffers, we all suffer. By giving others an opportunity to support you in these difficult times, you give them the gift of living a more expansive life through acts of love and kindness.
 

EDUCATION

  • Masters of Counseling Psychology

  • Masters of Business Administration

  • Juris Doctor of Law 

EXPERIENCE

  • Therapist – Process Therapy Institute

AREAS OF INTEREST

  • Infidelity and Relational Trauma
  • Communication Issues
  • Premarital Counseling
  • Teen Depression and Anxiety
  • Illness

*Supervised by Jeni Woodfin, LMFT #107447