… on Life’s Purpose

IMG_0577

I’ve been having many conversations about “purpose” recently. As in, one’s purpose in life. Personally, I’ve thought many different things about this through the years. I’ve been “certain” about what it is, but as I spoke about it on three different occasions to people in the past week, I realised that my perception of it had shifted again.

For context, I’ve always been quite driven. I was probably around 10 years old the first time someone told me that my dreams were too big. At the time, I must have been in my astronomy phase, where everything was about starts, planets, asteroids, the universe. I read books, I watched videos, and nothing felt more exciting than to figure out the universe. Even at that age, I understood that my dream would entail me leaving my hometown and my family behind, and go somewhere abroad, probably the USA. Interestingly enough, I also thought my dreams were too big. Not too big for me though; but too big for the people around me. And then the arts and creativity came into my life in a big way: dance, singing, writing, performing. It was the early 2000s, and my dream morphed into wanting to be an international pop star. People didn’t seem to be too excited about this, at all! Yes, I was attracted to it due to the bubble gum pop explosion of that era, but when revisiting the songs I used to write and compose back then, it is very interesting to notice that there was a very clear intention to explore serious issues. Yes, I was quite an intense teenager!

I remember having this feeling of wanting “to help people through my music”, and as my dream morphed from pop star to actor, from politician to humanitarian, from activist to therapist, this feeling was the thing that remained throughout those transformations: helping others. Even from my days of wanting to be an astronomer, I carry this life perspective of macro dynamics, of bigger picture, of understanding the individual by understanding the collective. Anyone who knows me really well, knows how much I can actually struggle with day to day life interactions, but get me talking about, or exploring, or working through the bigger picture of anything, and I’m happy and engaged. I guess that’s why the majority of those dreams were in the form of a profession or role that entailed macro dynamics. And then I ended up becoming a therapist, which is really about the intimate relationship between therapist and client. It made sense in terms of the helping people, but not so much in terms of the macro dynamics. At least, not at first. But after a few years of seeing clients, I began to discern the macro from the micro, as patterns and life stories began to merge into these collective narratives of the human experience. It’s not necessarily that we are all screwed up, but actually, yes we are! I mean, everyone has attachment issues. Validation issues. Relationship issues. Confidence issues. Everyone has been emotionally wounded by someone else, and everyone has inflicted emotional wounds on someone else. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to know that they matter. What’s really so different about all of us?

Through these professional developments and my own personal spiritual studies, I’d come to the comfortable conclusion that I was indeed here to help others. This was my life’s work, my life’s purpose, and everything I did was about that. But then questions started to creep in: how exactly am I helping others? Through Dramatherapy or spirituality? Through both, perhaps? And who are these others that I’m helping? Just my clients, or also my friends, my family, my acquaintances? By helping, do I mean saving? Isn’t that a bit too conceited? Did they ask for my help? Why do I want to help them? Where does this need of helping others comes from? What am I trying to prove, or validate? Why do I like to be around such darkness and chaos all day long? And why can’t I seem to help myself? Am I a hypocrite?

At first, most of these questions were quiet. And they would pop up only every now and then, and only one or two at a time. And as they became louder, I began to actively ignore them. I mean, I had now discovered the macro dynamics in my work, and I was slowly on the way to develop some kind of grand theory and methodology in psychotherapy that I would present to the world via a Doctorate, and finally become the Doctor my family always expected me to be! Yep! My work with my clients was somehow contributing to the deep validation I needed from my family. And from authority figures in general. And then I realised that I was in a co-dependent relationship with work, where my work was to help people through their own co-dependencies. Yikes! For those of you who used to follow my old blog and have read some of my newest posts, you know what happened next. Breakdown, existential crisis, falling apart, going away, confusion, loss, grief, death, rebirth.

Amazingly, I hadn’t really noticed the rebirth until this past week. Last Sunday, during one of my private practice sessions, one of my clients said to me: “You know Ryan, I’ve been actively looking for my purpose for years, and it’s only now that I’m beginning to think that perhaps my purpose is to just be me, the best me I can possibly be. You know?” Hearing that resonated deeply throughout my whole being. Yes, indeed! What if our purpose is really to just be the best we, we can possibly be? Not helping people, or saving people, or creating this, or changing that. But to just be present enough in your life, where you can genuinely and deeply say that “I’ve lived!” What if that’s it?

A few days later, someone else I know was having a hard day as they questioned what their purpose in life might be, as they perused through social media and looked at the apparent “success” of all these people they knew. And it was in that moment that I realised that my views on purpose had completely shifted post-breakdown. That I wasn’t looking to do this or that with my life, or through my work, or anything at all. I looked into the horizon of my own life and saw a completely blank canvas, rid of expectations of what that horizon should look like, or could look like. There were no specific plans, no visions. Most importantly, there were no expectations or hidden agendas about hardly anything. It was an inner freedom I had never experienced before, and I realised that for the past few weeks I had been living in the present moment of each day without many expectations. I was talking about this process to another friend yesterday, and I just find it remarkable that life actually feels so peaceful right now, in comparison to even two months ago.

The thing is, I surrendered. I woke up one morning in mid-November, after 6 months of inner strife and helplessness, and told myself that I was going to stop. No more being a therapist, no more living in London, no more to the future that I thought I was entitled to live, no more to the purpose of helping others and the world. I closed my private practice, my third sector HIV practice, and started reaching out to people in Lisbon about job opportunities. I truly let go of everything and surrendered. I had come to a place where I felt there was nothing else I could do, besides letting go. In that moment, last November, I felt the biggest relief I’d felt in a very long time, and felt, for the first time, that it was okay not to know anything about what my future would look like. All I had, truly, was each day, and my only purpose under those circumstances, was to pay attention to each day. Therein lies my shift in perspective. I no longer see my life as having purpose, my life is the purpose. Being myself is my purpose.

Ryan Campinho Valadas

W: http://www.thehealingcontinuum.com/
E: info@thehealingcontinuum.com

Advertisements

…on Making a Positive Impact (aka Lollipop Moments)

159037499

 

I’ve started this blog many times over this week, but somehow couldn’t get it finished. I’ve started and stopped. Deleted and rewrote. I worried that I wasn’t committing to my pledge of a weekly post. And then I reminded myself: “It’s not that serious”. Which is so true!

But as I was chatting to a friend last night, I finally got the piece that was missing.

Exactly a week ago, I received some professional training for a leadership programme that I will be delivering to children in the next few months, and it included the following short video:

 

 

In it, Drew Dudley describes a moment where he changed someone’s life without even realising that he was doing it. A few minutes of his life where he made a joke and talked with some strangers, and those people’s lives changed in that instance. He reflects on the power of these moments in each of our lives – when we say or do something which ends up having or creating a lasting effect on someone else’s life, or when others do this for us. He also questions why we rarely share these moments with the people who created them. Why do we rarely say: “You changed my life when you said that”?

He uses this moment to illustrate a new type of leadership – a positive impact leadership – where the goal is not to be better or above anyone else, but really to share, include, inspire, educate, and care. And then to use this knowledge and wisdom that we care about and nurture the experiences of others around us, and accept that as a positive trait about ourselves. To build on our own self-esteem and self-compassion, which then inevitably translates in more positive actions and words. It’s a win-win! His particular moment involves lollipops, hence why he calls these moments of positive and long-lasting effect, “lollipop moments”. Now, before you go any further down this post – have you watched the clip yet? Please do. It’s quite short, around 6 minutes, and it’s nicer to hear him share this moment in his voice, rather than through my words. Once you finish watching it, come back.

What did you think? Did it resonate? Did it move you? Have you ever experienced something like that? I have – many, many times. Many people over the years have said or done something that either changed my life, or validated its importance, which sometimes can be life-changing in itself. That’s why I got all teary-eyed when I watched this clip. Because people had done that for me, without knowing it, and I’ve probably done the same for others, also without knowing it. And so, I’d like to take the time to mention a few of those moments, and to let people know how they’ve changed my life. In no particular order:

One of my 7th grade teachers, Helena Garcia. Upon writing my first short story for a school assignment, she simply said “bring me more”, thereby encouraging me to keep writing, using my imagination, and giving meaning to my life at a time when I used to contemplate suicide on a daily basis. The AFS student, whose name I can’t even remember, who gave a presentation about AFS’ exchange programmes at my school in 2002, and COMPLETELY changed the course of my life. Mrs Schultz, whom I’m able to call Nancy now, who let me have lunch in her office at Langley High School, which made me feel so welcomed and taken care of and allowed me to slowly become accustomed to American school and culture. To Ms Mary Marshall, who has sadly passed away, and introduced me to the writings of Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Flannery O’Connor, and always asked, “so what?” Her contribution to my critical thinking, creative writing, and passion for literature are immeasurable and I miss her wisdom dearly. She’s very much the reason why I decided to write a memoir, which is currently in the works. To Yuri, who looked at me one day in a cafeteria in Glasgow and said “You have so many thoughts running through your mind!”, thus making me realise that other people were actually paying attention to me and could see right through my masks. To Jenny, who didn’t judge me after a particularly crazy night in Glasgow, and showed me through a very simple “It’s okay”, that it’s indeed possible to have relationships without judgement. To Miryam, a Kabbalah teacher and volunteer, who just asked me one day “Do you want to change or not?”, and I’ve never looked back on my spiritual transformation since. To Claire, who after hearing about my most life-changing news to date, said “It’s time to live your life”, and she was absolutely right. By saying such a simple statement, she actually helped me to focus on life, when all I could think about was death.

These are just a few examples. There are many, many more, by many, many other people in my life. Some are no longer with us, some I haven’t seen or spoken to in years. Some, are still with me on a daily basis, which brings me to the point my friend made last night: consistency. As a devout follower of the “Church of Oprah”, I remember her telling the story of when she was stopped by a woman whilst grocery shopping one day, and this person told her: “I used to beat my kids. I don’t anymore. I heard you say that you shouldn’t beat your kids on your show many times. I didn’t hear it the first, second, third, even fourth or fifth times, but I did eventually. And then I stopped. Because you kept saying it. You never changed your message”. And this is so important!!

As much as life can change in specific moments, life also changes through the day-to-day, through the consistent effort each one of us puts into our lives, relationships, and work. Last night, my friend Waddah said that he always thought I was consistent, that I was a rock. And this moved me, because consistency is actually one of the most important maxims in my life. I’ve learned this personally, and I’ve seen it many times as a therapist – the paradox of life changes lies not necessarily in big moments of change, but most often in the daily, consistent practices that we choose to act on. Even though I write a lot, there is nothing more important in human relationships than action. And if I’ve struggled with something, I always try to ensure that other people don’t struggle with the same. It’s in my nature, but it’s also become part of my consistent practice of living. To not just say what my values are, but to live them. To walk my walk. There aren’t that many things that I value more than this.

And so, I also wanted to give special mention to the consistent presences of love, support, and life-changing daily interactions: Natasha, David, Matthew. Words escape me to fully express what you mean to me.

What are some of your lollipop moments? Who has changed your life? Have you told them? Have you shared how much they mean to you and why? Don’t wait too long.

“Did you say it? ‘I love you. I don’t ever want to live without you. You changed my life.’ Did you say it?”

– Meredith Grey, in Grey’s Anatomy

 

Ryan Campinho Valadas

W: http://www.thehealingcontinuum.com/
E: info@thehealingcontinuum.com

 

…on Politics and Consciousness

IMG_2922

 

When I was 17 years old, I moved to Great Falls, Virginia, a beautiful and wealthy suburban area of Washington DC. The year was 2004 and George W. Bush was to be reelected that November. Being so close to Washington was really inspiring. Before the election, my school held student-led debates on different issues, and students of each political party got to participate. I’d never seen that before to that extent: so many politically active minds amongst my peers! Not only that: I was an exchange student, on an exchange programme, with dozens of exchange students from all over the world. The organisation is called AFS and you should check them out and the amazing work that they do – https://afs.org.

My mind opened up to such an extent during that year, that I knew in my heart and soul that my life would never be the same again! And how could it stay the same? When you meet people from every corner of the world, your view of the world inevitably expands and your values change. When you immerse yourself in a different culture, you not only understand people’s differences better, but also their similarities. I have defended this ever since: every young person should get the opportunity to not only travel, but to be able to live in a different culture for at least 1 year before they’re 25 years old!

My desire and commitment to change the world and make it a better place became solidified after that exchange programme experience.

Was it difficult to leave everything I knew behind at 17 years old, go live with an American family I’d never met, and go to a school filled with teenagers I didn’t know? You’re damn right it was! Would I change it? Not at all! I truly believe I wouldn’t be me today, without that experience. In fact, I was so inspired by my time living near Washington DC, that I decided to enroll in a joint university degree of Theatre Studies and Politics. I still wasn’t sure at the time whether I would change the world via theatre or politics, so I decided to do both and hopefully know by the end of the 4 years. Because I was planning to go and work with the United Nations, I focused on Human Rights, Refugees, Humanitarianism, International Development, Nationalism, and Politics of Latin America (a post-colonialism interest of mine). I knew within a few months of studying Human Rights and International Development policies and dynamics, that this would not be the place for me to make a change.

My biggest take away from the practice of diplomacy was that everything was always considered above a human life. Culture, economics, religion, politics. Everything seemed to be more important than someone’s life. I felt that diplomacy often rested upon the idea of political correctness, which I saw as a way of never confronting oppressors. I mean, so much money is poured into certain impoverished areas of the world and everyone involved knows that money is never going to get to the people who really need it, so why is it going there in the first place? I couldn’t get past questions like these! When I learned about the bureaucracy within the various UN systems, I decided to stop pursuing this possibility. Not because it’s not good enough in general, but it wasn’t good enough for me. It wasn’t urgent enough. In fact, the more I learned about the dynamics between developed and developing countries with regards to debt and interest rates, the more disgusted I felt. I mean, “developed countries” continue to keep “developing countries” in their place through exorbitant debt and interest rate payments, which are usually attached to aid, but they were the ones who pillaged these countries of natural and human resources for centuries, in the name of religion and progress. Who actually owes whom in this dynamic? Whilst I love theatre, when it comes to real life and people’s livelihoods, these are not matters to be played with, and I couldn’t play what I saw as a game of diplomacy for personal/national interests to the detriment of others. Even then, my tolerance for systems taking advantage of people was almost non-existent. I’m not a game player when it comes to human dynamics and relationships, and I knew then that I would hate working in political environments.

However, I was also introduced to something else during that period of my education, and this actually came from Theatre Studies: the idea that “the personal is political”. An argument originating in second-wave feminism from the 1960s, this is the notion that personal experience is inherently and inevitably connected to larger social and political structures. The study of feminism, queer theory, and postmodernism gave me the language to describe the feelings of oppression and marginalisation I had always felt as a gay and queer individual, and witnessed as a close friend of many other marginalised groups of people, particularly people of colour. I’m not sure that people who have never experienced political, social, and cultural oppression are able to fully grasp the concept that “the personal is political”. In fact, the whole idea of privilege is attached to this: if you consider your personal life private and separate from political structures, you are privileged by default. Marginalised groups always experience their personal livelihoods as political. Oppression and marginalisation are not simply felt on a personal level between individual oppressor and oppressed. They are systemic. Societies, countries, and institutions are built, and depend upon them. And this was when I began to truly comprehend the notion that you can only change the world one person at a time. Because the personal always comes first.

I don’t claim to know when or how, but I suspect that at some point in human evolution, this idea that the personal is political was there, but it progressively became separated. Much like everything else. I see much of history as a story of division and separation. Current cries for empathy and love in today’s world are not resonating enough, because we have millennia upon millennia of divisive stories and histories to overcome. This idea that politics is somehow “over there”, away from us, that only certain people should discuss or be in politics, is ludicrous. Politics belongs to all of us. Politics is how societies are structured. Politics, in reality, tend to be a reflection of its populace. Not necessarily of who they are, but of how they are. I always go back to the basic human needs I have discussed many times on this blog: to be seen, to be heard, to be validated, to be loved, to know that we matter. This is who everyone is. But how everyone is, depends on how we act according to these needs, whether we have them met or not. And thus, going back to my previous point of changing the world, we cannot change our politics, unless we change ourselves. The world gets changed one person at a time. We all go through the same global events and circumstances, but we all react differently to them, and it’s in our personal reactions to the world around us that we need to start this work of transformation.

Human evolution has brought us to a place of deep divisions. I’m not sure where I read or heard this, but Charles Darwin didn’t just write about natural selection, but also natural cooperation. Nature isn’t thinking about “survival of the fittest”; it evolves at its own pace, in an intricate cycle of life-death-rebirth. Even human-created systems are cooperative at their core: religion, politics, culture, societies. But it’s always easier to focus on the negative, rather than the positive, and so all of these systems have, over time, chosen to focus on separation, division, and lack, rather than cooperation, integration, and abundance. And I feel that this is where much of the world is at, at this point in time. There’s a growing number of us who can clearly see a new way, and are prepared to cooperate, integrate, and share in the world’s abundance, and others who are simply not there, and perhaps never will. And just like we can’t save anyone from themselves, we can’t make anyone change their views, until they do. We cannot control the process and timing of this, and that is why it’s painful. But the acuteness at which politics is influencing everyone’s lives at the moment, seems to be a sign that there is indeed a change taking place. It is important to remember that “the secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new” (Socrates).

Politics is not just for a few, it’s for everyone. It is ultimately a system of cooperation, rather than division, and so, as long as there are groups of people with less rights, or without representation, there is work to be done. As long as the system accepts division and fear-mongering, there is work to be done. We are all connected, and ultimately a system that only works for a few, will ultimately collapse. As much as we repeat history in terms of conflicts, the collapse of corrupt empires and structures is another very common feature of our collective histories. Whenever this happens, a new world order is born. It is in our hands to lay the foundations of a fairer, more cooperative, more integrated, more inclusive, and more compassionate system.

For inspiration, and some comforting consciousness, on what may be happening in the world right now, watch this video:

 

 

Feel free to share, if this resonates. Thank you!

 

Ryan Campinho Valadas

W: http://www.thehealingcontinuum.com/
E: info@thehealingcontinuum.com

…on Family

holding-hands

Christmas has now passed and being with family in my home country, has made me quite reflective about families in general, and mine in particular. I read yesterday morning – Christmas Day – that the sacred book of the Zohar, used by students of Kabbalah and orthodox factions of the Jewish faith alike, actually says something along the lines of “Who needs enemies when you have family and relatives?” That’s probably a comment and reflection on how dysfunctional biblical families are, but it resonated deeply with me.

I come from a large family. My mother is one of five siblings, each sibling had two children and so I grew up surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins. We all used to live fairly close by to each other, and growing up, the whole family used to get together for everyone’s birthday, Christmas, Easter, and most Sundays. We used to even go on holidays and beach trips together. It was messy, loud, but tons of fun. As everyone grew older, this began to change, as disagreements between grown-ups created irreparable rifts, and family gatherings began to diminish in size. I half-joke about this, but I’ve told my mother that the five siblings will definitely come back together again in their next lives, as there’s no way their souls will resolve their issues in this one. There isn’t a single one of them who currently speaks with the other four. It’s sad, really, but unfortunately, it’s also human.

I’ll admit it, I always had an idyllic and naïve perspective on family, always feeling my family’s many disagreements quite acutely, and always returning home quite excited to see them all. I’m the youngest of 10 cousins, so maybe that’s why. I also ended up being one of the first ones to leave home, at age 17, to go and live in the USA, as part of an academic exchange programme. That was my first, and so far only, Christmas away from my family. In hindsight, calling my family home on Christmas’ Eve and speaking to everyone was quite brutal. I remember hanging up the phone and crying uncontrollably for hours. I vowed to never spend Christmas away from home again. But in the 12 subsequent years of returning home for Christmas, I have noticed this feeling dwindling more and more, as I guess my own notion of family changes.

In the 13 years since leaving home, I have done and been through many experiences, including coming out and changing my first name. These are not small matters. In the beginning, this was a clear break with the past, a fresh start in every possible way. Over time, this “new me” has become “just me”, and the people who have witnessed that process, and been with me through ups and downs, have turned out to be family as I always envisioned it to be. You see, at least for me, the older I got, the more aware I became of others’ expectations of me. Almost as if there were conditions for love and support. Being away from biological family, enhanced my experience of human relationships and dynamics, of true acceptance and belonging. Different people of different cultures will pick up on different signs and behaviours, and being part of a true global family has meant that not many signs have gone unnoticed. I still remember being at some cafeteria in Glasgow, staring into space, when a friend of mine from Japan tells me: “You have so many thoughts running through your mind!” I mean, I’d been doing that for years, and no one had ever noticed that I wasn’t actually staring into empty space, but really travelling through many different thoughts, feelings, situations, etc. A bit of my mask came off right there and then.

And there have been many instances like this over the years. From my Scottish friend, raised in Singapore, showing me complete empathy and no judgement the first time I threw up after drinking too much; to my Spanish-Indian friend who has been my most constant and consistent friend for the past 11 years; from my friend from Hong Kong who shows me the joy of living every time we’re together; to my dearest, dearest flatmate and friend, born in Serbia and raised in Australia, with whom I’ve lived for the past 4 years and with whom I’ve never had a disagreement – we laugh and cry together, we talk about EVERYTHING, and we are absolutely playful and authentic with each other. Alongside these friends, there are many, many others, whom I trust and love with every fiber of my being, and know they feel the same. This was always my vision of what family should be: a group of people who unconditionally support and love each other, have healthy and clear emotional and spiritual boundaries, are able to challenge each other with compassion, and are able to be equally joyful and serious around each other.

For a few years, I thought this was too ambitious, or too idyllic, and that it didn’t exist. I mean, I certainly had no experiences of this in my own family. Why did I think this would be possible? As I changed aspects of my own personality, through spiritual practice and emotional/personal development, I began to meet more and more kindred spirits like the ones I described above. Around 10 years ago, they would come into my life very subtly and very few far and between. As my growth and consciousness expanded, as I reduced chaos in my life, and as I woke up to different realities around me, the more of these wonderful people kept appearing. And lo and behold, I have found my own family and it’s exactly as my vision always pointed me towards. Through this kindred spirit family, I have been healing the core wounds acquired through my biological family. Sometimes it’s hard work, sometimes it feels hopeless, but most times, it feels inspiring, freeing, and above all, loving.

I suspect this experience may be similar to many other people’s experiences around the globe, particularly queer folk, who often grow up in families which don’t accept, understand, or even care for, them. A chosen family is often more powerful, because they represent the healing in relationships, self, and spirit which we all seek. In Kabbalah, we learn that the soul actually chooses the family in which it will be born in a specific lifetime, in order to resolve whatever karma it has from previous lives and overcome this correction. And so, actually, biological families are often the most complex relationships we will ever have, because they represent most aspects of what our souls are here to correct or work through. Talk about baggage!! Biological families are here to show us the way, but their role is not necessarily about being on the actual journey.

This is for the family that comes with me on the actual journey. I love you dearly.

 

Ryan Campinho Valadas
HCPC registered Dramatherapist

W: http://www.thehealingcontinuum.com/
E: info@thehealingcontinuum.com

…on Gardens

Voltaire quote

 

I didn’t know what to write about for this week’s post. In fact, I’m still not exactly sure of where this is going. But I told a friend earlier today that I was struggling with a theme, and she quoted the above phrase to me, from Voltaire’s Candide, which also reminded me of a lyric from a song called Special by Janet Jackson: “You have to learn to water your spiritual garden. Then you will be free”. And a little light bulb went on in my mind. “Let us cultivate our garden.” What does it mean? I see it as focusing on my life, on what I plant in my garden, what grows in it, if I’m able to take care of it, or if I let it die. Am I letting it grow wild, or am I controlling it?

I fall into the trap of comparing my life to other people’s lives all the time. This becomes particularly acute when my own life feels like it’s going astray. And since my life has felt like that for many months, all the way up to only a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been doing this a lot. Looking at other people’s lives. Their jobs. Their relationships. Their successes. Their weddings. Their babies. Their families. Their travels. Their accomplishments. And every single time I looked at these things, I felt worse about myself. I felt lonelier. A bigger failure. Not good enough. And thus a nice little cycle of depression ensued.

When we look at other people’s lives to compare them with ours, we tend to conveniently select the parts which are seemingly perfect and positive. And then we look at our lives and choose to only see the negative and the lack. It’s a funny thing, don’t you think? This tendency to only see the perfect in others and the bad in ourselves. I mean, why is it so difficult to see the good in our lives too? I was recently talking to another friend and telling her about my recent difficulties and the support I have been receiving, but somehow talking about my support in a negative way, as if it was a burden, or something I didn’t deserve. She just said: “Wow, Ryan, I don’t see it that way at all! As you were talking, I just felt how blessed you were to have that support!” This stopped me right in my tracks! There I was, going on and on about how bad I felt about this support I had been receiving, and failing to acknowledge how blessed I was to actually receive that support in the first place!

And why was I failing to see this? Well, I had been looking at everyone else in my life and focusing on their new relationships, their new jobs, their new everything, and feeling like I was missing out on those life experiences, because somehow I didn’t feel good enough to have those things myself. I was looking at their gardens and thinking that grass was definitely greener on their side. Every time we look over the fence to look at other gardens and their greener grass, we are literally turning our backs to our own gardens. We are neglecting our lives. And guess what? Grass will definitely become greener on the other side, because we eventually let our own grass die out, by being so busy looking over the fence. I looked so much at other people’s lives, that I allowed myself to feel bad about my own, because I wasn’t hitting the same goals as everyone else. And I wasn’t just doing this, I was also ignoring what was already happening in my life that was positive, rewarding, and purposeful. I had blessings all around, and I kept missing them.

It’s difficult to stay focused on one’s own garden sometimes. Most of our conditioning is about comparing ourselves to others, measuring up our successes and achievements against the failures of others, and dealing with our shortcomings through unkind and destructive actions. By focusing on comparison we are by default devaluing our own lives. By looking elsewhere and unfavourably comparing ourselves to others, we are really just telling ourselves that what we have is not enough. We all want more for ourselves. And there is nothing wrong with that at all. But is your wanting driven by lack or inspiration? Do you feel resentment and jealously, or compassion and support, when you look over the fence? Do you want to take people down, or do you wish them well?

We will look, and we will compare. Whilst it’s not always useful, since it’s something inevitable about human nature, why not use it to our wellbeing’s advantage? Focus on inspiration, rather than lack. On wishing people well, instead of wishing them bad things. Focus on love, rather than fear. If you think about it, our gardens often die out, or grow out of control, due to our own negligence. We have a part in every single situation in our lives. Even if that part is simply managing our reaction to a crisis.

We can’t expect things to grow, if we don’t take the time to plant them, and then nurture and nourish them as they grow. And we can’t expect things to grow overnight either. Growth takes time, patience, nourishment, care, and love.

Let us cultivate our gardens.

 

Ryan Campinho Valadas
HCPC registered Dramatherapist

W: http://www.thehealingcontinuum.com/
E: info@thehealingcontinuum.com

…on Following Life’s Clues

“Lives fall apart when they need to be rebuilt.”Iyanla Vanzant

 

As I was watching an episode of one of the many TV series that I follow, I was pleasantly surprised to see a cameo from one of my favourite motivational speakers: Iyanla Vanzant. In her cameo, Iyanla says the line above to the main character, and this has stayed with me for the past few days.

I always find December an interesting time of the year. Even though I have been following a spiritual tradition for the past 7 years whereby the new year actually starts around September/October, the previous years of conditioning have left me with this December = final month of the year type of melancholy and reflection.

In many ways, it has felt like my life has fallen apart this year. Mostly, that it has fallen apart in relation to what I expected from it. When I turned 30, earlier this year, I was frankly filled with excitement and hope. I was more than happy to leave my 20s behind, and I was looking forward to this new decade. A few months later, I was quitting a job and taking a leave of absence from my life in London. At first, I rationalised that, indeed, I needed a break, and sometimes breaks may appear in unexpected, dramatic form. I hoped that my time away would provide me with the necessary insight that I would require upon my return. In short, I was expecting a nice epiphany a la Eat, Pray, Love, whilst seeping cocktails by the beach. I know, I should know better than that. More importantly, I should know better than to make deals with life, and expect a specific result from a specific action. Why can’t I do something, and the result be exactly what I want and expect? I know! I keep having to learn this lesson, and honestly, it’s getting old.

I did indeed get my rest. I was able to have a wonderful summer, catching up with lifelong friends who also happened to be having some kind of “I’m 30 years old” crisis. I basked in the sun of my home country, Portugal, spent beautiful days at the beach, and had no concerns besides food, drink, rest, and entertainment. Honestly, my first real holiday in many, many years. What I didn’t do, however, was to allow myself to feel the things that had led me to my precarious situation of no work and no direction. I didn’t allow myself to fully and wholly experience the feelings of shame, failure, depression, and questioning, that were to come and needed to be processed with care and compassion. I returned to London with some trepidation as I was coming back to nothing specific, except some job interviews. I was aware that I hadn’t really processed much of what I needed to process, and told myself that “it would all be okay”. As I hadn’t experienced any kind of epiphany, I made a simple deal with myself: follow the clues. Follow the clues of what appears, of what manifests, and of what doesn’t happen. That was my only personal commitment upon my return.

The past few months have been months of falling apart. Not necessarily on an external level, but definitely on an internal level. These months have been months of unwillingness to let go and then being forced to let go. To let go of what? Of life itself, as I thought I knew it. Of dreams that I had and the expectation of how those dreams should come true. Of not getting what I thought I should get. Did you notice the use of “should”? Yes, me too. It’s peculiar, really, because even though I never actually got what I thought I would get, I somehow kept holding on to this belief that one day, I would. I mean, nothing in my life has ever manifested in the way that I expected, so why did I keep pursuing this belief, and causing myself unnecessary suffering in the process? Social, cultural, parental conditioning, perhaps. I mean, 9 years ago, I enrolled in a Politics degree because I had the ambition to become the Secretary General of the United Nations – the first out gay man to do so, too! I love my “firsts”. But anyway, it turned out that life experiences and decisions led me to qualify as a Dramatherapist, instead. Yes, it’s a long story!

In the past few months I have been battling with all my internalised oppression and judgement; social, cultural, parental, and familial expectations and conditioning; my own sense of failure and inadequacy; a very old destructive sense of worth; feeling lost and hopeless; trying all the options that I could think of; and being trapped in the midst of a situation that I didn’t understand and had never experienced. Even in the life experiences that led me to change my “purpose” from wannabe pop star to stage actor to politician and diplomat to therapist, I was always driven by something that felt clear. I haven’t felt that drive in months. I ran out of drive and motivation. In a way, I had accomplished much of what I had set out to accomplish when I was younger. Now what? When you’ve achieved everything you wanted, what’s next? It wasn’t clear. After a particularly tough day a couple of weeks ago, I decided to have “a heart to heart” with myself, about the future. The result of this was the ultimate letting go: letting go of how I thought and expected my life to be.

First, I decided to start removing things in my life that were not adding anything or were, in fact, adding chaos. There’s no point in adding new things, if you hold on to the things that aren’t working. This involved small and big things: from simply leaving a whatsapp group, all the way to letting go of my private practice. Second, to admit that I was struggling emotionally and mentally, and had been depressed for many months. You can’t heal what you don’t reveal. Third, I opened up to close friends, family, and colleagues. I was surprised by each of those groups of people. Some of my friends had been or were going through similar situations. I wasn’t alone anymore. My own mother said that it was okay that maybe I didn’t get to work in the area of my postgraduate degree! My mother! I thought she was going to be the most disappointed about the whole thing. No, it was all in my head, as it always is. And then my colleagues, particularly a manager, who was extremely kind and supportive of my decision to stop practicing. Fourth, I began to accept that, actually, I am not on any specific schedule to accomplish or do anything in particular, and therefore, I don’t need to struggle so much with “purpose”. I mean, if your purpose feels like a struggle, it is most certainly not your purpose. Fifth, and finally, I began to look at what was working. And there were a few things, despite everything.

I’m not writing this to now finish and say that I’ve got it all figured out. I don’t. I really don’t. But this is what I can observe from this experience: life did feel like it was falling apart. In many ways, it was. Deep held beliefs and values about life and purpose have completely crumbled and given way to something new: something that is unknown, uncertain, but ultimately something that feels true. How does it feel true? Well, do you remember when I mentioned about my personal commitment to follow the clues? Often unbeknownst to my own rational mind, this is what my soul has been doing all these months. In spite of all the superficial chaos and uncertainty, there has been a steady flow of consistent alignment with life’s clues. Perhaps, if I had paid closer attention to this, I could have avoided some suffering, but I can’t change that now. Hopefully next time, I will be able to let go and surrender quicker.

I will leave you with a clear example of all of this – it’s always nice to philosophise about life, but without practical life examples, what’s the point? So, for the past few months, I have been pursuing Dramatherapy work as a therapist in many ways: private practice, jobs, partnerships. Nothing has worked. And by nothing, I mean nothing. I saw that clue a couple of months ago, but kept ignoring it. 98% of my actions with the intention to deliver therapy led to nowhere. However, what has been working is the following: therapy-related, but not therapy-delivery roles, such as writing academic journals and blogs, editing an academic journal, convening subcommittees, working in a clinical field completely outside my previous clinical experiences. The moment I let go of being a therapist and all the hidden meanings attached to that, I was able to see the clues around me once again, and began to take confident steps into an unknown future, in an unexpected, but very exciting, new role.

Paradigms are changing at the speed of light. Things that were certain even a few months ago, no longer apply. Expectations are always limiting. Let go of them. Don’t try to bargain and negotiate with life. “This” action might not lead to “that” result. Accept that.

Follow the clues in your life: what’s working? What isn’t working? Pay and keep attention. Step confidently into the unknown. The clues will lead you to your treasure. Just let go of the idea of what that treasure might actually be. You don’t know.

Many of us are on this journey. You are not alone.

 

If this resonates, feel free to share with friends, family, and networks.

Thank you. xx

Ryan Campinho Valadas

W: http://www.thehealingcontinuum.com/

…on Addiction: Part 3 – Lessons in Human Connection

 

Quotefancy-4706604-3840x2160

 

 

One of the great lessons I learned in my addiction work was to connect humanely, by listening and being present.

Some people believe in the disease model and therefore find relief in having a diagnosis of addiction. Others refuse the label. Some people have found salvation in religion, others in AA and similar fellowships, others in a life of service to peers who are starting out their own path of recovery. Some people need abstinence, others harm reduction. Some go to SMART meetings, others need therapy. Some have decades upon decades of trauma, others have lived a fairly ordinary life.

We still don’t know why some people can binge on alcohol every single weekend and not become addicts, and why some do. Why some people can engage in chemsex once every few months, and why some can’t live without it. Why someone can try cocaine once and never do it again, and why some can’t stop doing it. There are clues, theories, studies. But no conclusions yet. Even if you can’t understand why someone can’t live without a fix of something, you need to believe that that’s their experience in that moment. It’s not your morality or judgement which will magically change someone’s mind and heart about it. Not even your love sometimes.

Whilst I provided the same sessions to everyone, I never worshiped at the pedestal of any one theory or method. Some people only need to follow one approach, others need to follow several. Some people reach balance fairly quickly, others take countless attempts. There is no one size fits all for anything, especially not in addiction. And it’s important to be honest, and have the integrity and authenticity to say that, sometimes, my own approach is limited. I’m not trained in medicine to be able to understand certain physiological and neurological processes, or even extensively trained in psychological theories. Part of the magic of an arts therapy is that it is a collaborative process. The art form provides a container for whatever trauma, issue, or theme is being explored, and the therapist carefully checks in with the client about each stage of the process. And whilst sometimes art is indeed cathartic and enables people to experience powerful releases, it is also something which provides healing on an unconscious, rather than conscious, level. In short, it is something qualitative, rather than quantitative. For that reason, its effects manifest at a slower pace at the surface, but provide greater potential to transform at a core level and on a long-term basis.

But sometimes, people need results fast, and practical actions now! Often, an arts therapy is not able to do that. But another therapy or approach might. And that’s why treatment shouldn’t only be a collaborative process between client and therapist/practitioner, but also between practitioners. I always told my clients: use the elements of every approach that work for you, and use them for you. You don’t need to like every single thing about AA, but if there are a few elements of it that work, why not incorporate that into your life? Again, the magic pill illusion is strong and pervasive and everyone wants the solution to come from one source only, but the truth of the matter is that the solution is in many different places at once. There is nothing more dangerous to someone’s care than a practitioner’s unwillingness to collaborate with other approaches and colleagues.

Around halfway through my time working in addiction, I read an article by Johann Hari, and promptly bought his book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, an impressive account of an investigation carried out over 3 years about the war on drugs. There is also a TED talk you can watch here: https://www.ted.com/talks/johann_hari_everything_you_think_you_know_about_addiction_is_wrong. But the book opened my heart and mind not to something new, but to something I already believed and had experienced: the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, but human connection. He uses several examples throughout the book to illustrate this, and whilst there are always people trying to debunk theories and experiments for whatever kind of hidden agenda, I deeply resonated to that main hypothesis. And I believe it, because I have felt and lived it as truth, every single time for close to 1000 actual hours of seeing clients in the field of addiction.

And I think this is why I experienced my work in addiction with such depth and power. It was about connection. I’ve shown pictures of archetype cards in Parts 1 and 2 of this addiction series, and I feel that the general archetype of an addict holds so many things for people. Ask yourself: what are your views on addiction? What do you think about addicts? How do you feel about people who become addicted to something? There is such dehumanisation in the label of addict. And “junkie” is even worse. If someone receives that label, there’s absolutely nothing human about them. I mean, I understand the process of using language to dehumanise people. I’ve had that done to me many times because I am gay, and so I find it very easy to recognise the same processes in different contexts. There may be many reasons for it, and people will be triggered by different aspects of the addiction experience, but I feel a great deal is about control. Addicts represent and symbolise this idea of losing control of everything. In societies which rely on the illusion of perfection, having people show and demonstrate the opposite, is quite sacrilegious. Thus, addicts bear the brunt of many of our judgments. We demonise the fact that they have lost control, we demonise the behaviour they engage with in order to get their fix, and we can’t seem to understand why they can’t “just stop.”

But this is what I saw in most of my clients: trauma and abuse. I’ve said it before in a different post, but the scale of childhood sexual abuse or sexual violence in this population, shocked me. Also, as I said before, I’m always curious about causes. Why and how? What happened? When? With whom? By whom? As sobriety is not the opposite of addiction, so is addiction not about the drug of choice. That’s why drug treatment services get it so wrong sometimes: it’s not just about removing the drug. The drug is used to hide something. That something is the issue. All these programmes of 8 or 12 weeks are only useful up to a point. Yes, the client has reduced their use, reduced the harm caused to themselves and others, and maybe achieved abstinence, but now what? Goodbye and good luck? No wonder “they always come back”, as that clinical psychologist said in that life-changing meeting. The system has created a structure which puts bandages on life-threatening wounds and bleeds. Addiction is the opposite of connection, because the connections that exist in active addiction are broken, toxic, dangerous, and life-threatening. You can remove the drug, but if no one takes a look at those broken, toxic, dangerous, and life-threatening connections, you’re damn right “they always come back”. And yes, sometimes people do need to come back because they are not ready to face “the thing” they’re trying to escape.

This is why and how my work became less metaphor-based and more realistic. I needed to provide enough hope and enjoyment that clients would feel motivated to be in recovery, but I also needed to work on their expectations that 12 sessions could get them out of a cycle that some of them had been in for decades! Not months or years, but decades! What kind of short-term intervention do you think can help in the long-run? The only clients who have managed to remain abstinent for long periods of time were clients which needed to go through the system several times. People don’t change when you want them to, they change when THEY want to. That’s why no one can save anyone else, but themselves.

Ultimately, this is the lesson: I don’t have many answers. In fact, the only answer I have is that it is imperative to re-humanise addicts, if that even makes sense? No treatment will ever be successful if the person does not have the experience of being treated like a person, with valid thoughts, feelings, life stories, and if they’re not allowed to try new things without fear of failure. More importantly, no recovery from addiction will be successful if a person is not given the time and space to heal relationships and how they connect to others.

How did my sessions help?

In spite of the confusion people normally project onto Dramatherapy, I always tried to run sessions that were quite simple in their structure and intention:

1. Mindfulness exercise – the intention was to help clients have greater awareness of their bodies, minds, and hearts in the here and now.
2. Checking in – allow each person to share about their week, day, or current moment, without interruptions
3. Creative activity – this could be based on the themes of the check-in or the continuation of whatever work we might have already started in previous weeks. No rules in this section. No right or wrong. No good or bad. The intention here was to try, to be present, to connect, to be creative, to imagine new things.
4. Reflection – sometimes equally, sometimes more important than the creativity itself, this section was about making connections between the creative process and the real-life process. The focus was on insight and on finding practical solutions.
5. Checking out – any final reflections, insights, feelings, thoughts, or questions they may have at the end.
6. Mindfulness exercise – same as above, but with the addition of focusing on something positive they could take away from the session that was helpful and hopeful.

Every single one of my sessions follows this structure. In a world of constant chaos, this provides clients with a stable, safe, and reliable structure. And so, generally, this structure alone helps clients in a myriad of ways:

  • Awareness of self: body, mind, and heart
  • Reflective processing: not just about relaying what happened, how, and with whom, but also focusing on their feelings about people, places, and things. Making connections between outer and inner worlds.
  • Sharing authentically and vulnerably with others
  • Being challenged on patterns in a compassionate, healthy manner
  • Developing healthy boundaries
  • Increasing sense of self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-compassion
  • Building positive relationships and healing relationship patterns
  • Using active imagination, being creative, having fun whilst helping themselves and others
  • Changing perspectives and ways to look at things
  • Finding practical solutions: translating therapeutic insights to real life actions.

As I said above, these things wouldn’t necessarily all happen in one session, and certainly not with each client. And also not all at the same level. Every now and then, I bump into clients on the street years after our sessions and I often hear: “I finally get it Ryan!” And that’s enough for me. I go through that all the time as well! In fact, sometimes I still remember things I did years ago and think “Oh, so that’s what they meant by that!” There are always exceptions, of course, and some clients never connected at all. But this list was my own personal guide to keep me focused on my role and responsibilities. I see each of these items as a seed, and I see my sessions as an opportunity to plant these seeds. Whichever way they grow is not something I can control.

And then specifically, there were real instances of making changes in someone’s life which I cannot share in detail, but they range from helping someone to gain an insight about certain relationships, whether it’s neglect, abuse, or even actual love and care – you’d be surprised at how many people cannot recognise love and care! Or coming to terms with death, severe trauma; releasing anger and rage for the first time; understanding how they had hurt someone; finding redemption and forgiveness; recognising shame; accepting joy and love; embracing hope.

Thus, my main focus was to help them feel their life experiences, love themselves, find growth from their trauma, and connect to others with healthy boundaries. Everything I did, had these four main intentions as a foundation. My final lesson from this experience is: meet people as people, remove judgement or morality from the interaction, listen to their needs as they perceive them, feel with them, be authentic, be open and creative, offer suggestions, let them choose, tell yourself that you’re no different from them, smile from your soul, with your heart and body.

 

If this resonates, feel free to share with friends, family, and networks.

Thank you. xx

Ryan Campinho Valadas
HCPC registered Dramatherapist

W: http://www.thehealingcontinuum.com/