…on Self-Love, Relationships, Narratives, Change, Paradoxes

DSC_0247

 

Boy, oh boy! What a couple of weeks! Yes, I skipped a week. I felt anxious about it for a few days and then realised that it wasn’t conducive to my already fragile wellbeing and decided to let it go. At the end of the day, not writing for a week, is really not THAT serious!

I started last week telling my flatmate that I had no idea what to write about, when in fact, I knew fully well that the only reason I couldn’t write was because there was in fact too much to write about. Too many thoughts, too many feelings. Too many conflicting patterns all going off at once, leaving my internal wellbeing a hot mess of chaos. This was caused by an unexpectedly combination of events in my real life: two great friends’ birthday parties, no sleep, no rest, irregular food intake, and alcohol. I stayed up for more than 40 hours on some kind of energy and adrenaline, I most likely drank too much, even though I never felt overtly drunk, and didn’t eat properly. To add on to all of this, I spent the weekend surrounded by gay men. Usually, this wouldn’t have caused anything in particular, but the slow debilitation of my physical energy, meant that I probably opened up my emotional reserves more than I would have otherwise.

And let us not forget: whoever one is in the world, wherever we come from, whomever we relate to, there is always a high chance of being triggered by one’s identity, one’s place of origin, one’s community. Between being at a party full of gay couples and a party with mostly single gay men, something in the air was carefully pushing all my buttons and triggering all my core traumas, without me even realising that this was taking place. In short, I was confronted with the thing that causes me the most insecurity: relationships. And indeed, this is one of the core principles of The Healing Continuum, and one which I understand in concept, but not in actuality. I mean, I know that we are all wounded in relationship – traumas do not appear from nowhere by themselves – and I understand that most of our healing must actually happen in relationship. Please note my carefully placed distinction between “knowing” and “understanding” in that sentence. I know the wounding, but I only understand the healing. This means that even though I am more than comfortable guiding others through their relationships, when it comes to my own… well, I still don’t know.

And since I also ended up getting ill following that wild weekend, I ended up having a lot of time to think about all sorts of painful things. Too much time, if you ask me! When I drop into my rabbit hole, I really drop into it. It is often days before I’m able to resurface, and re-establish some kind of connection and balance in my life. This particular trip lasted longer than usual, and it took me back to the days when I used to be in a depressive state for months. Something had really been shaken up in my core. The days following this drop into the rabbit hole were marked by several “signs” of what I needed to focus on. Even on Valentine’s Day, of all days, I get this message: “it’s about you, Ryan.” It’s about loving me, taking care of me, being the best me I can possibly be. It’s not about finding those things in others, so I can somehow feel healed, complete, or whole. Again, I understand this, but I’m incapable of knowing this at this point in my life. I’m very comfortable guiding others through their self-love, but my own? I remember Maya Angelou and Oprah often talking about the maxim of “Those who can’t do, teach”. I deeply relate to that. I don’t know many things, but I understand many things.

My self-love, in association with my self-worth, is something that has escaped me ever since I can remember having a sense of self. Many, many, many things have contributed to this. Some major, and deeply traumatic; others subtle, but deeply corrosive. The Rumi quote above came to me on Valentine’s Day via my Facebook feed. It is so simple, and yet profound. That’s Truth, I guess. There is indeed a seed, planted somewhere in my past, and from professional experience I know others have experienced the same, whereby love becomes about someone else. We learn that love is something that someone else brings into our lives, which ultimately leads us to a place of peace, happiness, and salvation. By default, we learn that we are not enough.

The message of self-love has been beaten out of most fairytales we tell our children, and each other. No wonder people roll their eyes at the mention of self-love: it truly is a foreign concept for many of us. In fact, I woke up feeling such exasperation on the day after Valentine’s Day that I decided that I needed to go back to personal therapy, for my sake and that of those around me. I was truly feeling like I had given everything I had to my unhealthy patterns of emotional unavailability, and it was truly time to change.

The day after this decision, I was talking to some colleagues and fellow arts therapists about monumental life changes and decisions, and one of them was telling the story of how, a few years prior, she had reached such a point in her life, that she could no longer figure out anything about the world around her. That she couldn’t even figure out how to change the narrative of her life, only that the narrative had to change, no matter what. This had felt imperative, crucial, almost life or death. As she was telling this story, I felt deep resonance with this idea that the narrative needs to change. The story needs to change. That some things have gotten to such a point, that it is not even about finishing a chapter and starting a new one. The whole, unfinished book needs to go out the freaking window! I don’t need to start a new chapter, I need to start a new book! I felt this need for a change so deeply that I not only knew that my new commitment to personal therapy was indeed vital, but that this new process will also be excruciatingly painful and critical to my own survival.

The main quote on my Facebook page is by Carl Jung and it goes: “Only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life.” I feel that there’s probably no greater paradox than that of Change. It’s the only way to move forward in life, and yet, it is one of the scariest experiences anyone can go through. I’m not simply talking about changing jobs or houses – which are in themselves great examples of this paradox – but I’m referring to the type of change which reaches the core of oneself, and after which one can no longer go back. Moments of before and after in one’s life: diagnoses, death of someone we care about deeply, trauma, meeting someone, moving somewhere.

I mean, my move to the USA at 17 years old triggered such a monumental succession of events, that I’m not even able to imagine who I would be if I’d never done that. But I’m talking about change, because, right now, this is what I fear: the unknown of this new Ryan who will emerge from the letting go of all of these unhelpful and toxic patterns of emotional unavailability. I understand that this new Ryan will be a much better and healthier version, but I don’t know that yet. And because I don’t know it yet, it is very scary. Simultaneously, it is also essential. Therein lies the paradox: fear and love, destruction and creation, death and life, are always together.

 

Ryan Campinho Valadas

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

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…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/

Deconstructing: Systems

 

fond_power_system

I’ve come to a point in my life where I’m confronting the fact that I’ve always been trying to be part of some kind of establishment, without even actually agreeing with it in the first place!

Why have I done this, in general? But most importantly, why have I done this to myself? Why have I made all these decisions to belong to places, people, and things, that 1) I don’t value, support, or believe in; and 2) don’t value, support, or believe in me? Fake belonging, validation, and low self-worth, that’s why!

Admitting this is not easy. In fact, I’m fucking angry and disappointed at myself. Making all sorts of decisions to please others and get their validation, whilst fooling myself into thinking that this is what I wanted, feels like a damn waste of time and life! Being 30 and realising that my goals and dreams were in direct proportion and relation to my family’s validation of my own “specialness” is quite depressing! I mean, it’s not their fault, and this is definitely not a “blame my parents” kind of blog. I don’t even believe in that. I was the one who accepted the story, believed it, internalised it, and have been living it until now.

A story of perfection. Do you know that it took more than 10 years of formal education for me to even drop below 90% in a test? I remember hearing mentions of “future Dr” from a really young age. Not even for the fact that doctors save lives or anything, it was for the title! People wanted me to have the title. And then I found myself wanting the title. I don’t even know when that transition happened. But it did, and it took until these past two weeks for me to finally ask myself the question: why do I want to be a Dr? For nothing special or that truly matters, that’s the answer.

Allow me to elaborate on that. Whilst I like some material things, I can actually be quite detached from the physical world. Emotions, spirituality, and bigger picture have always been my thing. My own mom sometimes asks me how I can be so detached from family affairs, and my honest answer is that in the grand scheme of things, most human interactions tend to be petty and superficial, including and especially family! I always wanted depth of everything. I never really wanted to just have friends to talk about boys or music, I wanted friends who could talk about how they FELT. I believe everyone has depth, but not everyone can access it. And so, if you can’t access the depth of your feelings, I’m sorry, but we are probably not going to make it as friends, or anything, really.

And this is what struck me this week: my insistence on becoming a Dr at some point in the future had nothing to do with depth. It was superficial, pure and simple. It was simply supposed to feed the image of perfection that I grew up to believe in and have been trying to deconstruct since my early 20s, first through self-destruction, and now through hard and uncomfortable spiritual and emotional work.

As I continue to do this work of deconstructing all these messages and social/cultural/familial conditioning I have received, accepted, and lived with, sometimes it becomes difficult to figure out what is really me and mine, or theirs. However, I can say with some certainty that one of my most genuine qualities and intentions in life is to help others. Again, going back to my earlier mention of depth. I want to help others in the depth of who they are. I think this is why I ended becoming a therapist, after studying so many other things. For example, when I studied Politics and International Relations with the intention to then go and work at the United Nations, I quickly discovered that I could never do that kind of work. The level, extent, and amount of game-playing, bureaucracy, and superficiality were too much for me. I felt that I would never be able to help people the way I felt that I wanted to help people, but also the way I felt people should be helped. Again, depth is my thing! And doing anything other than that, it frankly feels like a waste of my life. That is my integrity right there, and this is where I’ve often come into conflict with systems.

Every single time in my career of supporting and helping others – in its various guises – where I have been confronted with the choice of individual versus system, I have always chosen the individual, and have invariably always been punished by the system. A very practical example: I was working for a community service where I was therapeutically preparing clients for a residential service. The idea behind it was that I had seen clients go into residential services and then drop out within weeks because they couldn’t handle it, for a variety of reasons. So, me being me, I thought: what if I devised a programme where I emotionally prepared clients for their upcoming intensive therapeutic processes, thus giving them a chance to really understand and reflect on themselves, their choices, and their goals, and increase their chance of long-term recovery? In the end, I prepared them so well that the system asked me to stop, because I was hurting the system. Clients were choosing to remain in community services longer, to prepare better, therefore not going into residential services at such high rates. I argued, as I always will, that to me, the individuals are more important than the system, and if it is the system’s duty to care for individuals and the policies aren’t working, then change the policies, not the individuals. I no longer work with that service. And leaving my clients was one of the hardest days of the last few difficult months, because I knew that, deep down, not many people cared for them, in a system that is meant to care for them.

This is my problem with systems and the current paradigm of care: money always ends up hurting people, because people in those systems value money more than people. They value statistics more than people. In fact, my experience of political/egotistical fights within care services, is that the clients are always the ones who suffer the most. They are the last ones to know anything, to be consulted, or even to be considered. I love the work, but I do not enjoy the politics of the work at all. They are superficial and petty. No depth at all. The only thing that kept me going all these years in care services were the clients themselves. Everything else felt completely irrelevant to me. This is how I can tell the intention and integrity of any professional caring for people: how they refer to the people they work with. In the therapeutic world, if I hear a professional referring to people by their diagnoses or symptoms, I immediately know where I stand with that professional: in conflict. I will always defend the person, which actually entails letting go of everything I think I know, and they will always defend their training and profession. When the theory is more important than the person, then that’s another instance of the system taking over the individual.

I’ve always puzzled professionals when I get asked how I measure my clients’ progress. I often answer with “they smile more”. “And they can do their meditations without opening their eyes”, or “they found a safe metaphor for their trauma”. That’s all I need. And I say “all”, because actually I know that this “all” entails very profound and unconscious developments in the psyche, in someone’s heart, in someone’s spirit. It takes great unconscious dynamics to start a session full of anger, sadness, or resentment, and ending it with a genuine smile, and grounded body language. “How can you prove that this is due to your approach?” I used to get all flustered and try to answer this with all sorts of clinical jargon and theory in order to fit in into the clinical establishment of psychological therapies. My answer now? “I don’t need to prove a goddam thing!” My responsibility is to my clients. That’s it. And often, my responsibility is to my clients, despite themselves. The great paradox of therapy is that people will seek the help of a professional and will simultaneously reject it at every chance they can. That’s where the relationship develops.

So, this is what I mean by depth:
Basically, we all do things, simply because we’ve been doing them for a very long time. We developed a pattern out of some kind of need, but most patterns overstay their welcome. Here’s one of my most insidious ones, as an example: I experienced emotional neglect and hurt from men at a young age. So, I stopped trusting certain men to protect myself, but what happened is that I stopped trusting ALL men. However, I was not aware of this, and when I had any kind of relationship with men, I would never be fully myself because I didn’t trust them. I would present a façade, or in the odd circumstance of opening up to someone, I would promptly sabotage that relationship to avoid future pain. I wasn’t even aware that I was doing this!! And I spent YEARS doing this to every single man I met, gay or straight, personal or professional, friend or lover. No trust at all! I became fully and consciously aware of this pattern around the age of 25 or 26, and so, by that time, I had been doing this for 20 years. Most people are like this. We have decades upon decades of patterns which no longer serve us. Layers and layers of feelings, thoughts, sensations, circumstances, conditioning, external messages, all of them covering up the original seed of the pattern.

Now, tell me, in all honesty, do you really think ANYONE on this planet can help you with ALL of that, or something else, in 6 or 12 sessions? Let’s be honest with each other. My clients in addiction services always complained “But I spent 6 months in rehab, why am I still here?” Short answer: because you spent 20 or 30 years doing something, and you are not going to solve all of that in 6 months! I mean, simply look at the time difference! Why do we think this is realistic? Systems all around us tell us that this is the way, and we believe them! Every single time! We believe fast food is good. We believe fast diets are healthy. We believe we can sort through lifelong traumas through short-term therapy. Another example: I received some health news in May 2016, which changed my life. In turn, the news uncovered a deep-seated trauma, which not even 3 years of intensive therapeutic processes during my training had been able to reach. This thing had REALLY carved itself a deep, dark corner in my psyche. I was able to get some therapy through the NHS which I had to wait for about 5 months, and knew in advance that it would be short-term even though I wasn’t given a specific number of sessions. But anyway, I had a few sessions, worked through some stuff, released some demons, and then agreed with the therapist that for THE TIME BEING I felt good enough to stop treatment and go live my life for a while. Under no circumstance, did, or do, I think that I was “done” with the trauma. It’s there forever, and no amount of therapy will ever make it “go away” or “make it disappear”. What therapy does is help people to re-frame and contain their experiences, so these stories are not in control of you, but you are in control of them.

In the past 7 years of active and conscious healing in my life, this is what I’ve come to know and found difficult to accept at times: everything is a paradox, including healing and living a better, more fulfilled life. One of the greatest paradoxes of life is this: change is the only constant aspect of life, and yet is the one thing no one wants to do. Take that one in and let it percolate!

Do you want to feel happier, more focused, fulfilled, with more purpose, more joy? Then change will be necessary. Not always big changes, but changes nonetheless. And the biggest opponents to change are systems, for they represent collective patterns! So, when looking at your life and what might be in its way, it might be helpful to start thinking about which internalised systems might be trying to keep you “in your place”.

 

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/
E: info@thehealingcontinuum.com

 

We Need to Talk About Sex

SEX

Hello everyone!

It’s time we start having some serious conversations. And I think there is no better, or more relevant, subject than sex.

Do you know what has been the most surprising thing to me in all these revelations about sexual dysfunction? That people are surprised! I’m being very serious right now. I am surprised that people are surprised. I am surprised that so many of my male friends were surprised at how many of their female friends participated in the #metoo campaign online.

For a bit of context: I’ve always connected and related to women because 1) I’m very sensitive; 2) I grew up surrounded by women. I wasn’t just surrounded by them, but also felt like I had a front row seat to the dramas unfolding in their lives. I was very much an outsider growing up, so I did a lot of watching other people’s lives. I was always aware that there were different rules for me, than there were for my friends, my cousins, my colleagues, my aunts, my mom. I’ve witnessed the effects of discrimination, assault, abuse, and hate towards women all my life. I have witnessed women close to me being called whores, for daring to just be themselves. I had friends at school – school!! – who were beaten up by boyfriends who controlled them through force and power. I witnessed women being shut down every day of my life, in both explicit and implicit ways. And I say I witnessed this, because, I too, felt completely powerless to say anything about it. As the token gay person of the school/town/village, I was made to feel lower than any other social group around me. If I dared to say or do anything outside of my very controlled invisible presence, I would be punished for it. Harshly.

And as I came to grow into my sexuality and started having sex with men, I saw these same patterns being applied to me. As the receptive partner in sexual relationships, I found myself facing the exact same name calling, use of force, oppressive power, and violence that I had seen my female friends face in the hands of men, but this time, it was me in the hands of fellow gay men.

So, what I want all of us to start talking about is this: sexual dysfunction in ALL of its forms, guises, but most importantly, its origin!

I’ll admit, I’m feeling a bit aggravated. This was triggered after a therapy session where yet another client disclosed being a victim of sexual dysfunction growing up as a child and teenager. And let me tell you everyone: sexual dysfunction is REAL and it’s EVERYWHERE! And by sexual dysfunction, I mean the entire spectrum of psychological and emotional patterns which drive individuals to commit sexual harassment, assault, abuse, violence.

People who know me, know that I have a really high threshold for emotional distress, dysfunction, chaos, pain. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a therapist and I’ve been exposed to serious and complex lived experiences, or because I have lived through serious and complex life experiences myself, or even because I’m somehow more open and aware than most people. Whatever it is, I must say that one of the things that shook me to my core, and raised that threshold even higher, was the extremely high prevalence of cases of childhood and adulthood sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape in the life stories of my clients in addiction services. All of it completely unacknowledged, unresolved, running people’s lives in absolutely destructive and unconscious ways. And as I accrued more clinical hours in my other field of work, HIV, similar patterns were present. And as I moved on to private practice, and to other life experiences and clinical presentations, there it was again! Statistics on childhood sexual abuse in the UK from the NSPCC may be depressing to acknowledge – https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/child-sexual-abuse/sexual-abuse-facts-statistics/ – but my own clinical experience would say that these statistics are simply the tip of a very large iceberg!

So, in the past few months, I have been really reflecting on this, particularly the origins of all this dysfunction, not simply in relation to all the clients I have encountered in the past few years, but even my own personal experiences of aspects of this overall dysfunction. And let us not forget the current socio-cultural moment we are all living through at the moment!

For those outside the field of psychology and therapy, Abraham Maslow published a paper in 1943 where he proposed a theory of hierarchy of needs – you can read more about it here https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html. According to this theory, represented by a pyramid, people are motivated to achieve certain needs, and some will take precedence over others. The needs at the bottom of the pyramid are our most basic ones, and the highest one is self-transcendence, or the fulfilment of a person’s spiritual potential. Guess where sex is on this pyramid? At the bottom, that’s right, with all the other physiological and biological needs. Right next to food, drink, sleep, warmth, breathing, etc. Let me repeat that again, in case you can’t see the profundity of our relationship with sex: it is on the same category as food, drink, sleep, and wait…breathing! And yet, if you think about it, how many of these other basic needs have been the subject, target, and used as a weapon of oppression, morality, misunderstanding, and misuse of power, not just for centuries, but for millennia? Think about that. Reflect on that. Let that sink in. Most of us are taught to dismiss, judge, oppress, repress, and shame, one of our basic needs. Perhaps the times in which he lived did not allow Sigmund Freud to tackle this matter in all its vastness, but he was definitely onto something with his focus on sex and sexual urges.

This moment is not just a moment for specific victims and perpetrators. It’s a moment of reckoning for all of us: where do each of us fall on this long and vast spectrum of sexual experience, and where exactly are all these lines that people keep crossing every day? Who’s responsible? Think back to your education about sex. How did you learn about it? Where? With whom? Obviously, factors such as gender, race, sexual orientation, age, disability, and belief system, play important roles in our relationship with sex, but really, beyond all of that, sex is something no one ever wants to talk about. It’s not a men’s problem or a women’s problem, it’s everyone’s problem! Not only no one ever wants to talk about it, no one wants the responsibility of dealing with it. How many times did I have to challenge colleagues when they told clients that it was inappropriate to talk about sex in therapy sessions, because they didn’t want to deal with it?

What are we teaching children? Young people? Why are people surprised about sexual dysfunction in adults when sex is almost universally seen and taught as something shameful and secretive, from the moment we are born? Do you really think that when toddlers are beginning to discover their bodies, and adults admonish them for touching themselves, that that doesn’t somehow leave a mark in that toddler’s psyche? They won’t remember it as a clear memory, but the feeling remains for a very long time, or even forever: “touching yourself is bad”. And as toddlers develop into children, and then into teenagers, and begin to really explore their sexualities and pleasure, whenever they masturbate, there will be a lingering feeling that even though it feels great, that it’s also bad and something to hide, and possibly feel ashamed of.

We cannot expect a world where adults engage with each other sexually with respect, boundaries, and care, if we don’t even bother to teach them anything as children. Someone does not become a rapist or a paedophile out of nowhere. Men don’t learn to look at women as objects out of nowhere. Women don’t learn to think of themselves as passive or powerless out of nowhere. Everything has an origin, a cause, a seed. We can’t ignore that. Talks of how men should behave towards women are empty, if we are not willing to look at the root cause of many of these issues: our relationship with sex, with all of our judgements, misconceptions, fears, insecurities, power dynamics, morality, and shame. Because the root cause driving the behaviour of abusers is the same as what drives the silencing of victims: a dysfunctional relationship with this basic need of ours. Can you imagine applying all this morality to the basic need of breathing? It sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Because it is!

Sex is a basic need because it provides us with specific nurturing, wellbeing, developmental, and healing qualities, but we somehow found a way to completely detach it from all the other needs and put it in a category on its own. But sex isn’t on its own – it is fundamentally connected to everything else about us as a species. If you had a group of children in a room, and you singled one out, and kept telling that child that they were bad, immoral, shameful, etc, how do you think that child would feel, and develop? This is what we do with sex as a need. We dismiss it. We hide it. We shame it. We avoid it. We disconnect from it. We compartmentalise it. How are you surprised about all this dysfunction? Oh, apologies. You most likely say to yourself that you couldn’t possibly commit some of these acts, or if you were a victim you would have reacted differently to the threat. Maybe, maybe not. The truth of the matter is that HUMAN beings commit and are victims of these acts every single day on this planet. I assure you that everyone will know someone who has been a victim of sexual dysfunction in their lifetime. And if we all know a victim, then we will all also know a perpetrator. Think about that, and let that sink in.

Going back to the list of basic needs listed above: food, drink, sleep, warmth, breathing, sex. Do you notice anything? I’ll point it out to you: sex is the only basic need that requires another person. Right there, as we grow up and develop, we receive the message that one of our basic needs, which is inextricably about how we relate to others, is something shameful and to be hidden away. If that isn’t the beginning of a whole lot of dysfunction, I don’t know what is!

I don’t have many answers. But I know we need to start talking about sex openly and authentically. We need to re-build the bridges between the physical and the emotional/spiritual aspects of sex in our lives. There haven’t been any bridges up until now, and that is how dysfunction has managed to thrive. We need to have these very uncomfortable conversations, shining light on this part of us that has been forced to live in the shadows. Some people’s lives literally depend on it. And I don’t mean just physical lives. Emotional, psychological and spiritual lives too! If your body is here, but your emotions and spirit are trapped, then you are surviving and coping, which is very different than living. All of our lives, and their authentic transcendental potential, depend on this. We can start this process by looking at ourselves, acknowledging and exploring what and how we feel about sex physically, emotionally, spiritually. And then we need to acknowledge where perhaps we have misused it, or been subjugated to its misuse. This part will be difficult. Very difficult. And then we can expand this process to other people. Perhaps sharing parts of our stories. Perhaps just listening to other people’s stories. Without judgement or shame. With compassion and kindness. With love. This will feel cathartic. But the healing will only occur, if we continue to follow these steps, consistently, continuously, and authentically. With each other.

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

Thank you. xx

Ryan Campinho Valadas
HCPC registered Dramatherapist

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