The Joy of Giving – the Tale of the 9 Nanas

The delightful “9 Nanas” have rightfully become quite the sensation recently for the anonymous acts of kindness and generosity.


I find joy in offering opportunities and tools to help people transform their lives.


What do / can you do to bring joy to yourself and a hand-up to someone else?

An Open Letter to a Future Thriver

To my sweet friend,

If you are reading this, I assume that you, or someone you love, have experienced trauma. Before I dive in, I want you to know, from my heart, that I am sorry. I wish things were different. However, I also tell you from deep in my heart that your life can be better. The life you dream of is right here, completely within your grasp, just waiting for you to grab it.

When people hear that I am a trauma survivor, they don’t always understand quite what that means. When I explain, they are often shocked. The story itself is shocking. They also find it hard to believe that a person who has lived through what I have can be so successful, optimistic and healthy. Truth be told, sometimes I’m surprised, too. They will often tell me that I am lucky, or what a special person I am to have conquered and overcome the trauma, as if my past was France and I am Napoleon. The reality is neither. I am a person who has suffered, then out of that suffering made terrible choices. I have hurt myself and others along the way, but I picked myself up, repaired what I could, and mourned what was irreparable. Healing is work and it takes time; anyone who tells you differently is selling something. Yet, it does not need to be so painful, and the richness of life waiting for you on the other side is so worth it.

While everyone’s path to healing is different, there are often common threads, such as…

• Shame. Often we cannot even pinpoint where the shame starts. We may not even realize how strong and present it is, but it is there, influencing decisions, dictating terms, pulling our strings like a puppeteer. We feel ashamed of our bodies, the food we eat, the choices we make. Our jobs, our sex lives, our feelings all become sources of shame. What a heavy, heavy burden that we carry, mindlessly and needlessly.

• Flashbacks. Traumatic memories are stored differently in our brains than other memories, and it can be difficult for our minds and bodies to tell the difference between past trauma and current pain. It can feel like the horrific event is happening right now. Your body may enter shock, or activate your “fight or flight” response. It may feel like you have lost control, like your body has betrayed you. Though all of this is completely typical for a trauma survivor, it usually makes the one living it feel completely insane. Let me be the one to tell you: You are not insane. You are a completely normal person responding in a completely normal way to a completely messed-up situation.

• Terror. The idea of looking directly at what has hurt us is so scary. Not only the event itself, but what we fear it implies about us and our realities. Are we bad? Did we deserve it? Where was God in all of this? Where was my family? How could someone that loves me hurt me so much? Am I weird? Dirty? Different? Unlovable? What will people think? Add to all of this worry the completely daunting task of healing and it is tempting to just let sleeping dogs lie. But deep inside there is wisdom that knows that we are meant for better things and it gently moves us towards health.

• Awareness. As we move farther away from it, we can see with greater clarity the traumas we have survived and their impact on our lives. As we learn more about the impact of trauma, the symptoms we experience make sense. Over time we are able to be gentler with ourselves around past choices that did not serve us, and learn how to make choices that do.

• Work. I said it before, but this one is worth repeating. I didn’t wake up one day feeling hunky-dory. There was no Christ-like character to place their hand on me and pronounce me healed. It just doesn’t work that way. You need to spend some time remembering, processing, feeling. And you know all of those healthy, healing things that people talk about? You have to actually do them! Your inner wisdom will guide you in finding what works for you; your job is to work it.

• Change. At some point you will start to notice a difference. You will feel less stressed or anxious. You will be able to identify your feelings and needs, and even ask to have your needs met! You will start to see the patterns in your life and take steps to make them healthier.

• Joy. That’s right, I said it. You will have joy in your life, a joy that you didn’t realize existed, or if you did, never believed you could have. When we are not studiously avoiding our emotions, and are able to embrace the full range, it is amazing the level of happiness you can experience! You can show up fully in your life, unashamed, and take what is rightfully yours: true peace and happiness.

These steps are by no means all-inclusive, and they rarely show up in exact order. As you go about living fully, you will float in and out of these steps at different times. Yet, each time you experience a step, it gets a bit easier. Like an old sports injury that was devastating when it happened, though the ache is never completely gone, it will grow less painful. Through this experience, you will see how strong and resilient you are. You will fall down and pick yourself back up. There will be screaming and tears, but also singing and laughter. You will re-discover your beauty and innocence. You will feel proud of your hard work and proud of the person you’ve become. Through it all, know that you are not alone. There is support to be found in friends, family, therapists and healing groups, like Vital Cycles. And though I may never meet you face to face, I am ever and always cheering for you.

Wishing all of the joy you can hold,


Empower yourself

One of my favorite Healing Principles is the Empowerment Principle. “We shape our own healing process choosing what best serves us.

We can develop the skills to make good decisions for our healing so we can lead lives of joyous dignity.

An important skill for our healing journey involves learning to access and trust our inner wisdom, sometimes known as intuition. By developing our connection with our inner resources, we gain valuable insight to help guide our choices. Ways to access one’s inner wisdom include journaling, visualization, creating art, meditation and prayer. Developing this connection and aligning ourselves with it is an enriching lifelong process.

Consulting our inner wisdom helps us discover our needs. Knowing more about our needs gives us power! We can proactively seek ways to meet our needs, taking care of as many of them as possible. The sense of empowerment gained in recognizing our capacity for self- nurturance leads to increased self-respect and dignity.

As we build self-awareness, we discover there are many ways we can begin to meet our needs. It’s vital we become expert in discovering what works for us and adapting it to fit. After all, we are the only ones who can truly know what is best working for us.

Gradually, we gain the emotional maturity to choose the paths that are most healing for ourselves. Gradually, we shift from seeing ourselves as victims, to seeing ourselves as survivors and over time as thrivers. This is more of a cyclic process than a linear one. Even after much healing has elapsed, we may still find aspects of ourselves feeling like victims at times. It helps when we can turn towards these aspects with empowered compassion.

As we continue to make empowering choices for our healing and deepen our connection with our emotions, our capacity to experience joy grows, and our lives feel progressively richer and more fulfilling.

Vital Cycle: The better we shape our healing process the more empowered we are. The more empowered we are the better we can shape our healing process.

Processing Trauma to Live Well

Traumatic memories impact many areas of our lives.  

Would you like to:

  • sleep better?
  • reduce tension and hyper vigilance?
  • feel more peace?
  • have better self-esteem?
  • increase your  success in work situations?
  • enjoy more positive relationships?
  • reap the fruits of better self-care?

Learn to transform traumatic memories, relieving you of their burdens

They can intrude and skew our sense of situations dramatically, making it more difficult to relate with other people and ourselves. They can affect how we talk, work, love, act, and think. The impact and the benefits vary from person to person and each memory has different effects. Processing memories can benefit us in many ways such as fewer nightmares, sleeping better, reduced hypervigilance, more peace, better self-esteem, greater capability for success in work situations, more positive relationships, better self-care that comes more naturally, as well as greater hope and vitality. Processing changes the way we feel the memory through a discharging of emotions and sensations, replacing warped myths/beliefs with nourishing truths, and putting the event in its true perspective.

The difference between intrusive memories and “dwelling in the past”

Processing allows stuck pain to emerge and dissipate. Yet there is a common misconception that processing increases pain. However the truth is that we are exposing the pain that was already there, so we can heal the wounds. What feels like a crazy response to the present is actually a memory playing in the body. It’s not “dwelling in the past” to experience emotions, sensations and beliefs remembered from that time period, it’s simply that memory is not fully processed and resolved during traumatic situations so it can be reactivated and replayed over the years into the present.

Why traumatic memories are so much worse than normal memories

Memory is stored differently in our brain during trauma. Sometimes portions of the memory or even the entire memory can be dissociated (out of conscious awareness). Traumatic memory often carries a powerful, negative emotional charge, frightening images, body sensations (urges, scents, physical pain, remembered pressures, etc.), negative beliefs about self and life, words that were said and other auditory inputs. These need to be intentionally and skillfully processed. The presence of traumatic memories recycling repeatedly in our brains perpetuates emotional wounds. These are wounds that time does not heal. Often one traumatic incident may cause a number of traumatic memories to be stored, and each may need processing. Sometimes these associated traumatic memories need to be processed together to find the inevitable freedom.

What prepares us for healing transformation 

There are a number of key ingredients for doing the Processing Path safely and well – sufficient life stability, emotional resilience, being able to be gentle with one’s self, having learned processing skills and concepts, an ability to self-soothe, a support network, and feeling safe enough to do it. Other ingredients that can be very helpful are an ability to harmonize internally, a skilled trauma therapist who fits you well, a safe place to process at home, and a safety plan for difficult times. There are countless other things that people do to help them with processing. If one feels unready for this path, it can be helpful to do other paths and come back when ready. Processing memories safely usually requires skillful and careful help from others. Healing is easiest when one is centered, compassionate and curious regarding one’s self. Compassionately understanding the impacts of the traumatic memories helps wounded aspects of ourselves to open up for healing.

Ways of processing, and what NOT to do

There are a number of methods for processing traumatic memories, and there are new methods being developed all the time. There are many methods, including Internal Family Systems therapy, Brainspotting, EMDR, psychodrama, gestalt therapy, somatic experiencing, art therapy, and many others. We are all different and will find that different things work for us at different times. However, we should be cautious in which approaches we explore. There are many methods that can be more traumatizing than healing. It is a natural tendency to want to stir up feelings, or act them out. For example, forcing memory activation is usually counter-productive and often adds to one’s trauma burden. A sadly common counter-productive method is re-enacting victim situations. Even more tragic is perpetrating abuse on others. Practices should be chosen based on how they help us achieve more joy and less pain for ourselves and others. We find it most helpful to consult our inner wisdom and look for practices that adhere to the Vital Cycles Healing Principles.

An important part of processing traumatic memories is venting the emotional charge. Venting is a critical coping mechanism at other times as well. Venting techniques are like pressure escape valves that help temporarily to ease emotional pressure inside (e.g., anxiety, anger, fear, pain, guilt, and shame). We suggest that any way of venting is healthy as long as NO ONE gets hurt, including the one doing the venting. Some examples of healthy venting are beating a pillow with a hose, hitting a punching bag, hitting balls at a batting cage, writing letters that are not going to be sent, etc. It’s also very important that you are able to maintain the awareness that you are an adult and safe in the present despite the traumatic memories and feelings you are experiencing and venting.

There are many positive outcomes of processing

We find that our hope increases, we feel more joy, celebrate successes, feel lighter inside, more centered, more connected to ourselves, and build healing momentum. The example in the first paragraph demonstrated these outcomes.

For more information on the Processing Path see page 78 of the Healing Toolkit. Then click on Download a “Vital Cycles Healing Toolkit” for free.

Positive Reframing – guest blog by Teresa Vandergriff

Some years ago, I noticed that one of my friends took care to put a positive spin on things by changing “I’ve got to” to “I get to.” For example, “I’ve got to do my laundry – big hassle, takes time, I hate to iron, etc.” changes to: “I get to do my laundry-I own clothes that I like, I’m glad I chose washable things so that I’m not running to the dry cleaners every other day, etc.”

Gratitude came easily with that little change of words. At the time, I thought it was a nice idea, but I have since learned that changing my words to create gratitude is one of the best things I can do for my well-being. Those little changes keep me going forward. For me, a typical day brings up a long list of “got-to”: obligations to support my health, have a comfortable home; earn a paycheck, look presentable, take care of my family, spend time with friends, prepare for the next holiday or clean up after the last one, and so on and so forth. To get a handle on that list, I try to listen for the underlying “got-to” that I’m telling myself; often it’s not the list dragging me down, it’s the attitude: “I’ve got to deal with lots of stuff I don’t like, and I’m angry before I start!” That’s not only a negative approach, it’s a limited one; the glass is not only half-empty, it’s also half-full. I work on switching to “get-to” statements: “I get to choose my thoughts, attitudes, and actions; I am not stuck. I get to see-and use- my strengths and my resources to make today a great day.”

From that place of empowerment, I celebrate that half-full glass and the many blessings in my life. I hope we all “get to” see many blessings in our lives, today and always!

Maria Teresa Vandergriff is a Special Advisor to the Vital Cycles Board on grant writing. She is a professional grant writer and tireless advocate for women and children’s empowerment. 


Gratitude comes easily with a little change of words!

New Year = A New You!!!

I can’t believe another year has flown by. It’s going to be 2012 and I have to say being born in 1983 I’m beginning to feel old!

I hear people everywhere talking about their New Years resolution to “lose weight” “eat better”, “get more organized” or to “exercise”. These are all great goals but statistics have shown few people keep their New Years resolutions. For me I don’t  create New Years resolutions, instead I reflect on the last year and set goals for the coming year. My goals are based on what I hope to accomplish.

2010 was a particular rough year for me physically and emotionally. It took a toll on me and my depression got the best of me towards the end of that year. I was in the hospital last New Years Eve with a concussion and only hoped that 2011 would be a better year.

I had many goals for 2011. To get stronger both physically and emotionally. To find a therapist I could talk to, a support group, to be able to create distance from my family, to build a safety net of supportive friends, and to begin my Masters degree.

Some of these goals may seem small, however for me they were all challenges. I am afraid of being “judged”, afraid to trust, and afraid to let my guard down. Asking for “help” was something I have never been good at. But I knew in order to heal these were the beginning steps I needed to take.

Beginning my masters degree seemed to be the easiest of all my goals. Finding a good therapist I could trust took 9 months and a few attempts with other therapists. Finding a support group took time, but through multiple searches and not giving up I was able to find Vital Cycles (an amazing support group, that focuses on healing).

Letting my guard down, building a support network, and being open with friends has been one of the biggest challenges I have worked on this past year. I now have friends that I can truly be myself with. I can share about my happiest highs and deepest lows. This has helped my healing, and self-esteem grow tremendously.

As I look back at this year it has not always been easy. However I have seen my healing take dramatic leaps forward.  I have taken challenges that I wouldn’t have taken a few years ago. I have set clear boundaries with people that negatively impact me. I am beginning to create balance in my life. I have put myself and my healing as my first priority.

In 2012 I will continue to grow and heal. I will continue with my masters degree, and also assist with growing Vital Cycles. I need to maintain my boundaries with my family, surround myself with positive people, and work on what I can change and accept the things I can’t. I hope to return to working full time,when I’m able.

Each day I heal, I become stronger and happier.

Happy New Year Everyone 🙂



Find out more about Vital Cycles and a group near you!

Looking at the Glass Half Full!

Sometimes in life all we can do is hope for the best and have a little faith that things will turn out okay. Its so easy at times to get wrapped up in the “what ifs” or what may happen. The truth is no one can predict the future and as hard as that is, we should try to enjoy the day for what it is, and deal with whatever happens as it comes. I have spent so much time in my life worrying about all the things that “MAY” happen, that I ultimately wasn’t allowing myself to enjoy the positive things that were happening. The last few months I have kept a conscious goal to not allow “the what if’s” to consume me. An individual’s mind is very powerful and can find a downside to almost any situation, however every situation also has a positive side that can be looked at. An example of this is that the other day I saw my primary care physician, she told me it was necessary to see my cardiologist. At the age of 28 with a heart condition It is very easy to get down and frustrated. I could hear the “what if’s” begin in my head (what if I need another procedure will I be okay etc?)

I have begun to realize that as much as a situation can frustrate me, there’s going to be times that there’s nothing I can do to “fix it”. I unfortunately can’t make my heart cooperate.  It doesn’t matter how much I worry or think about it. In fact worrying and adding more stress on my body probably doesn’t help the situation.

Through acceptance and seeking out the positives in a situation, I find myself to be more relaxed. I feel that seeing the positive in situations allows for me to be more optimistic about my health, my life, and who I am as a person. Not allowing the “what if’s” to consume me, not only allows me to think more positively, it allows me to live in the moment, enjoy each day, and even allow time for some FUN!

To learn more about how Vital Cycles talks about positivity check out the Affirming Healing Path on page 67, and the Focus Healing Principle on page 11.

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