“Crash Course” by Diane Poole Heller, PhD

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Subtitle: A self-healing guide to auto accident trauma & recovery

Recommended to me by: watching Diane Poole Heller’s teaching videos

This is a practical, easy to follow introduction to Somatic Experiencing as it applies to car crashes, with lots of vignettes and gentle exercises. It focuses on bringing in resources and supporting the body to resolve and release trauma. The tone is reassuring and friendly, and normalizes the symptoms and reactions that can result from a car crash.

For example, when did you first realize you were safe? What help did you receive, or what help do you want to bring in now? Even though we can’t change the original event, imagining different scenarios allows the body to release and complete reactions.

Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“In the Spirit of We’Moon” narrated by Musawa

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Subtitle: Celebrating 30 Years, An Anthology of We’Moon Art and Writing

Recommended to me by: gift from a friend

We’Moon, now in its 35th year, is an feminist astrological datebook that centers the moon cycles rather than the sun cycles. This anthology contains the extraordinary history of this project, as well as sample art and writing from each year’s calendar.

Musawa and others created the first multi-lingual We’Moon calendar in a women’s land collective, Kvindelandet, in Denmark. The first five editions were published from different European countries as Musawa moved around and found other women volunteers willing to help. We’Moon publishing moved to women’s land in Oregon after that, and has resided here ever since.

One woman’s inspiration and dedication has inspired and nourished many others with this ongoing celebration of women’s rhythms. While she generously credits everyone who stepped forward to support and contribute to the project, it is clear that it was her leadership that made it happen.

While I’ve occasionally owned We’Moon calendars, I didn’t realize that each year’s theme is based on the Tarot Major Arcana for that year.

This anthology is fun both to read sequentially, and to open randomly to see what message appears. Recommended!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Northwest Passage” by Stan Rogers as seen by Matt James

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Recommended to me by: Running across a MultCoLib blog post about the book and being a longtime fan of Stan Rogers and this song

“Northwest Passage” on youtube Go listen!

Stan Rogers was a Canadian folk music luminary, writing and performing songs with wonderful lyrics and harmonies. Sadly, he died back in 1983 in a airplane fire. He got out, but died of smoke inhalation when he went back in to help others. I remember the collective grief at a folk festival when the news first went around.

When I saw a post about a large-format children’s book that illustrates Stan Rogers’ song, I immediately requested it at the library. The colorful, detailed, dramatic paintings illustrate the song line by line.

The book also includes a detailed history of John Franklin’s doomed expedition searching for the Northwest Passage through Arctic waters to the Pacific. The explorers died of an unusually cold winter, and of hubris in thinking they did not need the help of local First Nations people. Instead of foraging locally, they carried canned food brought from England which turned out to have a lot of lead in the cans.

The last page has sheet music for the song, and a fourth verse that was never recorded.

And it will be I’ll come again to loved ones left at home,
Place the journals on the mantel, bake the frost out of my bones,
Leaving memories far behind me, only memories after all,
And hardships then, the hardest to recall

Rest in peace, Stan Rogers. You are not forgotten!

Stan Rogers website with information about his albums and another book about the same song.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Ancillary Mercy” by Ann Leckie

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Recommended to me by: reading Ancillary Justice, the first book in this series.

This book has more plot drama and more heavy-handed social justice messages than the first two books. I imagine that works for the target audience of young space opera fans, but it didn’t suit me as well. It felt like the faster-moving plot crowded out some of the relationship development that I enjoyed in the first book.

The first book felt like it included me, where this book felt like it lectured me. Even though it was a lecture I agreed with about self-determination and unconscious privilege, I didn’t enjoy the book in the same way.

There was a lot less killing, and a lot more emphasis on each life being valuable. No one is cannon fodder in their own life story.

All in all, I’m not sorry I read it, but it didn’t have the WOW factor of Ancillary Justice.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Rising Strong” by Brene Brown

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Subtitle: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.
Additional subtitle: If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. This is a book about what it takes to get back up.

Recommended to me by: reading Brene Brown’s other books

This book covers a lot of ground I care about – how to recover from failure, how to deal with shame when it gets triggered, how to meet life’s rough spots in an authentic, integrated way. Brene Brown’s catchy phrases and metaphors and TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) probably help a lot of people and are an authentic expression of her style, and at the same time they aren’t a good fit for me. I felt like I was reading around them to get to the great ideas in the book.

Vulnerability is the only path to more love, belonging, and joy – and it also leads to humiliating falls, failures, and heartbreak.

There is no one way to rise after falling. We each have to feel our way. No one can do it for us, and no one can do it without outside input. (She says without connection. As hard as it is to do without connection, something in me says that’s not a hard and fast rule. Then she says spirituality is required, and spirituality is about connection. So maybe there’s something there.)

We’re wired for story. Questioning and changing our assumptions is a big part of rising after a fall.

We can’t skip the messy middle of the process, where it’s too late to back out, but we can’t yet see your way forward. (This was the bit that rang the most true for me, and yet I hadn’t realized was an intrinsic part of the process. It’s comforting, in a way, to know that. At least I’m lost in good company, and probably going the right way after all.)

The process applies to major life crises, and to individual confrontations, and to both professional and personal life.

  • The Reckoning: Walking into our story
    Recognize emotion, and get curious about our feelings and how they connect with the way we think and behave.

  • The Rumble: Owning our story
    Get honest about the stories we’re making up about our struggle, then challenge these confabulations and assumptions to determine what’s truth, what’s self-protection, and what needs to change if we want to lead more wholehearted lives.

  • The Revolution
    Write a new ending to our story based on the key learnings from our rumble and use this new, braver story to change how we engage with the world.

Ways to avoid emotion/hurt/pain – blame, lashing out, avoidance, numbing, addiction.

Owning the story: “The story I’m making up is…” Writing for 15 minutes can help us find out what our story is.

Living “BIG” – boundaries, integrity, and generosity. Believing that people are doing the best they can (even when they violate our boundaries).

“In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die. If you make a choice to forgive, you have to face into the pain. You simply have to hurt.” Forgiveness arises out of grief for an ending.

Asking for help might be a lot harder than being the one who has it all together to offer help.

Trust includes: boundaries, reliability, accountability, respecting confidences, integrity, nonjudgment, generosity. Self-trust has these elements, too, and is often a casualty of failure.

Hope is a thought process of goals, pathways and agency. (This does not match my experience at all, or we’re talking about two different things. To me, hope is something completely ungovernable, wordless, primal.)

Recommended! There’s lots of food for thought here.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Childhood Disrupted” by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

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Subtitle: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal

Recommended to me by: a friend

Science journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa carefully researches and clearly describes how Chronic Unpredictable Toxic Stress changes the growing brain of a child, pruning neurons and stunting growth in some areas. Because the toxic stress is unpredictable, the fight or flight response remains activated, bathing the body in an ongoing soup of inflammatory chemicals. She covers research that says girls’ brains are more susceptible, although I suspect correlation rather than causation at work there.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are linked as strongly with later auto-immune diseases and other health issues as smoking is linked with cancer, or unprotected sex is linked with pregnancy. Here is the original ACE study. You can go ahead and take the 10-question ACE questionnaire. There is also a resilience questionnaire with some factors that can shield a child from the negative effects of chronic unpredictable toxic stress.

The book contains many people’s stories, and some suggestions for healing as well. Fortunately the brain is plastic, and at least some of the negative effects can be reversed.

The briefly covered suggestions for healing are: take the ACE questionnaire and resilience questionnaire, write to heal, draw it, mindfulness meditation, tai chi and qigong, mindsight (self-awareness/empathy/integration), loving-kindness, forgiveness, mending the body/moving the body (yoga, trauma release exercises, bodywork), managing the mind through the gut, and only connect (supportive relationships).

Professional help is also recommended, with therapy, somatic experiencing, guided imagery and hypnosis, neurofeedback, and EMDR.

For parents who want to protect and help their children as best they can, suggestions include: manage your own “baggage”, look into your child’s eyes, validate and normalize their experience, apologize as needed, amplify the good feelings, name emotions, hug them, have safe and open conversations about what’s happening, bring more safe adults into their lives, teach them mindfulness.

Highly recommended book! The section on trauma’s specific effects was depressingly long, and had a lot of sense of inevitability in it. The “how to heal” section was shorter and less specific. I was both reassured and disappointed to see that I’m doing a lot of the recommendations already. Being on the right track is good, and I guess there’s no magic wand to speed up the process.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Emotion Code” by Dr. Bradley Nelson

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Subtitle: How to Release Your Trapped Emotions for Abundant Health, Love, and Happiness

Recommended to me by: a client

This is a marketing book for Dr. Nelson’s chiropractic and emotion-clearing practice, with lots of dramatically successful case studies, most of which I skimmed. It also includes some interesting self-help techniques.

The “sway test” is a form of muscle testing. Standing in a relaxed, stable position, say something obviously true, like, “My name is (your correct name)”, and wait to see how your body reacts. Then try it with something obviously false. “My name is Donald Duck.” The idea is that we sway forward for truth and things we like, and sway back for falsehoods and things we don’t like. It did seem to work this way for me.

Once you have a clear Yes and a clear No, you can use it to inquire into your subconscious.

The book recommends using it to find specific trapped emotions, possibly trapped in a wall around the heart, and clear them by passing a magnet over your head three times. I haven’t been convinced of the efficacy of treatment with magnets, but I tried it anyway. We’ll see if I get dramatically positive results over time!

Recommended if this level of “woo-woo” works for you, and you don’t mind (or enjoy) lots of dramatic success stories.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Emotionally Absent Mother” by Jasmin Lee Cori, MS, LPC

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Subtitle: a guide to self-healing and getting the love you missed

Recommended to me by: a client

This is a gently enlightening book. It talks about all the different roles a Good Mother plays (“yeah, yeah, I know”) and all the holes that result when those roles are missing (“yeah, yeah, I know”) … “Wait, those holes I’ve been managing all this time?!”

The ten facets of a Good Mother: source, place of attachment, first responder, modulator, nurturer, cheerleader, mentor, protector, home base.

The holes are left behind from missing one or more of these messages: I’m glad you’re here, I see you, you’re special to me, I respect you, I love you, your needs are important to me/I’m here for you, I’ll keep you safe, you can rest in me, I enjoy you/you brighten my heart.

The book has a clear, accessible discussion of attachment styles and attachment wounds. It was odd to see Disorganized Attachment passed over, possibly because this book is written for children of neglectful rather than abusive mothers.

Recommended healing techniques include psychotherapy, archetypes, romantic relationships, and inner child work. One suggested exercise is to trade safe, nonsexual holding with a friend. Just hold the other person for a set time, perhaps as long as 20 minutes, and then swap roles.

There is carefully inclusive language around “mothers and other caretakers (of any gender)”, although it is also clear that this is primarily about mothers.

I’ve recommended this book to a lot of clients in the last couple of weeks! I think it’s an enlightening read for anyone. Even if you had a great mother, odds are some of the people close to you didn’t, and this will help make sense of their experience.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Trauma Stewardship” by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky with Connie Burk

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Subtitle: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others

This book describes and offers solutions for the secondary trauma of working to address trauma and injustice. Laura van Dernoot Lipsky shares her own experiences as a trauma social worker as well as a wide range of detailed profiles of other helping professionals. The writing is empathic, engaging, and perceptive.

A generous sprinkling of cartoons reinforces her point that humor is a survival technique when working with grim material.

The last section contains a lot of specific, useful suggestions for self-inquiry and self-care for trauma healing professionals. It felt validating to notice that over the years I have built a lot of the suggestions into my life, with healthy food, enough sleep, meditation, lots of exercise, singing, dancing, and participation in community. Also, setting limits around the number of hours I work, and holding fast to the belief that my own healing and helping one client at a time is enough in the face of the world’s vast need. Maybe I can trust my body and my instincts to find sustainable habits in this profession.

I did not find the last section’s framing of five directions to be helpful or necessary. Since the directions were matched with the five elements in a different way than I’m used to, it was actively distracting. Fortunately, the framing is simply used to group the very practical, solid advice in each section, rather than devolving into new agey spirituality.

From the conclusion:

By now we know that if we want to decrease the suffering in our world, we will need to learn a behavior that is fundamentally different from the ones that have caused such pain and destruction. We must open ourselves to the suffering that comes with knowing that there are species we can’t bring back from extinction, children we can’t free from their abusive homes, climate changes we can’t reverse, and wounded veterans we can’t immediately heal. We must also open ourselves to the hope that comes with understanding the one thing we can do. We can always be present for our lives, the lives of all other beings, and the life of the planet. Being present is a radical act. It allows us to soften the impact of trauma, interrupt the forces of oppression, and set the stage for healing and transformation. Best of all, our quality of presence is something we can cultivate, moment by moment. It permits us to greet what arises in our lives with our most enlightened selves, thereby allowing us to have the best chance of repairing the world.

Highly recommended for helping professionals and those considering going into the field. I feel very lucky to be self-employed, after reading about the working conditions in a lot of helping agencies!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Ancillary Sword” by Ann Leckie

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Recommended to me by: Reading Ancillary Justice

The nice thing about waiting a year or two to read a good book is that the sequel is already available! This sequel to Ancillary Justice was more about the troubles of 17 year old girls (and boys), and so didn’t pull me in as much. It still uses she/her as default pronouns, leaving in doubt whether some of the powerful, misbehaving teens are male or female.

People in power are described as having bulky bodies and dark skin, and being beautiful. A welcome change from thin, white powerful people, at the same time they abuse power in the same imperial ways. I keep hoping for new ways to handle power that don’t immediately devolve into abuse and violence.

I liked the way an abusive romantic relationship is described. I was uncomfortable watching the abuser interact with her (his?) abusive family. The question of nature or nurture is not addressed directly, but it felt a little too pat.

I liked that a love of folk singing is important to the plot.

Still worth reading to see what happens next. Still appreciably different from most of the science fiction out there, and I imagine it resonates more with a younger audience. Looking forward to the third book, which just came out, so the hold queue at the library is pretty long.

Available at Powell’s Books.