In Harmony with Self & Nature

Nature & Inner Harmony

The restorative aspects of nature has long been verified in both folk lore and science. The further you drive away from the city, the fresher the air may feel. Enjoying long walks, hikes, trails, or climbs in nature affords you the opportunity to learn from the environment. Retreating to the countryside, conservation areas, local parks or beaches gives your body, mind, and spirit the chance to reconnect with nature in the wild and to reflect on your own corporeal nature.

There is no doubt that modern modes of work have increased demands on cerebral functioning. Business and service industries have migrated to online platforms. Even those jobs that require direct or in-person contact have increased digitization and techo-merging with computer systems and processes aimed to streamline administrative and staffing functions such as scheduling, attendance, payroll, and more. The amount of time required to merge traditional labour, as you know it to virtual webspaces has been enormous. It remains to be seen what the toll of this work will be on the human brain and body.

Cognitive Fatigue & Burnout

More and more clients disclose symptoms consistent with adrenal and cognitive fatigue that typically result from extended periods of extreme stress. There appear to be a set of shared mental and physical impacts created by working too much, too hard, and for too long. Clients who avoid symptoms of overwork are at greater risk of burnout. Learning to identify when to take a break is a critical first step in sustaining your wellness over the long term. Once you begin to become aware of your need to take a break, the next challenge will find ways to integrate these into your work and play days.

Your body is usually the best measure of your health and wellness. Your corporeal self is essentially made up of the same materials found in all other life forms on the planet. When you find time to rest and recharge in nature, you benefit from the subtle nuances of natural rhythms you encounter when walking through a field, forest, or mountain top. You are exposed to reproductive, life and death cycles, and seasonal changes in all the plant and animal life that surrounds you. Being close witnesses to these miracles of nature will likely lead you to a deeper reflective view of yourself in nature as well.

In my clinical practice, understanding the self is a lifelong process of deep introspection and reflection. It is an integrative journey of self-knowledge that includes your body, mind, and spirit. A lack of balance in your life generally leads to problems in one of these three areas of the physical, mental, or spiritual self. Journeys of recovery and healing require you to regain balance in one or all areas. Years of self-neglect may require months or years of recovery. Getting to know yourself is a cool journey. Getting to a state of inner harmony where you appreciate that your life is as miraculous as those miracles of nature you see regularly on a casual walk each day is well worth the time you invest in yourself.

There are several natural cycles that you experience each day as well. These bio-rhythms include sleep, digestion, menstrual cycles, and hormonal changes. Some bio-rhythms change hourly, others daily, and even others progressively change over several years as you age. As a younger woman, I had regular menstrual periods that were consistent and not terribly painful. As a married woman, my sexual activity was connected to a loving partner who agreed to a family planning method that did not rely on the pill. I noticed many things about my monthly cycle that did in fact change when stressed, overworked, or with changes in the number of daylight hours. I had a relatively longer cycle that was usually 32 days in length, while many peers had shorter cycles. When work had been particularly stressful, I noticed a delay in my period by up to two weeks. Many women shared similar experiences and reflected on the impact of stress on this regular monthly hormone driven bio-rhythm.

Peri-menopause and menopause itself is another very intense period of several years where natural bio-cycles progressively change and on many levels. My professional and personal approach to care has always been bio-psycho-social. Understanding the self must include a corporeal perspective that allows you to be aware of the changes in your body when distressed. You may learn that you lose your appetite for food, sleep, or sex under great stress, or alternatively that your desires for food, sleep, substances, or sex grow as a means to release a build-up of toxic energy or the primary stress hormone cortisol. Some people make reckless decisions when distressed and regret that they failed to learn healthier coping strategies sooner. Practices such as yoga, Taiichi, mindful meditation, or contemplative prayer offer opportunities for you to slow down and “feel” your body‘s cardio and breathing rates. Newer technologies such as the Apple Watch, or Fitbit also provide you with immediate bio-feedback that can help you to identify signs of overwork as well as periods of rest.

Achieving states of inner harmony at different developmental stages in your life is possible when you care for yourself as a miraculous creation of nature. Self-love flows when you accept the fragility of your human body, and nurture yourself for health and wellness over the long term.

Dr. & Mrs. Lisa Romano-Dwyer BSc, MSW, PhD, RSW

In Memory of My Big Brother Mike

R.I.P. April 5, 2015

My older brother Mike died 5 years ago today. He lived a very full life and enjoyed much of his 57 years on earth. He was the second of six children born in rapid succession to my mother and father after immigrating to Canada following world war two. Had Mike not succumbed to his declining health related to Hep C and prolonged methadone use, he would have been 62 years old this December.

Family 1970’s Toronto – Mike is holding up his Peace Sign. I’m all smiles in pink on the bottom right.

Mike was an active and smart student excelling in his elementary school years. He attended a local high school where he dropped out of school in grade 10. Mike later disclosed that he began to skip school when his gym teacher mandated swimming in the nude. He opted to hang out at the local park instead. Like any good mother, our mom supported Mike skipping gym as he felt self-conscious in the nude. What she did not see coming was Mike meeting up with other teenagers who had less interest in schooling.

In an all too common story, it was during these formative years that Mike began to experiment with alcohol and drugs. In the ’70’s, it was common for young people to be hired for full-time employment and Mike landed himself a job as a grocer at a local store owned by Weston Foods called Loblaw. He stayed working as a grocer until moving to work as a Landscaper with the City of Toronto in 1982. Mike worked with the City, and then Metro for 28 years.

Mike’s teenage experimentation with drugs and alcohol did, in fact, become the gateway to a lifelong addiction to alcohol, gambling, and street drugs. Our mother stood beside Mike, and tried to support his personal battles with addiction and gambling. Mike was always a happy drunk who never quite learned to identify when he had enough. Mike was an addict who could not keep money in his pocket. Like many people who suffer with addictions, Mike’s drinking was his emotional burden he carried for most of his adult life.

His addiction to street drugs was mediated with an extensive treatment program provided by a team of specialists at CAMH and his inclusion in the methadone harm reduction program. This methadone program saved Mike‘s life. Similar to the effect of alcohol, Mike was happiest when he was high. It was only when the alcohol and drugs tapered off that his overwhelming sense of sadness and depression would rise up.

Mike was deeply remorseful about the negative impacts of his addictions on our Mother, family, love-interests, colleagues, and his own health. In his lowest points, he felt such intense shame about his personal vices. Mike did engage in counselling treatment and did his best to change his unhealthy ways. He failed more times than not, but never gave up. Mike stayed close to family and we hung in there for him.

As the youngest in the family, Mike was always my Big Brother. In my eyes, he was strong, fearless, and protective. I learned to be confident and brave in part, because I always knew that Mike would be there to protect me. He relied on me quite a bit. He knew that I would never give him money or alcohol. But I always had an ear and meal whenever he felt lonely and sad. Mike would drop in often, and did take interest in all our children. He was like our family guard dog always watchful that our children were safe and well.

As his health declined, Mike told me that he would rather die than lose his legs. One of his greatest fears was to be an amputee, like many of his chronic alcoholic friends who lived in a local rehab hospital.

When Mike died, all of us were with him. He died peacefully surrounded by all of his siblings and their partners at our local hospital. In truth, everyone loved Mike. He always had a funny thing to say and he would say it when it was least expected – making everyone laugh. Mike was a sincere and loyal friend. He enjoyed comedy and music. He protected the weak and stood up for people he believed were mistreated.

The family was prepared to meet up at the cemetery today to reminisce about Mike’s life, but was prevented by COVID 19 physical distancing restrictions. Mike will forever be in our hearts. He has shaped my work in harm reduction and addictions care. He taught me about co-dependence, healthy limit-setting, and the importance of humanity in care providing roles with all people.

Sunny dispositions deserve to shine!!!!

#wellness #healthy #family #addiction #concurrent disorders #codependence #harmreduction

Happy Father’s Day in Modern Times

Squarely claimed as a post-gender era, the very notion of fatherhood is collaterally affected by the active social reconstruction of terms that embed gender heteronormativity. In plain language, what does it mean to be a father in a time when roles ascribed to being a dad transcend the sex of an individual? Traditionally, the male sex is inherent to the term father or dad. In a similar way, the female sex is inherent to the term mother or mom.  Certainly, human biology privileges traditional understandings of mother and father.

In this way, father and mother are heteronormative constructions of the family, that is based on the view that the parenting system is constituted by a man and woman.  Bio-normative psycho-social constructions of the family, embed the female-male binary in conception, birth, identity formation, and subsequently in parenting. In a bio-normative psycho-social construction of family, biological sex and identity are equally relevant, and parenting roles performed are fluid and mixed.

In modern families, dads and moms share more of the direct parenting roles with newborns and young babies than previous generations.  Modern dads are incredibly involved as active parents and at times, may perform most caregiving roles with children. This is a relatively new and wonderful evolution of parenting in modern times that younger parents may in fact take for granted or forget. Merely, one century ago, fathers were exempt from post-work caregiving roles with their children as wives and mothers were clearly relegated to a domestic sphere that usually involved raising several children on a full-time basis.

Many of us must only trace back two generations to our great-grandparents to remember the number of children parents bore together and the ways women shouldered most of this work in the home. Today of course, much has changed both legally and socially. Your adult children may choose:

  • to be single
  • to be married
  • to be married and childless
  • to be married with children
  • to be in a co-parenting partnership with several adults as stepparents
  • to be a single parent
  • to be in a same-sex marriage and childless
  • to be in a same-sex marriage with children
  • to be in same-sex co-parenting arrangement as stepparents
  • to be adoptive parents
  • to be foster parents

In Ontario, Family Laws recognize that children can have more than two parents. The legal language allows the birth parent to list the first and last names of the child, co-parents, and the terms mother or father. Modern legal language aims to protect the legal rights of children to financial support of biological parents who may or may not be listed as parents on birth certificates. Despite this legal evolution, Social Workers can attest to ongoing child-support payment woes of birth parents by individuals who neglect, abandon, or disregard their financial responsibility.  

What are your plans for this upcoming Father’s Day? How will you treat your dad to thank him for the gift of life, unconditional love, guidance, and support in your life? To reduce your personal experiences of fathering to a legal arena of financial responsibility is a sad, yet, persistent test to the parameters of parental accountability in modern times.

Of course, your dad is far more than a person who helped to pay his share for your upkeep and wellbeing. Your dad is so much more, and you deserve at least one day to spend some time together to remind yourselves about the love, respect, and honour you share for one another. Your great grandfather, and perhaps even your grandfather may not have uttered the words, “I love you”, and perhaps even failed to show it! If your dad struggles to say these words, then perhaps you can take a brave new step to tell him first. 

From a therapeutic perspective, love is expressed and felt in ways that far surpass human language and words.  Fathering is an honourable role that unfolds on a daily basis. It is the tender response to the first cries of an infant and then, all of the many tender moments that follow when your daddy was there for you – the steady presence of security that never wavered or failed – the rock upon which healthy families grow despite the obstacles.

Take the occasion of this Father’s Day to reflect upon the ways your own father set the foundation for your sense of stability, security, strength, and care. The bio-psycho-social importance of the Paternal Imago is as critical to your overall sense of wellbeing as your maternal imago. A realm of psychodynamic exploration for years, your relationship with both parents is each fundamental to your psychological health and mental wellbeing. Dive deeply into your personal feelings about your dad, and when you feel ready, let him know verbally or nonverbally.

Accepting the imperfections and failures of your parents is perhaps the main psychological task of psychotherapy. Accepting the imperfections and failures of your own parenting is perhaps the second. Happy Father’s Day Dads – most of your truly deserve a good day!!!!

Sunny dispositions deserve to shine, Dr. Lisa Romano-Dwyer

#wellness #healthy #familytherapy #psychotherapy #Father’sDay