Just checking in with an update . . . One of my newfound friends, whom I connected with on The Healing Place Podcast, is now going to be my kick-in-the-ass book-writing guru! She has written 2 amazing books on trauma-recovery, is currently writing a 3rd, has recently joined the board of directors for a trauma agency, is an in-demand speaker, and is just an all around trauma-recovery rock star. Thank you, Janyne McConnaughey, Author (see bio below).
The podcast continues to blossom. It is amazing on so many levels. Please come join us on the Facebook page for inspiration and hope-infused posts!
It’s now been downloaded in 51 countries (just added one today)
2,160 followers on the podcast Facebook page
I have another fabulous line-up of guests already booked into spring of 2020
The YouTube channel numbers are growing
The audio formats are expanding: Deezer, Listen Notes, Podbay, Chartable, MyTuner, and Google Podcasts as well as original outlets of iTunes, Spotify, and Blubrry
Finally . . . Sammie’s back is still injured, but she is improving every day. We have started a new therapy with her and it seems to be helping. We’ve also started weening her off of her pain meds and reducing the steroids. I am hoping she will be back to her therapy dog volunteer work at Terrace Park Elementary School next week. Sweetest dog ever!
Janyne McConnaughey, Ph.D., retired from a forty-year career in education while healing from the attachment wounding and trauma she experienced as a child. During therapy, she wrote her way to healing and now is redeeming her story by helping others to understand the lifelong effects of childhood trauma and insecure attachment.
Along with Brave: A Personal Story of Healing Childhood Trauma, and the companion book, Jeannie’s Brave Childhood: Behavior and Healing through the Lens of Attachment and Trauma; her next book (working title), A BRAVE Life: A Personal Story of Survival, Resilience, Hope and Faith after Childhood Trauma is scheduled for publication in 2019.Janyne is also working on several future books dealing with specific trauma and attachment-related topics.Janyne serves on the Board of Directors for the Attachment and Trauma Network (ATN) and is a frequent guest blogger for the organization. She also blogs at her own website (Janyne.org), and for other organizations addressing trauma and attachment. Janyne shares her story to help others understand trauma and give hope for healing at conferences, as a participant on mental health panels, at universities, and through podcasts and interviews.
Janyne enjoys living in and exploring the Seattle area with her husband, Scott, children, and grandchildren. Her favorite activity is to follow her GPS to “green spaces” along the coast of Puget Sound.
Having a C-PTSD diagnosis myself due to my complex trauma exposure during the first twenty-two years of my life, I know the craving for relief from overwhelming symptoms. I find such comfort even in just touching the softness of an animal’s fur. When I was a child I used to create a stuffed animal fortress around me before falling asleep. I found comfort in holding them close to me or reaching out to touch them when afraid.
There was Lenny the Lion (a royal blue lion with a cherry red main), Bobby Bear (clad in his Pampers diaper I took from a babysitting job in our apartment complex), shorts and a t-shirt, along with Billy Bear (also wearing a diaper covered up by his baby blue overalls). I had Greenie and Brownie, two worn little creatures who possessed broken music boxes for insides, one being green and the other brown, surprisingly. Sammy the Snake was always tucked along the small space left where my mattress didn’t quite meet the wall. Just in case anything might try to sneak up on me in that crevice. I still have Lenny, Bobby, and Billy in a bag in my basement, tucked among some other treasures. There were a few others, whose names I now forget, yet they stood guard each night, protecting me from the boogie man. Or in my case, a drunken mother standing in the shadows, watching me sleep, her blank stare concealing murderous ponderings of sending me to “be with Jesus.”
Jump ahead a few decades and I no longer sleep in a stuffed-animal fortress. Instead it’s a dog snuggle-fest. Max, our Schnoodle, thinks he’s a bad-ass in his little thirteen pound body. Except at bedtime he wants to sleep on my pillow and bury his nose into my neck. Sometimes he places his little paw on my shoulder, just to make sure I’m safe. Personally, I think he likes the reassurance, but don’t let him know I’m on to him! Sammie, our Labradoodle, curls up as close as possible somewhere behind my legs. If she could, she’d sleep on my pillow, too. She thinks she’s a lap dog trapped in a fifty-five pound body.
Sammie recently passed her two year re-test for her therapy dog registration. She was amazing. Truly amazing. A perfect score as she followed my every command (or as I like to refer to them . . . suggestion). She watched me for visual cues and listened for words of encouragement.
That’s my girl.
You’re my favorite.
I’m so proud of you.
Way to go, Sam-Sam!
Nice job, Sammie.
You’re a rock star.
Following is a list of seven benefits I find as I work with this sweet pup (whose 5th birthday we celebrated yesterday! Happy Birthday, Sammie Doodle!):
Sometimes I feel selfish for walking away from our therapy dog sessions with my heart overflowing with joy, a smile radiating from my face AND heart. I love watching this dog turn a child’s tears into giggles. Sammie has a thing for kids. Her tail wags every time she sees one. Whether we are walking the halls at a school or the trails at a nature preserve. She wants to meet them all and offer a snuggle. As a result, her tail thumps in canine happiness, and I just can’t help but grin.
We were visiting a school last year when the counselor asked if it would be okay if Sammie had an unscheduled visit from a child who was having a difficult morning. Of course he’s welcome to visit with Sammie! Immediately, upon this nine-year-old boy entering the room, his face stained from tears, Sammie moved toward him. He found his way onto a bean bag chair and Sammie was instantly next to him. Her pointy elbows tickling his belly as she climbed closer to love him.
That’s her secret.
Pure, simple, unconditional love.
And that kind of pure love can only result in pure joy.
I love it that I absorb healing benefits while doing healing work as a therapy dog team with Sammie. Whether she is comforting a child experiencing anxiety symptoms, offering solace to a room full of teachers headed to a co-worker’s funeral, or just greeting kids in the hallways on testing day, she is happy to be there radiating comfort and compassion. I usually step back and witness, avoiding my human interference in a wordless exchange. A hand reaching down to pet Sam’s head, her snout pressing up against a leg, even just a pause in time as she locks eyes with someone needing reassurance.
I watch all of this and allow it to radiate into my being, as well. There is a magic that happens. An energy exchange so powerful I can’t help but pick up on it. And, again, my heart smiles as a result. Perhaps I sense it because I’ve opened myself up to healing. I seek it, I welcome it, I treasure it. Therefore, when I see it and feel it, I know it’s happening and let it in.
A Course in Compassion
This amazing therapy dog has taught me so much about compassion. Whether a child is crying or a teacher is nervous, if a kiddo is expressing his needs through defiant behavior or a grieving adult is standing quiet and still in a corner, or maybe there’s the high end-of-the-school-year energy pulsating through a classroom making for loud voices and stressed staff, regardless, this dog treats them all the same. All she knows is there is a human, usually a smaller and younger one, that just might be interested in a hug.
She listens without interrupting or offering her input.
She offers a snuggle but isn’t offended if she’s turned away. She merely moves on to the next soul needing love.
She’ll stand in quiet solidarity with anyone needing silence, perhaps leaning against a leg just as a little added support.
She won’t nip or bite or growl if hurt. A woman accidentally stepped on Sammie’s tail and foot during a job fair. She happened to be wearing a heavy plastic boot to stabilize an injured leg. Sammie yelped in fear. But then wagged her tail at the woman. As if to apologize for startling the lady with her yelp for help. A child once stuck his finger into Sammie’s ear. Sammie shook her head and moved away as I gently reminded the child to respect Sammie’s body and use gentle touches. But, all the while, Sammie stayed calm.
She is just there to love. To comfort. To listen. To allow. Compassion at its finest.
One of Sammie’s best qualities is patience. I witness it first-hand when we hike. I’m in my fifties and my knees and ankles just aren’t as nimble as they used to be. Therefore, when we hit the steep treks, as I slowly make my way down the rocky trails with protruding roots and crooked rock paths, this sweet dog will pause and look back at me as we descend steep grades. I never taught her this. It just . . . happened. She is the essence of patience.
I witness this same gift being shared with children. She teaches them through modeling as she patiently listens as they talk her ear off, or patiently wags her tail as they rub the same spot on her head for fifteen minutes.
As I sit here typing this, Sammie is sitting in my office, staring at the closed door. She hears our little dog, Max, playing with our daughter. I look at her and she nods at me, as if to say, “When you have a minute, could you let me out.” I can’t help but smile. No barks. No whining. No digging at the door. Just a patient stare. And a wag of the tail as I open the door.
As we walk the trails at our local nature center, Sammie approaches all dogs with a wagging tail. She looks to me for guidance. I usually remind her to leave it as we keep moving forward. Every now and then, however, the hiker coming towards us will ask if Sammie is friendly and if we can stop to allow a doggy meet-n-greet. I always agree. Which makes Sammie one happy girl. The dogs do their usual dog-thing when it comes to meeting another dog. And Sammie walks away knowing she has made a new friend. I will say, though, that there is one particular breed of dog that cannot stand Sammie. Every time we encounter this breed, they always try to eat her. Without fail. Yet, she still wants to be friends.
I’ve studied this. In regards to my own interactions with people. Do I approach with a “wagging tail” and welcoming aura? If so, most people will respond with reciprocatory warmth. And if they are one of those rare few who do not, I’ll just walk away . . . wagging my tail behind me.
Sammie has brought new friendships into my life not because of anything I’ve done, but because of her willingness to approach each and every person she meets with gentle curiosity. As if she’s inquiring, “Do you need some love?” A beautiful thing to witness really. She could care less about skin color, what someone is wearing, religious affiliation, what car they drive, if they have stinky feet or a pimple on their forehead, whether smiling or frowning, upbeat or beat up . . . she just wants to meet them and offer her support.
Filling a Personal Need to Give Back
I have this compelling need to give back to the world. I want to give out hope by the fistfuls, money in anonymous surprises, and time in a I-have-more-of-it-than-I-really-do way. Maybe because I grew up in home where money was always a problem. Or, I guess I should clarify, the LACK of money was always a problem. My dad struggled to keep a job and blew through my mom’s paychecks with his latest “get rich quick” schemes. They never did pan out. Maybe because I spent the first forty-something years of my life struggling with heartache and trauma-related anxiety and panic disorders. And now I know peace. Maybe because I’ve battled my way through darkness and currently celebrate the light.
Working with Sammie as a volunteer therapy dog team truly makes my heart happy. I love the kids, the school staff, the giggles, the joy, the tail-wagging, and the love I witness transcending between souls. Beautiful on so many levels.
Offering hope to children through Sammie’s gentle ways gives me a sense of creating change in a world where sadness and anger seem to be gaining traction. Maybe that’s just social media. All I know is that having a sweet lady offer me hope as an eight-year-old second-grader changed my world. I still treasure the gift of that teacher. I’m hoping Sammie and I can offer that same gift to children. A pay it forward kinda thing.
This dog is truly a rock star! We were hiking through Cincinnati Nature Center last year when someone stopped us on trail and asked, “Is that Sammie?” I laughed and responded with an enthusiastic YES. This person went on to explain, “I know her from the internet.” I mean, seriously, rock star status, Sammie!
Sammie joins me on The Healing Place Podcast, as well. Not as a co-host. That’s Max’s job. He has his own chair and everything. Sammie just insists on being in the office with me when I record shows. She lays at my feet or snoozes in a corner. Every now and then she pops her head up to greet my guests. And whenever she does, the response is always the same. A huge smile appearing on my interviewee’s face. Along with, “Oh, hello, Sammie!”
I love it that this sweet pup has a reputation in Cincinnati for offering love and support to children. We have a project called Sammie’s Bundles of Hope. We fill bags with donated trinkets of hope (PlayDoh, journals, stress balls, bubbles, and more) and disperse them to children with trauma-history, anxiety struggles, recent loss, homelessness, etc. These bags represent everything Sammie. Relief from pain, fear, worry, stress . . . by focusing on something soothing.
This super-star dog even has a book written about her, The Doodle with the Noodle. My daughter and I wrote a book geared toward preschoolers a few years ago when my daughter was in fourth grade. We wrote, illustrated, and published it through Kindle Direct Publishing. And now we donate a copy in each Sammie Bundle of Hope we disperse.
I am heading to Denver, Colorado in the next few weeks to visit my oldest son. Three days in downtown Denver and three days in Estes Park, which we are being told is simply breath-taking. I am super excited to hug on my boy! Yes, he’s twenty-five, but always my baby boy. Yet, there is this little pest named Anxiety that keeps popping its head up to remind me how terrified I am of heights, that there is a possibility of altitude sickness, and I am not a fan of being far from home and my “safe space” along with a whole checklist of long-ago created avoidance behaviors.
However, I am bound and determined to enjoy every waking moment soaking up all the positive Colorado has to offer. I live in Ohio. The heart of the Midwest. I have never traveled further west than Illinois. For those of you who may be geographically-challenged, that is two states west of Ohio. Not even to the Mississippi River. When we have traveled south into Tennessee, I have closed my eyes as we drove over the Great Smoky Mountains. Yeah. Jelico, Tennessee on I-75 has been known to trigger a full blown panic attack.
Flying results in similar panic-induced responses – sweaty palms, flipping stomach, racing thoughts, and other overwhelming body sensations.
So, how do I bring myself back into a state of calm once the anticipatory anxiety has been triggered? Here is my personal go-to list. Please keep in mind I created this plan on a trial and error basis. I have loaded my coping skills toolbox with exercises, fidgets, courses, books, therapy suggestions, and techniques discovered through personal research. Following are my top seven strategies, however, please note that I have a much larger bag-o-tricks I pull from if needed.
Whenever I travel, I pack a backpack and fill it with my favorite calming aids. These two stones are always included in that collection of soothing strategies.
There is something settling about the weight of the stones in my hand and the silky smooth surface as I move my thumb and fingers over them. A transition happens, as well, as they move from icy cold to radiating heat as my energy transfers into them.
I purchased mine through a local store which carries various crystals and stones. However, you can find them online, as well.
Calming Coloring Books
Another one of my favorites, especially when flying, is to lose myself in the intricate designs of my coloring books. As with my calming stones, I find soothing comfort in the process of creating bursts of color on the white pages. This is very much a mindfulness practice as it brings me into the now, into this present moment. I forget whatever past trauma may be attempting to surface and I lose all worry of future what-ifs. I merely focus on staying in the lines as my gel pens glide along, enjoying the right-here-right-now moment.
I have purchased these at craft stores, my local grocery store, put them on my birthday wish list, and even won one as part of a writing contest prize. These, too, can be purchased online. My favorite is The Mindfulness Coloring Book which is smaller in size and easy to transport.
Coinciding with my coloring book calming strategy is my use of gel pens as I color and practice mindfulness. Again, there is something peaceful about converting the page from white with black squiggly lines into a vibrant work of art.
I have tried using colored pencils, Sharpies, and markers from my daughter’s school supply collection, but my preference is most assuredly gel pens. Particularly the pack of 120 pens I have found at Target. There are glitter, neon, swirl, pastel and more in the pack. A bundle of fun! Of course, they are available online, as well.
all photos copyright Teri Wellbrock
As you can tell by my collection of photos, I am drawn to the beauty that can be found in “the now”. From breathtaking sunbeams to dew-soaked spiderwebs, insects scurrying about their days, a seal basking in a meditative moment in the sunlight, from muddy hikes to rain-soaked blossoms, there is wonder all around us.
I use my Samsung phone to capture these moments, although if I remember to grab my Nikon D3300 camera before heading out the door, I will snap higher quality pics on that. But, most moments I simply stop, take in a slow deep breath and savor.
We live near a nature preserve (four minutes from our driveway to be exact!) and I find myself and lose myself all at once on those trails. The sounds of water rushing through the creeks as they sing along with the symphony of birds. The scents, oh how I wish I could record the scents for playback at a later time, sometimes stop me in my tracks. Again, I pause to close my eyes and breath in renewal into my soul.
However, I can find nature in my office as a lady bug appears on my desk as if she just stopped by to check in and chat or during a dinner date downtown Cincinnati as I smile at the muddy Ohio River carrying the paddle boats upstream or even as I step into the parking lot of my local grocery store only to be greeted by God, waving to me via sunbeams peeking from dark clouds.
What a gift I have found in being cognizant of the beauty in the now.
Angels, Faith, and Prayer
Growing up Catholic . . . my dad was a Jesuit brother for eight years from age sixteen to twenty-four and my mom wanted to be a nun but they wouldn’t allow her in due to her partying tendencies, a.k.a. alcoholism . . . was both restrictive and comforting. It wasn’t until I was in my forties and started my healing journey that I found my faith truly blossoming beyond the dogma of the Catholic Church. I started to embrace other faiths and found myself experiencing a higher power, God, universe, whatever label you would like to apply, outside of the walls of a church.
I pray throughout my day. But not The Lord’s Prayer and formal prayers. I throw out prayers of gratitude and pleas of compassion and requests for guidance. My faith is now weaved into my breath. It is merely a part of who I am, not how often I attend mass or donate to a charity.
I am my prayer. A living, breathing, loving prayer.
Angels surround me. Literally. In statue form and spirit form. I have had three different mediums approach me and say the exact same thing . . . I have never met anyone surrounded by as many angels as you are. Pretty cool! And makes me feel quite blessed and comforted. I have always been drawn to them. I have angel paintings, calendars, statues, and books surrounding me as I type this.
They are most definitely a go-to as a calming strategy. Prayer and conversations with my angels bring me right back here to the present moment.
The majority of the time I am not purposefully searching for hearts. They just come across my radar. I was recently hiking with a friend when I paused to catch my breath as we trudged up a hill. I told myself to “stop and smell the flowers” and upon turning my head, right there next to me on the path, was a leaf which had an insect-eaten heart hole in it. I couldn’t help by laugh out loud. Of all of the places to pause and of all of the leaves surrounding me in that forest, I happened to find a tiny little heart eaten out of a leaf. I laughed because it happens every single day. As in every . . . single . . . day. Without fail.
As a matter of fact, I wrote an e-book about it, filling it with heart pics I have snapped along with photos friends have taken and gifted to me. I even have a page on my website dedicated to those hearts (although it is just a small sampling of my collection).
Again, I find comfort in the reminder that I am loved, surrounded by love signs, and helping me be present in the moment.
Sammie Doodle – Therapy Dog
Oh, this sweet, sweet dog. Sammie is our labradoodle. She is the kindest soul I have ever met. She loves everyone and everything. Except pigs. I took her to a farm once and a pig snorted at her through a fence and she ran away terrified.
Wow, does she adore kids. We are a registered therapy dog team through Pet Partners and we volunteer at schools, visiting with kiddos in order to help them with feelings of anxiety or struggles with bullying or offering comfort after traumatic events. She just knows. She is drawn to those most needing love and dog snuggles.
The perk is that she is a member of our family outside of her therapy dog gig. And due to the fact that I have a history with panic attacks and heightened anxiety, this sweet pup is always by my side. She is my snuggle buddy, hiking pal, comforter, and best friend. She listens without judgment and offers stinky-breath kisses in support.
If ever I need grounding, just putting my hand upon her fluffy being radiates calm into my soul. She is a gift to us all. Sammie even has her own website, Facebook page, and Instagram account!
I love hearing back from others about calming strategies and coping skills used to bring oneself back into the now. Please feel free to reach out and share your experiences.
I wish you tranquility and joy along your healing journey.
Every Tuesday morning this school year, Sammie and I have visited the kids at Terrace Park Elementary school. Sammie melts my heart as I witness her work her therapy dog magic with these sweet little humans. The idea of helping a child who is experiencing anxiety or feelings of overwhelm touches me on a soul level. I know how much small gestures of kindness and gentle acceptance meant to me as a child. That’s what helped me live through my hell and come out smiling. Sammie is helping me pay it forward with her gentle ways with kids.
Today these kids and the amazing staff at that school made my heart smile . . . and Sammie’s tail wag. A lot!! They gifted us with a new backpack (mine was falling apart and my menopause brain kept forgetting to switch over to another backpack!), bags of dog treats, much needed Dentastix (Sammie has stinky dog breath even though I brush her teeth), toys for Sam, even toys for our puppy Max . . . and noodles!!!
But, the cards. These hand-written thank yous teared me up and, again, had my heart smiling. To know my beautiful dog touches so many lives just by radiating love and giving stinky kisses and sharing hugs (she has started to put her head on a shoulder and push her head against the hugger’s head) . . . is fulfilling in ways I can’t really express in words. It’s like my soul is filled with light.
So I send out a thank you to the awesome staff who welcome us each week with smiles and dog treats in the office before we head upstairs, thank you to the amazing teachers who invite us into their classrooms, thank you to Tricia and Liz for helping me continue to learn the gifts contained in just listening and for offering Sammie a space to shine, thank you Jen Hrovat for introducing us all and giving an adorable hint on the rainbow tennis balls. And THANK YOU to the kids for loving my Sammie girl and brightening our Tuesday mornings.
I love this dog. She’s a therapy dog. She’s The Doodle with the Noodle. She’s sweet. And snuggly. And funny. And overflowing with love. She’s my best friend. And my snuggle buddy. My hiking pal. And my calming presence.
But most of all, she is love. A lot of love in a furry body.
I have been taking a little social media post-holiday hiatus. Catching up on life and such. Then today put life in perspective in a huge God-therapy way so I had to share.
Sammie was working her therapy dog gig this morning when a child was brought into the room. His tear-filled eyes captured my heart and Sammie instantly worked her therapy dog magic . . . kisses and hugs and snuggles and more kisses. She wouldn’t leave his side for nearly an hour. He and I chatted and chatted while Sammie loved him. With the purest love possible. Just heart to heart.
Afterward I discovered the horrific tragedy that had befallen this child only hours prior. I cried the entire car ride home. My sweet dog helped this little guy smile when smiling seemed an impossibility for these circumstances. She gave him an hour of reprieve from his heartache and trauma.