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On the Regular Version …
In this episode I’m joined by Jay Stringer, a licensed mental health counselor, and we talk about the importance of facing and addressing trauma and pain in order to heal and grow. Our tendency often is to numb or run away from pain – or attempt to manage it, but it is more important to be a witness to one’s own story while also having empathetic witnesses in the form of supportive friends and family.
Learn more about Jay here – https://jay-stringer.com/
On the Extended Version …
Jay and I continue the conversation and highlight the importance of facing and processing trauma and pain in order to grow and heal, while also acknowledging the difficulty and complexity of doing so..
Enjoy the show!
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corey_allan: Well, well, so Jay, how have you been, man?
jay_stringer: I have been fairly well. One of the things that has happened recently is my son turned 10 in the last month. And that, you know, a lot of my early trauma, and I would say like just when life really started going downhill for me was in fifth grade
jay_stringer: when I turned 10. And so it's been stirring up quite a bit, like just having my child now
jay_stringer: time has been spent with my wife and I. So it's just, it stirs up a lot of questions around, yeah, time with him and just my own, dealing with my own 10 year old self in the midst
jay_stringer: of parenting a 10 year old. So that's been probably most in the forefront of my mind is just how am I attending to being
jay_stringer: a dad to this boy, but also dealing with just a lot of my own childhood stories around that particular age.
corey_allan: Oh, that is all too familiar because my world was the fourth fifth grade as well.
jay_stringer: Oh yeah.
corey_allan: that's when a lot of things entered into the picture. So where I want to go with the conversation, Jay, is you and I do a lot of overlap of the work, a lot of the same history in some regards, personal and professional. And maybe even perhaps marital, you know, there's the whole journey
corey_allan: that there's probably a lot of similarities. But. I want to just let's go through a scenario of kind of a common client. We might see of a guy this code this coming And he's he's been introduced to pornography at some point in his childhood It's still there. It's reeking havoc. He's tried the traditional white knuckle it He's tried the traditional account will be accountability group will solve this he's tried
corey_allan: the you
corey_allan: know all the different things
jay_stringer: The belief
corey_allan: and And I think
jay_stringer: that marriage
corey_allan: one of the,
jay_stringer: will help him deal
jay_stringer: with this better,
corey_allan: marriage will solve it
corey_allan: I can
corey_allan: actually have
corey_allan: sex. Yeah.
corey_allan: But the one thing that jumps out to me is just this idea when we, when we overlap the human condition and the route that we go down, men and women both. And then you throw into it this idea of the lust management
corey_allan: thought process. How do you make sense of those? What do you? Talk about that because I think that's some of the things that are that really resonate for me with your work
jay_stringer: Yeah. Yeah. So if that client were to come in and say, you know, I have a present problem with pornography, trying to address it. What I view my job as a therapist is, is I want to essentially construct a bridge between the present to the past. And until
jay_stringer: that bridge is constructed, people will inevitably either minimize their sexual problems, or they will try to manage them and develop some level of mastery around them. So we want to get a sense of like, you know, What's the origin story of this behavior? When were you first introduced to it? How has fantasy or the porn searches changed over time? And so, one of the things that we're all waking up to is just the reality of childhood trauma. And so there are, people have probably heard the distinction between a big T trauma and a small T trauma, big T trauma
jay_stringer: being 9-11, Hurricane Katrina, life or death scenarios. other experiences that could be mild bullying or a level of just disengagement in your family system where no one prepared you for puberty or no one prepared you
jay_stringer: for just some of the emotional challenges of a prototype of hell like middle school can be. And so part of what we have learned from people like Dr. Gabor Mathe is he would say trauma is not just what happened to us. witness. And so
jay_stringer: right then we have, you know, sometimes the difficulties that happen to us, if we don't have a good parent, a good community around us, that is a tuned, present caring to some of those difficulties, we are feeling some level of pain or trauma. And so what happens in the midst of trauma is we need to find particular things to bring soothing and numbing to our Sometimes
jay_stringer: that boy, that man that we're dealing with clinically, may have found porn around the age of 12 or 13. And for him, it was that first experience of pleasure, connection, soothing.
jay_stringer: I don't think it remains like that over the course of adulthood. I think the ways
jay_stringer: that we learn to survive eventually lead to problems later on in life. But
corey_allan: Oh yeah.
jay_stringer: that's how I would hold that with that client, is let's honor the origin story of the soothing, that you developed here, but then also let's step into you're still a bit like a 13, 14 year old in terms of development where you're still outsourcing your care and desire for soothing to something that's causing you know personal and interpersonal problems. And so let's grow a self kind of capable of moving through some of this distress instead of just relying on porn or So those problems, I think, are always a roadmap to healing and growth. That's kind of the perspective that I take.
corey_allan: Right, so what do you do then? Because this is where it becomes so, in some ways insidious, at least in my experience, that now you put it in the context of a marriage with a spouse who is possibly revolted by that
corey_allan: aspect of his life. And
corey_allan: again, I think this can be reversed, right? With
corey_allan: the female bringing in whatever their strategy and all that, you know, but for the sake of our conversation, we'll keep it this way that we
corey_allan: started it, but because what you're describing is actually leaning into it with far less judgment, far less
corey_allan: condemnation, and almost trying to make it human.
jay_stringer: Yep. Yep.
corey_allan: How dare we in some ways,
corey_allan: but you know, but that's where it seems to be a disconnect, right? I think as professionals we could talk about this and see it as, yeah, that's, I can understand that, but to a person just listening that has maybe gone through this, man, we react out of our pain. We
corey_allan: had, just to bring you where we've been in the show lately, we did an episode couple back where a husband had emailed in, he's had a porn addiction the way he described it his entire
corey_allan: life. And he's tried to figure out how to fix it and he's trying to figure out when should he tell his wife. His wife knew, but it's still going on. And so he asked, disclose to her and my counsel was yes, but you need to what really matters is the motivation for telling her Right, so
corey_allan: not necessarily right now because a lot of times my journey was I Unloaded it on Pam
corey_allan: because it made me feel better. I had no plan of how I'm gonna fix it
corey_allan: Just I just freed myself of the guilt and I gave it all to her how great
corey_allan: and gracious
jay_stringer: it. You deal with it. Yeah.
corey_allan: But so some of the feedback we got from that was from wives that have been on that journey and the pain that they emailed in with was so evident because
jay_stringer: Thank you. Thank you.
corey_allan: it's like, hold on a sec, this is completely wrong, this is damaging, they're living a lie, and we can react to things. And so how do we make sense of that for
corey_allan: the just people to kind of maybe take a little weaponizing out of it.
jay_stringer: Yeah, so there's gonna be stages of growth here. And sometimes I break it down for couples in terms of, yeah, when all of this comes out, you're gonna be in much more of the crisis or triage stage. And so the work to be done there is, I mean, it's gotta be a very differentiated process where the offending partner is doing their own work to understand like, how did I get here? Why do I
jay_stringer: stay here? why was I committed to hiding and secrecy? And we understand our story, not to make excuses for our behavior, but to actually take more responsibility for it. And so when I understand the why, I'm beginning to step in with more integrity to my story, which then allows me to step into more integrity with how, you know, the harm that I've brought into my marriage. But simultaneously, you know, the person who has been betrayed, they're going to enter into their own crisis stage. And that's
jay_stringer: where you want to have a licensed mental health counselor working with you. And sometimes what I hear from those spouses is both a sense of betrayal trauma, but then also a sense of like something in my gut knew that something was off. And so the dual work there is, you know, when trauma happens to us, we have a region in our brain called Broca's area. And when we are betrayed, when you enter into any form of trauma, Broca's area offline. And Broca's area is the region of speech, it's the region of language. So a lot of times when we first find out that our partner has this secret, we might say something like, I have no words to describe
jay_stringer: what it is.
jay_stringer: And that's Broca's area. That's a trauma response. And so we want
corey_allan: Thank you.
corey_allan: Thank you.
jay_stringer: care for that trauma. But then we also, for most spouses that I work with, and this is not in any way to blame, you know, the the
jay_stringer: the partner here. But it's they usually have some sense of like i had a feeling that something was off but i was either gas lit or
jay_stringer: i suppressed what i felt like i knew and so that becomes
jay_stringer: moving from the crisis triage stage much more to the meaning making stage. And so for some spouses they might feel the sense of like well i'm not good enough and i can't compete with this affair partner or with this porn search. issues that they have never processed. So
jay_stringer: sometimes these sexual problems are a petri dish for both partners to work through some of the unresolved stories of their life. And so I think if you can get, let's let's attend to the triage, the crisis for, I don't even want to put a timeline, but I would say somewhere between zero and six months. And then hopefully if you're doing good work six months on as the meaning-making stages for both individual partners
jay_stringer: of how did what do I not want to see again? What am I not going to tolerate anymore in my
jay_stringer: marriage?" And then it's more of like a, you know, a recasting of a vision of what do we want for our marriage going forward that doesn't contain secrecy, but also doesn't kind of tie our whole sense of self to this person's desire choice for us, which is always a fairly precarious place. When you're relying on your partner all types of soothing and validation. We should
jay_stringer: at some level, but it can become holistic and comprehensive in scope. And that's really where the enmeshment of a couple inevitably
jay_stringer: has to break down in order for something new and life-giving to emerge.
corey_allan: Right, that's where your identity is not solely in that one dynamic. It's
corey_allan: in multiples and it's in yourself. And there's elements of you grow a sacredness and a bond and a depth,
corey_allan: but you don't give everything, which is, and
corey_allan: again, that's counter to, right? That's
jay_stringer: because the
corey_allan: to a lot of what we think.
jay_stringer: so much so in that's like the meaning making stage might be, you know, I want it if I am the partner that's been using porn and secret or having the affair. I mean, sometimes that is part of, you know, after I've stepped into the betrayal, the harm, the secrecy, the gaslighting that I have done, I need to have integrity there. But then also, you know, of a marriage or just the soulfulness of a marriage, it really comes when two partners are able to say like here's my story and how I've kind of come into this marriage and here's your story and now
jay_stringer: how can we commit to one another to care for one another in places that we have lacked love and so you know as an individual I have to care for that 10 year old self in me that 11 year old way in a way the dad that I never had in that place. But
jay_stringer: I can also bring my wife into, you know, when I hit really difficult moments professionally, personally, even as an adult, that's some of the self state that she's dealing with is an 11 year old. And that's
jay_stringer: not you have to deal with him, because I don't want him. But it's I'm caring for him. And here are some
jay_stringer: stories that would really dealing with in our marriage.
corey_allan: Right, and let's be crystal clear, because what you are saying, just in case this isn't being heard cleanly, it's not the spouse's responsibility to deal with our lack of whatever, or our
corey_allan: trauma and healing whatever, because that's where they can be an ally, but they are not responsible
corey_allan: in no way, shape, or form.
jay_stringer: Yeah, and that's, I mean, to Gabbermotte's point of trauma is not just a difficult traumatic moment that happens to us. It's what happens inside of us in the absence of an empathetic witness.
jay_stringer: As an individual, it is my primary responsibility to be a primary witness to my story. But I'm also grateful that I have dear friends that have been empathetic witnesses
jay_stringer: of bi-hardache and trauma, but also my wife. So
jay_stringer: it's not, it's saying like, I want to be the person that is most attuned, caring for and dealing with the implications of my story. But certainly that's not a siloed approach to life. It's
jay_stringer: saying, you know, friends, colleagues,
jay_stringer: dear people in my life. These
jay_stringer: are some
jay_stringer: of the
jay_stringer: stories that have formed the person that you're interacting with today.
corey_allan: Right, because this is the kind of work that you're describing in the kind of life shift, if you will, of it's moving beyond trying to manage these things and it's actually addressing them, intending
corey_allan: to them.
corey_allan: them in some ways. It's heading
corey_allan: towards them. And have you come across? I saw this on Instagram a couple months back of the story of the differences between storms have you heard of this I
jay_stringer: I don't
jay_stringer: know this.
corey_allan: I actually went to go search it out to make sure it wasn't
corey_allan: just an Instagram you know viral something
jay_stringer: Do cows
corey_allan: to find
jay_stringer: separate and buffaloes and bison come together
corey_allan: no, no. So both buffaloes and cows, when storms are coming, they can sense
corey_allan: it, right? Because they're
corey_allan: out in nature, and they can sense the change in the pressure, and they can sense
corey_allan: the impending energy. Cows run the other way
corey_allan: it. If they're out in a plane, right, where it's wide open,
corey_allan: they will run the opposite direction from the way the storm is coming. Well, cows are not fast enough to outrun a storm. Let's just face that fact. But they will keep
jay_stringer: what's the top speed of a cow?
corey_allan: I did not find
jay_stringer: I've never
corey_allan: Maybe I need to go back and Google. But they'll keep running and the storm will catch them
corey_allan: and they'll keep running
corey_allan: and the storm will stay on them and they'll keep running and they stay in the storm. Whereas buffaloes,
corey_allan: when they sense the storm, they run at it.
corey_allan: And even though it's
corey_allan: scary running at it, they will get
corey_allan: through it faster and reap the benefits of it on the other side, which is
corey_allan: the moisture, the growth, the refreshing everything, which is an incredibly exquisite analogy of trauma
corey_allan: and stress and hurt and pain that
jay_stringer: Thank you. Thank you.
corey_allan: we think we want to just run from it. But reality
corey_allan: is, we've got to run towards it.
jay_stringer: Mm-hmm. Yes, exactly. Yeah, I go a couple places there. There is a spearfisher woman by the name of Kimmy Werner, and I can't remember if I talked about her on the show last time.
corey_allan: It's worth
jay_stringer: she gets in,
corey_allan: if you didn't, so go
jay_stringer: gets into the waters, you know, she's a spearfisher and you know, on one breath can go into depths of about a hundred feet and you know, when you're spearfishing, you know, you you get your catch, your prey, and then the sharks can actually smell the blood from the fish that you've just caught. So the fish, I mean, the shark start coming in to try and steal her fish. And that's what she says as well. And this Patagonia film, Fish People, is she said, she says something along the lines of like, when I, you know, when a shark is trying to steal her catch, she says, not today, buddy, and she swims
jay_stringer: directly at the shark, and pushes it away, just to tell it like not today, this dinner is mine. And again, that's, that's a very trained response. limbically,
corey_allan: Yes it is.
jay_stringer: our amygdala is actually that fight-flight-free-spawn approach. So it does take some good care to understand your self-state, to understand like this is my natural inclination, is I want to run, but I have learned that if I run it actually creates more chaos, so I'm actually gonna turn and face this thing. So I love that language. The poet John O'Donohue, in one of his writings to a with a terminal illness, said something along the lines of, may you find in yourself a courageous hospitality for all that is, you know, miserable or difficult inside of you. And that's, I think that's what we're getting at is this is miserable. It sucks. It's full of
jay_stringer: shame. It can be full
jay_stringer: of isolation and loneliness. But will you commit to a courageous hospitality for these stories and for the difficulty of your marriage? All at once, this courageous hospitality begins to bring soul and healing and goodness and flourishing to your life.
corey_allan: Yeah, yeah, because that's that element. You use the word, the wording of curious, of wholeness. And those are things that we have, in some ways they're counterintuitive, in some ways they require a decision of a turning towards of a seeking out. Whereas I think our humanness is oftentimes, how do I just make it go away?
jay_stringer: Mm-hmm. Yep. Yeah
corey_allan: How do I put this behind me knowing,
corey_allan: oh sure, if I can just this, it will never bother me again. Which total farce, does it
corey_allan: happen in life? Because everything has a tendency to come back and creep in. And so I love just the whole framework of seeing it as being curious about your journey, your story.
corey_allan: What role did it play? What
corey_allan: was the importance of it back when it entered? And then as it grew or evolved or shaped. Because again, that's that element of, I heard this in school, our coping mechanisms made sense when we created them. But they
corey_allan: don't typically make sense later.
jay_stringer: Yes, yeah. And that's really, I mean, that's what we have to be intellectually honest about is, you know, if we take something like trauma or pain or heartache and we say what happens to that is that that pain, that heartache is too much for most of us to deal with. And so
jay_stringer: inevitably the next stage is numbing. And so it's not just that you're running from the reality, it's that the, you know, the human condition needs to be able to find some suppressant of that pain. And so that could
jay_stringer: be alcohol, drugs, substance abuse, Netflix, but something that allows the pain, the difficulty, the overwhelm to be reduced. And then the thing that you rely on for rescue then becomes the master over you. And that's when it leads to all of these problems. So you might think that running is helping you, but if you are actually honest about what, you know, you can't just run away from something, you're
jay_stringer: simultaneously developing faith, trust, and some other process to help you. And then it's that question of how is that newfound faith, newfound trust, actually working for you with that type of Netflix, substance abuse, whatever that is. We don't typically remain neutral in these places.
corey_allan: No, but I also like how you're confirming the idea that all of us medicate in some way shape or form for the
corey_allan: the hurts and the ails of life.
corey_allan: And then it just becomes how do I move it up the healthy scale
jay_stringer: Yes. Yep.
corey_allan: of what I choose to do to get a break to have a reprieve even to escape a little bit because I think there's elements of times of life where it's like. I just need to escape to the back
corey_allan: porch and breathe for a little bit out of the chaos.
jay_stringer: Yes, exactly. Yeah, that sometimes I'll have clients that I can remember one client was talking about going to, this was when I was in Seattle, was that a Seattle Mariners game, watching the Orioles or something? And some batter had struck out like three times in a game and he had said something like that hadn't happened since Camden Yards back in 2012. And I was like, how do you know that? And for him,
corey_allan: Thank you. Bye.
jay_stringer: it wasn't, It was just like a level of mastery that he found some realm of life where he had complete control and dominion. So
jay_stringer: it could be some type of mastery approach to life or for others it's more of like an indulging of something. But you're right, what is your back porch? I was having some issues with my teeth a couple days ago. And I've had, you know, just some teeth issues through the years. off from some dental treatment and my whole body just shut down. Like
jay_stringer: I was in a trauma response in a way. And so we have a, you know, one of those weighted blankets. And that was part
jay_stringer: of what I had to sleep with was, I was like, I just need weight. I need a level of containment for myself just because I did not feel grounded. And
jay_stringer: so whether it's a back porch, fly fishing, a weighted blanket, but like what? What brings rest? goodness to your heart and soul is really what we have to prioritize when we're in these difficult places.
corey_allan: Yeah, because this is that element of how am I looking out for myself, how am I also looking out for what I care for? Because I think of this on a relational context, right? That if we're talking about this within that framework, there's dual work going on, there's dual impact going on, there's dual realities going on, and that's where it gets so conflicted and escalated
corey_allan: even, because you're dealing with this framework of, of my life and close proximity to somebody else that will have impact on me and vice versa.
jay_stringer: Yes. Yeah. Yeah, I was just aware of, I was working with a client a couple weeks ago where just that sense, and let me know if this is what you're getting at, but their choice to pursue self care just created a lot of conflict in their marriage because it was that sense of like, why do you get oxygen? I have been
jay_stringer: working hard around the house. I've been working hard here. And so like now that you're making this good decision. But what about
jay_stringer: me? And
jay_stringer: that's that sense of, you know, when you get on an airplane, please secure your own oxygen mask before securing the oxygen masks of others. And that ought to be a question that's asked of, you know, your spouse really consistently
jay_stringer: is like,
jay_stringer: where are you going to pursue good care, self-care, where am I going to pursue it? And this is not a competition. There
jay_stringer: is room
jay_stringer: for both of us to into the woods for my wife that's often going to like an art museum and having two or three hours in a coffee shop to read and write. We're very different, but we both kind of mutually scheme to make sure that we have what we need. Because
jay_stringer: I think we're much better partners and lovers when we're both experiencing oxygen instead of deprivation.
corey_allan: Well Jay, this has been a joy to catch up with you again. So thank you so much for the time, dude.
jay_stringer: Likewise, thanks for having me back on, Corey. Enjoyed it.
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