Thursday, August 8, 2019

change your filter

Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind
~ Shakespeare

A client came in feeling like a "lost cause" because he was constantly over-reacting to his wife.  She'd say a certain thing, look at him a certain way and with a certain "tone"; and he'd growl, get up and walk away.  He justified his behaviour by saying his wife was getting angry at him for no reason.

When his wife came in she denied being angry and was tired of his unfounded accusations.  His defensiveness was destroying their marriage and, apparently, a lot of his other relationships too.

My client was misreading his wife's motives through the lens of his own traumatic past. Although he was trying to "let go" when he was triggered, he still perceived slights and criticism where there were none.  Swallowing his emotions only ended up clogging his heart.  When he wasn't exploding, he was imploding.

When my client started cleaning up the negative stories he was telling himself, he began to react more positively toward his wife.  Tension between them disappeared, and his other relationships started going better as well.

Trying to change your heart without changing your mind is like trying to run a motor with a clogged filter.  It goes nowhere fast.

Check your stories from time to time, and clean them up.  Change your filter.  It works!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

rise up, go deeper

Be anchored in the bay where all men ride
~ Shakespeare

A client sexting multiple partners, sometimes meeting them for casual sex, told me that he felt compelled to get a response, a reaction, some form of recognition or connection, in order to feel relevant, like he was alive.  He never let his ex-girlfriends go for very long because he feared disconnection from them and, ultimately, feared disappearing.

By keeping in touch, periodically waking up the connections to old and new girlfriends, he confessed an immediate sense of gratification but, he said, it left him with a feeling of profound emptiness.

Multiplying the number of (sexual or other) encounters with others, we may have the illusion of being more personally relevant, of existing more tangibly in their eyes and in our own.  But because we do this superficially, along the shallow horizontal axis, we are inevitably left with a deep unmet hunger to be known.  We lack intimacy (from the Latin intimatus: to be made known)

The only way to fill this hunger is by rotating right so to speak, so that we fill up with deeper, more meaningful connections.  Rising up by going deeper.  Anchored in intimacy.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Working the steps

It works if you work it
~ AA slogan
The best way out is through
~Robert Frost~
The Twelve Steps of Recovery aren't a discipline.  They're a path. And working them isn't a workout.  It's a way out!
Unlike Rehabilitation ("to make fit"), Recovery comes from the word for Recuperate, "to get back" (as in to get back something lost, stolen or corrupted), and has its roots in the Latin for "receive."
With every step you take, you receive... a little more lightness, a little more joy, a little more freedom.
You don't need to be strong. The experience of progressive liberation will give you all the strength you need.
Dependencies, obsessions, defects and shortcomings- psychological and physical burdens- will then melt away like burned fat...
You just need to be willing to drop a load.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

taking down and restoring walls

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
~Step 2, 12 Steps

The first obstacle to recovery is defensive denial. It's like a wall. Life is being smashed by a wrecking ball but the addict refuses to see any evidence of crumbling.  As he keeps using, the wrecking ball keeps pounding. Eventually, the addict can no longer deny the health issues, unpaid bills, and lost relationships. The debts he owes are mounting.  Still he refuses to quit.  Instead he begins to bargain, vowing to use less or only "recreationally", trying to trick himself into believing that he and the addiction can find a way to cohabit even though little holes in his wall are showing up everywhere. Progressively, without his consent, the wall between him and the truth breaks down. As in the third stage of grief, now there is rage at the undeniable reality that he cannot continue in this way without severe consequences. Something's gotta give.

As the wall collapses and the addict is exposed, if he hasn't died or ended up in jail, he is forced to surrender.  By accepting the reality of his demise, and with a true willingness to reclaim his life and integrity, the addict begins the process of recovery.  He seeks to be restored, if not to the exact person he was prior to his addiction, then to sanity.  He begins to walk away, free.

Those around the addict have their own recovery to undergo.  It is similar to his process, and equally hard, but goes sort of in reverse; reversing the 5 Stages of Grief.  They entered into relationship taking the addict at face value, as a real person, expecting availability and reciprocity; unprotected.  But, like Pinocchio, his promises were wooden and his heart hard. They tolerated unacceptable behaviour, and ended up a mere shadow of their former selves, a puddle of emotions.  Whereas the addict's wall hid the truth, they lacked one. They were vulnerable and exposed. What now lies in store for them, in their process of recovery, is rebuilding that wall, unbreaking the cup that held them, to restore their integrity and sanity. It is the reverse of the addict's process and begins with non-acceptance, moving through sadness and anger to ripen into the courage to make an ultimatum: they will partner again with the addict on only one condition, that he "proves himself brave, truthful and unselfish... and becomes a real boy."*.  The co-addict detaches by building a wall. This is their freedom.

*Blue Fairy; Pinocchio

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Good Grief

Afterward Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth
~ Job 3:1

Look up grief on the internet and you'll likely find images of some sad, little faces with a solitary tear, or maybe a black and white photo of some contemplative-looking person standing at the end of a pier looking out to sea.  They are such peaceful images, reminding me of the beginning of the serenity prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change..."

When you're grieving a terminal illness or relationship, don't you just long to float away on the calm waters of serenity?  Me neither!

It's more like those stories you hear of someone drowning and hypothermic who, after a few gulps of water, gets a sense of inner bloating, is swallowed up and sinks into oblivion. They fought like hell first.

Acceptance, the destination of grieving, is not so much a state of mind as the fruit of one of the most challenging, gut-wrenching, heart-rending and ugly processes I know; and the cost is huge, nothing short of everything.  All your hopes and dreams, your visions of a future, throw in idealism and optimism while you're at it, and don't forget about hope and your will to live.  All of it.  Are you serene yet?

I remember when I was a kid and I had to get a "booster shot".  For some strange reason, and in a manner which was entirely out of character at the time, I decided to run.  The doors being locked, I ended up running from the nurse and her poised needle, back and forth between her and the walls, around in circles like a moth in a jar until I finally rushed into the arms of my bewildered mother, wrapping myself around her, crying, "I don't want to!"  My mother hugged me, then quietly and reassuringly answered back, "Patti, it's done."  At first I thought I was being liberated from the proposed torture but then I realized in fact the nurse had already jabbed me while I was in the throes of making a scene. It was a miracle.

Good grieving is more like that I think. Crying and flailing about risking humiliation as you flap around helplessly like a caught and gutted fish until you come, mercifully, to rest.  It's pretty good from there.

God grant me the courage.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

clean slate

~ Give not that which is holy unto dogs nor cast your pearls before swine
(Matthew 7:6)

Body, speech and mind... these are precious resources that, once spent or defiled, are not easily redeemed.

Why not protect them better?

My advice, boys and girls, is to keep yourselves clean, and keep away from others who are not, or who are not using prophylactics to protect you from themselves. Demand that your partners show you their CVs.  They should test positive for NVC**, and negative for STDs and dependencies because, once you've been infected, it may be too late to press "refresh".

Clean mouth
Clean nethers
Clean mind

Nobody can protect you better than yourself.  Keep your slate clean.

** Non Violent Communication

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

ambivalence and recovery

A lot of people think addiction has to do with choice.  A lot of people think it's a matter of will. That has not been my experience.  I don't find it has anything to do with strength.
~Matthew Perry

I was relieved on the weekend to be at a conference that made room for ambivalence in recovery.  The conference was on eating disorders but what the speaker said could just as easily have applied to addictions. In fact, he used an addiction treatment model to present the stages of preparedness for recovery, and relapse was part of that model.

You see, recovery is not a straight line.  It's not a matter of will and people do not decide to get better.  They may hit a "rock bottom" where they say "enough" and decide to do something about it, and this is surely a defining moment in their lives; but getting better (recovery) progresses in stages over time, often two steps forward one step back, hand-in-hand with... ambivalence.

I know when I quit smoking I was a totally unwilling candidate.  I not only didn't want to quit, I didn't believe I could.  If it hadn't been for the support of my children on day two (!), urging me to keep going, I would have thrown in the towel.  I did not quit for me, like all the books say you're supposed to.  I quit for them.  Only later, much later in fact, when I had got enough distance from the self-defeating patterns of my addiction, did I stay quit for me.

So what does this have to do with ambivalence?

I think that we need something outside of ourselves to hold us to our path, kind of like the cable holding a streetcar to a power line.  I don't mean an external authority or judge forcing us against our wills ("failure is the enemy of success"!), but something stronger than my runaway urges.  And that something stronger, I think, is compassion, the very compassion I am lacking for myself when in the grips of my addiction or other self-defeating behaviour.

There is a scene I love from Nashville where Rayna sings a song to her alcoholic lover on his birthday.  Various other people in the show are struggling with runaway addictions.  Here is the song.  The lyrics are amazing: