Allowing vs Accepting

A friend asked a question that made me think. She asked about how to be happy even when some situations were not good.

I think I found an answer by learning to allow. When I allow a situation to exist without creating a value judgement on it, I am free.

That seems completely different from accepting to me. When I accept a situation, that implies that I have assessed it and made a judgement about it. It further implies that I have judged it and didn’t like it. I have to then change my attitude and let it be the way it is despite my dislike.

If I allow, I do not even have to make the value judgement. I am completely free of even the need to judge. I am free.

I recently had a disappointment about something I was working on. It was hard to swallow. In the face of my inability to do anything to change the situation, I accepted the reality and began to think of ways to move forward despite the disappointment. I disliked the situation, but I recognized my powerlessness and accepted the reality.

I wonder how much calmer I would have been as the situation unfolded, if I had simply allowed it to happen. I fought. Could I have remained calm by simply observing the events? I’m not sure.

I believe I could have had an easier time by allowing events to unfold. I could have gone about my day enjoying the sunshine and the cool breezes instead of worrying about events.

I didn’t do that. I felt a need to intervene. Afterward, I accepted it. I would have been happier by allowing.

I have one piece of the puzzle of my life that I am desperately trying to control. I want a certain thing to happen. How can I step back, take a breath, and allow it to unfold? I think I’m going to have to let that one emerge from hour to hour. My need to control is very strong. I cannot do that day to day. It’s going to have to be minute to minute at times.

I’m going to give it a shot.

Caring

I am happy today to ask others to care for me and to help me care for myself. I can raise my voice among my friends and talk about my disappointments. I can accept their words of solace and encouragement. I can also readily ask them for ideas of how I can nurture myself when I’m feeling low.

I had to learn how to speak up, listen and accept, and request assistance. It did not come naturally, but I have it now, and I’m grateful.

It came in stages. I first had to learn to talk about my difficult situations. This meant I had to break through the voices in my head that claimed no one cared. Another voice said they would think poorly of me if I appeared weak. It took courage to speak above these voices and make myself heard. The beautiful part was that I learned how simple it was after doing it only once. That first time gave me great happiness to be heard.

Next, I had to accept the good wishes of my friends and their encouragement. This took some self-discipline. I want to tell myself that I’m not worthy of their kindness. I want them to know of these thoughts, too. I can say confidently today that I am indeed worthy. I learned this by gratefully listening to my friends telling me they thought I could overcome a difficulty.

The biggest hurdle came when I realized I needed to practice self-care. I not only need to accept encouragement from my friends, but I also need to give it to myself. I need to believe in myself. I need to believe that I am worthy of loving myself. This may have been the highest hurdle to jump.

I did it. It came slowly, but I gradually learned to love myself. Today, I have it solidly. I know I am worthy of help from others and help for myself. Those old voices that told me I wasn’t worth it are silent now.

Eighteen

This morning, I was leaning into the refrigerator to get the milk, and I was startled by a realization. Today is my eighteenth anniversary of getting sober.

Eighteen years is a long time. A lot of the memories are simply words now. The emotions attached to the words have faded. I remember searching for release from my demons. I thought liquor was the release. It wasn’t. It made matters worse. Sobriety and the steps and friends and therapy and medication for my mental illness and meditation gave me release.

Release certainly didn’t come in an instant. It took time. I slogged through years of depression trying one medication after another. None helped. When I was five years sober, I had a realization that I was attached to my suffering. I was able to slowly let go of my need to be sick.

It’s not an easy feat, but I’m not sick any more. I like being whole. I honestly love myself now, which is something I couldn’t imagine. I think I began to be completely comfortable with myself somewhere around thirteen or fourteen years of sobriety. I found unconditional love two years ago. It’s quite strong.

I don’t want to change anything about my past. I’m quite happy with my life now, and I have hopes that it will even get better. There’s still a few things I want to do.

Waiting

I had to drive to another location for work yesterday. I got to one point, and there was some road work. The lanes going to the place I needed to reach flowed smoothly, but I noticed the other side of the highway was backed up a very long distance. There was a long line of cars going in the direction I was coming from. I decided that on my return, I would take an alternate route.

I reached my destination and accomplished my task. After the day was done, I began the return trek. I quickly went to the new route and sailed along at a high rate of speed. It was a beautiful drive. There were green mountains and blue skies overhead. It was lovely.

I came around a bend on the freeway to spy cars ahead of me with their brake lights gleaming. There were many cars. I began to slow and tapped my brakes numerous times to alert the drivers behind me of the approaching slowdown.

I reached the cars and stopped. I stayed stopped. I began to wonder what was causing the freeway to be at a dead stop and imagined there was a wreck somewhere ahead.

This is the 21st century, and I had a smartphone equipped with traffic information. While we were stopped, I checked traffic. The map was a mass of red lines where the roads were, meaning the traffic was greatly congested, but there was no information as to the cause.

We continued to stay stopped. And continued. And continued.

I finally rolled down my windows and shut off the engine.

This is going to sound odd, but I wasn’t bothered by it. It’s traffic. I can’t do anything about it, so why let it upset me? The breeze blew through the car, and I listened to the engines of the other cars. I played my radio a bit. My favorite NPR station was having a fund drive asking for donations. I switched the radio off and sat listening to the ambient sounds around me. It didn’t really bother me.

After more than 20 minutes, the cars began to move. We very quickly got up to highway speed, and I got home just fine. I warmed up some curry and rice for dinner.

My mood this morning is nothing like my aplomb in the midst of being at a dead stop on the freeway. I’m quite agitated at my situation, and I’m wailing loudly to the heavens, shaking my fist, demanding attention.

I take a deep breath as I write that. How do I transfer the patience I have in traffic to another part of my life? It makes me smile.

Here I am faced with another instance of something I cannot control, but I have the opposite reaction. In traffic, I’m a saint. In this situation, I’m a toddler.

I need a good walk.

Using Tools

This morning, my anxiety has been high. I have hopes for a situation to work itself out in a certain way in the very near future, and I’m anxious about it. Because I’m in recovery, I have experience using tools to help me cope when I have difficult emotions rolling around inside.

The first tool I used this morning was meditation, and it helped enormously. I was very calm and centered for a few hours afterward. Sitting in a quiet place and breathing helps me when I’m anxious or otherwise unhappy.

I would normally go for a good powerwalk, but my knee doesn’t feel right. I have to stay off it for a while. I’m sad about this, because exercise is a very good way to work through unpleasant emotions.

I got to work fine, and I’ve been concentrating on some tasks. That helps a great deal, but it doesn’t take my whole mind off what I’m anxious about.

So I turned to another tool: friends in recovery. I’m a member of a small group on the internet of people in recovery from mental illness. I asked them what they did to cope with anxiety. One person reminded me to take breaks from the busy-ness. I just did that. I left my cubicle and went for a walk in the sun. I went down the street to the cathedral and sat there for five minutes. It worked. I feel calm again.

I have therapy tonight, and it couldn’t come at a better time. I will be able to talk to my psychologist about what’s going on. I have found in all my years in therapy that when I talk about a problem, it loses its power. Sometimes it disappears completely.  It really works.

I do not know if talking to my therapist will cause today’s anxiety to disappear completely, but I am positive it will help.

I am grateful today for the tools I have to aid me in my recovery.

Strength in Seeking Help

I recently had an interaction on the internet with a person who is a casual acquaintance on a website we both happen to be members of. I do not know her in real life, and it’s highly unlikely that I ever will.

She posted a story that clearly demonstrated she’s living with a great deal of unresolved issues from a broken marriage. I left a one-sentence comment that she could resolve these old ghosts by seeking help through psychotherapy. Her reaction was not a complete surprise, but it demonstrates a wider problem in our world.

She was angry at my suggestion. She was incensed that I thought she had a problem that needed help. To her, living with old wounds is simply a part of life, and using psychotherapy is a weakness. She is living with a great deal of stigma against mental health difficulties as  evidenced by this reaction. In a world where mental health is stigma-free, she would not be defensive. Rejecting psychotherapy shows internal stigma against openly recognizing the value in receiving help to overcome mental issues.

The truth is it requires great strength to admit the problem exists and then to reach out for help. It requires courage, too. I have to recognize that I have something inside me that needs resolution, and I can best resolve it with outside help. In our world that devalues seeking help for mental health instead of simply pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, the act of reaching out for help is a sign of strength and maturity.

Harboring unresolved issues about past pain is weakness. It also shows a lack of self-worth. If we truly value ourselves highly, we will take any necessary step to heal ourselves. If we do not believe ourselves worthy of good mental health, we will ignore our cries for help. We will tell ourselves we deserve to continue to hurt.

I can assure all who care to listen that it is possible to be free of pain from the past. It is possible to resolve old issues and live free and clear. It is possible to rid ourselves of our baggage. It is possible to heal our demons.

I know it’s possible, because I did it. If you search the old posts on this blog, you will see that I was mired in pain. I can state honestly today, that I am free of that old pain. I did the work necessary to heal. It was hard work, and it required courage to be open and vulnerable. Now when I feel pain, I have the tools necessary to heal it right away. I don’t let it become old. I keep myself free. I breathe clearly each day.

If you have old pain from the past, recognize it, and allow yourself to be brave enough to seek help.

Healing Demons

I have now seen a meme twice. A meme is a viral phenomenon that spreads an idea from person to person in a given population. It’s also the slang term used to describe a trite saying usually accompanied by a picture on the internet.

This particular meme says, “We never lose our demons. We only learn to live above them.”

I can happily report that we can heal them. We do not have to simply learn to tolerate their rude behavior as they live downstairs. It is possible to completely heal them, releasing ourselves from their power. Why can I say this? Because I healed mine.

It’s popular to talk about our baggage, the stuff we carry with us from the past that weighs us down. Baggage is something we talk about with a therapist. In the early days of going to AA, I heard a lot about baggage, and I realized that I don’t simply have baggage. I had a freight train.

Indeed I did. I had so much junk attached to myself on many different subjects: homosexuality, religion, being an American male from the South, parental expectations, etc. The list is very long.

I started therapy when I was 23. The first big item I tackled was anger. It may surprise you to learn that I actually had to teach myself how to be angry. I remember it quite well. I had to keep a small notepad in my pocket and write down every time I felt angry. It took many months before I was able to recognize my real anger. I suppressed it before. I didn’t know that I was allowed to be angry. It was an enormously unhealthy way to live.

I haven’t thought about that episode in my attempts to unpack my freight train in a very long time. My anger is healthy now. I feel it. If necessary, I act on it. I let it pass. It flows like it’s supposed to.

That is a perfect example of healing a demon, and that’s what bugs me about that meme. Saying that the best we can hope for is to merely live above them does us all a disservice. We can indeed heal them. We can completely disarm them and free ourselves from their grip.

I have healed many demons. I don’t live above anything unpleasant.

I am free!

I am very happy to be a gay man now, but I used to loathe myself. I healed the loathing. I did the necessary self-care that led to a very happy realization that I like being gay. I live completely out now. It was a difficult journey fraught with upset, but I did it. I did it!

I am free!

If you think you have pain that can only be tolerated and never healed, you are wrong. If I can heal the trauma of growing up gay in a time and place that abhorred it, you can heal, too. You can. I promise.

The question becomes how to start. Therapy worked for me. I know that it works for a great many people, because they’ve told me it works. It’s also important to do some work on our own.

Meditation is an amazing habit to form. It teaches us to find our calm center. We each have one. Most of us need help to find it. Meditation doesn’t have to be scary. Sit quietly doing nothing. Don’t sit and rock. Don’t sit and drink water. Sit. Just sit. Let your mind wander, and look for the spaces between the wandering thoughts. Try to enlarge those spaces in between. Don’t judge yourself as your mind wanders. Just watch it.

Exercise is important for me, too. I powerwalk. It’s something I enjoy, and it only requires good shoes. It doesn’t take any other special equipment. Think about what you enjoy, and do it.

There are many ways we each can begin the journey of healing. What do you want to look like after you have healed? Think about it, and think about the ways you want to get to that place. Find the help you need, and use it.

You can be free, too. I promise.