Coming From a Place of Self-Love

I’ve had a reason to think about my love for myself the past couple of days. I was challenged in an online forum by another individual who was writing very mean-spirited things directed at me. Remarkably, I was unfazed. It did not register at all.

Suddenly, I realized I have come a long way. The reason I was unfazed is that the other person’s opinion of me truly did not matter. I read her insults, and they passed right through my consciousness without sticking to any particular place.

Two years ago, I would have been very hurt. Last year, I would have been angry. Right now, that person does not matter one iota. I am sitting in my chair actually enjoying my day.

This stranger’s opinion is meaningless, because I do not receive my sense of self-worth from any other human being breathing on the planet. I give my high sense of self-worth to myself, and no one can assail it.

I got here through meditation. Try it.

New Frontiers

A few days ago, I thought I’d finished with all the transforming I needed in one lifetime. I was done. I was going to live with the imperfections, and I was going to be happy.

That lasted until I got too tired of the discomfort. Pain actually.

This morning in meditation, I opened my belly, and I began to pull out something that hurt. It turned out to be attached to a chain that would not let go of its anchor, so I dove down to find out how deep it went.

It was deep. Very deep.

I got right down to where a little, snarling childlike version of myself was protecting the end of the chain. I thanked the snarling child for doing his job. He protected me for many years by getting me the things that I wanted. I then explained to him that his work was done. I soothed him. He was quite surprised, but he settled down and released the end of the chain.

I picked up the chain, I took the boy’s hand, and we went up to the surface. I gave him to an angel, and I was released from the pain.

It left a void, and I invited light to fill it.

What I have just described is a kind of guided visualization. I use it a great deal, and I get very good benefits from it. I’m able to help myself with very simple techniques. It’s really startling how much pain I’ve been able to release using guided visualization. I recommend meditation to anyone who thinks they can’t help themselves. I’ve been meditating for many years, decades actually. It works, and it does not have to be difficult.

I’m still going to revel in my humanity.

Meditation

I meditate every morning. It is without a doubt the single most important thing I do.

There is a lot of myth and misunderstanding surrounding meditation. I think the first myth is that to meditate correctly, you have to empty your mind. I don’t, but I have achieved remarkable effects with meditation even though I still have a series of thoughts flitting across my consciousness. Another myth is that one must sit cross legged. I sit on a stool. I think the most damaging myth may be that meditation is only for saints. We can all benefit from even short amounts of meditation done regularly.

I began meditating more than thirty years ago. It was never regular. I went for many months meditating daily, and then I took a break. I’m not sure how many years now it’s been a morning habit, but that’s what it has become. It is my morning start.

The first thing I would like to tell all is that meditation does not have to be long. Most mornings, I meditate for only ten or fifteen minutes. In that time, I gain great focus that gives me an unshakably calm center that I carry through the day.

I am going to take you through the steps I use in meditation. You can build your own steps. There are only a few things that are perhaps required. The necessities are first to sit with the back erect but the body is relaxed. Second, breathe evenly. The final necessity is something that comes with a bit of time. It is the ability to allow thoughts their space, observe them, but to remain detached from them. What I’m trying to say is that we give thoughts their space, but we do not invest our selves in those thoughts. Perhaps this third point will become easier to understand as we look at my steps of mediation.

I have a special stool that I use for meditation. My first step is to sit on it. I adjust myself, until I feel comfortable. My feet are firmly on the floor, and my back is erect. My head is erect, too.

I close my eyes. There are some meditation traditions that teach to keep the eyes open. I taught myself how to meditate, and closed came naturally. I’m also coming to this with a mental illness, so I need as little distraction as possible.

I relax. I have been meditating for many decades, so this is almost instantaneous now. If you’re new, you can start with your toes and relax your entire body as you go up to your head. Do it slowly, one area at a time. However, keep your back erect with your head firmly in line with your back. It will sound like a paradox, but it’s possible to do that and remain relaxed.

I breathe evenly. Sometimes, I begin by breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. This is cleansing. Once I’m breathing evenly and it feels right, I take in a long breath counting to eight as I do. I also count to eight on the exhale.

I make a connection. This step works for me. It came naturally to me, but it is not part of any formal meditative tradition. I connect myself to the Earth by imagining a cord of red light from Earth’s center to me. I imagine a cord of white light connecting me to the Universe/Heaven. I am where those two meet.

I clear myself of any attachments I may have made. Again, this works for me. You get to decide what your meditation is going to be like. I imagine that I have layers of energy stuck on me. I make a cut from my head to my feet in these layers of energy, and I ask angels to peel them off. It’s slow, but I feel lighter when it’s done. I’m in the habit of doing this a second time very close to my body. I like to think I’m removing the layers of my own thoughts that I cling to.

Now, I breathe with focus. It is at this time that I really focus on my breathing. I try to concentrate on how the air is entering my nose. I also concentrate on how my belly and my chest may be moving. I continue breathing, and I continue focusing.

Thoughts come. I may remember a conversation I had on the phone, or I may think about a task I have to do that day. Here’s what I’ve learned about thoughts: I cannot turn them off. Here’s another thing I’ve learned: I no longer try to turn them off. I allow them to do their work. I allow them to have their space and time. But I do not attach myself to them.

In our normal waking life, we experience events, and we assign emotions to accompany our experiences. Let’s think of driving in heavy traffic. There are many things to be aware of all at the same time, and there are many emotions that accompany all that awareness. There are the rude drivers around us, and there are the kind ones, too. Our reactions to those other drivers represent our attachments to our own feelings. We remind ourselves we are alive by living in the midst of a continuous stream of emotions.

In meditation, I have learned to allow my thoughts to have their space, but I do not choose to attach an emotion to any given thought. I am detached.

That lesson was not quick, and I must relearn it often. Many times when I meditate, a thought about an experience will arise that I have strong feelings about, and the emotions come.

Here again, I do not try to stop the emotions. I give them their space. I allow them to exist. I do not fight the discomfort. Instead, I pay very close attention to the place where the emotions are living. Is the discomfort about the difficult experience in my belly or my chest or my throat or my head? Is it somewhere outside me?

I picture the difficult discomfort. I give it shape or motion. Sometimes it’s a black sludge in my belly. Sometimes it’s a swirling column of air like a tornado in my torso. Sometimes it’s a heavy cube in my head. I let the discomfort tell me what shape it has. I allow it to come to me.

Now, I call on angels again to come remove the discomfort and fill the space it leaves with light. They do it every time. The discomfort may return, but I can ask for it to be removed each and every time. There is no limit on how many times I can ask for assistance. It is limitless. This helps me feel very light and clear.

After a bout of discomfort, I return to focusing on my breathing. I again focus on how the air enters my nose and my expanding belly and chest and then on the falling belly and chest and the air leaving my nose. There is no limit to how many times my focus wanders and returns. I am not failing when my focus wanders. I am not doing it wrong, if I have to return to my focus a thousand times during ten minutes of sitting.

If you are sitting with your back and head erect and if you are attempting to focus on your breathing, you cannot fail. With just those few necessities, you cannot fail.

I hope these words help.

Here, I go to My Happy Place. You can read about it here. That’s an old entry, and My Happy Place has evolved, but it’s still relevant. It’s important for me to mention that guided visualization is a type of meditation that I used for a very long time especially during periods when my mind simply would not be quiet in any meaningful way. My Happy Place gives me great comfort after all these years. If you want to create your own Happy Place, you get to decide what it looks like.

You are in charge of how you want your recovery to go. Meditation is a vital part of mine. Perhaps it could help you, too.

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.

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.

Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos

It’s no secret that there is a great deal of turmoil in the world at present. There are large protests in the US. Many countries in Europe are experiencing difficulties related to the large numbers of refugees coming in. I don’t know about yours, but my news is full of stories of upheaval and tumult.

It’s very easy to become overwhelmed when the headlines are shouting about mayhem. Those of us with mental illness know the importance of remaining calm and maintaining equilibrium.

Here’s my plan.

First, I remember the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

There is a great deal in the world that I cannot change, and it is important for me to recognize where I can have an effect and where I need to release. For example, I have a vote, but I only have one vote. It is important for me to exercise my choice by voting, but I must release the outcome since my single vote will not determine any winners. I am one voice in a sea of many. I do my part and release the rest.

Second, I simply do not read all of the news. I pick and choose. I have a few topics that I am passionate about, so I read that news. I skip over the rest. As a solitary individual, there is little I can do to affect the vast majority of situations. I choose to invest my energy in only a couple of major issues. I keep myself basically informed of some of the other major issues in the news, but I simply skip over a great deal. I’m not hiding from the news. I’m editing my consumption. I act this way to maintain my sense of inner peace. I had a friend who tried to stay abreast of all the news a few months ago, and it had a disastrous affect on her mind. She was quickly overwhelmed. I protect my personal calm by limiting what I ingest from the news.

Next, I give a small amount of money to causes that I believe in. I have limited money at my disposal. I cannot give great sums to every worthy cause, so I have chosen a few that I feel the most strongly about, and I donate there. It makes me feel good that I’m helping organizations who are battling for ideas that I believe in. Helping these organizations makes me feel like I’m a part of the fight, and in actuality, I am. I am very active in theatre in my city, so I support those organizations that bring live theatre to brighten our lives. Giving them small donations helps me feel good.

Finally, I take care of myself. This is my greatest contribution to making the planet a better place for all of us. When I concentrate on being the best possible me that I can, I know that my little bit of humanity is running smoothly. Honestly, isn’t that a great gift to give the world? I like being me, and I like making me a happy member of the world. I do it by living in recovery. I have a few pillars of my recovery that I work diligently to maintain: medication, meditation, exercise, therapy, and sleep.

I am lucky in that medicine works for me, so I take my medicine as prescribed. I have friends in recovery who maintain themselves other ways than medicine.

I am also an avid meditator. I have a set routine that includes a period of meditation, and I do it every morning without fail. Meditation gives me a calm center to cling to. When I feel emotions that encroach on my calm, I know I can return to the even feelings by just doing some simple breathing techniques.

Exercise is an important part of my recovery, too. I enjoy powerwalking, so I go out for a vigorous walk 4 mornings every week. I feel exhilarated each time. It’s such a joy!

I believe wholeheartedly in talk therapy. I’ve been involved with it for 30 years. I have a therapist that I tell absolutely everything to. I tell him about all the little things in my life that arise, and we talk about how they make me feel. I’ve discovered a lot of people don’t really understand the nature of a therapeutic relationship. A therapist is not like a medical doctor who assesses symptoms and administers a cure. Therapists cure no one. Instead, they listen to my situations, and then they guide me through a discussion, until I settle on my own cure. In essence, a therapist is a guide while I cure myself.

Finally, sleep is an amazing balm for me. I am adamant that I get adequate and high quality sleep every night. It resets all my inner world, and I can start each day fresh.

These things work for me. I hope you can find the pillars of your own recovery.

Thank you for your patience

I am grateful today for your patience and your continued support of this blog while I’ve been away living life. I am grateful today I have a life to live. I have indeed come very far from the inception of this blog.

I have an amazing life today. Let me tell you about the changes since the last time I wrote here more than two years ago.

The most important change has two parts: I got a job, and I moved. I was living on disability in a small town, and I gained a great deal of strength from the quiet. Today, I live in a city, and I work. These are enormous changes in my life. They would not have been possible if I had not had a solid recovery. There are many people who helped me with my recovery. Each one of them is precious to me.

I am now working in the mental health field training my peers to be Certified Peer Specialists. It is an honor to watch a group of my peers as they learn about the aspects of recovery and how to help their peers. It is pure pleasure to hear them report about the work they are doing one-on-one with our peers.

I have my own apartment! I got very lucky when I moved. There was an opening in a building where a friend had moved a few years prior, and they accepted me. It’s wonderful to have friendly neighbors that I know by name.

I bought a car! I got very lucky and found a good, used car that gets superb gas mileage.

Parking is by permit where I work, and that’s based on seniority, so needless to say, I do not have parking. I take the bus to work. It’s honestly a pleasure. I get on the bus near my apartment. I’m always able to find a seat where I can pull out my Kindle and read or scroll through my phone. I have conversations with my seatmates, too. It’s usually very quiet, though. About 20 minutes later, I hop off in front of my building.

When I moved, one of my first orders of business was to get the pieces of my support network in place. I asked some knowledgeable people about psychiatrists and psychologists. The next thing I knew I had appointments with some very good caregivers.

I rely on my caregivers a great deal. I count on them to help me remain stable. My recovery is the most important thing I have in life. I tell people who ask that my recovery has five pillars holding it up: medication, meditation, therapy, exercise, and sleep.

I’m lucky. Medication actually works for me with only a few side effects. In my work, I have had the pleasure of getting to know peers for whom medication does not work. They maintain stability using other means. Most have a WRAP. Some are close to their pets. Some use talk-therapy; some don’t. It’s up to each individual to determine what works best for themselves.

I meditate every morning. It’s not long: 10 to 30 minutes. It varies. Meditation gives me a few minutes of calmness to start my day. It gives me a calm core that I can go back to at any time I feel myself straying too far one way or the other.

I’ve been in therapy for 30 years. I swear by it. It is so valuable to have a disinterested third party to tell all my thoughts to. That person guides me to decide for myself what I think about my many situations. My therapist is a guide. He is not a director. I am in the driver’s seat.

I powerwalk. I used to go out every morning, but I had a hurt foot that prevented that. I’m starting again, and I’m walking 3 mornings each week. It feels so good to move and breathe deeply. I love it.

Sleep is very important to me. I went through a period of sleep difficulties for almost a year that was quite painful. I’ve found a working solution that I’m happy with that does not involve sleeping pills. A good night’s sleep sets me up for success the next day. Sleep resets all my circuits.

There are other parts to my recovery that are important. They are so imbedded in me now that I give little thought to them. I’m sober. It’s been seventeen years since I last drank any alcohol. I have a WRAP. I am fully committed to staying in the “what I’m like when I’m well” place. I eat good food. I eat very little processed sugar. I never drink soda. I am sure my good diet aids my recovery.

I am glad you still want to read my blog. I will be writing in it again. Thank you.