Progress vs. Movement

I had a chat with a very special friend this morning. I mentioned that I’m moving deeper into releasing, allowing, and letting go. The chat proceeded, and I added

Progress, not perfection.

He replied,

I experience the present as I move through it, without the need to define it as “better” or “worse” or “growth” or whatever… It simply IS. And I am participating in it.

I stopped. There’s something in that. There’s movement in both sayings. A person starts at point A in their situation and goes to point B.

Progress is defined as “forward or onward movement toward a destination.” However, there is definitely an underlying notion to the word that means the movement is desirable. There’s an idea that the movement will lead to a better place.

My friend’s sentences do not have that underlying meaning, because he just used the word “move.” That word is simpler. It doesn’t have the ghosts that progress does.

I really like being free of the connotations. I really do.

At the same time, I really want to improve. I want the situations in my life to get better both externally and internally.

But I really want to release the need to measure my movement. I want to stop requiring myself to always achieve a level better than yesterday.

Oh! That would indeed be a profound bit of progress. To release the need to judge would be glorious! After all, measuring our movement – measuring our progress – is judging it. We apply the critical eye to ascertain the level of achievement in order to know how much approval to issue the mover.

I want to release the need to judge myself. I want to simply move.

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Where to Next?

Today is Tuesday, October 10, 2017, and it is World Mental Health Day. I can’t write about mental health as it exists all over the world, but I can write about my experiences with challenging mental health.

Much of this year, I’ve been wondering about my story. I really can’t explain it. I recovered, and I don’t know why. I have a slight grasp on how, but why eludes me completely.

I like to sum up the how in just five little words:

  1. medication
  2. meditation
  3. therapy
  4. exercise
  5. sleep

I think WRAP has something to do with it too, but I’ve pretty much internalized that and rarely actually look at the written document. (You can search for WRAP on this blog in the tags on the right side of the screen of your computer. I’m not sure where the tags are, if you’re on a mobile device. There’s also a little place where you can enter search items. Just type in WRAP.)

But, why?

Why did I recover?

I work in mental health now. I talk on the phone to my peers as part of my job, and it’s quite eye-opening. I hear about the difficulties others are having with many different types of situations. Each caller is doing their best to overcome whatever may be happening that is disagreeable. Sometimes, reaching out to me is one of the ways they’re trying to overcome problems. Other times, they just want someone to listen. It’s usually very clear right from the very beginning what the caller wants from the conversation.

What’s unclear to me is myself. My own story baffles me. You can search the archives of this blog going back more than 7.5 years. I came through some dark times. When I remember those times, I’m amazed I made it through and got to where I am today.

I think I’m spending so much time thinking about the why, because it has something to do with healing. I want to share healing with my peers.

But that’s off. The healing is what happened. Does it matter why it happened, or is the how it happened more vital?

There’s one more point about how that may hold the key: one. I kept it to one step. I concentrated on just the one step I was taking. I never thought ahead to a second step. I thought only of the one. Then, I would take one more step. Then one more. It was always just one.

When I was bedridden with depression, I would do one nice thing for myself for one day. Some days that one nice thing was brushing my teeth. It was one little reminder that I was worth just that tiny bit of self-care. Some days, it was making one healthy thing to eat, or just eating one piece of healthy food like an apple.

Taking only one step. Doing one nice thing for myself. One.

Life is complex. When you add mental illness to it, it can be chaotic. There is so much to think about that it’s overwhelming. Concentrating on only one thing relieves the chaos.

One.

By concentrating on one step, I made many steps. I got from there to here. It took years. I had a lot of help along the way, but I was the one doing the walking. I was the one taking just one step. I want to share that with others.

And now I ask where to next?

Healing the Wound

When I remember my drinking days, the pain is what comes up first. There was tremendous pain. It was pervasive. It seeped into every corner of my being, and it oozed out of me in all my relationships. I was capable of happiness, but it was always fleeting. It was never enduring.

I drank for one simple reason: it gave me relief from the pain. What I did not understand was that the relief was fleeting. The drinking did not do anything to help heal the pain. The wound remained. The drinking was a kind of Band Aid on my wound.

It’s no secret that my wound was my warped perceptions of what it meant to be gay. The ideas inculcated in me about homosexuality were not compatible with living a happy life. I grew up convinced that god hated gay people, and that gays were beyond god’s grace. I also had good reason to fear ostracism from my family if they knew I was gay. Finally, society allowed violence against gay people. Some portions of society even condoned it preaching that gays were beneath contempt and unworthy of safety and fulfilling lives.

I became an alcoholic, because I got relief from my pain when I drank. The pain was so great that I needed a lot of alcohol to relieve it, and I needed it daily.

The day came, however, when the pain became more than the alcohol could cover. That day I faced the fact that alcohol no longer worked. That day I also discovered that quitting drinking was not a simple matter. I am grateful that I found AA. With the help of the 12 Steps and with the love from a sponsor and other members of the program, I found a way to live without alcohol.

Sadly, the pain was still there. The wound went untreated. I lost the Band Aid that alcohol provided. My next course of action was to find a way to heal the real wound. I am grateful that I found therapy as a young adult. I continued it through the years, and it proved invaluable for healing my wound.

Meditation also helped me slowly change my perceptions of what being gay meant. I learned I am not an abomination. I learned god loves me. Most importantly, I learned to love myself.

Gradually, I healed.

And I discovered that when my wound healed, drinking became unnecessary. It’s not even the slightest issue. I go to gay bars these days and feel nothing. I have no compulsion to drink alcohol.

AA gave me the tools to stay away from alcohol, but the AA I was exposed to did not direct me to the tools I needed to heal the wound that caused me to drink. The AA that I was part of treated the drinking as if it was the wound. It taught me that not drinking was enough.

But it wasn’t enough. I needed to heal the wound. I had to find the ways to heal outside the rooms of AA.

I doubt I’m alone. I am confident when I say that alcoholics drink because it provides relief from a pain-causing wound. We need to stop drinking because it is a destructive way of treating the wound. It does not heal. It masks only.

We are doing a disservice by telling people that the pain will stop when the drinking stops. This wasn’t the case for me, and I know many people who agree. We need to do our part to help individuals stop drinking, but we also need to actively direct them to the places where they can heal their wounds.

After 18 years of sobriety, I’ve seen countless people return to drinking after a period of sobriety, and I am convinced it’s because they could not find a way to heal their wound. They return to using the only Band Aid they knew that gave them any amount of relief.

It’s not enough to stop drinking if we ignore the reason the drinking started. The drinking is only a Band Aid. It is not the wound.

Again, we need to actively help individuals find a way to heal their wounds.

[I have been thinking about this for a long time. I’m reluctant to share it, but I have experienced my words reaching others who feel the same but are unable to speak for various reasons, so I’ll share.]

Gratitude

One constant in my recovery has been gratitude. These days, I give thanks as I lie in bed at night for anything that I’m grateful for. In years past, this process was often very deliberate and structured. I made time to write out a gratitude list.

Writing was often important, because I needed the discipline of sitting and concentrating on why I was grateful. Early on, I had to be very concrete. I often listed body parts that worked well as reasons to be grateful: legs, hands, a strong heart, etc. It was so easy to spend time ruminating on what was wrong in my life. I needed these times to remember there was good, too.

Gradually, I could take my mind off what seems so elementary like health and find gratitude in what was around me. I was able to stop looking within and able to look outward and see the joy in life at large.

It really is a miracle just to be alive.

If you’re new to the idea of gratitude, it might be a good idea to start with very simple things. If you’re healthy, you may begin with the different areas of your health that are going well. If you work or volunteer, that might be a good place to start, too. Look around you. Can you be grateful for a place to live? Is today’s weather good?

Look at your relationships. Are some of them going very well? Remember to be grateful for those people close to you.

Do you have activities that bring a smile to your face? Think about those kinds of things. Put them on a gratitude list.

Being grateful has one goal: allowing us to realize the good we have in our lives.

Today, I’m most grateful that I get to be me.

Being Selfish

One of the oddest things about life is that when we are very small, we have to be taught to share. It is stressed over and over again that we have to share with our playmates. We aren’t allowed to hoard all the toys or take all the food from the lunch counter.

Many of us spend a great many adult years unlearning this lesson. We have to learn a healthy way of being selfish.

I have spoken to many people in various forms of distress. One of my favorite suggestions is to do one nice thing for ourselves every day. These can be very simple. We can give ourselves a full minute of deep breathing. Taking a walk in the sunshine is another good way to be nice to ourselves. If it’s what we want, we could indulge in our favorite food. We get to decide how to be nice to ourselves.

Many of us are taught to always place others before ourselves. This is appropriate in many situations, but it’s not healthy at all times. There are many times we have to place our own needs above our neighbor’s.

It is popular to say that we have to love ourselves before we can love others. I used to disagree with that. I thought I needed to deny myself my own love. I thought I could love others while ignoring my own needs. I now see that I cannot give what I do not have.

Ultimately, doing one nice thing for ourselves each day is meant to lead us to loving ourselves continuously.

When I come from a place of self-love, I can reach out with more love than I ever imagined. I am capable of more compassion than I knew previously. Empathy is more genuine.

It’s possible that being selfish may be the best way to help each other.

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.