Recovery in Turbulent Times

I write about recovery from mental illness. Recovery is difficult business. It takes a lot of hard work on each of our parts. Maintaining stability is not as simple as waking up and taking a pill. There are many moving parts, and all of them have to be kept in balance as best we can at all times.

It doesn’t help when the news is full of chaos. It’s not a simple process to keep my many parts in balance when there is messy stuff happening all around me.

In the midst of turbulence, here’s what it boils down to:

Focus.

I have to focus on my recovery above all else. I have to keep the focus on maintaining my recovery. I cannot get sidetracked by the many competing items all wanting my attention. I must be the center of the work I do daily.

Two things help me maintain my focus on recovery.

First, I maintain my daily routine above all else. I take the medicine prescribed by my doctor at the same time every day. I drink tea and start the day and meditate every morning. After I meditate, I do some stretching exercises to get my body moving. I continue my day doing my regular activities. For me, that means going to work. I eat healthful food. I need good quality nutrition.

Second, I do not watch the news. I limit my news intake to the headlines. There is a large amount of information bombarding me throughout the day. The vast majority of that information is about things that I personally can have no effect on. Dwelling on that type of information will only upset me. It will upset my recovery and tip me into instability.

I am, however, active. I have a few topics that I am passionate about like LGBT rights. I have marched for LGBT equality. I also marched with the women’s march. These are topics that I feel like I can make a difference in. These are topics I choose to be passionate about. I am also very passionate about the rights of individuals with mental illness. On this topic, I regularly write to my elected officials. The important point is that I have chosen my passion. I disengage from most news to maintain my stability.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the turbulence in today’s world, perhaps my way of maintaining my recovery can help you, too. Be focused. Concentrate on your recovery. Do the things that will make your stability stronger, and limit your intake of things that distract from recovery.

We who live with mental illness have one job: our own recovery. That has to be our priority at all times.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.

I Can Only Be Me

I’ve had a rough few weeks. I experienced hypo-mania, which I haven’t had for quite a number of years. It was very uncomfortable. I’ve been recuperating. I’ve meditated quite a bit, and it helps enormously. It really does bring me a lot of healing energy.

My psychiatrist said something that made me pause. He told me not to be a hero. I wanted to return to a full schedule of work, and he pointed out the importance of taking time to heal.

I’ve been talking to myself a lot about what I’m experiencing. It’s a way of integrating the situation and allowing it to be what it is and then healing it. I realized I have many very great expectations of myself.

I made a decision.

I allow myself to be flawed. I allow myself to be perfectly human.

I do not need to change any more or to somehow develop and reach toward perfection. I get to be me with all my un-whole-ness.

I am living my life, and I will not apologize for my glorious humanity.

I am not perfect, and I am perfectly happy with that.