Spirituality and My Recovery

I often talk about meditation on this blog. It is one of the five pillars of my recovery.

What I have not talked about yet is spirituality. Meditation, after all, is a spiritual practice.

I get an enormous amount of good from my daily meditation. It has enabled me to develop a calm center that I can return to when my world is chaotic. (For my most recent post about mediation, click here.)

It’s easy for me to have faith that there is something more to my existence than the things I can see with my eyes. I grew up in a church and continued going for a long time. The idea of faith in a spiritual realm is not foreign to me.

My beliefs have altered greatly over my life. I no longer go to church, but I feel closer to something I call Spirit than I ever have. I get that from meditation. I have many friends in recovery from mental illness, and many of them tell me that spirituality is important to them.

Spirituality is a very personal part of each individual’s recovery. We each get to decide for ourselves what we want to include in our recovery. I find that meditation is very helpful. If you want to know more about my meditative practice, search “meditation” on the blog.

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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.

Tolerance for Ambiguity

I have a lot of difficulty right now. There is a situation at work that I’ve been working on all year. It appeared that all the pieces were in place to make it happen, and then I got word that one important piece has gone awry.

My first response in situations like this is to end it. I want the situation to be cut and dried, but that doesn’t seem to be the best response. The situation can’t go on for many days, because there are deadlines. So I’m giving it just a bit of time. I’m allowing ambiguity into the situation.

Strangely, I’m rather comfortable with this ambiguity. I am allowing there to be uncertainty, and I am choosing to walk through it. I am concentrating very specifically on only one task at a time. If I can do just one thing at a time, those one-things will line up to some kind of conclusion. I don’t know what the conclusion will be at this point, and I’m sitting in that uncertainty and allowing it to have its space.

All this is very strange for me. I’m having more reaction to the strangeness than I am to uncertainty.

I had a good session with my psychologist last night talking about this. He told me to add a phrase to “tolerance for ambiguity.” He said, “You’re tolerating the ambiguity and learning to make friends with it.” That seems key. I’m learning to make friends with not knowing.

Not knowing usually causes me great anxiety – tremendous anxiety – but I’ve been meditating a lot these past months releasing my anxiety surrounding the uncertainty in my personal life. I’ve come to a place of peace with the ambiguity there. Perhaps I can learn to live with ambiguity at work, too.

I feel the anxiety, but it’s much less than past events have caused.

A decision will be made today, because there are deadlines. One possible decision may be to give it just one more day.

I’ll deal with that ambiguity when it happens.

What We Eat

I have read a few articles recently that give evidence that what we eat directly affects our mental health. All the articles said that persons who eat more fresh fruit and vegetables are healthier mentally. Persons with a mental illness also had better results from eating healthier food. In some cases the improvement was startling.

I made a decision this week.

As regular readers know, I meditate daily. It’s vital for my overall health. It gives me a solid, calm core. My emotions still fluctuate normally, but they don’t rule me.

I like to think it’s a result of the meditation, but I began to notice many months ago that my main diet is vegetarian. I simply gravitate toward eating more vegetable meals. I got in the habit two years ago of taking a vegetarian lunch to work.

I usually have some kind of salad that I buy ready made from the grocery store. Right now, it’s quinoa salad. I also take an apple and cheese. This happened on its own. I never made a decision to eat vegetarian lunches.

Breakfast is also vegetarian. These days, I eat a meal-replacement bar that’s high in protein. Some days, it’s just toast with butter. Other days, it’s an apple.

Dinner has been a mixed bag over the past number of years. Sometimes it’s a meal; other times it’s kind of snacking on things around the kitchen like fruit and nuts.

This diet evolved. I never labeled it. I have decided to change that and give it a label. I am now consciously mostly vegetarian and will only eat meat on special occasions. I thought about being wholly vegetarian, but that just doesn’t fit me. What I have chosen feels right for me. I am happy with this decision.

It doesn’t require me to drastically change my habits, but it does make me change the way I think. I have to be honest. After making the decision, I had some anxiety wondering what I’d done. Thankfully, personal decisions can be changed. I reserve that right. I’m going to try this for now and see how it goes.

I’m going to be adding more things to my diet like tofu and beans. I’m also looking forward to learning about new ways to live a new way.

As an aside, I found a bakery not far from where I live that just bakes bread. Really good bread. I went there for the first time yesterday, and I had two thick slices of luscious bread covered with good Irish butter at dinner last night. I’ve added a slice of bread to my lunch today.

Self-Care

When we find ourselves in difficult times, it is necessary to nurture ourselves. It is more than necessary. It is vital.

Let’s try to do things that are truly nurturing. If you’re feeling down due to any reason, you may think that buying a bunch of new clothes will cheer you up, and for a few brief moments, you’re correct. You’ll be happy with your new clothes, but it will fade. A shopping spree is not nurturing in the long run.

What kinds of things will help us feel better longer? That is an excellent question, and it’s one I struggle to answer.

Let me share what works for me.

I like to read, so often times when I feel low, I will take an old book off the shelf that I know I like, I will open it to a random page and just read. I may make myself a cup of tea to enjoy, too.

I also meditate. There was one day last month that I was feeling a lot of anxiety. I was able to take the day off, and I spent it at home alone. I meditated four times that day. It was very refreshing, and it helped me soothe my anxiety. It worked. I felt better. (For one way to meditate, click here.)

I had anxiety last week, and I searched for anxiety-relieving music on YouTube. I found a lot, and I listened to some. It worked. It really did. Try searching for it and see what you find.

Here are some ideas for nurturing yourself:

Take a walk in a park. Sit in a park. Sit in the sunshine. Study the stars in the night sky. Study the moon. Spend time with your pet. Ask a friend who has a pet to let you spend time with it. Listen to soothing music. Play soothing music on an instrument. Read a story. Go to the library and spend time in the children’s section reading books. Read a book to a child at the library. Meditate. Try a guided meditation on YouTube. Draw a picture of a pretty scene. Make a collage of pretty scenes from pictures in magazines.

The ideas are endless. I think the focus should be on nurturing.

What will nurture your heart? Do that. Do as much as you possibly can.

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.

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.]