Thursday, March 16, 2017

Abandon hope. I frowned, flipping back to the front cover of my book. Yep, I was smack dab in
the middle of my daily Buddhist meditation reader. I reread the first line of the entry again.
Abandon hope. What the...WHAT?!?! Could Pema Chodron--admired, wise and renowned
Buddhist nun--possibly be suggesting that I give up hope as a way of achieving peace? As I
read on, the answer was clear. Yes. Yes, she was.

The Other Side of Fear

Chodron writes that hope and fear “is a feeling with two sides.” Regardless of which side we find
ourselves, we are always looking to change what IS. We strive to end pain, or find an answer, to
distract ourselves or improve our circumstances. Whether we choose hope or fear, we are
effectively avoiding the Now, attempting to circumvent our discomfort or transform our
experience into something “better” or “different.” Chodron posits that abandoning hope is “an
affirmation, the beginning of the beginning.” If we can step away from the traditional
Judeo-Christian interpretations of hope that permeate Western living, we can realize that both
hope and fear come from a feeling of lack, that we are missing something, that the Now is not
perfect in itself, even in its uneasiness, its imperfection, its hurt. Only by leaning into our real
experience in the Now can we learn our limitlessness, our tenderness, our ability to embrace
another with true compassion. “Hope robs us of the present moment,” Chodron writes. With
courage and practice, we can learn to let go of hope and fully lean in to what is, and all that this
moment has to teach us.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The False Gains of Co-dependency

Co-dependency, with all its negative connotations, also brings benefits that make these behaviors difficult to surrender. For the “enabler” (the person who ‘does’ for the other what the other could/should do for themselves), care taking is often appreciated by others, and even society affirms people who sacrifice to meet the needs of others. For the individual who is being enabled, it can feel nurturing to have someone willing to rescue or “fix” things to ensure a desired outcome. These benefits make it challenging for clients to see how leaving behind co-dependent behaviors can improve their well-being and relationships. Educating clients about the role and importance of functioning can be a way to understand why a more egalitarian dynamic is desirable. For the enabler, giving up their over-functioning behaviors can provide the client with energy to devote to more fulfilling endeavors, and can offer a sense of relief from the constant sense of over-responsibility that plagues the enabler’s life. In turn, the person being enabled can discover their own unique competencies when they decide to stop under-functioning and take charge of his own life and the outcomes of his choices. Steering his own course can be an affirming and esteem-building path that results in heightened competency and more positive self-image.

Change is scary, and adopting unfamiliar ways of relating and coping comes with the fear of the unknown. But growth, strength and resilience will replace skewed functioning and unequal power dynamics. Healthy inter-dependency is the truest path to real intimacy, equality and connection.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

I now know what it feels like to be truly “unplugged.” For the entire week of our Caribbean
cruise, I was unable to access the Internet or send or receive emails or texts. I couldn't scan
Facebook or Pinterest. I couldn't even confirm the balance in my checking account through my
bank’s app. The cruise line did offer a costly Wi-fi package, but we decided to spend our money
on our onshore excursions instead. I let my phone die, shoved it to the bottom of my suitcase,
and proceeded to be fully present to my long-anticipated vacation.

As the days wore on, I noticed a loosening of my shoulder muscles, my jaw relaxing. I spent
time waiting in lines for dinner, a drink or my shore tour to start talking with my fellow
vacationers. Instead of checking my phone, I watched the waves foam against the sand and
tracked the flight of a flock of cormorants that followed us into port. I noticed the subtle
differences of the light playing on the ocean at dusk, beneath cloudy skies, when the moon was
rising. I woke up each morning and ended each night without updating my Facebook status or
keeping current on emails. I'm hardly a slave to technology, but within 24 hours of being
“phone-free”, my mind was quieter, my pace slower, my breathing deeper. No doubt being on
vacation brought me a renewed sense of calm and peace. But being completely inaccessible to
the connectivity that is everpresent in our modern world provided my with a freedom and
lightness I've not experienced in many years. I'm hoping to challenge myself in my daily life to
take “breaks” from my internet connections on a more regular basis. Vacations aren't the only
times I could benefit from being more present. And both my body and my mind benefit when I
allow myself to turn off, step away and disconnect from blinking cursors and pinging texts.
Perhaps I can find inspiration and relaxation not only in a tropical vista, but in my own backyard.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sober Living

Abstinence is NOT sobriety. Abstaining from drugs, alcohol or an addictive process like
gambling or sex is the beginning stage of recovery, the foundation to living a sober lifestyle.
Sobriety is the long, challenging, but rewarding journey of living a life of integrity, service to
others, spiritual development and accountability. Many addicts can have periods of being
“clean”, and can fall into the trap of false hope that they ca n stay clean by simply resisting the
urge to use. But treatment specialists know that, time and again, addicts will fall back into their
addiction if they are not learning, practicing and living by the tenets of a sober life. Alcoholics
Anonymous (AA) and many other 12-step groups provide a structure, a community, for addicts
to learn the life skills and develop the spiritual foundation to help them sustain their abstinence
and develop a healthy, truly sober way of living. Being sober includes fostering respectful
relationships, being transparent and honest in what we say and do, and shedding the
self-centeredness that marks the addict’s movement through the world. Only through sobriety
can addicts hope to connect with others, with their Higher Power, and find the strength to make
using truly a part of their past, and not a constant threat to their present. Abstinence allows us to
put on the running shoes, but sobriety gives us the strength, faith and hope to finish the race.

Friday, January 20, 2017

From the Inside Out

We all want to be liked. Having friends, getting positive feedback, knowing people enjoy our company feels ​good. We gain a sense of esteem and value from others’ appreciation of our talents and presence. Many clients have told me that the flattering opinions of others helps them feel they matter. Unfortunately, relying on others to “fill us up” leaves us vulnerable to becoming an empty vessel. We can't guarantee that we will always hear accolades from “adoring fans”, but we can be assured that our ​own voices are constantly available to us. 

The loudest critic resides in our minds. Whenever someone else rejects or dismisses us, it's our own
​self-regard that tells us to disregard that feedback, or to clutch it in a death grip. If a part of us is already doubting that we are smart, or talented, or powerful, we will seize on others’ criticism and begin to give it weight. We are unable to embrace criticism that we don't suspect could be true. To counter these emotional threats, we must practice providing ourselves with the positive scripts that celebrate our successes and note our gifts. We have the most powerful cheerleader within us at every moment. When we can build our inner resilience and confidence by recognizing our own worth, the voices outside become less relevant. Our value becomes an inherent part of us, unassailable by the messages from the world, and we are “filled” to overflowing. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

ME Time -- the second 50 years

“I have enjoyed greatly the second blooming...suddenly you find -- at the age of 50, say -- that a
whole new life has opened up before you.” - Agatha Christie

My family is taking every opportunity to remind me that I will soon be turning “the big 5-0.” We
pass a speed limit sign: “Mom, even the sign is warning you that you're going to be 50!” My wife
filled out an AARP application in my name. And asked if I had earned the senior discount at the
movie theatre. I don't mind (much), though, because I'm continuously reminding THEM, that,
come February 9th, they and their needs are going to have to get in the back seat, because life
will be ALL ABOUT ME.

Mine, All Mine

For as long as I can remember, I've told myself that, when I turn 50, I'll have truly earned the
right to call my life fully mine. I have no idea why I chose such an arbitrary number, and not 30,
or 45, or even 15. Indeed, I support clients in owning their lives fully and authentically from the
moment we begin work together, and I wholeheartedly believe we all have a right to live by our
own truth and vision of who we are and what we want. Perhaps it's being raised in a more
traditional family, where the women were expected to be -- and enjoyed -- caretaking their
families. Maybe it's my “nurturer”personality -- for years, I didn't sit down, eat, or wrangle the
rights to the remote control until everyone else had their turns. And I don't regret the decades of
putting others’ needs first. I gained fulfillment, purpose and a sense of achievement knowing my
efforts helped my family members feel cared for, supported, and celebrated. But now it's MY
time. Whether it's a nap in the middle of the day, or saying “not interested” to an invitation, I've
given myself permission to do what I want, when I want. My family is used to hearing my
opinions, and they would be surprised if I suddenly censored myself when it comes to claiming
my values or beliefs. But I'm not entirely sure how any of us will react when, for the first time, I
push myself to set my needs squarely before theirs. They tell me I should have done this years
ago, that I never needed a particular birthday to dawn in order to assume the universal right to
meet my own needs. And as much as I am anticipating saying “I'm not doing that because I
don't want to,” I wonder if I'll hesitate when my choice impacts the comfort or preference of
someone else. What I do know is that I'm excited to find out. I'm pretty sure that this blooming is
going to be FABULOUS.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Recovery celebrates the gains people will experience when they let go of their addiction.
Improved health, restored dignity, healed relationships -- the gifts of recovery are innumerable,
and each day of abstinence brings even more peace and possibility to the addict’s life. Rarely,
though, do we acknowledge that recovery is marked as well by deep and profound loss.

Hidden Losses
Clients in recovery must say goodbye to habits, places and people that may have been the most
important parts of their lives for years, even decades. Many report that their drug of choice was
their “best friend”, the only constant source of support and relief they may have felt they had.
They can no longer spend time in the places they frequented when they were using; their using
crowd can no longer be the folks they count as their closest intimates. Even letting go of the
routines that accompanied their addiction -- the sound of the lighter against their cigarette, the
ritual of sharing drugs that accompanied most social gatherings -- are losses that may haunt
recovering addicts for months, even years. Despite the countless benefits people will
experience from choosing abstinence, their sadness and grief is as real and valid. Allowing
recovering addicts to own, feel and speak about their losses communicates an understanding
that change, no matter how positive, is always accompanied by e ndings. In this new beginning
of sobriety, people need to know that they have the right to grieve what they are leaving behind.
Despite the “friend” of addiction being an eventual killer, addicts often feel wistful about this
necessary cutoff. Embracing recovery means bidding farewell to meaningful touchstones of the
past, in order to enjoy the promises of a sober future.