Friday, September 25, 2015

Change, Change, Change

The only constant in life is change. -- unknown

Change is the law of life. -- John F. Kennedy 

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. -- Serenity prayer, regularly used by 12-Step groups 

Change makes me uncomfortable. Like many people, I function best with consistency, predictability and routine. I like to know what to expect, and love both creating my daily to-do lists and the satisfaction of crossing off duties when they're finished. But after almost five decades on the planet, I'm wise enough to know that change finds all of us, constantly, no matter how hard we try to outrun it. We can't know for sure what the future will bring, who will still be walking alongside us a year from now, what careers or partners our children will choose.  Still, despite all that is unknown and uncertain, I find reminders of the certainties that pervade my world--the birch tree on the corner that begins to flame red each September, the vibrant pink peonies that burst from our backyard bush for a scant two weeks in early summer. The sun's predictable slant through my bedroom window each afternoon, and the mint that grows wild through our garden each spring, intoxicating the entire courtyard with its refreshing scent. Annual school supply lists, prom season, holiday traditions. Then there are the less pleasant repeats -- the Christmas decorations that appear in stores before Halloween, quarterly tax bills, twice-yearly dental visits. Whether we anticipate these rituals with excitement or anxiety, we are reminded that patterns that make up our lives, loops of sameness, then difference, newness and consistency. As changing as the ocean waves, as predictable as the tides. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Process Addictions -- Beyond Drugs and Alcohol

Process addictions, like compulsive gambling, sexual behavior, shopping, are similar to addictions to substances in the way they affect the brain. But unlike abstinence from substances, some  triggers to process addictions can be difficult to avoid. Human beings have a need for food and for sex. We need to purchase groceries and clothing. How can individuals find sobriety when the same behaviors that we need to survive are possible pitfalls into the spiral of addiction?

Compulsion Drives Addiction 
Alavi, Ferdosi, et al. wrote that "when a habit becomes an obligation, it can be considered an addiction." Indeed, any behaviors that are stimulating to the brain and body have the capacity to become an addiction. Process addicts struggle with restraining from engaging in these behaviors and activities, failing to maintain a balanced relationship with these actions. Treatment for process addictions does not differ widely from substance abuse treatment. Twelve Step programs, such as Gamblers Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous, are useful supports to help process addicts gain a sense of community, education and accountability that can lead to sobriety. Medications that treat impulsivity, anxiety and compulsive thoughts can be useful in the treatment process. Holistic endeavors like mindfulness training, meditation and yoga can help addicts learn to regulate their emotional and physical states to loosen addiction's grip on their sanity. Understanding the true and devastating price of all addictions can encourage more compassion for the addict, more interest in funding research into addiction treatment, and help develop effective prevention programs that can curtail addictive behavior before it takes root. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Creating Meaning Through Ritual

Ritual is necessary for us to know anything. - Ken Kesey

At my best friend's wedding, I was able to anticipate the various components of the ceremony. Because we are familiar with the components that make up a wedding service, we can expect to see the bride walk down the aisle, an exchange of rings, an officiant ready to bless the union. We can smell the floral bouquets the attendants carry, and hear the vows the couple speak. We know what a wedding is because we have seen them happen in film, on TV, and in our own lives. We know what happens next because the ritual of marriage remains more or less the same as we move through time.

The Comfort of Ritual 

Rituals bring meaning and perspective to our lives. They help us create a sense of continuity, of purpose, to and between experiences. Rituals give us something to lean on, to mark time, to commemorate. Rituals bring us together, providing a common language with which to connect and understand our experiences and each other. Rituals provide predictability, a sense of sameness that can make us feel secure in uncertain times. Because we often look forward to the consistency that comes with pleasant rituals, whether it's the cake and presents at the end of a birthday party, or capping the Christmas tree with a generations-old gilded star, our joy can be heightened and shared. Even rituals that mark somber occasions, like the procession of pall bearers at a funeral, can bring us a sense of our united humanity. Rituals remind us that we are in this together, that the journey of life is made more poignant, more powerful, by the rites by which we mark it.