Friday, July 1, 2022

Releasing Self-Righteousness

 If a person in recovery is fortunate, lives long enough, and searches diligently and deeply for 'causes and conditions', answers begin to come. Answers to the questions, "What is it going to take for me to begin to really enjoy life? What's it going to take for me to stop sabotaging myself, even in recovery? What's it going to take for me to stop hating myself, much less like, or even love, myself?" One such answer came to me this evening. It is probably not THE answer, but it's a big one. I ran across a quote in my Facebook feed from Roland Bal, who treats PTSD and C-PTSD, and whom I follow. It is this: "Self-righteousness is an outcome of uncontained and unresolved anger. Think opposites; when you are made to feel small, you want to feel significant." 

Reading that statement opened a door for me. You see, I engage in a whole lot of self-righteous, judgmental thinking. Now, I very rarely expose myself by actually saying what I think when I'm in that mode - I also have huge people-pleasing tendencies, and I don't think that people-pleasing and self-righteousness mix well together. Additionally, I loathe self-righteous people (which is a bit ironic). But I also still loathe myself a lot of the time, especially lately, when this type of thinking in which I'm engaging bothers me. It bothers me, but I'm not very skillful yet at stopping it or letting it go. I do recognize that I've nothing to be self-righteous about. I am a very far cry from being a pure and perfect human being. But the fact remains, on occasion...well, on many occasions...I think I'm smarter than and better than most folks. And this happens a lot at work, and it happens off and on at home (my current home, living with 10 young men). 

In the Recovery Dharma program, compassion is big. Practicing compassion is emphasized - both compassion with others, and compassion with ourselves. Additionally, as a trained and certified (but not currently working as) Peer Support Specialist, I am supposed to practice compassion and empathy and be non-judgmental. And the weird thing, maybe, is that I do practice compassion, and I am empathetic and non-judgmental. When I sit down with another person and have a real conversation about recovery or life or whatever, I set my intention to be that compassionate person, and I am. And I don't judge those whom I've gotten to know through this process. So, if I have the capacity and the skill for compassion and empathy, why does my mind flip at times to self-righteousness and judgmental-ism? 

The answer is in the above quote: "...when [I am] made to feel small, [I] want to feel significant."

This is obviously an issue of self-esteem and self-worth, and I know I'm not alone. In the book Alcoholics Anonymous, co-founder Bill Wilson writes in his own story, "...Twenty-two, and a veteran of foreign wars, I went home at last. I fancied myself a leader, for had not the men of my battery given me a special token of appreciation? My talent for leadership, I imagined, would place me at the head of vast enterprises which I would manage with the utmost assurance. I took a night law course, and obtained employment as investigator for a surety company. The drive for success was on. I'd prove to the world I was important [emphasis added]." (Alcoholics Anonymous, AA World Services, 4th ed, pp. 1-2) Now I had read Bill's Story numerous times over the years, and I missed the line, "I'd prove to the world I was important." When it finally hit me, it occurred to me that a person with normal self-worth and normal self-esteem doesn't need to prove to anybody that they're important. And Bill felt this way at the beginning of his alcoholic journey, before his mind had been warped and he'd been beaten down by the disease.

I'd heard often in meetings that alcoholics are egomaniacs with inferiority complexes, and it certainly seems to agree with Bill's statement. In the last few years of various treatment modalities, I've learned that alcoholics and addicts take on some of the traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This isn't to say that all alcoholics have this disorder, but that a number of the traits that those with the disorder have are developed during the course of a person's addiction, such as, "I know better than you (or anybody)" and "I can do whatever I want." 

The AA way is to classify this egomania combined with feelings of inferiority as a character defect or shortcoming, and ask God to remove it. That actually never worked for me.

I assert that Bill Wilson's desire to prove he was important developed long before he ever took his first drink of alcohol. Roland Bal's statement suggests that when I am made to feel small, I want to feel significant - the opposite of small. When I am unheard, I desire to be heard. When I am made to feel stupid, or useless, or less-than (not good enough), I desire to feel smart, useful, or better than good enough. I'm not an egomaniac. I think egomaniacs have ambition, something I've never seemed to have a lot of. Or maybe will, or drive. I do remember wanting to show the 'peers' (I use that term really loosely here) with whom I attended high school that I was something, and often got on the path to do just that. But I could never stay on the path. I always, always, always failed. Every single time. Some people become great successes, yet still feel inferior at their core - for no good reason. I had reason. I was inferior.

So, over the years, I retained my better-than-thou attitude because having it made me feel superior, or significant. But, just like the alcohol, and the substances, and the behaviors that made me feel good, my attitude could never sustain how I really felt, what I really believed about myself - that I was less-than, and defective, and really undeserving of anything good. For the longest time, I wasn't even lovable; if somebody did love me, they were either crazy, or I had fooled them into loving me. That love was never sustainable.

But I digress. The fact is that I had developed a habit of thinking, an attitude, in which the world and most of its inhabitants were really quite shitty, and unsuitable for me. So even when I got something nice, like a shiny new car, or a shiny new job, or a shiny new girlfriend, eventually my overall attitude would color the the new thing or person, and it wasn't good enough any more. And I'd leave. Or drink. Or attempt suicide. Or all of the above, it did not matter, I would fuck. it. up.

I had a new job once and a friend asked me how I liked it, and I said, "It's great! I really like everybody there!" And they replied, "Don't worry, that'll pass." Yep.

This evening, after I read that quote, memories came up of a lot of the times growing up that others, usually authority figures, made me feel small. Or, to put it more accurately, I erroneously believed the demeaning words and actions of some people. But, when a five or six-year-old child is told by their 1st grade teacher to stand in a corner and stay there, and "don't turn around because nobody wants to see your face," that child, who is supposed to respect his teachers and believe what they say, might have a tendency to believe that teacher. To this day I have no idea or recollection of what I did wrong. But I knew I was bad. And what happened with me was I began to look at almost everybody as better and/or bigger than me. I was small.

So what happens at work, or at home (living with 10 young men), that triggers this 'small' feeling, to which I respond with thoughts of judgment? I can truthfully say that it's all internal, not external. Nobody has talked down to me, or done anything purposely to make me feel small for a very long time. It's the fear of being judged 'not good enough' that I carry with me. It's the fear of people that I don't know well and that are 'different' from me that I carry. There's the opportunity to be judged at work, because I'm not perfect at my job. There's the opportunity to be judged at home, because even though we're peers in addiction, I'm different because I'm old (and probably old-fashioned). I've got some nice things going now, but I need to be wary because things always change for the worse. That idea right there is the underlying belief, and the key to becoming a professional self-saboteur.

I like signs of progress, and I experienced some progress the other day. A person at work who handles pricing and making price tags (we must have a million) called me up to their office. I had set up some displays the day previous, and did not make any signage for prices or product description. They let me know in no uncertain terms that that can't happen, and that if I need assistance in making the signage, they'd help. Now, the person telling me this did this in a manner that was pretty stern, and very understandable to me. The progress I made was I accepted that I had screwed up, this person was letting me know, very firmly, how to avoid screwing up again. I did not take this personally, like "I'm a bad person." (In fact, come to think of it, if my thinking had gone that way, the better and more accurate version would have been, "I'm a bad worker). I left that encounter examining what I was thinking and feeling, and it was all ok. I screwed up, they let me know. It happens. I like when things like this happen - I can respond in a rational way. I know I can do it!

What can I do about this habitual, downward spiral thinking of mine that causes me suffering? I've already started with the first thing: objective self-examination/reflection. The next is to share this with someone, such as my mentor. 

Then I would probably visit my inner child, the 5 year-old me, or the 11 year-old me, or the 19 year-old me, in meditation and say something like this: "I am sorry you are hurt. You do not deserve to be hurt. When adults speak to you in a demeaning way, a way that makes you feel small, it is not you. It is not your fault - adults have no business talking down to a child, and those that do have their own issues inside that they haven't dealt with. They really know no better, and it is not your fault. You are a worthy person simply because You Are. When your peers make fun of you, and make you feel 'not good enough', know that this, too, is done out of their own ignorance, and their own issues. People who feel good about who they are don't put others down. Please know that you are loved, that you are a valuable and worthwhile person. Please know that your life is valuable. Please know that for every person you meet that puts you down, you will meet 100 others who will lift you up. You are not a burden to anybody, and you are so much more than 'enough'." Something like that. 

Then there is journaling. Actual journaling, not just this blog. And forgiveness - me first. I will forgive myself for believing the lies with which I grew up for so so long into my adulthood. I will forgive myself for the harm I caused myself and others through acting on my erroneous beliefs. And I will forgive those that I believe hurt me. I will begin practicing understanding and compassion when I think of these people. I will send  metta to every one of them.

And I will consciously practice gratitude for every person in my life. I will practice seeing the best in them. In doing so, I will eliminate the cognitive dissonance I experience and the self-loathing I feel from desiring to be a kind, loving, compassionate person while thinking like a self-righteous twit. I will open myself to even greater connection with others and begin to recognize the worth of us all.

So that's the plan. In my last post, I wrote about recognizing and developing personal power. A person who feels small and insignificant does not feel much personal power, if any. The better a person feels about themself, the more personal power they have to direct their lives in a way that is beneficial not only to the person but to those whose lives they touch. That is my desire - to live in such a way that benefits humankind and eases the suffering of others.

And we'll see where that goes.

Namasté,

Ken

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Personal Power

I have been practicing more exercise and improved eating habits over the past 2 months. I have lost 20 lbs, and am at a weight that I haven't seen in a healthy way in 25 years or more. Did I just wake up one day and decide I needed to lose 20 lbs? No! I've been wanting to lose weight and trying different strategies the whole time. I am not comfortable being overweight. I was so overweight at one time that I couldn't tie my shoes without getting short of breath. I didn't like the way I looked when I was overweight. Other people couldn't necessarily tell, but I could every time I took a shower.

So imagine taking a shower (almost) every day and looking at myself and saying to myself, "I've got to lose weight. Why can't I lose weight? Today, I won't eat any sugar." And then, sure enough, when I'd arrive at work, it'd be somebody's birthday, and they'd brought in a couple dozen donuts. And there went my resolve. What do you suppose happens to a person's self-esteem, self-worth, and self-trust if they, day after day, resolve to do something good for themselves, and then fail to do it? If I had a friend who promised to do something with me every day, and who continually failed to make good on his promise, I wouldn't have that friend anymore. 

So what happened a couple of months ago? I had gotten a new Primary Care Provider after my previous one passed away (that's a little ominous). I had gone to see her because I've been experiencing some problems in the abdominal area since about December of last year, and that's a long time for me to experience these problems. So she got me signed up for tests and such, and looked at my last labwork, and asked, "How long have you been pre-diabetic?" And I told her about 15 years at least. And she gave me a list of things to give up in order to get my symptoms under control.

Now my new care provider is thorough, intelligent, and a good listener. But I've had a few good medical providers in my life - none of them ever convinced me to do anything. And neither did this one.

I think it's a combination of things that got me committed to my weight loss. The persistent abdominal stuff was concerning to me, because of the very real possibility of certain diseases that I'd rather not have. For instance, my pancreas (which produces insulin) is probably my weakest organ. I've had episodes of hypoglycemia throughout my life, and I know that pouring alcohol on top of a pancreas is not the healthiest thing to do. Also, I'm nearing the completion of my 59th trip around the sun, and I know that as I age, my body does not seem to repair itself as efficiently as it used to. So part of my personal power comes from a growing practicality.

But if practicality were all it took for me to make good life choices, my history would look a lot different! So there's more to it. 

Let's take a look at what I've done to get down to a comfortable weight: The very most important thing that I did was to give up my latest comfort snack. I used to, on a daily basis, eat a large peanut butter and Nutella burrito. I can't describe how good that was. It was wonderful. But it's also loaded with sugar and fats. (By the way, alcohol is a sugar, too - I'm sure that glucose affects me in a similar way that alcohol affects me). I'm pretty sure one of the abdominal attacks I experienced was a gall bladder attack, which can come from eating too much fatty food. Ok, so give up the sugar - that's like an instant 5 pounds right there. But I also committed to becoming more consistent with my exercise. How many times have I been out of breath while bicycling up a hill and cursing my fat ass? But really what I committed to was giving up the comfort that came with the unhealthy way I was eating. 

As you might know, I've been practicing meditation consistently for a little over a year now. There's that word 'consistently' again! The only thing I used to do consistently was give up. When I first started, I know I did it every day for 90 days, and it was possibly 12o days. Either way, that was a miracle - it was the first time in my life that I had done something good, something healthy for myself on a regular basis that nobody else saw or cared about. And I continue that practice today (not always daily, but still regularly and consistently). Well, part of meditation is learning to sit with discomfort, because discomfort doesn't cause problems in my life. What causes suffering for me is my aversion to discomfort. I have learned, over the past year, that anything I feel is temporary - if I accept it for what it is and let it go. This has been very helpful to me.

So I began to look at this whole weight thing as an opportunity to practice sitting with discomfort, because I knew if I let go of my comfort foods (and there are quite a few more than those yummy burritos), I'd be experiencing discomfort. And the really cool thing is that I don't have to dive back into my past to figure out what 'causes' me to overeat, or eat for comfort rather than energy and nutrition. If I'm willing to sit with the discomfort of giving up a comforting habit (but one that ultimately causes suffering), then whatever I need to learn about its origins will come to me. As it turns out, food is just one of the things I've used to deal with anxiety and insecurity. 

The real miracle of this thing, and why this is so important, is that I've been able to move toward healthy eating and away from comfort eating over the past two months while working my job, which arouses my insecurities and anxieties. And I work in a grocery store. I work in the dairy department which, in this instance, is surrounded by the bakery, the liquor department, the ice cream freezers, and the pharmacy. I work right in the most addictive part of the store. 

So, somewhere along the line, my personal real well-being began to take precedence over my immediate feelings. But this whole using substances and behaviors (outside things) to change the way I felt inside is something I've known about since I was a teenager, and a part of me also knew it wasn't the way to go. Deep down, for probably my whole life, or at least since I was an adolescent, I've wanted to learn how to change and live from the inside out rather than the other way around. It's just that I was so afraid of the way I felt - I identified so closely with my feelings - that I was, for the most part, unwilling to let go and see what would happen if I stopped medicating the way I felt. I was afraid that my emotions and feelings would crush me. Alcohol was about the only thing I was willing to give up - until now.

Obviously I've been pondering this thing for a couple of months. How is this so relatively easy? And it's not that I made one decision and stuck with it. Believe me, I make many decisions to choose health and facing my anxiety and insecurities every day, and I'm successful about 90% of the time. Part of it is that I've started to care for myself - I mean, I'm really getting to know and like myself. And as such, I feel less compelled to do things that I know are potentially harmful to me. Part of it is that I am really learning to see things - life - with a clearer perspective. Life is constantly changing - nothing is permanent (except maybe change). So if nothing is permanent, I don't have to cling, to anything. In fact, since nothing is permanent, my clinging or attachment to past events (and everything is a past event) will cause suffering. So I learn to let go, and if someone was an asshole to me yesterday, well, today's a different day and maybe they're different, too. Or maybe I'm more compassionate and forgiving today - who knows? 

The very biggest thing that I've gotten from this experience is that I like myself better today than I did 2 months ago (but at least I liked myself enough to go to the doctor!). The reason I like myself better is that I'm not lying to myself as much - I'm not looking in the mirror and making promises I know I'm not going to keep. 

Success breeds success, so my next venture is to give up nicotine, which I've used for most of 46 years. I've already started. I feel good about this - I been doing this for a couple of days, and I notice I get little cravings - a little more than thoughts, but not like huge, I'm going to die if I don't get some chew (smokeless tobacco) cravings. A little thought, a little craving, is relatively easy to let go of. I get little thoughts about everything all day long, and the difference now is that I don't hang onto them as long (for the most part) and allow them to turn into trains of thought. It's a lot easier to let go of a thought than it is a whole train. Today I don't worry about little cravings because I know they're little more than thoughts, and thoughts contain only as much energy (or power) as I give them. What I don't feed goes away.

I'm developing personal power. Personal power is using volition and agency to better myself, to create a better existence for myself (and, by extension, those around me). 

This is a very new thing for me. I've felt personally weak my entire life. Up to this point, I have failed to accomplish so very much more than I have accomplished. 

Developing, or nurturing and cultivating, my personal power looks like this:

  • Accepting and embracing it when I notice it, rather than pushing it away simply because it's something new and entirely different;
  • Setting and enforcing boundaries - with myself and with others;
  • Recognizing core beliefs, attitudes, fears (safety nets), and habits which no longer serve me and becoming willing to let them go;
  • Letting go of attachments, especially to people who are not healthy for me;
  • Learning to listen for and heeding the still, small voice within, rather than the noise of society at large;
  • Choosing how I show up in the world based upon my own standards and ethics, rather than trying to live up to the imagined expectations of others;
  • Cultivating habits that are physically empowering, such as abstaining from addictive substances and behaviors, maintaining or improving my physical strength, and eating in a healthy way;
  • Develop self-discipline with things nobody sees - when I get up and when I sleep, meditation, prayer, exercise;
  • Practicing each day living from the inside out, meaning living from the fact that I am safe, and I already have everything I need within to enjoy this day and make it the best day ever;
  • Practice gratitude - for my recovery, for health, for my friends, for prosperity, for a place to live, for my 5 senses, for nature, etc.

 There's probably more, which we'll discover along the way. This stuff is important for me, and it's important for anybody in recovery - not only from mental health and substance use disorders, but physical diseases, too. Things happen in life that can help to make us feel weak, helpless, powerless.  The Truth is that we aren't.

This morning I once again experienced severe abdominal cramping at work. I had taken stuff for it - an anti-anxiety med, Pepto-Bismol, and was practicing breathing and re-framing my thoughts. The pain seemingly wouldn't leave (I felt helpless) and the thought came to mind that a drink of alcohol would relieve the pain. This was a serious thought, alcohol is readily available to me, and I knew for a fact that it would relieve the pain and cramping - at first. The truth is that alcohol and my stomach (nor any other organ in my body) do not get along, and any pain alleviated would be replaced later by a much greater pain. So I let that idea go, and allowed the other remedies to take effect, which they eventually did. I relate this to illustrate that sometimes stuff happens that is so painful - illness, grief, etc., - that we feel powerless over it and would do anything to alleviate our suffering. The Truth is that we are more powerful than we know, and we do not have to succumb to our weakness to alleviate discomfort, pain, and suffering. 

I think that's all for now. I hope you received something from reading this; I received something from writing it! Also, I am going to begin to write again with more frequency. I've got a boatload of topics, and many started-but-never-finished posts. I don't want to be that way anymore - that doesn't make me feel good about myself. Thank you for reading.

Namasté,

Ken

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Save a Life: Listen

 Tomorrow evening, I will be attending a viewing of the documentary "My Ascension." It chronicles the inspiring journey of Emma Benoit, a young woman from Louisiana, who survived a suicide attempt and her subsequent recovery (My Ascension). I am going primarily because I like inspiring mental health stories of hope (after all, I am one!), but also because I desire to become more involved in mental health recovery support. Previously, I had seen Kevin Hines' story (Kevin Hines); he is one of the few people who have survived jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge.

For the purposes of this post, the terms mental illness, mental health, and recovery include both mental health disorders as well as substance use disorders, because the trip toward relapse is the same - a degradation of our mental health to the point that we act out in unwise and often dangerous ways.

Talking about suicide is uncomfortable. Having a real conversation about mental illness is uncomfortable. Talking with someone about what is going on in their mind is uncomfortable. In the 1960's, there was so much stigma surrounding drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental health that it was rarely discussed - it was swept under the carpet. In the 1970's, the topics were treated with Valium and trips to the hospital for 'exhaustion'. Mental illness and mental health were not discussed, for the most part. It was a taboo topic - everybody's mental health was their own business. Mental health topics did not appear in schools.

For years and years and years, I sat with my dark thoughts about suicide and self-loathing without discussing them with anyone because I thought I was alone in thinking and feeling the way I did. Even when I was involved in alcoholism recovery programs, I felt alone; the people I listened to talked about how bad they felt while in the depths of their drinking, and how great they felt now being sober. I did not understand, because alcohol allowed me to escape the way I felt when I wasn't drinking. Today I know I wasn't alone; I only thought and felt I was. I can look back on my membership in a 12-step recovery program and recall several people who took their own lives while sober - some even after decades of sobriety. And we'd go to the funerals and say, "Ain't that a shame." I remember one comment at a funeral from another 12-step program member: "Well, at least he died sober." (wtf?)

I began sharing my story with others on a public basis several years ago because I realized it helped me. I share in this blog, I've shared in front of church groups, law enforcement groups, mental health professionals groups, and with patients on behavioral health units. I come across to people who don't know me as an average, everyday human being, fairly normal. (Nowadays, I come across to people who do know me as that way as well. Well, maybe not 'normal,' but well within acceptable limits.) So a secondary reason for sharing my story with others  developed: I want to 'normalize' mental illness and mental health. I want others who suffer to be encouraged to seek help. I want others who live with mental health disorders to be treated the same by law enforcement and medical professionals as people who live with heart disorders, diabetes, lung disorders, kidney disorders, arthritis, blood infections - in other words, I'd like people to be able to speak without shame about what is going on with them.

Sometimes I play 'what if' and I imagine what life would be like in different scenarios. Here's one: What if in school, even starting in kindergarten or elementary school, students were taught that if they feel like or think about harming themselves or another individual, that there's something going on that they need to talk with someone about? Again, in other words, what if we treated some of the signs of mental illness like we treat the signs of physical illness - "Bobby, you're bleeding all over the place; go to the school nurse." Would things begin to turn out differently if children were encouraged to talk about their 'bad' thoughts and feelings?

Listening to people share difficult thoughts, feelings, and experiences is difficult. We often want to avoid our own pain; why should we want to engage in someone else's? 

It's part of the human experience, that's why. 7 or so months ago, I made the commitment to develop real connections with other people. I didn't do it because I thought it'd be fun or because I'm a good human being; I made this commitment because it was (hopefully) the last thing I hadn't done to try to stay in recovery. I did it because I became convinced that I needed to do so to not only stay alive (survive), but to enjoy living (thrive). 

I'm a listener. I've known that for a long time. I've had people over the years feel safe talking to me about stuff they've never talked about with anyone. I didn't really like my role as a listener because it made me feel uncomfortable. Now that I have an active commitment to connect with others, I know why I didn't want to be a listener - because truly listening to another human being share their fear, their shame, their regret, their grief triggers in me my fear, shame, regret and grief. But the flip side is this: in allowing this compassionate practice (listening and sharing), I allow healing to take place within me and another. Many of us have heard, "We're only as sick as our secrets." Truth! Real hell, real suffering, is living alone with our own painful thoughts and feelings. In listening to others, and in sharing my own suffering, I allow light to shine upon that suffering, and it begins to disappear.

I live in Oxford House, which is a sober living house. I knew when I agreed to do that that I was making a big move in my life, because a good part of me didn't want to do it. I've lived with a bunch of men on a number of different throughout my life, and I prefer living alone. Living alone may be more comfortable, but it is not healthy for me. In Recovery Dharma, we learn to sit with discomfort, whether it be mental, emotional, spiritual, or physical. Sitting with my discomfort, rather than trying to avoid, escape, or change it, allows me to see it for what it is: an object of consciousness that will disappear if I let it. So I took living in Oxford House as an opportunity to learn to live with my discomfort of living with and relating to men. And it is working. 

I am the oldest resident of this house - by 30-40 years. And what I first noticed after moving in was everything that was wrong with everybody else. The second thing that I noticed was that everything that was wrong with everyone else was also wrong with me. Hmph! The third thing I began noticing was that, for the most part, everyone is fairly comfortable living with their imperfect human selves. And I began to get comfortable living with these imperfect human beings, and now I'm beginning to get comfortable living with my imperfect human self. One of the things we endeavor to do here is to support each other by wisely and compassionately talking about behaviors and things we see that might interfere with our primary goal, which is staying clean and sober. Being assertive is challenging! But in the world of addiction, ignoring another persons relapse warning signs can enable their death. So by learning to speak up in a loving way, we're saving lives.

I've also been learning since I made the connection commitment to share with someone I trust my own thoughts and feelings that are causing my suffering. I've found it helpful to develop trusting relationships with more than one person, in case the single sole solitary person in whom I trust is out at sea and can't be contacted when I need them. As I mentioned before, I've spent the majority of this life keeping my thoughts and feelings to myself, and struggling with them on my own. I don't have to do that anymore (I never did); I've had several occasions in the past few months where I gathered up the courage to share with someone I trust what is going on inside, and I can faithfully say that doing this has saved my life.

The upshot of all of this is that I don't have to be afraid of another human being's thoughts and feelings.  I can listen to them about their real experience of life, and when I do, I'm doing them a service as well as enriching my life. I know on the surface I only want 'good' things in my life, but when I avoid the 'bad' things, my life is shallow and empty. There is more to life than perfection and success. 

It is important for the person reading this to know that effective listening is non-judgmental, and it allows another person to share their thoughts and feelings without having the listener try to 'fix' them. An effective listener, if responding, can guide a person to find their own solutions to whatever is going on. Sometimes a solution isn't needed; sometimes a person just needs to be heard. Being heard compassionately is a huge factor in good mental health. It can wipe away that terrible feeling of being alone in the universe. 

I appreciate your reading this post, and I hope I've left you with some hope and things to think about, and maybe even some inspiration.

 Namasté,

Ken

Thursday, May 5, 2022

The Price of Outrage

Last week, I had an appointment with my primary care provider. During the appointment, we discussed several things that are going on with me physically, and she wrote up orders for tests. Two of the tests were a blood test and a UA, so I set up an appointment with a lab near my work to submit my samples. I had been needing to go to my provider for a while, as I've been experiencing stomach 'attacks' over the past 4 months. What was on my mind was (is) what might be going on, and there are several possibilities swirling through my head. This in itself was (is) causing me some anxiety/fear, although it wasn't really at the conscious level. It was my intellect doing all of the processing, and fear and anxiety were running subroutines in the background. 

So I make my appointment at the lab. Since the blood test required a 12 hour fast, I would have preferred an early morning appointment, but the best I could get was 11:30am, which gave me ample time to get the testing done, get something to eat, and show up at work. As I arrived for the test, I had those two things going against me - some underlying fear, and it having been about 16 hours since I last ate something.

I signed in to the testing center, and provided a urine sample. The receptionist took my insurance card, and informed me that their lab does not take my insurance. This is where the outrage began, and my thinking was, "This is stupid!" You see, even though a month or so ago I gave away all of my pet peeves, I guess I forgot one - insurance, and our country's (lack of) health care system. Let the inner rant begin! The initial reason the outrage started is because I get my insurance ultimately through the state, and there are two different companies who administer the state insurance. My company was the wrong one for this lab. Stupid! It's still the same money! And I vented my frustration at the receptionist, which was totally unskillful. I also apologized to her right away - I know what it's like when a customer gets mad at me for something completely beyond my control. The receptionist gave me another lab to go to, along with my urine sample. Fortunately, the lab was close by, and if I got in quickly, I could still make it to work. (One of the things I have to do is plan appointments and such well, as I go almost everywhere on my bike - it's not like I can hop in my imaginary car and be somewhere in 5 minutes). 

I get to the new lab - which I've actually been to before, I just can't remember when - and check in. They say they can take me in a few minutes. I looked in my backpack for my urine sample, and discovered my backpack was open and there was no urine sample inside. This gave me an opportunity for some comic relief, which helped quell the rant; however, the rant was still simmering. I'll mention here that the state of Arizona has done an exceptionally good job at taking care of my health needs, and I am cognizant of this. I'll also mention that this whole thing was a very, very minor inconvenience that did not affect me negatively at all - my mind, my perception negatively affected me.

Fortunately, all's well that ends well (almost), and I was able to reload, give my samples, and be off to work. I went to work and parked in my customary spot, walked in, and began my shift. I made a funny FB post about the experience that gave people an opportunity to laugh.

After my shift, I went out to my bicycle, and found that I had left it unlocked (probably because my mind was still ranting). I also discovered my first urine sample in one of my panniers (saddle bag). I must have put it in there after the first lab, and not even remembered I'd done it.

So the price of my outrage was embarrassment, I ruined my serenity, and I could have freely given my bike to any dishonest person who happened to walk by during my 8 hour shift.

Being in recovery, I cannot afford such outrage and inner ranting. It doesn't matter one bit whether I am wrong or I am right about the object of my anger; the point is that my frustration and anger can snowball, and, through some weird quirk in my mind, I will turn it all around and direct it toward myself. I will use it as a tool against myself. In that moment, there was nothing I could do about my insurance or about the state of healthcare in this country. In that moment, it was not my battle to fight. And this knowledge swirled in my head right along with my 'righteous' anger, but the anger was winning - for awhile. Fortunately, creating a humorous FB post about the episode and talking about it with some folks at work helped me let go of the anger and return to a more serene state of mind. 

I want to mention here that being sensitive to outrage, anger, and conflict does not mean I can never be a voice for change without putting my recovery in peril; it's quite the opposite, actually. Because I must not dabble in outrage at anything, right or wrong, I must learn how to express my views in a calm, effective, persuasive manner. If I want to be part of a reform movement, I'm much better off being the person who approaches things with rationality and compassion.

I am grateful for this episode, because it reminds me of how quickly my mind can take a minor incident (and sometimes even an incorrect assumption) and run with it to hell. It reminds me that I have to be vigilant with my thinking, and that no matter what is going on around me, my focus must be on acceptance with life the way it is in this moment. Having a consistent mindfulness meditation practice has helped me immensely in bringing my mind back to center, and I am grateful for the growing ability to get back to sanity whenever I go off the rails.

Namasté,

Ken

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

A Part of Me (Sarah Blondin)

I was presented with this meditation experience last year some time, and was profoundly moved by it, so much so that I wanted to share it on my blog. I listened again this morning, and again was profoundly moved. This meditation is by Sarah Blondin, and is titled, "Healing Through Letting Go." Sarah's meditations, insights, and courses can be found on the app called Insight Timer, and can be accessed without charge (the meditations, anyway). 

The following is a transcription of Sarah Blondin's "Eyes Wide Open":

A part of me wants to keep my eyes closed, and pull the covers over my head - block out the light trying to be turned on in my room.

A part of me wants to stay right where I am, and wants not anyone, or anything, to jostle me, ask me questions, push me forward.

A part of me wants to hide in my anger and fear, in my stale beliefs, with my pointing fingers, my victimhood, my righteousness, and wants to defend why life is not easy.

A part of me wants to tell the world I have been hurt too many times to move ahead.

A part of me wants to justify how my pain has left me frozen, petrified, and unable to let go.

A part of me is so afraid to look at what is hurting me, that it would rather escape, than face it.

A part of me is so afraid to open my eyes because the very nature of waking up is to be aware, to be accountable, to be responsible for the healing of my life, and knows I will need to take on the task of loving myself until full.

A part of me is so afraid to look and to see because it knows the fingers I have been pointing will be pointing back at me, the angry eyes I have been looking out at the world with are my eyes, my responsibility.

A part of me knows that when caught in anger and pain, I will have to ask myself, "Is this really worth my misery? Is the price I am paying worth my One Precious Life?"

A part of me is afraid to see because it knows that in seeing, I will be asked to let go, and that in letting go I will be asked to be reborn, and that in being reborn, I will have to uncover Who I Truly Am.

A part of me knows that once I begin to see, I will never be able to unsee again; that in waking, I will begin the sometimes scary process of perpetually moving forward, the process of stretching and growing, and then stretching and growing again.

But another Part of Me knows in every ounce and inch of its being that I am serving no one, not one single life by staying asleep.

A Part of Me is beckoning me to move up and out from all of the places of ungrowth, the dark rooms of stagnant air.

A part of me is being propelled up and out into this Great Wilderness and asking to discover the power hidden in the creases of My skin, resting on the tips of My eyelashes, traveling in the veins that surge through Me.

A part of Me is not afraid to look Who longs to see, Who longs to live in My Freedom, Who is calling me into the wide expanse of My Being.

A Part of Me knows of My Source, knows of My Magnitude, knows of My Duty, My Call, to stop choosing to stay asleep; to follow my pain until I realize there is nothing more for me to do with it but lay it down.

A part of Me knows this, and calls to me in all of my discontent, and gently shows me signs of Life on the other side; shows me the Gift of rising up and out from the bed I have made on the ground.

Close your eyes now (meditation)

Arrive in your body; notice your arms, your legs, your ankles, your feet. Breathe deeply, and feel it between your shoulder blades. Arrive here with Yourself. 

Can you hear the small voice inside of you, that has been telling you there is more to this Life than what you have been choosing?

Can you hear the small voice inside of you, that has been gently guiding you to your Heart all along?

Can you hear the small voice inside that is telling you, "When you are ready, you are welcome to join Me in the Truth of Your Great Beauty?"

It is here, if you listen closely. 

Behind the dense hurt and bondage lives another Part of You, standing tall, feet strongly planted in the earth, palms turned to face the sky, earth rejoicing around Its Feet, Heart loud, clear, resolute; Eyes wide open.

There, inside of you, a wondrous Part of You is calling you to step into the land of Your great, unbounding Potential, Freedom, and Abundance. 

Any change or Forgiveness you have experienced in your life was not because someone else made you let go; it was because You chose to. The Power is Yours. The Choice is Yours.

Do not worry yourself too much with how to Live from this Self; do not worry yourself too much with how to release your pain; do not worry yourself with the practical side of this, for there is an Intelligence Living within You that has guided you to this very moment, hearing these very words.

It is helping us open our eyes, and is guiding us here always - to this Heart, to our Wholeness. Guidance comes in many forms and faces. 

So do not worry yourself too much with how You will ultimately arrive at Your Freedom, for it is the work of magic and miracle. 

All you must worry yourself with is listening intently for the part of You that is not interested in staying in suffering any longer. 

All you must worry yourself with, Dear One, is listening intently for the part of You that already knows what you must do to arrive at the door of Your Awakening. 

You are longing to be more Alive, You are longing to be fully present to Your One Precious Life. You are not afraid. You are ready, Dear One, to be accountable, to be wholly responsible for Your Life. 

Life Itself is Pure of Being, empty of suffering. 

Life Itself is Free from anger and fear. 

Life is here for Us to live in wonder of, and to open Our Eyes to Our Ability to let go of all that hurts in order to find our Liberation; to drop the notion that we are owed anything from this Life, and realize that instead, We owe It to Ourselves.

A Part of You Knows this as Truth; a Part of You can hear a deep and resounding Yes! to the pulling of the covers off from over your head, because it knows Your Life - Your One Precious Life - is so worth it!

Thank you for allowing me to share this with you. It is my deepest wish that We All wake up to Who We Really Are, by whichever paths get us there.

Namasté, 

Ken

 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Secrecy Is Killing Me!

I have had difficulty completing any post lately. I have started several, but I haven't been able to finish them. I think what I'm stuck on is an idea that came to me some months ago, and that is the idea of full disclosure. If you are reading about my experience traveling this life journey, then perhaps you might oughta know where I'm coming from. You know I get all of my good ideas from Source, but maybe you want to know what channels Source uses. Maybe not. But here we go:

If you've been following awhile, you might recall that when I got sober in 2013, I realized that I would need to become authentic in order to stay in recovery. I realized that I would have to let people get to know the real me. I also realized that it would be a great undertaking, as I didn't even know the real me. When you get right down to it, I still don't. This blog was started as part of that 'authentication' process - I knew (and still know) that part of becoming authentic is becoming open. I wanted, and still want, to become an open book. I want to walk through life unafraid, with my head held high. Posting in this blog has done a great deal of good to that end.

But what I've noticed in myself is that I've become concerned with what you might think about what I write, and this concern has caused me to filter my writing in order to not piss you off or make you not like me. And that is exactly the way I used to live, and it is unacceptable, and it is harmful to me. I used to base my actions, my words, and my opinions upon what I thought the person who was receiving my actions and words would approve of. In other words, I guessed at what you wanted to see/hear from me. That's not real. That's not authentic. That practice obliterates self-esteem and degrades any sense of self-worth that I might have. There is a phrase I heard some years ago - I don't know who wrote it or said it first, but it rings true to me: "I'd rather you hate me for who I am than love me for who I am not."

So when I write, I would like to not be concerned with what others may think or how they react, so long as what I have to write is not harmful to anyone (including me!), true, and possibly of use to someone. I do not want to hide who I am today - that practice is a major contributor to depression, something from which I am trying to recover. In this post, I am going to share a little bit of background so I know you know where I'm coming from, and it is my intention that I hold to higher principles than whether or not I think you still like me. If you do, you do, if you don't, you don't!

The first thing is that I no longer consider myself a member of a 12-step (_______ Anonymous) organization. I attended a 12-step meeting yesterday, and it was the first 12-step meeting that I've attended in over a year. 12-step organizations usually guide themselves by using the 12 Traditions. Tradition 11 suggests that I do not disclose my membership in ________ Anonymous at the public level, and this blog is at the public level, and so far I haven't, at least not in any one organization. But you do the math. And please note my disclaimer on the homepage of my blog - that what is written in this blog does not necessarily represent the views of any organization to which I currently belong to or used to belong to. I still practice the 12 steps, and I still fellowship with recovering people. It's just that I found something that is a better fit for me in...

Recovery Dharma. And Recovery Dharma doesn't seem to care if I divulge my membership. Recovery Dharma is based on the 4 Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path of Buddhism. I am not a Buddhist, but I don't have to be to be in Recovery Dharma. What does Recovery Dharma give me that _________ Anonymous did not? At meetings, we are free to talk about those things that cause us to suffer. Alcohol is one of those things, but I have not suffered from the effects of alcohol in a little over 3 months. But I have a lot of other stuff going on - over-eating at times, often a desire to escape (aversion), and other 'process addictions' that cause me suffering. It became difficult in _______ Anonymous to be open about these things as well as my mental health in a way that was helpful to me. I hold no grudge against anyone who is living a healthy life through a 12-step program or fellowship - my attitude is find what works and stick with it until it doesn't work. I know that some of my readers are long-time members of anonymous organizations, and I want to be truthful with you. And the reason that I went to that 12-step meeting yesterday was because the sober living house in which I'm currently living has a rule about 5 recovery meetings a week for the first 30 days of living here, and I am unable to go to 5 Recovery Dharma meetings per week. The meeting was good - it was on humility and the 7th step, and I met a new friend. 

Whew. I feel better already.

Next: I have studied and I follow the teaching of the person called Jesus the Christ, but I am not a Christian. I'm not an anything. But I'm not a Christian because the term has become meaningless, especially in the past few years. Additionally, there are so many sects of Christianity, that if you're a good Christian in one sect, another sect is going to send you straight to hell. If I do go to church, it is in the New Thought (or Original Christianity) vein. I still use the Holy Bible for inspiration, especially the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), such as the Psalms and Proverbs and some of the writings about the prophets. Does not being a Christian make me an atheist? No. Maybe. I don't believe one man is God, but I do believe God is in all humans (and everything else). God is Source, Love, that unseen, unknown force that keeps the Universe going, despite humans' best efforts to destroy it, or at least this little patch of it. I aspire to believe that you and I are connected, which is why nowadays I endeavor to do no harm.

I am apolitical. Many years ago, I stopped watching the news - it was the same old script with different names each night. Letting go of that activity improved my mental health immensely. A few years ago, I stopped paying any attention to politics, and, you know what? My life got better again! Now I don't have to let the opinions of others bother me, because I'm not on either side. Unlike Wisconsin, in the State of Arizona I am not allowed to vote unless I petition to get my rights restored (that whole 'convicted felon' thing). It doesn't seem worth the bother. My opinion is that the left wing and the right wing belong to the same bird, and it's not an eagle, it's a vulture. I don't need unnecessary drama in my life, and politics is unnecessary to my purpose, which is to serve others and ease suffering.

That's the 4 big things that I wanted you to know about me in this moment. I still have this thing where I feel wrong or ashamed for doing/believing in what I do and what I believe in, even though it doesn't harm anyone and isn't illegal. Crazy, huh? And what that 'thing' is is that I think I need anyone's approval to do anything, and it would be a terrible thing to not get your approval. I'm working on that. Not getting your approval, but for standing up for what I believe and who I am in front of anybody and everybody. I think that is very liberating.

So there you have it. I feel like a great weight has been lifted from me - I no longer bear the responsibility of your reactions to me and what I write. I hope, if you are getting something from the things I share, that you continue to read what I write about my journey. If you don't, that's fine, too. You do you, and I'll do me.

Namasté,

Ken

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Grieving

***Trigger Warning: This post is about my responses to people dying. If death is a trigger for you, please skip this post; however, if it's just an uncomfortable topic for you, read on: 

Today I learned that the caretaker of the place where a lot of recovery meetings are held completed suicide. This past Monday, I learned that a friend and co-worker, who was in recovery, overdosed on opiates and passed away. About a month ago, another co-worker passed away due to Covid. Each of these deaths affects me differently. It is important for me, and I think for us, to accept that death is a part of life, and, like every part of life, it is good to have a healthy, non-harmful response.

I don't judge people for dying, nor for their cause of death. You see, there could be some judgment around the deaths of the 3 individuals mentioned above. My co-worker who died from Covid was maybe my age or better. I remember the conversation we had in which he shared that he thought the whole pandemic thing was a hoax. At that time he was not vaccinated, and I don't know if he ever did get vaccinated. That isn't my business - I'm not pro-sticking myself with vaccines either, but I have gotten flu and virus shots when given enough incentive. My co-worker who died from an opiate overdose - this was very sad to me, as he was a young guy and I considered him my friend. One could, and a lot of people do, judge his death as him getting what he deserved for using illicit drugs in the first place. Maybe. But I knew this person was trying to stay clean and sober. I also know that he was somebody's son, somebody's sibling, and somebody's boyfriend, and somebody's friend, somebody's employee. I knew that he was a good worker and a nice guy. I did not know him when he was in the depths of his addiction. The third person, who I believe completed suicide either Thursday or yesterday, was the caretaker of a building that housed recovery meetings. I knew him, but not very well. I knew he lived with a mental health disorder, but I did not know his diagnosis. Some people judge those who live with mental health disorders as weak-minded. I was judgmental toward people with mental health disorders for a long time until I fully accepted that I am living with a mental health disorder myself, which goes to show that just because one judges someone else on their mental health does not mean the one judging is mentally healthy. Just sayin...

I went to my first funeral, that of my paternal grandfather, when I was 2 years old. I knew at a very early age that people and animals die. I think it's healthy to acknowledge this aspect of life, so that one isn't too incredibly overwhelmed when somebody they know passes. However, I began thinking about my own death around 8 years old, and that's not normal nor healthy. I remember one of my siblings telling me in the backseat of our family car, when I was lying in such a way that my nose was buried in the crack between the seats, that I could get carbon monoxide poisoning from that. I thought that sounded like a good idea. (This was back when cars were huge, and we probably had room for three more kids in the back seat). I think of death every day, probably, but not as much as I do when I'm symptomatic. I ride my bike every day, and I understand that just doing this increases the chances that I'll die today; however, I take precautions - I ride safely, wear a safety vest, and am well-lighted (not well lit, which wouldn't be good). 

So yes, death does enter my mind often, probably more than it does the average person, whoever that is. Each of the 3 aforementioned deaths reminded me how fortunate I am - that I haven't gotten Covid (yet), and that I am sober and fairly sane today. I do not believe that God or the Universe has our appointment with the grim reaper already set, although that might be a possibility. I choose not to think that way because if I did, I would begin living in a very self-destructive and dangerous way. I've noticed that as I get older, I respect my health and my life much more (when I'm sane and sober). Also, I live in a field where people are more likely to die unexpectedly (mental health and addiction). I've experienced much more death than the average person (whoever that is) has experienced. I cannot count on my fingers and toes the number of people who have died from disorders that I share. On most days, that makes me grateful to be alive; on some days, I want to give up. 

The problem with death is that everybody reacts so differently to it. When we die, we affect the lives of our survivors. The recovery center caretaker's death is affecting hundreds of people, as is the death of my co-worker living with addiction. Some will use these deaths as an excuse to give up. Others will use these deaths as a reminder about how fortunate we are to still be living. Some will feel guilty - did I do enough for this person? Did I do anything wrong? When I came back from my relapse, I learned that a friend of mine had relapsed while I was 'out there.' Fortunately, they survived. I immediately thought, "I would kill myself if they had died," because I wasn't available to them to help prevent their relapse. This is, of course, a cognitive distortion; I am not responsible for anyone's behavior but my own; I did not pull the trigger. But the guilt feeling was there. I think that's learned, but I sure couldn't prove it.

We don't know what happens when we die. We have our beliefs, which primarily serve to help us feel better about death, but our beliefs surrounding death are not provable. So I don't control what happens after I leave this earthly plane. However, I do have control over what I do while I'm here, and I'm learning to gain more control over my thoughts and actions. On a daily basis, I endeavor to do no harm, to others or myself. This means that when I pass from something that is not alcoholism or depression, those close to me will not feel as bad as if I had. In other words, addiction and mental illness affect not only the person living with them, but the people surrounding that person as well. There is something about self-destruction that really hurts those around us doing the destroying. In the midst of my disease, I did not know this. Today I do - that's one of the reasons I do what I need to do in order to stay sober and sane, even when I don't particularly feel like doing it. In fact, I've been increasing my connection with others in order to back up my mental health (which I will write about in an upcoming post).

I thought perhaps I lacked compassion or empathy, because I don't get as disturbed as some do when somebody dies. This isn't true; it's just that I was unsure of how to deal with the survivor's feelings. I've gotten some opportunities for experience in this area, and now I can be of support to a survivor. When grief hits us, we feel a multitude of feelings, and this is difficult to deal with, especially the guilt and anger. So when I listen to someone experience grief, I really listen, and I listen without judgment. Everybody experiences grief differently, according to their culture, their age, their experience with death, and their beliefs. There is no wrong way to experience grief. Grief is a natural process, and everybody will experience it. Everybody has experienced or will experience loss in this lifetime. We're not immune to it, even if we're best friends with God. Loss can really rock our foundation. So again, when I encounter someone who is grieving, I allow them to express what they are feeling and thinking - no holds barred! And my support consists of letting the survivor know they don't have to feel guilty, they're not bad or abnormal, and that a time will come where it doesn't hurt so much. I work with the survivor, not the party who has passed. As far as I know, the deceased might now be experiencing the time of their life (or death), but that doesn't matter. What does matter is that the bereaved doesn't suffer alone, and I will do what I can to accommodate that. 

In my upcoming piece on connecting with others, I'll write a little about the messiness that can occur when I deepen my connection with another soul. I recently set the intention to improve my conscious and emotional connection with others, and the shit really started hitting the fan. I realized that by insulating myself from true connection, I was trying to insulate myself from the pain and suffering that can happen from living in this physical plane; however, by doing so, I was also insulating myself from experiencing the joy that can happen from living in this physical plane. It will be a good piece of writing. At any rate, thank you for reading this, and allowing me to express some of my thoughts and feelings surrounding death and grief. I do hope for you that if you are experiencing grief you are able to share your experience with someone else. Each of us deserve some comfort and peace of mind, and sharing our lives with the right person or people can help facilitate this.

Namasté,

Ken