Thursday, September 17, 2020

Improving My Reception

 I had an interesting and unusual experience last week - I received a package from Amazon. That's not unusual - what is unusual is that I wasn't expecting it and it's something I needed. The package contained 2 black polo shirts, which I need for work.

When I received the package, I didn't know what it was, so I opened it up and discovered the shirts. They were two Hanes brand black polo shirts. I wondered if I had ordered them by mistake, because a few days before, I was looking on Amazon at these exact shirts. I started to doubt my sanity, but then I remembered that I had no money on my debit card with which to pay for these shirts. I went to my card account and found I still had no money, and that I hadn't sent any to Amazon in over 3 months. Did Amazon, out of the goodness of their corporate heart, decide to send me something I was just looking at?

Then I found a little slip of paper inside that said this was a gift from someone, but it didn't have their name. There are only 3 people who know my shipping address, and I quickly narrowed it down to one person. I found out I was correct.

So what's the deal - is this a coincidence, or is it evidence that the Universe is constantly conspiring for my highest good? I'm choosing the latter - I want to believe what I've read and been told - that there is a force for good in the Universe that is unconditional Love, and that this force - Spirit - is always giving. I like to compare it to the Sun, even though Spirit is infinitely bigger and more powerful than the Sun. All the Sun does all day (and all night, even though we don't see it) is send out light. It doesn't matter if it's cloudy or not - the Sun is still emitting it's rays. The Sun, I know, doesn't care whether I'm a "good" boy or a "bad" boy - it just keeps shining on me. Receiving those shirts from an anonymous benefactor is tangible evidence to me that Something is working on my behalf. 

I must admit that I don't have blind faith in my Higher Power. I do, however, have an intuitive sense that an underlying Substance that is perfect Love and intelligence governs Life and governs my life.  This intuitive sense is my faith, and a lot of days it seems like it's not very developed. What I do have faith in are the spiritual principles of recovery from addiction - honesty, openmindedness, willingness, surrender, humility, love, hope, courage, faith, strength, and others. When I practice these principles, I am able - I have the power - to stay in recovery and be a blessing to those around me. When I stop practicing these principles, I relapse into depression and active addiction. It's that simple, and yet it's not. I have faith in these principles because when I practice them, and I see others practice them, I see them work. I see sobriety and recovery. I've experienced the results.

The question that baffles me is why do I backslide? Why do I make real progress, and then relapse? 

I've experienced a ton of healing in my life, but I've also experienced a ton of sickness. I think it's about 50/50 right now, but the healing might be getting in the lead. Since July 17th, I've experienced sobriety, hope, insights, changes in attitude and behavior, and an overall improvement in my reaction to Life. I seem to be cooperating with Life lately, and that urge to self-destruct has gone into remission. As this has been developing, I've also receive signs that Spirit is active in my life. I like these signs; two of the big ones are the shirts I received and the job for which I received them. It really is a miracle that I'm back in grocery again, and all I'm going to say about that is that I recognize this job as an opportunity to make indirect amends for the shitstorm I caused over 20 years ago!

So, I've got all these signs, and I'm feeling good about my experiences and the progress I've made over the past 8 weeks (which really is no time), and I believe more and more that something Divine is working in my life - how do I keep this going? Consistent spiritual practice. I begin to learn that today  I have no more important job than to maintain my sobriety/recovery. I begin to understand at a deep level that I cannot do this on my own; I must accept & receive the help of my Higher Power. Then I continue to develop my relationship with that Higher Power. 

I can see more clearly today how I rationalized the thinking and behavior that pushed me away from recovery and toward relapse. I can see how I created the clouds that obscured the Sunlight of the Spirit and made me believe again that my life had no value, that I had no value. These "clouds" are fear, doubt, low self-esteem, lack of humility, resentment, self-pity, escapism, isolation, lack of connection, and hopelessness. When I allow these clouds to form, they effectively block Spirit, even though Spirit is still there. Spirit never leaves me; I try to hide. 

I believe one of the key elements in keeping the faith is active gratitude. Active gratitude is simply seeking and seeing the blessings in and around me, and being thankful to Source for them. As we know by now, what I focus on grows and grows - when I focus on the shit in life, shit grows; when I focus on the good in life (and in myself), the good grows. So when I seek and acknowledge good in my life, I find it more and more; that's just the way the Universe works.

So here's the point - my experiencing the coincidences and miracles in my life is really me opening up my mind and heart to experience them. I'm improving my reception. I believe I live in an abundant Universe - that blessings and miracles are swirling around me - and that the only thing that keeps me from receiving these blessings is poor reception - a closed mind and/or a closed heart. God shows up in my life in a lot of ways - through different people and different events. In order to receive, I need to stay open; otherwise, I'll walk right by my blessings. 

The way for me to improve and maintain my receptivity, my reception, is to keep a consistent spiritual practice, which includes prayer, meditation, and gratitude, and also a sense of expectation throughout the day. For me, it's skillful to expect something good - something good will happen. Expecting specific things has often proven unskillful for me - my focusing my mind on specific things seems to make me miss the better things that Spirit has in Mind for me.

I don't know how to end this, probably because there isn't an end; no matter how practiced and skillful I get, there will always be room for improving my reception. So for now, I'll say blessings on your path, thank you for reading, and



Friday, September 4, 2020

I'm Doing Ok

 This isn't a post about what I've been doing since June 21st, the date I last published a post; however, I will probably explore some of that. We'll see. This is a post about me and a post I read earlier today on Facebook. I can no longer find it, but it declared that not too many people will notice the healing work I'm doing, but to continue it anyway. It's important, and it does make a difference in my life, the world, and in the Universe. Ok, you can stop reading now if you want because that's the main point, or you can continue on if you have a minute - there is some more good stuff further on.

One of the mal-adaptive behaviors I developed was approval seeking. It's ok to desire being appreciated, but if I need to be appreciated for me to love myself or even be ok with myself, that's a problem. One of the reasons it's a problem is that it's not your job to appreciate me or approve of the things I'm doing or the things I've accomplished; if you do, you do, if you don't, you don't. However, that's not good enough for me. If I need your approval or appreciation to keep going, I'm going to do things that go against my self - things that impugn my integrity. I've spent a lot of time and energy during my life trying to be and do what I thought you wanted me to be and do. It has only been in the past 7 years that I've been endeavoring to show up as my authentic self; I've made progress, and I'm still working on it.

The other reason that expecting approval or appreciation from you is a problem is that anywhere from 50% of the time to 100%, I'm going to be disappointed. Unreasonable expectations often lead to resentment, depression, and even self-loathing. My "I'm not good enough" belief becomes active, and when this happens, I'm sliding down the road to relapse.

This reminds me of a recent adventure. I went on a long (30 mile) bike ride. When going on a long ride, it is good to check that the bicycle is in good working condition and that I have everything I need. Well, things looked fine, so I took off - without adjusting my brakes. I have disc brakes on my bike, and I love them, but, on a bike, they need to be adjusted a little more often than other kinds of brakes. My brakes are fine for city driving; however, I discovered that they were not ok for driving in the country, where I will encounter steep grades and attain speeds above 20 mph. So anyway, I'm going down this hill at about 30 mph, and I went around the curve. In front of me were stoplights regulating the intersection of the road I was on and Arizona highway 89A. So I squeezed both brakes (front and back) as hard as I could, and I knew right away that I wasn't going to be able to stop before the intersection. My choices were to hope for no traffic and turn right onto 89A, or use my right foot. I was wearing my new Merrell hikers, and I stomped my right foot down on the ground. Immediately I smelled burning rubber. With my foot on the ground, I was able to stop in time, and make a mental note to adjust my brakes next time. Anyway, the analogy here is the road to relapse - it's downhill, and the brakes are my coping skills and interventions I've learned to prevent relapse. If my skills are weak or if I don't use them at all, I will go head-on into active relapse, which in my case is drinking and suicidal ideation. (By the way, my shoes are fine - plenty of rubber left.)

Ok, back to the main topic. What's been happening to me since July 17th has been lots of "aha" moments - revelations and insights about what I need to be doing in order to get well. Some of these I've shared with others, some I haven't. The insights and inspiration I've received have been for me. They are precisely directed at my situation, my journey. They may or may not help anybody else. Because they are specifically for me, I may not get some of the recognition I think I deserve, and this is where I get tripped up - one of the patterns of my life has been to abstain from engaging in healthy activities for myself that nobody else will see or care about. This pattern has remained fairly steadfast until the last 6 or 7 weeks. I've been able to do things important to me and for me about which nobody cares, and that in itself is a miracle for me.

I see and feel that I am on a healing journey. I feel consistently more alive and willing to embrace life, whatever it entails, than I've felt over the past 2 years. I do not know what flipped the switch and it doesn't matter. I do know how to stay in this healthy place - what it takes is to keep Spirit and recovery first, above situations, people, places, and things. 

One thing I'm missing, and that's what this post is about, is enough self- esteem, care, love - whatever you want to call it - to be able to do what I know in my heart is right and healthy for me to do. So, how will I continue to basically affirm myself and my life and (hopefully) completely let go of the need for others' approval?

There are a few ways I know of to affirm myself. The first is prayer and meditation. I've been doing that in the morning, but not in the evening. Having set times to do this each day is a commitment to myself, and fulfilling a commitment to myself will build self-esteem. Second is journaling. This blog is a type of journal, but the kind of journaling I'm talking about here is to nightly list my accomplishments and the good things I've experienced during the day. Writing my experience down on paper gets it out of my head and makes it real to me. Third is physical exercise. Engaging my body in exercise affirms my physical existence, helps keep me physically healthy, and alleviates stress, anxiety, and depression.

There are more ways to affirm my life, such as eating healthily and practicing good sleep hygiene, which I do. I'm going to use the word 'vibe' here - the practices I'm talking about raise my vibe, which can be defined as overall mood, aspect, or affect. And when my vibe is raised, my little world gets better, and I'm able to see possibilities and opportunities that I didn't see when I was operating at a low vibe.

One thing I know from experience is when I'm feeling healthy and more whole, I need to run with it. If I just lay about enjoying the feeling, it'll disappear again, and it's very difficult to get to that place again - the place where I really am enjoying living.

Well, this is cool - I'm going to publish this post in a minute. I have about 6 drafts between 6/21 and now, and this is the first one I've been able to complete to my satisfaction. Yay! I appreciate you for reading this far - as you know, it means a lot to me.



Sunday, June 21, 2020

I Am Valuable

Over the past month or so, I've been focusing daily on changing a few core beliefs that I hold that no longer serve me. Unfortunately, I'm unable to toss aside a core belief as one might toss away an outdated textbook. Fortunately, it is possible and it is challenging - it takes dedication, humility (the opposite of humility in this case would be, "I'm fine - I don't need to change), hope, and a willingness to look at life in a new way. 

The core belief I am endeavoring to change is that I believe I am  worthless, defective, and bad. The very first thing that I have done is acquire a mindset that my Creator is good, and anything and anyone my Creator has created is intrinsically good. Do you know why lawyers are buried 24 feet deep? It's because, deep down, they're good people. So that's my mindset - that at the very core of my being, I am valuable. I have within me all the attributes of my Creator; it's just that presently, a lot of those attributes are covered up by trauma, mental health issues, and unhealthy coping mechanisms that I've acquired over the years. So I don't have to acquire anything in order to become who I really am, my best self - I just have to let go of those things I've acquired that are unlike my best self.

I know that I am not alone in holding beliefs that I'm not good enough or defective in some way. Some religions teach us that we are born bad because of the things A&E did in the Garden of Eden. What I've learned that they did was to mistrust God's guidance, and that has created all sorts of woe ever since. And our consumer society tries to convince us that we are defective - we smell bad, our hair is either too kinky or too straight, and it's never the right color, our ass is too big or it's non-existent, we'll never have enough money, etc. I wrote a post a while back talking about this instilled fear over nothing, and I think we all have it to a greater or lesser extent. 

So the task is letting go of those fears, those thinking errors, and those habits which contribute to the belief that I want to let go of - in this case, the belief that I am defective and worthless. I do have value. I am valuable. The challenge is to begin to believe it despite what my mind or my mood tells me, despite my station in life, despite the things I've done or the places I've been.

I was at an open speaker meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous a couple of decades ago - might even be 3 decades - and I still remember how inspired I was by the recovering alcoholic speaker, Milt L., from Cleveland, OH, I think. His alcoholism had led him to shoot a police officer some years before. While he was in jail, his cellmate told him about the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and how it could keep a person sober and lead him to a better life. Milt talked about how he had a spiritual awakening - that he knew his cellmate was telling him the truth, even though his cellmate was in jail with him. Milt said the Truth is like gold - it is valuable, whether it's in a garbage can or in Fort Knox. That rang true to me, and I've never forgotten it (though I put it on a shelf and haven't begun using that truth until recently). I am always valuable, no matter what, because I am - whether or not I'm choosing to reflect that value in my life is another story.

So what am I actively doing to release the old core belief of worthlessness and instill the new belief of value? First of all, let me mention humility again - having humility means that I know my place in the Universe, and that I am no better nor any worse than any other being. I owe what I am, my life, to my Creator. I am grateful for any accomplishments or any good that comes through me from Spirit, and my only part is willingness - saying 'Yes!' to Spirit. Now that little explanation is another one of those mindsets, or attitudes, to which I aspire. I'm not claiming that I practice it 100%, but I am willing to grow toward that mindset. Additionally, I don't have to define value - I simply have to begin to believe the words, "I am valuable", and take those actions that show I believe I have worth, and begin to abstain from actions and thinking that reinforce the belief I want to let go of. 

Ok, so here are some of the things I'm doing to instill a proper belief that I am valuable:
  • Taking my medication - I have a mood disorder from years and years of reinforcing that I'm a piece of shit, and presently I rely upon some prescribed chemicals to help me get my mood up to a level that I can begin to think and do good things for myself;
  • Practicing regular prayer and meditation - I know cognitively that I am the Child of a Loving Creator, but I don't feel it much yet; however, I practice affirmative prayer and meditation knowing that it does good no matter what, and I look forward to the day when I actually discover and feel the Light I know is within me;
  • Continuing with counselors - I've found professional input invaluable in leading me to better ways of thinking and being;
  • Taking care of my body - getting proper sleep, abstaining from mind altering drugs, eating properly, paying regular special attention to certain parts, like my feet, exercising, and getting sun (a lot, nowadays!), making sure I don't get too much;
  • Affirming my value by saying it out loud - I am valuable - and avoiding spending any amount of time in negative thinking about myself; 
  • Taking care of my immediate environment - keeping my living area clean, making it a pleasant place to come home to and be in;
  • Being around people who are supportive and uplifting;
  • Supporting others who are challenged - being of service;
  • Recognizing the value in others;
  • Avoiding getting too caught up in the world - I know what's going on, but it takes little space in my mind because I focus on what's in front of me and what's mine to do;
  • Making sure I do things of which I am afraid, like getting a job and speaking my truth (still working on this!);
  • Practicing using my gifts, like writing.
This list is general, and not necessarily complete. Sometimes people with mental health disorders move into doing these things gradually. For me, it's about creating habits that keep me in a state of realization that I and my life are valuable.

A word about affirmations: Affirmations are positive "I am" statements that express a truth about ourselves that we'd like to bring into realization. Affirmations can be powerful tools in recovery from addiction and mental illness as well as in spiritual, personal, and physical development; however, they must be partially believable by the speaker for them to begin to work. It's a bit like climbing a ladder - one doesn't claim the top rung when one is starting at the bottom.

Proclaiming and believing that I am valuable is a spiritual endeavor. If I did not know of a Higher Power, or understand that my sense of separation from others is an illusion, I wouldn't be able to believe that I am valuable because of the situation I'm in. But I know today that because of who I am, and because of who you are (children of a Loving Creator), we are valuable, and if I concentrate on my value, I will manifest valuable things and situations. 



Friday, June 5, 2020

A Look at the Evidence

One of the tools of cognitive behavioral therapy is examining the evidence. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches the client (me) about cognitive distortions, or thinking errors. People who live with addiction and/or depression/anxiety very often have a host of cognitive distortions that keep us in our sickness - modes of thinking that are habitual, so that we don't even know we're screwing ourselves with our own thinking. Our own thinking seems natural, and therefore correct (1st cognitive distortion). One of the great things about CBT is that after accepting my thinking is screwed up, and learning about how it's screwed up and how to avoid letting my messed up thinking inform my choices and behavior, I can practice this therapy on on my own.

An incident occurred yesterday that allowed me to practice examining the evidence. I was back at waving the sign for the home improvement company that owns the house in which I live. If you've missed earlier posts, I don't have a regular job yet - I advertise beside a busy highway for rent credit, and I work side (cash) jobs otherwise. So I was back at waving at cars yesterday, and I was a bit concerned that someone might think I was protesting something, since that's what's been going on in our country the past week or two. Yes, I know it's a stretch, but another thing that helps my less-than-rational thinking is shining the light on my inner bs. I had even come up with a line - "The only thing I'm protesting is the condition of your raggedy old house!" Another thing that had been concerning me was that my presence might distract someone and cause an accident, or that the wind might blow the sign out of my had into someone's windshield and cause an accident or damage a car. That last part is somewhat justified, as it can get very windy when I do this, and I have to work a little at not letting the wind take the sign away from me. 

But yesterday, something happened - the traffic slows where I stand due to traffic lights, and a jeep rear-ended a pickup truck right in front of me. Fortunately, nobody was injured, but both vehicles sustained damage. So here comes that worrisome thought, "My presence here is distracting enough to cause accidents." The cognitive distortion here, or the prevailing belief, is that I cause bad stuff to happen by my very presence. I can prove it - it just happened! And I began looking at the evidence - I have been doing this job for weeks - many hours, and many thousands of cars - without mishap. I stood at my post and continued to wave to cars while the fire department and police department came to check things out and clean it up. Neither the driver of the jeep or any of the occupants of the pickup truck told me I was responsible for the accident. None of the fire department personnel indicated I might be responsible, and none of the police that showed up came and questioned me about anything - I was standing there in plain view, and they ignored me! Over the weeks that I have been doing this job, members of every conceivable law enforcement agency have observed me doing what I'm doing, and, again, nobody has stopped and said I might be enough of a distraction to cause an accident. Now, I am enough of a distraction that several people have stopped at the business to inquire, so it's not like I'm invisible out there - quite the opposite. I'm just another normal distraction, like any other road sign or pedestrian. So the verdict is that the evidence does not support my contention that my mere presence caused an accident.

This is another example of how therapy done right at the right time can be extremely helpful later on. I've mentioned before that I was exposed to CBT in the 90's, but it didn't help me because I didn't believe anything was wrong with my thinking at the time, and I wasn't very open to having my views changed. In the 90's, I was the type of person that would run to a person or a facility for 'help', only to reject the help that was given. I didn't really want help; I wanted someone to take responsibility for my life and make me feel better. Today it's different, and each time I take responsibility for my thinking and actions and work to repair them, I grow a little bit.  I'm very thankful!



Saturday, May 23, 2020

Facing Fear and Anxiety

I'm posting at the public library today because it's open, I haven't been here yet, the Chromebook I was using at the house is in use by another, and I needed to get out of the house. So there's 4 ways I just dealt with anxiety - doing 2 things I love - writing and riding; getting some exercise (riding); and getting out of the house. I don't do this stuff naturally; my first response to fear and/or anxiety is to want to escape in some way, such as eating, sleeping, or taking medication. Those aren't the best options for me, because it's more like walking around the anxiety rather than dealing with it.

I wanted to write about fear again. It feels like my fear and anxiety levels lately have been the highest they've ever been, but I doubt that's true since in the past I did 5 years in jails and prisons and 4 years in high school. But what is surprising to me is how intense it seems sometimes. It's been getting better over the past few weeks, and I think part of it is that I've been having a weekly EMDR session with my therapist for the past 3 weeks (first time with EMDR) and I've noticed a solid increase in my overall mood and thinking, and a fair decrease in fear and anxiety.

I thought, too, that perhaps something I might write might be helpful to some of my readers, as we're going through this pandemic and the resulting restrictions on our movement. I will mention that I have not suffered as some have - I've missed in-person recovery meetings and I haven't been able to get a haircut (until this week 👨) or go to the church I want to start attending (although they are on Facebook); however, I also believe most fear and anxiety is unwarranted, and that's the kind of fear and anxiety I'll be talking about. In other words, even though our specific situations are different, the problem is the same. So here we go:

First, let us release any judgment or self-condemnation about the way we are feeling. Feelings are feelings, and as humans, we're going to have them. Putting all sorts of 'shoulds' and 'should nots' on ourselves is shaming, and drives the problem deeper. Two months ago I experienced a crisis requiring hospitalization. While at the hospital,  a nurse mentioned to me, in a kind way, that a lot of people right now are going through stressful times. I realized she was right; I'm not  alone. My sponsor is very helpful  in normalizing how I feel - he understands that I'm in a stressful  position (early recovery, basically unemployed, and one step from homelessness), and he lets me know that it's normal for me to feel things like anxiety, frustration, and sometimes hopelessness. I needed to hear that from him - beating myself up for not being able to go through  a situation like a superhero (who are all fictional) is unwarranted, unnecessary, and damaging to my psyche and my recovery. It's okay to be human and to feel the weight of the world once in a while. 

The first healthy thing I can do to prevent/alleviate anxiety is to work to keep me and my head in today. Living a day at a time is a practice, but it's a good one. When I was getting confirmed in the church I attended growing up, we had to choose a Bible verse for our confirmation ceremony. I was not as familiar with the Bible as I am now, but I ran across some verses that really resonated with me at the time, and still do now. They are the words attributed to Jesus in Matthew 6:25-34. Verse 34 says, " Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (NIV) Most of my worries have nothing to do with what is happening right now. Right now, in this moment, I am fine, and I have everything I need - food, clothing, safe shelter, decent transportation - plus the tools I need to be in this moment - a computer, a working  brain and fingers, etc. A minister/counselor gave me a simple  tool  to remind myself to reel it back in, and that is to ask myself, "Where am I and what time is it," and the answer is "right here, right now." Right here right now may not be where I want to stay, but I have to accept exactly where I am at before I can effectively move on. I can only prepare for tomorrow; I can't live there. Worrying about tomorrow, whatever it is, is negative use of my imagination. If I'm going to put my head in the future, why not imagine a good one? Better yet, what if I just have faith in right action, and not have any expectations regarding results? Living in the moment gives me resilience, which is so important for good mental and emotional health, as well as sobriety. The set of verses quoted above also say "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33, NIV) This tells me that if I put connecting with my Higher Power first, if I make it my priority today, then everything else I need I will have.

And speaking of faith, faith is the first thing to go when fear, doubt, and anxiety rise up. Fear is ego, and my ego is always worried about the future, and does not trust that a Higher Power has things well in hand. Better than half of my recovery is building (right now, re-building) faith, and practicing faith on the sunny days so that when the rains come, I'm not totally overwhelmed.

A good faith builder is daily gratitude, which also relieves anxiety. I belong to a Facebook gratitude group, and I usually post daily, listing the things for which I'm grateful. It can start with, "I am grateful I am alive." Gratitude compels me to look for the good in my life, and as it turns out, what I focus on increases; so when I focus on what I think is going right, I find more things for which to be grateful.

Next, I need to turn off the news. I don't usually turn it on, but I'm not in charge of the TV where I'm currently living. The TV is on every morning, and it's tuned to the news. I try not to let it get my attention. One morning, one of my housemates, who wasn't really watching the TV, but was hearing it, said, "I really hate these newscasters. They're always talking over each other." And I said, "Good! I don't like it either!" and I turned off the TV. Blessed silence! I'm programmed to think I need to watch the news in order to know what's going on. It's not true. When I'm living in the moment, I do not need to know what's going on somewhere else. I only need to know what's going on in front of me. Now, obviously, I'm not isolated from world events; but I have a tendency when I watch the news to let what's going on play over and over in my head. It's depressing, it's stressful, it erodes hope. Even while not actively pursuing current events, I still get flashes - the first thing on my phone is news (I can't control that on this particular plan), and sometimes I click on it.  It's like driving by a car wreck - I have to look! 99% of what's on the news does not have anything to do with what challenges I'll face today. It's unnecessary, and the news sells one thing - fear. If the world ends tomorrow, or maybe tonight, I probably won't need a newscast to figure it out. So I leave the news behind (except for weather - I have my weather app, and I don't use the one that sensationalizes weather events - 'Dangerous Heat Wave in Southwest!' Well, no shit, Sherlock - this is Arizona, it gets a little toasty sometimes).

Another activity that really helps me avoid anxiety, fear, and depression, is aerobic exercise - walking, and riding my bike. I often walk at least three miles a day, briskly, and that is enough for my body to produce chemicals that make me feel good inside. And being physically healthy supports good mental health. And while I'm walking, I can practice being here now. I can concentrate on how my body feels, and/or I can open my eyes to the scenery around me. I did not miss Spring this year (and it was quick!). There have been times over the years that I missed spring totally, because I wasn't present. One day I'm trudging through slush, and the next day it's warm and all the leaves are out and we're fully into Summer, and I'm wondering what became of Spring! It's because I had my head tucked up my you-know-where. Anyway, exercise is one thing that can help me keep focused on the present, and it has so many other benefits as well.

One of my exercises is really good for dealing with fear - bicycling. When I first got my bike, I was afraid of the upward hill that goes out of the subdivision. There's no way out without a hill; however, I faced my fear and took on the hill. And I do it every morning. It's a little easier now, but it's still a big hill. And then, if I take a certain route home, there's a really big downhill piece. I go charging through there, and I've gotten a top speed of 34 mph (speed limit is 25. I've never been much for rules).  I've gone faster, once, but 34 is still fast on a bicycle. You don't want to have to do any quick maneuvers at that speed. But bicycling has always been a way to deal with fear, because there's always something about which to be fearful! Am I going to get a flat? Am I going to get so far out, I can't get back? Am I going to get run over? Each time I get on my bike I face one or more of those questions, and each time I've ridden it's been okay. 

I talk with healthy people who are living in the solution rather than the problem. That's one of the reasons it's good for me to get out of the house I'm living in - I'm not relating very well to people who mainly discuss past exploits. People who live in the solution are people who know what's going on and discuss positive possibilities. People who live in the problem gripe about how bad things are for themselves. The griping does nothing good - it only intensifies whatever problem is going on.

One thing I haven't done very much that helps is reaching out and seeing how I can be of service to others. I've been somewhat self-absorbed lately, which might be justified. I used to reach out to people at recovery meetings; we didn't have in-person meetings for a couple of months, but we did have Zoom meetings and such. I have phone numbers of other people in recovery, but I haven't reached out to anyone but my sponsor. It's difficult to pick up the phone just to say, "Hey, how ya doin," but I'm going to do it.

While reaching out, find out what others are doing to deal with the current stresses. Calling is good, and a lot of people have Facebook. People on Facebook deal with the world situation in a lot of ways. I'm looking at a lot of my conversations, and I'm not all that open with how well or not-well I'm coping. I'm very often 'fine'. We may not be able to see our friends and family face-to-face, but there are other ways to reach out and give and take support. We're never in anything alone!

Have you ever noticed that days that start well usually go well, whereas days that start shitty often stay shitty? My morning disposition has a lot to do with how I'm going to feel throughout the day. A good morning for me starts out with getting up on time, a shower, prayer, meditation, and breakfast (plus dressing and all that). A poor morning starts out with getting up late, maybe shower or maybe not, say a quick prayer, bolt out the house, and get my breakfast at CVS. I have to feel purpose, and if I'm awake and running just to get through the day - that's not really purpose for me. I need to know that something I'm going to do today is going to make a difference, and what generates that condition is my connection with Spirit, which I reaffirm through prayer and meditation. And, importantly, getting up well is often dependent on how I go to sleep. Have I let go of any troubles from the day? Have I allowed myself to wind down, or do I keep going until bedtime and just crash? How I end my night has a lot to do with how I start the next day.

When my mood or vibe is good, my mind feels strong and my thinking clear. I'm much more able to deal with fear and anxiety when I'm not depressed. Additionally, when I'm not depressed, my mind and my heart are more open, and I'm able to see a lot more opportunities and possibilities. I'm able to ask, "What can I do today to make this a better day for myself or someone else?", and when I go into the day with this attitude, opportunities present themselves. Fear and anxiety is about doomsday, basically. Living in faith and recovery is about asking, "What can I add to the stream of life today?" Something for me to remember is that I've never created a situation that God couldn't make better, and I can live through this day successfully with His help. Things may not always turn out  the way I envision they should (oops, there's that s-word), and with faith and vision, they turn out better. I've survived so much in my life, I should (oops, there's that word again) never fear again; however, the truth is that I deal with it every day on some level, and it may be the thorn in my side that keeps me coming back to Spirit.

Thanks for reading!



Thursday, May 21, 2020

Student Driver

I was getting my Arizona ID, and I saw that they'll give a person a 'Student Driver' bumper sticker if one asks. I thought about getting one to put on my back.

My experience is that an essential component of recovery, both from mental health issues and addiction, is the acquisition of a beginner's mind. This is where humility comes in - the state of being that says, "Maybe I don't know everything there is to know about alcoholism, depression, recovery, spirituality, life. Maybe there's something more I can learn." Beginner's mind gives us the willingness to try new concepts and to take actions that we don't necessarily believe are going to be helpful. Beginner's mind says, "Lay aside what you think you know about yourself and about life long enough to try something different." 

In this endeavor to acquire beginner's mind, alcohol is an ally. As the disease of alcoholism (addiction) progresses, alcohol does less of what I want it to do - render me comfortable in my own skin and allow me to like myself and life - and more of what I don't want it to do - cause unwanted behavior, aggravate and increase depression, and create serious health problems (and, formerly, legal problems). I can see this, but once started, I can't stop on my own, or once stopped, I can't stay stopped. It makes no sense, and I can't figure it out. So I stumble into the arms of people like me - people who once drank as I did, but are now enjoying sober lives - and ask for help, because what I'm doing no longer works. I begin to take the actions that are suggested to me, whether I want to or not (willingness), and I begin to see positive change - I'm able to stay stopped, and my life is beginning to be less unmanageable.

Well, that's the way it's supposed to work, and it has for millions of people. There are a number of reasons that I personally have not yet attained long-term sobriety, and I've addressed these reasons in earlier posts. My experience does not diminish the importance of beginner's mind.

I used beginner's mind at my recovery meeting tonight. It was our first time meeting in person in a couple of months. This particular meeting is what I call my home group, which basically means my main or primary group. Anyway, it's a men-only meeting. I'm fairly certain that in a previous post I mentioned that I find relationships with men challenging. My perception is that most men are dicks (not you who are reading this, of course), we don't have the same interests, and they have nothing to offer me in friendship or anything else. This is a prime example of how I use beginner's mind. I understand that my belief is irrational, untrue, and does  not serve me well, so I set it aside for an hour, and listen to what these people have to share, knowing that their experience in sobriety will probably be helpful to me. I listen for what rings true to me, and let go of the rest, because there are a couple of guys at that meeting who do fulfill my belief about most men. It doesn't matter - I listen for what they have to say about working a program of recovery.

My recovery sponsor, of course, is male, and I find myself developing a friendship with him. My counselor is male as well. I have a lot to learn from both of these men, and I have other 'good' men in my life. It is possible that some day my perception of half of the population of the planet will change for the better. I know others in recovery who have changed their minds regarding groups of people - alcohol has the tendency to inflame any prejudices or hatred we might carry. We learn to let those go because hatred does not mix well with a spiritual program of recovery.

Other ways I used beginner's mind tonight - these people do not know my history - that I was once (briefly) a professional in this field, and I've been around recovery for a few decades, so I might even know more about alcoholism and recovery than the other men do - so they speak to me as they would to a newcomer that doesn't know much, if anything, about sobriety. So I set aside my certificates and recovery merit badges, and I listen. And I always hear something helpful.

I acquired another belief a long time ago - that I must know something, I must understand and be good at something before I try it or do it. Yes, that's irrational too, but I held that one for a long time. It made it difficult for me to try something new, and when I did try something new, if other people were involved, I often pretended I knew more than I did, or would say I understood what they were talking about when I didn't. It's very difficult to learn with this belief operative. Besides recovery, a couple areas in my life where this has really hurt me are in my writing and in music. I have talent in both - I recognize that - but I haven't developed either talent as much as I could have (yet). I've barely scratched the surface on my talents because I haven't gone to people who know what they're doing and asked for instruction or advice. I am afraid of hearing, "You suck," and I'm afraid of hearing ideas that might differ from mine. This is an area that could really use beginner's mind. 

Spirituality, an important component of a good recovery, and I write about it because that's what I know works for me, is another area where beginner's mind is really helpful, if not essential. Remember earlier where I used the word humility? It really fits here. One definition of humility is seeing ourselves rightly in relation to our Higher Power, people, the world, and the Universe. The view I aspire to is that I'm not God, but I am His creation, and so is everybody else. This means that I'm not better nor worse than anybody else, and that I am connected with all Life. As I said, this is a belief I aspire to, and I'm more skillful in doing so some days, and not-so-skillful at it other days. The only humility alcoholics take into recovery is that they recognize that alcohol is probably more powerful than they are, and they don't understand why they're not successful in controlling their use or their behavior when they use. I apologize for using a blanket statement, but that's part of the disease - we don't know we have a disease. So I have to set aside alcohol as a higher power, because it no longer works, and learn to connect with another higher power, preferably the Highest Power - the Creator of the Universe. This can be challenging - some of us come into recovery with really screwed-up ideas about God; others, like me, aren't very sure that that a loving God would want to have anything to do with us - we're that bad. And so coming to believe that a benevolent loving Higher than ourselves Power can really help us recover is a process for many of us who have some really deep-seated beliefs about our worthiness to have a relationship with a loving God. The belief that we're vile pieces of shit does not go well with recovery, so beginner's mind tells us to listen to others in recovery who have felt the same way and now have a working relationship with their Creator, and to instill enough doubt into that belief that we may come to see ourselves as very worthy to be Children of a Loving God - that, because of the nature of our Creator, it could be no other way. Spirituality is a process and a practice that always requires a beginners mind; spiritual pride (of which I've been guilty), says that I know all I need to know about my Creator, and I have nothing to learn from anybody about it. This kind of thinking has led me a couple of times in life to becoming a rigid, egotistical, know-it-all prick, and it eventually leads to relapse because I'm no longer letting my Creator in. I've said, "Thanks, God, appreciate the help, I'll take it from here!" Yeah. 

Relationships is another area where beginner's mind can be very helpful. I had no idea when I got married (both times) what a good working relationship looked like. I knew what I didn't want, but that didn't help very much. I never went to anybody, much less someone who was in a good relationship, to ask for guidance. What was I thinking? I ended up a fly on the windshield of life. 

Having a beginner's mind does not mean throwing out all of my beliefs and learning in favor of someone else's. What it does is it allows me to be willing to consider and maybe try something different. One of the beliefs that started changing in me when I began applying beginner's mind is the belief that wrong=bad. I endeavor to not even use that language anymore. I like skillful and unskillful. I handle situations or do things skillfully or unskillfully. It takes the self-judgment out of things and really opens the door for learning. I'm a ton better at being the imperfect human being I that I am, but there's still work to do.

Thanks for reading!



Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Learning How to Question My Thinking

I like to share about the (mostly) positive experiences that I encounter on my journey. The reason I haven't shared much lately is not that I haven't had positive experiences lately - it's that much of what I've been experiencing has been difficult to put into words. Something happened today, however, that was a real 'aha' moment for me, and I can very clearly see the hand of Spirit working in my life, something for which I have been praying lately. So here we go:

I have been living in sober living in Prescott Valley since February 8, 2020. Part of living here is paying the rent, which requires, in most cases, getting a job and earning money. It sounds fairly simple when I write it down in black and white! However, I found a bunch of obstacles to me gaining employment - lack of my own phone, lack of reliable transportation, lack of decent clothing, etc. But the real obstacle was my thinking, which was heavily influenced by a still-depressed mood. Put very simply, I wasn't feeling working, ya know? I really had trouble expressing what I felt to others, and I was often dishonest when asked how my job search was going. I had a lot of irrational reasons (fears) why I didn't want to venture into the job market. Once my rent bill would have hit $1000, I'd be asked to leave and be on the streets. A few events stayed my sentence of homelessness - I was offered a position by the owners of this house to wave a sign in front of their other business in exchange for rent credit; I filed my tax returns and received a good refund; our pandemic crisis occurred and I received a stimulus check, with which I bought a bicycle.

Somewhere along the line my mood and disposition improved and my fears lessened enough for me to stick a toe into the cold, scary waters of the job market. I had received notice that one of those dollar-discount stores in the area was hiring. I had applied to one of them a couple of months ago, but I don't think I passed their stupid pre-employment screenings about whether or not I'd snitch on errant co-workers. So I applied at another store online, and I thought I was applying at the one that is next door to the supermarket I frequent, because these stores all have 'dollar' in their name. 

Today I got a callback from one of the stores, and I set up an interview for tomorrow. Yay! I got my foot in the door! I called my sponsor and let him know, and I told him the name of the store. He said, "Oh yeah, that's over by Home Depot," I said, "No, I think it's by Safeway." And we left it at that. But, I got to wondering, was I wrong? I looked it up, and, sure enough, I was wrong - I applied to the one next to Home Depot, not the one next to Safeway. I of course let my sponsor know he was correct.

So how does this turn into a spiritual moment? Well, I've heard a couple of things regarding that - one is that anytime we go against our egoic (fear-based) thinking, that's spiritual. The other is that any time an alcoholic questions his own thinking, that's a spiritual experience. I thought about where I'd be tomorrow if I didn't verify my destination - at the wrong store looking confused. Worse, there's a good possibility that I would have used that mistake against myself, and lost any confidence I might have gained lately. Such is the nature of early recovery that we don't get over our own mistakes in sobriety right now as well as we will in the future.

So this is another save - an instance where I did the right thing (checked out my own thinking) and saved myself some trouble. But I can't take full credit! For the past few weeks I have been earnestly working the spiritual part of my recovery program that includes prayer and meditation. Skillful prayer and meditation opens the consciousness - it's that simple. There's a lot of progress when someone in recovery begins living in the solution rather than the problem, and I had been living in the problem - relying on my own thinking the majority of the time. That type of living makes life more difficult than it already is. When I begin practicing openness or openmindedness, and when I start practicing trust and willingness, all sorts of doors start opening up, and I'm grateful for that Truth. 

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV)