Saturday, November 24, 2018

Social Media and My Recovery

Social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, etc.) is a wonderful development in my life, but, like anything in my life, I can use it skillfully or unskillfully. I was first on Facebook several years back, and deleted my account fairly soon after I opened it - I found I became very judgmental, and when I made a snarky comment to a friend in response to their post, I decided to get off of Facebook. I saw that I was being consumed by my friends' lives, and something told me that wasn't very helpful to me.

Two years ago I got back on Facebook. Besides this blog and YouTube, Facebook is the only social media I use (I think - I use so much internet technology it's sometimes hard to tell how 'out there' I am). I'm going to write mainly about Facebook, since that particular medium soaks up the majority of my time. 

I won't lie - Facebook this time around has made a tremendous impact upon my life. I have 'friends' in 6 of the 7 continents. It has opened me up to information and people and ideas I might not have ever known without Facebook. I've found another area of spiritual support through Facebook, and I have been challenged to look at what I believe and the way I think through the posts I've explored.

I'm listing some ways I've discovered Facebook to be helpful and harmful to my recovery by listing 'skillful' and 'unskillful' ways I've used it, with the unskillful ways first. Please note that these aren't "do's and don't's" for me - I'm not perfect, and waver between skillful and unskillful every time I'm on the computer or my phone. This is simply what I've discovered so far that seems to work and not work for me.

Unskillful

  • Making assumptions about peoples' lives as well as comparing myself to others by what I read on Facebook. Even though people tend to share a lot more (sometimes too much!) about their lives than ever before, I must remember that what I see on Facebook is still just a snippet of someone. Some people share what they feel is going wrong in their lives, some people share what they feel is going right, some people share only their children or pets, and some people don't share at all and comment only on others' posts. Nobody, me included, shares everything (even in this blog). Still the best way to get to know someone is to sit down with them and spend some time with them.
  • Sharing my political opinions on Facebook. Opinions are like buttholes - everyone has them and they all stink. But, seriously, for me, there are a few things that aren't good for me about sharing my political opinion:
    • I've found that it's not my path to share political views. If I go by the number of responses to posts I've made with political views versus the number of other posts I've made, I can tell most people aren't interested in my political opinions.
    • I've also discovered that, since I really don't research too deeply into any political issue, my comments about political issues parrot one side or the other and aren't very insightful or useful to anyone.
    • My role in life is a helper, a person of service to my Higher Power and my fellows. Sharing my political opinions is not only not helpful to that role, it can actually detract from it by alienating people with strong opinions opposite mine. If I can be of service to you, it doesn't matter (for the most part) what your orientation of any type is to me.
  • Reading posts that are intended only to inflame. Related to sharing my political or other irrelevant opinions, reading posts that are intended to rile or inflame rather than inform is not good for my mental health. Imagine sitting down for a nice enjoyable session at the computer only to read stuff that riles me up and evaporates my peace of mind - not good for my recovery, so why do it? I've un-followed people for whom the majority of their posts is inflaming political rhetoric (and memes) whether I agree with them or not! My peace of mind is of utmost importance to me and my recovery; most posts that inflame me give me 'information' that I can do nothing about, so there's no good point to exposing myself to them.
  • Spending too much time on Facebook. I don't know what is the correct amount of time to spend on Facebook and other social media; however, I think I spend too much time on it. Some ways to tell when I'm spending too much time on Facebook:
    • When I'm looking for you or other posters to entertain me. Sometimes I scroll and scroll and scroll looking for something to pique my interest or fill that hole inside. It's time to get off and do something else.
    • When I'm procrastinating. Sometimes I have things that would be better for me to do - like the dishes - but I instead engage with Facebook.
    • When I let social media keep me up later than is healthy. Sometimes I do personal YouTube concerts for two hours or more. I like them; I'm not sure how helpful they are.
    • When I do Facebook first thing in the morning, before anything else. My belief is the first things to do in the morning that are best for me are those things that align me with my Higher Power and Higher purpose.
  • Decreased social interactions. This is preferable to my introvert personality, but detrimental to the whole me. My last post was about feeling again, and since I put it out to the Universe that I'd like to start feeling again, I imagine my social interactions will increase,  because those feelings I want to feel again are often caused by messy real human interactions.
Skillful


  • Choosing my path on Facebook. No matter what Mark Zuckerberg's intentions are for Facebook, and no matter what one might hear, an individual does have a great deal of choice about what appears on their Facebook feed. Here are some of my choices:
    • Comedy - I enjoy a good laugh, and laughter is healthy. I had to go through a few humor pages until I found one that was funny without bashing anybody (for the most part).
    • Peaceful - I un-followed some of my friends who prefer posting about weapons and the glory of war and such - not my thing.
    • Grateful - somehow, I got linked up with a group called The Gratitude Circle. I think this group, more than any other, has had an influential part in my life.
    • Spiritual - I chose groups that seem to align with the path I'm on, or groups that seem to be where I'd like to be.
    • Recovery Oriented - I've joined groups that are filled with others in recovery in order to garner new ideas about recovery and share in others' experiences.
  • ConnectionI feel connected to some of my friends whom I've never met. This is a double-edged sword, as it would be good for me to have closer physical connections, but, on the other side of it, it's good for me to have connections at all, and the people with whom I'm friends are real people, even if I can't hug them.
  • Healing relationships. Through Facebook, and Divine Providence, I think, I was able to re-connect with my two siblings and some other relatives with whom I had broken off communications some years ago. In addition, I've discovered some relatives I didn't know existed.
  • Personal healing.  This blog and my interactions on Facebook have given me a medium that I can use to explore myself. I don't know that I can explain it any more than that.
  • Expanding my horizons. As I've mentioned, I have friends on 6 of the 7 continents, and they're a diverse bunch. Facebook allows me to get a broader view of humanity without having to leave my apartment.
  • YouTube. It was pointed out to me that the average US individual has more entertainment at their fingertips than kings and queens did just a couple of centuries ago. There is a wealth of free stuff on YouTube - from meditations, to music, to instructional videos on how to fix my car. All of these have enriched my life.
I chose to write about recovery and social media because of the impact it has had on me. It's important in recovery to pay attention to what we ingest - not only physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I'm grateful that I have these tools in my life, and I'm glad I've been led to use them wisely. I will keep social media as long as it exists and helps me grow in my recovery.

Namasté,

Ken

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Learning to Feel Again - Safely

I was a sensitive child. I felt things strongly, but I did not learn how to skillfully deal with the things I felt. In my teens, I learned that alcohol and some prescription drugs would effectively squelch the feelings I felt. If alcohol and drugs still worked, I'd still be using them; however, in my early twenties I began to recognize that my use of alcohol and drugs were causing problems with other people in my life, and, being addicted to people pleasing at that time, I chose to try to quit drinking. That did nothing for the feelings that I did not know how to control (and I never sought help for the way I felt, probably because I felt like the way I felt was 'wrong', and was ashamed of feeling. Now if that's not messed up!). In the early years of attempting sobriety, I turned into a binge drinker - I would stay sober for a period of time until I just couldn't take it any more, and I would drink until I couldn't anymore.

During my dry periods, I did learn methods for avoiding emotions fairly well. I'm a good actor, and I acted as if I had no feelings when I needed to do so.  That had adverse effects - there were times when it seemed I also had no conscience.  I didn't lose my conscience; it simply became subdued along with my feelings. 

Depression can come about due to oppression or suppression of one's expression. I have not been oppressed by anybody or anything (except myself) since I left prison in April of 2002 (and even that type of oppression I invited upon myself). I have, however, continued to suppress and cover up what's really in my heart.  Generalized anxiety disorder - that anxiety that comes about for no other reason than to just be there - also comes from the suppression of emotions.

So, suppression of my emotions leads to depression, emotional death, sickness, and lack of success. I cannot suppress only the feelings I do not like - sadness, hurt, grief - without suppressing the feelings I do like - love, joy, happiness, connection, passion. In order to live a vibrant, abundant life, I need to be able to feel those good-feeling emotions, and, in order to do that, I must learn how to feel and safely deal with those not-so-good feeling feelings.

One might rightfully ask, "How do you have the career you have if you don't feel?" I do feel. I feel empathy and sympathy, and I feel a connection with those who are going through the same things that I am. But I know I don't feel as deeply as I could. I did not lose my job because I'm crappy at it; quite the opposite, I'm very good at it. I lost my job because I failed to show up at work for 3 days without calling in because I was too busy with my suicidal binge. 

So I do feel, but I feel minimally. There are moments, and sometimes days, when I believe I could turn my back on the whole world forever and not regret it one bit. There are times when I feel as if I could disappear, even though I have a great life with lots of people in it who love me.

That's what I want to feel - I cognitively know life is good, but I'm not feeling it, so I'm going to embark on this journey of re-awakening my emotional self and learn to deal with what comes up.  Scary shit, right?

I have work-arounds to help me deal with some feelings, but they don't always work. A work-around is a coping skill that isn't. It's a half-assed measure to avoid or escape what's going on without facing it and dealing with it. Some of my work-arounds for not feeling are avoiding people, places and events that make me feel uncomfortable, and avoiding forming deep relationships with other human beings. I can tell when people and things are getting too close!  I get that urge to escape, and if there's nowhere to escape, I implode. Not fun.

I am fortunate that nowadays I'm associated with some others who are challenged with strong emotions and feelings, and I've learned that there are ways to not only deal with it, but learn to harness the sensitivity and use it in a positive way. The problem is not feeling too much, the problem is, not understanding that there are positive ways of living with feelings and emotions. I have begun the process of re-opening my emotional body and learning to work with it instead of against it. This process is physical, behavioral, mental, spiritual, and, of course, emotional.

I'm getting into this and feeling like I could write a book on it, and I don't want to write a book today, so I'll give a thumbnail sketch:

Physically and behaviorally, I must discover those drugs, foods, and behaviors that I indulge in to assuage my feelings and begin to avoid them, while at the same time experiencing and embracing the feelings I'm trying to avoid (emotionally). Additionally, I've learned a practice called TRE® which allows me to release memories and traumas that are stored in the physical body. There are other methods as well, such as acupressure, acupuncture, various types of yoga, EFT, guided meditation, and others. Exercising regularly, especially aerobic exercise, also helps me stay grounded physically.

Mentally, I can use the skills I learned in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) to re-frame how I approach feelings on a cognitive level. CBT gives me a chance to stop the automatic thinking and automatic reactions so that I may approach my life in a rational and reasonable way. I can mentally wrap my head around, "I am feeling hurt - I do not need to run from hurt; I can acknowledge it, embrace it and feel it, thank it, and let it go." Thank it? Yes - our feelings tell us our preferences, and if I ignore my feelings, I essentially ignore who I am. Another therapy that I've heard works well for people who are challenged by their feeling is DBT, or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. I might check that out - it sounds promising. I am also learning to meditate, and there are many, many ways to meditate and tools that help. Meditation helps to ground me mentally and physically, and some forms of meditation allow me to go within to discover what really makes me tick. 

Spiritually and emotionally, I can improve my connection with Spirit through prayer and meditation, and I can also practice forgiveness. It's important for me to understand that those events in the past that caused me to shut down my feelings were not meant to hurt me, but to teach me compassion and understanding. Whoever or whatever hurt me came from their own brokenness. Prayer and meditation grounds me emotionally, helps me to feel safe, and allows me to go back and reclaim parts of myself I have lost over the years. There are also grounding skills that can be learned that allow me to protect myself in a healthy way when I'm in an uncomfortable space as well as allow me to be fully open when I'm in a safe space.

Some of these things I can do on my own, and some I need assistance and support. I'm grateful today that I either have what I need to accomplish my endeavor, or know that it's on its way.

I have the desire and willingness to become fully alive again. I know that I could go the rest of my life the way I am today, but I don't believe life is about waking up, going to work, and dying. I believe today that life is meant to be fully experienced, and the greatest part of that experience is feeling it, even if sometimes the feeling it isn't fun.  I desire to have a passion for living and a love for myself that I'm not yet experiencing; today I know it's possible, and I know what I need to do to get there.

I forgot to mention - how do I start this process? How do I start to feel again? Simply by becoming willing and open and receptive, the Universe will provide me with all I need to start feeling again - the people, places, and situations.

Namasté,

Ken

Monday, November 12, 2018

Lessons from Relapse - Acquiring the Willingness to Change My Story

If I remain stuck in who I think I am, recovery will be difficult, if not impossible. For years and years and years, I did not want to be depressed; yet I identified with the symptoms of my depression every day. I wasn't good enough, I was hopeless, I'm different than everybody, my life has no meaning, I can't make it in this world, I'm a disappointment to everybody around me, and I'm undeserving of anything because I'm such a loser. That is who I believed I was. I felt like an inept mountain climber - I watched everybody I knew climbing their mountain while I struggled at the base of mine, slipping and sliding, and never making it more than a few feet up.

I did not know or understand that the identity that I walked around with was not really me, that it was symptomatic of a brain disorder (commonly known as Major Depressive Disorder). I did not know that I was never hopeless loser, even when I was unable to successfully complete endeavors  (like marriages, jobs, and post-secondary education). I wasn't hopeless 2 weeks ago, and I'm not hopeless today. The symptoms I experience, although they feel like me, are not me.

I'll mention here that to say, "I am an alcoholic," or "I am (mental health condition)," is self-stigmatizing. Few people walk around saying, "I am diabetes," or "I am prostate cancer." Today, if I want to introduce myself and tag the disorders I've experienced, I say, "My name is Ken and I am in recovery from alcoholism and depression." This puts a degree of separation between me and my disorders, and it is more accurate - today I am sober and I am not experiencing symptoms of depression. It seems complicated, but the things I tell myself are very important.

Human tendency is to define ourselves by our past, by what we've done or experienced. We are all we've thought and experienced; however, we're also much, much more. We are also all we can be, being children of the infinite Universe. As spiritual beings having this human experience, we have the opportunity to surpass our perceived human limitations. One can see this in human development, technology, and even in sports - there is a drive within us to be more today than we were yesterday.

Addiction and other mental health conditions have the tendency to dim our creative spirits and drive. I've experienced it myself, and I see it in a lot of individuals with whom I work. 

In order to thrive, as opposed to simply existing, I must be willing to expand my borders. I must be willing to do the work required to break free from the limitations I've imposed upon myself. How did I become willing? By being surrounded by people who let me know that I was so much more than I thought I was. I began to believe these people, and I began to seek ways to expand my consciousness - to use tools others had used to begin to look past the fence I had constructed around myself, and to begin to believe that I had the power and ability to knock the fence down.

When I was treating only alcoholism, I did everything I could to stay sober. One of the things that bothered me is that I would see some others in recovery doing less than I was doing, yet having seemingly better lives and an easier time of it. Part of this perception was the veil of depression that often surrounded me. The other part of it was that I really was doing more than some others and not achieving the same results. This only served to fortify my belief that I was useless and a loser. My belief was that I would always be less than those around me, no matter what I did or how hard I worked.

When I acknowledged and accepted that I am also dealing with a mental health condition, I began to treat that as well. In order to stay in recovery, I have to treat both of my conditions. There's a fair amount of overlap, but there are also things I do that are specific to each condition. I feel that there are a lot of things, physically, mentally, and spiritually, that I must attend to in order to stay in recovery. I am in truth grateful for this, because what I do has opened my life and given me things and people I never would have experienced otherwise.

So back to changing my story - if you'll notice by reading some of the other posts in my blog, I do not write very much about 'what it was like'. I don't tell expansive stories about my time in prison, or how many hospitals I've visited, or all the wreckage I created in the past. On a private level, I deal with all of that. My story is about recovery, not addiction and mental illness, and recovery is now. I understand today that the most important moment in my life is right here, right now, and I don't want to waste this moment re-hashing the past. 

I was at a job interview last week, and at interviews I submit not only my resume, but also my criminal record. The interviewer looked at me and said, "You don't look like you've stolen cars." I've heard similar comments when I tell people about my past, and the reason I don't look like I've committed crimes and been to prison is because I don't live there anymore. I'm just not the felon I once was! But seriously, I don't consider myself a criminal today (because I'm not), and I don't go back there very often. I don't carry that story anymore. 

The reason I want to thrive, rather than just survive, is that one, simply surviving kind of sucks, to me, and two, I believe that the more I'm loving myself and loving life, the less likely it is that I will go back to the life I used to live. Now, obviously, I did take a brief trip back in time to get another taste of misery; however, I can use that jaunt to discover what more I can do to stay in recovery as well as to help others in their recoveries.

So my story is not that I'm a depressed drunk, because today I'm not. Today I am a person who, with help from a Higher Power and a lot of friends, is discovering who he really is and sharing that person with others.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Namasté,

Ken


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Lessons from Relapse - Desiring a Better Me

In May of 2015 I was at the lowest point in my life. I didn't have a life - it was all gone - and I had no hope of ever having a life again. So I started working on me.

In previous stabs at recovery, and there have been plenty, I've always desired a better life. We all want a better life - it's the American way! In previous recovery attempts, I would go about piecing my life together again - the job, the car, the apartment, the girlfriend/wife whatever. The problem with that is that I'm bringing the same director (me) to a different situation. We, or at least I, have a tendency to think of our lives in terms of what we have, rather than what or who we are. It really doesn't work that way. Whatever we, or at least I, have in my life ultimately is an outpicturing of what is inside of me. 

Jesus spoke of putting new wine into old wineskins, which doesn't work - the wineskins burst, spilling the wine. This is exactly what Jesus, who taught the Laws of the Universe, was talking about - changing our situation does not change us. If my way of thinking and doing isn't working now, whatever I try bringing into my life to make my life better will soon be lost. If I continually screw up jobs, getting a new job isn't going to help. If I continually screw up relationships, the problem is me, not the women I marry.

So when I got to my lowest point, where I was out of ideas (and money, and a job, and a place to live), I wasn't thinking of Jesus' teachings, I was just alive, and had nothing else to do but work on me.

I did not realize what was happening until after it was happening. I went to treatment, and I listened and talked honestly. I went to therapy, and learned CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) which showed me where my thinking was flawed. I began to take different actions than I did in the past. I began to look at myself and life in different ways than I had in the past. I began to realize what was happening when good things started coming into my life without me going after them as I had in the past. I got a place to live rather than being homeless. I got a job, then I got a decent job, and then I got two even better jobs that I didn't even apply for - all because I was paying attention to what was going on with me, what was happening in my head, and what was coming out of me.

I began to learn to live life from the inside out rather than the outside in. I began to judge my life not by what I had, but by what was going on inside of me. And the outside began looking better pretty much by itself. I of course took the actions I needed to take - paying my rent, paying my bills, going to work - but I was no longer attempting to direct what when on outside of me. I was learning to direct what was going on inside.

So, in order to change my life, which is again nothing more than a mirror of what's going on within, I work on changing me, instead of figuring out how to manipulate what's going on around me. It's actually much simpler.

I used to run my life like a person who drives a car while looking only at the rearview mirror. As you might expect, I had lots of crashes. So I must understand that if I have crashed, or ended up in a place that I really didn't want to be, then I must have had my attention directed to a place that wasn't serving me well.

This relapse has shown me that I still have work to do inside of me. In order to find out what that might be, I will open myself to accepting more help, and more guidance. I will get back to a beginner's mind, so that I can see more possibilities than I saw before.

Each day is a new opportunity to become a more skillful, mindful, conscious person than the person I was yesterday. When I set that as my primary goal, a good life naturally follows.

Namasté,

Ken

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Lessons from Relapse - Faith in a Higher Power

This is actually an addendum to the last post, and I apologize if I led anybody to believe that I pull myself up by my own bootstraps - I do not. My strength comes from at least knowing, and sometimes feeling, that I am loved, led, and supported by something greater than me. If I felt I had to do life, much less recovery, alone, I would not make it.

For me, and a lot of people in recovery, a benevolent, loving Power Greater than ourselves is an essential component of recovery. How does one get a Higher Power if one doesn't have one? The best way that I found to connect with my Higher Power was to stop resisting life. At a very early point in my recovery, I began practicing non-resistance, which is close to acceptance, but not quite. I simply stopped judging what life was handing me, and stopped trying to avoid or escape it. I began to learn to deal with it. 

And what I found when I did that was that the formerly 'bad' stuff that I would have avoided actually turned out to be good for me when I faced it with dignity and grace, and humility. Somewhere along the line, I began to realize that Life was my Higher Power, and it made sense to me, as God or the Universe created life. Doh! So the stuff that Life hands me is actually good for me, no matter what my perception of it is.

So, after relapse and getting back into recovery, I have to get back to that mind set that 'it's all good'.

One way to connect to a Higher Power is through a connection with loving, supportive people who have the kind of character or attributes one desires. Another way is to find a group of people that generate a feeling of safety and love and that seem to give one energy. Some folks connect through nature, either in solitude or with others.

I'll keep this short. I love getting into the nitty-gritty of spirituality, but one doesn't need a Doctorate of Divinity degree to access their Higher Power. One simply needs to be open and willing, and observant to see what happens.

Namasté,

Ken


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Lessons from Relapse - Getting Back Up

Relapse into alcoholism/addiction and/or mental unwellness happens. It doesn't have to happen, but it does - more often than it doesn't. Stigma can cause a person experiencing these disorders a fair amount of shame, which gets in the way of recovery and can be devastating.

Shaming a person experiencing addiction or mental illness is not helpful. If shaming anybody for anything actually worked, we'd be living in a perfect society right now, and, uh, I don't think we are.

Self-shaming is pointless, too. One might wonder why, with less than a week back into recovery, my attitude is optimistic, and I'm open about what happened, working on changing what I need to change, and working on cleaning up the wreckage (which, as I mentioned in a previous post, is relatively minimal and eased greatly by my awesome support system). The reason is is that I've learned remorse does nobody and nothing any good. Looking down at the ground and shuffling my feet is not conducive to recovery. Looking people in the eye and walking and talking like the dignified human being that I am is conducive to recovery.

Here I will mention that I was in despair, and needed assistance getting out of that despair. I needed a hand up, if you will. But it's so important to get upright after a relapse as soon as possible, because in a state of despair and remorse, it's so much easier to stay in relapse.

When I was leaving the hospital, they asked me if I needed a taxicab, and I said, "No, I'll walk." The nurse practically pushed a ride on me, and I informed her that I lived within walking distance of the hospital, and the walk would do me good. And I do, and it did. You see, part of my despair and remorse is that I want to hide; however, on my 20 minute walk home from the hospital I had the opportunity to get fresh air, get exercise, walk with my head up, and be seen. 

I'm remembering again right now the experience in first grade when my teacher instructed me to stand in the corner and not turn around, that nobody wanted to see my face (this was for some long-forgotten crime). So whenever I stand up and let people see me for who I am, I am in defiance of that ill-informed teacher, and it makes me feel good. Stand in the corner yourself, you old witch.

Anyway, then, to me, the first step in re-entering recovery (after putting down the substance and letting the mental health symptoms abate enough) is to avoid self-stigma and to get back up and back into life as quickly as possible. If somebody doesn't like that I'm happy and smiling, then they don't like it and it's their problem, not mine. I may still self-abuse in various ways, but gone are the days when I self-abuse for anyone else's benefit - and shaming myself is self-abuse.

It's important to mention that I do not do this without support and guidance. Since my brain is still a bit addled, I don't always see my priorities clearly, and I need assistance with sorting things out. Even though I'm holding my head high, there is still a good bit of anxiety that I have to deal with, and getting overwhelmed is a very real possibility. I want to avoid getting overwhelmed, as that can lead me back to relapse.

I want here that yes, I lost my jobs, yes, I lost money, yes, I almost lost my life. I want to add here, too, that yes, I'm still breathing, yes, there's always hope, and yes, I'm learning and growing from my experience and hopefully helping others.

The next lesson will be about putting recovery first, the challenges, and what happens when I begin putting other things before my recovery.

Namasté,

Ken

Monday, November 5, 2018

Ending the Shame Game

One of the things I know from this relapse is that I still have shame within me. I believe that anyone who is free from shame is also free from the desire, or even the ability, to purposely hurt themselves. For a quick reminder, the difference between guilt and shame is that guilt is feeling remorse for something I've done, and shame is feeling remorse for who I am. Guilt I can do something about - own up, apologize, and make amends. Shame is a bit more involved - it involves revisiting and healing old wounds that keep re-wounding themselves. Shame is about healing the trauma that happened to us, usually at a young age, or refuting the lies that were told to us about who we are, also usually at a young age. Shame is usually encapsulated, for protection, in a false identity that we portray to the world.

Once shame is discovered, or uncovered, getting rid of it, for me anyway, involves refuting it every time it comes up. For some of us, this can be dozens of times a day. For instance, a very common symptom of shame is the belief that I'm not good enough. I feel I'm not good enough often, but not as much as I used to. I am fortunate in that I have tons of evidence to refute the idea that I am not good enough, and I use that evidence to birth a new, more skillful belief, that - nope, not that I'm good enough, but -  I AM ENOUGH. I take out the word good because that has subjective judgment on it, and I need an unassailable belief.

Related to I'm not good enough is I'm not deserving of love. This has been for me a much tougher shame belief to refute, although, again, I have tons of evidence to the contrary. Again, the belief must be hammered at every time it comes into my consciousness, but, I think with this one, it also must be acted upon. Not only must I see that there are a lot of people who love and care for me (and there are), I must not question it; just accept it. However, accepting it also means intimacy, and that is very scary (I'm talking emotional intimacy here). I must be vulnerable, which means that I might get hurt. I know today that I still avoid intimacy. I'm happy to open up to others and let them get to know me, but only the parts with which I'm comfortable. And in this game of eliminating shame, we each individually know deep down inside which areas need to be opened. For instance, I'm an incredibly open person with my recovery and a lot of my past, but there are areas that I still protect. One might think that in this blog that I bare all, when the truth is that I'm still wearing quite a bit of underwear. So I think courage is required to eliminate shame.

It's a process, not done overnight. There are other methods for eliminating shame, all done with professionals. I won't go into them here.

What about the shame of living with a couple of brain conditions? (A friend of mine recently talked to me about not liking the term mental illness; I think it still has its place, but sometimes brain condition or brain disorder is more descriptive). 

Vince Lombardi, the late great coach of the Green Bay Packers, said, "I don't care how many times you fall; I care about how many times you get back up."

There can be a lot of shame in relapse, but there doesn't have to be. Shame in mental unwellness and addiction/alcoholism kills. There are programs which expect 100% sobriety - it's very difficult for a person who experiences a relapse to go back to a program where physical sobriety is the most important aspect of sobriety. There's always that spectre of failure, and - did you guess it? - I'm not good enough. It really sucks when one has hit bottom and joined a group of drunks, and then can't measure up to that group. Many people who relapse do not make it back for that reason, and end up dying from their disease. Often more wreckage is created before they go.

In order to not acquire more shame for living with 2 brain disorders, I have made my recovery my own. It doesn't belong to anybody else - it's my business. Remember one of SAMHSA's principles of recovery? That it is individual - I get to define what my recovery looks like. This doesn't mean that I don't utilize all the resources I can, or that I don't desire complete mental and physical health. What it does mean, for me, is that I give myself a break, and don't add injury to insult by shaming myself for being human, and for having a recovery program that isn't perfect, but evolving. I allow people their opinions, and if somebody doesn't like the way I live my recovery, they're free to look the other way.

And what this really means is that I can bounce back into recovery with relatively minimal damage. I don't have to stay 'out there' for 6 months or a year until my health is ruined, my brain is wet, or I die. I can feel the pain of relapse and do what I need to do to get better as soon as possible without worrying (too much) about what anybody else thinks.

I stayed a few days in a hospital recuperating where I used to share Stories of Hope - sharing my recovery with others. It wasn't easy, but it was doable, and I'm glad I did it. That's one secret I don't have to bear. It can be about achieving 100% sobriety for the rest of our lives, but, for some of us, maybe for the majority of us who live with this disease, or live with co-occurring conditions, it's just not really in the cards. And this doesn't mean that I plan or look forward to my next relapse - I certainly hope and will work for that there isn't a next time. But there may be.

The Universe told me that I'm a lot more effective a servant if I'm alive rather than dead, and that my life, no matter how imperfect, can and does make a positive difference in the lives of others.

And so does yours. If you happen to live with a brain condition, mental health disorder, alcoholism and/or addiction, and are finding the road rough, please don't judge yourself. Utilize every resource available and do the best you can. You are special, valued, and loved, and you and your life does have purpose. Release the shame - it's an unnecessary rock.

Namasté, 

Ken