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!

Namasté,

Ken

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!

Namasté,

Ken

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)

Namasté, 

Ken

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Anatomy of a Save

I experienced a textbook save the other morning, and I thought I might share it. A 'save' is anytime my thinking is getting shitty (hence the term stinkin' thinkin'), and something happens or I do something to turn it around and get my head back in recovery. 

This particular morning I was feeling sort of tired and part of me didn't want to go to work. The day before I got a little too much sun, and I was feeling it. I went in anyway, and began my advertising/blessing 'work'. Some days I experience an almost total lack of ambition, and today was one of those days. I started my work, and I was blessing drivers as they passed, hoping to get into the spirit of it. It wasn't really happening, and during gaps in traffic, my mind was turning to the stimulus check that is supposed to be in the mail.

I have good plans for that check when it comes when I'm in my right mind. My thoughts that day were not coming from my right mind - they were coming from an alcoholic mind. I was thinking about taking that check and having one big, final party. No, that's not rational thinking, but rational thinking doesn't go with alcoholism, and at that point, my mind was definitely alcoholic, even though I had had nothing to drink.

And I was suffering, switching back and forth between blessing others and stinkin' thinkin'. I was really trying to get my thinking back on the right track, and it wasn't working.

A recovery text I use says that at times, the sober alcoholic has no mental defense against the first drink - that this defense must come from a Higher Power. About a 1/2 hour into work, my sponsor (recovery trainer, spiritual mentor, etc.) rolled up on his way to work. He lives about a 1/4 mile away, but this is the first time he's stopped by while I'm working to say hi. I stopped what I was doing to talk with him. He asked how I was doing and I said, "Fine," because that's my automatic response. Then I said, "Wait a minute, I'm not fine," and I talked to him about what I was struggling with.

It is not easy for me to talk about my thinking when I'm struggling. When I'm down in any kind of stinkin' thinkin' (fear, self-pity, resentment), I know my thoughts make sense only to me - but they still make sense. And what is worse is that I think I can think myself back on to the right side of the street. Sometimes I can, if I only meet the unwanted thinking at the door; but sometimes, I invite the thinking inside and begin entertaining it. Bad news! And I don't want to share what's going on with anyone, because they'll think (know) that I'm crazy, or think I'm stupid or bad for possessing such thinking. The truth is that I'm the only one who ever judges me as crazy, bad, or stupid (at least that I'm aware of). So I was very grateful when I told my sponsor the truth of what was going on.

And it was ok. He did laugh, but he didn't call me crazy, stupid, or bad. He understood, and he empathized. He said it won't always be that way - my thinking won't always revert to alcoholic thinking when (relatively) large sums of money come my way or something else happens. And by talking to my sponsor - someone who is understanding - I was allowing Light to be shed on my darkness, and the darkness dissipated. And that's what made this a save - I was able to return to my job with my mind freed from obsession, and my enthusiasm for what I was doing - what was in front of me - returned.

Earlier I mentioned that sometimes nothing but my Higher Power can keep me from drinking, or from the obsessive thinking that will lead me to drinking or worse. Because my connection with Spirit wasn't totally broken (I had prayed earlier that morning, and I was attempting to be a blessing to those around me), Spirit intervened by sending my sponsor by to say hello. And I want to emphasize that it was totally my choice whether to recognize that God had thrown me a life preserver or to ignore it and continue to try to wrestle with my darkness on my own. And I thanked my sponsor then and later, letting him know that his intervention really did make my day.

So that's the anatomy of a save:

  • Greet unwanted thought at the door of my consciousness;
  • Take the chain off the door and invite the unwanted thought into my consciousness;
  • Entertain the unwanted thought until it becomes unwanted thinking (obsession);
  • Try on my own to kick the obsession out - struggle with it and suffer;
  • Call on my Higher Power to remove the obsession (or at least be open to a solution);
  • Recognize and be willing to utilize the solution when it appears.
God continues to watch over me, but I must continue to allow Him to do His healing work by becoming willing, open, and vulnerable and standing out of the way.

Namasté,

Ken

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Love Shots

I'm going to preface this post with two things:

First, due to the corona virus, Arizona does have a shelter-in-place order or something like that, and no large mtgs and stuff; however, some non-essential businesses are still open, including the one I work for. Because Prescott Valley is not very large, and Yavapai County has not had many cases of the virus, some stuff is overlooked by the authorities. That's how I'm able to work at the job I have, and am not suffering the host of restrictions that many people are now enduring.

Second, the people who own the sober living home in which I live also own a remodeling company. There is a weekly rent here of $150, and I was not making it due to not finding a job yet; so, the owners offered that if I would stand by the highway with a sign and advertise their remodeling company to passing traffic, the hours that I put in would go for credit to my rent. I told some people I was an advertising executive; my confession is that I am a simple sign waver.

Ok, on to the post:

The first day that I waved the sign along the highway, I didn't wave or anything - I just stood there holding the sign. The second day I did it, I began waving at cars as they passed by. Arizona is a waving state anyway, so there wasn't much personal risk for me to wave as well. Well, standing outside and waving to cars can get a little boring, and when I'm bored, my mind sometimes wanders to dangerous places. What I learned to do to occupy my time was to count the cycles of the traffic light up the road. It cycled every 2 minutes, so 30 cycles is an hour. Keeping track of what cycle I was in helped me keep my mind occupied, and it was helpful since when I first started, I didn't have a phone and had no way to tell what time it was without counting the cycles or running into the office to check the time.

I had learned a consciousness raising exercise whereby a person will endeavor to silently (or aloud, if circumstances permit) bless every person that comes into their physical presence or into their consciousness. It's a great exercise for turning around one's attitude about people. I've done this exercise from time to time, and it really helps raise my mood and shut up the jerk in my mind. So a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try it with the traffic - to spend 7 hours blessing the drivers passing by me. I had my phone by then, so I no longer had to keep track of time by counting cycles, and the traffic in our area has not decreased that much, even with schools and some businesses closing. So I silently shoot blessings to each driver that passes me. I use the spiritual principles that I am learning to live by:

  • Love
  • Peace
  • Joy
  • Faith
  • Hope
  • Acceptance
  • Good Health/Healing
  • Pardon (forgiveness) 
  • Courage
  • Strength
  • Honesty
  • Openmindedness
  • Willingness
  • Gratitude
  • Prosperity
  • Success
So I silently but consciously shoot these randomly at the people passing by. After doing this three days in a row, I almost forget that I'm holding a sign, and I really feel like sending out blessings is what I'm supposed to be doing. I have my doubts that the sign I'm holding is bringing in new business, but that's not my concern - I'm a sign holder, not an advertising consultant. I don't know that the blessings I send are being received - that's between the driver I shoot and their Higher Power. 

What I do know is that since I've been doing this, my overall vibe (mood) is much higher than it has been for a long time. I feel more grounded, and I feel more like I have purpose, and I like life a little bit better. Additionally, I seem to be getting more wave-backs and even honks and light-flashes. 

This practice has also improved my outlook on the world and God's people. I have an underlying belief that I am working to release, and that is that the world is a hostile place, people can't be trusted, and I must always be on guard. It's really been years and years since that belief has been true for me, and in the past few years, it's been quite the opposite. And I've found the people of Prescott Valley to be very nice and friendly. A few weeks ago, I cynically said that this was because everybody carries a firearm; now I believe it's genuine.

Another really big thing this practice is helping with is releasing my judgments of people. God told me once that judging others is not my job, but it's been hard to completely let it go. When I hand out these random blessings, I begin to understand that the people I'm zapping all are human and are subject to the frailties of being human, just like me. 

So I will continue this practice, and I will work toward blessing people who come into my consciousness as well. Another way to practice this is to silently say 'Namasté' to each person who comes my way. Namasté means the Divine in me recognizes and acknowledges the Divine in you. This practice is also good to use while driving, if driving tends to irritate you and wear on you. For instance, when a person cuts you off, you can say "Bless your heart, you must need to get to work faster than I do." Speaking of work, I used to pray for co-workers who irritated my by praying, "God, take care of so-and-so." My idea of 'taking care of' was probably different than God's, but the prayer allowed me to turn the person over and get over my irritation.

Thanks once again for reading, and...

Namasté

Ken

Friday, April 10, 2020

Where the Impossible Becomes Possible

I had an odd, interesting, eye-opening experience tonight. To preface, in case you're not aware or if you're reading this in the future, this is April 2020 and we are in the middle of a pandemic. Because of this, certain restrictions are in place, and people are quarantining themselves, and group gatherings, like recovery meetings, have been cancelled or are done online with programs like zoom.com and gotomeeting.com. This was the case tonight - I was virtually attending a recovery meeting from Wisconsin that I used to physically attend regularly. People's faces were flashing on the screen, people I've known for years, and who've known me for years, and I began to feel very uncomfortable, very anxious, and I didn't want these people to see me or know that I was there. I pressed the 'leave meeting' button and noped right out of there.

I was really surprised by my reaction, as I've physically returned to meetings where I've been absent for a while, and it's been ok. Tonight, I felt fear, anxiety, guilt,  shame. I didn't want my old friends to see me, and I virtually turned around and walked away.

About two weeks ago I had a crisis. I was seriously depressed, had no hope, and no longer wanted to live. I was hospitalized for a few days. One of the things that came out of that experience was I was put on different medication. The doctor asked me if I wanted to try it, and I said, "yes," thinking what the f*&k difference does it make anyway? I also had a similar experience to the one I described in my last post - I had come into the hospital with a plastic water bottle filled with vodka. My property was taken and stored during my hospitalization, and returned upon discharge. I did not know whether staff had discovered my vodka or not, but, as in the last post, that bottle was on my mind. I discovered that staff did not discover my bottle, and I left that hospital on the fence - do I continue to do whatever I can to get well, or do I start drinking again, hoping I'll permanently self-destruct? I chose to pour the vodka on the ground and throw the bottle away.

What I have discovered after leaving the hospital and the vodka behind is that I feel better, more clear, brighter, than I have in probably two years. I feel almost functional. I have hope. I have willingness to do whatever it takes to stay in recovery. I can't attribute it all to the medication change, as I haven't been taking it that long; however, I think the medication might have a lot to do with it. The interesting thing is that the medication I accepted is medication that I would not in my 'right' mind take - I took it with a screw it attitude, and found out it isn't like I thought it would be. Imagine that!

I've also discovered that spontaneous feelings are beginning to return. What I have been guilty of most of my adult life is learning what feelings I should have in which situation and acting. The only real feelings I had for a long time were anger and fear. I don't recommend this way of living. And the miracle is that I am no longer afraid to experience my feelings. I am willing to have them, learn from them, and let them go.

As I mentioned earlier, the feelings I felt going into that virtual recovery meeting were fear, guilt, and shame. Why? Because these people were my friends. Even though I kept them at arm's length, they always showed they cared for me and wanted me around. They probably would have done the same tonight if I'd stuck around, but I chose to run. And when I moved from Wisconsin to Arizona, I consulted nobody. I picked up and moved without saying a word. I abandoned my friends, and they had no idea what happened to me. That's a shitty, shameful way to behave, and I realized tonight that I owe them amends.

And that brings us to the title of this post - 'Where the Impossible Becomes Possible.' I had another virtual meeting to go to which started an hour after the first one that I bugged out of. Between the first meeting and the second, I sat with what happened and what I was feeling. Tonight my feelings were visceral. The remarkable thing is that I didn't have a desire to cover up or stuff the way I was feeling; I was able to sit with it and learn from it. That is when I realized I need to offer amends to my friends, but I have no idea when or how this is going to happen. It seems impossible.

So I went virtually to the second meeting, which featured a speaker sharing his experience, strength, and hope with addiction and recovery. I related a lot to his story - he also had created situations in his life that seemed impossible to overcome. But by putting down the alcohol, and doing the things other alcoholics before him had done to recover, he began to get well - he began to overcome those impossible situations that he had created in his life. Because we work a spiritual program of recovery, God is able to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves - if we let Him.

I do not know how to have a real relationship with another human being. I learned how to push people away and bring alcohol closer, and my level of distrust and disconnectedness of others grew. It seemed easier to distrust from the get-go than it would be to grow close and eventually experience the disappointment of a person abandoning me.

How do I begin to recognize, acknowledge, and embrace my connection with others? I don't know exactly how it is going to happen, but I do know this - that when I embrace an attitude of willingness to get well, the Universe opens all sorts of doors that I didn't know were there. I have seen it happen in others, and I have seen it happen in myself, and I see it happening now. Nothing is impossible with God. I don't have to know how things will get better; all I have to do is apply as much honesty and willingness that I can, and be open-minded and accepting of what shows up in my life. So many times I have closed the doors that Source has opened for me, but I must remember this: there is not a problem I can create that is bigger than my Higher Power. 

I have been cursed and blessed to have the desire to live a bigger life than I'm living. I can't sit with new information about who I really am an continue to live the way I've always lived - I must allow change for the better and healing into my life. I must let go of fear and old beliefs, and open my mind, my emotions, an my arms to what God has in store for me. I must continue to develop faith and courage as I become the man I would be. It's a tall order, but I don't have to do it alone. I have God, and I have a ton of good people around me who love and support me in proportion to my willingness to accept their love and support.

Namasté,

Ken

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Mind Games

***Trigger Warning*** - this post deals with triggers & urges to drink.

Yesterday, I was walking to the drugstore on a path that runs next to Prescott Valley's big drainage ditch (built for monsoon season to help avoid flash flooding). I use this path all the time, and like any public path, there is sometimes trash strewn about. At one point, less than a mile to my destination, I noticed a bottle (a fifth) of Wild Turkey Rye Whiskey laying in the grass; only I really noticed it. I fairly often see stuff of this nature on my walks, and I usually give stuff a half-second glance. The glance I gave the bottle yesterday was much more than a half-second, and that bottle and its contents looked good.

If you are a non-alcoholic or non-addict, you might wonder what the attraction was. I walk into gas stations and grocery stores that sell beer and liquor all the time. I rarely have an issue being in close proximity to sealed alcoholic products sitting innocently on the store shelves waiting for some customer to buy them. I know I'm not that customer.

Fortunately, this happened yesterday. If I had happened upon that bottle of Wild Turkey two weeks ago, I'm fairly certain that I would have taken advantage of it, because two weeks ago I was not in a good space mentally or spiritually. Yesterday I was doing pretty good.

So I carried on to my destination, and after I was done with my business, I began my return trip using the same path. I came upon the bottle of whiskey again, and I stopped. Again, I knew the problem for me - it was there. So I decided to pour it out. I picked up the bottle, and it was nearly full. I can't comprehend someone leaving a nearly full bottle of whiskey alone in the wilds - that's alcohol abuse! I went to unscrew the cap, and noted it wasn't a cap, it was a cork - classy! I pulled out the cork, and... I've done this before - poured bottles out for myself or for someone I'm helping, and there's always this one little point, this hesitation, where the decision, or the final answer is made... Do I drink it or do I pour it out; could go either way. And I chose to pour that whiskey out onto the ground. When the bottle was empty, I flung it back in the grass, and continued on my way.

I spoke with my recovery coach a few hours later and related the experience to him. He asked if I felt good for doing that, and I told him that I did. It was a good feeling making the better choice. And we talked a little more about it, and I talked about possibly disappointing the person who bought the bottle in the first place. But he said I did the right thing, because by physically pouring it out, I got it out of my mind. We also realized that I might have saved some kid from a bad day or a bad life by removing this opportunity to use alcohol; who knows.

I'm grateful for this experience, and experiences like them. They remind me that I still need to be mindful on my daily journey. Triggers, urges, cravings happen to anybody who stops using a substance to which they are addicted, and there is no shame in having them. Addiction is tied into the part of our brains that ensure our survival, so automatically desiring something we were addicted to when triggered is not at all unusual. As a recovering person, I need to remember to not always believe everything I think. If I do, I can lead myself into some very destructive behavior.

Urges and triggers are just thoughts; however, they're thoughts that affect the pleasure center of our brain, and they can turn into physical cravings or obsessions. It's important to deal with them before they become out of control. I dealt with this one by taking action opposite to my desire (pouring it out), and talking with someone who understands (honesty). By dealing with this situation in a skillful way, I'm able to move past it and relate the story as an incident that happened yesterday. Had I dealt with this unskillfully, it'd be a pretty good bet that today would have been much, much different, and that bottle, or at least the consequences from drinking it, would still be with me. I'm grateful for the tools to stay sober, and I'm even more grateful when I actually use them.

Thank you for reading. I hope this piece has shed some light for you on alcoholism. Please share this with others if you think it would help.

Namasté,

Ken