Monday, January 18, 2021

Dismantling the Program - Part III (or, "Leaving Las Vegas")

Wow, if you've made it this far, that's awesome! Thank you and congratulations!

I'll start by making a couple of points - first, "program" in "Dismantling the Program" is using computer jargon to describe what I'm doing. My "operating system" is outdated and no longer serves me - it's like Windows 3.1, which, at one time was useful and was a necessary step in the evolution of computer operating systems, but is now obsolete. Second, "Dismantling the Program - Part I" was actually written a couple of months ago. It was at that time that I realized something very monumental began occurring in my life - I was beginning to see not only surface results of my efforts in recovery, but actual deep down change within, which is necessary for sustained recovery. Today I am 6 months into recovery, which includes the absence of any symptoms of major depressive disorder (a miracle right there!). Which brings us to the events of today:

On November 17th, 2020, I graduated from Phase III (sober living) of the treatment program in which I was enrolled and moved into a room in the house of one of my managers from work, who rents out rooms. The arrangement was supposed to last about 2 months, as I had an arrangement with the treatment program whereby I I would move back into sober living as an employee - a house manager - and live there helping to maintain the structure of sober living. In early January, 2021, I interviewed with the person who would be my direct superior, and found out they were wanting more than I was willing to provide. After a day of consideration, I let them know that I was no longer interested in employment there for the time being. 

So, I found that I have to look for other living arrangements. Additionally, the homeowners (my manager and her husband) are selling their home. While I don't have to be out immediately, this is still a temporary place to live. My manager is a very helpful, supportive, and giving person, so she referred me and another of her tenants to a friend of hers at a property management company here in Prescott. This other boarder (who is also co-worker) and I put in applications for an apartment that will be available in February. 

Now here is where things get interesting - because of my checkered and often colorful past, putting out an application for anything risks opening Pandora's Box. And it this case, it certainly did. I got a call from the rental person today, and she mentioned that my background check came back with an open misdemeanor warrant from 2009 in Clark County, Nevada, which is better known as Las Vegas. Oops! She wanted to know more about it, and isn't sure if it will affect my application or not.

Here's the story. In 2009, my then wife (we were living in Wisconsin) asked me to leave due to my drinking. I packed up and went to Las Vegas with the intention of drinking myself to death, because that used to be my MO - when anything bad happened that I felt was overwhelming or impossible, I sought escape, because I knew there was no way I could overcome it.

So, I didn't die, but I did drink. A lot. Eventually I found myself homeless in Vegas. I was wandering around one evening (or maybe early morning) in an intoxicated state. I wanted to smoke - I had a cigarette, but no lighter. I found a person and their friend sitting outside the Belaggio, and I began to approach them to request a light. As I approached, this person began cursing me and requested I leave. I did, but before I did, I kicked this person in the head. I am very grateful that I am not trained in the martial arts and I was wearing soft shoes, because I did not kill or injure them. The person punched me, and I ran. Somewhere along the line, security saw what was going on and caught up with me, where I was given a ticket to appear for misdemeanor battery. I was not taken into custody. It is one of the more shameful moments in my history, because I've seldom been given to violence, and have never been formally charged with anything violent. Anyway, I did not appear, and shortly after, I left Las Vegas to return to Wisconsin, where I made another attempt at recovery. Over the years, I never did anything about the warrant because I didn't have to. I've had numerous police contacts since that time, and nobody has mentioned the open warrant in Clark County. I've had numerous jobs since that time, and lived in numerous places, and it never came up. Until now.

When I moved to Arizona a little over a year ago, I started looking into my record in Nevada, as Arizona borders Nevada, and I thought the warrant might need to be resolved. My investigations earlier this year told me I had nothing open. When I investigated again today, I found the warrant, and found that in order to resolve it, I or my legal representative must appear in person. Well, shit.

Ok, so here's the important stuff. The previous paragraphs described what we call in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the activating event. After the event happens, it's no longer important; what is important is what I do with it. There are my feelings about the event, my thoughts, and then my actions. My feelings were fear, guilt, and shame, the usual feelings one feels after being caught. 

The interesting thing is my thoughts were different than they would have been even 6 months ago. They were: What will I do now? What will my landlady think? What will happen with my co-worker and his housing situation? Will I have to go to Las Vegas to serve my time? I can't afford a lawyer. Wait, wrong, I don't want to pay a lawyer. 

To be honest, drinking and running briefly crossed my mind, simply because those have always been options. I ruled them out quickly, as I really don't want to ever live like that again. I would rather spend time in jail than live in the sickness of alcoholism and depression again, and, if that's what I gotta do, that's what I'll do. Over the past few months, I've maintained more money in my reserve for a longer period of time than I ever have previously, meaning that I've got enough to put on one hell of a party if I so desired. And I don't desire. That is a miracle. And while I'm not gung ho on running around clearing up my past, I am willing to do what I need to do.

So that's my miracle. I have a faith and courage in my heart and enough self-love to do something I never could have done before. The knowledge that I am loved and supported and nothing is impossible with God have been in my head a long time, but have never crossed the fear and self-reproach barrier to my heart until now. I am most grateful!

I will keep my readers apprised of what happens with this whole deal, but it really is irrelevant so long as I keep moving forward in faith.



Dismantling the Program - Part II

In my last post, Dismantling the Program - Part I, I wrote about discovering that perhaps my diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder is not set in granite - that perhaps by dissecting my diagnosis and analyzing its parts, that there are things behaviorally that I can learn and practice which will keep the depression in remission. I talked a bit about the downfalls of automatic thinking and about what makes a set of behaviors a mental health disorder. I also talked about the fact that humans tend to make their beliefs their reality, even in the face of contrary evidence. And, lastly, I wrote about the cognitive dissonance I experience from holding contrary beliefs about myself. In this post I'm going to write about a few things that I'm finding helpful in keeping depression in remission.

Ok, the first thing to do in order to avoid going back into depressive thinking is to stay sober. I'm going to be real here and share the idea that I've had for a long time that when I am sane and when I'm enjoying living, I have absolutely no desire or reason to alter my mood. This doesn't mean that I don't have to practice a program of recovery - I do. It simply means that my sobriety will be greatly enhanced, and my ability to live a useful life increased, if I do the work of finding true value and joy in life and in myself. That's the spiritual side of recovery, of living.

I learned something new this last time in treatment, which surprised me. It's called Attributional Styles, and I think the linked article does a good job of explaining it. Attributional style is simply how a person explains the causes of events. A person who experiences a lot of depression will explain events in their lives in a manner that reinforces their negative beliefs about themselves. Furthermore, it doesn't matter if the event is negative or positive - I am a master at using life against me. I don't know if I've written here yet about a belief that I hold that says ultimately, it doesn't matter what I do or say, because I'm going to be wrong either way. So the assignment was given me to find examples of my attributional style, and I discovered that I can make the way I'm feeling tank fairly quickly by the way I attribute events to my being useless and an overall failure. 

I began to find numerous examples of how my first inclination is to make an event negative about me. And then, what I began to practice was finding alternative explanations. The strange thing to me was that even though I've been using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques for a while, I was still blind to many ways in which I was basically pissing all over myself. And I found that the alternative explanations for things happening often don't have anything to do with me whatsoever! So, yes, a depressive or pessimistic attributional style is definitely self-centered.

Since engaging in this exercise, my self-talk has been much less nagging and condemning, and, on some days, it's loving and supportive. Imagine that.

What I've done that has been very helpful is to isolate situations in my life and deal with them on a case-by-case basis.

Previously, everything that I've done wrong in the past, everything at which I've failed, I've thrown on the pile (by now pretty huge) called, "Proof that Ken is a piece of shit loser." And, not surprisingly, everything I've done skillfully in this lifetime, everything good that I've accomplished, has never been enough to move the Mountain of Loserdom. And this is my own personal example of Attributional Style which prevents me from ever feeling good about me and my life for more than a few moments - every mistake I've ever made is attributable to me being me, and every accomplishment is a fluke. This is a recipe for giving up if I've ever seen one! 

Again, if I approach life with the attitude that I'm going to fail, and I'm a bad person, I'm going to fail and continue to be a bad person. 

I've been given evidence to the contrary that I'm born to lose; however, I have readily dismissed the contrary evidence in favor of the belief that I can't win. 

If my dis-eases don't kill me, they beat me into a state of reasonableness, where I'm able to consider alternative theories of life. 

So what would happen if I begin to believe that I've been wrong all of these years, and that I'm actually a very valuable Child of a Loving and Good Creator, and that this Creator supports me in living the best life possible, and that I can give myself permission to love myself and live as if this were true? Well, even if I'm wrong about this, at this point I've got nothing to lose by believing it; and if I'm right, then I can stop going back to the misery that I've called home for the past 1/2 century. 

So when situations arise, and they do, in which I want to invoke the old paradigm, I'm giving myself permission and an opportunity to look at things in a new way. I'm able to say to myself, "Even good people make mistakes. A mistake isn't an indicator of who I Am; it's a mistake. Now what am I going to do to rectify the mistake?"

I'm going to interject a couple of ideas here that help with this whole "I'm an imperfect human being and that's ok idea." I've heard it said that since my Creator is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, that there is nothing large nor small in the Universe. All my Creator knows is that it is, because my Creator is Creation and has nothing within Creation with which to compare things. We as human beings place different values on things - we say if you commit this crime, it's worth 30 days in jail, but if you commit that crime, it's worth 20 years in prison. And some things today, like possession of a plant, aren't crimes at all anymore (in certain places), whereas they were a crime 20 years ago. Likewise, if one were to go out and buy some gold today, one would probably pay a lot more for the element gold than they would for the element oxygen; however, if one were having a heart attack and couldn't breathe, which would be of more value to that person in that moment, gold or oxygen? I'm guessing oxygen. My point is that on the material plane, everything is relative, while on the spiritual plane, it's all the same. To human beings, a billionaire is a very wealthy person; however, compared to God, how wealthy are they? 

It's stuff to think about, and it really helps in understanding that none of us are all good or all bad, but that God knows us as Its own and can't help but know us as good.

So the challenge here is when I put this theory of living into practical application. It takes effort and commitment and vulnerability and probably a few other things to take a look at something I've done that was unskillful and endeavor to make it better. I will say from experience that it's a lot easier to chuck something I've done on top of Mount Loser than it is to take what I've done, examine it, admit to someone that it is less than my best work, and attempt to make amends. I risk pissing people off; worse, I risk deepening and strengthening a relationship if I bring up a problem and work with another toward it's resolution. 

I've mentioned before that I've led a very shallow life, and this is what it's about - instead of working with others to improve, and to move close to my True Self in this lifetime, I've tried to escape conflict. Relationship problems? Get a new relationship. Job difficulties? Find a different job. Or, better yet, find a way to not have to work at all. Because to do otherwise risks being hurt. I was going to put more words there, but I think that's really the bottom line - I have a huge aversion to feeling hurt (dismissed, disliked, rejected, fired, run out of town, disowned, whatever). So applying this theory to situations that come up in life requires effort and risk on my part, but as the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. In order to feel good about myself and life and living, I have to put myself out there, and have the faith that it is good and right that I should do so.

Stay tuned - Dismantling the Program - Part III explores a real-life application of these ideas! I hope you stay along for the ride!



Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Gratitude and Money

First off, I apologize for not yet writing and publishing the second part to my last post. It wasn't posted to Facebook yet, but it is published here (Blogger). I'm still wrapping my head around that whole topic.

So, anyway, gratitude and money. Or money and gratitude. I've recently started a book called "The Magic" by Rhonda Byrne. It's about acquiring a real working attitude of gratitude in my life. Gratitude is a powerful tool not only for recovering people but for everybody. To be really, really grateful for life and all that comes with it is, to me, success. "The Magic" gives exercises to supercharge gratitude and create almost immediate change in one's life. 

The whole book is premised on Matthew 13:12, in which Jesus states, "Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them." (NIV) Now, at first glance, this seems very unfair! But remember that Jesus was about teaching how the Universe works, and much of His teachings concerned human attitudes. When read in the context of gratitude, this verse makes perfect sense - Whoever is grateful for what they have will find even more to be grateful for, and whoever is ungrateful will lose even what they have. Remember that what we focus on grows and grows, so if I begin to focus on what I do have, with an attitude of gratitude, I will find more about which to be grateful. On the other hand, if I focus my attention on what I lack, I will find even more lack. I've lived in both situations.

Even a person who has seemingly nothing can find, when they look, something for which to be grateful. If you are reading this, you have something for which to be grateful - you are alive, you can read, and you're reading something I wrote, which is really special! There's 3 things right there.

Today's lesson or exercise from "The Magic" is on money. Lately I've been doing really well in the money area, and I've known for a long time that my attitude regarding money and life itself affects my finances. But today's lesson showed me something I hadn't really considered much lately, and it showed me that I was raised with a lot more than I thought I had. In other words, today's lesson shifted my focus a bit on growing up. Here is what Ms. Byrne asked:

  • Did you always have food to eat?
  • Did you live in a home?
  • How did you travel to school each day? Did you have schoolbooks, school lunches, and all the things you needed for school?
  • Did you go on any vacations when you were a child?
  • What were the most exciting birthday gifts you received when you were a child?
  • Did you have a bike, toys, or a pet?
  • Did you have clothes as you grew so quickly from one size to the next?
  • Did you go to the movies, play sports, learn a musical instrument, or pursue a hobby?
  • Did you go to the doctor and take medicine when you were not well?
  • Did you go to the dentist?
  • Did you have essential items that you used every day, like your toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, and shampoo?
  • Did you travel in a car?
  • Did you watch television, make phone calls, use lights, electricity, and water? (R. Byrne, The Magic, 2012, pp. 62-63)
So, as I read this list this morning, I was amazed. I answered 'yes' to each one! That's over 13 things for which I can be grateful! And Ms. Byrne points out that all of those things I had growing up took money.

I was not a grateful child growing up - statement of fact, no judgement either way. I grew up in a nice small non-integrated community, with both my middle-class parents who both worked, and I didn't know anything about material lack. I didn't experience it, and 99% of the people with whom I grew up did not experience it. My experience growing up was normal to me, and I really didn't know any differently. Nowadays, I know people who grew up in the chaos of poverty and instability; back then, I really didn't. Because I was unaware that a lot of people spent their childhoods in situations that were much, much different than mine, I came to adulthood with an attitude of entitlement, which did not help me lead a good life - I had no real appreciation of what I actually had.

In my adult life I've learned, firsthand, about poverty, both material and spiritual. If I were to apply those questions to my life today, I could not answer 'yes' to all of them. And that's ok - abundance is creeping back into my life as I'm learning to change my attitudes and approach to life.

The main spiritual attitude to which I aspire is that life is all good. The spiritual groups that I follow teach this, and it makes more sense to me than the idea of a deity that hands out random blessings and random punishments, that loves some of his creation and hates the rest. With this attitude, the responsibility for whether or not I lead a blessed life rests on my shoulders, not God's. Am I avoiding and escaping what comes to me in this lifetime, or am I embracing it? Am I looking for what I hate about Life, or am I looking for things and people to love? Did God create a miserable, useless, waste of oxygen, or did It create a wonderful copy of Itself that is currently coming into his own? These are questions which I encounter every day, and my answer is determined in and by my actions and attitudes. I work every day toward living more in the reality of who I really am, rather than the illusion that was given me and that I've fostered over the years.

But anyway, it is not necessary to believe as I believe in order to harness the power of gratitude. All it takes is to be willing and open to see life differently, and to focus on the abundance in my life rather than the lack, and to develop the feeling of gratitude. When my vision is wide, I feel abundantly blessed; when it is narrow, I can feel cursed. I learn each day ways to improve my vision, and I do feel grateful to be alive today and to be experiencing life as I am today. I am filled with hope and optimism. 



Saturday, December 12, 2020

Dismantling the Program - Part I

I had a great counselor this last treatment. He was the new clinical director of the treatment facility in which I was a patient, and he started just a few days after I did. In his very first group, one of the things he spoke about was psychiatric diagnoses. He talked about the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is edited and updated every so often by the American Psychiatric Association. My counselor said something that really struck me - that the only reason for having psychiatric diagnoses is for billing the insurance company* - that the maladaptive behaviors sometimes exhibited by those of us living with mental health disorders are learned behaviors and coping mechanisms. His point was that we can take apart the diagnosis, and work on individual symptoms. What he said really struck me, and I had to ponder it the rest of the day and into the night. 

I'm writing about this because I took his words to heart, and began to look at my mental health disorder, my diagnosis, in a different light. Is it possible that I hadn't made very much headway in treating my mental health disorder because I was trying to treat the whole disorder, rather than the symptoms?

As I write this, I have experienced approximately four months of what I call remission from depression. I'm not saying it's gone, but it's been sleeping fairly heavily! In these past four months I've stopped wanting to die, I've stopped experiencing suicidal ideation, and my hope, self-esteem, and motivation have increased dramatically. I will note that I am still taking the same medication prescribed to treat depression that I was taking before I entered treatment. I don't want to say the depression is gone - that would be denial that I still have issues to deal with - but I can say that I do not remember feeling like I've felt  with such consistency ever. So something's going on!

Let's take a quick look at my history with major depressive disorder. As a youngster, I often thought of death, and as an adolescent, and off and on through my adult life, I often felt suicidal - I wanted to die. Growing up, I did not recognize these feelings as symptoms of anything - I thought they were me. I identified myself so closely with depression and its symptoms that what I was experiencing was virtually untreatable, until about 5 years ago. Even after receiving promising treatment for depression, I was unable to escape its grasp on me - the program was running, and I couldn't do much about it.

Now let's take a look at something I've discussed in several posts over the years: automatic thinking. For our survival, humans are wired to classify things in our environment as safe or dangerous. We're set up that way so that the 2nd time (if there is a 2nd time) we see a tiger while walking in the woods, we don't have to think about whether to fight, run, or be very, very still - the response comes automatically. This is a great setup for basic survival; however, because of the world we now live in, automatic thinking can give false positives. For instance, a person who has been to war and survived living for a time in a very dangerous environment may come back from the war and be unable to enjoy life again - say, going to the fireworks on the 4th of July - because the normal events of life can bring them right back to when they lived in grave danger, even though they are in a safe place right now. Their brain is literally stuck where events which are similar, but not the same, as they experienced during war create the same anxiety and aversion as they did during the war. This particular set of symptoms is called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What makes this a mental health disorder is that not everybody who experiences the same trauma (war, in this example) will experience the symptoms of PTSD later on - part of what makes mental health disorders disorders is that the symptoms are behavior or thoughts outside the 'norm' - if everybody experienced the same thoughts and behaviors from the same stimuli, it wouldn't be a disorder; it would be life.

I experienced some things in my childhood that I wanted to avoid experiencing again. Now, some of these things I don't remember - I do not remember most of my preteen years - but I have the symptomology - the maladaptive behaviors - to have a pretty good idea that they happened. But that's not the point - the point is that my reaction was to want to avoid or escape whatever was going on, and I began to carry that reaction - escape or avoid - into just about every situation that made me feel uncomfortable. That's what makes it a mental health disorder, because not everybody who experienced stuff in their childhood developed maladaptive behaviors as a reaction. My coping mechanisms were basically dreaming of a permanent escape and, later on, drinking and using drugs as a means to avoid and escape. I also learned a lot of non-substance using ways to avoid and escape too!

Ok, what about the alcoholic part? And what about chemical imbalances that we hear so much about? I do believe in the genetics of alcoholism and addiction, and I believe I would have been an alcoholic/addict no matter what. As far as having a chemical imbalance, I do believe that I inadvertently trained my brain to be depressed. Again, if I begin to believe at an early age that I live in a dangerous world where I can't really trust others, and I have nothing contraindicating that belief, that idea can become very entrenched, and eventually the brain adapts to that kind of thinking. And I'll put this out there, too - it does not matter whether or not the belief is true. Imagine, if you will, growing up believing that the man you call daddy is your biological father, and then finding out as a teenager or an adult that, in reality, another person is your biological father. Does that change who your de facto father is? Probably not, unless you're looking for a reason to be adopted. (This is just an example for illustration; my father is my biological father).

So what's the point? I've got some cognitive dissonance going on here that I've had for a long time. On the one hand, part of me has believed for a long time that I am a defective person incapable of leading any kind of worthwhile life no matter what I try, while, on the other hand, I believe that we are children of a loving Creator made in Its image, which is perfect, holy, and in Whom nothing will be impossible. So which is it? Well, I'm going to go with the latter, which I'll talk about more in Dismantling the Program - Part II.



*In deference to those living with mental health disorders, especially severe mental health disorders, and in deference to those working in the mental health profession, I am not saying, "You are wrong." I invite you to look at mental health disorders in whatever way works best for you. I am simply offering my own experience for your consideration. Ken

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Trusting In The Process

 Last week at work, I had a nice schedule - 2 days of being a courtesy clerk, and 3 days of checking, and I had Monday and Friday off. I mentioned to the store director how I liked that schedule, and he thought it fit the store's needs nicely. Almost every employee at the store gets a different schedule each week. It's not always radically different, but it probably won't be the same as last week. If you've read previous posts, or know anything about retail and especially retail grocery, you know this is par for the course. 

So for next week's schedule (which is posted on Fridays), I was expecting something similar to the previous week. Last week I had 2 days starting at 6am, and 3 days starting between 9-9:30am. Imagine my surprise when I saw that next week's schedule has me checking only one day, and the other 4 days my start times are all over the place! Additionally, I didn't have as many hours scheduled as I did the previous week.

[I italicized expecting in the paragraph above to note here that, for people in recovery from addiction, expectations can be dangerous. Expectations are precursors to resentments for recovering people, and resentments can be deadly. Having an expectation often means I feel entitled to a certain outcome, and when the outcome is different than what I'm expecting, I feel disappointed, and my inner little-me screams, "Unfair!"]

The first thought that came from seeing next week's schedule was "I must be doing something wrong." Why? Because my first thought, good or bad, almost always revolves around me (little-me) and what little-me wants and thinks he needs in order to feel secure.

My first priority, or job one, is staying sober and in remission from depression, so I had some work to do to turn my thinking around and find a way of looking at the schedule that works for me in a positive way. First, I looked at the cognitive distortion of "my schedule's different, I must be doing something wrong." This comes from a core belief, which I'm working on changing, that I'm almost always wrong. There was no evidence that I was doing anything wrong this past week (other than the few errors I made which were immediately pointed out to me). So toss that idea out.

Second, because I'm just not the type to blindly accept things, I looked for another reason why my schedule might be so drastically different. I'm going to note here that nothing in the schedule was out of bounds for what I've given the store as my available times to work. There are over 100 employees at my store, meaning that scheduling has to be difficult to accommodate every employee's needs as well as accommodating what the store needs. I've taken ownership of my job, but that doesn't mean I don't work for somebody else - I do. That means that I've agreed to make myself available whenever and for whatever the store needs (again, it's not about me). So my conclusion is that because I'm a flexible employee, the store director scheduled me where he needed me. Ok, I can live with that.

But wait, there's more! Upon further review of the upcoming schedule, I noted that I'd be able to go to more recovery meetings this week and that there was more time to schedule a 1:1 with my counselor. This realization opened my mind to what might be going on here - I began to see that this week's schedule might make room for some possibilities and opportunities for me (see how it comes back around to me?). So I begin to look for the unexpected, because my schedule was unexpected.

As an alcoholic and a person living with depression, I'm very used to seeing the negative possibilities in life. As a person in recovery, a huge part of my recovery is reframing the way I see myself, others, life, and God, because focusing on the same old shit will get me the same old results.

That, for me, is trusting in the process. If one follows the teachings in the Bible, both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, there is a lot of evidence that God is continually supporting us and giving us opportunities to flourish. Aside from the Bible, there is a lot of evidence in my own history that a Power greater than myself supports me - I've given up multiple times throughout my life, and I'm still here and good stuff still happens to me, in me, and through me when I let it. 

Another example is this treatment program in which I'm involved - it is not run very much at all in the manner I think it should be run. (It's good to note here that nobody has asked me how I think it should be run). However, I've been sober since I've been here, and since I've been here, my depression seems to have gone into remission - not just gotten better, but got up and left! (I still have to live in a way that doesn't lead back to depression and/or drinking). So something is going right with where I've been and what I've been doing for the past almost 4 months. 

So trusting in the process means not relying upon my first impression (my own understanding) of anything to make a judgment about whether something is good or bad for me, and not resisting what comes my way. When I practice non-resistance and acceptance (when I stop fighting life), I am able to see possibilities and opportunities and grace that I was unable to see before.

I need to mention before closing that I have not had my rights trampled on at work or in treatment, and I have not experienced any abuse. Trusting in the process does not mean accepting abuse; I do not need to be beaten down physically or emotionally in order to get better - the only thing that needs to take a beating is my insistence that in order for life to be good, everything must go my way.



Thursday, October 22, 2020

Letting Go of the Good to Make Room for the Better

 I've been trying to compose a post about reducing perfectionism, but I haven't yet got it quite right. So here's this post instead:

I've had several jobs that, besides what I was employed to do, have taught me a great deal about how to get along better in life, and how to practice spiritual principles. My current job is no exception. I am employed as a courtesy clerk at a chain grocery in Prescott. I have varied responsibilities, from cleaning, to customer service, to gophering, to reducing our liability by making sure the parking lot doesn't have a lot of stray carts. I like this job, both because I know how to do it, and because I get to be of service to others. I never want to diminish how important it is for me to have a chunk of time (up to 8 hours) during the day when I am 90-100% certain of what my next step is to be.

I've been at my job almost 2 months, I think, and I have evidence that I am exceeding expectations. Part of that evidence is that I am being trained as a checker, and have actually been scheduled one day (so far) in that role. A couple of days ago, one of the managers mentioned that on Friday and Saturday I'll be training a new courtesy clerk for 4 hours each day on how to open for. Ok - I'm not a big fan of training, but this is fairly simple work for most folks, and one can tell fairly quickly whether or not the trainee is going to succeed in the position. Earlier, a colleague and I had been talking about when we do a good job, we don't get a raise, we get more to do. That's actually fairly accurate for the grocery industry, as well as others, I'm sure.

Anyway, I asked the manager if I'd get training pay, and he said, "No, but if you do a good job training, you'll be able to get scheduled more often as a checker." He did not realize how profound that statement is.

As I mentioned above, almost every job has lessons for me to learn, because my Higher Power does not take a break while I'm working. And the lesson, or message, that I received today is so simple, I think it is often overlooked: In order to me to move forward or evolve in this lifetime, I must be willing to let go of my current position. And at work, if I want to move forward and upward in the company, I need to be willing to let go of the role in which I started.

Now let's take a look at (my) life and see how that can be applied. Certainly, if I want to progress in my education, I need to leave behind my last grade completed. That's usually how things work in our temporal world - we complete one level and then move on to the next. When applied spiritual evolution, the picture gets a bit murkier, but it isn't indiscernible. Say, for instance, that all my life I've been seeking something more than my current experience. I might find that 'something more' in alcohol or drugs. I might even find it in the addiction experience, where, if I survive, I will find that the alcohol and drugs no longer work for me, but I can't quit. At first, when I found alcohol and drugs, they were THE experience. I had arrived. But, bit by bit, I realized that what I was experiencing wasn't really what I was seeking; it was something more, but in a way that made me and others suffer.

Now here is where today's lesson becomes important: In order to get to the next level, I need to let go of the current experience. I must put down my drinking and drugging, and begin to seek a new path. Scary stuff, because the new path is unknown to me. There are times when the fear of what's next overpowers the misery in which I'm living. Now, hopefully, in the temporal world, I don't have to be miserable in my current situation before I move on to my next; however, in the addiction world, which I think is both temporal and spiritual, that's often the way it works out. 

Today, specifically, I can apply this lesson to my practices of ending and beginning my day. Mostly what I've been doing before going to bed is surfing the web on my phone and then going to sleep when I got tired enough. This isn't really good sleep hygiene, and good sleep hygiene is important to my recovery - both my sobriety and my mental health - and it is especially important now that I have a job that starts at 6am, because getting up early to get to work at 6 is not normally in my nature. Therefore, if I want to consistently get up on time and in a good frame of mind, I need to make sure I go to bed in the best frame of mind - with a clear conscience and looking forward to the next day (God willing). What I just started a few nights ago is letting go of surfing before bed, and instead ending my day with thoughtful examination, prayer, and meditation. I might have written about this before.

The principle here is that whatever I'm focusing my energy on today is going to stay in my experience until I begin focusing my energy on what I would like to experience next. People living with addiction who successfully abstain from alcohol and drugs don't focus on not drinking and using; we focus on practicing the tools of recovery. Similarly, I don't move away from mental illness by focusing on its symptoms; I get better, again, by practicing skillful coping mechanisms, and finding out what works for me.

Speaking of which, I have been nearly symptom-free from depression for about 10 weeks now. That is a really long time for me, and I do not recall being as hopeful, motivated, and willing as I am now for a very long time. If I knew exactly how that came about, I would certainly share it. I believe that a lot of factors, physically, mentally, and spiritually have come together over the past two months. But I had to let go of the need to feel shitty about myself and my life in order to get better. I have to be willing to walk into my future without knowing exactly for sure what it's going to be like. This is a point at which many alcoholics begin recovery - "I don't know what not drinking is going to be like, but it's gotta be better than this!"

Another area of my life to which this applies is my living situation. I'm currently in sober living, and I don't like it too much for a variety of reasons. There are a lot of things that I live with that I wouldn't have to live with if I lived alone or with one other person. I desire moving on from where I'm at, so I've laid the groundwork: I've begun looking for rooms, roommates, and apartments; I've been letting others in recovery know that I'm looking; and I've sent in a prayer request to my church, as well as prayed myself. Now, the next thing is to focus not on what I don't like about where I'm living, but about what is good about where I'm living - in other words, to be grateful for the things that I like about where I'm at. These include, but aren't limited to: I'm grateful for hot water; I'm grateful for the really nice view; I'm grateful just to have a roof over my head; I'm grateful that I live a half-mile from work; I'm grateful the rent is affordable; I'm grateful for wi-fi; I'm grateful that I currently have a room to myself, etc. 

The challenge is that I cannot see into the future. I can say that I believe it will be good, but I have no idea where or with whom I'll be living in, say, a month or two from now. In the meantime, I'm doing my best at making the best of my current situation, and coming to believe that no matter what, I am supported by my Higher Power. It's a practice.

I want to use this last paragraph to first of all thank you for reading this far! Thank you! Also, something I was thinking about recently - part of me wants me to be able to write the absolute Truth, the absolute Answer for everything. That's where I get hung up sometimes, because it can't be done (not today, anyway) - I haven't uncovered the Complete Truth yet, and probably won't in this life time. But it's not about that; it's about the journey. It's also about giving readers an opportunity to ponder some of my experiences and thoughts and to see what insights you might experience about your own life. Sharing and connection help me to have the kind of life experience I think a Loving God wants me to have. Nobody's in this thing alone.



Saturday, October 10, 2020

Starting at the Top

 My current counselor recently introduced me to a new (to me) concept. We were talking about doing our best vs seeking approval. My counselor used to teach, and he said that when he began the semester, he told his students that they all had A's - that all they had to do if they wanted to have an A at the end of the semester was to maintain it by learning and doing the work. This sounded to me both intriguing and a little fishy. The more I started to think about it, and to examine my past regarding doing my best vs approval seeking, the more it made sense, especially spiritually.

As discussed in an earlier post, one of my core beliefs that doesn't work for me anymore is that I am inferior, I'm not good enough, I don't have what it takes (whatever it is). I have reinforced that belief time and time again through sabotaging the opportunities that came my way. When I had an opportunity, instead of doing my best, I did what I thought would bring me approval and love. Living for approval is not sustainable in the long run for (at least) two reasons: the first is that if I need approval from someone else as motivation to live life, I've made another human being (or an institution or corporation) my higher power, and no human being (or institution or corporation) is equipped to take on the job of being mine or anyone else's higher power. The second reason is that I have an addictive personality, and approval is like a drug to me, and eventually, I can't get enough. So the end result of living life to get others' approval is discouragement, disappointment, and resentment. Not good.

Those of us who have lived through mental illness and/or addiction and/or incarceration can probably relate - we've hit bottom in one way or another. When we get out of the hospital, or the treatment center, or the prison, if we don't want to go back, it looks like we're at the base of a very tall mountain - the mountain being recovery and regaining health, dignity, and respect. Lots of us get a little way up the mountain, get exhausted, fall down and roll back down, somewhat like Sisyphus.

What if I changed my thinking on this? What if, instead of starting at the bottom, beaten and broken, and having to scrabble my way up, I start at the top, meaning cultivating a belief that I already have what I need to be successful in whatever I desire to do today? Cultivating this belief, however, has a few prerequisites - I must be willing to live a day, or even a moment, at a time; I must be willing to act as if I have a loving Higher Power that provides me with everything I need today to have a successful day; I must be willing to not only count the mistakes I make in a day, but to count the things I've done well during the day.

I have a new job - I work at a grocery store as a courtesy clerk and, more recently, as a checker. Most days I open, meaning I start at 6 am  checking and preparing certain things for the day's business. In other words, I clean the bathrooms and the break room, sweep the floors, take out the trash, and perform other miscellaneous tasks. Then when customers begin coming, I help bag groceries, collect carts, check prices, and other miscellaneous tasks. I love what I'm doing (being of service) and I feel extremely grateful and fortunate to be working in a grocery store. It has great meaning for me - 23 years ago I worked in grocery, and I really messed that job up in a big way. I feel like I've been given another chance and an opportunity to make indirect amends to the grocery store for which I used to work, as well as direct amends to myself - I get to work each day at being a different person than I used to be. I go at my job each day with enthusiasm, and I do my best. Apparently my best is very good, as my work has been noticed several times in a positive way. 

Because I see this job as a gift from God or an opportunity from the Universe, I am interested in seeking my approval regarding how I show up and perform each day. I know what I need to do to feel like I'm doing a good job. I'm not interested in anyone else's approval, though I do get it. (And that's one of the paradoxes in my life - when I do something for it's own sake - for instance, being authentic - rather than in an effort to gain approval, I get more approval than I would have gotten if I had tried for it, and it feels better, too, because it's genuine. I did not solicit it).

What I'm not doing is coming at this job from an angle of 'not good enough' and trying to prove myself. I suit up, show up (on time), and do all my tasks believing that they are gifts. So I don't get paid a whole bunch monetarily, but I am wealthy beyond belief in self-esteem and gratitude.

Now let's take a look at recovery. My current counselor, and a lot of people in recovery, say that the only thing I have to do today in order to be successful is to abstain from using alcohol or drugs. That is really tough for me to swallow, because I counter with, "You mean I could stay in bed all day and do nothing and I'm a success?" Well, sort of. The thing is that staying in bed all day is not conducive to sobriety or mental health recovery. However, if I put my recovery first, I am going to be doing things to support my recovery, and those will be good, healthy things. So maybe I lose my job and crash my car - I'm a success today if I don't allow those circumstances to drive me back to drinking or mental illness. If my reaction to life today is constructive, rather than destructive, and even if I didn't finish everything, or not everything went according to plan, and can still consider myself a success this day. 

I've met so many people who've had difficulty in recovery because addiction or mental illness had crushed their idea of what success "should" be. Nobody has to buy in to another's idea of success. When I follow my heart and conscience, that's success to me today. When I do today what brings joy and peace into my life and the lives of others, I am successful today. I don't need to measure up to anybody else's ideas of success.

To start at the top, I do these things: I open myself, my mind, and my heart to life today - this is where I am, right here and right now, and attempting to avoid or escape it only brings me suffering. In prayer, I align my will with my Higher Power's will, and if I am fuzzy on how to do that, I ask for help. I become grateful for the multitude of gifts that I have, which makes me feel good inside, which in turn motivates me to keep moving in a positive direction. I acknowledge my mistakes, and rectify them if I can and/or learn from them - I no longer beat myself up for them. I no longer say, "I should have known better," because obviously I didn't. I endeavor to live life from the inside out, to be of service, and to utilize the gifts and talents that I have. Through this, I see I have the potential to add a lot to life; this doesn't mean that I have to do it all today. I understand that in order to get wherever I'm going, I have to pass through today, so I endeavor to make today satisfying and joyful.

I've been symptom-free from anything for over two months now. Life is challenging, but it has not been a struggle. I do not recall a time in the recent past when I've felt so engaged with life and actually happy to be alive. I am very grateful.