Monday, November 19, 2018

Getting Your Emotions Ready for Thanksgiving


Even though it’s been years since I had Thanksgiving with my own family I still get nervous as this holiday approaches. When I was growing up November always brought a wave of panic. My mother wanted the house to be nicer than it was, so each year we were subjected to a frenzy of last-minute decorating on a shoestring.

One year she bought cases of caulking compound to remedy the drafty chill. We had that caulking goop for years and in the summer, we used the guns to play Combat. Another year she decided to make over the master bedroom. Her plan was to “tent” the bed in yards of gauzy fabric.

But my mother didn’t know how to sew; she could picture the end result but not how to get there. We had that fabric for years. I made togas for Latin class, we wrapped gifts in it, and ten years later, when my niece got married, we made shower decorations with the last of those pastel yard goods.

While my mother was decorating, my father cooked. He would stay up all night tending the bird.




On Thanksgiving morning, the the scent of baking pies was added to the aroma of roasting turkey, and that would combine with the odors of Spic & Span and dusting spray, as my mother furiously cleaned.  

Tension ran high. We were shouted into baths and clean clothes. When the doorbell rang at noon, we smelled, and looked good. 

Aunt Junie always arrived first and brought her own pies. Yes, she knew my father was
making the dessert--he did every year--but every year she brought her own pies and acted surprised. What can I say? She was his older sister. Sibling stuff doesn’t age out, it just gets played out in new ways.

Next was Aunt Martha, who pinched us –hard –on the cheek. We’d whine to our mother, and she would say, “Be nice to her, she doesn’t have any children”, as if that explained why she wanted to torture someone else’s. 

Soon the house would be filled with people. The cousins went straight to chasing and teasing each other. We saw then, but only knew later, the significance of each cousin’s ways: The one who always stood back to watch is now the writer; the cousin who schmoozed with the adults became a politician, and the one who happily ran to get refills for the grown-ups--finishing off their drinks enroute—is now a popular speaker on the recovery circuit.

Of course, we didn’t see the adult side of things. I didn’t know about the barbs my mother got about our old house from the Aunt who “married better”. I didn’t know that this pain was the fuel for my mother’s decorating frenzy. I also didn’t know until later that the men sitting around the kitchen table were zinging their darts at my Dad. He was the only one who had finished school and moved “upstairs” in the plant. Now I see why he had to excuse himself so often to “check on the turkey”.

Most of our families have a version of these scenes. On Thanksgiving we’ll be humming, “We gather together….”, but mothers will sigh over daughter’s hair, the childless will offer parenting advice, and the uncle who has plenty will tell those who have none how they should invest their money. Old wounds will be given a good jab intentionally or not. 

We come to this meal each year hoping for the holiday we remember from childhood. So, if the tension rises in your dining room on Thursday just consider it a warm up for the December holidays to come, and like a warning shot fired over our feelings, let’s be gentle with the people we sit down with today.

Monday, November 05, 2018

A Guest Post-John Kahal--How to Start Your Day


The 10 Healthiest Ways to Start Off Your Day 


By John Kahal, Founder and CEO of Solutions 4 Recovery


At the outset of the recovery journey, feelings of joy and happiness do not come easily. Those emotions were hijacked as a result of a drug or alcohol addiction, and may take a little while to reappear in the daily spectrum of emotions.

Living each day, or hour, without the crutch once depended on to dull emotional pain means opening oneself up to raw, unanesthetized feelings. Early recovery is often marked by a sense of anxiety, trepidation, loss, and uncertainty.

Knowing that this difficult stage will pass is critical to moving through it successfully. In time, brain chemistry will normalize, allowing for a renewal of spirit to replace those initial feelings of uncertainty. As each day passes, sobriety is reinforced and daily life becomes increasingly populated with positivity.

Each small accomplishment builds on the last one, until, over time, a renewed sense of self-worth is established. A positive sense of self-worth leads to increased confidence. Like a snowball gathering momentum and girth, these small victories can grow into authentic happiness.

One of the best strategies for jump-starting this process of renewing the spirit is to create a daily routine that starts off with healthy actions that lead to feelings of accomplishment, gratitude, and self-love. Starting your day doing things to benefit your health and wellbeing will set a positive tone that will resonate throughout the day.

New habits take practice, usually a minimum of 21 consecutive days in a row before they become second nature. But sticking with them will reap amazing rewards across all aspects of one’s life, with improved mood, a more positive outlook, sense of accomplishment, growing confidence, and a healthier body only enhancing your new life in recovery.

10 Healthy Starts to Your Days

  1. Wake up refreshed. Nothing can sabotage an entire day like insufficient sleep. To ensure that your mornings will start on the right foot, stick to a regular bedtime that allows for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep. To enhance sleep quality, do not eat after 7pm, avoid caffeine after 2pm, turn off electronics an hour before bed, take a warm bath in Epsom salts, and read before turning off the lights. If noise is an issue, buy a white noise machine to blend away any sleep-disturbing sounds.

  1. Stretch. Before you get out of bed, take a minute to stretch like a cat. Really stretch the body, elongating the spine while stretching and reaching one arm at a time as far as possible. Once standing, do a couple of stretches, inhaling deeply as you raise the arms up to the ceiling, and exhaling as you lower them. Stretching helps get blood flowing to the muscles, loosens joints, and increases flexibility.

  1. Express gratitude. Sit on the edge of the bed and consider the day ahead. Bring to mind the things you feel grateful for—a safe place to live, food on the table, a job, friends and family, your children, a loving pet. Think of just one way you can give back today, some kind words or one thoughtful act that you can do to express gratitude for the blessings in your life.

  1. Make your bed. This may seem like a silly, meaningless new habit, but the simple act of making your bed speaks volume about your desire to rebuild your life. Use the act of making the bed as a metaphor for straightening up and tidying your life in recovery. Smooth the wrinkles, straighten the bedspread, and let the nice, neat bed tell the story of your newly ordered life around sobriety and wellness.

  1. Shower mindfully. The morning shower is usually a mindless step each day that you probably daydream through as you go through the motions of cleansing your hair and body. Begin a new, mindful approach to the shower. Really experience the soothing sensation of the water running through your hair and over your skin. Nourish the hair and skin with conditioner or scrubs to enhance the mindful showering experience.

  1. Nutritious breakfast. Skipping breakfast is never advisable, as the body will be tricked into thinking that it is being starved and will deplete muscle in an effort to function without calorie input. Even if all you can manage is a protein drink or bar that would be better than nothing. Better yet, fix a bowl of oatmeal topped with berries, scramble a couple of eggs, or just have a serving of Greek yogurt. Your whole day will benefit from a healthy breakfast.

  1. Exercise. If time allows, incorporate a short, brisk walk into your morning routine before rushing off to work. Getting outdoors, when weather permits, exposes you to vitamin D, which can help improve mood. Walking at a good clip for 20 minutes is an excellent cardio activity that improves cardiovascular health, builds muscle, and produces endorphins, which also work to improve mood.

  1. Make a to-do list. Start the day with a roadmap by jotting down the main tasks you need to accomplish. This habit helps reduce stress, as just writing the items down relieves the anxiety that you might forget to do something important. It also helps you pace your day and prioritize, aiding in time management. Crossing off each item helps cultivate a sense of accomplishment.

  1. Relax. If your have a busy, stressful day ahead, take a couple of minutes to do some deep breathing exercises. This calming practice helps provide relaxation to tense muscles, but also slows the heart rate, reduces anxiety, and increases energy to tackle that busy schedule. Breathe in slowly for 4 counts, hold the breath for 4 counts, and release by exhaling through the mouth to 7 counts. Repeat 5 times.

  1. Positive self-affirmation. As you drive to your job or begin your day parenting, give yourself a little boost by acknowledging something positive about you. This can be as simple as giving self-kudos for each day of sobriety under your belt. You can tell yourself how strong you are for making it through detox and rehab and into recovery. You can remind yourself of your wonderful qualities or skills. Anything positive that you convey to yourself will help propel each new day in recovery.


About the Author--Many thanks to John Kahal, founder of Solutions 4 Recovery, and a regular reader of Out of the Woods:

John T. Kahal is the founder and C.E.O. of Solutions 4 Recovery, a comprehensive addiction and dual diagnosis treatment program located in South Orange County, California.  After his own successful experience with the recovery process and journey, Kahal decided to create a unique program that was individualized for each client’s specific needs.  Kahal’s passion to share his own positive experience with others, while being a living example of the freedom found in recovery, is what motivates him to guide clients toward their own stable, long-term recovery.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Tara Westover Educates All of Us About Shame


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I'm just over the moon about this book. Yes, you’ve read about it or maybe heard the author, Tara Westover interviewed on TV or NPR, and yes, it’s about that girl who never went to school and then went to Cambridge and Harvard. It’s also about fundamentalism and (sort of) alternative healthcare. But it's so much more.


If you or a friend grew up in a family with addiction, abuse, or mental illness, and struggled to both heal and thrive here is a model and a roadmap of that complexity. 

And here is the best illustration of the power --and origin--of shame that I have ever read.

Tara Westover wrote about growing up in rural Idaho and about a father who was either/both mentally ill and fundamentalist. 

All of that is fascinating and curious and scary. Her story is filled with violence, perseverance, and strategizing for survival. But the big cost emerged so much later in her life.

In showing us how those very early years play out 10 and 20 years after the fact we get a sad but startling depiction of the true cost of growing up in an addicted or abusive home.

The parts of this book that made me pull the car over (I was listening to the book) and cry or take deep breaths occurred long after Tara has left her parent’s home, long after they have any official control over her life, and well into what we expect to be her new “successful” life.

If you ever felt—long into recovery—that you were still stuck in some way, or that old ghosts might be running too much of your head, Tara Westover has perfectly described how that happens and how deep those hooks can be.

If you have ever noticed that sometimes a compliment is more uncomfortable to you than a criticism, you’ll want to see what Tara learns about that.

I am recommending this book to everyone in recovery, everyone making sense of their trauma history, and every parent as well. There is so much help and healing in Westover’s beautiful book.

She might make you cry, but you will also be cheering for her—and for your recovering self.