Monday, May 30, 2016

The True Cost of Change

“I want to change this thing about myself.”  I say things like that, maybe you too? We want to change beliefs, behaviors, or attitudes. We “work” on ourselves, we read books, talk to smart friends and therapists, and we get better. But then, it’s still kinds there.

So is there something about the process of change that we’re missing? 

I’m in the middle of an intense Yoga Teacher Training. When I signed up I worried about getting hurt—would my body be able to handle it? Would I have enough endurance and flexibility? Well, guess what? It’s not about the body. The center piece and challenge in this Yoga Teacher Program is about being willing to change, and willing to learn.

Here are two things I have learned about change in the past few weeks:

One: Change is betrayal. Yes, betrayal. To make changes in your life you have to betray habits. We are loyal to our habits whether they are physical or mental or emotional, and to make deep, lasting change means we have to betray ourselves, and betray our habits. That’s part of the charge and what gets stirred up when we get close to real change. Now, I can say, “I am willing to betray my habits, to make new ones.”

Two: Here is a metaphor for transformation. If you put paper near a fire the paper will get really hot. But if you put paper directly in a fire it will be transformed. Most of us, when we are attempting an important change, get near the fire, but we don’t get the fire, and then we wonder why we are not transformed. Most of us miss the last 5% of commitment. So we have to go all the way into the change.

Chew on these along with the things you most want to change: your thinking, your diet, beliefs about yourself, your work. And then betray your habits and roll right into that fire.

Read more about recovery and change in my book: "Out of the Woods-A Guide to Long-term Recovery" published by Central Recovery Press

Sunday, May 22, 2016

AA Prayer Works…and Now a Study Shows Us

Early in recovery we are often given the instruction to memorize the Serenity Prayer and to use it as often as possible. Over the years that prayer and others like the Prayer of St. Francis and our own
Seventh or Third Step prayers become tools on long-term recovery.

I  have wondered if those prayers are just good cognitive habits or spiritual tools or a kind of magic, but I always love the stories we hear in meetings about a man or woman in recovery encountering a tough situation and then, they say, "I prayed, and then …" And then something happened. The situation changed or it didn't change , but says the speaker, "I didn't drink."

So now we have the start of some real research looking at the power of prayer for people in long recovery. And it turns out that the early evidence shows that using prayer to resist or decrease cravings works:

Here is what the researchers at NYU are finding:

“Our findings suggest that the experience of AA over the years had left these members with an innate ability to use the AA experience — prayer in this case — to minimize the effect of alcohol triggers in producing craving,” said senior author Marc Galanter, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse at NYU Langone.
Like me, you may want to share this bit of encouraging spiritual and recovery evidence with folks you know, so here is the link to the full article at PsychCentral. A gratitude prayer may also be in order after reading this news:

More news: My new book, "Never Leave Your Dead" will be published by Central Recovery Press in early June.  It's the story of  military trauma and family trauma, and the long but possible road to
recovery for veterans and families. It is a story of resilience and redemption. I hope you'll take a look.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Happy Mother's Day, Medea

If productivity was down in your workplace this week you can blame your mother. All across the community workers were lingering through their lunch hour in card stores reading and sighing. Buying a Mother’s Day card is not easy. 

For some, the card that says, “Mom, Thanks for being perfect” is fine, but for the rest of us, with complicated mothers and complicated relationships, the search for the right message is tough.

But even as children–of all ages--struggle to summarize their maternal relationship in a card, those on the receiving end have mixed feelings too. Most of us know we don’t come close to the platitudes in those greeting cards. What is a good mother? Do we measure up? On this day that celebrates kindness, patience and sacrifice many of us squirm remembering our less than ideal maternal moments; We wonder if we’ve done something really bad along the way and worry whether our worst day as a mother damaged our kids.

Mothers who hurt their children is a painful topic. The reality of mothers’ hostile impulses against their children is old news in psychological circles and parenting books, but we rarely allow parents to admit those feelings. Thank goodness, most of us don’t act on our thoughts, but some mothers have struggled with the limits and lost. When we hear about them, many of us know--in the privacy of our hearts--that it was just the grace of God, good friends, a reliable baby-sitter and money in the bank that kept us from taking their place.

 So maybe we should, especially on Mother’s Day, have some compassion for the mothers who lost it, those women who did the unthinkable; they hurt their own child. If some mothers weren’t so newsworthy for their sheer failure at mothering the rest of us would not know where to draw the line in self-judgment. We can count ourselves lucky and a little grateful that most of us have slapped but did not scald, screamed but did not hit, or cursed but did not kill. When we react to a child-abuse horror story with the common, “Can you imagine?” the truth is that most of us can. We owe a debt to those mothers because they give us the outside limit from which to measure our parenting. The “bad” mother relieves us of the shadowy fear we all carry.  

We can’t talk about bad mothers without mentioning Medea; the mythological woman who killed her kids to punish their philandering father. But Medea got to her breaking point after a world tour of abuse, abandonment and humiliation. After being dumped in a strange country with no way home, she lost it and she killed. Medea’s story is a myth but, as with all myths there is universal truth being revealed.  Nobody starts out wanting to kill their children; nobody starts out thinking scalding is reasonable discipline. It’s baby steps all the way. 

When we read about women who hurt their kids a healthy mother has to stop and ask herself, “How did that woman get there?

Every mother who lost it at least once, or who did something she swore she’d never do, can be grateful for everything that keeps her from crossing over to the territory of the terrible mother.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russian novelist, wrote: “If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and we could separate them from us and destroy them, but the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” That includes yours and mine. 

So for Mother’s Day let’s thank the good mothers and show a moment of compassion for the “Medeas” of the world, who in their tragic solution to life’s problems show us where we ought not to go.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Balance--a Yoga Lesson in Long-term Recovery

I have just arrived home from two weeks of yoga training. Two weeks of doing daily yoga, and extra yoga posture training, and study of yoga philosophy, and the anatomy and physiology of yoga. In addition, there were lectures on Ayurvedic medicine, nutrition, psychology, and conscious communication.

So, yes it was very intense. And an emotional roller coaster at times. But here’s the thing: I loved it! I also knew—even at the hardest moments—that practicing my twelve-step life tools was carrying me through. 

One thing that was physically present was this question of balance. In my last post I wrote about the value of an unbalanced life—following a passion (like yoga an yoga teaching) is seriously unbalanced, even as, yoga brings more balance into one’s life.

Seem like a paradox? Yeah, it is, just like all the paradoxes in our Twelve-step programs.

One of the challenging tasks in these first two weeks of yoga teacher training was that we had to get up and start teaching within the first few days. Yeah, kinda intimidating to find my voice in this new area. But I also felt my recovery become full-bodied. I know how to chair a meeting, and how to stand up and share, and how to guide a newcomer. And I could draw on that.

I also heard myself say something that made me laugh: I was teaching the Tree Pose where you stand on one leg and put the other food on your calf or thigh and balance while breathing, and I heard myself say, “And you’ll feel yourself wobble a bit because balance is really made up of a million moments of being out of balance.”

Balance comes from out of balance. Our lives get balanced as the pendulum swings get smaller and smaller. We are coming out of the woods.