Monday, September 10, 2007

Building a Cognitive Life Raft

Outside help. Yes, still, after 20-plus years in recovery I take advantage of what is euphemistically referred to as “outside help”. It is therapy and now, the full continuum of alternative care: acupuncture, Reiki, energy healing, groups, retreats, spiritual direction. The 12 steps may be a core but—since some are sicker than others, and yes since I’m still impatient and a perfectionist—I take all the help—and all forms—that I can get.

But the reading. Self-help reading sometimes takes a beating in AA. But I’m ever grateful for self-help books because that’s how I got here. Robin Norwood’s “Women Who Love Too Much” pointed me to AA, OA, ACOA and Al-Anon. Since then I have read across the genre. Recently the new memoir lit has intersected self-help and I have loved books like “Here If you Need Me” and “Eat. Pray. Love.” A smart woman learns from her mistakes; a wise woman learns from other people’s mistakes. So give me books and all your stories: what you did and what happened.

Building a Cognitive Life Raft: I learned that phrase a long time ago and I love it. A cognitive life raft. When I thought that I was wasting time reading self-help or psychology books I really was building a layer to help me thru the sea of pain that would accompany the next change. We’re supposed to “feel our feelings” and “do the grief work”...yes I have done it all and it works: pound those pillows and scream, break the tennis racket on the couch, write the letters that never get mailed. Buy yourself a Teddy Bear and a doll and re-parent yourself for years. But I also found that I needed to lay down a theoretical base, to build a cognitive structure to support all that, so psychology books and self-help built a raft for me to ride the river of emotional healing.

I still do this. I’m struggling now because I need to change a relationship. I’m sad and scared. I write about it and I talk about it and in the car I play Brandi Carlisle and Bonnie Raitt and I cry, but I also read about abandonment and cognitive schema’s (Thank you Oprah) and I read Robin Norwood again…lay an intellectual foundation, build my cognitive life raft…then bring it: the pain that inevitably accompanies growth.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Labor Day is New Year's Day

The new year has never entered with champagne and icy roads, nor begun in silver lame and silly hats. Though you may have spent many a January saying new years words, you know as well as I that the real new year begins now, as it always has, the day after Labor Day. It does not matter that it is hot outside or that you are still putting on shorts when you come home from work. The new year begins as it did for 12 critical years. It begins with back to school.

And it does not matter how long it has been since you went to school, or if you have kids of your own going off to school. You know in your bones that the new year begins now. And how could it not? For 12 most important years you went off on that first Tuesday in September to try out the new identity you had forged over the summer. Was your look changed this year? Had you let your hair grow long? Or cut it short? Would they recognize you right away? Would everyone sense the new sophistication gained at summer camp in New Jersey, or two weeks visiting your sister in L.A.? Yeah, you were that same old kid when you left on the last day of school in June, but every year in the fall there was a new you and it debuted the day after Labor Day.

Every September you promised yourself you'd be more popular, more friendly, more outgoing. Or you promised you'd play around less, make new friends, hang out with the good kids.

If it was a year of changing schools then there was more newness and more opportunity to be a new you. That was the beauty of the beginning of September. Every single year you could return from summer and try out a new identity. You could be a scholar this year after a past as the class clown. Or you could be the friendly one after years as the grind and curve setter. The opportunity to redo your image came every year the day after Labor Day. And it still does.

January is not the right time for New Years resolutions. How could it be? You've been too busy with the holidays and it's cold and yucky out, and you are broke from gift giving. How are you really going to create a new body or mind or personality in the middle of all that?

September is the time to not only promise yourself a new exercise program, but to start it. It's still light after work and it's not cold in the morning. You really can go exercise. September is the time to start a diet that will stick. You are coming off a summer of fresh foods, and you are not bloated by 30 days of holiday treats and booze. As for a new look; who can afford one in January? You've worn your name off all your plastic just trying to get through the holidays.
No, the new look and image you have been promising yourself comes in September just as it did when you were a kid. Remember how it worked in Junior High? You decided to wear a tie and tweed because that summer you discovered poetry (or an older girl who liked poets). Or you promised yourself that you would wash and set your hair in a smooth flip every morning to look like those girls in the magazines.

In September you could try out in public all those looks you had been practicing in the mirror behind your bedroom door.

So what if the good intentions only lasted a few weeks. Some part of it always stuck, some part of the new you was the real you and real change and that's how you moved on.

And you still can. The chnages happen in September. Buy some new sox and a red plaid shirt. This is the time to be kinder, nicer, smarter, to listen more, eat less and to hang out with the good kids. The trees remind us how it's done; try some new colors, shed the old layers. It's September. Happy New Year!