Categories
Mental Health Recovery

Is Your Passive Aggressive Behavior Harming Your Relationships?

Passive aggressive behavior has no place in a healthy relationship. Building healthy relationships is an important building block in recovery. More often than not, relationships suffer greatly due to the negative behaviors associated with addiction and mental illness. Passive aggressive behavior is defined as a pattern of indirectly expressing frustration or anger, using things like sarcasm, avoidance, procrastination, and stubbornness. The habituated patterns of passive resistance in response to one’s responsibilities or to requests from authority figures are problematic. Passive aggressive behavior creates tension and breeds resentment.

 

These are some examples of passive aggressive behavior:

1: You don’t speak your truth. For example, someone asks for your opinion and your response is one thing, but your behavior is another: your exuberant, “I love it!” doesn’t match your disinterested approach or attitude.

2: You are duplicitous:  you feel one way but act another. For example, you show a sweet demeanor, but inside you are boiling.

3: You are a perpetual victim: everyone is doing something TO you. See #1. If you speak your truth, this victimization can cease.

4: You never give a straight answer.

5: You procrastinate and make others wait, giving endless excuses. This is your way of passively controlling a situation, but it will leave you friendless and/or unemployed.

 

Recognizing that you may be engaging in some or all of this behavior is the first step. You can change! Working on relationships and cultivating healthy interactions with others takes a firm commitment. You have to want to shift your behavior. Direct communication earns respect from others, and builds a sense of self-respect within. It makes a huge difference in the way you are perceived by others and in the way you see yourself.

Passive aggressive behavior doesn’t vanish overnight. So, while you are doing this work, try and be patient. You will have to learn to face your fears and begin saying what you mean, regardless of what others think; you will have to take responsibility for your actions and cease blaming others; you will have to shift the way you see yourself in relationship with others. You will have to become willing to be honest — all of the time.

What you have to say matters. People want to hear you, and they want to understand the way you feel. Passive aggression has no place in a healthy relationship. When you say what you mean, and mean what you say, you cultivate trust, and that, friends, is a key factor in a healthy relationship.

Categories
Depression Mental Health Recovery Self-Care Stress

New Study Talks About Stress and Teen Girls

Adolescents experience a lot of stress, more than we may even realize. Stress can come from the natural ups and downs at school because of academic pressure, or via social circles, or from an overwrought family system. For some kids, one thing leads to another, and they find themselves trying to process all of that at the same time. How often are these kids who are struggling in this way, boxed into the at-risk nomenclature? Naming the problem and doing something about it are very different things. Further, if we tell these kids they are at-risk, it evokes a negative connotation. These kids are, in reality, under-served and often ignored.

I teach a yoga class to tweens/teens, and I was warned that one of my new kids was a “problem.” I was told she would be a “nightmare” because she was caught smoking last year, implying that she was also a “bad” kid. I chose not to view her as a problem, or a nightmare, or bad. Instead, I approached her with compassion and kindness and boundaries. I recognized that this kid doesn’t need to be judged; she needs to be seen. She has become one of the most dedicated students in my class. She looks forward to being there. She is kind to her classmates and respectful to me, the teacher. This young lady has allowed herself to be vulnerable enough to allow the process of yoga and conscious breath to disassemble her stress–even if it’s in incremental amounts. The shift has been profound.

A new study talks about teenage girls being more prone to depression when they are exposed to a lot of stress. My class is comprised mostly of girls, most of whom share that they are under stress.  In this recent study, “Jessica Hamilton a doctoral student in the Mood and Cognition Laboratory of Lauren Alloy at Temple University hypothesized that life stressors, especially those related to adolescents’ interpersonal relationships and that adolescents themselves contribute to (such as a fight with a family member or friend), would facilitate these vulnerabilities and, ultimately, increase teens’ risk of depression.”

Researchers examined data from 382 Caucasion and African-American students in an ongoing study. Their findings corroborated Hamilton’s theory, showing increased levels of rumination, depression and emotional vulnerability. Seven months later, when they did follow-up testing, the girls showed higher levels of depressive systems than the boys did. The study also showed that the girls had been faced with more stressors than the boys had. The theory is that if boys and girls faced the same amount of stress, the results of the research would have reflected higher rates in depression regardless of sex.

Stress can be a direct result of consistently not having one’s needs met, feeling disconnected or alone, and from unmitigated change at home: divorce, job loss, violence, poverty, or chronic illness. Additionally, the new independence that comes with the teen years can also be stressful. As much as teens want to individuate, the reality that they have to suddenly do many things themselves can be overwhelming for some.

 

How can we de-stress? Try one or all of these on for size:

1: Time outs are a time in. They are an opportunity for us to reset our minds and bodies.

2: Ask for help.  You don’t have to do this alone.

3: Get some fresh air: go for a walk, or find a way to get outside!

4: Take a media time out: unplug for an hour, and dedicate that time to self-care. If you really want to challenge yourself, turn your phone off for the day!

5: Breathe: 10 deep breaths, extending the exhale each time. Do three or more cycles of this.

6: Say no. No is a complete sentence. Remember this!

Each of these tools encourages an emotional reset. They help turn that fight-or-flight response off and help your body engage its rest-and-digest system. Sometimes, we have to consciously remind our bodies to slow down, but we have to practice. Studies like the one above are a good reminder, a wake-up call, telling us that we have to slow down and process our emotions in a safe, reflective way. Teens need to know they will be ok.

Categories
Mental Health Prevention Recovery Service Suicide Teen Activism

Visions Walks for Suicide Prevention: Staff Stories

On September 28, Didi Hirsch hosted their 16th annual Alive Walk 5k Walk/Run for Suicide Prevention. Visions had a team this year, and several staff and alumni walked in honor of suicide prevention and to raise awareness and erase the stigma of suicide. Many of us have had the misfortune of losing someone to suicide, and finding a way to honor the lives of those lost while raising awareness to prevent a similar loss is a big deal. It can be profoundly healing to be amidst those who have had similar experiences. Dr. Noelle Rodriguez, Jenny Werber, and Nick Riefner were among the staff that were there. I had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Noelle Rodriguez and Jenny Werber, and they were gracious enough to share their experiences with us:

Noelle:

“I’m so glad I participated in this 5k. I am recently grieving the loss of my dear friend who was 38, married, a father and a firefighter. He, like so many others, did not ask for help nor did he show obvious signs he was in despair.

Being a part of this while I am grieving was powerful, moving and profound. Many of the participants had a sign that read “In Memory Of” pinned to their shirts with the names of their loved ones–so many young lives gone, and gone way too soon.  We were together in solidarity. We were sharing our sadness but in no way loving the person less for how they departed. We were simply showing others there may be hope for them.

I was struck by a team that wore matching shirts that read H.O.P.E., which stood for Hold on Pain Ends. I thought about so many who have given up maybe much to soon before they realized there was a solution. We are all affected by suicide, a topic no one talks about and when they do it’s treated like the plague. I felt a sense of compassion and acceptance like I never have before. I am not angry for the loss of my friend; just sad he would not reach out for help.

While we may never stop people from committing suicide, talking about it will hopefully help someone else who may be thinking it’s their only option.

I love Marcello, I always will.”

Jenny:

“It was personal to me, as my cousin Matt committed suicide 12 years ago at the age of 26.  My Aunt and cousin (my late cousin’s mom and brother) walk each year in honor of Matt and in support of suicide prevention.  I did not know they participated in this event until this year, and a team was formed in memory of Matt, where family and friends surprised my Aunt and cousin at the race’s starting line the morning of the race.  It was a pleasure and honor to walk with them to honor Matt and support them.

I created a team for Visions staff and clients to join and participate to honor those they may have lost.  Being there with my family and also with my Visions family was extremely touching.  While you wish there was never a reason for any of us to be at such an event, I believe it is the hope for all of us there that our contributions aid to awareness and prevention for someone else and their family.”

 

This event was a wonderful way to close out Suicide Awareness Month. However, this doesn’t mean we stop talking about suicide prevention and awareness. We can always raise awareness about suicide prevention and make concerted efforts to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health.

Categories
ADHD Adolescence Mental Health

Does Your Child Have ADHD?

ADHD is a common disorder that mental health professionals encounter. It has become a go-to diagnosis for physicians, whose first line of treatment is typically Adderal or Ritalin. However, ADHD diagnoses are often determined using elementary questionnaires, the answers to which are relative and rely on a patient’s (i.e., parent’s) willingness to be transparent rather than psychological clarification.

 

It’s important to recognize that there are many psychological issues that have similar traits to ADHD.  Often times, someone will present with ADHD traits when their actual diagnosis is depression, anxiety, or PTSD.  Using drugs like Adderal or Ritalin isn’t always a wise course of action. These drugs are both stimulants and highly addictive. While these drugs will certainly increase focus and attention, they will also mask the relevant and underlying issues that may be present. Additionally, they have severe side effects: paranoia, irregular heartbeat, and an increase in blood pressure, tremors, restlessness, hallucinations, and muscle twitches.

 

Finding a skilled mental-health professional will shift the course of your teen’s treatment; a qualified clinician can skillfully diagnose disorders that are similar in symptoms but which may require different treatment.  Diagnosing ADHD requires investigation into several areas. Doctors look at the following to determine if there is an issue of hyperactivity and impulsivity. This is often the more obvious form of ADHD and more easily recognizable because of the negative social constructs that occur. Note, a child or teen has to experience 6 or more of these symptoms for a minimum of 6 months to qualify for this diagnosis. ADHD is diagnosed by looking at the following issues (following info via PsychCentral):

 

Inattention

  • Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions)
  • Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork or homework)
  • Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities (e.g., toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools)
  • Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities–even those the person performs regularly (e.g., a routine appointment)

  

Hyperactivity

  • Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
  • Often leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected
  • Often runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is inappropriate (in adolescents or adults, may be limited to subjective feelings of restlessness)
  • Often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly
  • Is often “on the go” or often acts as if “driven by a motor”
  • Often talks excessively

 

Impulsivity

  • Often blurts out answers before questions have been completed
  • Often has difficulty awaiting turn
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)

 

Note, the DSM-5 lists three subcategories for ADHD, which are:

  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation — Symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity but not symptoms of inattention have been shown for at least 6 months.
  • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation — Symptoms of inattention but not symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been shown for at least 6 months.
  • Combined Presentation — Symptoms of both hyperactive-impulsivity and inattentiveness have been shown for at least 6 months.

 

Regardless of where your child lands in the ADHD field, it’s important to have the appropriate clinical support, the willingness to accept the diagnosis, and the courage to do the work to support and care for your child. Creating schedules that your child can adhere to, having a therapist that your child relates to, and building an infrastructure of support can make managing ADHD and other similarly related issues easier for families. While it’s no walk in the park, it’s better to know than not know. It’s better to ask for help than to watch your child needlessly suffer.

Categories
Adolescence Feelings Mental Health Recovery Self-Care

Parenting Teenagers and Maintaining Our Self-Regulation

Teenagers are changeable creatures. Their moods shift rapidly, their bodies change non- stop, and it’s sometimes difficult to notice if something is really wrong or if the persistent eye-rolling, parental irritation is par for the course. In addition to the eye-rolling, teenagers are also not known for their critical thinking skills or wise decision-making. This might mean they will intentionally like/not like a person or situation you dislike, or they may do something just because you don’t approve. It’s frustrating for parents, but it may also be a subtle sign for us pause and look at the larger picture.

 

Sometimes, your child may align themselves with a friend or their family whom you view as undesirable. Perhaps you know something your teenager doesn’t know, but you have to keep it to yourself. Or perhaps you are relying on your parental intuition. Unfortunately, to a teenager, you’re just being annoying and reactive. This reactivity will only push your teen away from you and into the arms of that which you fear.

 

Parents are wise to take some steps to curb reactivity. As we encourage our teenagers to self-regulate, we have to self-regulate too! We have to mirror the behaviors we want.

 

Our reactions are often fueled by our experiences and the stories from the past. These stories inform our present, particularly when we are dysregulated. Bearing witness to our children’s difficulties is not easy when we haven’t been able to grapple with our own.

 

Understanding how to self-regulate allows us to tap into our internal resources so we can be less reactive.  The process of self-regulation requires us to tap into our mind and body connection. When a person is dysregulated, they are disconnected. A fundamental tool in learning to self-regulate is learning to connect with our physical sensations and our bodies. When we are dysregulated, we are reactive rather than responsive. Likewise, when we are self-regulated, we are responsive rather than reactive.

 

A dysregulated parent is an ineffective parent. Perpetual negative reactions propel our teens to become dysregulated as well. This is where parents need to take their own time out and get to a quiet space so they can begin to self-regulate.

 

1: Walk away from the situation so you can check in with yourself.

2: Bring your attention to your feet, and your hands and notice your surroundings.

3: Bring your attention to your belly and your heart: are you angry? Why? Are you scared? Why? What’s present for you?

4: Take 5-10 minutes to allow your breath to settle. Count to 10 slowly, paying close attention to your inhales and exhales.

5: SHAKE IT OUT! Literally: stand up and shake your legs and arms.

 

When we are regulated, we can come to wiser, more succinct means of communication. Perhaps we can even find a way to persuade our teenagers from doing something we don’t like, or perhaps this is an opportunity to revisit the difficult situation at hand with compassion, kindness and a willingness to listen. One thing that I know for a fact is this: Teenagers all want to be seen, heard, and respected.

Categories
Anxiety Mental Health Recovery

Anxiety Doesn’t Have to Rule Your Life

Did you know that 8% of teens between the ages of 13–18 have an anxiety disorder? And did you also know that of these teens, only 18% of them receive mental-health care?

 

Some anxiety is a function of being a human being. It’s not unusual for anxiety to present itself in predictable situations (going on a job interview, starting a new school, speaking up for ourselves), but for most, it fades as soon as the initial fear passes. Anxiety is our nervous system’s way of telling us we are overwhelmed and need to pause. Anxiety is also our sympathetic nervous system’s fight-or-flight response in action; the anxiety is the red flag letting us know we are emotionally under fire. If you don’t suffer from an anxiety disorder, chances are your parasympathetic nervous system will automatically engage, arresting the fight or flight response and engaging its remarkable rest-and-digest function. However, for someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder, the sympathetic nervous system gets stuck in the “on” position, forcing it to stay in its fight-or-flight response longer than is emotionally sustainable.  The parasympathetic nervous system, aka, the rest-and-digest function of our bodies, gets shoved to the side and is unable to do its job.

How is anxiety usually treated?

 

Medication is one option typically given to anxiety sufferers. It is not a cure, but rather a means of managing the symptoms.  Often patients are given:

 

Antidepressants

  • SSRIs, Tricyclics, MAOIs, anti-anxiety medications
  • Anti-anxiety drugs:
    • Benzodiazepines
    • Beta-blockers – which treat the physical symptoms of anxiety

 

Clinicians, on the other hand, use therapeutic modalities like:

 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Exposure Based Behavioral Therapy
  • EMDR
  • Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

 

In addition to treatment, you can also try any one of all of these tools to help manage anxiety:

 

1: Mindful breathing: Practice exhaling on a longer count than your inhale. This is a wonderful tool to use to bring the heart rate down, provide oxygen to the blood and to the lungs, and also engage the parasympathetic nervous system.

 

2: Visualization: Close your eyes and visualize a place that elicits a state of calm. It could be the beach, the mountains, a forest, being in the ocean, or doing something else that you love. This is a way of accessing one of your resources—something that calms you and engages your body’s nervous system.

 

3: Get active: Studies show that exercising every day will increase relaxation, reduce stress, and make you happier. Go endorphins! So, go to the gym, go for a run, do a strong yoga class, do some jumping jacks, skateboard, or roller skate.

 

4: Create a gratitude journal or a gratitude list.  Write down 5 things you are grateful for and challenge yourself to write this list every single day. There’s been a recent Facebook chain going around, asking people to post three things a day for seven days that they’re grateful for and then tag three more people each day to do the same. It’s been a neat phenomenon to watch people share their gratitude.

 

5:  Focus on a meaningful, goal orienting activity: playing a game with a friend, building something, creating art, or singing.

 

6: Accept that you are anxious. Accepting how you feel doesn’t mean you like it or are choosing to be anxious; it means accepting how things are in the present moment. If we obsess about how anxious we feel, our anxiety will increase. Ajhan Sumedo, a Buddhist monk, says, “Right now, it’s like this.” This phrase encourages acceptance and allows us to stay in the present. When we are anxious, we are stuck in the future.

 

Ignoring our anxiety or self-medicating to relieve our suffering, leaves us vulnerable to persistent dysregulation and despair. When we address anxiety and face it head on, we cultivate the development of self-regulatory techniques. With ample clinical support (when needed), the establishment and consistent use of self-regulatory tools, and a broad support system in place, things can and will get better.

Categories
Depression Mental Health Recovery

Visions Remembers Robin Williams

It is with a heavy heart that I write this piece about comedic legend Robin Williams. He was someone that literally touched lives across generations. His comedic value was priceless, and he continued to break barriers throughout his career. Robin Williams also suffered deeply from substance abuse and mental illness, both of which were a common thread through his all-too-short life.

 

Here’s a touch of what Robin Williams taught me:

  • He taught me that being different was ok, if not downright cool.
  • He taught me to be who I am and to take risks.
  • He taught me to laugh in the face of adversity.
  • He reinvigorated my love of poetry.
  • He taught me that love is invaluable and that sometimes we have to do whatever we can to let it shine.

I only wish that the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse didn’t rest in his shadow. I wish he had time to see the outpouring of love and celebration for his genius. My hope is that we can SEE our loved ones who are suffering with kind and compassionate eyes, and that we can make efforts to normalize mental illness and substance abuse. Depression is serious business, it cannot be ignored or swept under the rug. Self-care is often low on the priority list in depression; it’s that thing often out of reach. It’s up to us to give depression and mental illness a voice.

We all have fond memories of Robin Williams, moments of his comedic genius (some of which are too rife with expletives to post  here), and moments of seriousness. Here are a few fine moments with Robin Williams that capture a mere smattering of his versatility and light:

 

His compassion in Patch:

 

Telling stories to heal in Fisher King:

https://youtu.be/6s26WxsgyKE

 

His quirkiness in Mork and Mindy:

https://youtu.be/v9g1yRXF8I8

 

And a reminder of the innate value of poetry in Dead Poets Society:

Categories
Bipolar Disorder Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Mental Health Recovery Therapy Treatment

A Brief Overview of DBT – Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

In this brief overview of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), we are illustrating the efficacy of  DBT for the treatment of patients with suicidal behavior, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. DBT has been shown to reduce severe dysfunctional behaviors in clients. DBT uses validation has a tool to the client accept unpleasant thoughts and feelings rather than react to them in a dysfunctional way.  Simply put, dialectical means that two ideas can be true at the same time. Validation is the action of telling someone that what they see, feel, think or experience is real, logical and understandable. It’s important to remember that validation is non-judgmental and doesn’t mean you agree or even approve of the behavior you are validating.

 

Over the last year, Visions has effectively trained the staff to be DBT informed. We hold regular DBT skills groups at our residential and outpatient facilities. We have adopted and incorporated DBT skills into our day-to-day interactions with clients and are finding it to be incredibly beneficial.

 

I took some time to speak to Jesse Engdahl, MA, RRW, about his observations and experience with running the DBT skills group. He said, “We are happily surprised that it’s (DBT) become a community within a community. It’s set itself apart through the kids’ commitment to not only use the skills but in their support of each other. There is a high level of trust. We have kids coming into IOP who’ve felt marginalized and who hadn’t felt a broader amount of support, but find their place in DBT.”

 

The emphasis on validation in DBT is profound. Someone suffering from borderline personality disorder often has a movie playing in their heads and when the validity of that “movie” is denied, it can create a waterfall of dysregulation which can include anxiety, depression, anger, and fear. Taking a counter-intuitive stance and validating one’s reality is has been shown to be particularly efficacious. It deescalates the anxiety, and it teaches the client to self-regulate.

 

Joseph Rogers, MDiv-Candidate and DBT skills group facilitator and mindfulness teacher succinctly illustrates the value of our DBT groups, “Our DBT skills group gives our clients the confidence that they have the ability to meet their difficulties with skills that can be found within themselves and their capabilities.  By utilizing daily skills diary cards and reporting on their results, clients are able to see where they are being effective and can acknowledge the positive outcomes they are responsible for through their actions.  DBT has the ability to move clients out of their diagnosis toward a confidence in their personhood.”

 

Categories
Addiction Mental Health Recovery

The Challenge and Freedom of Letting Go

Are you faced with a big breakup and having trouble letting go?  We all know breaking up is hard to do. It’s tough whether you’re in a failing relationship, a waning friendship, a job that isn’t working out, a partnership that feels splintered, or any relationship that has simply stopped serving you. What if that relationship you so desperately need to end is your relationship with drugs and alcohol? What if the relationship that isn’t serving you is your relationship with your anger or greed? Being faced with a breakup of this caliber is tough.

 

It’s not ironic to me that we stay when we should go. Letting go is hard. It’s scary. It’s full of what-ifs and the unknown. Letting go of something that isn’t working can mean failure, but really what it most often shows us is great success. Our attachment to the familiar holds us back from investigating and cultivating change. In fact, change is something many of us fear. I once knew someone who was so afraid of change that he stayed in the same house, wore the same clothes, ate the same foods, spoke to the same people, and lived in the same town, all to his detriment. Every time an opportunity for change appeared, he recoiled, and became angry, volatile, even. The unknown was unbearable; change was his bogeyman. He ended up stuck in the sticky bitterness of his fear.

 

Addiction and the behaviors around addiction represent an unhealthy relationship. Addiction is that relationship we attach to while spinning out of control, creating external and internal harm, along with a cycle of shame. This relationship with addiction reminds me of the abuse cycle itself:

 

  • We are intimidated by it
  • We feel threatened by it
  • We feel bad about ourselves because of it
  • It isolates us and controls our relationships
  • We deny its existence
  • We lose our jobs or can’t get a job
  • It makes us financially unstable
  • It lies to us, making us feel good so we forget and start all over

 

These relationships with addiction and anger are the ones we need to end. Breaking up is hard to do. In letting go and moving toward freedom, we face the unknown, and often times, we have to face the thing we were hiding with our addiction. Things like untreated mental illness, poverty, sexual abuse, domestic violence, alcoholic parents or caregivers, and untended trauma are daunting. They are the beasts in the shadows. Still, the relationship to addiction has to end in order for any truths to come out. We have to lean toward our difficulties so we can eventually move through them. This is the breakup of your life: the one that will change your life for the better, and the one that will ultimately set you free.

 

Your relationship to addiction does not serve you. It never did. This breakup? It will serve you well. Recovery will set you on a path to heal. You will learn to set healthy boundaries; you will learn to love yourself; you will learn to be of service. You will learn to let go.

 

Remember this: Asking for help is a form of self-care, and accepting it is a form of self-love. You are worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Feelings Mental Health Recovery Self-Care Trauma

Acknowledging and Honoring Grief

With addiction and mental illness comes something that we often don’t want to look at, which is grief and the deep sense of loss that arrives when we or a family member steps into recovery. Drugs and alcohol and/or mental illness are often viewed as the villains in the aftermath of addiction. But the underlying weight of grief often gets shoved to the side or bypassed entirely.

 

The truth is, grief can be crippling. It can take the wind out of us and make us feel like we’ve landed flat on our faces, gasping for air. When we ignore it, or devalue the importance of the grieving process, we suffer more.

 

Mental illness and/or addiction may have ripped your family at the seams. It may have poked holes in your belief system, and placed a shadow on your hopes and dreams for your family. The truth is, everyone suffers: the one with the disease and the ones close to them.

 

I grew up with a parent mired by the tragedy of her own childhood, which was fraught with a mentally ill mother and a stoic father. Now, I see this same parent as an adult and it affords me the opportunity to recognize the untended grief and loss she’s endured and the great suffering that has resulted. A large portion of our existence in a scenario like this revolves around survival and learning how to endure the shame and fear associated with our circumstances. It’s not uncommon for the grief we feel to be ignored or for us to feel as though it is something to endure.

 

How can we stand tall in the midst of suffering while honoring our grief?

 

Talk about it. Develop a relationship with someone you trust that can help you process your feelings. It could be a counselor, a therapist, a psychologist, a good friend. What we hold onto holds onto us. Processing grief is part acknowledgement and part letting go. It evolves and becomes something we can hold with care instead of treating it like a hot stone.

 

Practice self-care. Take walks, meditate, do yoga, surf, get a massage, take a bath. Indulge in yourself. Healing is hard work; it’s important to nurture ourselves in the process.

 

Lean toward your difficulty. As counterintuitive as that may sound, this is ultimately the way out. That which we fear, can hold us back. We have to find a way to feel our feelings, touch our own hearts with kindness and compassion, and begin the process of finding acceptance and letting go. Take baby steps here. You don’t have to take on the high dive just yet.

 

Grief is present all around us. In adolescence, we grieve the loss of childhood and the inference of responsibility. In recovery, we grieve the person we were, the things we missed, and the damage we did. We also grieve the perceived “fun” guy/gal we thought we were. Be patient: recovery will afford you many more fulfilling ways of having fun.  This list goes on, but it doesn’t have to be daunting.

 

My experience has shown me that when I lean toward the thing I fear, the fear lessons. When I acknowledge the shadow side and hold the difficulties with compassion, the light starts to trickle in. I suffer when I turn away, and when I ignore the suffering, it becomes more unbearable.  The work in recovery teaches us that we can walk through difficulties with grace, we can begin to feel our feelings and we can crack open the barriers around our hearts. With our feet planted on the earth, and our minds open to possibility, the plight of suffering has a place to fly free.