Categories
Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery Spirituality

Forgiveness: The Path Back to Your Heart

Inspired image of @embodiedsacred from our sho...
“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Rumi

Forgiveness: It’s something we seek and it’s something we can give others. In recovery, forgiveness is imperative for the healing process to really thrive. In the 12-step process, we do inventories to uncover and discover the grievances we may have with others, and more importantly, with ourselves.  But for many of us, this idea of forgiveness, compassion, and kindness are foreign to us. In fact, in some circles, being compassionate and forgiving someone’s foibles is considered a weakness.

 

First, we must start with forgiving ourselves. The truth is, this is easier said than done. We are stuck with internal tapes on a loupe, reminding us of our insignificance and shame. We are inundated with fractured family systems that influence our self-esteem and self-worth. We are touched by the shame and sometimes self-righteous justification of our reactions. To begin this process of forgiveness and self-compassion takes a willingness to take contrary action and go into the emotional places of discomfort. Learning to love ourselves and be kind to ourselves is hard work. But it’s work well worth doing.

 

When I was younger, my anger fueled me. In some ways, it was also the thing that protected me. However, when I came to recovery, I was deeply affected by tragedy and trauma. At the same time, my dysfunctional family system projected blame and shame onto me, leaving me bereft of any ability to be kind to myself. When I began to do the inner work required to redefine my paradigm, I was frozen by fear. This wasn’t delicate work; it was an archeological excavation. But I soon realized that if I was to truly be of service and help others, I had to help myself first. If we are an empty well, we ultimately have nothing to give others.

 

The contemplative practices of yoga and meditation resonate with me, particularly in relation to my recovery.  These are the practices that have ultimately shown me the way to being of service, being kind, and having an open heart. There are a series of meditations called the Brahma Viharas. They are the heart practices, typically referred to as metta practice. They are:  lovingkindness, forgiveness, and compassion.  In each of these, you focus your energy on phrases that nurture a sense of lovingkindness, forgiveness, and compassion to yourself, someone you love, a benefactor, a difficult person, and then all beings. Often times, it is suggested to focus primarily on yourself in the beginning, sometimes even for the first year of your meditation practice. Cultivating compassion, forgiveness, and love for yourself is, in and of itself, the act of filling your well.

 

Yoga provides another opportunity: the chance to get back into your body through breath and movement. We can begin to forgive our inflexibility with patience; we can begin to forgive our hyper-flexibility by developing stability.  Both meditation and yoga are opportunities to reconnect with ourselves, and ultimately finding refuge within. One breath, one kind act of self care at a time.

 

I am reminded of the phrase, “My Friend, the Enemy.” Within it, compassion and forgiveness come together. When we develop compassion, we begin to develop the space to forgive those who have harmed us, those we resent, or those who continue to suffer. It doesn’t mean that we justify harms done; it means we get to put down the hot coal of anger we’ve been carrying around so our hearts can heal.

 

Links for Meditation and Yoga:

Against the Stream

Insight LA

Recovery 2.o

Julian Walker

Categories
Recovery

Recovery Month 2013

September marks the 24th annual Recovery Month, hosted by SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). Recognizing that our communities are confronted with substance abuse and mental health issues on a regular basis, Recovery Month highlights opportunities and notable systems of support for those seeking recovery.  For example, facilities like ours avail themselves to families seeking treatment for the various manifestations of substance abuse and mental illness. Our goal is to therapeutically facilitate the reconstruction of the family system, healing the lives of those suffering from and affected by addiction and mental illness.

 

Still, addiction and mental illness continue to prevail. Current research shows the following:

  • 20.6 million people, age 12 and older were classified with alcohol or elicit drug dependence or abuse.
  • 45.6 million people ages 18 and older had mental illness within the past year.

The repercussions from mental illness and/ or substance abuse can be wide reaching: relationships are often strained if not shattered, there are financial woes, there’s an inevitable loss of trust, and in some cases, there are impending health issues. Many of these things feel insurmountable when one is in the thick of their disease but with support, and some therapeutic direction, the possibility of recovery becomes more plausible. Beginning the path of Recovery doesn’t mean your life has ended; it means your life has just begun.

 

There are many opportunities to participate in Recovery Month. This years theme is “Join the Forces of Recovery: Together on Pathways to Wellness,” which highlights the various ways in which we can prevent substance abuse, encourage treatment, facilitate recovery and its corresponding healthy, sustainable lifestyle.

If you’re in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles Dodgers will Celebrate National Recovery Month before and during their home game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on September 10.  Click here for ticket info and logistics.

For more information on Recovery month, check out https://www.recoverymonth.gov/. You can search for activities in your area, and find ways to get involved. This is about you speaking up and out. Use the month of September as an opportunity to be of service. Make it a practice.  Share your recovery stories online; if you’re on social media, use the hashtag #RecoveryMonth.

Get active, be of service, and spread the word. Recovery is meant to be shared.

Categories
Addiction Mental Health Recovery Self-Care

Unworthiness: Feelings Aren’t Facts

The overwhelming sense of unworthiness that permeates someone’s mind when they begin their recovery can be astonishing. So often, we begin the path to recovery with this sense of not being worth anything: love, affection, respect, you name it. We show the world our feelings of unworthiness in our actions and our interactions. This is an interesting phenomenon to behold, and a challenging one to unwind and rewire. From the perspective of one who holds the position of sponsor or mentor, the way to help someone rewire often comes by way of being an example; planting seeds and watering them with knowledge, love, and support, and waiting for them to root. They eventually do, but not always in my time, or your time. They root during the natural progression of the person’s readiness to recover and do the necessary work.

 

Unworthiness is a state of mind, a feeling that tends to hover over those who are feeling down and out. It can be a temporary state or it can linger and lead to depression. It is not something to shrug off and ignore or to be held lightly.

 

In order to combat this, it’s vital we do the deep excavating work that’s required for the healing process of recovery to take effect. This work is not an opportunity to beat ourselves up but instead, a time to learn to take steps toward self-care and freedom. Unfortunately, the tendency toward self-deprecation is far too high and can often hinder one’s willingness to move forward.

 

How do we overcome this sense of being unworthy so we can develop feelings of being valuable or worthwhile?

 

1: Be of service: It can be as small as doing your dishes, or picking up the phone and calling someone to see how they are. Smiling at strangers is a nice way to bring some light to your day.

 

2: Ask for help. You can’t do this alone.

 

3: Start a gratitude practice: write down three things that you are grateful for every day and then share them with someone else.

 

4: Look in the mirror every morning and say, “You are magnificent.” Even if it feels weird, the positive reverberations are tangible.

5. Start a meditation practice of Lovingkindness.

 

Going through this process of recovery can be dark. We have to find ways in which to bring some light. Gratitude lists, being of service, and asking for help, developing a meditation practice, and practicing acts of kindness to others and ourselves: those are all flickers of light. We can and will recover, one step, one tear, and one laugh at a time. Those feelings of unworthiness will eventually fade and we will soon realize our feelings aren’t facts.

 

 

Categories
Mental Health Recovery Therapy Treatment

Mental Health Care: The Only Way Out is Through

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mental health is not something to be meddled with. It’s not something that can be fixed by prayer or meditation or going to yoga or by thinking positively. It requires legitimate clinically supported psychological care.  For some that may require a long-term in-patient program, for some, that may require an intensive outpatient program, and for some that may require weekly meetings with a therapist. The spiritual practices of prayer, meditation and yoga can and ought to be integrated into any therapeutic work but they are not the end all be all.

 

Stepping onto the path of recovery is about change. It’s about shifting one’s perspective and learning how to redefine and shift old paradigms so we can create new ones. We must first begin with our old thought patterns and old ideals, which are heavily ingrained in us. The older we are, the deeper the planting, and often the more difficult the change, though not impossible.

 

It is imperative that we seek help for our mental health needs when we need it. If we are confronted with clinical depression, anxiety, OCD, panic disorders, or PTSD, this is where a skilled psychologist or therapist or possibly a psychiatrist should come in.  Bypassing it is dangerous and causes us more harm than it does good. Often times, we seek that magic bullet that will make everything just go away, but it doesn’t. We have to walk through it, or stumble through it, whatever the case may be.

 

I am reminded of my newcomer years: I was a mess. And when I say mess, I mean, a real mess. I was angry, resistant, but I was full of fire. I was ultimately convinced that I was going to be killed by my feelings (clearly, that didn’t happen!), and I would wax poetic dramatically that it was so.  If it weren’t for people pulling me out of myself and into reality, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Part of that process was also learning to walk through my issues not around them, because wherever I went, they were right there with me, like a trusted companion, ready and willing to make my life miserable.

 

You don’t have to do this alone. In fact, you can’t. There is a network of mental health care that avails you and a network of support groups at the ready. One step at a time, one breath at time, one minute at time, recovery is possible. Mental health care is possible but one thing is for sure, the only way out is through.

 

Categories
Addiction Adolescence Mental Health Recovery Service Treatment

Visions: We Have Your Back

I go through the news endlessly, looking for things of interest for the Visions community, looking for things that act as a springboard for the Visions’ blogs, or simply reading to stay on top of the myriad things going on in the environment in which we live and breathe. I sniff out science and psychology articles the way some people seek pop culture references. Keeping you informed and in the loop is my priority. At Visions, we see and experience all walks of life and treat a varied population of teens struggling with everything from mental health issues, substance abuse, and psychological trauma, and for that reason, it’s imperative we address a multitude of subjects.

 

We are currently knee deep in the heat of summertime, and for some, that might signify a sense of freedom. For some, it’s a time of leisure, and dealing with “issues” feels like it’s putting a crimp in their style. For others, it’s just a shift in barometric pressure and a change in their work attire. Because we maintain a structured schedule year round, Visions maintains a level of consistency that adds a real sense of grounding for teens while they are learning to navigate the newness of recovery. This provides consistency and structure for our treatment population, which is highly beneficial to their recovery process whether they are at one of our inpatient facilities, outpatient, our Day School,  or NeXT. The goal is to create a safe, therapeutic container for our adolescents and their families.

 

Visions has an incredible knack for providing different psychological layers of support for teens to pass through in order for them to get back onto their feet. What I mean by this is, we don’t just toss them back into the unchartered world with old friends and into old stomping grounds without proper coping skills and tools to manage new feelings and challenges. In fact, we encourage the development of new friends, with healthier habits more in line with a lifestyle in recovery. We provide teens with different levels to walk through and gain success and confidence before moving onto something new. If that means backing up a step or two, then we encourage that and provide sufficient support until the client is established and grounded enough in their recovery to move forward.

 

I marvel at the resiliency in so many of our families. Substance and mental health aren’t easy seas to navigate, but they are not impossible and the Visions team is one that is full of many skilled sailors. Many of us are walking the path of recovery ourselves. It’s imperative that we do stay on top of what’s going on both inside of our facilities and out in the world. If we have our blinders on in any of these places, we become limited in our ability to do what we do best, and that is help those who cross our path. We cannot leave any stone unturned because we never know who might need our help.

Categories
Adolescence Feelings Holidays Mental Health Parenting Recovery

Healing the Heart: Father’s Day

Healing. (Photo credit: WolfS♡ul)

Father’s Day came and went, but I was struck by the aftermath of the day, nonetheless, when my son sat in the midst of his anger and disappointment after his own father didn’t show up for him. When my son said, “Not only did my dad not show up, he only spent 2 minutes with me on the phone,” I felt his deflation. I felt the letdown and longing for a father that would never be. And I had a visceral memory of what that was like. However, as a parent, my role isn’t to project my past onto my son’s present. Rather, my role is to hold space for him to feel and experience that which ails him, allowing his emotions to safely ride though his body. As a parent, I have to do my work on my own. Not via my son.

 

Father’s day, like Mother’s day, can elicit a varied set of emotions for our kids and for us as parents. They can range from untended loss, or expectations, abandonment, and deep grief rising internally around parents that were never available for us, be it physically or emotionally. When I first became acutely aware of this in my own life, I did what many of us do: I spiritually bypassed the situation and filled my time with practices of avoidance. At that time, my outsides appeared to be ok, but my inner voice remained devastated. The scary part is finding our voice amidst that loss. Sometimes it wobbles. Sometimes it screams. But it’s there, waiting to come out.

 

My son found his voice yesterday; he used it well. He leaned into his resources and shared his frustrations and sense of loss. He really discovered how available his step-dad is for him, finding grounding in the emotional presence and support that has been made available to him over the last 5 years. I had the honor of baring witness to such splendor.

 

Sometimes, we find ourselves grappling with the reality of having what we need but still wanting something we cannot have: my son wanting his father to be a dad but having a step-father who gives him everything he needs. On Father’s Day, we ventured to the beach, and when Joseph dried him off and kissed his head, my son giggled and said, “My dad would never do that.” It is in these moments where we hold space for that grief I was speaking of; here is where we can allow this young man the time to process the weight of his loss while reveling in the joy of the experience itself.

 

Parenting is a process and being a kid is a process. Somewhere, we meet in the middle, knees and hearts bruised along the way. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s this: our hearts have a tremendous capacity to heal. The heart, I know, is a muscle of great resilience. It can even open to the tumult of holidays, learning to forgive and/or navigate the foibles of clumsy parents and the awkwardness of adolescence.

Categories
Mental Health Recovery Spirituality Trauma

Spiritual Bypass: Nah, Feel Your Feelings

via saritphoto

The mental health community is becoming well versed in the term “Spiritual Bypass” and often uses it to recognize when individuals are relying upon a spiritual practice or belief to “bypass” or divert from the reality of their situation. For example, if someone is living in a fantastical world attached to the belief that controlling their thoughts is a means of changing the outcome of a situation, they are engaging in a form of spiritual bypass. Our actions must follow any positive intentions or those intentions will elude us. We cannot think our way into a positive outcome. Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D., and author of Recovering Spirituality: Achieving Emotional Sobriety in Your Spiritual Practice says, “Spiritual bypass shields us from the truth, it disconnects us from our feelings, and helps us avoid the big picture. It is more about checking out than checking in—and the difference is so subtle that we usually don’t even know we are doing it.”

 

Many of us are introduced or reintroduced to a spiritual path upon entering recovery. So, when we begin developing our spiritual lives, it’s not uncommon to get lulled by the idea that we have to be perfect, or that we cannot show anger, or disappointment, or fear, or emotions other than deep gratitude and acceptance of all things. It then becomes easy to use our spirituality to avoid dealing with ourselves and our shadows dancing in the corners of our lives. There isn’t a person who comes to a spiritual path free from some kind of suffering or sorrow. We all have some kind of trauma we are working with, or running from, or trying to navigate. Feelings are uncomfortable. They hurt. They make our knees buckle.  They make us weep and scream. They make us feel broken. I assure you, we are far from broken. We are merely bending from exhaustion and fear and resistance. Here, when we spiritually bypass, we certainly have moments of reprieve, but they are merely moments. Here’s what actually happens: those feelings, fears, disappointments, longings, losses, hurts, traumas, they all fester inside of our bodies. And they eek out of us when we least expect it: in traffic, in the grocery line, toward our children, toward our friends, toward our teachers, toward our students, toward ourselves.

 

It’s alluring to seek out a “quick fix,” but the fact is, we have to walk through the muck of emotions and slog through those dark, sticky feelings to get to the other side, which is freedom. The saying “The only way out is through,” isn’t for naught. When we rely upon spiritual bypass, we are choosing to only focus on that which we like. Life is so much more than that: it’s a remarkable prism of joy, and pain, love, and light, sadness, grief, birth, and death. It is a sea of wonder. It is a symphony. Grab hold of it and enjoy it, even the ugly is there to teach us something. It is where we learn our resilience, and our capacity for care. To quote one of my teachers, Hala Khouri, “Our wounds our often the source of our gifts, and if we don’t investigate our wounds, they will get in the way.

Categories
Mindfulness Recovery Self-Care Spirituality Trauma

Yoga Teacher Training: Transformation

First practicum EVER! #teachertraining #yoga via saritphoto

It’s been an incredible 9 days of yoga teacher training. I have been cracked open and infused with so many tools, love, support, an incredible community, a mountain of information; it’s not even close to being over! I am just beginning what I believe to be a lifelong process of learning. Sure, when I complete these 200 hours, this particular training will be over, but to me, yoga is something that is always evolving. The body is changing: as we age, as we get injured, heal, go through life changes, it changes, and there is always something to learn.

 

When I began this journey, I knew from an intellectual space that I would be learning about yoga: postures, how they should be aligned, how trauma presents in the body, how it releases, where the muscles and bones are, et cetera. I knew I was going to learn a lot from these teachers, and I knew that I was going to learn in a unique way. Hala Khouri is a Somatic Experiencing therapist, after all, and she brings that into the way she speaks and teaches. It has been illuminating. I also had a good feeling that there might even be some kind of transformation. I had no idea how much would actually occur.

 

My teachers are not conventional yoga teachers. They are uniquely themselves, exploring and teaching a non-dualistic path to a reality-based, grounded practice of yoga. They teach us about trauma so we are conscious about keeping our classes safe and grounded. They are teaching us about grounding, orienting and resourcing, terms familiar to me from my understanding of Somatic Experiencing and recovery work, but also applicable in a yoga class. Finding refuge in my body has happened for me on my yoga mat, but that has occurred because I have been fortunate to have teachers skilled in creating a sacred space for their students to have their own liberating experiences. In this yoga teacher training, we are being taught to do the same and that means we need to know how to ground, orient, and provide resourcing options for our students. It is in these ways that we can find refuge within and ultimately have a transformation, no matter how small it may be.

 

My recovery has never been one-dimensional. As I’ve tacked on more years, I have explored my spiritual paths, finding a calling to dig deeper into the layers of muck within myself that caused me to shrink back in layers of fear, shyness, insecurity, self-loathing, shame, lack of trust, or whatever rose to the surface. It is within the contemplative practices of yoga and meditation where I learned to dance with my fear and face my shadows. It was through those practices, the steps, therapy, and a lot of patience that I learned to shine particles of light into the darkest of places.  This yoga teacher training has lifted me up and supported every ounce of my practice, leading me through layers that still need excavating and continues to show me the way to play with my shadow side. I am finding my voice. Ironically, it is the one thing that eludes me. My voice as a writer is strong, but as a public speaker? Forget about it!

 

So, dear ones, This week rounds out module one. The transformation has been incredibly real. I am more grounded, more open, and more equanimous. I feel more connected to everyone and everything around me. And, more importantly, I feel the most “me” I have ever felt. Let’s dance!

Categories
Addiction Mental Health Parenting Recovery

Video Game Addiction: Our Digital Foe

English: Image released to the public domain through the official website at https://markleung.com/gallery/screenshots (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Video game addiction: Like most things where addiction is in question, the behaviors and call signs are similar. There is an unquenchable desire for more, leading to irritability, anger, despondence, and isolation. Video game addiction isn’t a substance abuse disorder; it as a clinical impulse control disorder, similar to a gambling addiction. In other words, playing the game becomes a compulsive call to action. Role-playing games in particular can evolve into an addictive foe.

 

Meet George. He’s 13 and he is always seen plugged into a device. It could be an iPhone, or his desktop computer, but he is never without some kind of technical distraction. He’s been like this ever since I can remember—I think he got his first game around 6. As he’s gotten older, he has become more and more involved in the role-playing games online, locking himself away in a room with his headphones on so he can talk to his online “friends.” He is, however, completely anti-social when it comes to interacting with actual people. School is fraught with fights and suspensions, and parental communication is bereft of any real content or authority. At home, if there’s an opportunity for actual play, George will sneak off to play a video game—he did this once during a game of hide-and-seek, leaving his playmate hidden for an extended period of time. From the outside in, this looks troublesome—it IS troublesome–but George’s parents see it as keeping him occupied and engaged. Have we forgotten how to interact with our children? Have we made our own needs and external busyness more important than creating an emotional connection with our kids?

 

The current generation is the first “native” tech generation. They have never known a life without cell phones, a world without the Internet and its multitude of social media sites, or gaming and the varied choices in virtual realities. These things are just part of this generation’s day-to-day life. Our social environments have been forever changed, and sites like Facebook are often considered to be the sole vehicle for maintaining friendships. I won’t lie, I like that I am able to keep in touch with out-of-state friends because of Facebook. It certainly has its value. Online gaming can be fun. Lots of folks play online games on occasion, and often times, it’s harmless, but there are those (like George) who are seduced by the alluring cyber world of false reality and find themselves getting lost when the digital falsehood becomes more important than reality itself.

 

According to the Center for Online Addiction, these are the warning signs to look for:

 

  • Your child is playing video games for increasing amounts of time;
  • Thinking about gaming during other activities;
  • Gaming to escape from real-life problems, anxiety, or depression;
  • Lying from friends and family to conceal gaming;
  • Feeling irritable when trying to cut down on gaming.

 

They also suggest keeping note of the following and seeking help as soon as you recognize a problem brewing:

 

  • Log how often your child plays and for how long;
  • Problems arising out of gaming;
  • Your child’s reaction to time limits.

 

Treatment for video game addiction is similar to dealing with food addiction in that you have to learn how to live with it and use it responsibly. And you have to detox from the addiction itself by unplugging for a period of time. We are in a computer generation: we live and work on our computers, and if addiction is an issue, then we need to learn to change our relationships to them so we can use them responsibly. Now that we are inundated with technology, we have to learn how to safely navigate the broadly accessible world it’s created. Recovery is possible.

 

Articles of interest:

Video Game Addiction Among Adolescents: Associations with Academic Performance
and Aggression

NEW RESEARCH ON INTERNET ADDICTION
LEGITIMIZES THE CONTROVERSIAL CLINICAL DISORDER

Categories
Parenting Recovery

Wise Speech: A Behavior Worth Modeling

Our speech is a powerful tool: What we say and how we say it can have a profound effect on whomever we’re talking to. If we are kind, it can change the trajectory of the conversation; likewise, rudeness and thoughtless speech can wreak havoc. Part of recovery is changing our actions and our interactions with others. When we speak wisely, we nurture healthy relationships with others, and create a safe haven for ourselves as well as for those around us. The times when it’s really difficult are when someone is being unkind to us.

 

When you find yourself in a situation where you are concerned about your response, ask yourself:

 

  • Is it useful?
  • Is it true?
  • Is it kind?
  • Is it all of the above?

 

The 10th step asks us to “Continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong, promptly admit it.” This step is part and parcel to paving our spiritual paths, teaching us that spiritual practice is tied to our connections with others. Those connections show us there is something greater than ourselves through connecting with community. When we are unkind, thoughtless, or dishonest with our speech, we disconnect from others, and disconnect ourselves from spiritual connection.

 

It behooves us to speak kindly, lest we endure the disdain of others. This is not an easy lesson to learn or an easy task to follow, especially in adolescence, where the brain is still developing and the process of individuation is in full force, all of which makes talking back, being rude, and being unskillful with speech par for the course.  How, then, can we effect change amongst the burgeoning minds of our youth? For starters, we need to treat those younger than us with the respect that we would like shown to us. I am not implying that we should become doormats, but I am asking that we practice wise speech and display positive behaviors as an example for our teens.

 

When we meet rudeness with rudeness, shortness with shortness, and aggravation with aggravation, we are giving our kids mixed messages–“do as I say, not as I do”– which just leads to resentment and frustration. If we want respect, we have to model respect; If we want kindness, we have to model kindness. It is our job to model positive behavior and fess up when we make mistakes. Kids will get it eventually, but it requires patience on our end and a fervent desire to model healthy behaviors.