Monthly Archives: March 2016

Your Tool Box

When I ran Intensive Outpatient Programs for substance abuse, I used to hold an Orientation Group for those just coming into the program. During this group, I set the boundaries:  I explained what would be expected of the clients and what they could expect of me and of the program.

One of the images I used to help them understand my hope for them was to ask each of them to imagine a tool box sitting beside their chair. That tool box may have a couple of tools in it, and some might continue to be useful, but some were probably old & worn out – no longer helpful. By the time they finished the program, I hoped they would have to drag that toolbox out the door with them, because it would be so full of new tools they would learn about – and begin to use.

This same concept works for those in any therapy – or anyone who just wants to make positive changes in their lives. Yet, many of us have trouble accepting that we need tools to repair the  damages we’ve allowed to happen to ourselves. Who would try to nail boards together without a hammer or change a flat tire without a jack?  To reject our need for tools to perform these tasks would be ridiculous.

One tool that is available is therapy, itself.  I know people who think going to therapy is, in itself, a sign of weakness and only for those who can’t “figure things out” for themselves. To me, that sounds like the person who always needs to feel in control. I can relate to that. I’m a huge control freak. But over the years, I have learned that I’m often better-served by letting things go and allowing them to work themselves out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to maneuver things so they’d turn out the way I thought they should. And you know what? Almost every time I was successful at changing things to “my way,” they ended up more screwed up that they would have if I’d left them alone and just let them fall into place. One of the places I learned how to do that was in therapy.

Sheer force won’t lift a car so we can replace that tire, and it won’t lift a heavy heart. Reading a book, and understanding how to nail those boards won’t guarantee that they’ll look like a table the first time we try it. Insight and knowledge can possibly help us see why we behave the way we do, or how we’d like to change.  But it takes consistent use of support groups or learning appropriate ways to open up to (or set boundaries with) family members, gratitude lists, stress management or communication techniques, restructuring our thoughts – or in some cases, even medication  – to actually repair that battered ego. Usually just one tool won’t do the trick, but each of us has to find the combination that works for us.

If we can’t acknowledge the problem exists and then be willing to let it go or change it, we won’t make much progress.  It isn’t weak or shameful to admit that we may not be able to accomplish something alone – without the help of others or of tools. If we need to lay a new foundation, we need to dig a big hole. And if we need to dig a hole, we’d better be willing to use a shovel (and maybe ask a couple of friends to bring theirs, too). That foundation is our willingness to do whatever it takes.

It’s Not the Problem, It’s How We Handle It

Years ago, after a client had just poured her heart out to me about all her troubles, she looked at me and said, “You never have any problems, do you?”   I was stunned by her assumption.  I still have no idea where that came from or why she said it at that moment.  It just so happened that my family and I had been dealing with some extremely difficult decisions at that time.  But as a person in the helping profession, I had learned how to not let my problems interfere with how I dealt with my clients’ work.

That’s sometimes easier said than done.  I’ve had a couple of extremely stressful events in my adult life.  The one I’m going to focus on here as an example is a health issue that was an emotional roller coaster for me – one that took me by surprise, and one like I had not experienced prior to this.

I’m very invested in being healthy.  I work out and meditate on a consistent basis, juice and make green smoothies daily, eat whole foods much of the time and actively work on dealing with my emotional, spiritual and relationship issues so that I can learn the lessons I need to become healthier and happier.

But for a few months in the fall of 2014, I had had a health issue that wouldn’t go away, regardless of what I did.  I stayed in denial for much longer than I like to admit. I was an extremely healthy 64 year old at the time. I wasn’t supposed to get sick.

Eventually, I was told it looked like “some kind of cancer”.  I’m not typically a person who worries about something until I know there’s something to worry about.  (Of course, even then, there’s no point in worrying, but I’m human)!  I went through a breast biopsy in 1999, and it never concerned me. I just knew it was benign – and it was.  But this was different somehow.  Nothing was helping and I had explored every other possible ailment I could think of that it might be.

And that word “cancer” is a scary one. I had some really dark moments waiting for the actual diagnosis. Not knowing is the worst part emotionally. I’m not going to say I was living in fear every day.  Most days, I was very positive and could talk myself into remembering that it was senseless to worry. But a few days, I lost sleep and had to force myself to eat at times so I could have strength to get through the day.  I was so busy going to doctor’s appointments that I couldn’t make the time to work out and meditation was difficult, which made me feel even weaker and less positive.

After what seemed like an eternity, I got the results from my biopsies.  NOT cancer! I have a rare auto immune disease.

But that doesn’t mean I avoided the reality of what I was facing.  While I was relieved it’s wasn’t cancer, it still was NOT a walk in the park. After a long period of a combination of Western medicine and LOTS of spiritual and behavioral/nutritional approaches, I learned to manage my auto immune disease. I know that in order to deal with something I have to face the reality head-on, no detours.   The only way to the other side is to go straight through it.

By sharing this experience, I don’t mean in any way to minimize those who have and are still dealing with cancer and any other life-threatening disease.  I know several people who are absolute heroes to me because of the way they are attacking life every single moment of every single day.  I aspire to be more like them and I learn from their spirits and strength!

But today, because of my experience, I’ve come to the place where I am grateful for the opportunity for growth. This was another chance to see if the conclusions I’ve come to in my spiritual exploration are true for me.

I believe we come to this life to expand and strengthen our spirit. That doesn’t happen when everything always goes the way we want it to or think it should. We all learn the best lessons by facing and accepting the crappy stuff. We gain strength by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and by moving through pain.

And I could feel myself becoming more vulnerable.  I dropped walls that had been up for a long time. I had to bless this experience in my life, or the negativity would stay in my body.  Hate and resentments lead to disempowerment.    Vulnerability isn’t weakness, it’s the nature of being human.  It allows us to open up for connection with others – to love at a deeper level.  THAT is what gives us power in this life.

What Are You Still Carrying?

This is about something I need to remind myself of regularly, so I thought I’d share it with you again:

Although all we really have is this moment, most of us spend much of our energy and time in the past or in the future.  As humans, I don’t think we can completely get away from that, but we need to remember that the only place we have any power is right now.  Here’s a story that illustrates how many of us carry around events and people that are weighing us down.

The story: Two monks were walking down a road in silence as they came upon a young woman who had been injured. One of the monks picked the woman up and carried her to help. Assured that she was in good hands, they continued their journey in silence. Several miles later, the other monk said, “Why did you pick up that woman? We’re not supposed to touch women.” The first monk simply said, “Are you still carrying her? I put her down miles ago.”

How many times have we carried someone or something from years ago? Our bodies & minds work together. Although the body is intelligent, it doesn’t know the difference between what’s really happening now and a thought. So if our thoughts keep dwelling on negative experiences or resentments towards others who have hurt us, then the body reacts to that as if it’s happening now and continues to feel the pain of the event. If we continually ask “why?” that’s a form of resistance, and the pain will remain. It often even develops into physical or emotional illnesses, or compulsive behaviors whose purpose is to continue to avoid feeling.

However, if we can just accept that this is a painful situation, allow ourselves to feel it and work through it, we will eventually be able to let it go.

Acceptance is the key, as the following excerpt from the Big Book of AA says so beautifully:

Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.

When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.

Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy.

I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

-Alcoholics Anonymous

Reality is Where We Focus

I’ve always believed part of my role is to model how a healthy person manages daily life. None of us are perfect. We all have challenges. It’s how we face those that determines whether those challenges become problems or lessons learned.

So here is my confession to you for this week. I have been in a rut lately. I’ve been over-committed for some time, and I kept telling myself (and everyone else who asked me how I was doing it all) that all those responsibilities are things I’m passionate about, so that made it easier to manage.

However, in the past few weeks those commitments have taken over my life. I no longer was feeling like I was living my life. It was living me – and not very well. I seldom had the time I have always relied on for my daily “program” of working out physically, feeding my soul with uplifting audiobooks or podcasts and meditation. I was sleeping less, working continuously and complaining about it the whole time. I became easily agitated and didn’t even like myself much.

I kept saying “Next week I’ll get back to my routine.” But next week never came. So a couple of days ago, I just decided I was going to make that happen. I freed up one morning, made myself stop and meditate and was beginning to feel a little like someone I used to know. Then this weekend, because I had volunteered to help with a retreat at Awaken Whole Life Center, I was able to attend a couple of the sessions. The speaker was Suzanne Giesemann, Hayhouse author.  Her presentations brought me back to what I’ve always known.

Our reality is limited only by where we put our focus. I know that we are each spiritual beings who have come to this life to experience it fully – good, bad and everything in between. We signed up for those hard times that we pray will not happen. Those are the lessons that help us reach our next level of development.

We are here to be human beings, but we were spiritual beings first. This past few weeks, I was keeping my focus on the daily “To Do” list, and on attempting to control everything and everyone around me. If we live that way, life will always be a search for more. But if we take a few moments throughout the day to remind ourselves that who we really are reaches far beyond the satisfaction we get from accomplishing human tasks, we can know real joy. I won’t promise we’ll be happy all the time. We’re not supposed to be. I think life is really supposed to be like a wild ride on a roller coaster – sitting in the front with our hands in the air – not even holding on. Only when we have faced and conquered fear can we truly appreciate how wonderful and exciting life can be.

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to live the life that is waiting for us.
~ EM Forster