A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Pleasure & Pain

The thought that got me thinking about writing a blog was that generally I don't feel pleasure or pain, I feel pleasure and pain, but generally more pleasure than pain.  Perhaps I experience more pleasure now because 14 or 15 years ago I was feeling more pain than pleasure.  Traumatic experiences tend to ground you because as time passes you know you are in less pain.  You know what severe pain feels like and you know what the absence of severe pain feels like finally.  But, of course, the pain remains until you find a way to work it through you so that you can get to the point where you can release it.  Some people continue to feed that pain with feelings of guilt and shame.  Their standards for how they should be treated by others drops.  They accept bad behavior.  They allow themselves to cultivate self-debasing attitudes.  They become the victims of their own poor self-esteem.

That's just what I did when I allowed myself to begin a relationship with someone who was struggling with his own mental illnesses and addictions.  I think that I entered into such a traumatic relationship because I thought something was wrong with me; I internalized shame which is a very serious kind of pain.  There was pleasure, both healthy and unhealthy pleasure, but as time went on the pain went deeper and deeper.   So deep that I had to reject a person who had been both a negative and a positive teacher, the most important teacher of my life till then.

There are good reasons why some victims bond with their abusers.  Victims and abusers are both teachers of pleasure and pain, the human condition.  It is a terribly unhealthy relationship but from every relationship you can learn.  And we are human beings and not characters in the plot of a film.  It's weird to me that we teach ourselves through fiction in books, music and film to look at the world as if it is split in half -- good guys/bad guys.  It is just not the truth.  We are all a mixture of good and bad or as I like to see it, healthy and sick.

As I see it now, pain is necessary.  No way would I want to go back into it, but I am very grateful that I lived through it.  Some Buddhists say "Nirvana is now."  Now I believe that that is a true statement, but I wouldn't have realized this if I had not gone through the hell.  It's a hard fact to face, but appreciation tends to deepen when you've lost the object of that appreciation.  People who have trouble breathing deeply value the breath that we take for granted.  So where are we putting our attention?  On what we lack, on what hurts, on what isn't working out.  The real focus I believe should be on what we have, what feels good and what is working well.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Surrendering To The Unknown

Paying attention, moment by moment, is surrendering to the unknown.  That surrender is the practice of being open to whatever comes next.  I see being open to whatever comes next from the vantage point of Step 3 of the 12 Steps - "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God."  When I stay open, I'm giving the higher power the chance to direct me towards healing where I otherwise might direct myself towards sickness.

God is the Unknown.  Or I should say the Known Unknown because I believe we do "know" God because we know our lives, our emotions, our minds, other lives and this higher power runs throughout all of this.  So what does it mean when you surrender to God?  You allow yourself to be led as if you were blind because truly we are.  Some people see the higher power as a loving parent or parents guiding them as if they were handicapped children.  But there are so many ways to imagine God, to make the Unknown known and familiar.

I don't like feeling blind but I know it is my condition.  I can't see the bigger picture.  I don't really know the larger meaning of my life and other people's lives.  I am very aware of my ignorance and yet this ignorance allows me to stay open and often receptive to what comes along.  It is the state of beginner's mind, the mind of the student just starting to learn about a subject she knows little about.  I feel that way a lot.  That feeling of being small and ignorant grounds me in humility.  Surrendering to something greater, more profound, wiser is practicing humility.  It should be obvious -  me = small, world = large.  But it is not obvious to most of us who get so caught up in our own stories.

We become our whole world with the external world just another extension of ourselves.  It's like living inside a very strong, elastic, nearly impenetrable bubble.  Practicing humility pierces the bubble and lets some of the actual world into awareness immediately giving the individual a much greater perspective, much greater insight.  This insight takes form in a feeling of vulnerability and tenderness which is love.  That's the saving grace of practicing humility - the result is love and love is strong and protective.

When we get humble, we get liberated.  Our humility is an invitation to God to come inside.  My experience with humility is that every time I humble myself, God is right there supporting me, giving me access to a kind of awakened heart and mind which is compassion for my self and others, a respect for life.  The lower you've gone into sickness and hard times, the greater your respect for yourselves and other sufferers when you take the path of recovery from that trauma.  The first Step of the 12 Steps is a call to a very deep humility that comes from living with powerlessness over one's illnesses.  The second Step is an acknowledgement that something in the Unknown is benevolent and wise and can be called upon as we work to heal ourselves.  The third Step is about commitment to this force within the Unknown.

Surrender is not something you do once and it is finished.  Surrender is a continuing process.  It is scary at first.  At key points during the day and night I open and listen and ask "Now what?"  I pray each morning for insight, intuition, inspiration and understanding for the day so that I can make good choices guided by God.  I've learned from my life experience that the main thing God wants us to do is to take care of ourselves, which means absolutely that God wants us to love ourselves deeply at all times.  No one can love you the way you can love you with God's help.  Your relationship with yourself is your primary relationship.  If you don't have a good relationship with yourself, you will encounter problem after problem in your relationship with others.  Self love is the most important bottom line behavior to practice.

When you choose to love yourself, you surrender to God.  Many people look for unconditional love from their partners and become discouraged when this does not happen.  Whenever someone lets them down, they lose faith in the possibility of a greater power being unconditionally loving.  My belief is that God loves unconditionally all life.  It is we, in our sickness, that do not love all life, but continue to choose to be conditional with our love towards not only others but especially towards ourselves.  So where do we start?  We start where we are, with ourselves.  If we need to, we act as if there is an unconditionally loving higher power and we aspire to follow that power by being unconditionally loving towards ourselves as we are and not as we would be.

I think for too many of us unconditionally loving ourselves is entering into the Unknown.  It takes courage and persistence to love yourself no matter what.  I had the wonderful and horrible experience of loving myself despite being attacked by voices that were trying to convince me that I was evil.  I think that I survived that experience because I didn't have as big a burden as some.  I did internalize shame as a child and yet in terms of most of my actions I didn't feel guilty.  I was so withdrawn from people that I didn't give myself a chance to hurt a lot of people.  Not so for more people than not, especially people who have gotten caught in different kinds of addictions.  But the truth as I see it is that I could have been a mass murderer and God would still love me deeply and accept me.  That's what unconditional loving is about.  It's what many mothers and fathers feel about their wayward children.  They love and support their children no matter what, not as enablers, but as a healthy support system connected to others in health.

It is human to be afraid of the Unknown and to want reassurance that all will be well and nothing will be overwhelming.  But the nature of life is to flow like water down into the deep and dark recesses and back up towards the light.  The nature of life is to move and change and hopefully grow in health.  But there is a lot of sickness in us that pulls us down.  Even way down deep or maybe especially way down deep, there are important lessons to learn.  Nothing is wasted.  Our lives are precious and our experience is valuable, but we have to remind ourselves of this on a regular basis.  

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Five And A Half Days Quit

Beautiful day out right now.  Late afternoon sun on bare trees, snow on the ground with patches of grass showing through in spots, shadows and light, peaceful, safe, blue sky with a few clouds, the sound of a car passing by on a country road.  Got up to 40 degrees out today.  I went out briefly twice to feed the birds and squirrels and to get the mail, but otherwise indoors.  Was feeling depressed last night and today, sleeping a lot, but I wasn't craving cigarettes.  That's a blessing.  

I need to change my negative way of thinking these last couple of days.  One of my voices reminds me with one word - "Gratitude."  And the voice is right.  Feeling down, hurt, sad, confused then be grateful.  I am grateful that I can breath and walk, grateful that I haven't had a cigarette since Friday night.  I make the list in my prayers nearly every morning and I think how hard it could really be for me with no shelter, no food, with physical and mental ailments.  But I do have shelter and food and heat and clothes and a functioning car and my health is fairly good considering I've been punishing my body with cigarettes for years.  Many blessings.

Compared to most people, I live with a strange orientation within my mind.  I continue to believe that I'm connected to another person's mind, a person who wants no contact with me.  If it were true, it would be a groundbreaking discovery:  telepathy proven in at least two humans via some supernatural force or beings.  But how painful for me that another human being would withhold from me the confirmation of such a truth and let me live day after day in isolation.  And yet, this person has transformed in the last couple of years from a defensive, puerile, sadistic manipulator and liar into a more detached and more balanced, kinder being.  A strange friend.  I would like to meet this person, but without his permission I will not.  

And so I feel depression because of this situation within my mind.  But with a shift of perspective I could find a happier outlook.  Part of me wants the voices to leave and let me be with myself.  It would be easier to start fresh.  But since the voices still remain, I have to push on and keep working at taking care of myself by encouraging myself.  That I am not smoking cigarettes is a big thing.  It shows that I'm willing to come out of the denial of thinking it is okay for me to smoke.  It is not okay and never has been.  I say that I love and respect myself, but I need to show myself that I do by committing each day to not smoke.  

If you are an addict and can acknowledge it to yourself and another person, you know what it feels like to be vulnerable and in need of help.  Getting so sick in addiction and wanting not to die from it, wanting to heal, is that first step towards self care, self love.  Fear is wrapped up in it, but more there is a desire to change towards rebirth in health and not sickness.  And people do get reborn like some kind of phoenix when they practice daily recovery attitudes and behaviors.  Those attitudes and behaviors are nothing really strange to someone who is healthy:  get enough sleep, eat right, get some exercise, take your medications, brush your teeth, bathe, wash your clothes, be honest, be courteous, apologize when you've been hurtful, help others --- but to someone who has a pattern of low self esteem these "normal" healthy things are not so normal to them, but come and go depending on the stress levels of the day.

The psychological aspects of addiction are mental illness.  Addicts are mentally ill, especially when they use and often when they are abstinent, unless they are in a strong recovery program connected to others in recovery.  The 12 Step program is a strong one for those of us who suffer from the mental illness of addiction.  The basic rule of the 12 Steps is love and respect the Higher Power, love and respect yourself and love everyone around you to the best of your ability.  Perhaps loving the Higher Power and others is easier that loving and respecting oneself, but I have found that it is essential to love and respect yourself no matter what you have or haven't done.  One way to show yourself that you love yourself is to stop the addictive behavior.  One day at a time or one moment at a time, don't forsake yourself.  

Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Years Eve

Midnight in about two hours.  I am quieting down from being borderline anxious.  Really just barely, but I felt some negativity.  The negativity came from me not knowing what I wanted to do.  Restless.  Next to the last night of smoking cigarettes for me.  Maybe that has something to do with it.  I’m avoiding cleaning and organizing the house.  It is still my choice and I choose to not do.  I don’t dislike myself for it, but I do feel a slight drop into depression when I walk by opportunities to change my pattern.

The primary compulsive pattern to stop is, for now, smoking cigarettes.  This is a deeply ingrained pattern in my life.  And that is why I pray - pray, to whatever Higher Powers are out there and in us, to help me stop.  I want now to be the right time to quit for good.  No more quitting and then picking up again.  Just let go and move on through the grace of God and by whatever effort I can commit to on a daily basis.  I forget that because I am no longer tormented and feel so much better than I used to that I am still not truly loving myself when I  breath tobacco into me.  I’ve heard people call the body a temple, but I don’t treat it that way.  I have respect for my body at the same time I hurt it.  I have turned off thinking for so long, thinking about what it is exactly that I am doing to myself when I smoke.

I’m just like any other self harming addict, living amidst amnesia and denial.  Only now there’s a dent in the denial.  I believe that the denial will begin to melt away after I destroy the final cigarette in the house and walk away from it.  Millions of people are walking away from their addictions right this second and I want to follow them.  They know where they’re going.  To someplace better.  But first - The Change - stopping the behavior and redirecting the attitude towards gratitude for having yet another chance to commit to health over sickness.  And after I stop, there will be discomfort.  The truth is that I feel discomfort now while smoking.  I cough horribly and clear my throat many times a day.  It’s not like I don’t have practice sitting with discomfort, only now it will lead to liberation instead of prison.

Yes, smoking, or any addiction, is about living inside a kind of prison, tied perpetually to compulsion and living not quite in reality.  I want to think that I’m mostly sane, but taking pleasure breathing in car exhaust is not sane.  And I do love myself and it is time that I show it to myself every day.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Night Before New Years

December 30th, 2015 Wednesday 5:35pm

I threw away the bag of tobacco today along with some filters, two ashcans and two plastic cigarette holders. I bought 3 packs of American Spirit non additive cigarettes and have some loose tobacco left to hold me till midnight on Friday. I’ll probably have extra which I will destroy one way or another. I got my Quitting Smoking For Dummies book a little while ago and I just downloaded a quit smoking visual meditation and affirmations meditation. I have been posting on the QuitNet site telling some of my story and supporting others. Last night I made a mind map using my computer of all the actions I can take to stay quit.

I’m a bit anxious about doing this, but I will do it nonetheless. I’ve told several people about it, including my brother, and that’s always a good sign. Two more days to prepare and then I dive in. The QuitNet site is interesting. I went there years ago, but they changed it dramatically early this year. Now it’s streamlined. There’s ongoing postings 24/7, people sharing and supporting each other. I can tune in any time I like and usually get support. And the people, who come from all over, share all kinds of stories, not just about quitting smoking, but personal details of their daily life, successes and struggles. The only things I don’t like is that one, some people use scare tactics to encourage people to commit to quitting and I don’t need that negativity and two, it is not politically correct by some members to use e-cigs which I will be using. But those are minor things and I can detach from those people whose message I don’t respond to.

So it will be New Years Eve for me this time tomorrow and I will be home alone same as a bunch of other people. I’m not planning anything special, just want a quiet, uneventful night. I will be reading my quitting smoking book. That will focus me and help me to psychologically detach from my addictive compulsion. I will be relieved the night after tomorrow when I finally quit and start the day fresh on Saturday morning. Quitting smoking is a big opportunity to change myself on multiple levels towards being more and more healthy as the year progresses.

I’ve been uncomfortable this holiday season with my parents both gone and my brother away in Florida. Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas. No snow, though to tell you the truth I was relieved that there wasn’t any. And no family, but still a good therapist and a dear childhood friend to turn to and of course my household of cats. My home is still a dirty, cluttered mess but it is dear to me and I’m so grateful to have this home. Plus, my childhood friend agreed to visit me for a week at the end of January, which will motivate me to do a major cleaning and that, on top of quitting cigarettes, will give me a big surge of accomplishment which will boost up my self-esteem. I just have to keep the attitude in the front of my mind that I can do this.

Next week’s challenge, besides not smoking, will be to get the heat turned on in the studio. My two electric ceramic heaters just didn’t heat the space and I can’t work and do yoga and dance in a cold space. I’ve been dragging my heels about committing to that space, partially because of the holidays and the onset of winter, my weakest season, where part of me just wants to stay indoors and hibernate. Yesterday I began feeding the birds, late this year because we’ve had a lot of warm weather here. The warmer weather has allowed me to be around a few people more. I had no excuse to stay inside. Still, mostly I do stay inside, but I keep myself occupied with creative thinking and some creative doing.

So on this night before New Years Eve I wish you all a safe and happy entry into the new year. The beginning of the year is a good time to make positive changes and I wish that for you, too, positive changes towards health, peace, balance and harmony. Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Preparing To Quit Smoking...Again

My quit date as of today is next Saturday, January 2nd.  I chose that day in honor of my mother who died January 2nd, 2014.  She quit smoking around the time I was born when she was 34 and lived to be 85.  I quit in 2007 and stayed quit for about 3 years.  If I could do it then, I can do it now.  I'm going to have to coach myself for the next 6 days.  I'm not very confident today, but I'm going in the right direction.  I will use the e-cigs.  I'm getting a quitting smoking book to guide me.  I'm looking around for online support since there are no face to face meetings in my area.  I think it's important to take the One Day At A Time approach.

Though I have been smoking over a pack for several years, I may not be as physically addicted to nicotine as some.  I know I can go 5 hours without a cigarette and be okay.  Mostly I smoke at home, which is where I spend a lot of my time.  This means I need to change where I sit.  I have established a pattern of sitting in front of a window in  my dining room area.  Luckily I have a drawing table in my living room that I can sit at instead when I stop smoking cigarettes.  No window, but a comfortable spot.

I think it will be a relief when I gather up all my smoking supplies on the first of the year so that I can remove them from this house on the second.  It will take so much pressure off me if I have no temptations nearby.  I will have to find other ways to work through my compulsive nature.  I practice gratitude each day, but I will have to step that up and focus on all that is good in my life.  This is a golden opportunity for me because though I have a bad smokers' cough that comes and goes, I am still relatively healthy.  This could be a turning point for me towards living a healthy life.  I pray to the higher power for help in committing to this.