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.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Take What You Need & Leave The Rest

The title of this blog is an important 12 Step saying.  It’s a philosophy in itself and one that I try to live by.  That’s not always easy for me.  Sometimes I want to absorb everything and just accept it, but I never can do it.  There is no holy book for me and no holy person and no holy philosophy that I follow without question.  In every situation or book or with every person, there is always something that I disagree with or view differently.  This is a good thing; it means I’m trying to think for myself and not just mimic someone else.  As far as I can see, this is what we all need to do - decide for ourselves what rings true and what rings false using both our intelligence and our intuition.

I have found for now that I have a need to write these blog entries.  It’s my way of working through my ideas and feelings, following the process of my day to day life.  I know that I come on strong, but my heartfelt intention is to challenge whomever reads my writing to think in a new way by challenging some culturally held assumptions about how to see the world around us and ourselves and most especially about how to behave in society.  I’m not trying to convince you to believe what I believe, I’m trying to help you to think and feel more deeply about some serious topics that affect many of us on this planet.

We are all continuously in the flow of our lives, continually going through the process from one experience to the next.  We are works in progress until we die and after that, who knows?  As you work to heighten your awareness about yourself, you will begin to see what heals you and what hurts you.  Trust yourself during those times.  Listen and learn.  Don’t conform blindly.  Question others, question yourself.  You will learn what you need to learn if you are open to it when the time is right. Work with what you are ready to work with and let go of all that is not necessary to the work at hand. Keep it simple.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Love Is Work

M. Scott Peck’s definition of love in his book The Road Less Travelled is:  “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing  one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”  The will to extend one’s self is the will to go beyond what is comfortable and safe; it is the will to stretch one’s boundaries, to reach out.  Doing it with the intention of causing no harm and of being loving kind transforms the intention into a spiritual practice.  On discovering this through trial and error one sees that love is all about spiritual growth.  Our spiritual self is a loving self and it is a self that wants to share this liberating discovery with others.  When we work with this basis of love, we know we want to continue to learn and grow and we want those we respond to to do the same.

To extend one’s self beyond the comfortable, the known, is to work.  It is also the willingness to take emotional risks that could result in pain.  But if the aim is spiritual growth through the practice of genuine loving kindness, personal sacrifice is acceptable, even desirable, when the result is the deepening of patience, tolerance and compassion.  Love is all about generosity of spirit.  And as we practice love we experience the reality that to give is to receive.  Love is about generating good karma. Send it out and it will sooner or later come back to you.

Fortunately and unfortunately for us we are very clever animals.  If we can devise and invent ways of either reducing work or getting out of it entirely, many of us will choose that.  We have developed over the years a way to cater to our laziness.  That way is the way of instant gratification, which is just another way of saying addiction.  Advertising is all about selling instant gratification, instant “fixes”. If we get some kind of temporary reward for buying into the hype, we continue to buy the product. When we feel pain, we turn to the fix, until we feel pain again, which leads right back to the fix.  We put off indefinitely dealing with the root causes of our pain.  We push the work of loving ourselves further and further away.  And as long as we push that away, we have no understanding of how to actually love another human being.  Love is no longer the point.  The point is to feed the addiction.

Relationships that are about addiction are fraught with problems.  More about trying to lie and manipulate one’s way out of the pain of facing the problems, than about extending one’s self “for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”  We run at top speed away from the intimacy of being nurturing and in doing that we can’t even conceive of what the nature of spiritual growth even is.  Truly, I’m not sure we even care at that point.  We blind ourselves daily with our denial of the truth.  We allow ourselves to get sucked deeper into the vicious cycle of addiction.

Awareness and self honesty are the means to break through the massive denial inside oneself. Awareness and self honesty are the key ingredients for returning to a sense of intimacy with yourself.
The question remains, when you are so blinded by your addiction, how exactly can you become aware? And when you surround yourself with other using addicts, how can you find someone who can reflect the truth back to you?  If you are lucky, lousy circumstances or traumatic events can temporarily make you wake up to the fact that you are actually insane.  And once you really and truly realize this, you know you need to find some kind of bridge back to sanity.  For many, many people that bridge is found in fostering a belief in some greater, loving, spiritual power that can give you insight into your condition and how to heal it.

And so we come full circle back to the necessity of work.  Back to where the problem first emerged -- trying to avoid the spiritual work of learning to love yourself and then extending that understanding of love out to others.  Really, either way you are working, working to incessantly feed the addiction or working to love and to heal through the process of loving.  Love is work, but it is so worth it. Addiction is a waste of time, but more than that it is soul murder.  A young friend of mine who has the courage to admit to her addiction and the courage to be in recovery once said, “I either pray or I die.” When it comes to addiction, that’s the bottom line.  Live or die.  The choice should be obvious, but it’s not when you are sealed inside insanity and living in an insane world.

Sexuality: Denying The Truth

We all know and accept that our sexuality is the instinctual way we continue our species.  Sex is for making babies.  But most of us also know that it can be much more than that.  If we are very fortunate our sexual expression can be a direct and intense way to love ourselves and another person.  If we are not fortunate, often due to having been abused sexually when young, our sexuality can quickly change into an addiction.  I truly believe that sex addicts begin by believing that they are expressing love for another person when they have sex with them.  This hooks in with romance and relationship addiction. Our culture continually reinforces the idea that sex and romance and relationships are all about love. We read about it in books, watch it in films and listen to it in popular music.  The great irony is that those who become addicted are not trying to develop intimacy, they are trying to escape intimacy with themselves and others.

Despite the fact that our culture is sex/romance/relationship obsessed, despite that we sell it over and over again in this capitalistic country, open discussions about the nature of sexuality are taboo.  The first myth that we promote is that children are not sexual beings until they reach puberty.  It is taboo to acknowledge that we are born into this world with not only sensual feelings and responses, but sexual ones, too.  That is just the nature of being animals.  Children are taught very young to deny this necessary part of their spirit.  The way they are taught is through the practice of shaming.  Shaming is a pernicious, common practice.  Shame instructs that not only what the child may be doing is “wrong”, but that something is essentially wrong with the child in his or her being.  How often have you heard the expression, “What’s wrong with you?!”

Society and adults say it is “okay” to promote the idea of “romance” in children.  Stories of princesses and princes or heroines and heros abound.  These fantasies make the assumption that these stories are depictions of “true” love without ever bothering to go into what basic love is all about.  The children eat up these shallow fantasies.  And, of course, sexuality is left out entirely.  Can you see what a great distortion of reality this is?  “Romance” is okay.  Sexuality is shameful.  Puppy love crushes are “okay”.  No, they are more than okay, they are encouraged, they are “normal” and “natural” and a part of every child’s experience.  The  truth is that without addressing sexuality except to label it shameful is to make the natural laws of attraction in children something perverse.  It is to deny a healthy link between sexuality and romantic love.

The whole issue of what exactly healthy sexuality is, is ignored.  And why?  Because the majority of adults do not know what healthy sexuality is.  And why?  Because they were taught the same shame based sickness when they were children.  The sickest of these adults were sexually abused as children and teenagers and what do they do when they have children?  They sexually abuse their children.  And why do so many get away with it?  Because discussion of sexuality is taboo.  The children, even before they are abused, are taught that being sexual is shameful.  Then their abusers use that lesson to bind the child into silence.  They exploit the child’s extreme vulnerability on all levels.  Many of the children who have the courage to tell someone are shamed into denying what they know is true.

These children especially, but all children, learn to deny the truth.  It becomes their way of life, just as it is obviously the way of all the adults they meet.  This denial is the beginning of the dual living of the addictive life.  We develop socially acceptable personas, but behind closed doors we behave differently. We lose our precious sense of personal integrity.  We teach ourselves, each other and the children sickness instead of health.  By labeling discussion of sexuality as taboo, we shirk our responsibility to the children most of all.  One of the first rules of recovery from addiction is:  Get Honest!  Break the cycle.  Stop denying the truth.  Stop living a dual life.  Regain your personal integrity.  Ask for help. Learn to be responsible to yourself and others.  Learn what the word love really means.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pain Can Be A Great Teacher

Today there seems to be a lightening of the depression.  I don’t take this for granted; I know it can return anytime.  So I’m writing to make good use of my time.  Maybe someone will read what I write and it will be helpful in some way.

This bout with depression seems particularly striking to me as I have been living a relatively happy life for a few years now and so the contrast acts to highlight each way of being.  I see that there is something worthwhile in feeling spiritually oppressed and incapacitated.  It helps me to evaluate the depth or shallowness of my endurance and faith.  I can see this time that I have learned more about the path of acceptance.  It is a very hard lesson to learn when I am buffeted by the restlessness of experiencing pain.  Sometimes all you can do, all you need to do, is hold on and wait.  Life is change and going with the flow of it can lead you like water down into the cracks of the earth where it is dark and seemingly lifeless.  But down is only one part of the path.  The valleys are defined by the mountains and visa versa.  We all go down and up, that it the nature of flow - it moves all around.

The holy spirit within each of us is like a muscle; it needs to be exercised in order to stay strong.  If I had continued on in my happy state my feeling would eventually become shallow because I would lose touch with the great suffering of the people in this world.  I have been taught by mostly Buddhist teachers that compassion and wisdom are one.  Being compassionate towards myself and others is allowing myself to feel the pain while consciously cradling it within the empathy of love.  Pain is the spirit’s call for love.  Love is the healing balm.  Love is the Higher Power.  Pain is this internal sense of being separate from what is higher and greater than ourselves.  It is the expression of spiritual despair; it is helplessness.  Pain is a great teacher because it sends out a simple message:  something is wrong and must be attended to.  It says look, see, understand the nature of the illness.  It also says look beyond the pain to find the healing.  That is the hardest part of the lesson because the intensity of the pain draws our attention to the blackness of it till all we seem to see is darkness and no hope of light.  But if we really stay open, we know that there is a bigger picture and that the light continues to surround the pain.

Yesterday the pain within me was great and I escaped into sleep several times, but when I awoke and lay on the couch near the open windows I could feel the gentle breeze and see the expanse of the sky and the solemn beauty of the trees.  I could scan the accepting, quiet space of my living room and reach for the comfort of touching and talking to one of my cats.  And I held on as the despair tried to claim me.  And I waited.  Waiting is something that needs to be re-learned in our instant gratification culture.  Waiting cultivates the non aggression of patience and trains us to trust that when the time is right the answers will come.

Pain does come to all of us and it is enough; it can guide us.  But many people do not have the patience to sit with their pain and listen to it the way one might listen to a stream in the woods.  Instead we act out by essentially running away into misguided fantasies or worse into taking the initial pain and feeding it till it blazes out of control into acts of violence towards self and others.  We fail ourselves.  We do not listen and so we have no chance of learning.  And so we create more pain and spread it around.  We project it and see its reflection all around us.  This is the hell of being addicted to pain which is generated by self rejection, self-hate.  Instead of using pain to teach us to strengthen our spirit, we use pain to attack our spirit.

Consumed by the darkness of amplified pain, there is no where else to look but out into space and open enough to reach out to the unknown.  The universe and nature on this planet still have so much to teach us if we would just allow ourselves to look, see and understand it.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Depression

This has been a hard month for me.  I’ve had various physical problems accompanied by severe depression, especially in the last couple of weeks.  The depression is much worse than the physical pain because it robs me of a sense of purpose leaving me with nearly no motivation to do anything but sleep.  Even my ability to pray for help gets greatly diminished.  Telling myself that I am where I am supposed to be obviously doesn’t help either.  In my helplessness, I wait it out.

Yesterday I managed to get myself to lie on the couch and listen to an audio recording of Pema Chodron, the Tibetan Buddhist nun.  She was talking about the important practice of gratitude.  I knew she was right  and I have relied of this practice many times before when I’ve been in psychological pain.  In my little corner of the world there are no bombs falling from the the sky, no military men paroling the streets and roads.  I have food, shelter, water, electricity and a functioning automobile.  I have the company of my beautiful cats and friends and family are only a call away.  Despite some physical problems I have the full use of my body, all of my senses are intact.  Even my mind is free of paranoia and delusions.

What the depression really does to me is to damage my connection to the Higher Power.  Without this strong connection my view of myself turns towards the negative.  I see myself as pointless and stupid, sort of a lost cause.  Without having a belief in myself, a belief in my right to be here and to contribute something, however small, to the world through speaking, interacting with others, writing and making songs, I turn away from the very things that normally give my life meaning.  The piles of books I have surrounding me at my usual spot at the dining room table become burdens instead of doorways to understanding and freedom.  What keeps me holding on is the natural world, my cats, the view from my windows of the expanse of the sky, the trees, the sound of the birds, the breeze and the freedom to lie down and soak it in.

But still, without faith, it’s as if I’m in a beautiful, even nurturing, prison.  I feel the depth of my sickness and when I try to turn to man-made creations -- films, fictional books and music -- I feel the depth of other people’s sickness as well and it is too much for me.  I forget to concentrate on the health within art.  I forget the lesson I learned that wherever there is sickness, there is also health.  The Higher Power never abandons us, no matter how dark everything seems, there is some light.  The necessary challenge is to find the health and focus on it and learn from it.

I used to tell my voices when they were particularly sadistic that despite their sickness they still had the wonderful healing gifts of intelligence, sensitivity and creativity.  That was the gift of God within them and everyone.  God is not out there somewhere, but inside the very fabric of our minds.  But we are also given the free will to choose what to do with those gifts.  Either we can use them as tools to generate health within ourselves or we can use them as weapons to attack ourselves.  With these voices I chose the path of compassion and I’ve seen over the years how my persistence in believing in the goodness and health within them has transformed them from a hateful way of being into a much more tolerant and kind way of being.  They could have attacked me while I was down in these last few weeks, but they did not.  Instead they mostly chose to detach.  As I sat with my pain, so did they.  Sitting with our own pain and that of others and not reacting or running away, but instead accepting it, is the basis of compassion.  Compassion is the path of peace.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Power & Powerlessness

All addicts must admit to their illness and to their powerlessness over their illness if they are to heal.  But how many using addicts are there in high places, in positions of power over others? And isn’t the thirst for power an addiction in itself?  People rise to wealth and fame through competition within a closed system.  Motivation is fueled by ambition to rise to the top of the chosen system.  The goal is to get the material reward - the money, the attention and the power to influence others in order to continue getting the money and attention and to maintain the power to influence others.  It is a system that must be fed in order to operate and unless halted it is a system that will continue indefinitely.

For many ambitious people, the end justifies the means and the means often includes sacrifices to personal integrity.  Manipulation and deceit are deemed acceptable.  The dual life of the addict emerges; public and private life split dramatically.  The pursuit of a spiritual path is forfeited for the pursuit of a worldly path.  Those that do succeed surround themselves with people like them, people supportive of the addictive process.  These are the codependent addicts that enable the successful addict to continue in his addictive lifestyle.

For the successful using addict, fame, power and wealth can supply him with an unending stream of enablers.  They “protect” him and feed him his fix and help him to stay sealed inside of his own denial.  He in turn “protects” them and feeds them their fix, encouraging them to continue in their denial.  That the world at large rewards them for this only goes to show that the world operates from a basis of addiction rather than from a basis of love and healing.

Using addicts always place the world above the spirit with themselves as the center of the world.  Their Higher Power is their addiction.  This is the delusion they live within.  In reality, the human animal is mostly powerless, ever subject to illness, accident and devastating circumstances.  We are finite, limited, vulnerable beings.  Human power is often fickle and sick because we are fickle and sick.  We have seen countless times how mighty men have fallen.  Those men are blessed to have the opportunity to emerge from their fortress of addiction.  They have been given the chance to see clearly that they are indeed powerless and in desperate need of help like all the rest of us.