I made myself go to an Al-Anon meeting after several weeks away from it. The meeting starts about two hours after I do my volunteer work at the library and for two Mondays I've been either too tired or in a bad mood but yesterday I was well enough to go. I felt quiet and didn't offer to chair the meeting or read the daily meditations but towards the end of the meeting we read this:
"Our lives will remain unmanageable as long as we pretend that only half of the truth is real. That's why sharing is such an important Al-Anon tool. When we share with other members about what is really going on, we cut through our denial and anchor ourselves in reality. While it may be difficult to face certain facts, when we allow ourselves to confront them, we cease to give our own denial the power to devastate us at every turn." (Courage To Change, July 9th)
Other people at the meeting had been sharing about the struggles in their lives, not necessarily alcohol related, and I wished I could do the same. But a lot of the way I am and live has to do with my mental illness and I wasn't sure if this meeting was the appropriate place to talk about it. Then I thought, if not here and now then where and when? So I told the group that I had trouble sharing but that I wanted to. I talked about my schizophrenia, about how in the earlier years at the meetings I had been actively psychotic and had taken on a motivational role but that I no longer felt that way, though I felt much less psychotic. I realized then that I missed that part of me that could sometimes inspire people (one woman said that something I had said during that time stayed with her every day...) and wish I had some of the more manic ease of my early psychosis. But, really, it wasn't ease, it was the voices goading me on. My mind was frantic and I needed those meetings to slow me down. They slowed me down by having me concentrate on other people instead of my hyperactive thoughts and feelings. It was the voices who pushed me to speak out in the group. I didn't speak out about my schizophrenia but about how to fight codependency through taking good care of oneself, keeping the focus on oneself instead of the alcoholic or whoever was causing distress in one's life. This is what Al-Anon had taught me and what I tried to mirror back to the group.
Now is different. I have no alcoholic boyfriend. I have no schizophrenic alter ego. I am not codependent on anyone or anything mainly because I am less ill but also, of course, because I live alone and have no friends. So I don't have a lot to say about the people in my life because there are so few. My brother does drink too much but I have no desire to butt into his life when he's told me so far he has no physical or emotional problems with it. If that changes, so will my response. But even though all I really have in my life is myself and my cats I am still stuck and I could sense this at the meeting. One person asked me if having trouble sharing about my life is because I don't think my life is important enough to discuss, or, in other words, due to low self-esteem. And this may be true. I can write about my life in this blog, find some meaning in it or in books and ideas I encounter, but I can't seem to share my life's struggles with people face to face. I feel self-conscious and almost ashamed in one way and just too detached in another way.
On my way to the meeting I chose an audio recording to listen to of a Buddhist nun named Pema Chodron. I have a lot of her recordings. The first one I got was called Awakening Compassion: Meditation Practice for Difficult Times. I remember clearly when I got it because after I bought it I took it with me on a trip to St. Thomas with my family. I had just had my third breakdown and was still very shaky and quite miserable and I thought this woman Pema Chodron might comfort me if not inspire me. After that I began collecting some her talks. The recording I started listening to yesterday is called True Happiness: Cultivating a Life of Unconditional Joy and the Power to Benefit Others. I listened to the first two cds recorded at a winter retreat in Gampo Abbey monastery in Nova Scotia. Here are three quotes she started out with:
"Knowing life is short, enjoy it day after day, moment after moment." Suzuki Roshi
"Beings long to free themselves from misery, but misery itself we follow and pursue. We long for joy, but in our ignorance destroy it as we would an enemy." Shanti Dayva (? )
"Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final." Rilke
Ms. Chodron said we all want to be happy but every day there is discomfort as well as comfort. We get in our own way. She went on to say that the greatest obstacle to happiness is self-denigration which is why it is so very important to cultivate loving-kindness first towards oneself. Do I put myself down? Yes, I do but almost unconsciously. I think I'm too fat, my house is a mess, I'm not good enough for friends or a lover, I'm lazy, etc... These thoughts become little worries that dog me throughout the day, worries that I push aside and try to ignore. So I asked myself almost for the first time--am I loving myself? am I taking care of myself? Sort of. Better than when I was sicker but not so great. Ms. Chodron said something that made an impression on me. She said we are drawn to things that harm us and, in one way or another, we are all addicts. I have thought this before and it is certainly true for me. I would like to quite smoking but each day I continue to smoke. I know it is unhealthy and annoying and yet I do it. To acknowledge it as an addiction is not enough. I have to take the steps needed to stop. How do I love myself enough to do the right thing? I'm not sure yet. I pray for others, but perhaps I should pray for myself too. Gratitude I feel and that is good but I also have to be able to pinpoint my habits and weaknesses and look more closely at them. Become aware of what it is I actually do.
Pema Chodron calls this staying present and in touch with the unpleasant as well as the pleasant, not always buffering everything. Sitting with what makes you uncomfortable. People who struggle with all kinds of cravings have to sit with them before they can let them go. It's hard to do. I need to try and not keep running from myself.
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.