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, September 13, 2007

The Place Of True Happiness (Gratitude/Modesty)

Satisfaction is not in smoking a cigarette or eating a piece of chocolate. I was aware of this when I smoked and I’m aware of it now when I eat sweets. I know I have to cut myself some slack about substituting eating some sweets for smoking a cigarette but I also want to look at the behavior because it’s the same addictive head set. I get more satisfaction out of drinking water, exercising and eating healthy perhaps because it takes some discipline and that’s also why I fall back into what’s easy and lose my way. I have to realize that I can’t just give in to instant gratification and expect to become happy and healthy. When I smoke or over indulge in food it’s a shallow happiness and it passes quickly. The final result is a sense of having let myself down. But where is that elusive happiness that I really want? I know it’s very close at hand and I know I turn a blind eye on it too often.

Today my brother was telling me about the troubles that some of his friends were having, couples breaking up, a friend having to sell his house to pay his taxes and other stuff. It was obviously starting to stress him out and I said to him “Try not to get too negative.” He said he was trying and then I said “Focus on the positives in your life.” And he said, “Don’t get New Ageish on me.” My response was “It’s true.” And I’ve found it to be so. When things get negative, I look to the positive. That was a lesson my psychosis taught me the hard way. I know how hard it is to look for the positive when negative thoughts and feelings are strongly present but that’s where real happiness lies. I know I have problems with mental illness, particularly withdrawal and poor self-care but when I stop and look around my living room I see/feel harmony everywhere, in the pictures on the wall, in the cats curled up and sleeping, in the bottle of water by my side, in the peace and quiet, in my essential goodness. Yes, I have made many mistakes but in this I am far from alone. Yes, there are still struggles to overcome but really I am okay. I’ve lived through hell and the relative calm of now is almost heavenly.

Christina Bruni interviewed me on the telephone yesterday and she asked what helped most in my recovery from the worst of schizophrenia and I think I said aside from therapy, support groups and anti-psychotic meds that practicing gratitude has been so important. As I’ve said before I think practicing gratitude is a form of prayer. When you are grateful, you are automatically humble and that humble place is a place of true happiness. In the span of everything you will always be a small part whether you realize it or not, but the part you play is also essential to the whole. Each life has value. The I Ching calls this practicing Modesty and it is considered a great achievement: “ When a man holds a high position and is nevertheless modest, he shines with the light of wisdom; if he is in a lowly position and is modest, he cannot be passed by. Thus the superior man can carry out his work to the end without boasting of what he has achieved.” (Wilhelm)

When I was in the acute stages of psychosis the voices tried to convince me that I was greater than I actually was, greater spiritually (Jesus) or greater in evil (The Devil) but I was neither. My true place was and is with the mass of beings in the middle between good and evil. Psychosis forcibly humbled me to the point where I had to get past my pride and reach out for help. Severe mental illness is a traumatic thing to go through but I see myself and others finding the light within the darkness. Before I was deeply unbalanced, caught in the egotism of being either too good or too bad. But gradually I learned to find a balance and a lot of that balance came from cultivating an attitude of gratitude. We take so much for granted. Our ability to use our five senses--sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Really it’s some kind of miracle. But it’s so a part of our being that we don’t focus our attention on it. When Brendan became paraplegic I began to realize how much I took walking for granted. It’s when we lose an ability that we start to appreciate just how great and amazing that ability was.

While I was suicidally depressed after coming out of my major delusions and paranoia, I remember watching a short film on television. It was about a man who could neither see nor hear and so relied on touch and taste and smell to give his life meaning. He spent his time weaving beautiful baskets and he even travelled to visit friends in foreign countries. He had learned how to make and read sign language purely from touch. And I thought to myself, My God I have so much to be grateful for and Isn’t the human spirit amazing? His life, despite his handicaps, had more focus and meaning in it than mine did. All my senses were still intact but I was miserable. I was taking too much for granted.

I learned this Attitude of Gratitude from Al-Anon. Their daily readers are full of focusing on what’s right in the moment instead of focusing on what’s wrong.
When the leaves change color in the Fall and are so beautiful, it is important. The way a hot bath makes you feel when it’s frigid outside is important. A good meal is important. A kind word from a friend or stranger is important. Having a home is important. The list can go on indefinitely. Seek and you shall find. It’s all around you and inside you. It just is. Something good is always happening. Just being able to take one deep breath after another is a wonder. To be alive is a gift. And we all know the gift is temporary which is why it should be valued all the more. None of us will live forever and if we’re fortunate enough to make it to old age, at some point we will start to lose those precious senses. Things will have to slow down but even then to be alive is a gift.

Nearly every night I send out this gratitude prayer to the Powers That Be: “ Thank you for this day and this night. Thank you for my life. And thank you for the lives of my family and friends. Thank you for all our lives.” And right away I feel comforted and safe and happy. Saying thank you is a big deal whether it’s to other people or to your version of a Higher Power. It puts everything into its proper perspective and it leaves a lot of room for goodness to manifest itself. I know bad things, situations, experiences, people exist, but if you look closely there’s always some redeeming virtue. We are not lost in a world of total negativity except when we allow it by focusing on it exclusively. Negative things can offset positive things. Even in misery a ray of sunshine can become a holy thing.

(10 Days, 20 hours Smokeless and counting)

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