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.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Heading Soon To Florida

My parents at Westhampton Beach

One of the nicest photos of my brother that I've ever taken.

So my brother Rob and I decided to go to the Grassroots Festival in Trumansburg New York which we've been going to for  over a decade even though our father had died five days earlier.  Earlier in the week I wasn't sure if I wanted to go because I was feeling a little unstable mentally, but I knew it meant a lot to my brother to go and I wanted to spend a couple of days with him.  It turned out all right.  I was stable and the weather was good despite all the rain we've been getting in this area lately.  Also I got to take this great picture of Rob where he looks very happy and relaxed.  The festival was good, but not as good as it has been in the past.  We did get to see and hear Steve Earle which was a plus, though that was the first night we were there and I had had a long day and was very tired.  Unfortunately a singer/songwriter/musician named Samite (who was originally from Uganda) got sick and we didn't get to experience his great music.  I play his music in my car a lot because even his sad songs are happy and his music relaxes me.  He was one of the reasons I wanted to go to the festival.

So I've been home for almost a week and I'm feeling pretty good despite my father dying.  I don't know why, but I am okay with him being gone and my mother too.  I've been preparing for it for the last eight years or so since my parents entered into their 80s.  I am so grateful that my father died very quickly.  It was quick and quiet with little of the trauma that so many people go through.  This week I've taken care of some of the practicalities such as informing the Social Security Administration of his death, the lawyer and the company he worked for in NYC (so they could stop sending his pension money).  I also paid off most of my father's minor debts and worked with the funeral home giving them the permissions they needed to cremate my father's body as was his wish.  And then I arranged for roundtrip tickets for Rob and me to Fort Myers Florida and back.  We will be leaving for a four night stay on Sanibel Island where my parents spent 10 years of their life in a nice home near the beach before entering a Fort Myers retirement community.  I didn't realize it at the time, but the condo I chose to stay in is very near to my parents old house, within walking distance, and we will be staying practically on the beach. 

My brother had wanted to stay in a cheap hotel, but I quickly told him that I wanted to spend the extra money and stay on Sanibel which fortunately is in the off season right now, so the prices were not ridiculous.  We have not spent a whole day on the beach or overnight in years and we both love it.  I wanted to honor our parents and also touch base with some of the joy we felt spending time on Sanibel with my parents when they were in 60s.  As I've written before, the beach was our family's favorite place.  My parents had bought a small beach house the year my brother was born, 1958, for the small amount of $9,000, which was all they could afford.  I spent my summers there from the time I was born till I left for Western New York at age 27.  Now I am a woman who has lived in the country for nearly half my life.  I love the country, but I am not a country woman.  I am a mostly stay inside the house kind of woman, especially since I got ill in 1998.  And so I watch the wildlife through my dining room window, mainly the deer, the birds, a resident woodchuck and the occasional bear.  But my heart is really much closer to the ocean.  At the ocean I can't help but want to be outside near the water.

When I left New York City in 1989, I had to give up my attachment to the beach because I would be living at least 6 hours away from it deep into the country.  And so I have for most of 26 years.  And then for the last 15 years I've been obese and have no desire to get into a bathing suit no matter how tempting the water seemed to be.  But even without swimming, just getting my bare feet into the sand and into the water and seeing the long stretch of the beach and watching and identifying the shore birds and soaking up the sun and the expanse of the sky gets to me like no other landscape.  And I want that now as I rejoice in the good lives both my parents' lived.  I have no major unresolved emotional baggage to carry.  I know that I loved them and I know that they loved me and we told this to each other often.  They are still my people and the smart, kind people that I follow.  And, of course, I am a believer in some kind of life after death.  And so I pray and will continue to pray that they are in some good place and that their spirits are alive and well as they journey on.   

Here are some photos I took of Westhampton Beach and Sanibel:

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Poem: "Let Go and Let God"

Let Go and Let God

You and your lover have been together a long time
But you cannot be a god to her
And she cannot be a god to you;
You are both so small;
You each have your limitations.

If you love this woman beside you,
If you love yourself
Believe there is a Higher Power for her
And one for you, too.

Expect resistance from her and those around you
As you gradually learn to detach with love
From the responsibilities that are not yours to bear.
We learned to walk after falling many times.
Let her learn to walk.

You will fall as well
And as you crawl
And as you rise on a bended knee
And as you stand
You will see so much farther than now.

And so will she, if you let her,
Because there is a greater plan for you both
But you will not find it if you cling to illusions.
Let go and let God come into your small spaces
Into your hearts and minds, into your spirits.

Audio recording from SoundCloud

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Rest In Peace Dad

My father died around 4am this morning.  I had just seen and talked to him on Friday afternoon through the audiovisual program called FaceTime for Apple products.  He seemed in good spirits and I was planning to talk to him that way once a week, but then the phone rang at 4:30am this morning.  I got a message saying that my father had died rather suddenly and the nursing home needed to know what funeral home we were going to be using.  I didn't call back.  Three hours later they tried to reach me again and I did pick up.  I had needed those three hours to work through my emotions which I had been trying to push down again.  I still haven't cried.  Tomorrow I will have to make many calls and then inform my fathers long time friends about his death.

I wrote about my father not too long ago on Father's Day in June.  Today, after not having gotten a lot of sleep, I feel not only tired, but physically ill and, naturally, depressed and I'm not sure if I can write this blog entry.  I think I need to try anyway.  I have only told one person via texting, a woman from my Al-Anon group who recently lost her father, too.  All she could do was give me a little support and sympathy.  I haven't even told my brother yet.  I'm not quite ready for this to be real.  Tomorrow I will have no choice.  I will have to make all the calls despite my phone phobia.

(A few hours later...)

I haven't been able to get through to my brother, which is frustrating, but I have to let go and let God for now and wait.  I'm feeling a bit unstable.  Tomorrow I see my therapist.  If I need to I might see her twice this week and then next Monday, too.  My father is gone, but I'm still here and I need to take care of myself by reaching out for contact with others.  If I see my therapist and call up friends in the AA/Al-Anon program and maybe one of my childhood friends, too, and focus on healing activities like painting, writing, singing, I should be all right.  I know I'll get through this.  My distress is a golden opportunity to practice recovery attitudes and behaviors.

Repeatedly today I've turned to gratitude.  Gratitude that my father was only in the beginning stage of dementia.  Gratitude that he died quickly.  Gratitude that he lived a good, long life mostly in health.  Gratitude for his kind and intelligent and generous spirit.  Gratitude that I loved him and he loved me.      Yes, I feel sad that we didn't bond more closely, but I can accept that because he gave me so much anyway.  I've heard a lot of incredibly hard stories to listen to or read about people who had terrible relationships with one or both parents, but I was blessed not to have that experience.  My parents taught the importance of courtesy and honesty through their example and they were such bright and knowledgeable people.  Sometimes it was a joy to be around them, just to listen to them talk.  The emotional neglect that I went through from them was never intentional neglect.  That's so important, the intention behind speech and actions and their intentions seemed always honorable to me.

It wasn't that they had no emotional/mental sickness in them.  They could be obsessive/compulsive, codependent and controlling like many of us, but much of their spirits remained relatively innocent and open.  They had some of the best aspects of being big kids and yet they remained very responsible adults.  After I became ill many times it was a comfort to visit them.  Their homes were clean and organized and inviting.  They helped people out while doing the things that they enjoyed such as traveling together and eating out at good restaurants.   Their generosity to my brother and me was rather unusual in that it was so devoted to us.  Unfortunately too much generosity led to an unhealthy dependency for me.  It allowed me to withdraw into my isolated world and get very sick there.  But still, I was an adult nonetheless and I chose my own path.  They didn't have control over that, only I did.

I was proud of them and proud to follow them in the ways of courtesy, humor, honesty and intellectual curiosity.  I believe I'll carry those parts of them in me until the day that I die.  So on this day of sadness and depression, I also feel a lot of love and do believe their spirits are somewhere good going to somewhere better.  May you be well Mom and may you be well Dad as you both continue on your journey.

Edwin A Kiernan Jr   8/2/1926 to 7/12/2015

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Social Anorexia

This past week I have started joining 12 Step telephone meetings for Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.  This is a first for me and I've been to three meetings so far, two of which focused on what SLAA calls sexual, emotional and social anorexia.  I identify most strongly with social anorexia and to some extent to emotional anorexia.  I have practiced social anorexia since high school or, in other words, for around forty years.  I've met and known and been intimate with only a few people.  Thanks to the SLAA group I'm starting to see that my self-imposed isolation is really an addiction, too.  I know now that I can't stop this behavior without the help of the Higher Power.  People cannot help me, nor I them, if I don't reach out to them.  My isolation from people is a form of imprisonment.  I'm so used to it that I lose sight of this.  

Returning to the Al-Anon group has given me the confidence to begin reaching out to the Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous group through the telephone meetings.  I feel I belong in the Al-Anon group, but I am starting to realize that I belong, in my present circumstances, even more to the SLAA group, especially to the anorexic group within the group.  My response to the two meeting I went to for anorexia was mixed.  I feel a real gratitude for the meetings and the people who chair them, the people who show up and for the connection between members in the meeting after the meeting.  I also feel sadness that there are so many people isolating themselves the way I have done.  And I feel fear of those fewer members who are so emotionally shut down as to be cold to themselves and others despite reaching out to the group.  

Many anorexics in this group practice self-hatred.  They are caught in a double bind of judging others and themselves equally harshly.  I used to be more like that, but I've found, after surviving domestic violence and serious mental illness, that I am generally kinder to myself and others than I have ever been.  And yet still a sense of shame lingers within me paving the way for me to continue practicing social withdrawal.  Perhaps I've known how pernicious shame is since after I graduated from college the first time in the mid 1980s.  So many people have had people in their lives that actively have shamed them to the point where they internalized it and began shaming themselves daily.  That's how it started for them, often in childhood and adolescence.  But that is not my story.  Why I chose to take on the burden of shame when no one had seriously shamed me in my childhood and adolescence, I do not know at this point, but that's what I did.  It led me right into a love addicted relationship with a young abusive alcoholic.   

I do not know what it is to have a deep, healthy friendship or love relationship.  In my sick state, I don't know what true health looks and feels like, except through the glimpses that my Higher Power shows me when I reach out to others.  Now, I'm reaching for greater awareness and understanding and as it comes to me gradually I am beginning to awaken sadder, darker feelings, the feelings that I have been pushing down deep, trying to ignore.  I don't want to, but I know I have to embrace feeling my feelings if I am to have the chance to break out of this prison I have constructed.  

Of course, the story doesn't stop there.  If I get too dark while coming out of my denial,  I fall back into living without balance and that is not a good place to stay.  I have to search for the good inside me and outside me.  I am close to trying to approach my 4th Step "made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves".  Many of the inventory guides say to pick out 12 character defects or shortcomings first and then pick out 24 character assets.  I did make a list of my shortcomings, but now it is time to make a list of my strengths and never lose sight of all the good that is in me.  I need to love and respect myself as I am.  Self love is not only precious, it is absolutely necessary in order to have a rich and rewarding life with oneself and with others.  

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Working The 10th Step

I've begun the practice of working this Step recently.  I posted in my last blog entry a version of it that I found on the internet, a list of 34 questions to answer before going to sleep.  I'm not yet doing it every night yet have still managed to do it for most of the week these last few weeks.   Ideally, a person should go through the 9 previous Steps to get to this one, but I have not done that yet and think that it is good to review my day and see where I have been getting stuck and where I've been getting freer and more confident.  This can be gratifying in that many of the questions show that I am in recovery fairly strongly, but also frustrating because I see more clearly where I am having difficulty every day I take the inventory and it's the same issues over and over again.

So for a few moments I feel badly about what I didn't do during the day.  Then I realize that those tough problems I need to turn over to God and trust that if I stay open and willing to learn that good changes will come.  But reviewing these problems most nights keeps the work I need to do in my awareness.  The discomfort of that is a part of growth.  I can do nothing unless I am aware of the problem, willing to acknowledge it as a problem, pray on it and let it go till the time comes when I can approach it and diminish it or remove it.

When I take this Step I am holding myself accountable to myself, to God and to other people.  I'm aspiring to be as good a person as I can be on most days of the week.  The most basic way to be a "good" person, a healthy person, is to practice rigorous self honesty.  When I am honest with myself I accomplish a number of things:  I stay aware in the present moment, I make myself vulnerable before the Higher Power allowing that Power to point me in a good direction, I reinforce a sense of personal integrity and responsibility or put more simply, I follow a spiritual path.  Self honesty for me is really the first step.  I can't admit to powerlessness or any of my weaknesses if I can't remain honest.  Honesty is the bottom line practice for me.  When you practice honesty, you can literally feel when dishonesty is creeping into your mind and relations with other people.  That discomfort can stop you cold and help you to return to the healing path.  Honesty safeguards your spiritual health.

Taking the 10th Step you respect yourself by acknowledging just what you did and didn't do that day, assessing what your thoughts and feelings were that day and seeing if you reached out to others to help them as a way to help yourself, too.  It is a self diagnostic test you freely take to build a better relationship with yourself and God and all the people you encounter.  Answering some of the questions will feel real good and others will feel bad.  The bad feelings are meant to raise your awareness level in order to prepare you for change in your life.  Positive change can happen when you learn to feel your feelings.  I have trouble with feeling my feelings, but this Step eases me into it, both the joy and the sadness of being human.

Before you can admit to being wrong in some action towards another, you have to first admit it to yourself, and when you do finally do that you simultaneously admit it to the Higher Power thereby getting the strength to admit the fault openly to the wronged person.  And when you open your mouth and apologize you become strengthened again by taking on responsibility for your actions and that is the core of making an amend.  It is not about being forgiven, though that is always a welcome response, it is about honoring your ability to recognize the truth and speak it regardless of the response.  It takes courage.  It is a discipline of love for self and others.

10th Step = Nightly Review

 Did I start my day with conscious contact with my Higher Power?
 Did I act with patience, compassion, kindness and love towards others today?
 What have I done to be of service to the people around me today?
 Did I resist the temptation to gossip or criticize others today?
 Did I make unreasonable demands upon myself, others, or life today?
 Did I label myself or others today (people rating)?
 Did I catastrophize any situations today (can’t-stand-it-itis)?
 Did I have contact with my support group and/or another person in recovery today?
 Have I contacted my sponsor recently?
 Did I do any step work today?
 Did I renew at any time today my conscious contact with my Higher Power?
 Have I been resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid today?
 Did I worry excessively today or dwell in the past?
 Am I taking myself too seriously in any area of my life today?
 Did I feel “stressed out” today?
 Did I experience any extreme feelings today? What were they and why did I have them?
 Did I exercise self-restraint today?
 Did I respond rather than react today?
 Did I harm anyone today? Do I owe an amends? What might I have done differently?
 Have I practiced unconditional self-acceptance today?
 Did I allow myself to become obsessed about anything today?
 Did I behave compulsively in any way today?
 What spiritual principles did I practice in my life today?
 Was I happy and peaceful today?
 Do I see any “old patterns” re-emerging in my life today? If so, which ones?
 Has there been conflict in any of my relationships today? What?
 Did I allow myself to become too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired today?
 What did I not do today that I wish I had done?
 Did I get physical exercise today?
 Have I kept something to myself that I need to discuss with my sponsor?
 Was I kind and gentle to myself today?
 What did I do today that I feel positive about?
 What are the areas where I need to improve the most?
 What am I grateful for today?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Eleanor Longden: The voices in my head - TED Talk

A TED talk that is definitely worth listening to.  Ms Longden is a powerful speaker and has a lot to say.