Feelings are NOT Facts

One of my favorite messages from the 12 Step programs is “Feelings are not Facts”.  We know that addictive behaviors are driven by powerful “Feeling States” which involve not only our emotions, but most importantly our minds and physiological responses that are guided by our internal alarm system.  For many of us, this alarm system has kept us on moderate to high alert status for much of our lives and we have experienced unpleasant consequences resulting from this anxiety provoking state.

We  know that a hyperactive internal alarm system is the byproduct of developmental/childhood trauma and that strong feelings of anxiety or depression lead to behaviors that give the perception of safety, attachment, belonging, and control.  The use of alcohol or another drug, gambling, shopping, cutting, binging and purging, is driven by emotions, and certainly NOT a product of logical thinking.

The 12 Step programs get it:  That when we are governed by our feelings, we set ourselves up for relapse or we slip ourselves  into another relief providing behavior.

I like this video and will be posting more of the same.  She talks about our Internal Guidance System and how emotions are distinctly separate from our thoughts and how emotions drive powerful fight/flight/freeze bodily responses.

In the treatment of trauma, we first teach mindfulness skills so as to override the power of emotions that influence not only our behavior but our health as well.

Presence of the Every-Day Warrior

The Every-Day Warrior asks not how many are the enemy, but where they are present.

For so many of us, these days have become shadowy and murky,  though the spirit of  others’ light and  joy seems to be everywhere but within us.  A vast gulf separates what we see apart from ourselves and what lies within us.  We know where the enemy resides in the frontless battles being waged in our minds and we ask ourselves  How is it that though we promise ourselves to be uplifted by the spirit of the days, there comes a moment when we buckle and find ourselves in retreat?

Take heart.  Take a moment.  Be Mindful and Present.

For in the end, as Every-Day Warriors  . . .

We have learned that in returning and  rest we are  comforted and safe.

In quietness and confidence we are replenished and strengthened.

And when we allow ourselves to be lifted unto the presence of our Creator we can be still, and know.

Adapted from the Book of Common Prayer

Mind Your Good Tidings

According to my kids’ Christmas lists, they think this parenting gig pays pretty well.   SarcasticMommy@sarcasticmommy4

Whoa.  The energy and momentum pushing toward THE day that lies ahead are gaining strength, aren’t they?

At this point, if we take our eye off the ball, Good Tidings of Joy could morph into a Joyless, emotions driven Tidal Wave of Overwhelming Proportions.

Just a few reminders, ok?

Take it easy.  Do a mindful moment to center yourself.

No good decisions or the best of gestures ever arose out of a cluttered or stressed mindset.

Be alert to emotions driven pressure to spend beyond the budget.

Guilt is the biggest culprit in driving overreach, overdoing, overspending, or overindulging.  It comes in the form of internal messages that convince you that unless you buy the $200.00 sneakers or the latest x-box gadgets  for your kid, you will forever be fallen from favor.

Hold fast!  You can do this.  Think ahead to January 15th when the credit card bills arrive.  Ask yourself, “Is overspending, overdoing, and overindulging the example I want to set for my children?”

Keep moving but not overly so.  Tend to traditions, and not to the extent that you are a slave to them.

Enjoy this day.  See you tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

A Handy Guide for Managing the Holidays

 

I love the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Oh the scents, the sounds, the tastes, textures, and scenes, and how these bring back dear times shared with family and friends. At the onset of Thanksgiving, images of holidays past place themselves right in the middle of our present and  we set our course to do those things that upheld the comfort of ancient traditions:

Recipes.  Servings.  Placements.  Schedules.   Who does what.  Who brings what.  And so on.   The mind does a very good job in pulling us into holidays past. We anticipate, we expect, and we believe.  There is hope.

Where the Mind Falls Short

Nostalgia for Holidays past is an abundant presence as Thanksgiving nears.  Why,  this very weekend many of us are fast at work making advance preparations for the kickoff event that ushers in the “Holiday Season”.

Not quite so present, if at all present, are the darker memories of unmet expectations in holidays past.

  • The guilt, anger, and disappointment around not pulling off the greatest feast ever.
  • The let-down that you failed to live up to everyone else’s expectations.
  • That, once again, no matter how hard you tried, how much you (over) spent for what you thought were the perfect gifts, it wasn’t good enough. Nothing you did was, for that matter.

Maybe you or someone else drank too much and unfiltered words were broadcast with unbridled toxicity at dinner.  Your or your spouse’s broken promise to behave was par for the course.

You missed the mark, again, and again, and again.

And what is the reward for all your best of intentions?

January 15th.

Reality hits with a big thud. The credit card bills, the New Year’s resolution that went up in smoke. The relentless inner scolding that, once again, you got sucked into the belief that maybe, just maybe, it will be different this year.  But it wasn’t different.  Same old crap, just a year later.

This, too, is a holiday tradition, a tradition that is ever present, yet stealth and patient.  Absent are all hope and faith in the idea of a perfect holiday.  Let’s call it the Annual Holiday Emotional Hangover.  A.H.E.H.  January lingers like an unwelcome intruder.  February offers a bit of a reprieve that perhaps winter will be over before 6 weeks.  Groundhog’s Day.

If all this sounds way familiar, it could strike you that in the big picture, you are not alone in what happens during the Holidays. How emotions and irrational thinking sucks us into doing things that in the end, are self-defeating.

A Few Handy Tips to Lessen A.H.E.H.

Be sure to review The Every-Day Warrior page on this blog.

Be mindful of Principle # 1 in the Handy Guide for the Every Day Warrior.

The Past is Always Present

Think Ahead.  Plan for stress  the same way  you would plan your Thanksgiving or other Holiday Feast.  Know and acknowledge the emotional ingredients that go into the recipe for the delusion, disappointment, and disparity of  the Mid January AHEH.

  • When you are beginning  to feel overwhelmed with anxiety, worry, or fear of making the wrong choice, stop.
    • Take a mindful moment.
    • Breathe in, breathe out.  Repeat times 10 times 3 times.
    • Sit with the emotions and feel them.
    • What in your past is being represented here?
    • Notice your immediate surroundings.
      • The feel of your feet on the floor.
      • The scents.
      • The tastes.
      • Sounds.
      • Touch
      • What you see.
      • Continue breathing.  1o times 3 times.
      • The emotions will ease up after about 3 minutes or so.

If you are  craving alcohol or another drug:

  • Your cravings are nothing more than memories of past pleasures.  These are quite powerful and hard to resist.
    • Having Fun.
    • Being yourself.
    • Saying what you really feel.
    • Feeling loved and accepted by others.
  • Your cravings fail to take you to the consequences of your drinking or using.
    • Fights or confrontations.
    • Passing out before dinner.
    • Puking at dinner.
    • Puking after dinner.
    • The world being pissed off at you.
    • Feelings of guilt and shame that once again, you messed up.
  • Know what your cravings are about.
    • Sit with them.
    • Observe them.
    • Maybe have a conversation with them.
    • Breathe in breathe out.
    • Notice the details of the present.
    • After about 3 minutes or so, the craving generally will pass.
  • If you are tempted to overspend.  The same tips apply.
    • Take a mindful moment.

This is how we apply Principle # 2 and 3 in our Handy Guide.

             The Past is subject to change.

            We see things not as they are, but as WE are.

  • In doing these things, we can actually change the past, or, to put it better, to change the way we see the past.
    • Rethink whom you are trying to please.
    • Does it HAVE to be a certain way?
    • Do you REALLY need to spend beyond your means so that at least for one moment you can feel appreciated?
    • Can you rethink and rework expectations for the holidays?
  • By taking a mindful moment, you can begin to see the holidays for what they are, not as what YOU think they should be.

Lighten up.  Take measures to resist guilt or anger-driven choices.

Be sure to get some exercise.  A 20 minute walk each day can work wonders and clear your head.  Active muscles do much to ward off negative thoughts.

Have a little something handy to help distract you.  Put a favorite scent such as lavender, vanilla, mint, or rose, on a cotton ball.  This can coax you back to the present  and calm your mind.  Keep it in your pocket or at least within close reach.

Listen to music you can sing and or move to.  Rhythmic movement is quite soothing, not to mention effective in uplifting the spirits.

Doing these things will not guarantee a happy, stress free Holiday, but doing things that will ensure your sense of centeredness will not hurt.

15 mindful minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

Addiction

I fell heir to this quote and thought to pass along as it is exactly how I approach treatment of addictions, including behavior or process addictions.  It’s all about the positive reward.

“Addiction is the Memory of Pleasure.  Freedom is Beyond Pleasure.”

Each day chosen behaviors are intended to recreate that initial powerful feeling state that told us “all is well with the world”.

 

 

Principle # 4: The Every-Day Warrior

“Mindfulness of the Present is essential in assuming command of our inner warriors”

The Spartans do not ask how many are the enemy but where are they.”

When we are mindful, we know the whereabouts of our enemy and we stand calmly and ready to engage in peaceful dialog.

It is established that in order to manage the effects of our trauma, we must pursue activities that promote mindfulness.

We know that we can actually redirect the source of flashbacks, anxiety, or panic attacks by the way we” breathe, chant, or move” (Van der Kolk, 2014).  Western Culture  is way slow in catching on to this and there is too much influence among established medical practices, especially the Veteran’s Administration, that continues to relegate treatments that promote mindfulness to “alternative” medicine.  I say that thousands of years of mindfulness practices that come from the Orient is pretty potent evidence.

For my friends and colleagues who engage in either the practice or teaching of Yoga, a study conducted by the National Institute of Health shows that 10 weeks of Yoga practice markedly reduced the PTSD symptoms of patients who had failed to respond to medications or other forms of “treatment”.  Not only Yoga, but learning and engaging in one of the martial arts promotes increased ability to manage arousal when our pasts barge into our present, as we have established in Principle # 1 in the Handy Guide.”   I have a colleague in Sarasota, Florida, who provides pro bono yoga classes to veterans.  For the Every-Day Warrior, this is a blessing!

Just imagine, my Every-Day Warrior friends, clients, and colleagues, that by simply taking a mindful moment to focus on breathing in and out, slowly, deeply, and with purpose, the intensity of our emotion can be diffused and bring us closer to a state of equilibrium.

Take a mindful moment.

Begin by keeping it simple.   Have a seat.  Feel your butt in the chair and allow your body to feel supported.  Your feet on the floor.  It might help to have a sachet of a pleasant scent such as lavender, vanilla, rose, or rosemary in order to engage a greater proportion of your sensory system.

Breathe in slowly through your mouth for 4 counts.

Exhale slowly through your lips for 5 counts.

Take a pause between breaths.

Do this ten times.  Repeat.  If you lose count, just start over and say to yourself, I am aware that I lost count.  It’s still a mindful moment.

Make your mouth produce saliva to engage your parasympathetic system.  Be aware of the air flowing in and out of your lungs, the benefit of oxygen to your well being, and the release of toxins as you exhale carbon dioxide.  Keep it simple.

And, hey, we’re not talking about a huge slice of your day to be mindful.  Be mindful when brushing your teeth.  When washing the dishes, be mindful that your are washing the dishes.  Use only the physical and emotional muscles necessary for the job.

I started my day with this offering from Jason Stephenson who has uploaded a guided meditation for just about any contingency.

https://youtu.be/l0odwOXpzt4?list=FL_fbxNuWWsUwxnVUeMwEpkw

There are innumerable resources available to assist in learning to be mindful.  Browse the web with key word “mindfulness”.  YouTube is far and away my best source of meditation tools.

Mindfulness and the Art of Bread Making

Mindfulness and Bread Making

I decided that this day, Sunday, November 1, 2015, I would bring some levity to my gentle readers by telling the story of how the nearly lost art of yeast bread making gives us a lesson in mindfulness.

In my work with women in a half-way house in Gloucester, Massachusetts, all with histories deeply laden with trauma and manifest in drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, domestic battery, self injury, and/or eating disorders, I observed how incredibly difficult it was for each woman to focus upon the moment of the present.  To be able to direct the mind to harmonize with the senses and to synthesize these with lyrics to the music of that which was being formed by their will.

There is a magic that lay within the steps we take to compose good, hearty, sustaining bread, starting with the ingredients and taking that leap of faith that is required in following the recipe.

I learned to make bread when I was a teenager and had great oversight and approval from my grandmother, who, to this day, I owe undying gratitude for her wisdom and example.  It was she who helped me learn to allow my 5 senses to direct me through the process and to experience the defeat that comes from taking short cuts.  Funny I should think of Grama on this day, All Saint’s Day, though my Grama was, in fact, a saint by all definitions of the word.

Notice the change in how the yeast is activated.  How, when adding additional flour to the batter, the ancestry of our product is revealed in a mass of goo.

Kneading the dough reveals the emerging character of our anticipation.  Heels of the hands dig into the dough.  Turn it half way around.  Repeat the process.   Ten Minutes, maybe 12.   Notice how our once gooey, sticky blob has coalesced into a sphere that seems to be bound by a silky sheath.

It rises and doubles in about an hour.  Again, observe, test, judge.

And so on.  I wish I had a penny for each moment of amazement, gasp of delight or, perhaps at tickled disbelief, that erupted in that kitchen in a big old house on Gloucester’s Back Shore,  To witness amazement at the fruit of their focus.  But more, to share in the result steeped in butter and dipped into the community batch of stone soup.

I hope you try this recipe and allow all of your senses to be involved in the process.