My way or the highway.

I am a serious fan of perspectives. I had a high school history teacher who was fond of saying that “truth is increasing complexity”, and in both my personal and professional lives, I have found this to be, well, true.

When a client presents me with a truth, about themselves, about an experience, we work to increase complexity. Are you sure that’s true? Has it always been true? What else might be true? What do others in your life believe to be true? Often, in this way, we are able to triangulate, and to move in the direction of deeper knowing, of more true, but also to open space for subjectivity, and breathe some light or humor or next questions into that space.

It is in the spirit of that kind of inquiry that I offer the following blog post by Holly Glenn Whitaker: http://www.hipsobriety.com/home/2015/2/18/why-aa-didnt-work-for-me-my-story-part-1

This is not a prescription. This is not an indictment of AA. It is also not an endorsement of Holly’s sobriety coaching program. It is, however, a perspective. There’s this Buddhist expression, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” It speaks to the dangers of making something or someone your god, which is easy to do when you feel as though you have been saved, but the reification of any one concept or any one guru or organization can be fraught with peril.

I work with a lot of clients who struggle with substance abuse because when the world offers you its misogyny, its transphobia, its racisim and its fat phobia (amongst others) to internalize, numbness and escape often sound like the loveliest of sirens. I have folks who come to my office who have found a sober life working an AA program, and it’s glorious. I also work with clients who have found that the language of powerlessness and surrender was inaccessible to them in the context of a history of sexual trauma or internalized hatred and disempowerment, and who echo Holly’s statement that in fact, making the choice to let go of alcohol because you can’t use it and be well is profoundly powerful, and profoundly empowering.

You can’t get sober by yourself, but you’re also the only one who can get you sober. The rooms of AA are one available community within which to do that work, but they are not the only one: could this be a truth?

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Prioritize Your Priorities.

Somewhere along the line, I read an article that suggested I compare my stated priorities with the list of activities most engaged in. For example, I wouldn’t call checking Facebook a priority, and I frequently express frustration that I haven’t been able to consistently find time to do strength training now that I have two kids. However, I definitely spend 20 minutes per day on Facebook… And guess how long my strength training routine is?

I have since made righting those kind of inconsistencies a priority, which is part of how this blog began to develop a fine layer of dust over it: I love to read, and I decided that when I have a block of time where I can’t be active because my daughter has fallen asleep on my lap and I’m not moving until she wakes up, I wanted to read rather than spend time on a screen doing social media or blogging. I have been increasingly excited about using essential oils to enhance my own wellness and manage my mood (as well as for cleaning, and making food taste awesome), so I’ve been using my “found” formerly wasted on social media time to read and learn as much as I can about the topic (feel free to contact me if you’d like to learn more yourself!).

What I have discovered is that social media is definitely a lower priority than my actions were making it, even though I could have told you that I already believed it was not a priority. However, I did really miss expressing my thoughts and ideas and connecting with folks here on my blog, so I’ve recommitted to posting a bit more frequently than every 48 days.

So, do yourself a favor… Make a list of what you believe your priorities are, and note where you would like to be spending more time e.g. if nourishing yourself well is a priority, and you’re frustrated that you don’t seem to have enough time to do prep tasks like hard-boiling a week’s worth of eggs or getting a week’s worth of snack veggies into Tupperware, that line on your list gets highlighted. Next, for 1-3 days, jot down or note in your phone what you have been doing each hour. Comparing these two lists is a great way to find time you’re wasting on low priority activities without realizing it.

We all get the same 24 hours: how do you want to be spending yours?

You Have to Do It.

During my time out of the office, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on success. As in, who have I worked with who has really nailed it and made a major improvement in their quality of life and functioning? What has been necessary to drive my own ongoing success in recovery? And how can I boil those answers down to help others better?

What I come back to, time and again, is action. For myself, and others, insight is great because it can provide valuable data regarding why a pattern or behavior started and is entrenched, but it’s basically useless if you don’t act. It’s entirely possible to spend years in therapy making insight after insight and seeing absolutely no change in how it feels to live your particular life. 

For example: Thanks to insight gained in my own treatment, I know exactly why being home alone makes me vulnerable to the siren song of eating disordered urges. However, learning that did nothing for my recovery until I learned to turn the knowledge into action. Now, not only can I predict when those ugly urges will surface, but I work to a. Minimize the likelihood that I’ll be faced with them b. Decrease my sensitivity by actively cultivating positive associations with being home alone and c. Having a long list of things to do to distract and calm myself that I actually use.

This is not groundbreaking information, but it makes a huge difference in outcome, and a surprisingly small number of folks actually approach the work this way. Why? Well, for one, it’s hard, especially at first. Acting on your insights often requires a kind of brute force, blind faith approach at the beginning because the action is often uncomfortable, new and scary, and probably runs counter to a lot of (distorted) beliefs. However, the discomfort wears off fairly quickly once you start to do your insights because evidence builds up that the new actions are working in your favor. 

In other words, you have to take a leap. The classic metaphors here are about letting go of one trapeze to grab the next, or letting go of your leaky life boat to grab a solid buoy – in both cases, there’s a deeply scary moment where you’re holding onto nothing. 

The question I ask, in my office and of myself is, how is that leaky raft working for you? We have the illusion that there’s a choice, to act on our insights and behave in new ways, or to stay in the current patterns. The reality is, you’re drowning. If the new raft is leaky, too, you were going down anyway, which while not exactly cheery, makes my point that, scary or not, you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking action based on insight.

But, you have to do it.

What would it be like to start now?