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, January 16, 2016
Paying attention, moment by moment, is surrendering to the unknown. That surrender is the practice of being open to whatever comes next. I see being open to whatever comes next from the vantage point of Step 3 of the 12 Steps - "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God." When I stay open, I'm giving the higher power the chance to direct me towards healing where I otherwise might direct myself towards sickness.
God is the Unknown. Or I should say the Known Unknown because I believe we do "know" God because we know our lives, our emotions, our minds, other lives and this higher power runs throughout all of this. So what does it mean when you surrender to God? You allow yourself to be led as if you were blind because truly we are. Some people see the higher power as a loving parent or parents guiding them as if they were handicapped children. But there are so many ways to imagine God, to make the Unknown known and familiar.
I don't like feeling blind but I know it is my condition. I can't see the bigger picture. I don't really know the larger meaning of my life and other people's lives. I am very aware of my ignorance and yet this ignorance allows me to stay open and often receptive to what comes along. It is the state of beginner's mind, the mind of the student just starting to learn about a subject she knows little about. I feel that way a lot. That feeling of being small and ignorant grounds me in humility. Surrendering to something greater, more profound, wiser is practicing humility. It should be obvious - me = small, world = large. But it is not obvious to most of us who get so caught up in our own stories.
We become our whole world with the external world just another extension of ourselves. It's like living inside a very strong, elastic, nearly impenetrable bubble. Practicing humility pierces the bubble and lets some of the actual world into awareness immediately giving the individual a much greater perspective, much greater insight. This insight takes form in a feeling of vulnerability and tenderness which is love. That's the saving grace of practicing humility - the result is love and love is strong and protective.
When we get humble, we get liberated. Our humility is an invitation to God to come inside. My experience with humility is that every time I humble myself, God is right there supporting me, giving me access to a kind of awakened heart and mind which is compassion for my self and others, a respect for life. The lower you've gone into sickness and hard times, the greater your respect for yourselves and other sufferers when you take the path of recovery from that trauma. The first Step of the 12 Steps is a call to a very deep humility that comes from living with powerlessness over one's illnesses. The second Step is an acknowledgement that something in the Unknown is benevolent and wise and can be called upon as we work to heal ourselves. The third Step is about commitment to this force within the Unknown.
Surrender is not something you do once and it is finished. Surrender is a continuing process. It is scary at first. At key points during the day and night I open and listen and ask "Now what?" I pray each morning for insight, intuition, inspiration and understanding for the day so that I can make good choices guided by God. I've learned from my life experience that the main thing God wants us to do is to take care of ourselves, which means absolutely that God wants us to love ourselves deeply at all times. No one can love you the way you can love you with God's help. Your relationship with yourself is your primary relationship. If you don't have a good relationship with yourself, you will encounter problem after problem in your relationship with others. Self love is the most important bottom line behavior to practice.
When you choose to love yourself, you surrender to God. Many people look for unconditional love from their partners and become discouraged when this does not happen. Whenever someone lets them down, they lose faith in the possibility of a greater power being unconditionally loving. My belief is that God loves unconditionally all life. It is we, in our sickness, that do not love all life, but continue to choose to be conditional with our love towards not only others but especially towards ourselves. So where do we start? We start where we are, with ourselves. If we need to, we act as if there is an unconditionally loving higher power and we aspire to follow that power by being unconditionally loving towards ourselves as we are and not as we would be.
I think for too many of us unconditionally loving ourselves is entering into the Unknown. It takes courage and persistence to love yourself no matter what. I had the wonderful and horrible experience of loving myself despite being attacked by voices that were trying to convince me that I was evil. I think that I survived that experience because I didn't have as big a burden as some. I did internalize shame as a child and yet in terms of most of my actions I didn't feel guilty. I was so withdrawn from people that I didn't give myself a chance to hurt a lot of people. Not so for more people than not, especially people who have gotten caught in different kinds of addictions. But the truth as I see it is that I could have been a mass murderer and God would still love me deeply and accept me. That's what unconditional loving is about. It's what many mothers and fathers feel about their wayward children. They love and support their children no matter what, not as enablers, but as a healthy support system connected to others in health.
It is human to be afraid of the Unknown and to want reassurance that all will be well and nothing will be overwhelming. But the nature of life is to flow like water down into the deep and dark recesses and back up towards the light. The nature of life is to move and change and hopefully grow in health. But there is a lot of sickness in us that pulls us down. Even way down deep or maybe especially way down deep, there are important lessons to learn. Nothing is wasted. Our lives are precious and our experience is valuable, but we have to remind ourselves of this on a regular basis.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
Beautiful day out right now. Late afternoon sun on bare trees, snow on the ground with patches of grass showing through in spots, shadows and light, peaceful, safe, blue sky with a few clouds, the sound of a car passing by on a country road. Got up to 40 degrees out today. I went out briefly twice to feed the birds and squirrels and to get the mail, but otherwise indoors. Was feeling depressed last night and today, sleeping a lot, but I wasn't craving cigarettes. That's a blessing.
I need to change my negative way of thinking these last couple of days. One of my voices reminds me with one word - "Gratitude." And the voice is right. Feeling down, hurt, sad, confused then be grateful. I am grateful that I can breath and walk, grateful that I haven't had a cigarette since Friday night. I make the list in my prayers nearly every morning and I think how hard it could really be for me with no shelter, no food, with physical and mental ailments. But I do have shelter and food and heat and clothes and a functioning car and my health is fairly good considering I've been punishing my body with cigarettes for years. Many blessings.
Compared to most people, I live with a strange orientation within my mind. I continue to believe that I'm connected to another person's mind, a person who wants no contact with me. If it were true, it would be a groundbreaking discovery: telepathy proven in at least two humans via some supernatural force or beings. But how painful for me that another human being would withhold from me the confirmation of such a truth and let me live day after day in isolation. And yet, this person has transformed in the last couple of years from a defensive, puerile, sadistic manipulator and liar into a more detached and more balanced, kinder being. A strange friend. I would like to meet this person, but without his permission I will not.
And so I feel depression because of this situation within my mind. But with a shift of perspective I could find a happier outlook. Part of me wants the voices to leave and let me be with myself. It would be easier to start fresh. But since the voices still remain, I have to push on and keep working at taking care of myself by encouraging myself. That I am not smoking cigarettes is a big thing. It shows that I'm willing to come out of the denial of thinking it is okay for me to smoke. It is not okay and never has been. I say that I love and respect myself, but I need to show myself that I do by committing each day to not smoke.
If you are an addict and can acknowledge it to yourself and another person, you know what it feels like to be vulnerable and in need of help. Getting so sick in addiction and wanting not to die from it, wanting to heal, is that first step towards self care, self love. Fear is wrapped up in it, but more there is a desire to change towards rebirth in health and not sickness. And people do get reborn like some kind of phoenix when they practice daily recovery attitudes and behaviors. Those attitudes and behaviors are nothing really strange to someone who is healthy: get enough sleep, eat right, get some exercise, take your medications, brush your teeth, bathe, wash your clothes, be honest, be courteous, apologize when you've been hurtful, help others --- but to someone who has a pattern of low self esteem these "normal" healthy things are not so normal to them, but come and go depending on the stress levels of the day.
The psychological aspects of addiction are mental illness. Addicts are mentally ill, especially when they use and often when they are abstinent, unless they are in a strong recovery program connected to others in recovery. The 12 Step program is a strong one for those of us who suffer from the mental illness of addiction. The basic rule of the 12 Steps is love and respect the Higher Power, love and respect yourself and love everyone around you to the best of your ability. Perhaps loving the Higher Power and others is easier that loving and respecting oneself, but I have found that it is essential to love and respect yourself no matter what you have or haven't done. One way to show yourself that you love yourself is to stop the addictive behavior. One day at a time or one moment at a time, don't forsake yourself.