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, February 20, 2016

Existential Angst?

Existentialism:  philosophical theory which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free agent, responsible for their own development.

Angst:  a strong feeling of anxiety about life in general.

We all start out as infants and children dependent on others for our existence.  For better and worse, other adults take on the responsibility for training and developing our skills and understanding.  And yet from the start we are separate individuals, separate bodies and spirits.  No one can see through our eyes or feel through our bodies.  No one can know, not even our adult selves, what our first associations were when we were learning the symbols of words.  So much of what children do is the practice of imitation.  We learn by watching and repeating at home, in school, with friends.  For some attitudes and actions we are praised, rewarded emotionally and sometimes physically.  For others we are scolded and sometimes punished physically.  We learn young to identify our confusion when other adults and children say one thing and do another.  Here is where we have to reach for our own understanding, our own unique perspective.

In our minds as children we are free agents because there are no other people in our minds to oversee us, but in our circumstances, in the way we are treated, we are not free.  And in our physical bodies, none of us is free.  We are dependent on food and water and air; we are dependent on our bodies for survival and we are interconnected, interdependent on the people that make up the society that we live in.  Our minds appear to be self contained, but there is the sense that we can push the limits.  We are not restrained by our bodies.  But as we age, we become almost too contained within our minds.  After we learned to say no to others, we learned to say no to ourselves.  We suffer so much with our hypercritical attitudes and thoughts.  We shut ourselves down and our most constant pain becomes more internal than external.  This is the angst we tap into during the day when we worry, scold ourselves and others, keep our heads stuck in the past or imagining the future.

We are shown early that life and death are two sides of the same thing.  We haven't experienced death, but we know it will come as we see it striking others.  This can be the undercurrent of our "anxiety about life in general."  This foreknowledge is why we are not free agents, but mortal beings chained to the cycles of birth and death.  The best we can do is to take care of ourselves and think that this will extend our life here.  But I'd say most of us don't take care of ourselves.  Think of how many millions of people have fallen victim to all kinds of addictions.  And yet I do think that we need to take responsibility for ourselves and try our best.  

Most of my days are spent alone but in a strange relationship with my illness.  I see time pass and I see how slow I am to take on simple responsibilities.  In the last few years I have committed to my belief that there is so much more going on in me and around me than it seems.  There is a message in some support literature for people recovering from addiction that says:  you are where you are supposed to be.  That can be hard to accept when life is not moving smoothly or moving too slowly.  My angst takes hold when I forget it and I do a lot of the time.  I have a persistent barrier in my trained psyche to resist telling myself that it is okay just to exist.  I'm not in a race or competition and my life does have meaning, every second of it.  

I can hear some cynical person saying - we are where we're supposed to be according to whom or what?  I say according to God, that nebulous entity that is so free that no one can catch it.  Belief in God requires a leap of faith and once you've leapt you have to continue to nurture the faith.  I nurture it every day when I pray in the morning and ask for guidance throughout the day.  I know that I am not free and have chosen to depend of something elusive yet real to me, to help me, maybe even mold me, into being a happier, better individual.   

Angst is disbelief, is resistance, is fear and it goes deep.  People in the happier stages of life believe in something greater than themselves, whatever that turns out to be, and do not resist that force for goodness.  Belief and acceptance lead to peace.  And I'm not talking about blind faith which can often be prejudiced towards one group or another without deeper reflection.  Reflection on self and life experiences is meditation and a way to get closer to the mysteriously unknown benevolent forces that seem to rule the world giving us this beautiful planet to live on.  Reflection is constructive thinking instead of the wasted thinking of worry and anxiety.  We can compare our life experiences with others while respecting that they are separate and on their own path, but ultimately we have to think for ourselves and use our intuition and insight in our past life and present life.  What we think now leads to what we do later leads to one direction over another.  Without reflection we fall into the grooves of habitual patterns we've been practicing since childhood.  With reflection we broaden the healthier choices we have.  We re-train ourselves towards healing.  We lessen those feelings of angst.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Poem: Heartthrob

Heartthrob

Handsome man on stage with a deep and resonant voice,
Spoken softly or sung very loud,
Looking down at the small lit moons of faces
Looking at him with rapt attention.
He spoon feeds them verses
And they sing along.
He taps into their energy
And orchestrates the band,
Pacing the rhythms to swell and recede,
To follow the story line he shared
Decades ago.
It is a night of glory
And he loves to perform
Because he feels he is in the right place,
At the right time,
And so many people are listening.

Poem: She Crossed The Line

She Crossed The Line

This girl crossed the line when she had a baby
And kept the baby
And did to the baby what was done to her
And what she was taught to do to her siblings
As the oldest girl in a poverty stricken home.
She was a child taking care of babies
And then she was a child become mother.
See her struggling amidst pop culture
Listening to love songs on the radio
While tied to the burden and joy of this baby.
Love fell softly as rain drops do
Tender moments of his responsive smile.
She played.
She pretended that all was well,
Would be well
Because dreaming felt so good, so necessary.

Poem: Hope And Fear

Hope And Fear

There is only now.
To hope for the future
Or to fear that the bad things that have happened
Will happen again
Is to ignore the present.
To deny present life
And fill it up with worries and aspirations
Is to remove our ability to change.
Dreaming keeps us in perpetual twilight.
The sun never sets
Nor rises
And we go nowhere.
We cry out that we are lost and in pain.
We beg for a few drops of hope.
But hope is the elixir of fantasy
And keeps us in denial
That we can care for ourselves in the here and now
Without the crutches of hope and the torment of fear.

Poem: The Point Of Existence

The Point Of Existence

What is the point of existence?
Is it to move mountains,
Make big statements of revolution?
Surely all the mundane elements of life
Come into play in even the greatest intentions.
Do we spiral upwards lifetime after lifetime
On our quest to find the perfect balance?
The painful lulls are a part of the whole experience for everyone
Regardless of birth or circumstances.
I cope with this sense of futility
By moving on to the next thing.
The next thing may glimmer
Like phosphorescent fish in tropical waters at night,
Drawing my attention to the small but very alive
Pieces of me that need my attention.
I believe there is a focal point for all existence
A beating heart at the center of all interconnectedness
Pumping spirit everywhere
Even in the largest of black holes.

Poem: Peace

Peace

The boys meander finding places to hide
Coming together at nighttime near the bonfires
That cast shadows on ruined buildings.
No school, no work, distant families -
They come together out of loneliness.
They are young enough to feel
The lifeblood of heaven
And sensitive enough to feel
The sting of the submerged hells.
They live on the crust of hell
Still able to rejoice in the sky.
They do not look much beyond
Food and shelter and friendships.

These boys growing into manhood
Need to find their places of love.
When home is a wilderness on the edges of a city
And there is little structure and purpose to each day,
The yearning continues to build
For the peace of good love and good work,
The double helix of happiness.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Poem: This Girl

This Girl

I’ve got her hand.
We’re on a wooded path near the water.
There is no smile on her lips.
No question in her eyes.
Her hand is docile in mine.
She is open to being led.
There is no other place she’d rather be.
She needs this place near the water.
She needs to see and watch the chickadees
On the branches near her face
So bold and curious
So much smaller than she.
I kneel before her
As if to apologize
But can only stare into her seriousness.
Her eyes are soulful.
She is unresponsive to lies.
Nothing could tempt her to smile
When she felt like frowning.
When she’s alone,
She dances.

Poem: This Boy

This Boy

Once there was just the three of them:
Two teenagers and a infant,
And he was the infant boy.

He was as open as stretched and primed canvas,
As innocent as a lamb,
Responsive to any touch,
Sensitive to any sound,
Eager to taste,
But unsure about touching -
Unsure of the limits of his body,
Only strong enough to hold tightly
Onto the intentional finger
From some exploring hand.

Who was mother?
Who was father?
One was in a smell.
Another in a tone of voice.
A touch, a taste, a smiling face.

Would that it could stay right there,
But there was not only gentle stimuli.
There were yells and crashes
Grimaces and neglect
And abuse.

Music and peace.
Music and violence.
Gentle water,
Harsh touch.
Mad mother.
Mad father.
Retreating infant.
No where to go,
But inside.

Poem: Backlash

Backlash

The backlash of poor choices
Will hit you like an oncoming wave;
It is built in to our ecosystem
The tides of cause and effect,
Low down to high up,
Repeat the karma.
Breath in;
Breath out
And continue an involuntary reflex.
You can pace it,
But you cannot stop it,
Unless you choose to die.
We, in the majority,
Choose to live and continue.
We turn the other cheek
As we curl up into the eye of the wave.
Then we are spit up onto the shoreline
Still intact, though gasping for air
With rough sand in our mouths.
The wave woke us up
By pulling us into close proximity to death.
We rise shaken, our vision blurry,
Clearing as we wipe away the salty water
To see the world in a different way.
Still there is the appearance of solid ground
Beneath the weight of our bodies,
But the sky is wider,
The air softer,
And the sounds sharper.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Five Poems

Snow Day

Is there a whiter white than snow,
Fast falling snow
That quickly covers the earth?
A steady, unrelenting descent
Of cold pieces of clouds
Is silently loud.
The birds burrow into their covered spots
And wait the downpour out.
It is warm enough today
To turn the firm accumulation into slush.
Too wet, too soon too cold,
Turned to ice this night.



Trump

I am ignorant,
Those who really know me know this.
Trump has out-trumped me
Relying on this
And yet I wonder about the media portrayal
Of a blonde man and his toupee
Making bestial faces before the cameras.
Lefty leaning liberals
Label him a narcissist
Interested more in his own reflection
Than what is being reflected in this country,
The worst kind of presidential candidate.


Pornography

On the carousel of prostitution
Pornography is now mainstream,
Infiltrating into the most benign homes,
Turning men and women into slaves
From the grooves in their neuro-pathways
To their fingertips and toes.

Video fantasies
That mingle with flesh and blood realities
Of men, women and children,
Workers and slaves alike,
Chained to the grind
Of representing themselves
As shadows with little substance.

Ghosts in the machine,
Ghosts walking the earth,
But chained to one spot,
To one style of self torture.
Regardless of the role,
Either master or servant,
Their commitment is to denial.



Prayer

Prayer rides on the breath.
Inhale, make ready to look to the sky
Acknowledging my humble position,
My one pointed spot
In place and time and attitude.

I look up to you
No name space,
Sky God,
And formulate my gratitude.
Exhale:  “Thank you for my life.
Thank you for all the days and nights of my life.”

The test in a gratitude prayer
Is to remain open
With no thoughts of the past or the future,
Appreciative of the ready vision
Spread all around as I survey my place.

I surrender to not knowing,
Yet my open ignorance
Is a sprouted seed
Hidden in the soil
Ready to push up towards the sunlight.

It is a moment of pure potential.
I am empty as a cup,
Empty as a bowl,
Empty as a bucket.
I am the air bearer,
The water bearer,
The earth bearer.
Repetition is my friend
And an absolute necessity.


Hell

The Higher Power put me in Hell for ten minutes,
Some lower realm, though not the lowest.
My ear was glued to my ex-lover’s kitchen floor.
It was a place where the Mad Hatter bellowed from above me.
Where vicious nonsense was proclaimed as Truth,
And where more torment was promised if I did not follow.
I was immobilized by fear and horror
Like some poisoned prey.
And yet still there was the mercy of numbness.
My numb true Self with a subtle consciousness
Still lived because of some divine insulation.
This is my deep link to the human beings on this planet,
Both the Hell and the mercy.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Pleasure & Pain




The thought that got me thinking about writing a blog was that generally I don't feel pleasure or pain, I feel pleasure and pain, but generally more pleasure than pain.  Perhaps I experience more pleasure now because 14 or 15 years ago I was feeling more pain than pleasure.  Traumatic experiences tend to ground you because as time passes you know you are in less pain.  You know what severe pain feels like and you know what the absence of severe pain feels like finally.  But, of course, the pain remains until you find a way to work it through you so that you can get to the point where you can release it.  Some people continue to feed that pain with feelings of guilt and shame.  Their standards for how they should be treated by others drops.  They accept bad behavior.  They allow themselves to cultivate self-debasing attitudes.  They become the victims of their own poor self-esteem.

That's just what I did when I allowed myself to begin a relationship with someone who was struggling with his own mental illnesses and addictions.  I think that I entered into such a traumatic relationship because I thought something was wrong with me; I internalized shame which is a very serious kind of pain.  There was pleasure, both healthy and unhealthy pleasure, but as time went on the pain went deeper and deeper.   So deep that I had to reject a person who had been both a negative and a positive teacher, the most important teacher of my life till then.

There are good reasons why some victims bond with their abusers.  Victims and abusers are both teachers of pleasure and pain, the human condition.  It is a terribly unhealthy relationship but from every relationship you can learn.  And we are human beings and not characters in the plot of a film.  It's weird to me that we teach ourselves through fiction in books, music and film to look at the world as if it is split in half -- good guys/bad guys.  It is just not the truth.  We are all a mixture of good and bad or as I like to see it, healthy and sick.

As I see it now, pain is necessary.  No way would I want to go back into it, but I am very grateful that I lived through it.  Some Buddhists say "Nirvana is now."  Now I believe that that is a true statement, but I wouldn't have realized this if I had not gone through the hell.  It's a hard fact to face, but appreciation tends to deepen when you've lost the object of that appreciation.  People who have trouble breathing deeply value the breath that we take for granted.  So where are we putting our attention?  On what we lack, on what hurts, on what isn't working out.  The real focus I believe should be on what we have, what feels good and what is working well.