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Posted by on in Recommended Reading

Imagine if you could wake up one day with answers to all your problems. In theory that would be ideal. In reality that will never happen.

Yet for some reason I tried very hard for a very long time to do just that. Each plate of food pushed away certified I was in control of things. Each glass of wine put to my lips fortified the belief I could not only solve my issues but yours too. I’d find the answers. I’d orchestrate the solution. I’d be my own “go to” person.

Yet inevitably the day came when there were no more answers, solutions, or overall direction. I had no idea where to turn because I’d shut out everyone who tried to offer input.

For reasons I may never know, I did listen to one person. She pointed me toward the door that led me to my recovery.

Yet old habits don’t die easily. Always a rather strong-willed woman, those early days in recovery were rough. I wasn't all that thrilled with the idea I’d no longer be in charge or able to forge my way to overcome addiction. All my defiance led me to a solid understanding of a very simple fact.

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Posted by on in Recommended Reading

A few months ago a staff member of the NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) Community Outreach program contacted me to write an article for publication in their Parents Family Network magazine, Making Connections. The subject matter was intimacy and eating disorders.

Although I'm not one to share rather personal information, I accepted the offer believing some aspect of this topic would spring to mind. In a haze of contemplation I found myself mindlessly staring at my wedding rings when all of a sudden the winds of wisdom blew through me. Suddenly my fingers flew rapidly over the computer keyboard like a well-choreographed dance to create what was eventually titled, "The Ring".

I thought I'd share the original piece here as I believe the message is worth repeating.

Intimacy is a connection; a sense of silent knowing of the thoughts and feelings of another which radiates from deep in the heart. 

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Posted by on in Drug Addiction

I'm sure that many of you can relate to coincidences like when you learn about a new word, you find that you hear it more, but when in reality it's just something new that has come into your awareness, it was really there all along.  This is of course something that happens to me often, but has certainly been my experience since I have been writing this blog, as it is now always in my awareness to look for opportunities for what to discuss next and they just keep popping into my life!

Working in the addiction field, and the job I have in particular, keeps me very focused but also very isolated.  Working in addiction also creates a sort of bubble, being that my clients are all trying to get out of their active addiction, my co-workers are all in recovery, and the doctors are addictionologists.  I had been in California for four or five years and didn’t realize that I was protecting myself in a way, by not branching out of my comfort zone.  So it wasn’t until about two years ago, that I started to go out to new places and interact with new people that have never struggled with an addiction.  (People that experience temporary stress instead of chronic anxiety are still a wonder to me!)

The benefit, however, of the bubble realization was that all of that prep work that I had been doing (working with a sponsor, doing the steps, going to multiple types of therapy to figure out the core issues as to why I was using inhalants, then working on those core issues) was in preparation for returning to the real world and all its challenges and this time having a more positive impact, on myself and on those around me, and it was time to use them!  The tools I have learned (especially emotional regulation, coping skills, and trigger identification) and the resources I have developed have been crucial in my relapse prevention, because life sure does throw me some curveballs and when I did come out of hiding, I found that some of my wreckage from my past was still there waiting for me.  I am definitely grateful that I was given the opportunity to have a second chance, to get to be the same person, but a better version.  By doing the footwork, it allows me to look at the same situations but have different reactions and therefore different outcomes than I would have in the past.

I feel that in order to be effective in communicating with people who are also struggling and/or looking for solutions or education, I need to write about things that truly affect me emotionally, because if what I'm writing doesn't induce some sort of feelings for me, how could it in someone else?  So full disclosure in the hopes that someone can relate and hopefully allowing me to be of service.

The reason that the ability to have different reactions that produce different and better outcomes is on my mind is due to some events that occurred in my week.  I felt discouraged this week for two reasons, and I feel like they have happened while I have volunteered to write this blog for a reason.  I am a person that falls victim to a certain type of mental trap, where your brain immediately jumps into negative thinking or disaster mode when you hear certain things that are not ideal.  In the treatment facilities I work with, we refer to it as addict brain.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

Compassion vs. Loving-Kindness

In meditation practices, we are advised to have compassion for any suffering. Whether it is ours or somebody else's, the wise response to suffering is compassion. Compassion is often defined as "the quivering of the heart." Metta or loving-kindness is unconditional friendliness directed toward everyone and everything, while compassion is taking this same feeling and specificallySelf-Compassion directing it toward suffering.

Self-Compassion and Unpleasant Feelings

When we have a feeling that we find unpleasant, our first reaction is often to avert. We hate it, and wish that it wasn't there. We either run from it or push it away. In meditation, we often have unpleasantness arise. Whether it is in the form of a physical sensation, a thought, or an emotion, unpleasantness happens. However, our reaction of aversion does not need to happen. The Buddha taught that this aversion is one of the Three Poisons, or one of the chief causes of suffering.

Every time I sit, I experience unpleasant feelings, thoughts, or emotions. I have practiced the brahmaviharas and am quite familiar with the idea of compassion. After practicing for quite some time, compassion was something I understood from an intellectual standpoint more than an experiential one. I understood that when we have an unpleasant feeling, we are to respond with compassion. I also understood that in compassion, we don't avert from our unpleasant feelings.

On my recent retreat, I was having a rather unpleasant few days. Sitting in meditation, I had many unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations arising. On the second night, one of the teachers gave a dharma talk on self-compassion. For the first time, I truly understood compassion from my own personal experience.

In the past I had thought of compassion as a response to suffering that was better than aversion. However, a part of me expected that with compassion, the pain would dissipate. In this experience, I had the realization that with compassion, I am allowing the unpleasantness to be a part of my experience.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

When I am suffering, my tendency is to blame something outside of myself. As a first reaction, I look to external phenomena to put the responsibility on. As I practice more and more, I am able to look inward for the causes of my suffering with less resistance. My reaction of blaming an external circumstance or person is more easily brought into my awareness, and I am able to look deeper at my suffering.

In his book Essence of the Heart Sutra, the Dalai Lama states, "In truth, it is always and only the mental afflictions that agitate our minds, yet we tend to blame our agitation on external conditions, imagining that encountering unpleasant people or adverse circumstances make us unhappy." This insight is something that I have understood intellectually for quite some time. However, I have only had the experiential understanding recently, although I have been practicing for years.

maraI have had this experience on retreat, but also in simple 30 minute sits. When I am sitting, all of my basic needs are met. Generally, I am in a safe and comfortable position both in relation to the outside world and with my own posture. However, I can still experience great suffering. Things that happened weeks or months ago may arise. Thoughts of my own actions arise. Thoughts of craving, delusion, and aversion arise. Emotions arise that are clearly based on my own MENTAL afflictions, not any physical afflictions.

In meditation, I have found that the root of all of my suffering is within my own head. A teacher of mine often tells the story of the Buddha's encounters with Mara in which the Buddha simply says, "I see you Mara." I have a tattoo on my forearm to remind myself of this story and its lesson: that by simply bringing attention in a compassionate manner to our suffering, clinging, aversion, and delusion, our ability to let it go is greatly increased.

The other day, after a sit with my girlfriend, I opened my eyes and simply said. "Mara is in my head." I had a painful sit with many unpleasant emotions arising, but I did not suffer greatly. As the unpleasant emotions and thoughts arose, I looked at them and simply stated repeatedly, "I see you Mara."

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