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The Journey of Transformation

Archive for the ‘Therapy’ Category

The Joy (and not-joy) of Relationship

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

We had a family gathering at my house on Friday evening, since my sister and brother-in-law were visiting from Florida. The thing that stands out in my mind about it is that everyone was so GLAD to see each other. There was tangible joy, just to be together.

It is one of the greatest blessings I know to feel that love and see the connections between people I love. It makes the hassles of planning, communicating, cleaning and cooking all worth it, in spades.

Hearing laughter and chatter, seeing the men holding babies that are not their own, and LOVING them, seeing nieces and brothers helping themselves in the kitchen and a sister-in-law stirring pots is pure contentment to me.

I missed those that weren’t here, also. Nieces and nephews busy elsewhere with their own lives, great-nieces and nephews involved with other parts of their family, a brother on a book tour, parents who are no longer with us, aunts and cousins who are far away, all are missed.

Not everyone is blessed with joyful relationships. There isn’t always joy in these relationships, either. There can be irritation, hurt feelings, disappointment and confusion, as well. In some families there is outright hostility and estrangement. It pains me when I see it in families I know and love. I see and hear about painful relationships daily in my work as a therapist. It is a primary source of anguish and bewilderment for my clients.

The Dalai Lama encourages compassion for others, and reminds us to see that we are the SAME as others, and not so different. Understanding that the other is experiencing the same feelings, challenges, desires and frustrations can equalize things and help us to find empathy for him/her.

Terence Real, who wrote The New Rules of Marriage (Ballantine Books, 2008) and other books explains that many of us get caught up on an “escalator of contempt” which shuttles us back and forth between grandiosity (better than) and shame (worse than).

Terry Real, escalator, contempt, grandiosity, shame, same as

Escalator of Contempt
Grandiosity —— Shame

When we think we have all the answers we look down on others with contempt and disdain. We pump ourselves up as more important than, smarter than, more talented than, etc. and grandiosity reigns. When we put ourselves down as stupid, unworthy, inadequate and unlovable we are in shame and are treating ourselves with contempt.

What gets missed is the experience of same as. We are fundamentally the same as everyone else, with inadequacies and amazing traits; quirks and gifts; bad behaviors and generosity; wisdom and foolishness; strengths and weaknesses. We are all human.

In recent years I have experienced some painful conflict in personal relationships. Some of it related to miscommunication and misunderstandings, some to unrestrained words of anger and judgment, some to differences that got translated into weaknesses and shortcomings. I was forced to see attitudes and behaviors in myself that were extremely hard to admit. The primary thing I must acknowledge is that I can be critical, shaming and grandiose. I also can feel rejected, ashamed, misunderstood, mistreated and unworthy.

Terry Real recommends stepping off the contempt escalator and remembering the other person is much like I am; not less than me and not better than me. It helps me manage my reactions and feelings when I remind myself, “same as.” The other person is struggling just like I am, feels similar feelings, and has many great qualities as well as shortcomings, just like me. The other is trying to be understood and get needs met just as I am; and is NOT out to get ME.

And I began to use a phrase in my head when I was feeling frustrated with someone and thinking, “they should have…” or “why don’t they…” The phrase I said to help me let go of judgment, anger and hurt feelings was “JUST LOVE ‘EM.”

It serves to remind me that the most important thing is that I DO love them, and that calms me down and allows me to accept them just as they are, which is, after all, what I want them to do with me. It takes me off the “contempt escalator” and allows me to change my thinking, which changes my feelings and actions.

I try to say this to myself, as well, when I get a case of the “I should have…”

Roll with it

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

This is the time of year that everyone (especially in northern climes like Minnesota, I think) starts to pack in a lot of summertime activities, knowing that fall is about to descend. And, it is prep time for students and teachers returning to school. I am one of those again; this time I’m teaching a class in the Social Work graduate program at SCSU; providing instruction in the fundamental skills needed to be a social worker.

I am eager to dig into this class and learn the process of teaching the theory and skills of my profession. Interestingly, the textbook to be used is the same one I had when I started my MSW program at Louisiana State University in 1987. That was Edition 2, and now I will use Edition 9. Wow! Has it really been that long? I love the synchronicity of this and can see that it is THE book, and has evolved appropriately to be current and cutting edge.

Social Work, classroom, students, university, class, learning

Classroom and students

I feel that I have evolved in a similar way–changing and adapting to stay up-to-date and fresh through the years of honing my craft and helping others who are in the beginning stages of their careers.

This is another aspect of resilience, I think; adapting and growing through challenges, upheavals, changes. Becoming stronger and remaining fit to perform necessary tasks and fulfill new roles.

It can be a very humbling process. Many times through the years I have seen a “new” technique or approach introduced and embraced, and realize I knew something very similar to that YEARS ago, and had not really incorporated it. I often have a sense of “I knew that once! Why haven’t I been doing it?” or “Damn, I could have written that book!” It is disconcerting but I have come to realize it is an outcome of living a lot of years and being in a career for 30+ years. I also know that I can’t do it all, nor does it make what I have done less valid.

That’s where “roll with it” comes in. Here’s a definition:

“to adjust to difficult events as they happen–roll with it.”

Etymology: based on boxing, from the literal meaning roll with the punches (step back or to one side as you are being hit), so that you do not receive the full force of the attack.
Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2003. Reproduced with permission.

We need to adjust, be flexible, accomodate and sometimes, in order not to get knocked down, we need to take the punch and move with it.

roll with it, punch, resilience, bounce back, adapt, flexibility

The ability to bend and be tough are essential skills in this world. Seeing our imperfections, errors, shortcomings, and misses is part of rolling with it. Understanding our fallibility but not letting it undermine our self-confidence and sense of purpose can be difficult, but when we do it we can successfully move forward and attain more wisdom. Owning those truths about ourselves improves our resilience and enhances our ability to accept things, people, events, that we cannot change, and helps us gain tolerance of others, as well.

Resilience, bend or break, tree

 

The pain of alcoholism–Part 2

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Beer, alcohol, drinking

It is difficult for me to see how accepted alcohol abuse is in our culture. Drinking is pervasive and over-drinking is tolerated.

I hear of young women and men who are close to losing their children due to neglect or outright abuse. Their drug of choice may be marijuana or methamphetamines, but what leads them back to these drugs is the drug alcohol, because they and the world see it as harmless. Friends and family say, “It is just a few drinks, that isn’t so bad.” They risk losing their kids so they do not have to give up the “pleasure” of alcohol and drug use.

I had a friend, a charming Southern woman, raised in grace and wealth. She was hospitalized in her fourth relapse, for drinking perfume. She had used alcohol all through her life to manage loneliness, insecurity and fear, and was encouraged to drink to “calm your nerves.” She continued to do just that, in whatever form she could find, in spite of losing everything to her drinking.

I see a man who has had treatments since age 20, has destroyed his liver with alcohol and now, in his late 50’s he relapses every few months. He has warrants out for his arrest in three states, got his wife put in jail one night, is getting evicted for frequent police calls and blames everyone else for his problems. His doctors tell him he will die if he drinks again, and yet he does drink again and again. Answering a question of what prompted him to start again this time, he said, “I just wanted a beer while I watched the ballgame.” Just like a hundred thousand other guys on a Sunday afternoon. How many of them will face liver disease, divorce, DWI’s, job loss or worse? One in ten.

One in ten people who drink becomes alcoholic. It is the rare person who never tries alcohol, because our society values drinking, so almost everyone is at risk for alcoholism. Our culture tends to see alcohol as a necessary and welcome part of life; without which, life would not be as rewarding. Some people hold this belief, even when their families have been devastated by alcoholism. Because they don’t seem to have “alcoholic” struggles they take alcohol use lightly. This framework tends to set up those persons who will have alcoholic struggles.

Over-use of alcohol is tolerated, even accepted. By the time it is clear that a person cannot handle it like others, much damage is already done. Then, often that person is judged when the problems mount and they can’t seem to drink like others do.

But maybe some of those people who take alcohol use lightly are having more struggles than they are willing to admit. There is a wide range of symptoms and results of alcoholism—from the obvious late stage symptoms (chronic, frequent overuse, multiple problems and consequences, numerous losses, concern of others) to the less obvious early to middle stages, where alcohol use is regular, occasional problems occur, relationally, medically, legally or vocationally. There may be efforts at cutting back or quitting, but alcohol use always returns; sometimes worse than before. These persons (or someone that loves them) may have concerns they are drinking too much, but they quickly justify it and explain away the concerns, so they don’t have to feel uncomfortable about their drinking.

 I often say to people that one simple way to judge your relationship with alcohol is to ask: “Is my drinking the way I would like it to be, and if not, do my efforts to make it that way work?” In other words, if you wish and intend to not get drunk, does that work or do you still get drunk? Do you make promises to drink less but fail at it? Do you have remorse and fear about your drinking but continue to drink anyway? Do you find yourself explaining to yourself or others why your drinking isn’t a problem? Important questions to ask, given 10% of drinkers become alcoholic.

It is widely believed that the only viable route for an alcoholic to take to get better is to abstain from alcohol. I have seen this proven to be true over and over again.

Making a choice not to drink is not easy. It means giving up the quickest way to feel better. It means feeling acutely, life’s pain. It often means exclusion. It means the culture is not supportive of what you are trying to do and sees it as abnormal. It frequently means a major life style overhaul.

AA, recovery, sobriety

1 Year AA Sobriety Chip

I learned early in AA: “Recovery isn’t complicated; you just have to do one thing—CHANGE YOUR WHOLE LIFE.” Wouldn’t it be great if friends, family and neighbors were willing to change just a little bit of their lives to support alcoholics change theirs by having some alcohol-free events?

The pain of alcoholism – Part 1

Monday, March 26th, 2012

In my work as a counselor, sometimes I see and hear “themes” for the week; common threads woven through the tapestry of stories I’m hearing. Although I am a generalist and work with many types of mental health issues, this week the theme is alcoholism and its effects. It is synchronistic, in that I celebrated 34 years sobriety on Monday, so my awareness of how different my life would have been had I continued to drink (if I were still here at all) is heightened.

I happened to see four clients who are sober, and work a “program,” and are back in counseling working on other issues. They all feel the same gratitude and humility I feel, to be part of the lucky group that are surviving alcoholism and drug addiction, and have a shot at living a full, rich life.

Others are struggling still, and facing many of the consequences which accompany the poor choices made as a result of chemical use. This includes loss of driving privileges, conflict with family, legal problems, health troubles. One is dealing with chronic relapse coupled with long-standing mental disorders and going to treatment yet again. One is beginning to look at the role alcohol plays in his life. Another is starting treatment at an early age, rather reluctantly, in the hope of avoiding worse consequences and losses.

treatment, recovery, group therapy

Group Therapy

I saw a number of people whose lives are or have been deeply and frustratingly affected by someone else’s chemical abuse. The lies, inconsistencies, and cycles of problems they experience and the abandonment and confusion they feel is tangible. Those that grew up with alcoholic parents are trying to figure out exactly what happened and understand the lasting effects they experience, with difficulty trusting, believing in themselves, and coping with their emotions effectively. They are angry, confused, feeling guilty and grieving.

It is unspeakably painful to watch lives disintegrate due to chemical use.

It is incredibly rewarding to see lives saved, knit back together, and hope renewed, when a person grabs hold of the lifeline and does the work to get sober. It is inspiring to see a person work through ACOA (adult child of an alcoholic) issues and live a meaningful and balanced life.

It is terribly frustrating to see how casually our world treats chemical use, and encourages it.

We’re in it Together

Friday, October 14th, 2011

boat, people, common ground, all in the same boat

I have always said that the people with which I work are “normal people who have encountered bumps in the road of life,” or some such analogy. I also have a child’s drawing that shows a family fishing in a boat (Sloop John B as a matter of fact) and I have it framed as a representation that “we’re all in the same boat.” The meaning behind that for me is that my journey and that of my clients’ is the same—we take different paths at times, are at different places on the paths, yet the experience of journeying through the challenges of life is known to every one of us. Psychotherapists and other counselors are merely helpers who know a bit and understand more of the journey and the process, and thus, can help others move along the path more effectively. The key is for the helper to manage her own troubles successfully, in order not to get tripped up by them.

 

Similarly, physicians and nurses get ill at times, and need care, and only if they choose not to get help or to deny their medical needs does the illness get in the way of helping their patients. Attending to oneself is essential for any helper to continue to be effective. Finding my way through the briars, pitfalls and thunderstorms of life, and continuing to use the knowledge gained to help others on the journey inspired this website and blog. I hope it will be helpful.