The Reality of Recovery, Part 2

And finally, here’s the next installment on Recovery…
codependency (the Merriam-Webster definition) – an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one with an illness or addiction. I would suggest that this definition is no longer as accurate as when coined in the AA realm decades ago. I discovered Melody Beattie’s book ‘Codependent No More’ in the late 80s, before my children were born. My partner and I saw ourselves illustrated in those pages, but due to our failure to hook up with a CODA (Codependents Anonymous) group, we never found a way out of the insanity nor did we understand from where it originated. We also did not see how we were in a codependent relationship when no illness or addictions were present. After two daughters and many personal trials, our 24 year marriage was shattered by the weight of decades of denial and lies.

At the time, I was baffled by my reaction to the breakup. I had decided to end my marriage and yet my emotional reaction to this action was the complete opposite of what one would expect. I was insanely upset that he did not want to save the relationship despite my desire to end it. My emotions were as out of control as my life’s circumstances had become (unemployment plus a bad economy.) After several months of tears and trying to figure out the ‘why,’ a friend suggested that I attend Celebrate Recovery. I did not understand why I would find any answers at CR (which I thought was simply a Christian 12 step program) but I attended until the process began to make some sense.

What I learned in those first few months, working the 12 steps & 8 principles of CR –
1) codependent relationships don’t always present just between partners who are involved in the ‘traditional’ addictions (drugs, sex, alcohol.)
2) that codependency is, in my opinion, a result of the interaction between people who have unhealthy coping mechanism for dealing with pain (present & past)
3) some addictions are not as obvious as others, nor thought of as destructive (ie. food, shopping, people pleasing, perfectionism.)

At CR, I heard people from different circumstances and situations talk about their feelings and experiences and I could empathize with those feelings though our experiences were different. It sounds ridiculous on the surface. How could I genuinely relate to a young woman who has been raising several kids for a decade with an alcoholic husband? I realized it wasn’t about where we were now, but about where we had come from and how we were taught to cope. It was not about the content of our stories at all.

Now I was faced with the reality that I did not have to act or react the way I had in the past (similarly, an addict realizes they don’t have to have the drink, but it is a habitual practice of coping with pain.) The disease itself has a root – a beginning – that is about more than becoming addicted. I became addicted to numbing the pain (past) and it was the only way I knew how to cope in my adult relationships (present.) I could simply try to retrain myself to respond differently (to have sobriety,) but there would always be a struggle between me and the addiction. I began to believe that ripping out that root and facing it, developing a new way to cope with pain, would be a more effective path to recovery. And onto the next leg of the journey…

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The Happiness Factor

Yes, the second part of the recovery series will be coming this week, but I just had to go out on a tangent and share this video. Entertaining and inspiring. It’s a TEDTalk video about happiness. I had just said to my friend Debra last night that all our humorous speeches for the Toastmaster’s Humorous Speech contest were anecdotal in nature and while they had a point, there were not speeches per se. I think qualifies as a humorous speech. – Carol

The Happy Secret to Better Work

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The Reality of Recovery, Part 1

When someone has suffered a trauma, we know they seek to recover a sense of peace and balance – the very thing they lost due to this unexpected event that crashed into their lives. When we refer to addicts & alcoholics, in terms of recovery, in the acceptable sense, we say that these individuals seek to recover their sobriety. Unfortunately what we, as a society miss completely is that sobriety is a goal but not the point. Or you might say, not the punchline. No one would deny that it is a battle to get sober whether its sex, food, smoking, alcohol, PTSD, or drugs you’re struggling to overcome. However, once the battle is won, so to speak, oftentimes families are in tatters, relationships are destroyed, people are separated from those they fought with and for, for this sobriety, floundering, wondering why life is only minimally better after the defeat of the great big ‘ism.’

Recovery it seems, to me, is like child-rearing. Everyone tells you that it’ll change your life and it’s really hard, but they never tell you how gut-wrenchingly bad it will be at times. It’s like that with the healing that accompanies sobriety.  Conquering an addiction is hard. Nailing the root cause of why the addiction began is excruciating. Some people never get to this part of the process. They stick with the 12 steps and go to their meetings, they stay sober, but they never know that life can be better than just drug-less.

Finding the root cause – the ‘why did I choose this method to avoid, not feel, escape, stuff, repress, or hide, what I was feeling and experiencing. Why did I feel so angry, abandoned, powerless to control my circumstances and therefore seek to give up that control to feel whatever pleasure I could grab. This kind of introspection requires an honest most people are not capable of – we like to be liked, we like to please others and we like to look good in front of others.

Even further from this intimate recovery process are the non-addicts – the family members and friends, not because they have suffered at the hands of addictive behaviors – though that’s totally valid but because they have not acknowledged or healed from their part as enablers in the relationships. They are the people who had to deny what they were feeling, experiencing, repressing, and stuffing, keeping secrets about. Spending their time keeping the peace, accepting unacceptable behaviors, making excuses. In their attempt to control, they are as out of control as the addict himself. And codependency now enters the conversation…

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New Year’s Attitudes & Adjustments

While I find the idea of resolutions pretty silly, I love goal setting. The act of committing to achieving or acquiring something I desire, plotting out a course of action, and attaching a significant emotional quotient to back up my commitment is heady. Particularly when I’m hopeful about what a new year will bring. So much begins to happen when I actually believe amazing things are possible and not just something that may happen someday if…

This fall my personal circumstances were altered in such a way that a radical course change in my thought process had to occur. If I did not choose a more positive, character-driven direction, I would be faced with choices that were not anything that I actually desired. I had succumbed to a bit of martyr complex as if circumstances were determining how I lived my life instead of those decisions being within my control.

I began to question what I believed God had in mind for my life based on what I saw around me. My faith took a critical hit because I believed I saw failure in following the course to which I had committed.  My attitude and my actions swerved off onto different paths causing dissonance and dissatisfaction which led me to rock bottom anticipating a life change I did not want.

As always, coming around again to reassess what God has planned, after a long hike about a mountain of despair and regret, I’m firmly recommitted, attitude and action once again reunited, to my ministry of encouraging others through my business (which has now been redefined and diversified) and personal pursuits (including the 10K and the beach at Christmas!) I’m grateful for the Lord’s persistence and my sisters’ faithful prayers. I prefer God’s path regardless of the obvious payoff. He has shown me His steadfastness this past year and I’m learning the depths of steadfast faith. Let the faith building exercises begin and the blessings fall. Happy New Year!

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Deciding to Push

Today I’m documenting an episode of ‘writer’s block’ I experienced. I hear all writers experience this obstacle at one time or another. Some writers fight it and others let it control their output choosing to believe that it’s just not a good day to write. Blame the Muse. Or the weather. Or bad digestion.

Writer’s block, to me, seems to be another word for procrastination, but whatever you choose to call it, fighting it seems to be the best option otherwise something else (fear, laziness, lack of desire?) is controlling my production or more, poetically, my freedom to express myself. Some fiction writers I know won’t force themselves to write when they feel uninspired but I think they are missing out on the big payback that pushing on can deliver.

When you’re writing business materials, however, you don’t really have a choice but to produce or face unpleasant consequences. In either situation, I think that pushing past whatever obstacle (feelings, the to-do list, the distractions) is going to render potentially superior prose. It’s like choosing to take the mountainous path because you know it’s going to sculpt those muscles with the challenge and improve your health versus taking the flat route which will be more pleasant but not offer any big long term benefits. Here’s my experience this past Monday.

The first couple of paragraphs flowed pretty easily but now I’m fighting the desire to escape.  I am absolutely itching to get out of this chair. Is this fear holding me back from achieving what needs to be done today? The classical guitar music I usually find soothing is grating on my nerves. For about a half an hour I stare at two panels of Word documents willing them to meld and make sense out of the chaotic swirl of thoughts strewn across the pages. I can do this. I want to do this. Ok, I really just want to run. Or check Facebook. Again. Should I tweet this?

Sticking with it. Breathing. It actually hurts. Just putting down some words that make some sense until the composition starts flowing more naturally. Now deeply in the moment. Many pages written and I’ve hit a difficult spot again. Urge to delay, procrastinate, write emails, Facebook-stalk old boyfriends. Consciously resisting and then, getting back to work. Determined to spew dreck instead of producing nothing in order to push through to some really good stuff.

Ok, that push did produce some coherent prose and now I’m going to take a little break to rest my brain and return refreshed. No computer for at least half an hour. I continued like for most of the day (on for 30 minutes, off for 30 minutes) and I wrote a large chunk of the e-book that I’m working on. Still behind the 8-ball but definitely moving forward. Tired but I may return to the manuscript later after some family obligations are met. It’s pretty cool that the task does not feel quite so intimidating now that I have pushed through and forced myself to write. And this is only the first draft…Good thing I love writing.

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Musing over crossroads…

Sitting at my desk, as the Northeastern autumn dump melted around me, sipping orange spice, I thought about what really makes me happy. The last few weeks have been filled with a blur of new information and potential. I spent last weekend with 450 women searching for revelation about their lives; a pathway to peace; an opportunity to hear what God is longing to share with them about their destinies –a venue to in which to grow. Earlier this week I spoke with several potential colleagues about an interesting job opportunity – unexpected, yes, but the timing is impeccable. This weekend overflowed with fellowship – nothing is quite like extended time with friends who know how to encourage you and speak the absolute truth when you really need it.

So what does this all have to do with happiness? A new friend recently wrote a thoughtful piece about the crossroads in life and how he had come to one, or rather, another one, in his life. He commented that he envied people who seemed to make life-changing choices by instinct rather than struggling to let go and make a choice to move on or stay. Considering this, I reflected on the past year and the painful choices I’d had to make. It was difficult to let go of a dream, of expectations, of promises, but the hesitation to ‘move’ or make a decision is often about the discomfort there is in change rather than the inability to decide. In my life, I find that when I’m stuck in that holding pattern, so to speak, eventually a catalyst of some sort will present itself and then I am forced to make the decision I wanted to make all along.

Once I moved, so many possibilities presented themselves it was almost overwhelming. That said, choosing a path does not solve all the problems or answer all questions. Nothing is ever that straightforward and choosing is just the beginning of the work. Through the hard work – answering the uncomfortable questions about how our lives are lived and who we are, choosing the healing over sickness – flows the happiness, the peace, and the genuine connection with inner selves and others.

Reflection does have its pitfalls. Chatting with a close friend on the subject, he questioned how I would be handling this new crossroad in my life. Really, I thought, what on earth was he talking about? Things were progressing swimmingly. I had never been happier in my life! I’d survived an unpleasant divorce, a career change, and a severe financial crisis this year. He was obliged to point out several looming issues that needed attention and I begrudgingly agreed with his assessment. I guess there will be more work after all. The crossroads were starting to look more like navigating the rapids of class IV river.

So what really makes me happy? That is where I began after all.  Possibilities, potential, not living on auto-pilot between the ‘crossroads’ but living intentionally and doing the hard work, being honest about what makes me happy and the values that make me who I am. It’s not the easy way to go, but embracing the crossroads – stretching emotionally – will offer an opportunity for greater peace and happiness.

For another view on the crossroads in life @ www.prestonehrler.com, “Letting Go, To Move On.”

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Beginning…Again

I feel like I am continually starting life over again and again. I maintain a sense of discipline for a short period of time, produce a slew of creative projects, and then a wave of ‘life’ hits me and I’m thrown from the forward-moving vehicle, sidelined until I can reorganize, restructure, reconnoiter and then join up on the highway once again moving furiously toward the previously abandoned goal. Not an effective way to accomplish anything if you hadn’t gathered that I was leading to that conclusion. This method, spiced with a crazy-making amount of procrastination, makes for a life of insanity. One which becomes less and less satisfying as I walk further along the slope of age. I will begin this blog, once again, but this time without any expectations except that I will sporadically share my observations of life and people and whatever else strikes my fancy. Come along for the ride if you feel inspired. It’s always an awesome ride of twists, turns, and sudden drops. Hopefully, too, a creativity booster, and a moment of empowerment and inspiration. Welcome back to my life.

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Failure

It’s been a while since I posted a new thought. In the past, I would have written the whole blog off as a failure and have started up something new, but at the beginning of this adventure, I made sure to let a generous amount of people know what I was planning. A bit of accountability? Maybe.

I’ve been giving the word failure a lot of thought lately. I hear people talk about how they are afraid of taking risks because they are afraid to fail. If I could impart any wisdom, I’d say, just jump in and just go for it. This, from a former – do the ‘safe’ thing proponent. Yeah, there will be some failures, but let’s keep it in perspective. You need some failed attempts to get to the success part.

I’m trying not to think of anything in terms of failure anymore since the word itself evokes such a feeling of shame and embarrassment in most people. I try to relegate failure to things that are quantitatively measureable like a blood test, a science experiment, an inedible cooking experience, or an exam. What I want to do is reframe my assessment of the situation when I don’t meet my expected outcome so that my desire to move forward is not hampered by the misery the word failure evokes.

Some of this inspiration has come from Thomas Edison, who bravely experimented again and again and again until he finally succeeded in improving the light bulb. Referring to his experience he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Edison understood that failure was an integral part of the process. I’ve also been inspired by Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King who appear to write non-stop. Not all of what they publish is great or even good, but they continually produce so they are always moving forward. Oates said, “”I’m drawn to failure. I feel that I’m contending with it constantly in my own life.” Is she drawn to failure or drawn to the possibilities that exist in the journey itself?

Taking the power out of the word failure may leave us freer as artists to enjoy the actual process of creating instead of putting so much emphasis on the final product and how it works or how it is received. Regardless of success or failure each experience is a part of us and therefore has tremendous value in our creative lives. And isn’t that the point, after all? This journey of creativity, though we share our work with others, is about us either literally or figuratively and though the risks are great, the rewards of expression are far greater.

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Anger Builds a Wall

I believe that anger stifles creativity. Maybe other artists have created great works fueled by passionate feelings, but anger builds a wall in me where I cannot reach anything imaginative or creative. The dictionary defines anger as “a feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong.” I think anger is a condition of helplessness seared with fury and injustice; something that can only be resolved by forgiveness.

Several weeks ago, I had one those experiences that while it’s actually happening, you feel as if you’re outside events observing the process. Someone important in my life did something that hurt me and made me angry. Not wanting to waste time sulking, I told this person how I felt and mentioned that an apology would clear the air. Though this person listened to what I had to say, no comments or apology were forthcoming.

So the scenario I’d hoped to avoid became reality. I tried to carry on with my activities as if nothing had happened, but every time I put pen to paper my thoughts immediately strayed back to the encounter. After many frustrating hours of producing next-to-nothing, I knew that needed to become proactive. I felt there were three courses of action I could take.

1)      Retaliate – A popular option for some, but would only breed more negativity and goes against my life scripture – Ephesians 4:29 – Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

2)      Become Depressed – All my life I’ve heard it said that depression is anger turned inwards. Been there, done that. Not a happy place. Too difficult to encourage people from there.

3)      Forgive – The most affirmative of the choices, but also the most difficult. Why? Because I would have to let go of the feelings in me that claimed the person that hurt me still owed me something.

I chose forgiveness. This is the process that helped me bring down the wall.

1)      Letting go – I had to consider – was I holding onto the anger because I believed the hurtful comments might actually be true? Yes! I had to remind myself the reality is that there are only two people who get to determine the truth about who and what I am – me & God. No one else should have that power.

2)      Affirmation – With that in mind, I considered exactly who I am – God’s words and the truths that I know about myself. This process shrunk the insult to a much less threatening size.

3)      Forgiveness – the actual act of it. No, I didn’t go back to that person and say ‘I forgive you,’ but I did utter those words many times during the day as I ‘prayed unceasingly’ for peace and for understanding.

Did it work? Absolutely. It does every time. How long it takes depends on how long I choose to hold on to the words and actions of others. In this situation, it was about a day before I was writing again. And it wasn’t long before I was peaceful enough to consider working on that particular relationship with a clear head that wasn’t focused just on getting what I needed.

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The Energy of Revision

I suspect that my friends in the local writers group cringe every time they hear me say the word ‘revision’ or ‘editing.’ I’m constantly sharing my perspective as well as articles, tips, and quotes on the process of revision.  I’ve become a big fan since I decided that perpetual procrastination (which allows for minimal reflection) was not producing a quality of work that I desired. It’s taken about 30 years to reach this point.

In high school, revising was not promoted. You did the work; maybe did a little editing for grammar and spelling and then submitted the project. It was graded and the process was over.  In college, the process was expanded somewhat, but it really wasn’t until I was working on my senior project to complete my BA about three years ago that I really understood the significance of revision.

Everyone loves the creative process especially when it’s a day that words are just flowing from your fingers to the page. It’s new and exciting. It’s the first time those words – the feelings, the colors, the smells  – are in a tangible form that can be shared with others. It’s a cathartic experience full of ups and downs, new adventures, and discoveries about our characters and ourselves as writers.

Revision, by comparison, sounds like drudgery.  Correcting verb tenses, tightening up sentences, deleting unnecessary modifiers, and perhaps deleting a finely crafted section of our masterpiece. It’s this possibility that makes the revision process seem so heinous – suggesting perhaps in a perfect moment of spontaneous creativity that a sentence or a paragraph or a scene, even, may have been created only to be thrown into a void.  Could something that is written in this perfect state not be necessary to further the story?

For that senior project, I spent a year writing and revising the first 100 pages of a novel. I learned that the revision process has an exciting energy of its own. It’s quite different from the energy of creation, but equally is creative and just as important. It’s not just about grammar and spelling or verb tenses. Revision is a stage of listening, gauging, questioning, and evaluating.  Instead of being in my character’s shoes, I’m now walking by her side making sure she’s following the path that is truest to her nature. I’m listening to her voice to be sure that it’s genuine to her personality and observing her actions for authenticity. It’s like falling in love again with your story from a mentor’s point of view instead of a participant’s.

And I learned through 365 days with these words, that even if there is such a thing as the perfect sentence – there will always be others and that holding onto an awesome sentence when it doesn’t further the story is pretty silly. I highlight and delete at will now. I don’t even copy and paste the words to a separate file anymore. There will be other words; other sentences.

Revision is about breaking free from the fear that you’ve already put down all the good words you have about a story.  Revision allows us to stop and reflect, observe, and commune with our characters and themes. It’s the time to make that fine detail even finer; the voice even stronger; the ideas richer. A time to develop as a writer.

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