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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain

Friday, May 13, 2016

Light Switch

"If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got."

I know, you've heard it a thousand times, but it bears repeating.  We don't sign up for our resistances, our fears, our defenses, our unconscious obstacles.  Our defects, our defenses (and they are often one and the same) are not things we actively and consciously chose.  But if we don't actively and consciously attempt to know about them they will continue to function.  Which is fine.

Except when its not.

Its not fine if our quality of life is suffering.  Its not fine if we are screaming at our kids, or abusing substances or money or food or someone else, or our self.  It's not fine if our mood is dark more than light, or we live in a lot in worry,  frustration, despair, overwhelm or hopelessness.  Its not fine if we blame others or  we are waiting for external circumstances to change so that we can feel better.
It certainly is delicious and relieving when they do, or when someone changes for the better, but if we are putting all our eggs in that basket, we will never eat.

Sometimes we are so immersed in certain beliefs that we cannot even see what might need to be changed or shifted.  We keep going, doing the same thing, driving down the same road wishing we would end up in a different destination.   And if we are not willing to talk about it, to keep the conversation going, nothing will change.

The mind does not work like a light switch most of the time.  I wish it did.  I wish that when we got an insight, we could just implement it and voila, a new feeling, a new circumstance, a new life. Sometimes we have to hear something many times in order for the switch to flip and for us to see that things were not what we thought they were.

Many times we are afraid that what we don't want to see is a moral issue, or problem with our value or self worth or ability.  Sometimes it is, at least in part.  But mostly, and even then, its just a matter of time and talking and faith and willingness.  We do have the ability to discover which of our thoughts are reliable and which are not, and just looking at that can point us in a new direction.

When we have a new thought, we have a new feeling.  When we have a new feeling we have new possibilities.  And when the light does go on, and things start to change and look different, we make better choices. And we we make better choices, we feel better.  When we do good, we feel good.  Even if the whole story doesn't change right away.

When we get caught in the hopelessness, the overwhelm, the "I can'ts" or the fear of being wrong or criticized or judged or devalued, when our egos are up and our self esteem is down, we don't even want to look.  But if we don't look, if we are not willing to look, for the light switch, if we don't at least know its there, we will just keep living in the dark.

Monday, April 11, 2016

What is a Miracle?

"Do you know what a miracle is?"  my friend Sarah asked me recently.  "What?" I humor her.
"A change in perspective."

So sometimes I think this is just not possible.  We are who we are.  We think what we think.  We know what we know:  "If he loved me he would put his socks in the laudry basket"  "If she is in a bad mood I can't deal with her" " I can't quit smoking, drinking, bingeing"  "I'll never find love"  "I don't really matter"  "I am limited"  "I can't stand my job, my life, my in-laws"  "This work is too hard for me" "I don't have time or money or patience or luck"  "S/he is awful"  My parents are impossible" "The other shoe is going drop.  And right on me" "We have to agree or I can't deal with him."  "Nobody really cares"  "If s/he does not change how s/he acts then I'm stuck/doomed"  "This will never work"  "There is no other way to work it out"  "S/he is so self-centered" "There is no hope" 

And we are so sure of it.

Often in my office, as we are unpacking the thought behind the thought and looking at the nature of thought and the different ways of looking at and living life, at both the very personal and the univeral wisdom about humanity and relationships, and when we are looking toward both insight and useful tools and strategies,  we hit upon an idea that seems to offer up some hope and some help:

We often live life from the outside in.  We focus on what needs to be changed in others and in the world, instead of how we look at things, at how we think and what we believe. This, of course, leaves us at the mercy of others and of the outside world.

 Amazingly, and often, when we take a closer look at our thoughts in the moment and how they influence our thinking, how we feel our thinking, we can often have a new experience of life, people, circumstances, of ourselves.

It seems impossible to some.  And preposperous to others - after all, we rely on our thinging, but what if much of our thought in the moment is not always reliable?  What if we humanly, innocently have thoughts that run through us and influence us that are maybe not true, or not the only truth.  What if how we view our thoughts and work with our perspectives could change our life?

At the intersection of personal emotional pain, shared and universal human wisdom and life expieriece and "coping mechanisms,"  we have the choice to learn to see through our thoughts and to examine our perspectives,  Often when we do so, we  come to have a different and much better
experience of life and people.  One that we never imagined to be possible.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Fish Out of Water

My friend Julie shared with me an amazing story about her daughter's pet goldfish.  They got the fish at a carnival, and it lived well cared for in a small tank in her daughter's bedroom.  A few days ago, her daughter went over to the tank to feed the fish and could not find it.  They searched through the tank again and again.  No fish.  They stared and stared at the tank, trying to make sense of it.  Did it evaporate?  Could they not see it?  Was it under a rock?

They were just baffled beyond belief.  So focused were they on the tank, and on what they were sure they knew about fish, that it did not occur to them that fish can jump out of a tank.  They did not know this about goldfish.  And they were so focused on what they knew, or thought they knew, on what they believed to be true about fish, that they did not consider any other possibilities.

After a while they stopped staring at the tank and walked about trying to make sense of the mystery in their midst.  And the next morning as her daughter was getting out of bed in the morning something caught her eye that she had not seen the day before, on the floor, under a chair.  It was the fish.  And the fish was alive.

So I was thinking about how our minds work. And about how sometimes the harder we think about something, the more focused we are on what we think we know, the less we are able to see.

I was thinking too about how when something appears to be lost, it may be just out sight, but not far away.  And when we allow for the general knowledge that our minds don't work by forcing them, by straining them, by fighting the flow of thought that comes through them, we fare so much better.

Sometimes we have to stop looking so hard to find answers in order to experience the answer. Sometimes are so used to our thoughts and our routines and our circumstances and the people in our lives and what we believe about them, that we don't  realize that there are other options to explore, other possible thoughts, truths, ideas, insights.  Perspectives that can be relieving and life changing. The unexpected can happen, in a good way, if we are open to it.  If we are not so focused on what we think has to be, or what we are sure we know to be true, or think of as historical fact.

There's no trick really.  Just being open to the idea that just like fish will be fish and they can, actually, jump out of tanks, and live out of water for a while and be okay, that our human mind is our human mind.  Our thoughts flow through us naturally, innocently, and we have the capacity to be open to not getting so caught up in them and in believing everything we think.  When we allow thoughts to flow through our minds quiet down more easily and other ideas, insights, and perceptions can come through.  More possibilities become available and we can live more freely and with far more ease then we ever imagined.

Monday, November 16, 2015

There's Been a Rash of Break-Ups Lately

And they are so very painful.  Really and deeply.  So its worth an updated post on the subject.....

All the memories, the promises, the plans, the hope for the future seem to come tumbling down.  Thoughts can seem endless and ruthless.

And the feelings too:  The ache, the longing, the hate, the love, the desperation, the sadness, the frustration, the grief.

And the ruminating and obsessing and ansiness and exhaustion and urgency and irritability.

And yes, of course, there's so much you can do to help yourself along, to work with your mind and heart.  Especially when its new.  When you are still in the "right after."  Even when you don't want to. Even when you don't feel like it......

Here are a few Tips:

(yes, they all start with "T" - just a way to remember them)

Talk:  Tell your story.  Tell your pain.  Pick a few trusted ears and talk it.
Time:  I know its cliche, but is true.  Time will help.  It will smooth things along.  Give it time.
Tell the Truth:  About yourself, to yourself.  First, work on unhooking your self-worth from the break-up.  It may feel like your sense of self is in the gutter, especially if you did not want the break-up.  But take your self esteem out of it.  You still have infinite worth and are lovable.  But also Tell the Truth about your part in it.  If there were things you did, or parts of your personality that may have contributed to the issues in the relationship, be brave and get to work on them.

Tune In:  Pay attention to the quiet messages - the damaging ones that your mind is sending you: (you'll never find someone else, you can't survive w/o him/her/this, you can't stand being alone, you'll never feel this way again, this is the only kind of love there is, I'm not doing this again, I will never trust again) And Tell those thougthts to go sit down and have a cup of tea.  Tell them that you know it hurts, but you're not going to listen to them bossing you around right now.  (You may have to do this over and over again, and you may also have to take them a part a bit, if they are still pushing you around).

Tease out bad equations:  if he doesn't want me/this = I am not wantable, lovable = I am doomed, no good = life stinks forever.  Or  if he doesn't want me/this =  s/he is terrible, messed up = what was I doing with him anyway = love stinks = I stink = I may as well eat/drink/starve/use = who cares anyway.

Take in the world:  Let your observing self take over for a bit.  Look at the trees, the sky, the birds.  Feel the wind.  Smell the rain, the fresh air.  Notice the world around you and take a break from the thinking.  When your mind starts in, say, "Thinking" to it, and go back to your observing self for a bit.

Take opportunities:   Say yes to going out with friends, or yes to resting or yes to anything that is healing and nourishing that comes your way.

Tolerate your feelings:  Don't fight them.  Let them be.  You don't have to act on them.  You can remind yourself that they will come and go and that some moments and some days will be better than others.

Thanks:  It does help.  It really does.  To keep up with what you yes have.  Make a list in your mind or on paper of what you are thankful for (eyes, fresh air, friends, a comfortable bed.....)  Studies show that this helps the brain release good hormones and helps us feel better and tolerate our sadness better.

There is a process.  Sometimes, it is helpful to see if its possible to fix things, or return.  But sometimes we need to work with what is.  And we can work with our minds to move forward and feel better while allowing all of our feelings.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

In the Story With You

There are lots of ways these days to change.  Lots of ways to gain insight, seek and find inner peace, love and meaning in life.  Lots of ways to work with our minds, our hearts, our spirit, our psyche.  Our traumas, our relationships. In the world of therapy there are lots of initials - CBT, DBT, EMDR, ACT (a personal favorite of mine). There are so many tools we have access to: mindfulness, writing, meditation, reading, somatic work, yoga, exercise, prayer.  So much more.  So many twelve step programs. So many therapies. So many ways to grow, to learn, to live.  And they all have value.  They all have so much to give us, to teach us, to help move us along toward better feelings, better experiences in life, better relationships, connections and ideas.

I continue to be an eager student of what comes my way.  I continue to welcome and seek new ideas, and old ideas that resurface and reinvigorate and recycle just when I seem to have need of them. And I marvel that in the vast sea of Internet and media, so much is so accessible, so easily.

Over the years, though, and through all my training and experience, both personally and professionally, it still seems to me, that one of the most important, most essential healing elements is to have the experience of not being alone in our
story.  Of being understood.  Simply, truly, quietly, authentically.

Even when we work with skill based approaches, or philosophically based approaches, value based approaches, we are working with the idea that while the work is ours alone to take responsibility for, to practice, to expand from and with, that we are not always alone.  We can have company in our unique story.  We can know as we learn that the reason these ideas and experiences and therapies exist is that somehow, somewhere, someone, more than someone, understands what we are going through.  That no matter how unique our circumstances or our particular story is, we are not as alone as we feel sometimes.  And in the age of extreme media, and diminishing personal contact, and while we are learning and practicing and experiencing new methods, new ideas, new ways to work with our minds, its so vital to remember that the basics of healing are found in sharing our stories and resonating with each other.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


I recently heard the following story:

A teacher walks into his classroom of third graders - just a bit late.  Five to ten minutes or so.  He is in a bit of a mood, feeling annoyed with himself that he is late, and in a hurry to get the class going. As he is walking in, one of his students, a little boy, is holding his left arm straight up, fist clenched.  With his right pointer finger on his right hand, he is pointing to his wristwatch and staring straight at the teacher.

Fuming, the teacher goes to the front of the classroom.  Steam coming out of his ears.  He is not interested in rebuke from this kid; he is not interested in having his lateness pointed out.  He is going to pull this kid out, he thinks.  He is going to yank him out of the class room, let him know who should be reprimanding who, give him a good loud message that everyone can hear and then send him to the Principal's office.  He will not be putting up with this kind of blatant disrespect from a student.  Things today have gone too far.  Way too far.

He then remembers his own private rule.  A rule that he has promised himself he will abide by.  No matter what.  He will wait.  He will wait 30 minutes no matter what, in any given situation short of a fire, to speak.  He will not react or respond to anything or anyone with words or actions for 30 minutes, no matter what.

He opens his lesson book, forces himself to ignore the child, and tells everyone to get out their math books.  He teaches the lesson.  He gives the kids a short break and he turns his attention to the boy with the watch, who is now running up to his desk.  Before he can get a word out, the boy says with utter sincerity and a shinning face:  "Look, Mr. Adams, my father got me a new watch for my birthday!  I couldn't wait to show it to you!"

I think that we have just got to work with our minds.  We have got to pay attention to our thoughts, our perceptions.  We just really don't know sometimes, what is really going on.  Even when we are calm, even when we are sure.  It's not that we cannot trust ourselves.  It's that we have to know ourselves.  We have to be willing to wait.  To consider the power of thought, of perception, of speech, and of our actions.  So much of our suffering is based on perception.  So much can be reworked.  Yes, we need to honor all of our thoughts and feelings, to use them as guideposts to our needs, our desires and  to propel us forward.  But if we don't slow down and sort out some of that thinking, if we get too wrapped up in what we think we know, in our thinking, we may be missing out on a whole new world both inside and out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Land of Doubt and Maybe

It can be painful not to know.  Not to know if you should stay in the relationship or leave.  Not to know if you should stay at your job or try to find a new one.  Not to know if you should try to forgive someone who has behaved badly or who has hurt you.  Not to know if it is you who is messing things up, or if it's someone else's fault, or exactly, generally, what the breakdown of responsibility is.   It can be painful not to know if you should reach out and try to make an amend.  Not to know why this (whatever this is) is happening.  Not to know if someone can grow, could be worked with, could understand.  Not to know if we should invest time, or money or emotional energy or all three to find out, to work it out.  Not to know what will be worth the effort and what will just disappoint us further.  Not to know if our fears are real, or our feelings are trusted guides or only reactions based on old patterns of defense.

Here's what happens sometimes, to some of us.  We want it to get  better quickly, of course, when it hurts. We want to know, or we think we do. Give me a solution.  Fix it. Fix me. Fix him/her.  Don't make me wander around in it, or venture into the unknown, the unpredicable.   It's too uncertain.   Too frustrating.  Besides, we think, how will it help?  And sometimes especially when our emotional well-being or sense of self seems to be latched on to someone or some situation being different, we lose faith.  Often, we (usually unconsciously in part at least) hook our self worth, self esteem, peace of mind to what someone else thinks, understands, agrees with or does.  We get lost trying to find ourselves.

The land of doubt and maybe can seem like an endless mine field.  We just don't know exactly where the emotional bombs are or what the point of forging forward is, or how, even if were were willing. So much so sometimes, that we don't even want to look around.  

Seems to me though, as I continue to hear so many stories of emotional pain, frustration and confusion, that we are more resilient than we think, sometimes more reslient than we want to be.  And most of the time, when we ease up on our selves, we somehow can tolerate not knowing just a little bit better.  I find too, that we when this happens, the instinctively correct answers seem to come, they seem to emerge from some quiet healthy place deep within, and then instead of the land of doubt and maybe being littered with bombs, it becomes abundant with possibilities.