The Meadows Blog

Wednesday, 12 May 2010 20:00

Spirituality in Everyday Life

Note: This article first appeared in the Spring 2004 issue of MeadowLark, the alumni magazine of The Meadows.

Spirituality in Everyday Life
By John Bradshaw, MA

Recovery is about an awakening. We are literally awakened from a restless sleep that has numbed our feelings and left us emotionally and spiritually groggy and exhausted. This awakening begins with the eye-opening experience and recognition of our powerlessness - with recognition of our limitations and our need for help - and with the hard work of transforming our toxic shame into healthy shame. It is this healthy shame that is the source of our spirituality.

For many of you, this awakening began in earnest in a treatment center or program. The important work you have done involves freeing yourself from the bondage of the past. This bondage literally drags us out of the present. It distorts our perceptions. It blocks our feelings and keeps us constantly in fear of exposure. All of this serves to prevent us from recognizing one of our most important human limitations, which is simply that we exist only in the now, from moment to moment.

In the mystified and trance like state in which we lived before recovery, we could not be present in the moment, for each "now" was full of "then." Whether we were listening, observing, talking, or in any way experiencing life, we simply were not there. And so the quality of our life was diminished.

I look at old photos of family outings and realize that, much of the time, I was not there. I cannot ever get these moments back. They are gone. I missed them, and I am sad and angry about that. I don't want to miss any more of my life.

It frequently seems that our lives are made up of a series of events. Taken individually, these events appear insignificant. In the grandiosity of toxic shame, we discount and dismiss them without realizing that, no matter what success or failure occurs, these events will continue to be the core of our existence.

Gandhi said, "Almost everything we do is insignificant, but it is very important that we do it."

To be awake and fully conscious is to recognize that everything, from washing dishes to locking up the house at night, is important and demands attention. The move from toxic shame to healthy shame enlarges our opportunities for recognizing the significance of the insignificant.

In my view, spirituality is a lifestyle rooted in moment-to-moment awareness and appreciation of all events in life; it must, of necessity, be an everyday affair.

Some of us have difficulty accepting ourselves unless we are praying or are in church. We associate spirituality only with religion and its happenings. This ideal hinders our acceptance of ourselves as spiritual, but it is only part of the problem.

Toxic shame, like a brooding omnipresence in our souls, is always there to remind us that we are unworthy, and that spirituality is a state far too lofty for us to achieve. With its customary deceit, shame urges us to deny our humanness by denying its spiritual quality. To be human is to be spiritual, and to accept this is a part of healthy shame.

We need to recognize that spirituality is not at odds with "terrible dailiness," and it need not be grandiose in its ceremonials. The soul benefits most when its spiritual life is performed in the context of ordinary life. It grows and blossoms in the mundane and is found and nurtured in the smallest of daily activities.

Spirituality is living each moment of life more abundantly. It is honoring our values in our simplest acts. Spirituality is being present in our feelings. It is being more conscious of our connections to others and to all things. Spirituality enables us to turn an ugly loneliness into peaceful solitude.

None of these remarks is intended to discount prayer or our relationship with our higher power as principal sources of spirituality. Turning to this higher power on a daily basis is a bottomless well of spiritual sustenance. Other techniques, such as meditation and service, deepen and enrich us by giving us a way to pass on spiritual awakening to others.

I have the image of a group of sleeping children about to embark on a holiday. One of them awakens and, with excitement and energy, rushes to the others, urging them to "wake up - it's time to go!" All of us need to bring the light to others with the same joy and enthusiasm.

A brief word of caution: Certain qualities are antagonistic and destructive to our efforts to achieve a soulful spirituality. Rigidity, moralism and authoritarianism are some of these. They are to be avoided like the plague, for they are harsh and arrogantly insist on absolute standards and perfection. They destroy the gentleness and serenity out of which spirituality flows.

If I were to make a list of the promises of recovery, a deepening spirituality would rank high. It is the fruit of our labor. Recovery takes great courage and involves great risk if it is to be successful. To come out of hiding and embrace our shame is no easy thing to do. Those of you who went through a program know well the pain and agony of this experience. The payoff for such tremendous acts of courage should be great. I believe it is.

Published in Blog
Wednesday, 17 February 2010 19:00

An Expense of Spirit and a Waste of Shame

Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2005 issue of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.

An Expense of Spirit and a Waste of Shame

By Lawrence S. Freundlich

There is so much about her that I admire. Her knowledge of Western culture is vast; she is one of the best-read individuals I have met - including at the highest levels of academia - and she seems to remember it all. But her book learning hasn't isolated her from the world. She has a rich social life. She attends premier art openings and theater and music events. Her circle of friends includes the business, cultural, and social movers and shakers in America and Europe. Many of them have been her lovers.

But all of these virtues are awash in alcohol. She has partied all over the globe and left a trail of real and metaphorical broken glass and stained gowns. She is famous or infamous (depending on whether she is your friend or your foe) for her scurrilous mockery of pomposity among the rich and powerful. She is afraid of no one. She is welcome in as many circles for her sanitizing iconoclasm as she is unwelcome in others for her preposterous rudeness. For some she is a culture hero - for others a dreadful boor. She has not spared her several husbands or children the spectacle of her shaming grandiosity.

When I was drinking, this woman and I were often in one another's company, bonded by alcoholic gaiety and amused by one another's provocative hostility. Neither of us would have recognized a boundary violation if we were hit over the head by it.

When I sobered up, after I had worked hard at making what I learned at The Meadows a part of my life, I came to see my friend for the adult wounded child she was, and my heart went out to her. I was particularly touched by her admiration for my own recovery. Because she often expressed how much of a better person I had become, I thought that I could lead her down the path of recovery.

I wanted very much to change her - to make her want what I had. I encouraged her to tell me about her upbringing, and she did. It was a very painful tale in which the false empowerment of privilege and the disempowerment of abandonment left their morbid residue of grandiosity, shame, and worthlessness over all her relationships and trapped her in alcoholic denial of her own immaturity.

During a recent vacation retreat at her home in France, at which several of us were her guests for a few days, we were the recipients of her usual hectic generosity. Then the liquor began to do its work: slurred speech, repeated anecdotes, insults, confused lectures. She was always on stage, leaving hardly any air for me to breathe. Once again, I was the little child in the presence of his shaming parents - too frightened to speak the truth for fear of being abandoned. I should have left, but I did not. Instead, I sulked silently, and my carried shame began to grow like a tumor. My authentic self shriveled. I masked my worthlessness in a constant interior monologue of contempt for her bad behavior, when it was my own shame, fear and powerlessness that were torturing me. Before the week was over, I alternated between wanting to scream in her face or hide in my room with my head under a pillow.

In the months since that sad event, I have reflected on how ill-advised it is for us recovering people to think we can save friends and partners from their addictions. Since so many recovering people have had childhoods in which their wounding involved not being heard, they are vulnerable to post-traumatic stress when their active friends and partners mock their advice by continued dysfunction. When they inevitably fail to understand us, our own shame wounds are opened, and it is we who put our recovery in danger.

The model upon which our recovery is based will often leave us feeling on the outside. This loneliness is not a personal failure. Accepting it is the difficult but healthful gift of having become a mature adult. The wound of "not being heard" creates an abnormal need to hear things discussed intelligently and straightforwardly. I say "abnormal" because such boundaried and conscious behavior in relationship is abnormal for the species. We may be forced to accept our need for and insistence on boundaried and conscious relationship as an idiosyncrasy spawned by our own trauma histories. To fall into self-pity because we harbor a delusional notion of recovery according to our standards is an expense of spirit and a waste of shame.

The First Step is for the addict to take - we cannot take it for him. No one took it for us. If modeling sober behavior for our addicted friends does not lead them in the right direction, perhaps the only other thing we can do is to pray for them. Prayer, after all, doesn't require their understanding or willingness.

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Maureen Canning, Clinical Consultant of The Meadows and Dakota, was recently featured in an interview on iVillage. In Tiger Woods in Sex Rehab: What Really Goes on in There, Anyway?, Canning described some indicators of a sexual addiction, and what goes on during a typical day of sex addiction treatment. Canning was also quoted in a Time.com article, What Happens in Sex Rehab?

On a related note, the work of The Meadows Senior Clinical Advisor Pia Mellody was described in an article on love addiction on Albany.com. The article outlines Mellody's book Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love , and describes the symptoms, causes, and steps to overcome love addiction.

For more information on the treatment of sexual addiction, visit The Meadows, The Meadows Dakota or Maureen Canning’s Sexual Addiction Blog.

Published in Blog
Wednesday, 23 December 2009 19:00

Remembering Who We Are: Tools to Gain Clarity

Note: This article was originally published in the Fall 2005 issue of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.

Remembering Who We Are: Tools to Gain Clarity

Kathleen O'Brien, LCSW

"I want to change, but I don't know how."

How many times have you heard yourself utter these very words? Most people come to counseling knowing that their lives need to change, but they often don't feel confident enough in their abilities to make that happen.

Confusion about what is most important can lead, at the very least, to poor choices and mildly co-dependent behavior and, in the extreme, to serious addiction problems.
It doesn't work for us to behave in ways that go against our own values. We can suffer depression and/or anxiety when we ignore what we believe to be most important. We then "treat" our unhappiness with self-destructive behaviors, such as dysfunctional relationships, substance abuse, irresponsible spending and so forth. One poor choice leads to another, and soon we find ourselves at the bottom of a very deep hole.

That downward spiral is daunting, to say the least. My experience both personally and professionally has shown me that, in order to make a significant life change, we need to remember who we are, i.e. to have clarity about what we value most.

The truth is that most people know intuitively what is most important to them. When a client finds herself in a predicament, I ask what she would tell a son or daughter to do in the same situation. Almost without fail, she has an instant answer for the problem at hand. It is as though she can access her wisdom for someone else's benefit (especially her child's), but not for her own. It's not that she doesn't know the answer; she just doesn't feel entitled to act on her own behalf. As a result, she usually doesn't develop the skills necessary to get her needs met in a healthy way.

Take a few moments to ponder the following:

  • If it did not matter what other people thought, what would you do differently in your life?
  • If you knew for certain that you had only a limited time to live (by the way, this is always true), how would you spend that time?
  • If you were to die tomorrow, how would your obituary read? Think about what you would be remembered for at this point in time. Who would mourn your passing? What would have been your greatest contribution to the world?

The point here is to focus on remembering who you are. Pia Mellody calls this "remembering that you are precious."

Over the years, I've tried many techniques to help clients clarify how they feel and what they value. I call this "accessing one's own wisdom." Here are some techniques I've found helpful:

  • Write about it. Keeping a daily journal makes it next to impossible to fool yourself for long. There is nothing like hearing yourself complain day after day to get you moving. I speak from experience on this one!
  • Consider the best and worst possible outcomes. If the worst happened, how would you deal with it? If you have trouble here, ask yourself what you would tell someone else to do. Sometimes people get stuck because they believe that it's abnormal to experience pain. They think that life is supposed to be happy all the time. Part of becoming an emotionally mature adult is learning to endure the normal pains of life without resorting to addiction.
  • Define what you consider to be universal values. These are the so-called "bottom line" ways of being in the world, e.g. honesty, family, health, integrity, adventure, friendship, love, success, etc. Once you have your own list, take a look to see how closely you are living according to these values. Do your actions match what your heart and mind tell you to do?
  • What would other people be surprised to know about you? This is a powerful question to ask yourself - and often very revealing. The answer may offer clues about what you really value.
  • Ask someone you trust to write a eulogy for you. It is interesting to get a peek into how others see you.
  • Make a collage. Go through old magazines and find pictures that appeal to you; it doesn't matter why you find them appealing. Trust that your unconscious is leading you to discover more information about yourself. When you find these pictures, rip them out and paste them onto poster board. Place the collage in a place you will see often. What does it tell you about yourself?
  • Get away from your problems for a while. Distance can give us a different perspective. Rent a funny movie. Do something physical, such as walking, running, hiking, etc. Experience the nurturance available in nature. A walk on the beach or in a forest can expand perspective and lead to inner calm.
  • Look at what you like to do for fun. The way you spend your free time (and your money) can tell you a lot about what you find important.
  • Think about how your ideal life would look. Where would you be? What would you be doing? Who would be in your life? Ask yourself why you aren't doing these things. Try to own the choices you've made. It is easy - but not particularly useful - to blame others when it comes to change. How do you want to do things differently? Who might help you?
  • Try acting as if you feel confident and competent. What stops most people are negative attitudes such as futility ("nothing ever works anyway") and fears, including the fear of failure. In reality, we are limited mostly by what we believe is possible. Expect a lot from yourself (and others, too). Define for yourself what your "best effort" would be. Are you doing that? If not, why not?
  • Meditate! Use meditation to access your own spirituality. This is not about religion, but about accessing that part of you that needs to connect to your inner self. There is no single way to do this. A class can help you get started. Some medical insurance companies offer meditation classes to help improve health and general well-being.

In conclusion, remember that the way to heal yourself is to know who you are and to live according to what is true for you. When a person acts in truth, it resonates down to the cellular level. You are your own best healer!

Published in Blog

Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2008 issue of MeadowLark, the alumni magazine of The Meadows.

Science and Ancient Wisdom: Treatment Here-and-Now

Before reading further, take 20 to 30 seconds to do this exercise: Let your gaze leave this article and let your eyes look around wherever, and at whatever, they want - just 20 seconds or so. (Really, try it, and then come back to reading.) People in my Somatic Experiencing® (SE) Trauma Treatment courses who try this are surprised that, in a very short time, they feel noticeably more relaxed, peaceful, and in the "here-and-now." Some say they should do this all the time!

Thanks to the forward-thinking people at The Meadows, the connection between trauma and addiction is better understood and more effectively treated. Part of this treatment at The Meadows' extended-care facilities consists of working with the trauma-resolution skills of Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing®. The relationship between trauma and the exercise you just tried is that, according to Bessel van der Kolk, post-traumatic stress is fundamentally a disorder in the ability to be in the here-and-now. This means that the state of- the-art in trauma therapy is no longer intense regressive or cathartic therapy. Instead, state-of-the-art therapy is the process of becoming alive to the moment.

For those I train in SE, like those at The Meadows, working in the here-and-now is a cornerstone of clinical theory and practice. When doing his dissertation decades ago, Peter Levine met Stephen Porges and explored his research. Porges' "Polyvagal Theory" (Porges, 2001) shows how one pathway of the nervous system engages freeze and another relates to social engagement. Levine discovered how to work with the transition of the nervous system through these phases (freeze and engagement), as well as the phases of fight and flight. This is SE. This article’s focus is on the engagement phase, which must be integrated into all other nervous system phases.

While Porges' emphasis is based on single linear phase transitions, in SE we work with non-linear and rapid cycling states, for instance, freeze and fight, or flight and orientation. Traumatic symptomology such as intrusion of fight, flight and freeze means that the past has become the present. Flashbacks are the classic example of such disorientation - innocuous cues can trigger an all-out response. In other words, the person temporarily experiences a state that is disconnected from the actual here-and-now environment. One of the antidotes to this traumatic recollection is orientation. I provisionally define orientation as "connecting to the environment through the senses" - in other words, coming back to our senses. This is a broader understanding of engagement than social engagement, per se. For clients whose early life experiences were marked by trauma and abuse, social engagement is actually a trigger for fight, flight and freeze. In this process of orientation, rather than being inundated with a cycle of feelings, thoughts, and sensations associated with unresolved trauma, the client's attention can be directed to the reality of the environment that is available through the senses. Typically we see decreased blood pressure and decreased heart rate, as well as the subjective experience of greater relaxation and interest. In other words, it is the difference between stopping to smell the roses and reliving getting stuck by a thorn!

With many severely disoriented clients, much of the initial therapeutic work (in addition to establishing rapport) consists of the stabilization that comes from establishing better cognitive pathways or habits of here-and-now sensory attention. In attending to the sensory experiences of the external world, physiological mechanisms for assessing safety are allowed to occur without undue influence from traumatic memory. The mechanisms of this assessment are far too important, in a survival sense, for the slow processing of linear thought or conscious effort. Porges aptly names this subconscious process of safety assessment "neuroception" (Porges, 2004). Thus, a natural orientation to the external environment via the senses facilitates the neuroception of safety.

This approach is receiving increasing scientific and popular attention (Time Magazine: Mind & Body Special Issue, January 27, 2007, pp. 55ff). Whether incorporated into CBT, DBT or meditation, the role of the observer is crucial. The process of orientation is fundamental to this cognitive activity. However, many traditions that recommend observation may not adequately reinforce with clients the importance of orientation to the outer versus the inner environment. For those with significant disorientation, it is nearly impossible to track the interior landscape without being involuntarily drawn into what SE terms the "Trauma Vortex." The involuntary and repetitive attraction to this "vortex" is the disruption of the approach-avoidance system, and it is one of the dynamics that underlies addiction and compulsive behaviors in general. Although somatically informed therapists draw from Levine's work, they often make the mistake of inviting clients' attention to the inward sensate experience, without consideration to the vital criteria that indicate whether a client can negotiate such attention without reactivating and reinforcing trauma states. For instance, one of the most common beginner's mistakes is when a therapist asks an anxious client to focus on that sensation in the body. For some clients, this can work well and provide a sense of relief and transition to a more relaxed state; for others, this can lead to further discomfort and other states of disintegration. It is vital for the therapist to immediately and accurately assess the client's capacity in order to determine the appropriate intervention. Without such assessment skill, the safer route is to begin with external orientation, which can stimulate the innate orienting response and build stability.

Once relative stability is attained, a balance of interior and exterior attention can be facilitated. Then a more neutral and practiced observation of the range of experiences can be enjoyed, as the attention can shift naturally between affective experiences, both positive and negative. (This fundamental process at the heart of SE is known as "pendulation," which I discussed briefly in the Summer 2006 edition of The Cutting Edge) This natural swing between polarities is the normal condition of the balanced nervous system. And interestingly, the resulting integration that comes from this innate oscillation is a broader and more nuanced life in the here-and-now. The experience brings awareness, presence, and a greater ability to experience life on its own terms, without undue constriction or elation. Obtained after significant work of attending, this resulting state can yield an expanse of awareness with an increasing ease of relation and a connectedness to everything that is. This state, known among meditative adepts, is simply our human mind freed of its overlay of conditioning hewn by survival networks related to approach-avoidance. Freed from the dominance of an ill-conditioned approachavoidance paradigm, one enjoys engagement with what is now, new and alive. And so, as clinicians, we can orient to the fact that we live in a time of opportunity, when mind and body are becoming reacquainted, and when science can shake hands with ancient wisdom.

References

Hoskinson, S. (2006) "SE's Systemic View of Functional Reward Systems." The Cutting Edge, Summer 2006. See TheMeadows.org.
Porges S. W. (2001) "The polyvagal theory: phylogenetic substrates of a social nervous system." International Journal of Psychophysiology, 42, 123-146.
Porges, S. (2004) "Neuroception: A subconscious system for detecting threats and safety." Zero to Three [Online] National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families. No. 5, May. See zerotothree.org.
Stengel, R. (Ed.). (2007). The brain: A user's guide [Mind and body special issue]. TIME, 169 (5).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

STEVEN HOSKINSON, MA, MAT

Under the auspices of Hoskinson Consulting in Encinitas, California, Steven Hoskinson, MA, MAT, is an international consultant and trainer for clinicians and trauma treatment providers. Steven is a Senior International Instructor for the Foundation for Human Enrichment and has done research in creativity, myth and spirituality. His perspectives include evolutionary, developmental, cognitive-behavioral and systems approaches within a mindfulness framework. Other major influences include personal mentoring with Peter Levine, PhD, more than 20 years of experience in the contemplative arts, and a decade as a practicing aikidoist. www.HoskinsonConsulting.org

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