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Selfish or selfless – which is which?

Whatever the cause, the ability to perpetrate suffering and harm on another being comes from being Disconnected. When I am Connected and aware of my Connection to all life, I am unable to cause harm because I feel the pain I am causing. There is no altruism, no lack of selfishness in doing good instead of harm. It is, in fact, selfish to help others and want to bring pleasure to others.

Busy is Good, Right?

For the past couple of weeks, I have had several people ask me how I am. I have replied that I’ve been really busy, because the amount of work coming at me from all directions has been all I can think about. Without exception, they all reply “Busy is good, right?” As if there is something wrong with not being busy, as if my life would not be full or satisfying if I was not busy, or as if not being busy meant that there was something wrong me!

When I have occasionally said that being busy isn’t always great, they will say, “But you chose this!” Well, yes, I have chosen my life and career and yes, busy means that both are thriving, but……

In my first book, Addict America: The Lost Connection, I write about how Americans in general pride themselves on being busy and being “go-getters” and pushing themselves to extremes. That’s why I chose the title “Addict America.” These qualities can be great and can result in personal and professional achievements and can garner admiration and respect from other Americans, but they can also lead to unhealthy stress, unhappiness, distraction from what is meaningful in life, and to addiction.

The way I conceptualize addiction is that it is a state of being where a person has elevated the amount of stimulation they need just to feel normal to a heightened level that requires constant seeking of activities and/or drugs that provide that stimulation. It takes over the person’s life.

Obsessive, compulsive, out-of-control behavior done in spite of negative consequences to self or others.

That is the definition of addiction and so when I say I’m really busy, it is a red flag for me and anyone else to ask if I am taking care of myself, finding balance in my daily life, spending time with my loved ones, and am able to know when to stop and relax. If you ask me any of that and I get angry or irritable, that is another red flag.

The reality for me, right now, is that I am really busy and I am also paying attention to those other questions. I have learned the difference between being in an addictive, or disconnected, state and a recovering, or Connected, state (see A New Working Definition of Recovery) and I choose recovery and Connection. So now I am going to save this article, go have some lunch, and enjoy some quality time with my husband. Work can wait.

Be In Light,
Carol

Till Death Do Us Part?

What romantic words these are!  There you are, standing at the altar, full of hope and love, excitement and trust.  You are looking into the eyes of your beloved, the person with whom you intend to live a life of such harmony and devotion that all who know you will envy your wedded bliss.  This is the person with whom you will build a home, who will support you through good times and bad, with whom you will grow old as the adoring grandchildren play around your feet and you sit together on the porch watching the sunset.

OMG!  What happened?  How did such devotion, harmony and bliss turn to disgust, bitterness and anger?  Can you ever again look at this person the way you used to?  Can you ever go back to the way it was?  Has all this time together been wasted? 

The answers are no, no and no.

To begin with, you can never “go back.”  To go back would mean to just be where you were at a particular time, without being where you are now.  Can’t happen.  What you really want to know is can you regain those feelings you used to have of being in love and accepting each other and having that feeling of your life being ahead of you.  It’s possible, if that is what you really want with this particular person.

What you can do is build from this moment onward.  You can appreciate how you have learned and grown and evolved and decide to continue that process.  Whether or not you do it with your current partner is often a difficult decision.  It is usually attached to that question of “Has all this time together been wasted?” 

This is at the heart of the issue.  We all have a tendency to make the ends justify the means.  In other words, if my relationship is good now, then whatever came before was worth it.  Conversely, if my relationship is not good now, then all that time I put into it was for nothing and therefore wasted.

It is up to each of us to make each moment count.  It is your choice to wake up each morning and say “Today will be a good day” and know that it is up to you to make it a good day.  It is up to you to not give away your power and allow someone else, anyone else, to make this day other than what you want.  That goes for yesterday and tomorrow as well.

We all choose our reality, and what those weeks or years were before a break-up is up to you.  Whatever is going on now does not have to change what went before.  Now is when you decide what will make today a good day and if that means taking a different path from the person you once thought would be with you forever, then so be it.

We are all on the road of our lives.  Some people pass us the other way, some are going our way but at a different pace, and some join us for a time and then take a different road or speed up or fall behind.  There is no right or wrong to it, it’s just life. 

Enjoy the journey!

Forgive Seventy Times Seven Times

Many of you may recognize this from the New Testament. Whether or not you identify as a Christian, there is a lot of wisdom in those pages where they include specific teachings and messages.

I’m thinking of this because of the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade. I was furious and scared and just plain tired since I marched for women’s rights, including the right to do what we want with our bodies, back in the 70s and now here we are again. I began fantasizing about what I’d like to see happen to some of those Supreme Court Justices and to the people who are so fanatical about abortion and I went down a very dark and angry path. Then I remembered Jesus on the cross saying “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” and I realized that even if something awful happened to any of the myriad people who had a voice in this, it wouldn’t change their minds. They have their beliefs and opinions based on so many messages they received over the years that led them to this place – as do we all. The biggest motivator of human behavior is the need to belong to the group and that shuts out other voices as well.

So, if anything is going to effect change, it needs to start from a place of compassion, then forgiveness, and then a willingness to Connect.

What does it mean to forgive and why is it so hard?

For many people, forgiveness is seen as saying that what the other person did is ok, but that is not true. What forgiveness really means is to let go of the control our anger and hurt has over us. It means living by the Serenity Prayer:

God, Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change (the other person),
the Courage to change the things I can (me and my thoughts, feelings, and behavior),
and the Wisdom to know the difference.

I give up trying to control the other person and forgive the debt I think they owe me (yes, a reference to the Lord’s Prayer. Again, there is wisdom in all religions and from all spiritual leaders if we just look for it.)

If a friend asks me for a loan and says she will pay me back next week, I might get angry when next week comes and she doesn’t return my money. I might let another week or so go by and as the anger and resentment build, it takes my attention and resources. Keep in mind, also, that anger is stimulating and stimulation is addictive, so there is that as well. At some point, I ask my friend for the money and she says she forgot or doesn’t have it and may even get mad at me for bringing it up and don’t I know how much she has been struggling and so on. Finally, I have a choice: keep being angry and resentful and either passive-aggressive with her or outright rejecting, or I can forgive the loan and forgive her. I can give up any hope of getting my money back and go on with my life. I can choose to keep her as a friend or gently let go. I can choose to give her money in the future or not, but with the realistic expectation that I will not be repaid.

The former option will eat away at me and dominate my life. The latter, forgiveness, will allow me to live as I choose – in a life-enhancing and joyful place – not controlled by anyone or anything outside myself.

This is not just a message that repeats in religious teachings, it is also taught to us in psychology and counseling classes. Victor Frankl’s logotherapy, later Existential Therapy. All forms of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Person-Centered Therapy.

It is far too easy to forget or ignore what we counsel our clients when it comes to our own lives and we can make a conscious effort to do as we say and walk the talk. I bring that to my own life regularly. “Progress, not perfection” as they say in the 12-Step programs – more places of deep wisdom.

In today’s world, where we are beset by unimaginable stressors daily, by all means choose positive actions and take a stand, and yet do not lose yourself. Be the person you want to be, always.

I Am Blessed to be Able to Work With Addicts

I grew up in an alcoholic home and had a drug addicted boyfriend at one time, so I wanted nothing to do with addicts when I became a mental health counselor. The Universe had other ideas for me, however, and when I couldn’t find work anywhere else, I ended up in a substance abuse treatment facility. My father and ex-boyfriend went into recovery around the same time and made amends and I experienced a profound shift in perspective. Over the years, I became a Certified Addictions Professional and when I specialized in sex therapy, working with sex addicts was the next progression for me.

After years of working with couples and individuals, sex addicts and others, I formulated a conceptual framework of treating everyone that was based on Recovery principles. When I realized I was saying the same thing over and over as I educated clients and students about how we create barriers to intimacy by using addictive thinking and behavior, I decided to write it all down and voila! Addict America: The Lost Connection was born. It actually gestated for seven years but it eventually was completed and then translated into Spanish.

Working and teaching in the sex therapy field, I have been exposed to a few sexologists who are fundamentally opposed to the concept of “sex addiction.” They have posited various reasons for this, including opinions that sex addiction treatment professionals are “sex negative,” into “reparative therapy,” and religious fundamentalists. For me, none of this is true. A few other professionals are less oppositional but still questioning. While I try to avoid going head-to-head with anyone who is obviously not really interested in a discussion, I am happy to engage in more academic discourse on the subject. Still, I find myself fighting twinges of defensiveness and last night, as I explored this, I was able to move to a completely different place of perspective, which I want to share.

I am blessed to be able to work with addicts. Addicts, no matter the drug or behavior, go through hell and it takes enormous courage and willingness to change in order for them to begin Recovery. As they learn new ways of living, make decisions about everything from what shoes to wear to where to eat, work, play, to relationship choices, they are evolving to a higher spiritual plane. When addicts are living in Recovery, they are present and grounded. They have made choices as to what kinds of people they want to be and they live congruently with that identity. They have made choices regarding their values and what is important in life and are living according to those values. They are fully able to be in intimate, Connected relationships, whether with a committed partner, a child, a friend, a coworker, or someone just passing on the street. For each moment, there is Connection and awareness of Connection. They have Connected to a higher power and live the Serenity Prayer without rationalization, minimization, or intellectualization. They can truly say, and often do, that the worst day in Recovery is better than the best day in addiction. They are my heroes and my role models. I am humbled and grateful to be a part of their journeys.

We all have it in us to be in addiction or be in Recovery. I know when I am not present, not Connected, and not in harmony with the Universe. I know when I’m rushing around, angry or irritable, and blaming others. That is an addictive place. I also know when I am grounded, in the moment, and have a sense of myself and others in Connection. I know who I am and am responsible for myself. That is Recovery. It is where I strive to live.

Be In Light,

Carol

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