Why Your Thinking Sucks (and what to do about it)

images-7.jpeg
Sound Familiar?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of negative thinking. For many people in recovery and otherwise the struggle is indeed real against a constant barrage of extremely negative thoughts. It’s no wonder that we feel exhausted, sad, and defeated on our best days, and hopeless on our worst.

images-8.jpeg

 

In many ways, our mind has become our enemy with a constant stream of maladaptive and ineffective thinking that we are not even aware of. So why is is that our minds tend towards the negative and have to work to find the positive? Well, it turns out there is a good reason and the really good news is there is something you can do about it.

From the beginning of time our brains have been hardwired to look for problems to solve. Nature wanted to make sure we survived and a part of the survival instinct is to scan the horizon for trouble and to protect ourselves from danger. Millions of years ago this instinct was adaptive and helped our species to survive. We sensed danger everywhere and in turn protected ourselves from it. Our brains are also natural problem solvers. The brain wants to figure things out, solve puzzles and riddles, insure our safety, our brains need to work. And if the brain can’t find a problem to solve it will make something up. It will usually drag up something from the past to work on or it will imagine something in the future and go to town attempting to solve a problem that hasn’t happened yet and since it hasn’t happened yet there are about a million and one ways the brain can imagine it actually happening and a million and one ways it may be able to solve it. Sound exhausting? It is. The problem with both of these scenarios is that they don’t actually exist. The past and the future do not do not exist so the brain is attempting to solve a problem that isn’t real which leads us into either guilt, shame and remorse ( based in the past) or worry and anxiety ( based in the future) with no real solution to a nonexistent problem.

Unknown-8.jpeg
I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and gosh-darnit, people like me.

But, I’ve digressed a bit. Aside from the natural problem solving nature of the mind, it has been proven that negative thoughts cause more activity in the brain than positive thoughts and we are naturally wired to absorb the negative events more than the positive:

“Take, for example, the studies done by John Cacioppo, Ph.D., then at Ohio State University, now at the University of Chicago. He showed people pictures known to arouse positive feelings (say, a Ferrari, or a pizza), those certain to stir up negative feelings (a mutilated face or dead cat) and those known to produce neutral feelings (a plate, a hair dryer). Meanwhile, he recorded electrical activity in the brain’s cerebral cortex that reflects the magnitude of information processing taking place.”

“The brain, Cacioppo demonstrated, reacts more strongly to stimuli it deems negative. There is a greater surge in electrical activity. Thus, our attitudes are more heavily influenced by downbeat news than good news.”
https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200306/our-brains-negative-bias

Additionally it has been proven that it takes 5-10 positive events to counterbalance one negative event. For a great article on this click here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201406/are-we-hardwired-be-positive-or-negative
So there you have it: your negative thinking is natural so it isn’t your fault AND it will indeed make your life miserable if left unchecked. So what is the solution?

Ahh solutions! I adore solutions. And the good news is that there are many. First stop blaming yourself when you think negatively and realize that your brain is not broken, it’s actually functioning exactly as it was designed to function. Next we must…and I repeat MUST begin to counter the negative thinking with positive thinking. Now I don’t mean to say “just think positively”…telling someone to “think positively” may get you punched in the snoot.

But we can begin to allow ourselves to absorb the positive experiences that are all around us and begin to make up for our naturally occurring positive thought deficit.

 

images-6.jpegimages-4.jpeg

We can being to look at things through a different lens. Take for example the idea of support. Everyday I am supported by things seen and unseen. I am supported by the earth, literally the ground on which I am walking. I am supported by the trees, literally the oxogen they are providing me, same thing with air. I am literally supported by gravity, the sun, rain and all the natural elements. These things all allow me life. Literally. If I can’t find anything positive to absorb at the very least I have the elements on which I can ( if I so choose) to focus my attention and appreciation.

Unknown-7.jpeg

We can also look at the idea that if positive experiences have less of am impact on us than negative experiences, we may need to look at how to cultivate more positive experiences in our life. Individually we all have things we love, perhaps it’s music, or art, or animals or a group of people, cooking, reading, the list goes on. Making an effort to incorporate more of these things into your daily routine can have enormous positive benefits. Surrounding yourself with positive images and things you love can also have an impact on how you feel. My office at work has a lot of personal items that bring me peace, crystal salt lamps, items for my meditation practice, a few special statues that mean something special to me, a photo of one of my dogs. When my mind begins to tend towards the negative, I am able to gently remind myself I need a shot of positive and I am able to focus my attention and my appreciation on any of these things. Personally I have found meditation as one of the best tools I have at my disposal where I can begin to consciously direct my attention towards things at make me happy and peaceful and away from things that freak me out and make me crazy.

Mr_Happy.jpg

In Dialectical Behavior Therapy http://behavioraltech.org/resources/whatisdbt.cfm
Marsha Linehan has created a skill set called “Improving The Moment” where she gives us a long detailed list of ways we can improve any moment even if it is just a little bit. In DBT the skills are used for distress tolerance but I have also found them extremely useful for just a plain old crappy day or more often a crappy attitude about a normal day. To get an idea of these skills click here: http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/improve.html

In another section of her Skills manual she gives us a list of “pleasant events” to incorporate into our lives in order to make life more meaningful. Simple ideas really, but how often do we take time to consciously cultivate positive experiences into our hectic and stressful day? When is the last time you laid in the grass and looked at the stars? To see a list of some of activities click here:
http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/er_handout_8.html

The point I want to make here is that we do not have to be slaves or our naturally wired negative thinking. We have choices. The monkey mind is going to do it’s thing, constantly scanning the landscape for trouble, but we have the ability to train that little monkey to work for us rather than against us. And it takes effort. Let me repeat that: It takes EFFORT. Left to it’s own devices, many of us will stay stuck in patterns of unhealthy, ineffective thinking that causes suffering. Thoughts like “ Why ME?? “ This sucks”, “ I can’t”, “ it will always be like this”, I’ll never have ( fill in the blank)” will naturally continue to arise unless we make the choice to challenge that thinking and counter those experiences with positive thoughts and events. Today may we all find gratitude and unattached appreciation for the things that make our hearts sing and allow the positive thoughts to overpower the negative.

 “Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.” 
— Willie Nelson

Meditation Provides Evidence Based Solutions To Stress Reduction.

Unknown-2.jpeg
This dude is observing his mind.

Let’s talk about stress. We all have it and in many cases stress is making our lives unmanageable. Stress brings on tension, headaches, weight gain, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, increases heart rate and can make life feel miserable on a daily basis. With our world today it seems unlikely that life situations will soon be changing in much of a way that stress is alleviated so the questions becomes what can YOU do about your stress? Live with it? Or reduce it?

Not all stress is bad for us. “When stress is within your comfort zone, it can help you to stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident. Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges. Stress is what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV. But beyond your comfort zone, stress stops being helpful and can start causing major damage to your mind and body.” http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-symptoms-causes-and-effects.htm

Stress is a natural function of the limbic system otherwise known as your lizard brain. Stress is the precursor to “fight or flight” mode and millions of years ago stress was used to insure survival. Feeling threatened meant we may have to launch into “fight or flight” and our bodies are preparing us to do so. When we become stressed our bodies immediately release acid into our stomachs to shut down digestion. Acid is also released into our skin so we don’t taste as good to that Saber Tooth Tiger that’s chasing us. Adrenaline and cortisol are released to provide strength and energy (these same chemicals allow us to lift a car off of a child). So these responses were at one time very adaptive. They allowed us to respond quickly to threatening situations and to survive. The problem is that this system which was once adaptive has become maladaptive and although we are no longer being chased by dinosaurs, our bodies respond to stress the same way regardless of the kind of threat. Additionally we rarely ever actually launch into Fight or Flight so there is no where for those chemicals to go, there is no release. This is way we are wound so tight by the end of the day. Most of our “threats” today are not life-threatening, they are work related, family, emails, finances, traffic, relationships. Still these stressors cause the chemicals in our bodies to build up and we need a release. Many people find release at the gym, yoga, and other healthy ways to burn off the stress chemicals. Others turn to drugs and alcohol and other unhealthy behaviors.

But wouldn’t it be nice if we could find a way to reduce those stress chemicals from accruing in the first place and not have to wait until the end of the day and run 20 miles just to keep from losing our minds? What if I told you that there was a way to not only reduce those chemicals from producing in your brain but you can actually increase the release of your “happy” chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, GABA and endorphins? Well, I am. You can. With meditation.

Unknown.jpeg
Happy

Thousands of evidence based studies have been done that confirm what spiritual leaders and ancients have known for centuries. Meditation produces immediate effects when it comes to combatting stress. Twenty minutes of silent or guided meditation 2 times a day can create immediate benefits that help us to reduce stress BEFORE these chemicals ever build up. http://eocinstitute.org/meditation/dhea_gaba_cortisol_hgh_melatonin_serotonin_endorphins/

And all it takes is the commitment to making it happen. It doesn’t take experience, or training (although working with someone experienced in meditation can be very helpful), or any special tools. All it takes is your commitment to daily practice. That’s it. Boom- your stressed is reduced.

Now I know what you’re saying…”I don’t have 20 minutes twice a day to meditate”. Ok, well first I would say you probably do, but I’m not going to argue because it raises my stress. So how about 10 minutes twice a day? Or 5 minutes twice a day? The most important thing about meditation is your commitment to making it happen. It is less important what happens during your meditation than it is that you are doing it. DOING it is the most important part. And there are endless ways to get started.

 

Unknown-3.jpeg
Alters can add a sense of reverence.

First, decide that you are going to make a commitment to daily meditation practice and set that intention. Find a time that works for you and if all you can find is 5 minutes a day, then start there. Set an alarm ( I used a kitchen timer for the first 6 months) for 5 minutes and sit however you are comfortable. There is no need to sit an any special position. You may develop a “proper” sitting posture over time but it is not necessary to begin. Be comfortable. Next, sit. Be still and bring your attention to your breath coming in and going out. That’s it. Breathe naturally and keep your concentration on your breath. Allow your mind do whatever it does and when you notice your mind has begun making a shopping list or thinking about what to have for dinner simply acknowledge the thought and gently return your attention to your breath. A common misconception about meditation is that our minds are supposed to clear, get quiet and stop. This may be possible after an extended time of daily practice but for most people it is not. Our minds wander constantly and that’s ok, that is just what minds do. Be aware of judgment. We tend to judge ourselves before, during and after meditation. Your mind may tell you all kinds of things like: “ I’m bored”, “I’m uncomfortable”, “I don’t know what Im doing”. It’s ok, do it anyway. Your mind may tell you to stop 3 minutes in, it’s ok, keep going. What you will learn is that it is possible to have thoughts and then let them go. It is possible to be centered and relaxed even when the mind is chattering away. We can observe thoughts and not attach to them or judge them. The average person has between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts a day. Be easy with yourself and adopt a gentle attitude of curiosity. “ Hmmm …my mind is saying this? Interesting”…then bring attention gently back to the breath. It’s all good.

images.jpeg
Total candle freak.

There is a vast about of information on the web about different meditation practices. There are guided meditations, mindfulness meditations, Buddhist meditations, mystic meditations traditional faith meditations, Mantra meditations, Vipassana, Zen, Vedic, Transcendental, the list goes on. Don’t get too caught up in finding the “right” one. There is no “right” one. There is no right or wrong way to meditate. Begin with what feels right to you. Keep it simple. Lighting a candle and burning some incense may increase your enjoyment and concentration but it is not necessary. I have developed my own practice over a period of about 3 years and I consider it to be one of the most important aspects to my spiritual program and my way of life. Meditation has influenced every part of my life for the better. Sometimes my practice feels on point and sometimes I’m all over the place, but the results I see in my daily life are undeniable.

One final suggestion. Keep your meditation practice sacred. Once you find what works for you don’t share it with the world. It’s yours; treasure it, nurture it and allow it to grow. The benefits of meditation are limitless.

Namaste,

JimmyT

Women: I Lift You Up.

img_0030

Dear women:

On behalf of gentleman everywhere I want to apologize.

See, I was raised to respect women. My father (who was not a saint) did a lot of things right. He adored my mother and he treated her with respect and deep affection. Dad was a sensitive guy and had no problem showing affection for my mother. He kissed her, hugged her, complimented her daily and praised her cooking even when it sucked. He often brought her gifts; nothing fancy just trinkets he would find on his journeys working as a traveling salesman or bobbles from the drug store. Sometimes he would surprise her with a nice piece of jewelry. She loved jewelry and although we were never wealthy, Dad always made a point of buying her a nice piece for her birthdays. There was also the time he got her a new kitchen appliance for Christmas. He only did that once.There was never any doubt as to her place in our home. “Go ask your mother” ‘Go apologize to your mother”, “Your mom’s had a hard day, tell you love her”. He also respected her opinion and they two of them worked together to raise their family. My dad had an amazing sense of humor and often poked loving fun at my mom at the dinner table, which you could tell she enjoyed. He called her “ My Bride” up until the day he died, and before he left this earth he made me promise that I would always be there to help my mom with whatever she wanted or needed. I have tried my best to live up to that promise.

My grandparents too. I had both sets of grandparents until I was in my 20’s. When we would go to visit my mom’s parents the first thing granddaddy would say before I could even really hug him was “go kiss your Granny”. Neither of my grandmothers suffered fools lightly. They were outspoken strong southern women who got shit done and who let their husband’s know when they weren’t happy. All around me I witnessed women being treated as equals, with respect and in many cases exalted as the stronger species. Indeed they are.

So I understand why I am attracted to strong women. I always have been. They make me feel safe and they remind me that values like courage and strength go hand in hand with compassion, kindness and love. There is no doubt in my mind that they are the stronger sex and if more of them were in charge in this world I’m pretty sure we would not be in the state of chaos, hate and confusion we are in today.

The fact that we still have to fight for the right’s of women is appalling. Any issues with inequality should not even be up for discussion and should have been taken care of years ago. Why on earth equal pay is not a given is dumbfounding. The fact that we have to stay vigilant to ending rape culture is appalling. Where did men get the idea that it’s ok to victimize women, verbally or physically?? I have my theories where it comes from and if you’ve read my other blog posts and you can probably guess with I think.

“Locker-room talk”?? That’s what they’re calling it?

Yes, I’ve heard it in the locker room of the gym where I use to work but let me be clear that I have never heard it the way Donald Trump describes it. Never. The talk I have over heard is much more subtle, but in my opinion carries with it the same message: that women are to be sexualized and treated as less than men. I’ve heard it on Sunday morning when they’ve finished sitting on the stationary bike, reading their paper, watching Fox news; in the locker-room while they get dressed to meet their wives for church. They are mostly old and fat, with a teensy peensy and a belly that only serves to exacerbate their already less than average manhood. They have no ass. They use the complementary hairdryer to dry their balls. (Side note: I  actually had to make a SIGN for the men’s lock-room that said “Please use the blow dryers for the hair on your head ONLY). A good portion of them are actually cruising other men in the the steam room. ( Yes, I know who you are). They are mouth-breathers; nuckle-draggers and most of them haven’t seen a vagina up close since Kennedy was in office. You could knock them out with one punch if you had to. So they TALK. They talk, because there is not enough Viagra in the world to make that ramen noodle get up and dance. They talk because they are afraid. They are afraid of you and deep-down they are afraid of what they have become. And although most of them wouldn’t know what to do with you if they got ahold of you, their sons would. And THAT’s the problem. The “locker-room” talk is how they are teaching their sons about women. The “locker-room” talk is what fuels the already blazing fire of rape culture. The talk is why their son’s grow up thinking women are less than men. They talk and talk and talk because it’s all they can do anymore.

The irony to me is that our society has always blamed any demo OTHER than straight white men for the problems in our country. Seems the blame for the state of our culture always goes to women, gays, and minorities, the poor, drug-addicts…the “less-than”. But doesn’t the evidence show that SWM actually ARE the problem? I mean after all they have been in charge ever since we slaughtered the Native Americans and set up our donut shop.  They have been in charge of all of us forever. And before you go and get your panties all in a bunch I know a LOT of amazing, educated, kind, intelligent straight white men, and I would be willing to bet you they will agree with me. Because they’re not threatened. They honor, value and respect women; they are not afraid of women. And the SWM that are bringing us down are afraid. They are cowards.  Always, ALWAYS it goes back to fear.

So on behalf of the gentlemen in this country, I would like to apologize for the rest of the male population for making your lives so difficult. I am sorry you are not paid the same amount of money for she same amount of work as a man. I am sorry you have to fight for decent maternity leave after bringing another human into this world. I am sorry that you have to continue to fight for the right to safe and respectful medical treatment should you choose to have an abortion. I am sorry you are made to feel uncomfortable for breast -feeding in public ( Jeez–we got issues, ya’ll). I am sorry you have to carry mace so that you are not raped in the parking garage after work. I am sorry you have to listen to “locker-room” talk, endure cat-calls at the mall, and watch while a man like Donald Trump can be chosen as a candidate for the position of Leader Of The Free World. I am profoundly sorry that you have to teach your daughters about domestic abuse, date rape, being drugged, being kidnapped, walking in pairs and watching over their shoulders at all times while pursuing their education on a college campus. I imagine you could give me a thousand more examples of things I should be sorry for and I hope you do. I imagine you expeience things everyday of which I am not even aware.

 

img_0030

So please keep speaking up and out and telling your stories; I want to know. I want to know what I need to talk about with my guy friends. There are a lot of us who support you and who want better for you and for us. I want to help to change it and the first step towards change is awareness.

Because you’re right. It is not safe. Women in this country are not safe and you deserve better.
We all deserve better.

Namaste,

JimmyT

Is ” Pussy” The New “Gosh-Darnit?”

I pray, I meditate, I believe in peace and kindness and compassion and when I started this blog I told myself I was NOT going to write about Donald Trump. That was a week ago and here I am…I suck at commitment.

But when I witness the latest in an extremely long line of Donald Trump’s horrifically damaging, threatening and mentally unstable comments, I am truly at a loss as to how to rise above. How do we NOT get down in the trenches and fight? Or do we?

I have long been outraged, frightened, and disgusted but Donald Trump. However I have been able to sort-of write him off as sick. He is a sick, sick man. His soul is damaged and he is perhaps a sociopath. There is definitely a personality disorder. I can usually find some compassion for him simply because he is such a tool. But, what is really getting to me are his “Christian” followers. (Here we go again). ARE YOU PEOPLE FUCKING KIDDING ME?

I used to debate, argue and attempt to educate others when it comes to people like Trump but it always falls on deaf, ignorant ears. So, in a effort to save myself,  I have gotten rid of friends (and will get rid of family if I need too) who are Trump supporters. Does that make me shallow and intolerant? Maybe. But I’d rather be shallow and intolerant than allow that kind of person and their dark, black and hateful energy into my life. Because I view it as a threat and I would rather stay safe. I would no more have “those people” in my life and my sacred space than I would invoke Lucifer to join me for tea. My mind is a sacred space, so is my heart. I am sensitive to energies and I am drawing a line in the sand, that, if you are still making excuses for Donald Trump ( and don’t you dare mention Hilary cause she is NOT who I am talking about at them moment) I absolutely want nothing to do with you. Friends, family; doesn’t matter. You’re out. If I see you on the street, I will be polite, but that’s it. I’m done. The bigger picture is what’s at stake here and if I gotta cut you loose, so be it because Donald Trump is only a small part of the problem. The larger ( much larger) problem are his Conservative Christian followers and what is a stake is the state of our nation’s soul.

I MEAN AN I MISSING SOMETHING? Are they blind? Are they brainwashed? How in the world can someone call themselves a “Christian” and endorse Trump? How is that possible? How can someone who professes to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ just disregard the things he has said about women and minorities. How can you disregard “ Grab her by the pussy.”? What if he was referring to you YOUR daughter, YOUR mother, YOUR sister. Is it ok for him to aggressively grab them by their genitals? If in fact you are not sure, let me be clear. IT IS NOT OK AND IT REEKS OF EVIL. If you believe that it was “just locker room talk” and “men will be men” then you are worshipping the wrong deity. Try Satan. He represents your values much more than Christ.

images-4
This might be your guy.
‘Ohhh, now” , they say, “ we just disagree politically but we can still be friends. Let’s just agree to disagree”. Um, no. And here’s why. Because we disagree about more than just politics. We disagree about human values. Bush V. Gore is a political disagreement. Support of Trump indicates to me much more that about your political leanings; there is something wrong with you.

Phew, that feels good. So back to my original question about me. ( Cause it’s all about me. )
How do I continue to pursue enlightenment, peace, and ZEN Recovery, and remain true to my values, opinions, and passion? If you have not guessed, I am a passionate person. I am passionate about justice, human rights, equality and dignity for all. I am passionate about ending poverty, bigotry, and fighting for what’s just, kind and right.. I am an activist at heart. I cannot and will not stay silent as long as there are those among us who are oppressed, discriminated against, bullied. I don’t think that Zen means denial or complacency or ignoring where there is injustice and evil in this world. Unfortunately, my passion causes me to react in ways I am not comfortable with and learning to react without anger when they the situation is critical is a challenge. Perhaps the key is to continue working on attachments and letting go.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

So I will continue to pray, I will continue to meditate and I will continue to protect myself with my white circle of light and stay vigilant about who gets in. And I stay in a state of constant wonder. I wonder what the churches of these folks will be like this Sunday morning. Will refined women in Baptist churches across the south be saying the word “pussy” out loud ( “Hi Marge, love your new skirt. Wasn’t the sermon lovely today? Did you hear Trump talking about grabbing women by their pussies?”) or will they spell it? Maybe they will whisper it. Or hand gestures…maybe they will just gesture towards their own while mouthing the word. That seems the most socially polite way to go, I think. After all they have declared it “non-offensive”. Can we all start going around dropping the P word like we do the words “hell” and “damn?”

Is “pussy’ the new “gosh-darnit’?

Someone needs to let me know. I openly admit that I swear like a sailor in my own home, but I was raised with manners and social grace so I always try to be respectful in public where language is concerned. But if “Christians” across the land have deemed “pussy” an appropriate word for social settings, please let me know cause I am definitely using it.

Namaste,

JimmyT

Judging Me, Judging You uh-huh… There is nothing we can do.

Or is there?

Ever since I did my 4th and 5th Step with my sponsor, I have been aware of my judgement; my tendency to judge people, places, things and situations as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, for or against me. Judgement feels good doesn’t it? Judgment allows me to separate myself from the bullshit ( perceived bullshit?) and to sit comfortably on my throne staring down with profound disapproval of you…or them…or it. Meditation has allowed me to see the not only is this one of my deepest character defects but it may well be my number one.

It is 9:30 am and I have already judged probably 10 people. Two on the highway and the other 8 just in my head pondering life and it’s inhabitants. One of the people I judged looked to be a soccer mom in a mini-van, driving down I-40 at about 80 miles an hour in the rain with 2 kids in the backseat frantically glancing up and down at her cell phone. Without skipping a beat my inner voice immediately said, “ IDIOT”. Upon further reflection not only was I judging her apparent lack of common sense and parenting skills, but ALL soccer moms and ALL mini-vans. ( Really, ya’ll MINI-VANS?! Surely, we can do better…). I assessed the situation and boom…YOU have been JUDGED.

unknown-3
Only Judy can judge.

With greater awareness of my propensity to be judgmental (after all, it was one of the first things I inwardly experienced as I began my forward march towards relapse) I don’t take it lightly. It needs to be considered and continually challenged so as not to stay stuck in old patterns and old beliefs. The first step towards making any significant changes has to be the awareness of that thing we hope to change. Without becoming mindful, we are doomed to repeat.

So the question is, when and where is judgement necessary and is it ever actually helpful?

I suppose it is helpful if you see a bear coming at you in the woods and your judgement says holy fuck there’s a bear coming at me and I better do something like climb a tree or play dead, or run, or burst into show tune (don’t come to me for bear advise, ya’ll, clearly I’m not your guy) and in that case judgement is very helpful. If you misjudge that situation you’re an idiot. ( See what I did there?). But in everyday, ordinary life when is it actually helpful? When does it actually create change for the better? Does it ever?

575716_640849605932432_613880432_n-edit-1-2
Good judgement.

Many of my common judgements are built upon my actual experience in life. I grew up going to church with my folks. My both my parents were pretty devout Christians ( the good kind) and had strong faith. I never much cared for church but went because, well, it was mandatory. There was an associate pastor at my church who I really liked and looking back I realize he was actually the object of my little boy crush. He was cute, a young, and cool, and he treated all the kids really well. On Sunday mornings during the regular service, I would be ushered to the front of the church where he would give a short children’s service about animals, or brotherly love, or the kindness of Jesus. Sweet little sermons after which I would return to my pew with the rents and dig through my mom’s purse for a stick of Teaberry gum.

One day we went to church and my handsome associate pastor was no longer there. Someone I didn’t know led the Children’s service. After the service I was aware of groups of fellow Christian’s huddled together chatting in whispers; they seemed worried, or upset not the usual laughter and chatter about lunch plans and gatherings that I was used to. Later at home I asked my mom what had happened. She sat me down and it was one of those moments where I could tell she was deciding whether to tell me the whole truth or not. I don’t remember exactly what she told me but basically the pastor had been having an affair with a church staff member and it had exploded in their faces and both had been fired. I sat for a minute, before asking…” So why we’re they fired?” Mom said, “well…because they are both married to other people and they were cheating on their marriages with each other.” I thought for a moment and said, “what about forgiveness?” “What do you mean?”, mom asked. “Well’, I said, Jesus forgave everyone and God forgives everyone, so why can’t we just forgive them?” Mom sat for a minute and said “Well, honey, we DO forgive them”. Another minute and I asked “ So why can’t they have their jobs back?” I could tell my question made my mom think. She looked sad, shook her head, held be close and said…”I really don’t know.” Yeah…my mom is the best.

For the next several weeks it was a huge church scandal. I overheard adults and even some of the other kids talking about it and how awful it was and how THEY were, and how everyone could not BELIEVE such a thing could happen, and they talked and they talked and they talked. And I became confused. First of all I was confused because although I understood that having the affair was wrong or at the very least socially unacceptable, the bigger concern for me was how these people who preached love, tolerance and forgiveness could so quickly turn on one of their own. What I overheard during those next few weeks, was NOT forgiveness, but mean-spirited, self-righteous, gossip. And then it dawned on me: what if they all know I had a CRUSH on the sexy, playboy pastor. What would they do to me?? Would I be “fired”? Would I be FIRED from life??

Thus was born my core belief that people who claim to be Christians may in fact not be actually following Christian principles. They may be hypocrites. They may recite the bible verse by verse but when the chips are down they are not going to be very helpful. And if fact, they may be downright mean. My mother never weighed in on whether or not she thought the pastor should have been fired but she only spoke of him with compassion and forgiveness and regret that he had to leave. My mother is one of the “good” Christians.

Not my mother

So core beliefs: Picture a large box with a round hole in it. The square box contains your core belief, in this case “ all christians are hypocrites” ( except mom). Imagine that all of your life experiences that validate that belief are round and fit perfectly through the hole and into your “core-belief” box adding weight and substance to your belief and all experiences that do NOT validate that belief are rectangle or triangle and will NOT fit into your core-belief box. You with me? Round beliefs support, other shapes cannot get in. That is how core-beliefs work. Growing up gay in the South, most of my personal experiences with people who claimed to be Christian have been round and confirmed my core-belief. An extreme example would be Westboro Baptist Church. That particular example is pretty easy to dismiss because, well, those people are nuts. My efforts to keep an open mind and not lump all Christians in together has been (and continues to be) thwarted by personal experience and challenged by much more subtle examples. I have to make a sincere and concerted effort to hold in my heart the few folks I know personally, who identify as a Christian and live their lives in what appears to be accordance with the teachings of Christ. And here is how I know. They are happy, they smile a lot, they are kind, they are compassionate. Their ideas are liberal and allow others to be themselves and make their own life decisions without judgement. Their spiritual principles bring them peace as evidenced in how they live there lives. Their lives are improving and moving forward. They don’t feel the need to remind me about God or Jesus in every other sentence. They don’t say things like “ I’ll pray for you”,  “forgive the sinner, hate the sin” or “have a blessed day”. They are people from whom light radiates and their joy for living is apparent. They are people who spend most of their time helping others. They are attractive in a way that encourages you to be around them. And most importantly,  they make you feel good about yourself.  If you wanna pray for me, by all means do, I can use all the prayers I can get, but telling me that you are going to make a special effort to contact my creator on my behalf kinda makes you sound pious and judgmental. At the very least ask me first. Don’t assume.  After all how would you like it if I whipped out my cauldron, some sage and a chicken bone and began invoking the Guardians of the Four Corners on you without your permission?  I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t. Except for some of you and that’s why we’re friends. So the message here is let’s all ask each other permission before we go unleashing our voodoo wizardry upon one another. I’m a firm believer in prayer and I pray often. I just don’t like when it’s pushed on me.

Yes, I’m still judgmental. And I am working on it. My awareness of it is ONLY a first step and any enlightenment in this area is more than likely a lifelong process.

I suppose a benefit of this mindset has been that it forced me to look beyond conventional religious institutions in order to find peace and make sense of living in this world. I have always believed in God, the presence of a divine order to things and I have always felt a connection to a greater source of power than myself. I tried to be an atheist one time and it just didn’t take. It seemed too boring, too dry, it did not mesh with my soul and it didn’t last long. I have self- studied, a variety of religious texts; both Eastern and Western, mysticism, energy healing, crystals, Wicca, Buddhist philosophy, Taoism, and endless books on Paganism and Quantum Physics. Interestingly, to me, they all have much in common. I have never had trouble blending Spirituality and Science for they seem to absolutely support one another. Creationism on the other seems childish and literal interpretation of the Bible seems dangerous to me. But WTF do I know?

images-11images-9images-10

There’s a lot going on here and I like it.

I was reading a story online recently by an author whose name escapes me at the moment. I can’t recall the story word for word but it goes something like this:

Guy dies and goes to heaven. God is at the gate. When the man looks around he notices there is no one else there so he asked God, “Where is everybody”? to which God replies, “What do you mean”. The man says “ where are all the other people? The people who have gone to heaven before me? Surely, am not the only one.” God replies: “there are no others, only you.” Confused the man says” but what about all those other people down on earth?” “ All you”, replies God. “ All those other people were you, different versions, difference incarnations of you. When you were helpful to others you were helping yourself, and when you were harmful to others and judging others you were harming yourself”. “ What now?” The man asked? God: “You go back, with this knowledge and try to do better.”

Wouldn’t that be something? If we could keep in mind that we are all in fact just one person, we are all part of the same energy, the same God, the same One? I have long ago dropped any labels to what I might call my spiritual practice. Labels do little more than separate us. Labels can be peeled away to reveal an empty vessel. Labels stick to the bottom of your shoe and annoy you. I believe that religious labels especially keep us boxed in; trapped by a particular belief that limits us to opening out hearts and minds to the greater picture. The Oneness of ourselves and our universe.

unknown-4

That day in our kitchen talking to my mom about the pastor I had asked her a question to which she replied “ I don’t know”. I will always love her for giving me that answer. She didn’t know, and she didn’t claim to know. She didn’t quote scripture or talk about sin or hell or punishment. She simply said “ I don’t know. The longer I live on this earth I find that “ I don’t know” is , quite often, the correct answer and the more I can remember “I don’t know” the more I can continue to stay open to answers and to the voice of God.

Namaste,

JimmyTimages-13

Humility and Ambition or What would Mary Magdalene do?

I’ve never really thought I was very good ay many things. High School for me was miserable and most of my teachers seemed uninspired at best and at worst emotionally unstable. I  had two teachers who had nervous breakdowns and I don’t blame them one bit. The school system did not allow for much grace where teacher’s were concerned.The majority of my teachers seemed bored with their lives and uninterested in mine. There was very little encouragement to explore, create and find something I was good at AND learn how to capitalize on that particular talent. I was blandly taught the basics and in turn, learned to detest school.

The only teachers I ever had to embrace my JimmyT-ness were drama and music teachers. Those were the ones who made high school bearable for me. Many thanks to Vickie, Dan and Marta. You helped shape me into the man I am today…for better or for worse.

As I kid I really didn’t have much interest in many things. I liked stuffed animals and real animals. I liked planets and stars. I liked playing down by the creek with my friend, Ashly. I liked my parents and my grandparents. I liked playing in the yard. I liked music.  I had two older sisters but they were too much older to be a reliable source of entertainment. And I hated being far away from my mom. My favorite times as a kid were with my mom- just doing whatever. It was a challenge to get me to do anything that involved a group of people.   I am actually still kind-of that way (but I have learned to occasionally get beyond my comfort zone) but as a child I became extremely anxious whenever my mom would “drop me off” somewhere to “have fun” with a bunch of other kids. My mother was dedicated (and understandably desperate) to find something for me that I really enjoyed doing. So at the age of 9 I became involved in theatre when my mom took me to an audition for a community production of the Wizard of OZ. I sang “ We Go Together” from Grease-accapella, complete with choreographed hand gestures and I sang the entire song. I was cast as a munchkin. I really wanted to be they Mayor of Munchkin City, but my friend Harry, beat me to it, and I was relegated to Coroner. (I did enjoyed pronouncing the witch dead, though. Good times.) I remember being really nervous in the audition but as soon as the crowd in the audition room began responding positively I knew I had arrived at a pivotal point in my life and I never looked back. Thus my career as a gypsy showman began. And ham.

189723_1012055748957_3416_n
Hambone hambone where ya been?

Up to this time I never felt like I was good at anything. I was interested in science but teachers crushed that dream when they told my I was too weak at math to be any good at it. I hated sports ( you know, the thing ALL boys are supposed to like). I had tried to be good at sport things, but I just wasn’t. When I was about 8 years old, Mom signed me up for T-ball for one miserable summer and I have never been as hot and thirsty in my life as I was standing in the field in 98 degree heat. I really don’t think they allowed us water…at least I don’t remember any. And I remember a lot of old men yelling. I think it’s why I hate the heat to this day. Anytime a fly ball came towards me I wanted to cry. I wanted to be home in the air-conditioning with my dog listening to my Donna Summer album. I could not grasp ( and still can’t) why anyone want to stand around in a dusty field and play catch. And they took it so seriously. Bleh….

FullSizeRender 5.jpg
I would rather do this than play sports.
FullSizeRender 3.jpg
I can out-sass you.
Anyway, when I began performing I had finally found something I was naturally good at. I grew up in a musical family and I could sing. I took to acting like I hooker to a C note and although I never considered myself a dancer my personality was large enough to carry me through. (Keep your eyes on the hands, folks!!) I FINALLY felt like I was GOOD at something. And not just good, but real good. Good enough to make it my career. So, I studied, performed, attended a conservatory in New York and went on to have a decent ( life- sustaining- with- a-little-help-from-the-folks anyway) career. But I think I could have done better. Of course addiction seriously derailed my ambitions (and my ability to walk) but besides that there was always this nagging voice that said “people like you don’t make it big”.  Fast forward to now; I have begun to look at that belief more closely.

I was raised in a humble home. My parents were wonderful, loving, kind and humble people. They taught me and raised me well. They are two of my heroes; children of the 50’s, both of them. And they had certain beliefs one of which was humility was of utmost importance. A fine and important lesson, but I took away another message, or at the very least one that I don’t believe was intended, that has played on a loop in my head ever since then.

FullSizeRender 4.jpg
My dog Abby and my folks. We look humble don’t we?
FullSizeRender.jpg
My maternal Grandfather, me and their dog Tiger. Grandaddy was humble too.

I was raised with the message that ” Yes, you can be anything you want, BUT don’t get your hopes up too high or you’ll end up disappointed”, as though being disappointed was the worst thing in the world. I distinctly remember having conversations when, at age 18, I was preparing to leave for New York about how difficult and rare it is for anyone to be able to make a living in theatre. And they were right. But there must have been a better way to convey the message other than “ Good Luck…you’ll need it”.

My paternal grandfather referred to people who were highly successful and proud of it as “putting on airs”. Anytime I got something new he would make comments about being “ too big for my britches.” So I was encouraged to succeed…but just not too much. You don’t want people to think you’re vain. I learned that I was capable of doing great things…and that a LOT of people are and most of them don’t, so you’ll probably end up sad and alone,in a tattered bathrobe with a bunch of cats. But here’s to giving it the good ol’ college try, (and you’re gonna suck, but we’re proud of you anyway).

Separated at birth?

Then there is recovery. We learn early in recovery that humility is a primary component of staying sober. Many of us have had such a distorted sense of ego that it must be smashed in order for us to experience a new way of life. Whether we have suffered from an inflated “King Baby” attitude or utter self loathing our ego is twisted and garbled and it no longer serves us. In recovery the ego must be adjusted and we must learn to be “right-sized” so that we can function sober in this world with others and learn to get along.

So the question on my mind has been: “How to we take pride in our work, and allow success (and I’m talking big success…and financial security) into our lives AND keep our egos in check? How do I take my work and the livelihood of my family to the next level and open myself up to the abundance of life without sounding like a douchebag while doing it?” That’s really the rub. I don’t want people to think I think I’m all that… but between you and me…I kinda do. In a humble way. I don’t mean in a way that says that I believe I am better than anyone, that’s incredibly far from the truth…I quite often feel worse (ego-maniac with low self-esteem table for one, please), but in a way that says, “I am worthy”. I do feel like I have gifts to offer and I want to share them with he world- The big wide world. I want to create change for the better. I want to help others learn to heal themselves. I want to help people experience the same kind of freedom from addiction and joy in recovery as I have. The world is a broken place and I want to help it heal.

SO THE QUESTION: How do we stay humble and not sell ourselves short?

I think it begins with not being afraid of what others might think. If I am honest and sincere and my motives are good (which I always check with my husband and my sponsor) then It really doesn’t matter if someone thinks I’m a conceited jerkface, or an egotistical D-bag or whatever they may think. I know I’m not, the people in my life know I’m not, and the people who love me know. And that’s enough. And secondly ( and it ties into the first) not being afraid to speak up and let the world know I’m here, I’m available and I want to help. And third not being afraid to ask for what I need. My time and my energy and my resources are valuable and I don’t have to give everything away for free. I look around and I see millions of people doing what they love, doing and living well. There is no reason in the world that I can’t do that too, other than a limited, outdated belief system. And no, it’s not all about the money, but the money sure as shit would be nice.

I have excellent mentors today who inspire me to continue to do good, (most importantly) ethically sound work and at the same time reach for the stars. Yet the old tapes continue to play. Meditation has begun to bring into my awareness solutions and part of the solution is to write it all out; get it out of my head. When I do that, it quiets the volume on the tape.

 

Fear. It always come down to fear doesn’t it? Self- centered fear. Fear that we might be judged as stupid, conceited, clueless…whatever… Maybe it’s the fear that we may actually succeed big time and God forbid, be responsible for something. But you know the bigger fear I have? It’s waking up from my autopilot in 30 years and thinking “Why didn’t I try harder? Why didn’t I just GO FOR IT?” That would really suck. Plus, I want a beach house.

653f9421412aea53e74449e11bcac99b
   This dog is not afraid to shine.                               

“Don’t hide your light under a bushel”. That’s in the Bible, ya’ll. I’m no Bible expert but I think Mary Magdalene probably said it. I mean, she was all about light and bushels. She got a bum rap, too. She had sass. She had spirit. Screw those villagers with their torches and pitch forks. I’ve always liked Mary Magdalene, seems like my kinda gal. I think she would have liked me too. And I’m quite sure she would have told me to go for it.

So here’s to you Mary! I’m sorry everyone treated you so mean.

images-1.jpeg
 WWMMD? (Yeah, It’s Grace)

Namaste,

JimmyT

The Great Chicken Mystery

A couple of years ago my husband and I decided to add to our flock. We began raising chickens as a hobby back in 2011 and have had a lot of fun with them. We love being outside in the yard and raising chickens has been a really fun project. They are sweet, ridiculous creatures and the eggs are great! We had lost a couple of chickens to a hawk and another , a rescue chicken (who had been abused by a rooster and fallen on hard times) named Helen literally flew the coop. She was kind of a bitch and never really played nice so we weren’t all that sad. The last time I saw her was on a Facebook post; someone in my neighborhood posted a picture of her struttin’ her stuff down at the park. She looked happy. But I digress…

img_0238
I don’t know what I’m doing.
So we were down a few chickens and decided to head out to Southern States to purchase a few new peeps. Southern States sells baby chickens in the spring for a couple of months and you have to get them while they have them. I’ve never ordered chickens online but I think you can. The idea of a box of chickens traveling cross-country makes me kind of sad though. Anyway we went to Southern States and picked out 2 chickens and a guinea hen. The hen was Dan’s idea. I had heard they were loud. They are.

img_0121
This is how you buy them.
We made our way home and settled them into their temporary residential quarters: the bathtub in our downstairs bathroom. Baby chiclets have to be raised inside until their feathers come in and it becomes warm enough to transfer them to the coop. Then you have to separate them and acclimate them to the older chickens lest they be mauled in a hideous chicken riot, which I have unfortunately witnessed in the past and am still traumatized by to this day. It’s a whole process, but one I really don’t mind. So I covered the bottom of the tub with shavings and gave them food and water and a heat lamp that must stay on so they can stay warm.The set up worked well- like the Embassy Suites for chickens- and the tub keeps the dust from going everywhere. We gave them some tiny chicken toys. We named them. The little white one -Elsa, the darker one- Buzz and the guinea is Kiki.

We try to spend some time each day holding them and socializing with the baby chickens because the more you do that the more affectionate and social they are as adults. And we love a good chicken social. I mean who doesn’t? So I am very in tune with my chickens ( all my animals, really) and I started becoming concerned when I noticed they were getting these read bumps on their necks. Nothing causes me more stress than when I feel there is something wrong with one my animals so I immediately began searching the google for chicken illnesses and cures.

img_6642
Embassy Suites
Similar to trying to diagnose yourself on WebMD, a web search for chicken disease is a rabbit hole of doom and despair. Everything is fatal, everything is easy to contract and you probably have it so just give up now. But fortunately the symptoms “red bumps on chicken’s neck” produced relatively benign results: Mites, perhaps scabies, or maybe just a little rash…fairly easy things to treat. I poured over chicken blogs and chicken info carefully and the solution seemed to be a chicken bath and coop and chicken dusting with diatomaceous earth. OK. I can handle that.

I shopped for my chicken supplies and prepared to de-mite. I gave each little chicken ( by now about 8 weeks old) a bath in the kitchen sink. Remarkably, chickens enjoy a warm bath. They settle in and just let you soap them up and rinse them off with the sprayer. Like a dish. I carefully bundled them in a warm towel making sure they were good and dry before placing them back in the chicken pen. Once dry you have to actually dust the chicken by picking it up and kinda holding it upside down to dust it and get the powder all up under their wings. They don’t like that too much. I also had to dust ALL the other chickens in case they had been exposed to these vile mites, or fleas, or whatever. Nine chickens in all. I wrangled and dusted nine chickens, changed the bedding in the hen-house, dusted the coop and all around the pen. I was covered in diatomaceous earth from head to toe. But I felt satisfied. The babies would be OK and they wouldn’t have itchy necks. I slept good that night.

A few weeks go by and one day while observing them I noticed the new chickens looked …well…they looked kinda ugly. I mean I hated to admit that, but they were kinda like the ugly ducklings. That’s what it reminded me of. I guess that’s what it must feel like to have an ugly child…rather disappointing. And they weren’t really socializing with the other chickens. The introduction of the new chickens to the older ones had been really easy. No fighting, no pecking, nothing. Strangely easy. I called Dan out to the take a look. “Do those chickens look weird to you?” I asked. He looked and said, well…they’re just kinda strange-looking, maybe they are a different breed.” ( we thought they were Americauna’s- the SIGN said AMERICAUNA’S!!) “Maybe the sign was wrong”, he said,” they kinda look like wild chickens.”Now, I have no idea what a “wild chicken” looks like but my husband is a smart guy so I went with it. OK, I thought. We have wild chickens. They definitely aren’t as pretty as my other chickens but they are really sweet and I will love them just like all the others.

So as the chickens got older they continued to look weirder, but I had accepted them as they were and loved them so I really stopped giving it much thought. They were still adolescents, about 9 weeks old, and I thought maybe they will grow into their looks. I mean, most teenagers and ugly,  right? Gangly and awkward at the very least. And most of the them turn out relatively normal looking. 

So that was my thinking when my friend Jennifer stopped by one day to visit with her daughter. I had been telling her about the ugly chickens and she said he HAD to come over and see. We made our way into the back yard and down to the chicken coop. The chickens were hanging out doing their chicken thang. “Look” I said, aren’t they the strangest chickens you’ve ever seen? I’m kinda worried they’re sick”. Jennifer took one look at them and without batting an eye said, “well, I know what your problem is…that’s not a chicken, that’s a fuckin’ turkey.”

Turkey….TURKEY… a fuckin’ turkey…the words rattled around in my brain trying to find a place to rest. A box to fit into. But…but…the sign said…the sign said….chick…chi…turk…ok ,ok…yes YES of course…that IS a fuckin’ TURKEY! It was like scales had fallen from my eyes. I had never even considered they might be ANYTHING other than a chicken. I mean, I bought chickens. I raised chickens. I have fed, and cooed, and bathed, and loved CHICKENS. And they’re turkeys. Interlopers. And ya’ll I’m not dumb. I KNOW what a turkey looks like…but when they are little, they look EXACTLY THE SAME. EXACTLY. They look the same ya’ll…they do!

Dan and I stood there kinda quiet for a minute allowing the realization to settle in while Jennifer and her daughter laughed and laughed and laughed. “What are you gonna do” She asked me? “Well, I guess we’re gonna raise them”, I said, “I mean, they’re ours… they’re like our weird, ugly children but I love them. I can’t turn my back on the turkeys…How big do turkeys get”, I asked. “BIG” she said.

img_8244
Buzz and Elsa…and that’s Kiki’s rump behind buzz. These 3 are inseperable.
So we now have two 40 pound turkeys who have commandeered the back yard. They are friggin’ huge, y’all. And stubborn, And they are sweet. We made them their own little ramshackle turkey hut because they were too big to fit into the chicken coop ( and apparently turkeys and chickens should not sleep together). They have very social personalities…sometimes too social and they tend to make people nervous. Which makes me laugh. They have a menacing look on their faces at all times, which also makes me laugh. Especially because they are so sweet. They come up to us and will pull on our shirt tail when they want attention. Buzz occasionally pecks at toe and fingernails and jewelry. Buzz and our dog Franklin actually play…like really play with sticks and stuff. The puppy, Fiona, guards herself against them ( she’s gotten too close and received a peck on the snoot). They cats eye them suspiciously and keep a wide berth. It’s like friggin’ animal planet back there. We call it The Big Gay Chicken Ranch.

And it’s a good time, ya’ll. A real good time.

Namaste,
JimmyT

October Is The Month of JimmyT

First of all and most importantly October contains the most fabulous of holidays, Halloween. Secondly it contains my birthday. Here are the reasons why October is the best month of the year.

img_4499

OK, well I just mentioned two. Now, I’ve never been one to call much attention to my birthday. As an adult I have never had a party or even gotten together with friends for dinner. I’ve always felt this almost passive-aggressive need to downplay my birthday and then to feel sorry for myself when the day actually comes and the only acknowledgements I get are a lousy sheet cake from my co-workers ( yes, yes It’s nice they remembered…meh), $25 dollar check from my mom and some birthday booty from the hubster. I took cynical delight in watching the faces of dear friends when they realized they had forgotten my birthday.”It’s ok” I would say, knowing they felt a sliver of guilt. In reality they had not forgotten anything, I had just failed to mention it. On purpose.

But NO MORE! As of this year I am coming OUT of the birthday closet and I am dressed to kill. I told my husband a couple of days ago that October was heretofore to be known as:

The 31 Days of JimmyT

And yesterday I got an Asian Spice Reed Diffuser from Pier one from Dan, so it’s working.

fullsizerender
Simone and the Asian Spice Reed Diffuser

This year I am celebrating everything October, including me. I adore the chilly fall air, building fires in the fireplace, the sense that the earth is preparing for her rest, and I’m so, ever so, happy that kids are back in school and not wilding around the shopping center where they seem to be all summer long. I love the colors of fall, the clothes and boots and long dark evenings.

And I ADORE Halloween. It really is the best holiday in my book. The “thinning of the veil” between the worlds where the natural and supernatural become seemingly inseparable. I have always been a firm believer in all things supernatural. paranormal and mystical and during this time the energies resonate with me so profoundly that I can feel it in my bones, like a tiny buzzing vibration. Like a bee. A very tiny, devilish bee.

img_1767
Mr. Bones

I haven’t decided if I want to gather people for the occasion of my birthday. I have a thing about parties. That thing is, I don’t like them. Or at least I’ve convinced myself I don’t like them. I’m not sure which. I used to think I liked them, but looking back I think it was the vodka. I tend to get overwhelmed in large groups and confused.  I get nervous. My upper lip sweats. They can seem like a good idea and then about a week before comes the sense of dread and the scrambling to find reasons to cancel. BUT I love gifts. So there in lies the connundrum.

Please note, that I am NOT including Pumpkin Spice anything in the list of reasons to celebrate October. I just can’t with that.

So I shall meditate and let life unfold. I have outed myself ( My birthday is October 23) and I have alerted my husband that daily gifts would be appreciated. He alerted me that I better alert 30 more people so please share.  Happy October everyone.

Namaste,

JimmyT

12-Step, Mindfulness, Meditation and DBT: A Path Towards Recovery

unknown-3

About 4 years into my sobriety I became bored. Although I considered my 12-step program to be strong, something was missing. I was attending meetings, working with a sponsor and doing everything I knew to do, yet I was dry. My Spiritual life was on hold and my luster for life had become dull, flat and boring. After attending a weekend convention I called my sponsor to ask for his guidance.
“Something doesn’t feel right” I said. “I don’t know what it is, but I just feel stuck. I’m not necessarily unhappy, but, I mean…is this all there is?”
I told my sponsor I thought I needed to work through the 12 steps again ( sponsors love it when you tell them what you think you need) . My sponsor asked me how much I was meditating. “Um….well..I think about meditating a lot”, I said.
“Yeah”, he said, “that sounds about right. I tell you what, I don’t think you need to re-work the steps, I think you need to spend some time on Step 11

1269562868-change-adapting-quote

My sponsor has always given me strong guidance and this time was no exception. Step 11 suggests “prayer and meditation” in an effort to improve our spiritual lives and although I am not a religious person, prayer was a pretty regular part of my routine. Meditation however had been something I have conveniently overlooked.

So we began to meet weekly to investigate meditation together and this was the beginning of something that has improved the quality of my life more than I could have even imagined. Now don’t get me wrong, my meditation practice is far from perfect. I am not a meditation master nor have I had mystical experiences, but I have experienced a profound shift in my thinking and my reaction to life. In other words I can tell a difference in my life during times when I am meditating on a regular basis versus times when I am not.

The effectiveness of meditation led me to begin studying mindfulness which is the foundation of all Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” DBT is that delicate balance of acceptance and change; a dance between the ability to accept ourselves (and our thoughts and emotions) exactly as we are in each moment, without self-loathing, self-pity or judgement and the ability to work towards changing problems in our thinking and behaviors that lead us to suffering, acting- out and negative consequences

So often it seems we go through our busy lives unaware of what is going on in our minds and in our hearts; we are all on a fast track to the next appointment or obligation forgetting that we are human beings with thoughts and emotions that if left unchecked spiral out of control or at best keep us stuck in unhealthy thinking patterns that prevent us from moving forward in our lives. To put it in DBT terms” DBT believes that “ All people at any given point are doing the best they can” and “people need to do better, try harder and be more motivated for change”.

DBT was created by Marsha M. Linehan, PhD and focus on learning to balance the acceptance and change through four modules of therapy: Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Distress Tolerance and Emotion Regulation. Each module requires mindfulness practice as the foundational skill for that module. To quote Lenehan, “ We can contrast mindfulness with rigidly clinging to the present moment as if we could keep a present moment from changing if we cling hard enough. When we are mindful, we are open to the fluidity of each moment as it arises and falls away.”

What has been discovered is that DBT, an evidence based treatment, is effective in helping people with addiction learn to become mindful of triggers, emotional upsets and unhealthy thinking patterns and learn the skills necessary to become effective in their lives in recovery. DBT shares many views and beliefs with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, noting that unwanted thoughts and behaviors are learned and reinforced. DBT believes that the interaction between two factors increases the chances of persistent mental health issues:

Emotional vulnerability.
Invalidating environments.

Someone that is emotionally vulnerable will feel like their life is turbulent and extreme, and they will be quick to respond with strong emotional reactions. This vulnerability can be caused by traumatic events or from the individual’s natural disposition ( i.e. they are simply born that way).
An invalidating environment is where someone is consistently made to feel as though their feelings are wrong or “bad.” A lack of kindness, respect, acceptance or simply not understanding the person with emotional vulnerability can produce an invalidating environment.

DBT includes a level of optimism that is not found usually in CBT. DBT conveys that:
People are doing the best they can in their current situation.
They want situations to improve.
People are capable of learning new behaviors to change their lives.
The problems are not always the person’s fault, but it is their duty to resolve it.

As mentioned, DBT is focused on creating an effective environment for the client to learn and practice skills. The primary skills addressed in DBT are:
Mindfulness. This is the act of being completely aware and engaged in one’s current setting. People with mental health or substance use issues often spend increased time distracting themselves, thinking about the past, or worrying about the future.

Mindfulness is the practice of being fully immersed in the here and now, with kindness and curiosity towards one’s current experience.
Distress tolerance: When people experience distress, there is an urge to reduce or change it immediately. Using a substance during periods of stress is an example of an unhealthy way to manage distress. Distress tolerance teaches how to accept and tolerate distress rather than escape from it.
Interpersonal effectiveness: When communication and conflict resolution skills are lacking, problems increase. DBT teaches people to learn how to have happier, more fulfilling relationships through effective interactions with others.
Emotional regulation: This is another example of dialectics. Distress tolerance moves towards acceptance while emotional regulation works to identify unwanted feelings and find ways to change them.
These skills are so effective that other styles of therapy have borrowed them and currently use them in a number of settings.

DBT Skills Training in not group therapy and processing of important client issues are reserved for individual counseling. The Skills group focuses on teaching DBT skills with homework given and participants practicing each skill between sessions. Homework review with each client sharing his or her experience utilizing the skill is done at the beginning of each session followed by discussion and teaching of the next skill. It is a requirement in most DBT Skills groups that each participant have an individual counseling session each week.

I have been studying DBT for the past year and the mindfulness practices have absolutely informed my meditation allowing me the ability to slow my mind, consider facts vs thoughts and feelings more regularly, and to bring a new sense of ease and freedom into my life.

unknown-4

Jimmy Tunstall is a counselor and Resident Manager for a residential sober living program offering clinical services in North Carolina. He works with individuals and groups. He is Certified Peer Support Specialist and Certified Substance Abuse Counselor-Intern. He believes in healing in all of it’s forms and that each individual is unique and deserves to be treated with dignity, respect and kindness.  He offers a wide variety of options for pursuing and strengthening recovery with client-centered guidance.

Namaste,

JimmyT