Addiction Management Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Add new tag’

Ah-hah moments to move beyond addiction

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

Not long after my wife and I were married, we decided to proactively increase our chances of staying together by enrolling in one of Dr. John Gottman’s weekend couples workshops in Seattle. At the time I was deeply immersed in my graduate studies in counseling and was excited to spend some time with the world-famous marriage guru. What I had not realized was that 1000 other people would be crammed into the Seattle Center taking the workshop as well, so my chances of a little one-on-one time were not so good. Fortunately, he circulated around while we all were doing exercises and I told my wife that if he ever came within 200 yards we should wave our hands wildly and grab his attention.

The moment came and sure enough my plan worked. He sat down and we began talking about some martial issue that escapes me now. During our conversation I began challenging him a bit about how people really change behavior, at which point he brought up focusing. Because I had told him I was nearing completion of my graduate program he assumed I would know all about focusing, but my deer-in-the-headlights response gave me away. I had to admit that never in any of my classes had the word focusing ever been mentioned. I was clueless and a bit embarrassed. He said it was the key to behavior change and I needed to know about it.

focusing_book_2007_medCoincidentally, the relative I mentioned a couple of blog posts ago who had given me a bunch of psychology books, had included the book  Focusing! Written in the 1970s by Eugene Gendlin, the book is based on about two decades of research analyzing what happens in therapy sessions that explain good outcomes. What Gendlin found is that it has little to do with the therapist or the specific type of therapy one gets, and far more to do with what happens inside the client. In essence, he discovered that positive outcomes occur when clients have “ah-hah” moments during sessions that awaken them to deeper truths about themselves and life. These moments occur when we (and clients) go inside and connect with what he calls a felt sense – a pre-verbal inner knowledge or awareness that comes from paying attention to an integrated and holistic aspect of our being that we can access at any time. If this sounds a little new-agey it really is not, it is just hard to describe something that cannot be easily put into words.

Have you ever lost your keys and banged your head against a wall trying to remember where you left them? No matter how hard you try nothing seems to work. So you go on to something else and then, in the middle of folding laundry, it hits you. You remember exactly where you left them! That moment of remembering is what Gendlin would call a felt-sense, an ah-hah moment that awakened you to an answer that previously was outside your awareness. While focusing can help you find your keys, it really has the power to change your life.

Focusing is the name Gendlin uses to describe the six-step process he developed for helping people – both and in out of therapy – have felt-sense experiences to solve a multitude of life problems, including addiction! If you have never heard about it, I really encourage you to check out the focusing website and read one of the many books written on the topic. What started as a little research project in Chicago in the 1950s has evolved into one of the greatest tools we have for overcoming addiction.

The trauma of death…and the gift of life

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

It was just like any other day, arriving home from high school, popping into the kitchen for a snack. The phone rang and I can still hear the words of my best friend’s older brother as if it was yesterday … ”John, you should sit down. Last night Doug took his life.” Let me be clear, Doug was not an addict. He was an exercise fiend and taught me the ways of the gym, inspiring me to never stop lifting weights. His death was a tragedy, the end result of an intractable seasonal affective disorder that left him incapacitated during the winter months. I was asked to be a pallbearer at the funeral, and remember very little from the experience. It was emotionally overwhelming…traumatic to say the least.

Only recently have I began to understand how significant his death has been in my life, and how early trauma has played a role in my experiencing numerous deaths as traumatic. A few years ago very close friends all died tragically in a plane crash in Alaska, and a couple of years ago a cousin took his own life. Collectively, these events have made it very difficult for me to be completely conscious, emotionally open, and accepting of death when it occurs. For many who struggle with addiction, death is one of those topics that goes straight to the core. In fact, death goes deep with all of us.

It is challenging to fully live in the present if we have not faced on some level our own mortality. More and more I find myself staring into the mirror wondering “who is that guy“…wondering where the youthful look, hair, and energy have gone. As I watch my son with boundless energy want to stay up all night building legos, I remember the late nighters in college that came effortlessly. Now, I can’t wait to crawl into bed early and let my body rest. Perhaps it has something to do with the increasing pace of life, but I know also that before long (if it has not already happened), I will be on the downside of the curve. Life is finite, my own death inevitable. I also know that as I grow older I will increasingly lose those I love most. But the gift of life is that we can use it to prepare for death – our own and others. It should not be an overwhelming, paralyzing experience. How am I working the issue of death?

  • Trauma resolution: I am identifying traumatic life events, particularly those that have been closely linked to death, and then slowly, safely, allowing myself to connect the memories to the emotional experiences. Trauma work ultimately is about integration: head, heart, body, mind, spirit, feelings, thoughts, behaviors - all aligned.
  • Meditation: I find meditating on death a great way to peel the onion, remove the layers of fear, and connect with a core part of myself that does not fear dying and realizes that we ultimately die as we live.
  • Meaning/Purpose: As I get older I realize more and more the importance of identifying what gives my life meaning, and then aligning my actions with that purpose. Family first, everything else second.
  • Grief/Sadness:  I feel…experience…stay with…breath…
  • Unfinished Business: I know there will always be unfinished business, that is part of life. So for me this really is about the present, and how I am spending my time. It’s not so much how many “to do’s” I was able to check off the list, but more about whether I had the right things on the list to begin with.
  • Visit those who are gone: No, I don’t participate in seances, but visting the gravesites of those I have known is a concrete way to embrace my own mortality.
  • Faith: It all comes down to faith, the forcefield of life. Death is the great mystery, and what’s on the otherside is reflected in my relationship to that which is beyond myself. The infinite.

The power to create and move beyond addiction

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

Long-term success in dealing with addiction requires more than a focus on pathology and problems. It requires time and attention to building a life worth living, where intimate relationships with people play a crucial role in happiness. It also necessitates a deepening sense of humanity, empathy for our fellow human beings, a sense of wonder, engaging our creative natural talents, and perseverance to deal with all that life throws our way. The actor, Robert Downey Jr., when asked about his addiction not long ago, said:

rdj“Life is 70% maintenance. I think of myself as a shopkeeper or bee keeper. I’m learning the business of building a life. Instead of getting instant gratification by getting high, I push my nose as far into the grindstone as I can. The honey, the reward, is the feeling of well-being, the continuity, the sense that I am walking toward the place I want to go.”

Unfortunately, many who struggle with addiction have no idea where they want to go in life, or what they might want to create. If you are an artist or musician creativity comes with the territory, but for the rest of us -  the power of creativity can remain illusive. One reason is that the process of creating is not taught in our educational system, and in fact, Sir Ken Robinson has spoken out strongly on how our current system actually does the opposite (please watch this amazing presentation – you will not be disappointed). But all is not lost…

metowe1Recently, I picked-up a book at a bake sale that brilliantly answers the question of what we should create in our life and how to go about making it happen:  Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World by Craig and Marc Kielburger. These two Canadian brothers reveal through their own journeys how a focus on gratitude, empathy, and creating community leads to a life of happiness and fulfillment beyond any material possessions. From their personal encounters with Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta, to helping those dying of AIDS in Thailand, to creating one of the largest non-profit foundations for children, Free the Children, these guys provide the broad brush strokes for how to create a life more powerful than addiction. The essence of me to we is that by helping others we help ourselves find meaning and purpose in life – and we make the world a better place. What I like most about me to we is that it ultimately is about creating nurturing relationships with people – exactly what needs to happen if we are to move beyond addiction.