On a More Personal Note

I have been writing my blog for a few years and I have rarely spoken about myself and my own struggles. Having started my own journey of recover nearly 30 years ago, I have a great deal of experience and knowledge about all the skills I have shared with my readers. I have also learned from all the people I have counseled over the last 20 years. I hope that some of you have benefited from my blog.

One thing I have to keep in mind is the phrase: progress not perfection. No one, including me, has ever done this perfectly. I am a work in progress like everyone else who is in the process of change and growth. I suffered from chronic depression and addictive behaviors for most of my life as well as poor self-esteem. Although I have experienced a tremendous improvement in the quality of my life, I also have my struggles. I sometimes find it difficult to apply all the coping skills I know. There times I have to work hard to focus on the things I need to and stay in the present.

I have my own philosophy of life: Life is to be enjoyed. I work every day to make that a reality. One of the ways I stay focused is by writing this blog. It has great value to my life. I hope it has value to yours.

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Experiencing Loss and Overcoming It

One thing we have in common is the experience of loss. No one goes through life without experiencing some degree of loss at some point. Sometimes the losses are minor (a small amount of money, changing jobs, moving from one city to another). Other times they are more significant (the death of a parent or spouse or child, loss of a relationship, a betrayal, loss of something we are unable to replace, economic reversal). No one wants to have these experiences, and rarely are we prepared for them.
When we experience loss, what we feel is pain, but often we cannot identify exactly what it is about the loss that is causing the pain. We miss whatever we have lost and it just hurts.
This emotional distress comes mostly from two sources. First, the realization of how little control we have over what we experience in life. This realization is both frightening and depressing. We feel helpless and are powerless to control the situation. We want to regain a sense of control.
Secondly, what was lost occupied a part of our lives. It had meaning for us and took up space in our day to day living that was either physical or emotional or both. This leaves a void, and a longing to fill it. We feel empty inside and it is deeply upsetting. Many of us try filling the void with activities, a new relationship and/or, material things. Many of us turn to substances or addictive behaviors in order to avoid these feelings, but nothing we do can replace what we have lost. We struggle with our feelings and want the pain to stop.
The only way to heal is to allow the grieving process to run its course. It is important to avoid pushing those feelings away no matter how much we want to. Feel them for as long as you need to. Cry until you stop crying. No one can tell you how long this process will take. We will eventually release the pain and other people and things will enter our lives to fill the void. We will also begin to feel we have more control over what happens to us.
Allow yourself to heal. Repressing or denying your feelings will only lengthen the process and could result in prolonged depression and anxiety. Allow yourself to feel your feelings without judging them or yourself. Find ways to express them. Keep a journal and write as often as you need. Rely on friends and family for support. That is what a support system is for. The use of drugs and alcohol really won’t help and might make things worse. There is no timetable for grief. But, remember that you will heal. Those feelings will not last forever.

Living In the Real World

Whenever someone famous commits suicide people are affected in different ways. There is usually the surprise and shock associated with the sudden death. There are the questions of why and how could they? Most of them have achieved success and wealth and have adoring fans. Why would a person who seems to have it all want to end their life? They live in the real world just like you and I.

When these people appeared in the public eye they seemed so happy and positive and full of energy. It seemed their lives were so easy and they were able to have whatever they desired. What we saw was just a snapshot of their life. What we saw was only what they wanted us to see. What we saw was actually fantasy and not reality. These celebrities lived in the real world as we all do. They all had a history of life experiences, tragedies, losses, as well as the happy times and successes. Some had medical issues. Others had mental health and substance abuse problems. It is not easy living your life in the public eye. It affects how others see them as well as making it more difficult to have stable relationships. They lived in the real world and what the rest of us see is merely an illusion.

Just like the rest of us, life sometimes gets to be too much to deal with. Feelings of desperation and helplessness and hopelessness take over. It seems there is no way out other than to put an ending to it all. They lived in the real world.

If you look at what you think their lives have been and compare them to your own remember that you live in the real world too.

Choices

Most of us grow up exposed to the habits and beliefs of our families of origin. We learn from them the way to do things and the way to think about and see things. Most of our beliefs come directly from them. It is common to adopt those beliefs or rebel and do the opposite of what we were taught. Neither is the best approach to life. Most of us grow up limited in our exposure to the variety of options available to us. My experience with clients and people entering a recovery process is the common view of seeing things in black and white.

Black and white and all or nothing thinking can cause people problems and inhibit their ability to solve problems and succeed in life. Many of us go through life unaware of how limited we are by our inability to recognize all the choices we have and choices we never consider as options. We have the beliefs we learn as children and carry with us into adulthood. Many of those beliefs do not apply to our adult lives. We have many choices for how we interpret the world around us. Keep this in mind. Many things mean many different things to many different people.

Most people tend to do what they are in the habit of doing and what is most comfortable for them. If we have not be raised in an environment of exploration and being open to new ideas it is difficult to go out of our comfort zone. We have to learn to think outside the box and explore all possible option in order to make better decisions and have a more fulfilling life. It is important to avoid black and white thinking and be able to see all the shades of grey.

Communication: The importance of Honesty

When we first meet someone most of us tend to be pretty open about whom we are, our likes and dislikes, as well as our sexual preferences. After all, we have nothing to lose and can easily move on to another potential partner. I have observed over the years that couples tend to become less open and honest about their feelings, thoughts, or desires because of potential conflict or being judged by their partner. Over time they have more and more of an investment in the relationship and more and more to lose.

They eventually get into a pattern of being whom or what they think their partner wants them to be and hide who they really are. They are not intentionally deceiving their partner. They are, “not wanting to hurt them” or “avoiding a potential fight” or “they won’t understand.” They take the path of less resistance. In fact, this attitude and belief places barriers to communication and intimacy. This is very destructive to the relationship and lays a foundation of false security and can be very manipulative (even if that is not the intention). Ultimately it is disrespectful of the partner and the relationship.

It can be very difficult to maintain vulnerability with a partner and risk being judged by someone who’s opinion of us is extremely valuable to us. But, in order for relationships to continue to grow and be healthy both partners need to take the more difficult path and stay open and honest even if we are certain our partner will react in a less than positive manner. Without the facts, you and your partner will be unable to explore differences and resolve conflicts. You just pretend.

When couples come for counseling, all the things that were unsaid, all the anger and resentment that grew over time shocks, surprises, hurts, and angers the partners. They find out all the things they never knew. It is far easier to deal with these issues as the surface than having them all dumped at one time.

My advice to couples is to stay honest and open and vulnerable. If your partner is to have a relationship with and love you, then make sure it is you they see and not some version of you that you are trying to project. Who you are is good enough whether your partner agrees with you or not.

Improve Your Relationship

The biggest problem couples seem to have lies in communication. Being able to engage in open, honest, and effective communication is central to maintaining a healthy and rewarding relationship. Mis-communication increases conflict and stress and can ruin relationships. Listening and understanding what your partner is saying is crucial to good communication. It is helpful to reflect back to your partner your understanding of what they say. “What you said was…….. Is that correct?” Make sure what they intended to communicate is what you understand. Make sure they understand what you are trying to communicate. This will go a long way toward decreasing unnecessary conflicts.

If you believe communication is problem in your relationship add this simple step. It will help you and your parent be more effective communicating with each other and improve your relationship.