Sunday, December 27, 2009

The best present

This Christmas I gave myself the best gift—an endorsement.

When my relatives were debating a particular religious view on which I did not agree, I controlled my speech muscles by not voicing my opinion. Before Recovery I would have felt compelled to share my perspective, which inevitably would have led to an argument and tension on a day in which we are supposed to celebrate harmony and tolerance. So instead of seeking a symbolic victory by trying to prove that my beliefs are the "right" ones, I simply focused on something else while they discussed their opinions. And, of course, before long the topic changed. I chose peace over power and was group minded. I didn't allow the need to be "right" take over my day and avoided the resulting confusion, doubt, and anger. Essentially, I practiced what Recovery and Christmas are all about.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tolerating discomfort

One of the most difficult things we are challenged to do in our Recovery training is to not work up our symptoms. When our pulse quickens, our mind races, our eyes blur, it’s so easy to give into these feelings, accept them as valid, and react accordingly.

Yet Dr. Low challenged us to not let these feelings overtake our lives. He reminded us that “feelings are not facts” and that while feelings and sensations cannot be controlled, we can control our thoughts and impulses—our reactions to these disturbances.

Essentially Dr. Low was telling us to just keep moving on with our lives—no matter how uncomfortable we may feel. This can be extremely challenging because fearful symptoms can be extremely convincing. But Dr. Low assured us that if we truly have the will to bear discomfort, our symptoms will abate. We will improve. That is the promise of Recovery.

So when I spot myself working myself up, one of my favorite tools to use is to remind myself that these are just sensations—and sensations might be distressing, but they are not dangerous. And because feelings are not facts, I can continue with the task at hand no matter what my symptoms are. This sense of empowerment and hope makes me so glad that this year I discovered Recovery.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I am an apprentice

Dr. Low made it clear that practicing Recovery means really applying the method—not just understanding it. I find myself spotting angry temper flares most easily. These are not as common as my flares of fearful temper, so in general I’m able to quickly spot and not begin a vicious cycle.

It’s a different story with fearful temper. Usually I’m “on edge” all day, so it’s difficult to “continuously” spot and reassure myself with secure thoughts and the Recovery tools. It takes a lot of work, in fact. I know intellectually what I’m supposed to do, but I often feel I’m not applying the method effectively.

Yet I know enough about Recovery to accept that this is just an average situation. There’s no need to work up these feelings, and the best course of action is to continue reading the books, attending meetings, and applying the method.

So when I read Dr. Low’s lecture on apprenticeship I felt much better about my progress. He reminds us that we are apprentices learning a new skill, and this is accomplished neither quickly nor easily:

“What would happen to our workers—to our craftsmen—if, when they begin their apprenticeship, they should become discouraged the first day? We would have no craftsmen. And yet that is what our patients do. They have a passion for becoming discouraged. They have a passion to be discouraged, and that means they don’t consider themselves apprentices.” (1)

Looking at recovery from nervous conditions as an apprenticeship is a refreshing perspective. Not only does it make sense, it is a much more authentic philosophy than many of the anxiety “quick fixes” that are hawked. Once again, Dr. Low’s enduring wisdom shines through.

1. Low AA. Lecture 11: The patient is an apprentice. In: Manage Your Fears, Manage Your Anger: A Psychiatrist Speaks. Glencoe, Il.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1995; 57-64.