Sunday, February 12, 2017

mindfulness for the over-full mind

"Mindfulness."  It's the answer, right?  It's the way to still yourself and keep your brain from making you absolutely crazy with what-if and why and when and how.  It's easy.  Just stop thinking about stuff.

Uhhh . . . .WHAT!?  Have you ever tried this?  If you are literally able to just not think about stuff you don't want to think about . . . well, I just don't believe you.  I don't think anyone can do that, unless it's your brain cutting up and stuffing highly traumatic memories to protect you.  Maybe you can will yourself to stop thinking.  I absolutely, positively, cannot.

I have struggled with fixation and repetitive thoughts since I was a child.  Delving deep on things has been a hallmark of mine, and it has yielded expertise on a lot of subjects.  Ask me about nearly any topic, and I will have considered it carefully, and usually have some kind of theory regarding it.  This predisposition to mulling has also yielded endless amounts of suffering, as I'm unable to release my mind from thoughts of certain situations and people.  

Sometimes it's struggling with regret about how I handled certain things (depression).  Most of the time it's fretfulness about what the future holds (anxiety).  Most of us will tend in one of those two directions.  Neither of which allow you to hold a soft focus on what is happening right now.

I know that disciplining my mind is part of the path toward freedom from this.  However, self-discipline is not my strong suit.  I have needed a lot of help to even begin on this journey.  The following techniques have been pretty crucial for me to kind of get some "handles" on this whole "mindfulness" idea.  

1)  check in with your senses.

This is going to sound so simple that it's painful.  I'm a Myers-Briggs INTJ.  That N stands for iNtuiting,  This basically means that I'm more concerned with meaning-making than with sensory input.  I have always been this way.  I take a little bit of information and extrapolate HUGE amounts of crap from it.  So, something that's helpful for me to get out of this endless cycle of thought is to just ask what my five senses are apprehending.  When my brain gets a little circle-y, I literally ask myself:  "what do I taste?  what do I smell?  what do I see?  what do I hear?  what does my skin feel?"  I try not to chase "why?" in response to any of these senses.  I just get the sensory input.

2)  twelve-step.

I have long posited that pretty much anyone on earth could benefit from being in Al-Anon.  It's just an all-around good way to live your life, focused on yourself and your potential and what you can control (which is most decidedly NOT other people).  One particular part of the program that is great is the focus on today.  I tend to get in a really bad place when I start thinking about endlessness.  What if my current feelings continue forever?  What if my life never changes?  What if there is never resolution?  One of the foundational pieces of recovery-based thinking is that you just can't live this way.  Sometimes, you can only think about what's going to happen in the next hour.  Maybe the next few hours.  Maybe the whole day.  But don't think about tomorrow or next week or next year.  "Just for today."  For an addict this may look like:  "I won't use until after lunch."  After lunch:  "I can make it till after dinner."  After dinner:  "I can make it until bedtime."  Just sub in whatever is your current fixation or struggle.  

3)  Headspace.

Many props to my best friend Amanda for suggesting the Headspace app during my recent struggles.  You can begin with ten-minute chunks of guided meditation.  Andy, the guide, has the most soothing and pleasant voice.  He really makes you feel that things will be okay.  (Those who know me know that since my Mom died, I've been searching for someone to tell me that things are going to be okay.  This is going to sound insane, but I believe Andy when he tells me.  I haven't believed anyone else in 12 years.)  It feels really good to watch your cumulative time meditated begin to pile up, as you build a good habit.  And when he allows you to just "let your mind go" at the end, you can really feel that you have exercised your mind-disciplining muscle.  It's amazing.  Try it!

So, from one mindfulness seeker with a horrendous monkey mind to another, those are my suggestions.  Do you have any?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

there is no happy ever after

When we were married, Jeff and I had our fair share of "normal" marriage problems, in addition to his addiction issues (which were the straw that ultimately broke my back).  You know, things like financial disagreements, communication issues, everyday annoyances, not fulfilling promises or changing in the ways that we had hoped we would.  These are things that kill marriages every day, although on their own they probably would not have killed ours.

One of the most surprising and affirming things for me, after we separated, was how light and free I felt.  I realized how burdened I had been for those years, by all those issues.  Jeff and I continue to be great friends and co-parents.  Indeed, we function much better as friends than as spouses.  (After we separated, I joked that I had found the secret to a perfect marriage:  don't live together or share finances.)  But during those years we were together, I did my absolute best to work at it.  As a coping mechanism, I had gotten really good at telling myself that "happy ever after" is just a mirage.  Every marriage has issues.  Every marriage loses its luster at some point.  You can't stay as intensely "in love" as you were at the beginning.  It's just not physically possible, like from a neuro-transmitter perspective.

But as time has worn on, I have begun to be seduced by "happy ever after" again.  After almost four years, I have lost the immediacy of my marriage experience and the knowledge that that kind of sublime, transcendent love for the long haul is a myth.  I have allowed myself to desire it again, and (even more alarming) I have begun to be upset and entitled about it.

I'm so great . . . I want to share myself with someone . . . I deserve that kind of love in my life.

Do you hear what I'm saying?  I'm allowing myself to get upset that I'm not experiencing a myth.  Absurdity.

Almost all of my friends are partnered or married, so I still get a big glimpse into what the marriage struggle is like.  And I regularly find myself congratulating myself that I'm not married anymore, when I hear about the kinds of mundane, daily ridiculousness that they have to put up with from each other.  And then there are also the big, capital-P Problems.  My friends' marriages have those, too.

For instance:  in my home, there is no question about who will be taking care of the children.  Because I'm the only one in my home who is going to be taking care of the children.  Of course, this can be stressful and wearing.  But, at least there is no additional friction from another adult about who is supposed to be in charge.  Know what I mean?  There is no resentment about who buys groceries or cooks dinner or takes out the trash or folds laundry.  I do all that because I can't expect a 3- or a 5-year-old to do it.  And thank God I don't have to do all that, on top of arguing with someone.

I never, ever have to call someone to ask about why the bank balance is so low.  I'm the only one who can make the bank balance low.  So I only need to ask myself about that.

I have begun to forget about how nice it is to be the only one in charge, the only one who is responsible for either getting things done or creating problems.

If I were to marry again, I would suddenly have to renegotiate all of that.  And then my warm, rosy "happy ever after" feelings would vanish, for sure.  It would be back to work.  Would it be worth it?  Perhaps.  But it certainly wouldn't be "happy ever after."