Why spirituality offers THE solution

When suffering form the consequences of your own unhealthy habits or those of others the last thing we need to hear is someone trying to tell us that spirituality is the solution. We get too caught up in stress and pain and these feel so real that we use all of our experiences and everything we have learned to deal with them.  But ask yourself this?  Have these coping mechanisms worked for you? The obvious answer is no and this is precisely the reason that we are stuck in our unhealthy behaviour. To be more precise,  this is why this behaviour has become a habit. Continue reading “Why spirituality offers THE solution”

Starting a new relationship? Peel off the label

In many cases recovering from living with someone suffering from an unhealthy habit leads to ending the relationship. It is quite natural that you carry feelings of disappointment, betrayal, anger and pain with you after such a rupture for quite some time. You blame that person for them and these feelings can stand in the way of engaging in new relationships. You are afraid to get hurt again. We generalize our anger and mistrust towards people we meet (“men are all the same anyhow” or “you cannot trust women. Period.”)

We have to realize that it is not the other person that generates our feelings. It is our own thought process. Fortunately we are in control of our thoughts.

A good way of using this is by consciously avoiding  judging the people you meet. I sometimes refer to this as “not sticking labels”.  This is hard because our mind is lightning fast and  incredibly  cunning in labeling people. This mechanism makes perfect sense of the problem too: if you meet someone who you really, really like and at the same time you carry all the negativity (anger, fear, frustration, distrust, etc.) with you, there is a clash between the reality of the nice feelings the person generates in you, and the negative emotions you feel at the same time. This can only lead to confusion and increases the risk of making the wrong choices.

Try to notice yourself  sticking these labels on people, places or things. And as soon as you are aware of doing it, mentally step back and consciously remove the label you were sticking. When doing so, I actually visualize this process in slow motion and picture my self removing an actual label (including the words printed on them in black capital letters) with my thumb and index finger. Just as  you would remove a label from something you bought in the store. I then in full consciousness crumple it up and throw it away in my kitchen’s garbage bin.

You will find that in doing so a calmness and a sense of relief will come over you. And you will be surprised at how it changes the way you look at people.

The beauty of this is that instead of occupying your mind’s activity with negative emotions and the additional stress and unrest it causes in you, you have now created space in your mind to take a look at yourself when engaging in new relationships and not lose yourself in emotions.  There is no more need to feel angry or to feel afraid of being rejected or disappointed.

Focus on what your soul really needs  and imagine how  this new person would fit these needs. You may be surprised at how well this works. (It does for me…) Instead of a clouded judgment this will allow you to make calm and conscious choices.

Some may argue – especially when referring to falling in love – that this takes away the spontaneity. I would suggest taking a good look at your past relationship with your addict and the unnecessary suffering it has caused. Chances are that listening to the head and not just the heart may be the path you prefer to choose in establishing new relationships. And don’t forget that most of the time the truth (or reality) is not what our emotions tell us! (see my previous posts on denial)

PS: This little technique not only works for me in affectionate relationships, e.g. with a (potential) significant other, but also with colleagues and friends. The next time you meet someone you dislike, notice yourself sticking your label(s) on them and then remove them slowly and consciously, one by one. The results can be amazing.

Healing through believing

We are all created, composed of tiny particles, so scientists say. Before we were born they already existed, and when we die, these atoms that formed us do not disappear. They live on. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We come from all, and we return to all. We are all. We did not choose our parents, the color of our eyes, our sex, the place and the circumstances we were born in. In fact there is very little we choose, most of it simply, miraculously happens. Somehow and sometimes we still realize that we are part of creation, of this incredible engine or wheel of life. That we are one with it. Unfortunately most of the time we lose sight of this awareness, because we have become addicted to experiencing our life, we have lost ourselves to this earthly life experience. We are scared to death of losing this or having to give that up. But what are we afraid of?

Who and what are we compared to the greatness and the perfection of creation. Where does this life force that was given to us, that was instilled in us, come from. This force that is present in everything: animals, plants, water, the earth, the universe. Isn’t it amazing how seemingly  insignificant we are on a cosmic or universal scale.

And yet, on the level of  the “self”, everything we were given to experience, all the facets of this human, earthly life (pain and pleasure, love and hate, peace and war, beauty and ugliness) are  so important and overwhelming to us. It seems it is all there is and we expect and want it to be better and we want more of it. It has turned into a chase that has blinded us from our oneness with creation.

To use a biblical metaphor: in tasting of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we have received the faculty to  experience, to know life in all its fullness, but it has separated us from paradise (perfect creation) because we cannot handle both. We have lost our way back to this original state of oneness and perfection where there is no judgment, no guilt, no shame.

I too am still struggling with the letting go of this addiction to the worldly. Of the urge to have more and better still: power, sex, status, luxury and love. Deep down I know that this is madness and yet, I participate in it. But who am I struggling with. Which part of me is writing these words. Who makes my choices. My soul or my reason, my left or my right brain hemisphere, the male or female aspects of me. Or the child. In fact, deep down I know that all of this is me.

We have become addicted to the lusts, the sensual experiences, the love this life offers us. The thought never to be able to experience this again, the fear of losing that gift lies at the root of addiction, disease and suffering. And it is a double-edged sword.

To those, who experienced terrible suffering or trauma in this life,  it is a fear of realizing that you may have to go through experiencing more of  this pain  – or worse – in your life time. This is an overwhelming fear in which death may appear to be salvation. It also causes unrealistic expectations.  How can someone who grew up in a dysfunctional family or who was the victim of abuse know what a harmonious, normal family situation is like.

The biggest fear for those who have led a life with experiences of pleasure and joy, free from suffering, is to lose life.

These two fundamental fears cause us to separate ourselves from each other, and from creation. Either because we are afraid that others may hurt us more than we already have been hurt or because we are afraid others will have or take what we want, what expect next. Both fears lead to a separation between the self and “them”, the outside world.

And yet each of us, together, we need the sun, the water the land and all that is living. The life we know would and could not be, without the rest of creation.

We have become addicted to experiencing the good things in live (whatever these may be for each of us) and we have become obsessed with fulfilling our expectations of actually experiencing them. We have them about everything. We make checklists and wish lists. We want more, ever more. It has become the purpose of our life. And when everything  on our list is fulfilled, we keep coming up with new ones. We apparently believe that we are what we have. But if we have not, do we cease to exist?

We make our choices to fulfill our expectations and we behave accordingly, in pursuit of them. And the more expectations we have, the more likely it is that some or many won’t be met. And that makes us feel unhappy, angry, afraid or frustrated.

Take a look at your life: your partner, your children, your parents, your friends, your job, your house, your car. Are they really, exactly what you expected them to be? Of course not. If even two or three of these things were exactly according to your expectations, it would be truly amazing. The fact is that our expectations have no influence whatsoever on the actual outcome in reality. Life is the experience of a succession of unexpected events.  Suffering begins when expectations are not met.

Sometimes our expectations can be so obsessive that we would rather undergo the suffering caused in pursuit of them,  than to give up our expectation of the next ultimate rush, high, kick, relationship or of any other experience we think we so badly crave. We want it  bigger, better and intenser with each additional expectation. This is not just a form of insanity; the problem is that this route inevitably leads to overdosing (and to overdoing) and to all of the negative consequences. No matter the type of the addictive or obsessive behaviour. This constant progressive form of overdosing and overdoing  to extremes is what causes addiction, and what is at the origin of obsession. The anorexic in losing yet one more pound, the bulimic in eating still more,  the alcoholic in picking up yet another bottle, the love addict in engaging in yet another relationship, the workaholic in putting in yet one more extra hour, in the obsessive compulsive cleaner, the abused child in overachieving even more,  etc. The problem is that we do not know where it ends. What is the ultimate high or the ultimate partner or the ultimate sexual experience or the ultimate body. And that is why we keep overdosing and overdoing it.

Death  is not the only possible consequence of overdosing. Depending on the obsession we suffer from (alcoholism,  addiction to drugs and substances, obsessions with food or our body),  it can lead to all kinds of diseases  (obesity, disease of the liver and the heart, deterioration of nose cartilage, malnutrition, etc.) and it causes a lot of sadness and suffering in ourselves and in others. These consequences often slowly sneak up to us. And this is probably one of the reasons why we persist and why we keep pursuing our expectations so obsessively and for such a long time: we keep on drinking, gambling,  eating, dieting, buying, cleaning, exercising, etc. We believe that we have control. Well, we don’t.

Healing from addiction or obsession is possible. In many treatment programs the first step required for recovery is “acceptance” of your powerlessness over addiction and of the unmanageability of your life. To me healing is not about this acceptance, because acceptance implies some form of admittance of guilt or of submission and confession. This is not necessary at all and in a way it is madness, since I have just made it clear that we have no control over the events in our lives, so there is no ground for feelings of guilt or sin or shame. Healing is – in stead – about awareness and consciousness. And about choices, based upon the belief in the oneness of creation.

What we believe is a matter of choice. It suffices for us to sincerely believe that we are part of and one with creation. And this is actually easy, since creation is all around us, it is alive and it is undeniable: the wind, the clouds, the water, the sun, the moon, the stars, all the life, in creatures and in atoms, our human race, everything happening around us right now in this instance.This is not a matter of acceptance either. It simply was, is and always will be.

To believe that the pursuit of the unfulfillable, uncontrollable illusions of a reality based on expectations will make us happy, is a mistake, a fallacy.

The awareness of this mistake is the basis for healing. And it does not require medicine – although with some types of addiction or obsession it may be necessary to gradually reduce the addictive substance use  or the obsessive behavior under medical supervision.

There is a difference between knowing and believing. You may know that an addiction or obsession is not good for you. But do you believe it too. Or do you believe that you can ‘have another one’, that you can handle “it” one more time, one last time, one for the road. No one but you determines what you believe. You choose.

We are what we believe and we choose and act accordingly. If we believe that our planet is in a critical situation, it is so because of what we believe. This too is undeniable. We catch the fish in the oceans, we cut the trees in the rain forests, we breed animals in stables, we grow crops, we eat chemicals, we wage war. We do all these things because we believe this is what we have to do. If I believe I am an addict I will be an addict.

These are the choices that we make and keep making.  It makes it clear to me that there is something seriously wrong with what we believe. This is why I have changed my belief and it is healing me, everyday.

Dealing with feeling

When you live with an addict you are likely to experience anger, frustration, fear, shame and guilt. These feelings may become very overwhelming. They stand in the way of a happy and peaceful life and make it hard to make calm and conscious choices. There are ways to deal with such feelings, and you have more control over them than you might expect.

Let me explain this with an example. When you are watching a nature movie on TV and you see a lion killing an antelope how does that make you feel? You may think “O, how sad. But this is how nature is.” or you may think “Why does God allow such cruelties to happen”. And you may end up feeling sad but serene, or angry and frustrated.

What really happens is that upon the  perception of the image described above, the human mind attributes thoughts (labels) to what is perceived. Thoughts such as “lion”, “antelope”, “pain”, “cruel” and so on. These labels come from our minds, either because we learned them as words for people, places and things  (lion, antelope), or because we compare and mentally imagine what we perceive to what it would do to ourselves. We imagine the pain of the lion’s claws and teeth going into the skin of the antelope (or of ourselves). We also mentally make a judgement about  what we perceive according to what we believe to be right or wrong, good or bad, etc.

However, it isn’t until we have these thoughts that emotions arise. If we could simply perceive without thinking/judging, we would not experience emotion.

The fact of seeing the addict in your live use alcohol or drugs, or behave in a certain way, is in the strictest sense not at the root of how it makes us feel. It is the thought that we attach to what we perceive that causes the emotion(s).

This is an important and helpful piece of information. It means that we have control over how we feel, by controlling our thoughts. As soon as you sense an emotion coming up, such as anger, this is a warning signal. It tells you that you can change your thoughts and thus avoid feeling bad.

A very effective way to avoid having thoughts that cause negative or depressing feelings or moods is not to judge. By not judging and accepting the addict’s behavior the way it is as it occurs (or your own behaviour for that matter) , you can control your thinking more easily. Instead of judgmental thought, you could simply describe what you are seeing without judgment. You may think “I see someone having a drink” and end the thought right there. See yourself as an observer, as a witness, and not as a participant.  You will notice that it will keep you calmer, thus allowing you to make a conscious choice in the situation. You may for instance choose to retreat or change your behaviour.

Dealing with addiction is all about controlling the way you think and withholding judgment.

PS: The “no judging” technique does not only work in dealing with unhealthy habits. You can try to apply the same technique especially with people or situations you dislike. The results may surprise you.

What makes your unhealthy habit tick

Unhealthy habits cause pain. Both to those who suffer from them and to the people around them.   If we accept the common view that addiction is an incurable “disease”, how encouraging is this?  And most of all, is it true?

There was a day in each of our lives when we were free from the habits we are suffering from today. A day when the first seed was planted out of which grew the behavior or the thinking that is bothering us today; whether it’s the first drink, the first cigarette, the first line of cocaine, the first shot of heroin, the first cut, the habit of over- and/or undereating, obsessive thinking or phobic fears.

Why is it, that over time this seed turned into a pattern, a habit, that is so hard to get rid of. It is this question that we must ask ourselves to get to the root of the problem. And it is the answer that is at the root of recovery.

If you are aware of the unhealthy habit in yourself or in someone else ask yourself this: what do I get out of it? There has to be some perceived benefit to it. Why else would the habit be there.  The problem is that in many cases the individual is no longer aware of this benefit. We have to go back to that first time, when the seed was planted so to speak,  to understand how this works.

So go back in time. And try to remember the “first time”.

What happened? When we had our first alcoholic beverage? Were we overcome with a euphoric feeling, of belonging to the group we were in? Did it give us a wonderful “buzz”, did we finally feel “grown-up”? When we had our first cigarette, did we feel like we belonged with the “big guys”, were we accepted amidst their ranks? When we were “high” for the first time, how did we feel? Did we have an incredible sexual experience? Or – on a more subtle level – when we lost weight, did we get complimented or did we feel pride? When we cut ourselves for the first time did the pain make us somehow feel better? When we screamed at the top of our lungs when we saw a spider in our bedroom, or when we woke up from a nightmare, were we immediately surrounded with the loving and caring attention of our parents or a loved one?

Try to really mentally picture the whole situation of this first time.

What we have to realize is that our behavior centers around the so-called pleasure and pain principle. We like to feel pleasure and we want to avoid pain.

When we apply this to our “first time” what pleasure and pain factors come into play.

Were we craving attention (pain) from older kids or from our parents? And did drinking, smoking, cutting or losing weight give us something we were lacking (pleasure)? Were we afraid in the dark at night (pain) and did screaming cause our parents to show up by the side of our beds and have us sleep in theirs (pleasure). Did we feel left out at school or were we bullied (pain) and did excelling in sports or math make us popular (pleasure). It did in some way. It made us feel better. That was our reward. And each subsequent time we felt “pain” we did it again, to have that “pleasure” again. Than one day, it didn’t work. So what do we do. Try it again, more, in larger quantities or more often. And yes, sometimes that worked. We learn that the behavior gives us pleasure. We mentally equal the behavior to pleasure. We believe in it. A belief that over time becomes engraved in our thinking. A belief, a conviction so strong that it makes us deny the negative consequences. Our belief distorts our perception of reality. What once was a reality has turned into a belief in an illusion. The benefit we still believe in is precisely what causes our pain and suffering. And remember: we want to perceive what we believe.

In my opinion addiction is not a disease. It is mistaken behavior. Mistaken because it is based on what we wrongly perceive as benefits. And mistakes in perception can be corrected by changing our beliefs, by changing the way we think, by embracing the undeniable truth of reality.

It is obvious that unhealthy habits can cause a variety of diseases (liver or kidney failure, brain damage, dehydration, etc.) and it is equally obvious that these consequences may require medical care.  But let’s acknowledge that  they actually are the symptoms of the unhealthy habit and not its cause.

By carefully and thoroughly looking at the sometimes very subtle pleasure and pain factors we can become aware of the root, the origin of the behavior that is causing us pain and suffering now.

In previous posts I have discussed how our own mind and our own perception stands in the way of seeing this clearly.

As long as we believe in the illusion that the unhealthy habit gives us pleasure or that it helps us to avoid pain, we will behave and choose accordingly.

The fact that you are reading this post may be a telling sign that you are beginning to change this belief and that you are lifting the veil of illusion.

A very helpful way of making yourself aware of this illusion is this:

How much pleasure is your habit truly and honestly giving you lately? I think I know the answer… and that awareness is the first step towards your recovery.

The truth about people pleasing

People pleasing is said to be one of the character traits in many people suffering from unhealthy habits. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this. Being nice and helpful to others is a good thing, as long is it feels right.  The truth is that often we feel just the opposite: fear, anger and frustration. Why is this and what can we do about it.

Elsewhere in my posts I have explained how we create an image of ourselves as a result of what is taught to us by our parents, teachers, family members and leaders, in church or elsewhere. With these “lessons” come expectations, both imposed upon us by others and by ourselves. We are taught to be beautiful, skinny, intelligent, male, female, succesful, winners, rich, and so on.  We are even taught and told what the definitions and criteria of beauty, of success, of status, of intelligence and of gender are.

So, we start playing roles and wearing masks in an effort to meet these expectations of being the perfect housewife, husband, colleague, son-in-law, business man, student, etc.

We pretend to be what we are not. We create multiple identities of ourselves in function of the circumstances and situations we are in: at home, when visiting our in-laws, at work, in public, in our car, in meetings, with our partners and our children.

We become masters in switching roles and changing the masks we feel we need to play or wear to meet the “requirements”. And to do so we even resort to lies, twist the truth and if all else fails, we run and move somewhere else to do the same thing all over again.

This can lead to insane situations where our actions in one role are very likely to clash with our behavior in another, and yet, we are one and the same person. The alcoholic executive, the husband who is having an affair, the homosexual football player, etc.

When we make choices we tend to do this in line with the identity we think we need in a specific situation.  When our boss asks us to fire an employee whom we know is doing a great job, we are likely to go ahead and say “OK”, even when in our hearts we know it is anything but OK. When our commanding officer orders us to shoot to destroy, we obey. When our alcoholic partner is sick the next morning and asks us to call in sick at work for him or her, we often do. Why, because it is in line with the role we play, it is according to the expectations we feel we need to meet.

In the end this means that all we are doing most of the time is creating the illusion of a reality for the identities we have created for ourselves. We convince ourselves and we actually believe in the reality of these illusions.

And since illusions are obviously not real, with this come the inevitable guilt, fear and frustration and the self loathing.

Why you don’t need new year’s resolutions

During the holiday season many of us tend to make resolutions. And very often they have to do with habits or behaviours we want to get rid of.  I have good news for you. You don’t need them anymore.

Do you realize that the moment you are making your resolution, your wish has already come true. Think about it. The moment you make the resolution to stop smoking,to be nice to someone,or to lose weight, it is already so. Right there and then, you have stopped smoking. You are being nice. You are losing weight.

You don’t need the resolution anymore. And that is a good thing. Let me explain why.It all has to do with your beliefs.  If you believe that you need a resolution to make a change, it obviously implies that you believe that you haven’t changed yet. This is the basis for frustration and struggle. And to free ourselves from this, we relapse into our old behavior. And that is why many of us “fail” in keeping our “promise”. We judge ourselves. We feel guilty.

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that the key to saying farewell to unhealthy habits lies in what you think, what you believe. (see for example this post).

By giving up the resolution right after you have made it, you are free. Focus on the here and now. Be aware that the change you desire has indeed already and instantly occurred. It is true and real. You can believe it instantly. Enjoy the relief.  Exhale deeply and mentally say to yourself: I am losing weight now, I am smoke free now, I am nice now.  Be fully aware of the relief and the freedom , and grateful too.

At the beginning and end of each day slow down your mind and repeat the above affirmations. Do this for 21 days. You will be amazed and you can say farewell to resolutions.

The paradox of accepting a Higher Power

The dictionary defines the word paradox as: a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true. In Greek the word literally translates as “conflicting with expectation”.
Accepting powerlessness over our unhealthy habits, the unmanageability of our lives and the belief that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity, are the essence of recovery in so-called 12 step programs,  like AA, Al-anon, CA, NA, OA, etc.

However, accepting our powerlessness and unmanageability is a hard nut to crack. We do not like to admit we are wrong or that we have “failed”. Basically it means admitting that until now, all the efforts that you have put in changing yourself or someone else were pointless. This a source of frustration to most people.

Secondly, accepting a higher power that can restore us to sanity is also difficult since many do not believe in a supreme being, a Higher Power, a God.

After all, isn’t this higher power also responsible for the current state of suffering in our lives and in the world? So how on earth can we turn to it for such a positive thing as our recovery.

Overcoming our mental resistance because of this paradox is key to recovery and is easier than you think.

We  can only accept reality, now, as it occurs. Our lives are an inseparable part of this reality. The belief that we can change reality is – of course – insane. We cannot change the past, nor can we change the now as it occurs.

The only thing reality can logically  collide with is expectation. If we expect something that is different from reality, this creates anger, frustration and fear.  Once we stop expecting and accept reality as it occurs, our suffering disappears.

When we stop expecting our alcoholic partner to quit drinking,  our children to stop smoking or to become lawyers or doctors, ourselves  to lose (or gain) weight or to drive a new BMW, our lives suddenly change.

What seems to be so difficult (accepting powerlessness) is in fact totally logical and liberating. Reality is undoubtedly a power greater than ourselves. And this realization restores us to sanity.

Instead of using our lives and wasting our mental energies on fighting and resisting reality, by trying to force solutions on others, by trying to make reality agree with our own expectations of it, we now have the opportunity to make new choices in peace and serenity.  We can stop judging, condemning, lying, cheating, pretending, yelling, wrestling, arguing, upsetting, fearing.  We can start loving, we can be honest, we can be compassionate, we can forgive, we can give unconditionally, we can be grateful.  What a relief!

Relapse, relapse, relapse… no more

We ‘addicts’ try over and over again to stop drinking, smoking, using or doing the things that cause us to suffer. Some of us have been in numerous treatment programs and yet repeatedly relapse into so-called old behaviour. Why?
In spite of our knowledge and awareness about our unhealthy habits and not withstanding the tools and skills that we were given we just can’t seem to change our behaviour.

In my experience it all has to do with strongly engrained behavioral patterns that we perceive as comfortable or comforting and which – of course – are not. Our mind is a master of association. We associate smells, images, scenes, people, places and things in the present to past experiences and memories and to the feelings and emotions that go along with them.

A relapse is not simply the falling back into the acting out of a specific unhealthy habit. There is a ritualistic side to it. It could be the room or chair we sit in when we display(ed) the unhealthy behaviour. Or the time of day, or the people we are with. Coming home from or leaving for work for instance.

After a 4 or 8 week treatment program in the unfamiliar setting of yet another clinic or facility we return to our homes and it is not unlikely that the return to this familiarity triggers the return to the unhealthy habit.

The message is obvious. Getting rid of unhealthy habits means more than simply stopping the specific unwanted act. We need to alter or break the existing associations our mind has created and that we subconsciously linked to our unhealthy habits.

A simple beginning would be to consciously analyze the how, what, when and where of our unhealthy habits and make small changes. Get rid of the chair or couch you usually sit in when acting out the behavior you want to change. Ditch the ashtray you use or the box where you secretly keep your stash or bottle. Change the store you usually go to before going home. By consciously making these changes you are sending your brain the message that the old ‘pattern’ no longer functions.

Try, it works if you work it.