Archive for December, 2008

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Habits of Living

December 31, 2008

A business trainer and life coach I listen to shares his perspective that

“Life is all about Habits”. 

Furthermore, people who are successful all have successful habit.

A habit simply being something we started then repeated until it became automatic.  Whether we knew it or not.

I discovered of myself that I have a lot of thinking habits.  I formed “realities” for myself based on perceptions formed by my thinking habits.  Yet they were not realities at all.  They were illusions or distortions formed by then supported by these habits of thought.

One habit I practiced into near-permanence was “churning”.  When something bothered me, I would think about it over and over and over.  In an ever-worsening cycle.  Increasing the pain to myself each time I re-thought of the circumstance.  I unknowingly practiced this habit so much, I believed it was completely automatic and I had no control over it.  I had created a default reality.  I figured everyone’s brain worked this way and that I “had to” do this.

Case in point: Missing my kids.  When I was missing my kids, I would think and re-think the injustices my ex-wife was rendering on me.  As well as the regrets for my past behavior.  Plus some blame of my parents for the dysfunction of our family life growing up.  Etc.  Before I knew it, I was in a rage and/or depressed.  And all this from the comfort of my own bed!  Where I would often stay for days churning over these thoughts.  Then booze and drugs would help me stay there longer.  And spiral deeper.

It finally got painful and impossible enough that someone got through to me that it was me and my habits that was perpetuating these thoughts.  Yes, the injustices were real.  But I was keeping them alive and amplifying them by churning them over and over and over. 

I also eventually saw that not everyone had this habit.  This became very apparent one day when a friend tragically lost a teenage son.  He watched him die in the Emergency Room after a terrible accident.  He was agonizingly hurt, but he did not disappear into his head and depression the way I did.  His thinking habits were different than mine.  The shock of this situation finally woke me up.

Now, years later, memories of the tragedy can still bring him to tears.  But he does not turn them into life-controlling churning that immobilizes him from everything else.  The way I did for simply being separated from my kids due to divorce and addiction.  My situation was temporary.  His was permanent.  Yet he was bearing up better than I was.

Why?  His thinking habits were different.  His were more functional.  This realization was a turning point for me that led me to seek changes in my thinking habits.  It has been a long journey, but it is working.  Life continue to get better.  No “arrival” yet, but lots of distance travelled.  And far more peace and happiness.

Today, when I am in pain, I always ask myself… am I practicing a bad habit?  This question has itself become a better habit of thought that leads to improvement rather than more pain.

Here’s to some better habits for 2009! 

Ciao.  Chaz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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More unfolding…

December 31, 2008

I heard someone share once…

“Time is God’s way of making sure everything doesn’t happen at once”.

This got my attention.  I realized that so often in life, I have an expected time line and if it is not met, I feel hurt, sad, disappointed, fearful, and like a victim.

Yet when I look at the reality of life and what has transpired over the past couple years, life has unfolded amazingly.  Better than what I had ever forced it to be when I was trying to direct traffic in my life and everyone else’s.

It took a leap of faith for me to allow God (or the Universe if you prefer) to have His own time line.  It took me letting go of my tendency to want to control and expect.  Yet today, I am less afraid and less anxious about time lines.

Another quote that comes to mind is one I heard on the TV show, Kung Fu.  A student was telling the master that whatever it was he was being taught was useless.  To which the wise old master replied,

The student cannot know the value of the lesson until the lesson is complete.

I don’t even watch the show on any regular basis.  I was just channel surfing and this for some reason stuck.  How do we know at any given time that we are not in the middle of a valuable lesson.  And that after some unfolding, we will discover an amazingly helpful truth?  A breakthrough perhaps.

I have come to believe that time is a very essential part of life.  Life unfolds on its own time line.  Not mine.  Furthermore, I accept that this is how it should.

Wishing everyone great time lines in 2009!

Ciao.  Chaz

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Life Unfolds – Part 2

December 28, 2008

Often in my life, I have felt anxious about the pace at which life unfolds and have tried to force things or expected things to be different and faster.Sands of Time

Someone recently gave me an analogy of an hour glass. The sand flows through the narrowing from the top chamber to the bottom chamber at a steady, even pace. The pace is set by the natural forces in the universe…. Mainly gravity.

To force the sand any faster would break the glass or at the very least, jam up the narrowing and nothing would flow through. Does this not describe how overwhelming flows of thoughts and actions can work in our lives?

I have often felt that I have so many thoughts and feelings trying to force themselves to the forefront of my mind, that they get jammed up and I felt immobilized. Like the sand being jammed in the hour glass narrowing. 

Literally, I would often just quit everything and do nothing… just sit there in mental/emotional pain and confusion…. or escape with drugs, booze, sleep, entertainment, whatever.  I would be side-lined from the game of life and unproductive.

Or I tried to do so many things at once, nothing got done. Or worse yet, I caused pain or damage to myself or others.

Today, I am more prone to let life unfold at its own pace. I can then participate in life on life’s terms versus trying to force things to happen. I still have a role in life. I must do my part. But I am not responsible for directing everything. Nor am I responsible for the overall timeline and pace.

I have a possible new job opportunity that has come out of the blue. What I would do in years past is frantically pursue it. Call, email, start to imagine and project what it would be like to work in this job. Yet today, I know that it is simply a possibility and that I simply need to start with a sensible first step like writing a cover letter and sending in a copy of my resume. Period. That is it. Nothing further at this stage.

I undoubtedly will have a further role in the unfolding of this situation, but “just for today”, I am only responsible for what is realistically and plainly in front of me and well within my capabilities without being anxious or over-thinking it.

The letter and resume are today’s amount of sand that will flow through the hour glass. They are the realistic, non-anxious amounts of effort that anyone could reasonably be capable of doing amongst the other responsibilities in life. Tomorrow may reveal something further, but that is for tomorrow.
I find this a much more peaceful way to live. And amazingly, much more productive.

Ciao. Chaz

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“Feeling Good”… book by Dr. D. Burns

December 26, 2008

feeling-goodOk… so I am not a fan of pop-psychology. I frankly have distrusted it. I had a psychiatrist prescribe a powerful sedative to me a few years ago that triggered cocaine-like euphoria and I went out on a coke relapse bender (and booze).

So perhaps my perspective is biased by this event. A new Dr. I am seeing suggested I read “Feeling Good”, by Dr. David Burns. It was first published in the early 1980’s and re-printed a couple of time since. I was apprehensive to follow this advice but experience has taught me that open-mindedness is a gateway to many amazing things. I caution that statement with a suggestion to be wise in one’s open-mindedness.

So I have begun reading the book. The first compelling thing I find is that it does not claim to be all things to all people. Of this I am glad because anything that does claim to be all to all, I tend to distrust. Secondly, in some of the descriptions of people who are depressed and anxious, I see myself amazingly similar. Much like hearing my own story by someone telling theirs in an AA meeting.

“Feeling Good” is a book about “Cognitive Therapy”. The Chaz Paraphrase of Cognitive Therapy is “retraining your thinking habits”. I have experienced much reprieve and recovery by retraining my thinking from old futile habits to new productive habits without ever calling it Cognitive Therapy. I have shed much anxiety and depression and found ways to stop drinking and drugging. So my inclination is to read this book further.

Comments on thoughts or experiences with this book or Cognitive Therapy are welcome. This feels like yet another leg on this fascinating journey.

Ciao. Chaz

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Sober, serene Christmas

December 25, 2008

I don’t miss the anxious Christmases full of expecatations. I think expectations made Christmases in the past unbearable.

What gifts will I get? Will the ones I gave be well-received? Will the family get along? Not to mention the secret strategies to get drunk while seemingly nobody noticed. Spiking my own coffee with vodka. Or sneaking to the den to take a big swig of the hidden bottle. Then there were the hangovers.

Or the drug Christmases. Where I went for the dinners and bolted asap to go hook up and use. Or cashed in the Christmas gift certificates for drug money. That was complicated. That was anxiety-provoking. That was hopeless.

Today, Chirstmas is serene. We did the Chirstmas morning gift frenzy with my step kids. They were pleased. My wife loved the things I gave her. She is awesome. Someone who can express genuine happiness. Nothing false or pretentious about her.

Kids are playing their new video game while I take a second to do a quick post. Then off to kitchen to make some eggs benny. We are experiencing a significantly white Christmas. The deepest snow at Christmas in over 40 years.

This is all it takes to be happy these days. The simple things in life I used to take for granted. Today I am not depressed. Not anxious. This is a huge victory. I am not boasting on my situation. I am boasting on my program of recovery and what it has given me.

My best thinking only ever got me drunk, high, depressed, anxious and thinking of suicide. My program of recovery got me serenity and the ability to enjoy a moment without a crowded train station of thoughts and noises in my head.

I hope I can share some of this with my fellow journeyors.

Ciao and Merry Christmas. Chaz

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Do it scared

December 22, 2008

Someone significant in my personal growth mentioned he observed that I tended to “awfulize” many things in life. This simply meant that I had a tendancy to take any challenge and presume it would follow the course of maximum disaster and result in some awful outcome.

This thought pattern was the source of much anxiety for me. Much wasted emotional energy. Much depression. Yet I eventually discovered that I wasted energy being anxious and depressed over things which rarely ever came to pass. Very, very rarely did anything awful ever happen.

The pathway of thinking that I had practiced over the years became so well-worn and habitual, it felt as if it happened automatically. I immediately got right on the trail and followed the meandering pathway over the cliff. In my mind at least. So when negative things seemed to be happening, I would often just freeze up and not proceed. I would just stay in bed. Avoid. Hide. And imagine the worst. I had completely surrendered my thinking to patterns like this. It was hell in my head.

I eventually heard some teaching that said, if you are affraid to face something or do something, why don’t you just “do it scared”? This was so foreign to me. Didnt fear mean don’t do it? Didnt fear mean avoid, freeze, hide, drink, drug, call in sick, rent 10 videos and stay home? So I began stepping out in faith. Like an adventure. I was so desparate by that stage that I figured I had nothing to lose. I started doing things scared.

It did not take long to discover that the fear, while uncomfortable, never killed me and that I could be scared and still do things. In fact, I eventually discovered that the fear was lying to me and that outcomes were seldom as negative as I had imagined. In fact, they were usually more positive than I could imagine or even fabulous.

Fear lies. It tells us things will be a certain way when they are not. When I began to confront my fear, the fear lost much of its power over me. Each victory built on the last and my faith and positive experiences grew. A new pathway of thinking was being worn in.

I still battle with it somewhat, but nothing to the degree I once did. I no longer stay in bed for days at a time. I no longer think and re-think ways to kill myself. I no longer wish to be someone else. I no longer drink or drug.

The first time I ever “did it scared” was painful. Agonizing. But only for the first hour or so. By the end of the day, the task or I did scared was complete and it had gone far better than I feared it would. So I did another task scared, and another, and another.

Today, fear does not scare me. (If that make any sense). I mean that if I am scared of something, I can see past the common feelings of fear and just get on with the doing. Living is much better this way and the journey continues.

Ciao. Chaz

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Life unfolds as it should…

December 19, 2008

Does it really? Frankly, I am not sure that it always does, but recent experience has taught me that it often does and I am surprised how life delivers to me what I could not force it to give me by all my planning and striving.

This understanding has relieved me of a ton of anxiety. Instead of generating anxiety by directing life the way I feel and think it should unfold, I have found that if I merely participate in life on life’s terms, things get done amazingly well.

This does not mean a life of inaction. On the contrary, I work damn hard. I simply focus only on my parts in life and then relax, get busy, and do them. I leave the rest alone to powers other than myself.

This was nearly impossible for me to grasp at first. I was raised to believe I could and should do anything and everything. All by my own willpower, determination, efforts, planning, and striving. Yet all those got me were anxiety, depression, and a drug and alcohol problem. Not to mention divorce and a financial bind.

When I finally recognized that the result of my own thinking and actions were the list of disaster noted above, I was finally ready to try something new. Like surrendering most of life’s circumstances and doing only those things that I was immediately responsible for.

It took a real step of faith and a letting go of the familiar and comfortable. Yet it worked and continues to work. I am getting more done with less stress and effort. I live by what I call the “Two List System”. It is an outworking of the Serenity Prayer. On one list is Chaz’ list. The other is God’s (or any other power other than myrself). My list is usally very short, but it is always do-able. Anything I am anxious about, I leave on God’s list. Then I ask God for the courage to work my short list of things. Then I get busy and act on it and just get it done.

I do not let thoughts of what I am not currently attending to distract me from the task at hand. When I finish my short list of things, I pray to fill the list again. I usually sense one or two things on the list at at time, then get busy and do them. Again not worrying about what is on God’s list. God is big enough to handle his own list and slide things over to my list when he knows I am ready.

Almost sounds like a spooky-spiritual fairy tale, doesn’t it? It certainly did to me until I started living this way and seeing results. This two-list way of living has got me a new and fabulous marriage, a new and fabulous career, re-uniting with my children and other family members, and control of my finances. Those are all pretty real things. And to top it all off, there is very little anxiety or depression and it gets better year by year.

So this is what I have experienced as allowing life to unfold, rather than me forcing life to be what I think it should be. It is an awesome way to live.

Ciao. Chaz

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Emotional Ankle Weights

December 17, 2008

I often feel like I am walking around with ankle weights on… emotionally speaking.

Frankly, it has been this way my whole life. An underlying sadness and fear. Not so overpowering that I cannot move, although I have experienced that at times too. But just enough to slow me down and make every effort feel more cumbersome.

Today is such a day. The good part is, I no longer feel I have to go along with the feeling. No longer do I give into it and let those feelings of sadness and heaviness direct my day or my life.

I got to a point a few years ago where I began to speak to these types of unwelcomed, unpredictable emotions as if they were a seperate person. I would often say, “Ok, you guys sit here and argue about how lousy everything is, the rest of us will get busy with the day”.

The emotions were unwelcomed visitors so why not treat them as such. I found that more often than not, if I just “act as if” they werent there, they would quickly get left behind. Sometimes they would cling to my ankles and try to slow me down as I proceeded through the day. But they did not often have the control they once did.

Today is such a day which is why I am writing about them. So onward. I am leaving them here at the computer desk while I get the day started.

Ciao. Chaz

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Life in my head.

December 16, 2008

My ex-wife once said to me toward the end of our marriage, “You live in your head”. At that time, I could only scarcely understand what she was talking about.

Shortly after my marriage fell apart, I attended a self-help retreat where a facilitator told me I should “get out of my head and into my heart”. Again, I had very little sense of what he meant. As life continued to unfold, this message was spoken to me again and again from different and unlikely sources.

In my experience, if something is repeated to us from multiple sources, it is worth looking seriously into. Through my program of recovery, I eventually met a lot of people who once lived inside their head but now lived in the flow of real life. What this simply means is that when we live in our heads, we look at life as what we expect it to be or wish it to be, rather than accepting what it really is.

Political commentator, Rush Limbaugh, wrote a best-selling book in the 1990’s titled, “The Way Things Ought To Be”. I find it curious that he eventually ended up addicted to a prescription medication. I find this title very telling of how I used to live life. I was in such inner turmoil (un-serene) because life and people were not “the way they ought to be”. And as a sign of protest, I was going to remain miserable and discontent until they were.

This was not a concscious decision. Somehow though, I practiced this pattern of thinking to the same impractical and unmanagable end as Rush Limbaugh…. addiction.

A few years ago, I finally learned the word “acceptance”. To me this means simply “participating in life as it is, instead of it expecting it to be something else”. This applies to acceptance of people too. The reward of this new outlook is the most amazing peace inside. I am no longer the controller and equalizer of the universe!

I spend far less time inside my head in the wishful world of “how things ought to be”. Newsflash… things are not as they “ought to be” and probably never will be! And throughout history, never have been. Accepting this fact and living through the imperfections of life rather than in conflict with them is so, so, soooooo much more peaceful and content…. and serene. I’m likin’ it. For me, it is a far better way to live.

Ciao. Chaz

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Keeping Life Simple

December 14, 2008

I did not find much success in any form of recovery until I learned to simplify life.

By this I mean narrowing my focus to only the most meaningful things in my day. I used to suffer from a lot of anxiety and depression. I finally discovered that a lot of this anxiety and depression was a result of letting my thoughts wander off to unsafe and unhealthy places. I used to regret the past and think fearfully ahead of the future. Neither of these habits of thought did me any good.

The lights eventually came on that the past was done and over with. And I could leave it where it belonged… in the past. The future had not yet shown up and I discovered that the future is far less often what I expect it will be. Especially if my forecast is negative. It almost never is anywhere near as bad as my fear would have me believe. In most cases, the exact opposite is true and I discover that when the future does arrive… it is good…. or often even great.

I also find that the best way for me to keep the past in the past is to focus on today. I can take some simple lessons from past mistakes, but no need to dwell on them and regret them. Focusing on today helps me implement change today based on lessons of the past. This also then gives me much better tomorrows. The best thing I can do for tomorrow is take responsibility for today.

This was all new thinking to me that I did not discover until I was almost 40. But glad to say it was not too late by any means. Many people older than me discover these things and begin to make these kinds of changes.

The benefits are amazing… Peace… reprieve from anxiety and depression… and the ability to enjoy the moment just because the moment is unique…. and just because I am alive today in this great country. Thats all it takes now to bring feelings of peace and happiness. Then when something really fabulous shows up… I enjoy it all the more. This stuff works.

Ciao. Chaz