Tag Archives: Relationships

The Wealth of Wellness Retreat 2012

October and November have been so busy I’m just now getting to type up my notes from the retreat I went to from September 28th-30th. I had a great time and met a lot of new people, which is always good. Even though each retreat or workshop is different they’re all alike in one way: although there are often multiple parts of the retreat I enjoy there’s usually one experience that stands out. This time it was Nancy B.’s workshop on Saturday morning. The topic was Goal Setting. First I’ll share with you the process she took us through (and how I handled it), and then I’ll talk about the Self Esteem workshop Marlene S. and I had been invited to co-host.

Nancy put on a meditation CD for 10-15 minutes to help us relax and clear our minds. Once we were relaxed she asked us to start thinking about our goals. We were given paper and pencils and the following instructions, with time between each for writing:

  • Think of a substantial goal, something that will take 3-6 months. Write it down.
  • How can you break the goal into smaller steps to use as milestones? Write those down.
  • Think of one or more people you can ask to help you remain accountable. Write them down.
  • Spend some time imagining what my life will be like after I finish this goal. Visualize it! Then write that down.
  • How will I reward myself once the goals are accomplished? Visualize that, too. Then write it down.
  • Now make a commitment to ask those people you wrote down to hold you accountable. Do this within the next week. Share your goals with them, including the milestones, your timeline, and your reward.  Ask them to check with you weekly to see how you’re doing.

Even before the meditation CD was played I got my notepad out and started listing the goals I’d like to complete in the next 3 months:

  • Pass the next industry certification I need at work
  • Become a homeowner
  • Finish reading a book I’d put down a few months ago

Then I realized those were essentially work-related goals, things on my to-do list.  So I started thinking about improving relationships.  I thought about a woman I’d recently started dating. I wondered how her goals might align with mine, so I wrote down questions I wanted to ask her to give me a better picture.

After I got those out of my system I looked at my paper and the goals I’d listed: work goals, to-do-list goals, relationship goals. They were all external. I’d come to the retreat for me, so I asked myself, “What can I do to grow as a person? Is there an area of my life that I’m uncomfortable but I could see myself growing?” Over the years I’ve learned to trust my instincts. The first answer that comes to mind is the answer I need – and the one I’m ready for. I won’t share my goal because it’s personal, but I wrote it down.

Once the meditation CD was over we got the rest of the instructions. I realized my goal could be completed in 2-3 months so I expanded it. I added another phase to the initial goal that would push the final completion date to about 6-8 months. Next I broke it into smaller steps. I wound up with 5 steps, but the last one would probably take 4-6 months because I’d have to read a few books. I decided I’d have 5 major milestones, and then smaller milestones within that last step. (For the record, over the last two months I‘ve completed my first three milestones. I’m working on the fourth one now.)

Nancy’s workshop helped me visualize the next big step I wanted to take in my life, specifically in terms of my own growth. I was very happy about that. Later in the day something else nice happened too. I’d come to the retreat because my friend Marlene and I had been invited to host a workshop on Self Esteem, that was scheduled for the next morning. Saturday evening after dinner I started mentally preparing, going over the list of tools Marlene and I had put together for our workshop.

When Marlene and I were designing our workshop I’d pulled 20-30 of the tools from my book that I felt were helpful in building my Self-Esteem. We saw we could break them into two groups – the first were tools that helped me deal with conflicts with other people, the second group were tools that helped me learn to deal with my own self-defeating issues (fear, insecurity, feeling overwhelmed, etc). That Saturday night as I thought about these two lists of tools it occurred to me that Nancy’s workshop had only addressed half the equation. There were further questions that could be asked.

Asking me to write out my goals is a great thing, and necessary. Another thing that’s important to ask is, “What might be some of the obstacles I’ll face while achieving my goal?” By asking that question I can prepare myself to meet (and overcome) those challenges. That’s really helpful because it reduces anxiety. There’s always some level of anxiety when an obstacle arises, but when you know what to do there’s a great relief.

All the possible obstacles to the goals I’d written down earlier that day could be summarized into those two categories: internal and external – precisely what Marlene and I had put together for our Self Esteem workshop. That made perfect sense because that’s what gave me Self Esteem. As one of my favorite quotes says, “Happiness is not the absence of problems; but the ability to deal with them.” (Attributed to H. Jackson Brown Jr.) I felt I had the tools to handle my problems once I learned the 20-30 tools we were about to discuss in our workshop.

So I talked to Marlene about this and we decided all we had to do was change one question. In our original plan we were going to start our workshop by asking everyone, “Please take a few minutes to write down the things you think are obstacles to you having better Self Esteem.” Instead we chose to ask people, “Spend a minute thinking about the goals we wrote down in Nancy’s workshop yesterday. Then write down obstacles you may face when working towards those goals.” Everything fit and our workshop joined with Nancy’s like two bookends.

So as it turned out, we got to spend a good 2-3 hours talking in depth about how certain tools can help us overcome the obstacles we face every day. And we didn’t just get to talk about them in general terms – we also got to talk about how we could tailor them specifically to the goals we’d just written down. All in all, I had a great time!

You may be wondering what the 20-30 tools were that I pulled out of the book for this workshop. I’m going to be working with a friend who creates interactive Flash animations; over the next few months I’ll be creating a Troubleshooting Section on this site, and I’ll post them there. The animations will ask you questions, and based on your answers they’ll present you with a list of tools tailored just for you. Stay tuned!

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Retreat at Dayspring!

This weekend I’ll be at the DaySpring Conference Center attending a recovery retreat.  It starts at 4:00 on Friday and goes until lunch on Sunday, and I’m really looking forward to it.  I went to a retreat hosted by the same group about eight years ago and got quite a bit out of it.  In fact a guided meditation there gave me an insight as to something I needed to work on, and it was a major project that covered the next 2-3 years of my life.

In addition to being there as an attendee I’ve also been asked to co-host one of the workshops.  The topic will be Building Self-Esteem, and my co-host will be Miss Marlene S.  I’ve known her through recovery for a few years but recently found out that she’s done quite a bit of work with groups, both through recovery-sponsored events like this as well as with organizations that aren’t  specifically about recovery (jail populations, social work, etc).  She approached me about doing something together a few months ago when someone introduced her to The Guide to the Recovery Toolbox and this will be our first time  working together.  I’m looking forward to it.

For those wondering, Nancy B. from the Thursday night meeting of Central Pinellas CoDA is hosting the event. The retreat brings together all kinds of recovery material (not just CoDA, so it’s not a “CoDA retreat”) – and this fits perfectly with Recovery Book Press. Our goal is to promote and share experience, strength, and hope to help people from all walks of life through their recovery process.

I’d planned to post something about this a few weeks ago but time’s slipped by on me … hate when that happens!

Being Child-Like Is Not The Same As Being Childish

I came across a quote today I’d like to share:

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.” — Anais Nin

When I first read this I particularly liked the phrase, “We are mature in one realm, childish in another.”  I grew up on The Muppet Show and at times my sense of humor can be really corny and silly … one of the tools I learned in recovery is that Being Child-Like Is Not The Same As Being Childish.  In my teens I’d been shamed by my stepfather for my silliness and it took more than a decade to realize I need not feel any shame for joy in my childhood.  I had to learn to give myself permission to start releasing it again, and now that I have this same sense of awe and joy I had in my childhood has served me well as an adult.

The same phrase also reminded me of a man I met this past week at a meeting.  We talked after the meeting about early childhood development and how even through our teens and young adult phases we have certain needs … if our growth is halted in any of these phases it can stick with us for decades until we address that phase of development.  All the time I hear about how men these days are nothing but grown up boys, and part of me has feared that having a Child-Like side could be interpreted that way.  It was nice to be reminded that while some dimensions of my personality are well developed it’s okay that others are Child-Like.  I don’t have to be perfect.  I don’t have to be adult 100% of the time, in every way, and in fact trying to be probably isn’t natural.  I’m happy the way I am.  Layers, cells, constellations, and all.

Dry Drunk Syndrome

Yesterday I was honored to guest-blog over at www.inrecoveryblog.com. Please go check out my post about Dry Drunk Syndrome.

Also check out the rest of the website.  I particularly liked his post titled Romancing the Stone.

The Five Stages of Grief

During my first year of counseling my counselor told me about the five stages of grief. We all go through these stages whenever we face a change in our lives. Sometimes we go through them in the order listed; sometimes we zigzag back and forth, gradually working our way towards acceptance:

1. Shock/Denial
2. Anger
3. Depression
4. Bargaining
5. Acceptance

My counselor wrote them down for me and to this day I still have that piece of paper taped to my mirror. Looking at this list helps me understand where I am in the process of dealing with changes in my life. It helps me understand where other people are too. It was particularly useful in helping me learn to stand my ground when telling people bad news – saying no to working overtime or to covering a shift for someone else, choosing to go home and go to bed instead of going to see the person I’m dating, telling my roommate that I was moving out – these are all things this list helped me do. Eventually I didn’t even need to look at the list. I knew if I stuck to my guns the other party would work through whatever they needed to work through and accept my decision.

Another way this list is helpful is to view it as a tool. I have a friend whose brother committed suicide. When she becomes depressed about other things in her life she returns to thinking of her brother, and that depresses her further. A few days ago she said she was afraid this reoccurring depression meant she was broken… that she would never be the same.

She’s not broken. There is nothing to fix. Any time we face an unexpected change in life we’re put into Stage 1 (Shock/Denial) and we work through the stages till we find Acceptance of whatever the new change is. As we do this our brains remember other times we’ve gone through the stages. Not being able to differentiate this time through from other times is one of the things that can cause an addict to stress themselves out to the point of reverting to old comforts.

But we’re not on an infinite loop. It’s the same process, but not the same situation. Each time I write the word “think” I’m not referring to the same thought. I use the same hammer for every nail I put in. That doesn’t bother me. There’s nothing broken in us for using the same tool to get us through multiple changes in life, nor for remembering our past – and it doesn’t mean that this time is the same as (or as bad as) other times we had to use the tool.

Feelings Are Facts – Situations Are Not

Earlier this week I was involved in an exchange on Twitter with B2S2BgBkStpStdy, (I’m RecoveryToolBox):

B2S2BgBkStpStdy Feelings aren’t facts

RecoveryToolBox @B2S2BgBkStpStdy Feelings ARE a fact, addressing them is healthy. Minimizing myself/others is one of the triggers. Please clarify if you can

B2S2BgBkStpStdy @RecoveryToolBox how I feel is up 2me. I have a choice. Often we allow feelings2put us as hero/victim w/o whole story&thats not fact but ego

RecoveryToolBox @B2S2BgBkStpStdy I think we’re mixing up 2 separate things, too complex to explain in 140 letters. I’ll blog it & tweet a link instead 🙂

Here’s what I’m thinking. I don’t feel it’s accurate to say that my feelings aren’t a fact. My feelings *are* a fact. They are concrete. They are tied directly to my view of a situation. What’s not always a fact is my understanding of the situation. Sometimes it’s my view of the situation that’s limited. Sometimes I catch that right away, other times I have to share at a meeting to get feedback to point me in the right direction.

During my examination I may uncover additional facts, or get additional insight about how I’m looking at the situation (my attitude). This may lead me to change how I look at the situation – and that in turn, changes how I feel.

The fact that I have feelings still exists. I’ve not denied them, rather I’ve sought to expand my understanding of the situation that led to the feelings. It’s by taking my feelings as factual and addressing them in a healthy manner that leads me to the truth.

Emotions give me clues about what I need to pay attention to, almost like a road map. To me, denying my feelings as facts is like telling myself a road doesn’t exist. Without them where would I know where to look?

So I guess what I’m saying is that I feel B2S2BgBkStpStdy is confusing the cause and the effect here. The effects are real. The cause can be changed.

EDIT: I think I found the culprit. B2S2BgBkStpStdy said, “Often we allow feelings2put us as hero/victim” … that’s where my disagreement falls (regarding cause and effect). I don’t believe my feeling causes the misunderstanding. I feel it’s the opposite: my (mis-)understanding the situation causes feelings. When I correct my understanding of the situation my feelings adjust themselves accordingly. Either way I have to respect my feelings as the signposts they are – because sometimes my interpretation of a situation is right.

That’s what meetings are for – they’re a place I can share and get honest feedback about my interpretation of a situation. Friends and relatives might sugar-coat things and enable me to continue feeling justified. My friends in my group are more concerned with truly helping me long-term than they are with helping me feel good in the short-term.

Family of Origin, Family of Choice

We each have two families in life: the family we are born into, and the family we choose.

We can’t control what family we’re born into. Our family of origin might be full of nice people, full of mean people, or have a mixture of both. We learned many behaviors from our family of origin; these behaviors give us the ability to deal with the personalities in that family. When we get older and move out we start interacting with people who are not our relatives, who were raised in homes different from ours.

At some point we may realize the behaviors we learned in our family of origin don’t seem to work as well with other people, or they don’t work at all. Even after years of frustration some people refuse to accept that their way of dealing with life isn’t the right way, or the best way, or maybe even the only way. People who won’t accept this are trapped in playing the same card game over and over again, with the same results, regardless of who’s sitting at the table. Even though someone might get up from the table and walk away they seem to be replaced by someone who plays the hand the same way.

I have a friend who had a terrible relationship with her mother. Neither had spoken to the other in years, but within the last year the mother mentioned to other family members that she’d like my friend to call. My friend refused to do so, not even to yell at her. She explained that in her family the person making the call was seen as breaking down and accepting the guilt. She saw her refusal to make contact as a sign that she was taking the moral high ground, and though she didn’t like that other family members were being put in the middle she did like that her mother was talking to other relatives about it – she felt this was a sign that it was bothering her mother. She hoped that if she stuck to her guns long enough her mother would be the one to give in and make the call. Meanwhile, they were both interacting with other family members normally… just not each other. I said, “So you’re all sitting there at the table, still playing the same game, but in silence?” She nodded and said, “Pretty much.” I suggested when she’s ready maybe she‘ll get up and walk away from the table completely.

There’s another family we all have: our Family of Choice. The friend I mentioned above had a large group of friends. She was always going out to restaurants, nightclubs, the beach, for exercise, for brunch … they were friends from school, from work, friends of friends. These were the people she chose to surround herself with daily. They were her Family of Choice. The nice thing is that unlike our Family of Origin, we get to choose our Family of Choice. If there’s someone we don’t like, we don’t hang out with that person. If there’s someone who treats us disrespectfully or is always putting us down, we don’t have to associate with that person. If the entire group of people I think of as my friends turns out to not really be very friendly then I can choose to get up and leave, and find an entirely new group of friends who does treat me with acceptance and respect.

Some people that have come into my group have shared that they never had a Family of Choice before coming to the group. Some people have more than one Family of Choice. I’ve known the people in my group for almost ten years – some are like family to me now. I also have a group of friends from school and work that are separate – not because I try to keep them separate, but just because I recognize that many of my friends have no interest in anything related to twelve-step groups (which is fine, that’s their right). The tools I’ve learned in my counseling and twelve-step group have helped me have healthier and happier relationships with both my Family of Origin and my Family of Choice.

Typically people find themselves in a group because of something going on in their relationships – either something has changed drastically, or needs to. What needs to change may be in our family of origin, our family of choice, or in us. More often than not, all three need to change in some way, because a change in one affects the other two. In dealing with these changes we uncover either fears or desires (or both) that we might not have known we had – if we did know about them, we may be surprised how deep they run. These programs teach us tools and help us learn to use them. In the process we take inventory of our relationships with ourselves, with our family of origin, our family of choice, and everyone else in the world. With these tools we learn to forge healthier relationships from here on out.

Specifically, the title of this tool is used to remind us that the pain in our life caused by a relationship with a specific person or group is not the entire world. We have friends, an extended family we can turn to for help, and if we don’t have another family then we can make one. There’s a difference between a house and a home, namely the presence of love. If we don’t find the love we want in our Family of Origin then we can find it in our Family of Choice. If we don’t find the love we want in our Family of Choice that’s okay too – because it’s a family of choice.  That means they’re part of our lives because we choose for them to be, and if we decide we no longer want them in our lives we can choose that too. We can’t change who makes up our Family of Origin, but we can decide whom we consider our Family of Choice.