Category Archives: 2 – From a DBT-CBT Therapy Perspective

Recovery is a Process: When a Boulder Slams Into Our Recovery Path

Recovery is a Process

“Why try? I’m tired of trying. “Why change? Nothing ever changes?” Many folks in early recovery believe NOTHING will ever get better or they believe things will get better, but only temporarily! They expect that when things are going well, something will happen and ruin everything…the bottom will fall out again and they will end up in the same position or worse. They have trouble believing recovery will make a real difference in their life.

The truth, when we are living a recovery lifestyle things get better in our life. As recovery time increases, the big picture of our life begins to come together and many good things happen. At first, one or two good things happen. When we build on these improvements, several more good things happen…then several more…and several more. Soon, we go from experiencing relief to experiencing some life satisfaction. Over time, periods of joy occur…and meaning returns to our life! The truth, things get better when we get better. Things change when we change.

When a Boulder Lands on Our Recovery Path: Things rock along okay for a while…3 months, 6 months, sometimes longer. We’re dealing with stuff that comes our way…and we’re making gains day by day…and then, something happens. Boom! It’s like a boulder falls out of the sky and smashes right into the middle of our recovery path. We’re now faced with a huge stumbling block…something big…and something hard to get around.

The boulder that slams into our recovery path may be an old friend who shows up one day, maybe someone we’ve been in love with before. We’re feeling all the fun and excitement of the good ol’ times. We’re tempted to spend time with them to relive old times and cherished memories…however, their situation or lifestyle conflicts with our recovery plan. Maybe they still drink or use drugs, or cut, or shoplift…maybe they have a bad attitude or they don’t have steady work and want to stay with us for a while…maybe they’re moody and get very critical and ugly…maybe they’ve abused us before.

The truth…life is going to happen. Difficult things will come our way and boulders will land on our recovery path. The direction our life goes depends on the choice we make when we’re faced with difficult situations. It’s like we come to a fork in the road. We can keep on the right path or we can go down the wrong road. No matter what we do, WE ALWAYS HAVE A CHOICE…to stay on the Recovery Path or to go down Relapse Road.

At this point, we’re faced with a major decision…and we have two choices. We can fight to stay on the recovery path and work to deal with the situation productively, or we can relapse into old behaviors and habits to numb-out and white-out the pain and distress. If we choose to stay on the recovery path, we’ll probably have a tough time dealing with the situation. Getting around, through, and passed a boulder takes time and we’re impatient creatures…especially when we’re expected to tolerate discomfort, inconvenience, pain, and suffering without our preferred destructive coping behaviors! We don’t want to tolerate distress and it’s very tempting to give up…and give in to old ways…the ways of relapse. We don’t want to take the time it takes…to deal with the boulder. We want the pain and discomfort to go away…fast. We don’t want the stress. We don’t want the heartache. We just want to be happy. We want life to go smooth…and when it doesn’t, we get discouraged. We want to call it quits. If life has to be like this, we don’t want any part of it.

The truth is…to maintain recovery, we must have an attitude of willingness. We must be willing to do whatever we need to do to be okay and to maintain our recovery. If we don’t do what it takes to stay on the recovery path…if we don’t try hard enough for long enough…it’s likely that we’ll relapse into our former destructive ways. Then, many of the things that became good because of our recovery will once again go bad…and that’s when we’ll walk away saying, “Why did I even try? I always relapse and things get bad again.”

The truth is…when we try…and continue to try to deal with life and all the boulders that come our way, life will get better and better. If we keep on keeping on, we’ll finally get through…passed…over…and around the boulders and obstacles in our recovery. That’s how people recover. They don’t give up…or they don’t give up for long!

Recovery is not one action. It is not something that happens in a day. It is step-by-step, decision by decision, and day after day. It is a lifestyle…and a life-long endeavor!

Why try? Because life gets good when we try and even better when we keep trying and refuse to give up! The something that happens that destroys our life is our decision to relapse. The thing that really breaks us and causes us to bottom-out emotionally and spiritually is a broken promise to ourselves…the promise we make at the start of recovery. It’s the promise that, “I’ll do whatever it takes to be okay…because I’m tired of living this way. Come hail or high water, I’ll do whatever I have to do to be okay…because I refuse to live like this anymore.”

In our recovery, there will be times when we’re holding on by just a thread…but we’re holding on. It’s only when we let go, that we fall. It’s like the saying, “You never fail until you stop trying.”

—————————————————–

Adapted from Chapter 3 “The Pathways of Recovery” from the DBT-CBT recovery workbook “Out-of-Control: A Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Workbook for Getting Control of Our Emotions and Emotion-Driven Behavior” – Copyright 2009 by Melanie Gordon Sheets, Ph.D.  (www.dbt-cbt-workbook.com)

Image

The Strength to Love Again

It certainly takes a lot to open our hearts to truly love again. It’s about the willingness to take the risk to love again…to trust that this love will bring us joy and not pain…or that it will bring us much more joy than pain…or that this love will enhance our lives in such a meaningful way that any pain experienced is well worth it and that in the long run, our lives will be much more beautiful and complete because we loved again.

A wise mind knows that when we truly love, we will also truly experience pain.  Pain is often a by-product of love…even the most perfect or true love. The deeper we love…the deeper our pain is likely to be. That’s why some who have been  been deeply hurt by love, have made a conscious decision to never love again. They “refuse” to love again. They guard against lowering their guard…they work very hard to maintain a closed heart, to be detached, and to not care too much. They are not willing to open their lives to love again.

So, in their efforts to protect themselves against future pain, they cause themselves ongoing pain and suffering. Their daily lives are marked with pain…loneliness, anger, resentment, bitterness, unresolved emotional issues and concerns…and the pain of unfulfilled needs for attachment and love.

It takes great strength to open our hearts to love again…because we know that loving someone will also bring pain. It’s the acceptance that nothing is perfect…and the knowing that our lives and the lives of those we love will be much better because we loved again.

Note:  The accompanying photo/poster was copied from a Facebook posting.  It is not an original work! 

If our loved one truly loves us, but they are abusive towards us…should we forgive them…and continue to stay with them even though they are hurting us…and emotionally destroying us?

Some folks, because of their raising and emotional stuff, have a hard time saying, “I love you.” or showing their love physically through hugs n’ rubs. Their kids, spouses, and other intimates sometimes develop issues because they are not demonstrative of their love. Their intimates question their love for them because they do not show it. They sometimes feel a void or emptiness because of the absence of verbal and physical manifestations of their love. This can create a great deal of frustration and tension in the relationship. So, just like WE have issues and shortcomings…we have to recognize these folks have their own issues and shortcomings…and the lack of verbal and physical acknowledgement of their love for us…happens to be one of their shortcomings. So, instead of continually questioning whether or not our loved ones love us…we ought to look at the Big Picture of their behavior towards us…how they prove their love in other ways…like the things they do for us and the way they treat us. I believe that love is an action…that when people love us, it is apparent in their behavior towards us.

But this brings up another point. Some people because of their upbringing and trauma experiences, may act in VERY unloving ways towards us. For instance, they may be physically or emotionally abusive. I believe that many of these folks actually love their people, but their emotional issues result in very unloving actions towards us and other loved ones. They act that way…not because they don’t love us…but because of Emotional Mind dynamics…and being abusive is their destructive coping behavior…they yell n’ scream and cuss n’ fuss and they may hit us. Their behavior is not a manifestation of love or lack thereof, but a manifestation of the ugly inside them…all the pain and anger and ugliness from their past. It’s like they “throw up” or vomit that ugliness on those closest to them. Why? Because they have all this toxic stuff inside them…and when they get “Big-Time in Emotional Mind,” the poison is bubbling up inside them…and they blow up…and this stuff blows out…and all over those around them. Why the family and those they love? Well, we are the safe objects…the safest place for the emotional tension to be released. Because we’re safe, we stay with them…and they can “get away with it.” They can explode on us and around us. Point…it’s not about their love for us, it’s about their emotional baggage…their past relationship experiences…their history of trauma…and how they learned to cope with negative emotions. That’s what makes abuse intergenerational. That’s how it gets passed on from one generation to the other. It’s about social learning, trauma, emotional pain and intensity, and destructive coping behaviors.

So, this brings up another point. If our loved one truly loves us, but they are abusive towards us…should we have mercy…forgive them…and continue to stay with them even though they are hurting us…and emotionally destroying us? Should we practice “love is an action” and stay with them? I believe we should protect ourselves and others and get out of the situation…because we’ll never be okay IN this toxic relationship…and if we have kids, we have a responsibility to protect our children and not allow them to be victimized…and exposed to poison. If we remain in the situation, we are just enabling the perpetrator to continue their destructive coping behavior and we are setting the stage for this destructiveness to pass through the generations…to our children and grandchildren. If we have been victimized and have emotional issues because of this, we need to get therapy for ourselves and the other victims to work through this so we are not living our lives…living this out. We have to do something to stop this destruction both in the here-and-now…and in the future. We have to stop the cycle. It will be healing to know though…that the one who hurt us…probably really loved us…but their emotional stuff got in the way of demonstrating that love in all ways. We ought to understand that what they did, had less to do with love…and much more to do with how they cope with pain and stress. They were desperate for relief in the moment, the emotional moment…and they did what “came natural” to them. They did what was “bred into them”…what their role models did…what they learned to do…and what gives them immediate relief in the moment. It’s like their drug of choice.

We all have some undesirable ways of releasing the pressure of the emotional moment. I believe we all enact destructive coping behaviors…some more so than others…and some of these destructive coping behaviors are more destructive than others. Some people are abusive to others and some are abusive to themselves. Some smoke, drink, drug, or overeat. Some over-shop, over-golf, over-work, over-play, over-Facebook…over-sex…etc. Others may withdraw, isolate, under-work, under-eat…etc. We’ve all got “stuff” and our challenge is to find healthy ways of releasing stress and pressure and dealing with our emotional issues and concerns. We’ve got to find Life-Enhancing coping mechanisms and to refuse to do our “preferred” or overlearned destructive coping behaviors.

Track Your Emotional Level Using “The Levels of Emotion Chart” from the DBT-CBT Workbook (with Estimates of Emotional Mind and Rational Mind)

The Levels of Emotion Chart provides descriptions of how we FEEL and FUNCTION when we’re experiencing different levels of negative emotion. The levels range from 0-10. At Level 0, we are at peace. At Level 10, we are desperately overwhelmed with negative emotion. Notice the far right columns.  They show how active Emotional Mind and Rational Mind are at each level (this is just a guess though!) This chart helps to gauge or measure our emotional intensity and to better understand the effect our emotional levels have on our ability to participate effectively in our life.

Use the link below to check out the chart and to read the text from the workbook related to the chart.  I don’t know why, but you’ll go to a page view that doesn’t open the file…BUT, if you click the link again when you get to that page…it’ll come up like it’s supposed to!  

The Levels of Emotion Chart – from the DBT-CBT Therapy Workbook by Melanie Gordon Sheets, Ph.D.

Review the levels of emotion in the chart and answer the following questions.

What level are you currently at?

What has been you lowest and highest level today?

What is the level of your best functioning over the past week? the last month?

At what level were you at when “Something Happened” and you ended up having to go into treatment?

At what level should you seek help so you can prevent going into treatment?

Most group members believe we should call our support person, sponsor, counselor, or crisis worker at level 5 or 6. Knowing what they know now, they want to get help BEFORE things begin to get out-of-control. At levels 5 and 6, we still have a fair amount of Rational Mind going on. This helps us to seek support…and to accept the Rational Mind and Wise Mind understandings and suggestions offered to us!

The Dynamics of Emotional Mind and It’s Role in Driving Destructive Coping Behavior: When Emotional Mind Drives…We Wreck Out…and Our Lives Become a Total Wreck

The Dynamics of Emotional Mind - hand-out  092010b

View the pdf file for a readable image – click the link below

The Dynamics of Emotional Mind – DBT-CBT Conference Handout – 072411

This hand-out addresses the dynamics of Emotional Mind and its role in driving destructive emotion-driven coping behaviors (e.g., substance abuse, aggression, eating disorders, etc.)

The “Cycle of Suffering”- when we respond to emotional pain and life problems in destructive, emotion-driven ways, we end up with new problems and increasingly severe old problems…and we feel worse than before.  If we respond to this new level of pain and problems in destructive ways, our pain and problems will continue to intensify and multiply.  Because we’re not working through our pain or resolving our problems, our emotional baggage piles up.  The trauma from the past weighs us down in the present and intensifies present misery.  What could have been temporary pain and problems has turned into long-term pain and suffering.  The only way to get the cycle of suffering to stop…is to stop it.  We can stop our suffering by stopping our destructive coping behavior.  We must turn on Rational Mind to “think through before we do” and we must “follow through” with Wise Mind problem-solving and life-enhancing coping behaviors.

Based on:  “Out-of-Control:  A Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Workbook for Getting Control of Our Emotions and Emotion-Driven Behavior” copyright © 2010 by Melanie Gordon Sheets, Ph.D.   (www.dbt-cbt-workbook.com)

“I Really Don’t Think of You as a Fat Person”: How the Big Picture of the Whole Person Changes the View

I responded yesterday to a LinkedIn discussion started by William Anderson, MA, LMHC, psychotherapist and director at The Anderson Method Therapist Network, and the author of the book, “The Anderson Method:  The Secret to Permanent Weight Loss” which describes his weight loss therapy program.  The discussion topic was, “Do you think there is bias against obese people in the counseling professions?  This is the information I shared on the topic, slightly modified:  

I’m just thinking…and haven’t totally processed this.  I’m thinking that one reason obese folks receive such negative scrutiny along with negative character judgments is that their addiction is very obvious…thus, the judgments come…perhaps similar to the judgments people make of others with obvious addictions…if they recognize the signs of such severe addictions.  In my life, I have been slender and I have been morbidly obese and I’m very aware of the discrimination based on weight, both interpersonally and professionally…and, I was always hard on myself. 

It ALWAYS amazed me when close friends would say, “I really don’t think of you as a fat person.”  At that time, I was huge…and I would say, “C’mon man, I’m wide both ways!” as I gestured left to right and front to back.  Their follow-up responses led me to believe that this was because they knew me as a person, the whole person including my positive personal characteristics and they did not superficially judge me to be a “fat person” as they would others they didn’t know…the nasty generalizations of the stereotypes of a very heavy person.  They perceived me and responded to me based on my character and personality, not the way I looked.

Once I had lost a lot of weight, my obese sister once said…”Isn’t it nice that you are no longer invisible.”  She was referring to the positive acknowledgement that better looking people receive…people show you positive regard and treat you differently.  I then told her how a young man working at a grocery store stopped me in the parking lot as I was pushing my cart to the car and he actually asked me if I would like some help with my groceries.  That was a first.  Had I been heavy and for me, less attractive, would he have offered?  I think not.  Me, I make a point of being nice and acknowledging people who I perceive are not commonly acknowledged or the recipients of random acts of kindness and respect.  Was just thinking….

Link to the LinkedIn discussion

Link to William Anderson’s book on Amazon

Why We Relapse: Desperate for Peace in a World of Emotional Turmoil

I responded today to a LinkedIn discussion started by Elisabeth Davies, MC of Bright Alternatives, Inc.  and the author of “Good Things, Emotional Healing Journal: Addiction.”  The discussion topic was, “Is relapsing with unhealthy substances an attempt to get more peace of mind? Being so passionate about this recovery topic, here’s my long-winded response!

“For many, yes. Many use substances as a coping behavior to help bring their emotional level to a more tolerable or comfortable level. Also, returning to such a behavior reduces the extreme tension of wanting to do it and not allowing ourselves to…thus, the experience of immediate relief or peace in-the-moment. To help us to feel better about relapsing, we’ve probably come up with all types of reasons (emotion-driven lies) as to why it is okay to do and would help us…and how we can also quit again when life settles down, etc…unless of course, it is a major emotional reflex to an immediate stressor and we do it VERY impulsively…without giving it much thought.

Relapsing on substances is little different than wolfing down a big bag of cookies or scoops n’ scoops of ice cream, or starting to smoke again, a “forbidden” sexual encounter….whatever. I think these types of behaviors have to do with attempts to bring an “out-of-control” emotional mind into control…so that we feel better and more comfortable in the emotional moment. It is all about being desperate for relief and doing what brings us relief, often immediate relief. It’s a desperate way to experience a sense of emotional, psychological, and physical peace IN-THE-MOMENT…although we’ll have hell to pay when we come to (when the emotional moment passes and rational mind picks up strength).

When we come to and realize what just happened and are faced with the consequences of our behavior…and the unresolved problem…we feel bad again…and then we may continue destructive coping….chasing “peace in the moment”…When we use destructive coping behaviors to deal with our pain and problems, we enter the Cycle of Suffering. Our problems multiply and intensity and we go through a period of increased pain and suffering as a result.

I believe most people use destructive coping behaviors to some degree (e.g., overworking, oversleeping, physical aggression, yelling, throwing fits, being rude and ugly, ‘always speaking our mind”, lying, gambling, obsessive exercise, cheating, sleeping around, codependency, procrastination, smoking, prescription meds, alcohol, overeating or eating the desired “poison foods” for us, being hyperreligious, narcissistic….and the list goes on and on.) I actually tell my patients that it’s “normal” to be “abnormal” and entirely abnormal to be so perfectly normal and in control of ourselves. We all do some destructive coping behaviors and the healthier or more in recovery we are…the less we do these things…and the more we work VERY hard to stay in control of our emotions, behaviors, and our addictions of choice….and the more we choose life-enhancing coping behaviors instead.

I’m obviously very passionate about this…it’s one of those, “been there, done that, still doing that…having to fight for recovery at times to stay in control…and not to get too far out of control” type of things for me. I believe that when we are in recovery…we remain “works in progress.” Sometimes it’s a daily battle and sometimes, an occasional battle. We’re emotional critters and creatures of habit…and when we hurt or are feeling desperate and “out-of-control”…we tend to fall back into old patterns of relief-seeking behaviors…or to certainly think about doing them!

We’re emotional critters and creatures of habit…and when we hurt or are feeling desperate and “out-of-control”…we tend to fall back into old patterns of relief-seeking behavior…or to certainly think about doing them!”

And you know the more we think about doing them…the more likely we are to finally do them. That’s because the tension is building…we want…and we won’t allow ourselves to have…and we want…we tell ourselves “NO”…and we want…and we’re tired of the pain, problems, tension, and frustration…and we become desperate for relief and peace…that we finally do what we keep trying not to do…and we relapse. Have you “been there, done that?” Have you been through this struggle? It’s a battle of the minds, Emotional Mind vs. Rational Mind and Wise Mind. It’s a battle of wills…willingness vs. willfulness. Which recovery skills do you use to get through the “fixing to relapse” moment? Do you still have these moments?

I believe that one of our major recovery tasks is to learn ways to keep our Emotional Mind in control and to tame our Emotional Mind when it is getting out-of-control. That’s my biggest recovery task…and it’s always a battle of the mind states and a battle of will. Sometimes, I grow tired of the battle and dealing with my emotional, willful self. At those tired, weak moments, I remind myself….”Mel, what do you want…peace and stability or chaos and pain?” Isn’t it horrible that you have to parent yourself even when you’re a grown-up!?

Link to the LinkedIn discussion

Link to Elisabeth’s book:  “Good Things, Emotional Healing Journal: Addiction on Amazon

Link to Elisabeth’s blog