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Recovering from Childhood Adversity

Note: The following essay was initially written as part of a fourteen article series for the Center for Post Trauma Wellness (CPTW) website, where most of the pieces are already online. The CPTW site is new and has yet to build up much traffic. In the interest of both finding a larger audience for this project and also giving CPTW some exposure, I am going to post the series here. Although the world is full of suffering, it is...
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Letter from the Brink of Sanity

How to tell a story that has no beginning and no end? A tale that was ongoing before you were born and continues to this day?

Choose an episode that pressed your first footprints on some new path. Like the time you landed in a mental hospital. Not the first time, when you were bent on squeezing the life out of your sad, broken body, but the second. The time you saw God, or...
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The Shocking Truth of Suicide?

You publish something online about feeling suicidal, and you quickly realize the topic upsets people. After the last essay, posted both here and on my personal site (WillSpirit!) I received many kind emails and comments, which was sweet and gratifying. But I also heard some expressions of alarm.

Since suicidal depression has haunted my life since my mother died in a psychiatric hospital when I was six, it hardly shocks me. But the...
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I Think, therefore I Feel?

We suffer for our ideas. Here are some of the concepts that can make me miserable: "I haven't lived up to my potential;" "I don't have enough friends;" "I'll be alone in old age;" "No one takes me seriously."

These thoughts are prompted by my personal history and situation, but they amount to vague and ungrounded fears. (How is potential defined? How many friends equals enough? Can I be sure about the future? How would I...
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Where Mindfulness Fails

Over cups of coffee a few days ago, my friend Larry Berkelhammer and I discussed mindfulness meditation. For some reason, I felt moved to criticize Western mindfulness instruction as "derivative." Larry served as a good foil to my rant, since as explained in the 'About Dr. Berkelhammer' section of his website, he has a long, distinguished history of practicing mindful meditation and teaching it to those with chronic illness.

Let me...
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What Goes Around Comes Around

Feelings spread through groups of people, right? Not long ago I was riding in the car with my wife when another driver behaved aggressively as we sped down the freeway. It was frightening and maddening. As the other car cut her off, my spouse reacted irritably. In hopes of calming her I pointed out that the dangerous driver must have been feeling pretty crummy to act as he did. His rage threatened to...
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It’s All Broken, and None of It Needs to Be Fixed

The last post explored the futility of seeking lasting satisfaction through work, love, and other worldly pursuits. Recognizing this dilemma, we might ask: If satisfaction is evanescent, why do anything at all? Why not just refuse to participate?

But even stasis leaves an imprint, so we need to be sure of ourselves before rejecting society and its activities. We cannot avoid marking the world; our freedom lies in selecting how. We are destined to work and to love, but our decisions direct our efforts and affection. Some strive toward selfish ends and love narrowly. Others behave generously and adore the entire biosphere.

All of which raises another question: How do we optimize our choices?
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I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Until recently, I seldom felt satisfied. Even during those rare periods when life was going smoothly, without uproar or mood disorder, it always seemed lacking. No career, relationship, home, hobby, or vacation escaped this critique.

I knew mine was not a healthy attitude and harbored no doubt that my personality was flawed. But I could not fix the problem.

Although I don't call myself a Buddhist, there is little doubt that the Buddha saw our human situation clearly. One of his "Four Noble Truths" states that life is inherently unsatisfying. This comforts me, because it situates the root problem in the world rather than my character.

Not that I don't need to change, but the issue isn't one of learning to feel fulfilled in the common sense of the word. Adjusting my personality won't alter the fact that life disappoints.

According to Buddhist nosology, afflictions of the human spirit derive from three delusions about reality. We habitually seek permanence, satisfaction, and individuality, but impermanence is the rule, dissatisfaction is unavoidable, and individuality is an illusion.

A recent
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The Rules That Rule Our Lives

Both here and on my primary site, I've covered Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) several times. The ACT method has helped me find peace of mind that exceeds what I was able to achieve using other therapies.

It seems like a worthy topic for that reason, but I should emphasize that my perspective is that of an informed layperson, not a psychotherapist. Consider this a disclaimer: these blog posts cannot be used as guides to adopting ACT behavioral techniques. My goal is merely to advertise the power of the therapy. Interested readers should consult authoritative books and professionals.

With that out of the way, I'd like to return to my last post, which attempted to illustrate some ACT concepts through the vehicle of my own hangups following my mother's death.

As I look back at that essay, I see it covers a lot of ground. Single sentences gloss over topics that take up entire chapters in ACT texts. For the sake of clarity, it's worth dissecting the key points a bit further.
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