Archives for December, 2011
The approach of a new year can be a source of stress or a source of anticipation depending on your personal perspective. For some, like myself, we are quite simply incurable optimists when it comes to the New Year. We are just convinced - year after year after year - that the moment January 1st arrives, all the work-in-progress projects we've been attempting unsuccessfully for these past many months (or decades) will simply and neatly resolve themselves into the pristine newness of a whole new year. Needless to say, our breed is frequently disappointed. For others, the New Year is a source of remembered shame from years past, a continual pea in the mattress or pebble in the shoe of our willingness to believe in such a thing as a "new leaf", a "New Year's resolution", or much of anything "new" anymore. Here, jaded personal pessimism is the order of business on January 1st, and worldly-wise has long since ceded the New Year's path to worldly-weary for these folks. And then there are those folks who find themselves somewhere in between.
Does religion have a place in recovery? The answer is yes. And no. By the way, by "religion," I realize I may be inadvertently saying different things to different folks. For some, "religion" may mean planning a regular visit to a house of worship, while for others "religion" may mean waking up a bit early each morning for a meditation session before work or school. Still others may define "religion" as something much closer to the realm of "spirituality," as in an approach to every day life that encompasses the connection we all share. And still others may have a definition for "religion" that I've never heard of or thought of before. However, that doesn't change the answer to whether religion has a place in recovery. The answer is still yes. And still no.
It is no secret that I am a huge cinema fan. There are many movies and movie characters that inspire me, but in particular I have noticed that Clint Eastwood is a great mentor if you have self-confidence issues. Some of Clint's most famous roles, like police inspector Harry Callahan in "Dirty Harry," war veteran Walt Kowalski in "Gran Torino," and Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan in "In the Line of Fire," teach us all what it means to have a sense of yourself, your talents, your capabilities, your personal "line in the sand" and your self-integrity. Admittedly, Clint has as many great "bad guy" roles to his credit as his "good guy" star-making roles, but this too is just a metaphor for the many sides of "us," as his movie "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly" succinctly reminds us. One of my favorite scenes is from "Dirty Harry" where the bad guys - four total - are trying to rob the diner where Harry gets his coffee each morning. To warn him, the waitress pours lots of sugar in his black coffee. Harry, reading the morning paper, fails to notice until he gets outside, tastes his brew, and spits it back out. And promptly heads back to the coffee shop.
It's my birthday today. So I've decided to write about my favorite subject - birds. When I visit a place to speak, I always ask the audience to raise their hand if they have a pet. For those who don't, their assignment is to get one. This is because pets are great for learning healthy self-esteem. Let's take Exhibit A: my pet bird, Pearl. Pearl is 10 years old this year. Every morning for the past 10 years, Pearl has awoken in exactly the same way. First, I uncover her cage. Next, I open the door and she scurries out. She then makes her way up the side of the cage to the bathroom mirror, conveniently located next to her cage. Then she looks in the mirror, spies herself, and lets out a loud birdie cat-call. You can almost hear her avian thoughts, "WOW! Pretty pretty PRETTY! I am SO lucky! I get to spend another day with the most beautiful bird in the whole world - ME! Yippee!" I have to admit, I rarely (if ever) greet myself that way when I first catch sight of myself in that same bathroom mirror in the morning.
I don't talk about birds as much on this blog as I do in other places where I write. But all that is about to change, because recently, I saw the movie "Rio". About a dozen times. Featuring a tame blue macaw named Blu, the movie is less about its overt plot to mate the last male and female blue macaws together to save the species, and more about the transformative power of relationships to make the unimaginable possible. In Blu's case, his issue is flying. He can't. Or so he thinks. Then Blu gets captured, chained to Jewel, a blue macaw who can fly, and, well, you know what comes next. Or maybe you don't.
Recently a treasured friend and colleague of mine, Laura Lyster-Mensch of the parent eating disorder mentoring and activist organization FEAST, wrote a piece for "The Huffington Post" about Tracey Gold's new show, "Starving Secrets." Laura's piece, which is well-researched and written, as her work always is, brings up a pet peeve of mine that extends not just to so-called "helpful" intervention-themed television programs, but to magazines, billboards, and our weight-focused (and weight-phobic) culture in general. With all that we know now about eating disorders - how many people are affected (as many as 10 percent of the United States population) - how serious these diseases really are (the most deadly of all psychiatric illnesses) - and the complex bio-psycho-social "soup" that is required in order to bring an eating disorder into full-fledged existence, can we not do any better than we are doing to help those who suffer?
Oh boy. The holidays are here. And so is the holiday food. For those of us with eating disorders, any date with the word "holiday" in it is not necessarily a reason to rejoice. For many of us, the approach of a holiday can even induce panic. This is where mentoring can really come in handy.
Your "spirit." What the heck does that mean, anyway? If you are of a religious bent, you may explain "spirit" in the terms of your faith background, such as "Holy Spirit" for Christians, or "Shakti" for Hindu traditions. If you are not of a religious bent, your definition of spirit may be more ambiguous, and you may be more inclined to describe spirit as "connection," "benevolent good" or "universal truth." If you are of neither a religious nor a spiritual bent, you may simply enjoy the obvious universality of certain basic life experiences, including emotion, thought, ambition, the desire for relationship, and other fundamental characteristics you appear to share with the beings living all around you. The important element here is not to nail down your exact literal translation of what spirit means to you, but rather to learn to express how it feels within you.
Oh boy. The heart. The heart is about as understandable to us as the mind, if we attempt to view our physical heart and our emotional heart (aka our emotions) as one and the same. Rather, as in the case of "mind" and "brain," the singular key to grasping hold of the right approach to heart-healthy living is to understand that you are once again dealing on two levels - the physical and the mental. Why the mental, you might ask? Because thoughts and emotions are inextricably linked. What we think about will prompt emotions. What we feel will prompt thoughts. This is how we make sense of what we are feeling, and how we feel what we are trying to make sense of. So first things first. Taking care of our heart is at its most fundamental learning the basics of care for the other most important organ in our body (besides the brain): our heart.