Dealing with Emotions

Unwanted emotions. How do you deal with emotions?

As emotional beings of this earth, we all are inevitably going to feel a wide range of emotions. It is arguably, one of the characteristic traits of the human condition and being a sentient being on this planet. We know and understand on a core level, that we will inevitably feel happiness, sadness, anger and fear. So what do we do with those negative emotions when they come up?

Tell me if any of these sound like your familiar go-to’s:

  • Check-out- Use those familiar comforts to numb yourself from the feeling
  • Blame- Project it on someone else
  • Avoidance- Pretend it isn’t really there
  • Blow it up- Make it bigger and badder than it really is

It is human nature to avoid the uncomfortable. We as humans are really good at finding ways to avoid that uncomfortability. We want to feel good, of course! So, we use what we know to get us through it. Anything to get to the other side of this feeling!

Handling Emotions

I’m going to stop you right there, before you go justifying your poor coping mechanisms.

What if life is not meant to always feel good? What if a life, completely fulfilled and whole, is emotional? How would your perspective then change?

What if the meaning of life was to experience it’s every offering, good and bad? Every moment, our emotions are evolving.  They change just as frequently as the clouds, and move just as swiftly.

Our emotions serve a biological purpose, but aren’t as accurate as we give them credit for being. We invest so much into our emotions, it’s how we feel.  How could they be wrong? Here’s a quick breakdown of what our emotions are and where they come from:

Fear

Our minds, are constantly working inside the confines of what it knows. It is constantly trying to make judgments on its surroundings, based on the environment and what’s happening. So we have a bunch of stimuli going on in the outside world, and as our mind is trying to get a grasp on whether it’s even fundamentally safe or not, it looks for cues.  Is this experience pleasant? Am I comfortable? Is this safe? – it’s our reaction to this environment that creates emotion. When we are safe, we are happy. When we aren’t we experience fear, anger and sadness, or some mutated variation of it.

 

Now, here is the most mind blowing thing about emotions. They don’t last very long, at all. About 90 seconds. Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist Nun, asserts this claim and explains it beautifully. In her book, Living Beautifully, Chodron explains this claim in more detail. (Jill Bolte Taylor, also talks about this in a more medical context in her book, A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey) Here’s the Cliff Notes of Chodron’s take:

If you were to simply allow an emotion to exist for 90 seconds, without any judgment or attachment, it will go away at the end of that 90 Seconds. Seems crazy, right? She goes on to explain that, when we experience an emotion for longer than that, which can at times feel like an eternity, it’s our own thoughts keeping us there. She refers to those thoughts, as hooks. Hooks into some story or belief, that we are holding onto for whatever reason. She suggests just feeling into that emotion, as much as possible prior to letting it go.

So that’s it. It’s really that easy as a few brief steps, and you could be moving through an emotion in under two minutes. Here is my formula for handling those emotions:

  1. Stop. Breathe, and identify the emotion.
  2. Allow it. Give it all the space, energy and heart you have. Treat it authentically, giving it the grace to just be an emotion.
  3. Let it go. Release any stories, thoughts or hooks that want to hold onto that emotion a little longer.

It seems so simple, but it is a life changing three steps if you can permit it it’s space. Emotions, are a part of life. They are never “good” or “bad”, those are modifications that we put on it ourselves. Emotions are just our brains best guess at how to interact with its environment.

When we resist our emotions, we are resisting an integral part of life. 

Courage to Change

Here in Colorado, the weather is as unpredictable as it can get. Some days, you can literally see all four season in a 24 hour span. This past week however, it stayed consistently gray, gloomy and rainy. After a week of sunshine, high temperatures and elevated spirits- the weather dipped back into the typical gray of Colorado Springs. Of course, as cliche as it is, I began to think more about change.

I could feel myself literally resisting the rain, in favor for the sunny skies I had the week prior. Stuck, my thoughts circled and spiraled into negativity. Why is it that we resist change, despite knowing it’s inevitability?

PSX_20180526_172231My path towards healing, required that I be open to change. I didn’t want to change the way I thought, spoke, behaved and coped. I had a comfy little setup, protecting me from anything that could possibly make me uncomfortable. At even the mention of change, I would retreat further into my box of negativity, victim, shame and entitlement.

But the stories we make up about the change, tend to be so much worse than the change itself. We make these great big stories up about how impossibly excruciating, engaging in change would be. So we don’t. We stay stuck.

Here’s the unfortunate truth that lies at the bottom of that logic- If you don’t change, you will be changed. Everything changes, including you. The weather,seasons, time, places, ideas – it all is continually morphing and growing into something else. We are no exception. If you aren’t the one doing the changing yourself, than you fall victim to change. You become changed by the circumstances of your life, passively. Without the responsibility of creating your own life in your own vision, you leave your life up to chance.

PSX_20180526_171609I invite you to engage in the change yourself. Embrace the beautiful truth that we all change, and recreate yourself. Don’t be afraid to embrace a new, changed version of yourself. We are always evolving, and if you are courageous enough to take charge of your life- you change for the better. You are empowered, you are creating.

Harm Reduction

Today is International Harm Reduction Day. It is a day that intends to honor the practice of harm reduction in our communities, and the people who champion for that cause. Downtown today, the Harm Reduction Action Center was busy, dispensing kits and patrolling Colfax for possible overdoses. Online, the conversation continues to get heated and everyone is asking, “What does harm reduction mean?”

Harm Reduction means simply that. It means to reduce the potential harm done, through evidence based tools and techniques. This does not simply apply to Substance Use Disorders. As a society, we have recognized the importance of harm reduction as a simple idea. We see it all the time, without even thinking about it.

  • When you ride a bike, do you hear a helmet?
  • When you get in your car, do you strap on your seat belt?
  • When you go out in the sun, do you slather on the sunscreen?
  • When you have sex, do you use a condom?

If you answered yes to any of the above, then congratulations! You have participated in some form of harm reduction.

But, what does it mean in relation to substance use? Why is such a logical idea a controversial issue when related to substance use? Well, let’s talk about what harm reduction even means in substance use.

When we talk about all the potential harms that substance use can cause, the list is both troublesome and daunting. Infectious diseases, overdoses, societal harms, legal

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issues, loss of shelter, poor health, death- to name a notorious hand full. The aim of the conversation around harm reduction for people in recovery, is to hopefully mitigate some of those risks through evidence based practices. We are seeking to lessen the prevalence of these risks among people who use, so that we can move towards a more contributing and healthy society. The ways in which this is done, is often the most controversial elements of the conversation.

When someone is using, the first thing that we can do is engage in a sincere conversation around harm reduction. We can invite them to use in a way that is less risky, and benefits not just the person using, but society as well. This conversation does two things:

  1. It empowers the individual to make their own decisions, and safer choices and
  2. It removes the judgement around substance use and creates a safe place for that individual to express legitimate concerns in the recovery process

So, how are we encouraging people in substance use recovery to participate in harm reduction? Is harm reduction really even beneficial, and how?

  • Medication Assisted Treatment- The use of pharmaceuticals such as Methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol assist people in recovery in multiple ways. The premise of Methadone, was introduced as a way to mitigate illegal behavior in people suffering from substance use disorders through the dispensing of Methadone. The idea: People in recovery won’t engage in illegal activities in order to obtain their drug of choice if they aren’t suffering symptoms of withdrawal. MAT is a component of harm reduction because it mitigates the societal harms of substance use.
  • Needle Exchanges/Clean Needle Kits- The Harm Reduction Action Center in Denver provides this service to people every day. Getting old, dull and dirty needles off of the street is a necessary step in keeping rates of infectious diseases down. Needle kits also help to lower risk of preventable diseases that can occur from reusing needles.
  • Safer Routes of Use- Becoming an advocate for safer routes of use is also an easy way to reduce potential harms. For example, encouraging a needle user to switch to smoking or snorting, can lessen the opportunity for overdoses.
  • Naloxone- Naloxone is a life saving pharmaceutical that has the potential to reverse an overdose. It has already saved lives, and continues to every day.

Okay, so all of that said and done here is the controversial topic:

Isn’t harm reduction just enabling?

The short answer here is, no. However, when you look a little deeper into the issue it’s easy to see that it isn’t so black and white. Yes, on a certain level you are consciously acknowledging that they are going to continue to use. Yes, you are engaging in conversation about how they are going to continue to use. And- Yes, you are supporting them through this process.

img_3293But this is where the distinction is made, 

Harm Reduction is NOT:

 

 

 

  • Encouraging that they continue to use substances as a means to coping
  • Inviting people to use
  • Condoning drug use
  • Avoiding accountability

Harm Reduction is:

  • Empowering people through education, tools and techniques to make smart decisions about their drug use
  • Acknowledging that substance use exists, and causes detrimental damage and taking intentional action to try to mitigate that harm
  • Dissolving social stigma around substance use so that meaningful conversation can occur
  • Creating a safe space for healing to occur, free of judgment
  • Reaching back into a vulnerable community to combat an epidemic

While we have come a long way as far as breaking down social stigma, we still have a long ways to go. The best way to combat it is to talk about it, put language to it and normalize the conversation. How will you contribute?
All pictures courtesy of Harm Reduction Coalition and Harm Reduction Action Center

 

Forgiveness

Forgive and forget, as the old saying goes. The alliteral advice, doesn’t sit well with most folks. For some reason the idea of completely letting go is unsettling to most people. Why? Why are we resisting forgiveness so much in our lives?

This resistance to forgive, to me, illustrates a buried resentment. To not forgive, is to hold resentment and scorn for another. All of those negative energies and emotions, stew deep in our hearts and guts. The longer we hold onto the resentment, the more toxic it becomes. Permeating into our very essence, creating significant dis-ease and suffering.

We hold onto all of this toxicity, and for what? By not forgiving our persecutors, we are only creating that disharmony within ourselves. We are only perpetuating our own misery, by holding on. They do not benefit, nor do they suffer, as a result of your forgiveness. To them- it doesn’t really matter either way. If they intentionally harmed you, you are playing into their victory by continuing to live in that story.

One of my favorite metaphors for resentments comes from Debbie Ford, she describes resentments as stringed hooks. When you don’t forgive another, you are keeping an emotional hook stuck to them. The more resentments you hold, the more string and hooks pulling you and your emotional well-being along.

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Don’t confuse resentments for strength

Here’s my process on forgiveness, and I am sharing it in hopes that can illuminate how you interact with forgiveness in the future.

  1. Chill out. Breathe- take some time and space away from the situation. This is a good time to practice being mindful of your emotions. Breathe through them, and just let them be exactly as they are. Get back to your center, however you need to.
  2. Take responsibility for my reaction to the situation-  We can not control how others treat us, we can only control our reaction. We are creators of our own reality, and with few exceptions this is a tough reality to accept at times. You can always be better and there is always a lesson to learn. Your happiness depends on you taking responsibility for your circumstances, and willingness to change. Feeling stuck? Ask yourself: How did I contribute to this situation? Where was I acting out of reaction? How could I have handeled this differently?
  3. Try on a different perspective– Empathy. Once you’ve taken responsibility for the part you’ve played, it becomes a little easier to understand their perspective.
  4. Apologize for your part– If you feel the need to share and process with the other person (and the time is right) apologize. I challenge you to ignore the urge to tell the other that you forgive them, unless it would legitamatley be of benefit to them. So often we feel the need to share our forgiveness work, and in doing so you are still playing into that resentment, and needing to be “right”. We remove our victimhood, and in turn are gifted empowerment to move.
  5. Let go!– Move on. This doesn’t mean that you and this person are now best friends, but operating from a place of peace in the present moment and not feeding stories of the past.

To forgive is to let go, is to detach and surrender. Which is truly peace. To forgive means to consciously commit to your own tranquility. It means committing to honoring that peace, above all else including your need to be vindicated. Don’t let anyone, infringe on your peace.

 

What does it mean to be in recovery? 

 

Recovery

Whether you like it, or not, you’re in it.

The term recovery, is one with an admittedly harsh stigma. When you share that label, that modifier, that statement, “I’m in recovery” a cornucopia of strange emotions arise. Whether it be judgment, pity, scorn, resentment or envy- it is a statement that almost always causes some sort of reaction.

But what does being in recovery actually mean? I mean really, what is it that prompts us to make a distinction between humans?

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To employ typical colloquialisms, I will direct you to good ‘ol Merriam Webster. The collective consciousness that is Webster defines recovery as: the act, process, or an instance of recovering: the process of combating a disorder (such as alcoholism) or a real or perceived problem.

The point? That recovery isn’t exclusively meant to point towards those who have had a history of substance use. That recovery, simply means to recover. To get better. That’s it. Isn’t that what we are all doing? Recovering in one form or another, from a perceived problem?

So where does the stigma come from? In my experience, the stigma comes from a comparison. A comparison that someone getting better after battling substance use, is somehow less than someone recovering from any other problem. Comparison, as we know, causes serious insecurities and disheartening disconnection.

It is no secret, that the stigma associated with substance use is still prominent in America. This prominence continues to create barriers to treatment for those that need help, and they are dying. 115 people die every day from opioid overdoses alone in the United States, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Some of us, are lucky enough to make it out alive, and to pin that label on ourselves with pride. Truly no different than a cancer survivor proudly proclaiming that they’ve won the battle and are in remission. The term recovery denotes that we have won, we have made it out alive and we are committed to being our best selves.

Resiliency is the innate nature of us magical human beings. We are all growing, changing, improving, recovering. Whether we are recovering from cancer, substance use, depression, heartbreak, grief, anxiety or hopelessness. I would venture to say that we are, as a collective, recovering. We as a society are getting better, every day.

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What if we took away that judgment, around substance use recovery; Afterall it is just a word.