Oct 10

Yoga: The Ultimate Freedom

The idea that yoga leads to freedom is quite ancient but the quest to bring this freedom to people in prisons, hospitals and other institutions is something relatively new.  In this new documentary some will be introduced to the concept of recovery yoga for the first time.

 “Illuminated emancipation, freedom, unalloyed and untainted bliss await you, but you have to choose to embark on the Inward Journey to discover it.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

This morning I saw this on intent.com (an excellent blog and site) and had to share – of course I also need to add my two cents because THIS is what we’re talking about here!  This is it… This is holistic recovery. Although I have seen yoga bring tremendous relief to those who suffer from many emotional disturbances, the most powerful evidence proving the benefits of the practice have been revealed to me through working with young people in addiction recovery programs.  The addition of regular asana and breathing meditations to step work provides not only a physical action that can be taken in times of stress and weakness but with continued practice deep healing also occurs.  I have witnessed truly miraculous transformation and restoration in halfway houses, church halls and other benevolent organizations that are willing to offer up some space for a good cause.

In the program you will often hear people talk about H & I commitments, or the service of carrying the message into hospitals and institutions.  I believe that this important work is one of the many unexpected blessings of Twelve Step Programs.  People from all walks of life go out into the world, into some of the darkest places, to spread and grow the light that they have found in recovery.  The documentary Yoga: The Ultimate Freedom follows a similar line of thinking, that we can offer  some of the peace we have found through yogic practice with those who have little access or exposure to healing modalities.  That is the beauty of yoga, it can be practiced anywhere, without any equipment other than your own body, providing truly life changing benefits.

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.”  ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

Below is the link to the video as posted on intent.com: “A teaser from the new documentary film, Yoga: The Ultimate Freedom, which explores the modern culture of yoga and how the practice is being used to serve people in prisons, hospitals, and rehabilitation centers. The film features well-known instructors Elena Brower, Lisa Walford, Alan Finger, and many others and showcases non the work of non-profits like The Prison Yoga Project.”

http://intentblog.com/yoga-the-ultimate-freedom/

Sep 30

The Steps Relating To Grief

Grief is an extreme course in learning to let go.  It can have many sources and many expressions but the one thing most forms of grieving seem to have in common is pain.  There are a lot of emotions involved in experiencing loss and most of those emotions are normal and healthy reactions that must be felt and addressed in order for healing to occur.   However there are times when we find ourselves so consumed by mourning that life becomes unmanageable.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”  ~ C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

When we think of the word grief our minds most often drift to the death of a loved one.  If you have ever experienced that kind of loss you will probably agree that mixed in with the sadness there is something that feels a lot like fear.  We are faced with not only the fear of dying but sometimes we find that we also experience a fear of living.   It is in this fear of moving forward into a life we hadn’t planned for that the natural process of grieving can become an unhealthy and destructive obsession. This is not to say that sadness should be ignored, pushed down or denied.  Feelings need to be expressed in healthy ways in order to work through the mourning process.

Emotions and expressions of mourning differ from person to person as do the losses.  Some of us have experienced intense grief over relationships, addictions, abuse and neglect.  We grieve over past regrets, broken dreams for the future and as many other reasons as there are people and situations.  Sometimes our grief is of our own making and sometimes the source is utterly outside of our control.   It’s all very personal but the details don’t matter nearly as much as the broader truth that we all experience grieving on some level and nearly all painful emotions contain some component of grief. It is interesting to note that our emotions and in turn most of our actions stem from either the desire to avoid pain or acquire pleasure.  Even more interesting is the fact we will most often do more to shrink from perceived pain than we will to reach out for true comfort.  When we are stuck in the cycle of grieving our fear of stepping back into the flow of life can seem more uncomfortable than the isolation of our sadness and the idea of letting go far more difficult than holding on to misery.

There has already been an incredible amount of material produced on the subject of the stages of grief but for this post I’d like to explore the possibility using the 12 Steps to help work through the process. Addressing past and present grief was a major factor in my initial journey through the Steps. I strongly believe that the replacement of the words alcohol or addiction with the word grief (or any other painful emotion) can provide a very useful tool for processing the feelings we experience in mourning.  The writers of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous were no strangers to loss and the program is truly a course in healing.

The Steps in Relation to Grief:

1. We admitted we were powerless over our grief – that our lives had become unmanageable. Denial can be a blessing at first, a shock absorber in the early stages of grieving but not a healthy place for us to stay.  The admission that we are powerless over our loss and realizing the unmanageability of our response is the First Step.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.  The stages of grief progress from denial to anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.  Once again these are normal phases to pass through and include various emotions including many forms of sadness, rage, helplessness, hopelessness, apathy and isolation.  We may pass through the stages moving toward acceptance or find ourselves stuck in the cycle.  This can be a scary and lonely time.  I believe that grief is one of the many spiritual maladies.  Sometimes there is an emptiness in us that can only be filled by something that is greater than we are.  The belief in a Higher Power gives us hope and allows us to work through our loss from a more peaceful state of mind.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. Much of the bargaining phase relates to the lack of control involved in loss.  We can easily become frustrated and confused in this stage.  Sometimes we find ourselves angry with God or wondering if He even exists.  The chapter called “We Agnostics” in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous can be helpful for those struggling in this area.  As we make a conscious decision to turn the controls over to our Higher Power, whatever that means for us right now, we can move through thoughts and emotions that aslo relate to bargaining in a healthy way.  We learn that we don’t need to understand everything, and we certainly don’t have to like it, in order to accept it. This step is very helpful when we feel frozen or afraid of the future.  In letting go we find the freedom to move forward.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.  We travel through a wide range of emotions when we suffer loss.  Anger, depression, remorse, guilt, regret, fear and resentment can all play a part in creating our own personal brand of pain. Taking an inventory gives us an opportunity to express those feelings fully.  When we take an honest look at ourselves we may find reasons for feelings that we didn’t fully understand.  Much of what we fear and much of our sadness and anxiety is rooted in what we hide, not just from others but from ourselves.  We can often find some clarity in the simple act of writing it all down.  We can admit that there are some aspects of our continued suffering that we are responsible for while there are others that are completely outside of our control.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. Confession, admitting and expressing the results of our inventory to the God of our own understanding and to ourselves will make a huge impact on our recovery.  However I encourage you to find someone you trust and speak the words out loud.  If you don’t have a sponsor or friend for this step consider making an appointment to meet with a therapist or religious mentor in order to thoroughly work through it in a way that feels safe and healthy.  Allow yourself the time and the proper environment to honor your needs.  There is great relief and healing in fully experiencing Step Five.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.  Let’s be clear, grief is not a defect of character in and of itself.  Still we do have traits, thought patterns and past experiences that may be driving some of the pain and most certainly driving our fears and obsessions.  Obsession is a result of faulty thinking, whether through denial or fixation, it is the expression of our inability to release that which is outside of our control.  In this step we find the willingness to let go and begin to move into acceptance.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. We ask God to remove all of them, trusting the process and accepting the benefits of rigorous honesty even in painful circumstances.  We are gentle with ourselves when we’re hurting but we don’t turn away from what is true. This is also a very good time to ask God to remove some of the pain and help us to realize the comfort available in our current situation.  We ask Him to remove the blinders of our grief, to remove our anger, regret, any guilt and all resentments so that we are open to experiencing forgiveness and relief.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.  Some of the anxiety and depression we experience while grieving comes from holding things in that need to be brought out into the open.  Allowing ourselves to admit the harms that we have caused can be necessary in the healing process.  Perhaps including the harm we have caused to ourselves.  We may not be able to make face to face amends to those who are no longer in our lives (and in some cases we shouldn’t) but this should not discourage you from listing them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.  Direct amends should be our first choice whenever possible in circumstances that are safe and healthy for everyone involved.  However when dealing with grief some amends need to be made in other ways.  Writing letters is a good alternative for these situations.  In some cases these letters may be sent but when someone has passed on we can find relief in the writing itself, through reading what we have written and by choosing a meaningful way to release it.  Do what feels right, read it out loud, read it to a trusted friend or even to an empty chair.  Say what you need to say and feel what you feel, know that you have been heard and then let it go.  Put the message in a bottle, shred it or have a small burning ceremony.  Whatever method you choose will be effective and powerful if it is meaningful to you.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. The practice of daily inventory keeps us on the right track as we move forward.  We review our day, we begin to notice when we fell into anger, self pity or morbid reflection and we ask for peace.  In time our thoughts will come to this step automatically throughout the day, we now have a practical tool for addressing our thoughts and feelings in a constructive manner.  We are living in the present moment addressing our emotions and even our mistakes in new and healthy ways.  This ongoing inventory frees us from carrying our burdens into the next day.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. As we continue to improve the relationship with our Higher Power we grow stronger.  We will still have feelings and at times the grief may still surface but we will neither ignore nor embrace it.  We no longer feel the need to deny or control because we have a place to lay our troubles down.  Through prayer and meditation we strengthen our connection with the Source.  Exploring options like yoga and affirmations can be helpful in this step as we learn to take care of ourselves.  Each morning we consider our plans for the day, practicing the Eleventh Step with the Third Step in mind.  Allowing God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves and accepting the good in our lives as they are now with hope and gratitude for the future.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. The Twelfth Step is the culmination of all the progress we’ve made so far and our instruction for continued healing.  We have learned that anything that separates us from our Higher Power makes us spiritually sick and there is only one cure.  Spiritual awakening is restoration, perhaps not to what we were before but to what we are meant to be right now.  It doesn’t require a specific program but it does require consistent practice.  The daily practice of connecting with the Spirit is the answer for situations in which we are powerless and that connection is greatly enhanced through working with others.  Sharing the strength and hope of our journey to accepting loss reinforces our own recovery.  This can take many forms but when we apply these principles in every part of our lives we can find the serenity to overcome the unhealthy expressions of our grief.

Even if you don’t go through the Steps in an “official” manner with a sponsor consider using them as journaling prompts or maybe even going over them with a grief counselor or therapist.  There is great theraputic value in step-work that applies directly to healing painful emotions on many different levels.  These twelve steps can provide some direction and support as we move through the grieving process.  The future may be very different than what we had planned but it can still be very good.  Much like recovering addicts we may have moments of weakness and triggers that take us back to that dark place but we choose to keep moving forward.  Above all that is my heartfelt prayer, that you will honor your losses and every part of yourself by stepping out of fear and sadness into the many blessings that life still has in store for you.  Know that there is comfort, there is peace to be found and that healing is an ongoing process.  Find the willingness to let go… and believe.

More detailed resources for working through grief with the 12 Steps:

The Steps

Grief and Loss

http://www.emotionsanonymous.org/

Sep 23

Recovery Yoga

September is both National Recovery and National Yoga month.  It really is no shock to me that they should share this space as they are nearly synonymous in my mind.  I mean when you really think about it all yoga is about recovery and all recovery is really a form of yoga.

“You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state. “  ~ Sharon Gannon

Bear with me, another word search is in order.  Compare definitions from dictionary.com:

Recovery – “A return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.   The action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.”

Yoga  – “Any of the methods or disciplines prescribed, especially a series of postures and breathing exercises, practiced to achieve control of the body and mind, tranquility, etc.  Union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.”

If you need more do some digging on your own and I bet you’ll just keep finding examples to further support my point.  Recovery Yoga is a term most often used in relation to yoga practice for addiction recovery but yoga is and always has been a practice of restoring balance to recover all that we have lost, to find what truly belongs to us and what we were meant to be.  So does it really even matter what we are recovering from?  The truth is that most of us have fallen out of balance at some point.  Most of us have lost the connection with our natural state.  And yes, most of our addictions, diseases and difficulties stem from the long term effects of this disconnect.

Even the seemingly “minor” issues of reducing everyday stress and worry can be challenging if we don’t have the right tools.  We often go after mental and emotional difficulties by trying to change our thoughts and feelings.  This is a very good thing but it may take time to thoroughly address the past and change our thought patterns.  Finding emotional balance can be difficult on our own because the emotions tend to run the show most of time.  We can become frustrated in our efforts to find methods that give direct instructions for feeling at least a little better right now.  Some may feel that the condition of the physical body is the least of our worries while others may feel so physically drained that exercise seems a hopeless chore.  For this very reason yoga offers a solution that addresses the mind, body and Spirit simultaneously in a gentle way and for most of us this should begin with a physical practice.  Here we can find some degree of immediate relief to mental and emotional disturbances by working in reverse order and connecting with the body first.

Aside from the obvious benefits of bringing the physical body into its natural state of balance we find that the mind and the emotions tend to follow suit.   We learn through the postures and the breath to appreciate peace in the present moment and in time we begin to view the bigger picture with some healthy detachment.   Yoga provides concrete action which can be taken in times of distress as well as the blessing of general wellbeing.   As we become a witness of thought and emotion we learn to quiet the mind and accept one experience, one moment, one breath at a time just as it is…with no resistance.  As we widen our view, open the heart and create new space within we begin to realize the ever increasing positive effects of both the moving and the sitting meditation on our outer conditions.   We can achieve the immediate goal to FEEL better as we pursue the ultimate goal of recovery which is to BE healthy in all areas.

So, do you need to find a guru, spend tons of money on gear or join a fancy studio to practice yoga?  The short answer is no.  You can start at home with nothing but your own body and some simple instructions for breathing in Seated Meditation and Sun Salutations.   Follow the links and you can start right now.  The long answer is that there is much to be gained from being a part of the yogic community and certainly from having a knowledgeable teacher and mentor.   There are many helpful techniques, adjustments and philosophies that are shared more efficiently through direct contact.  There is an amazing group of like minded people out there to provide support throughout the journey.   There are many more poses that are specific to recovery, some of which will be shared here in future posts, to further your personal practice.  All of this is true but none of it is necessary to realize the benefits of yoga.  Do what you can do, make a start and see where it takes you.  There is strength, freedom and healing when we let go and return to our natural state.  Recover what was lost; rediscover all that belongs to you.  Reconnect with the Source and remember your True Self.   Explore Yoga….Embrace Recovery…..Find Peace.

 

Check out the Yoga tab on the menu above for more resources to create your own practice.

Sep 11

Inspiration

As one of those strange people who love to know where words came from I have to share the origin of the word inspire.   It is from the Latin inspirare meaning to breathe upon or into… Oh wow… I love that!  Even when our intentions are good and we really want to make a change for the better we may lack the energy, the emotion or passion to follow through.  Inspiration breathes life into our dreams and plans; it is the magic, the animating force that moves us into action.  Sometimes it shows up unexpectedly but more often than not we will have to look for it.

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”  ~ Jack London

The word inspiration has been rolling around in my head nonstop over the last few days.   Much like the relationship we have with our Higher Power (maybe EXACTLY like that relationship) I believe that inspiration is always there but we do have to seek it with intention if we want to feel it working in our lives.  It is true that I am often amazed by the ways in which inspiration mercifully appears in my life at exactly the right moment seemingly through no exertion on my part but that isn’t always the case.  Most (not all but most) of those moments occur in relation to some action that I’ve taken in the past to expose myself to something that motivates me, something that changes my state and puts me in an open posture to receive the gift when I need it.  Whether through books, through people, nature, meetings, physical practices, music, art or any of the other almost unending resources I must have made the connection.

Most recently I have found an incredible amount of inspiration through the internet and in particular through social media.  Now this is a great example, I used to get on the computer and find very little that didn’t either make me angry, make me sad or basically disgusted with the state of society in general.  I feel safe in making the blanket statement that we spend far too much time with our faces buried in devices and for many of us places like Facebook and Twitter are energy vampires.  By the time we close the laptop we’re exhausted from the drama and negativity that can be found out there with almost no effort whatsoever.  So what changed for me?

Well, I decided to get rid of everything that was dragging me down.  I deleted every “friend” that made me frown, I “unliked” and “unfollowed” everything that stressed me out and replaced it all with exactly what I wanted to see…things that make me smile.  Much like the destructive habits and behaviors that we seek to overcome in recovery it is unbelievably helpful to fill the void with something that motivates and inspires.  We must intentionally cultivate exactly what we would like to see expressed in our lives.  If we want to feel good we will most likely have to look for what makes us feel good on a regular basis.

This new page for inspiration will surely evolve in time but for now it’s a place holder for whatever inspires me at the moment.  I apologize in advance if I misquote, fail to credit or in some way infringe on someone’s copyright.  I promise I’ll only take credit for what I’ve produced on my own but I do have every intention to share anything and everything that is beautiful, inspirational and uplifting whether it belongs to me or not in the interest of the greater good.  I truly hope that no one minds… I so appreciate and rely on the talent and generosity of strangers.   Thank you in advance for all that motivates and inspires!

Keep looking for love, light, peace and joy.  Go after miracles “with a club” and you will surely find them.

~ Jane

 

Share your favorite quotes, stories, photos, music and even videos on the janedoerecovery.com Facebook page or through comments here on this site.

Sep 05

Holistic Recovery Is Everything

Exploring options for creating healthy habits and their affect on emotional healing is the purpose of janedoerecovery.com and every blog post.  Here the term holistic recovery applies to everyone who struggles with emotional difficulties.  This includes conditions that may or may not be related to addiction and circumstances that range anywhere from daily stress to tragic events.  Since we are complicated beings the causes and expressions of self numbing behavior are varied and extremely personal.  It only makes sense that our options for recovery should be too…

 ”I believe there is a balance, and this balance is a key part of the solution.”  ~ Jamie Marich Ph.D. 

If you’ve read much of anything on this site you probably know that I am a huge fan of Twelve Step Programs.  I feel that they can be useful not only in relation to substance abuse but also as a tool for addressing emotional distress even when addiction is not a factor.  Emotions run riot can create a wide variety of destructive habits for coping and self soothing.  These self numbing behaviors are not limited to substance abuse.  Eating disorders, co-dependency, isolation, grief, rage and depression, just to name a few, are often not only a cause of suffering in our lives but a response to emotions and events that have not been processed in a healthy way.  These events can be obvious and dramatic or seemingly very small in the beginning but once we are caught in an unhealthy downward spiral the synergy that exists between the body, mind and spirit can work against us.   By the time we reach a point of unmanageability that leads us to a Twelve Step Program most of us are damaged to some extent in all three areas.  For that reason healing that lasts requires that we respect our needs in every area to become whole again.

Working through past and present grief was a major component of my initial journey through the steps.  Addressing the trauma of growing up in a home with a terminally ill parent and the progression of her resulting mental illness was a central theme in my fourth step even though it was my own co-dependency that brought me to the program years after she had passed.  The painful process of coming to terms with my powerlessness over the addicts in my adult life finally led me to the realization that self numbing behavior had been evolving in me virtually unnoticed since childhood.  I had to learn how to listen to my body, I had to learn how to let go, how to say no and mean it, to say yes and feel it and how to live in a world where things are not always as I think they should be.  It was complicated.  As a matter of fact it still is complicated unless I choose to make it simple.  I take a slow deep breath, I stretch, I write, I go to a meeting… I do what I can do in this moment.  Holistic recovery is a practical approach for finding peace in complicated situations.

My recent reading and social networking has led me to someone who seems to agree with me.  In an incredibly insightful book called Trauma and theTwelve Steps Dr. Jamie Marich takes a thoughtful look at making Twelve Step Programs work for trauma survivors.  Although the book is written primarily to educate those working with addiction/trauma recovery I found that nearly everything she had to say was extremely useful in facilitating step work to address emotional distress.  Her view of holistic recovery is all inclusive, allowing for the complex nature of the individual experience and exploring options that can be tailored to fit into any program.  One of the things I found most refreshing was her recurring reference to honoring each person “where they’re at” or where they are right now and everything that explains how they got here.  Several chapters in the book relate directly to common emotional blocks and triggers while working the steps and ideas for staying “trauma sensitive” through each phase of recovery. Combining methods of treatment such as professional therapy and physical coping skills with a Twelve Step Program is another recurring theme in the book that reinforces the importance of exploring less conventional options for healing that complement traditional treatment.  Trauma and the Twelve Steps is a beautiful resource for building a bridge to connect step work and emotional health.  From this open minded perspective we begin to see new possibilities.  No matter how severe or how insignificant the situation may seem at the moment there is a starting place that is right for you where you are today.

There are many habits and modalities that can assist us on the road to recovery if we are ready to try and if we aren’t ready yet they are there to help us get ready to try.  Look around with an open mind.  Try a breathing meditation, meridian tapping or a simple yoga practice of Sun Salutations.  Do some journaling or find some affirmations for encouragement.  If we are willing to investigate the rich and varied methods that promote wellness we have already made meaningful progress.

I urge you to start somewhere right now.  Start with just one thing and then try everything until you find what feels right for you.  Exploring options for recovery can seem overwhelming and complicated at first but the solution is really quite simple.  Honor yourself, every part of you, respect your needs and stay open to all the possibilities for healing.  Never give up on claiming your birthright to wholeness and you will surely be led to the right program, counselor, website or book to inspire you and remind you that you are not alone.  I know this to be true – always revealed to me in ways that I never would have imagined.  Thank you to Dr. Jamie for finding me right where I am today and reinforcing my belief that holistic recovery really is everything.

Aug 31

The Promises

There is a huge payoff in recovery, a promise of gifts that we receive when we commit wholeheartedly to this new way of living.  The Promises are beautiful and encouraging as we begin to work the Steps.  They provide hope and a glimpse of what life holds for us when we persevere.  As we move forward they become more and more evident, sometimes startling, as they reveal themselves in our everyday lives.

The Promises are found on page 83-84, of the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous.  There are many other promises in the Big Book but these are what you most often hear read at the beginning of meetings.  There are adaptations and other versions in different fellowships but here they are, as they were originally written, meant to remind us that there are great rewards for working the Steps and not just promised to some but to all who continue to work them.

THE A.A. PROMISES

“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”

The Promises always come true if we take all the recommended action. To some they may seem far too extravagant, even impossible at first.  To others they may seem too broad or vague to imagine how they will play out in practical circumstances.  But the truth is they will show up without fail if we have applied the principles for recovery in every corner of our lives.  As we continue to devote ourselves to the ongoing process of healing the Promises will appear in meaningful and specific ways. 

The details are as varied as the situations we encounter but the Promises work for all of us.  In my own life I am most often surprised by the serenity that can be found in times of crisis. We are not promised that we will never again face trouble in our lives but we are guaranteed a source of relief and a new response.  I have found this to be increasingly obvious in situations that really did used to baffle me.  In moments of fear and worry, in emergencies and in times of grief I remind myself to let go and then the miracle happens.  God does what I could never do for myself – He gives me peace in the midst of chaos.

As the Steps become a part of our lives our burdens are lifted through the Promises… Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, they always materialize if we work for them.

Aug 21

Carrying the Message

Step Twelve… and then you may hear people say that they have finished the Steps but this is far from true. This is just the beginning.  There is an entire chapter in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous devoted to the Twelfth Step.  It is the summing up of all that we have done so far and all that we must do moving forward.  There is no end to this step.  The full expression of true and lasting change lies in working what we have learned in every part of our lives.

 “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”  ~ Step Twelve

Maybe you’ve heard the expression “psychic change” in relation to AA.  This is the spiritual awakening, the experience that brings all healing.  It is the cure for the spiritual malady and the answer to the question of how to rebuild a life.  No doubt you are truly a changed person if you have worked the Steps thoroughly.  By practicing the principles of the Twelve Steps with complete devotion and rigorous honesty in all things recovery lasts a lifetime.

Living in the knowledge and presence of a Higher Power has restored us.  Life is already better than we ever could have imagined.  It is probably quite different than the way we would have planned it ourselves and for that we are grateful.  This is not an experience we will keep to ourselves.  We are driven to share it with those who still suffer.

The top of page 89 says, “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics! You can help when no one else can. You can secure their confidence when others fail.”

This is true for all of us.  Not just for alcoholics and addicts but for the co-dependent, the grieving, the abused and every emotional condition imaginable.  If we have found healing in recovery we will want to share it and if we hope for healing that lasts we will need to do it on a very regular basis.

Barefoot’s World explains it nicely, “When we work with others, OUR lives change. We don’t help another alcoholic because THEY are sick, we help another alcoholic because WE are sick, and part of our program of recovery is that we need to be helping others. In the second paragraph on page 89, the authors give us SOME of the results of working Step 12 otherwise known as some of the Twelfth Step Promises.”

The second paragraph on page 89 says, “Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends – this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives.”

We find joy in recovery. When we work with someone who is suffering as we have we reinforce all that we have learned.  Knowing that we have truly been in their shoes and found healing puts us in a place to return some of what we’ve been given and much to our surprise we are given even more. In the end we realize that we are simply instruments.  God moves through us and speaks, delivering words of encouragement for us and for those we hope to help. Carrying the message to others continues the healing in our lives too.

We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”  ~ Promise Twelve

Once again I recommend getting a copy of the Big Book and reading through this chapter for yourself.  People outside the program often resist the idea of reading a book written by alcoholics for alcoholics.  I have never understood this.  These stories of experience, strength and hope can be applied to nearly any situation where life has become unmanageable.   Of course there are many other wonderful Twelve Step publications that provide information on all of the Steps as they relate to specific conditions or addictions.  I do love the Big Book but I say read whatever appeals to you most or read more than one if you like, find a meeting or a support group, find a sponsor or mentor and work the Steps.  The program always works if you work it.
Recommended Reading:

The AA Big Book and Guide for Working the Twelve Steps are recommended reading for anyone in recovery of any kind, not only because they were the first but also for their inspirational and direct content. Two great resources for those working the Steps for codependency are also included here. More books on 12 Step Work from other fellowships and programs can be found in the “Steps” drop down list under “Programs and Literature.”

Featured image for this page taken from Hazelden 12 Step Pamphlet Collection – The Complete 12 Step Collection used by patients in recovery centers throughout the nation, these easy-to-read editions are a sure way to gain a basic, and yet thorough, understanding of the significance of each Step. Pamphlets are available individually or in a money-saving full collection.

Recommended Links:

The questions above are fairly generalized in order to apply to a variety of conditions. The basics are the same but if you are working the Steps specifically for drug/alcohol abuse or codependency the following links may help you to explore further. There are many other formats and workbooks available through a simple web search.

12 Step Worksheets

CoDA 12 Step Worksheets

Barefoot’s Intro to Working the Steps

 

Jul 29

The Breath of Life

There is a force that moves through every living thing…. An energy that creates, animates and sustains all things.  I believe this to be absolutely true beyond any shadow of a doubt.  To me this is that something greater than we are, the Higher Power that we so often speak of in recovery, the Source of all that is good, the key to both an eternal life and happiness in this one.  It is the only thing that will last forever…it is everything.

“We are the living links in a life force that moves and plays around and through us, binding the deepest soils with the farthest stars.”   ~ Alan Chadwick

One of the most challenging aspects for those who are seeking to find the God of their understanding for the first time is His formlessness.  It can be difficult to believe in and connect with something that cannot be seen.  Perhaps this is because although God is in all things He is felt and experienced on levels that relate directly to the condition of our own hearts.  Existing and working with or without our awareness, it is our own level of understanding, our personal connection with the Source that creates joy and brings peace into our lives.

In the study of yoga you will surely come across the word prana.  Translated into English it means “vital energy” or “life force energy.”  It is described as the most basic element, the precursor for life, the energy which underlies and manifests all things in the physical world.  Now that sounds an awful lot like God to me but somehow this idea can be offensive to some.  This is not my intention when I ask the question: How could the idea that God is Energy, THE energy, in any way demean or misrepresent Him?  I personally find it hard to believe that anything so grand and powerful could be contained by any material restraints.  For most of us the difficulty seems to lie not so much in not being able to see God as it does in not being able to FEEL Him. So as we strive to improve our conscious contact with the God of our own understanding the exploration of metaphysics and yoga can provide valuable tools for deepening our connection and learning to feel.

What is Prana?

“’God is breath’ is the oldest Sanskrit writing… The Hebrew mystic states ‘God breathed into Man the Breath of Life and he became a living Breath.’  To be ‘in breath’ is to be ‘in God’. The Greek word for the taking in of the breath, ‘in-spiro’ means to be ‘in Spirit’.  The taking of breath is a holy, divine function and those who aspire to Divinity must master Pranayama, the Yoga of Controlled Breathing.”  ~ Swami Gitananda Giri Gurumaharaj

To avoid any confusion let’s be clear that prana is not oxygen, it can be found in everything.  It can be absorbed through all of our senses, drawn in through food, water, even through the skin.  Breathing however, is one of the most obvious and powerful methods for feeling our connection with the Source.  This makes great sense to me since there is no denying that the breath is the one thing we cannot do without.  More than food or even water we require it and we do it automatically every moment of every single day of our lives.  We are born with this basic need to constantly connect on some level if want to stay alive.  It really is a sacred act that should captivate our attention and yet we usually take it for granted.

Pranayama is the yogic practice of controlled breathing.  It is a meditation, to many it is a form of prayer and it is a powerful practice for connecting with Life Force Energy.  An in depth discussion on pranayama will be coming soon in a future post but for today simply consider your own breathing habits and ways to improve them. How often do you pay attention to the quality of your breath?  Have you ever considered the possibility of including breathing exercises and meditations to your daily routine?  Why not try?  Sit quietly for a few moments and direct all of your attention to slowing and experiencing the breath.  Bring your attention to how you are breathing throughout the day and intentionally focus on how it feels… if it’s fast or shallow slow it down and deepen it, if it’s choppy make it smooth… Simple.  For the next few days just see if you can take some small steps toward creating a new habit.

As you explore options for improving conscious contact with God consider the idea of taking a few minutes each day in seated meditation.  Almost immediately any practice of slowing the breath calms the mind.  Soon the benefits of peace and clarity are noticeable throughout the day.  In time this simple exercise opens the heart and we begin to feel.  There is no right or wrong.  There is no perfect – just practice, just experiencing, allowing and deepening our understanding of what is by intentionally connecting with the Breath of Life.

 

 

Jul 24

Conscious Contact

In Step Ten we made a commitment to continuing the process of self examination on a daily basis.  In Step Eleven we devote ourselves to the constant and lifelong practice of connecting with our Higher Power.  This devotion to a Spirit filled life is the key to healing that lasts.

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”  ~ Step Eleven

Many people have struggled with the concept of a connecting with God as they begin to work through the Steps and yet somehow they have found Him.  Through their willingness even agnostics and atheists have come to terms with their own definition and understanding of their Higher Power.  Our success to this point has already proven that God really doesn’t make too hard of terms with those who earnestly seek Him. We approach this step with an open mind and the intention to further our relationship with the Spirit in whatever form it takes for us.  It is our conscious searching that has brought us this far.  This desire for contact is the only requirement and all of our progress in the future depends on it.

The Eleventh Step is explained in the Big Book from the bottom of page 85 through page 88. It is extremely useful to refer to these pages until we have made Steps Ten and Eleven a part of our daily lives.  Once again I highly recommend owning a copy of Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book) as much of the content applies to all forms of recovery.  In my opinion these principles apply to all people and all circumstances.  It is a commentary and guidebook for the human experience that should not be overlooked.

We turn to the writers who said it first and best as they describe how to work Step Eleven:  (Pages 86 & 87)

  • “When we retire at night, we constructively review our day.  Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? (Step 4) Do we owe an apology? (Steps 8 and 9)  Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? (Step 5) Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life? But we must be careful not to      drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others. After making our review, we ask God’s forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken.” (Using Steps 4 through 9 which IS the 10th Step to review our day before bed.)
  • “On awakening let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. We consider our plans for the day. Before we begin, we ask God to direct our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives. Under these conditions we can employ our mental faculties with assurance, for after all God gave us brains to use. Our thought-life will be placed on a much higher plane when our thinking is cleared of wrong motives.”
  •  “In thinking about our day we may face indecision. We may not be able to determine which course to take. Here we ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought or a decision. We relax and take it easy. We don’t struggle. We are often surprised how the right answers come after we have tried this for a while.”
  • “We usually conclude the period of meditation with a prayer that we be shown all through the day what our next step is to be, that we be given whatever we need to take care of such problems. We ask especially for freedom from self-will, and are careful to make no request for ourselves only.  We may ask for ourselves, however, if others will be helped. We are careful never to pray for our own selfish ends..”
  • “As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action.”

We have instructions for how to begin and end each day.  We include our Higher Power in all of our plans.  We ask for guidance and allow God to direct our thoughts and actions.  When in doubt we take our time, we notice that impulsivity is being replaced with patience. When we find it difficult to know God’s will we take a look at ourselves… the Eleventh Step Inventory helps us to uncover and admit where WE have blocked our connection to the Source.

“There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation, and prayer. Taken separately, these practices can bring much relief and benefit. But when they are logically related and interwoven, the result is an unshakeable foundation for life.”  ~ The 12 and 12 (Page 98)

As we talk to our sponsors and trusted friends we test our new way of thinking as our daily inventory continues to reveal where we have tried to replace God’s will with our own.  Letting go has allowed us to hear His voice and our thought-life has changed as a result.  “What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration gradually becomes a working part of the mind.” This intuition that once seemed so unpredictable becomes a natural part of our decision making process in every situation and we find that life has become far more manageable since we learned to let go. This step provides more than direction – it brings clarity and we find peace.

  “We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.”  ~ Promise Eleven

 

The following links from Barefoot’s World are helpful for taking inventory and establishing habits for Steps Ten and Eleven:  Step 11 Inventory, all of the Prayers in the Big Book , How To Listen To God and St. Francis Prayer Meditation (12 and 2)

Recommended Reading:

The AA Big Book and Guide for Working the Twelve Steps are recommended reading for anyone in recovery of any kind, not only because they were the first but also for their inspirational and direct content. Two great resources for those working the Steps for codependency are also included here. More books on 12 Step Work from other fellowships and programs can be found in the “Steps” drop down list under “Programs and Literature.”

Featured image for this page taken from Hazelden 12 Step Pamphlet Collection – The Complete 12 Step Collection used by patients in recovery centers throughout the nation, these easy-to-read editions are a sure way to gain a basic, and yet thorough, understanding of the significance of each Step. Pamphlets are available individually or in a money-saving full collection.

Recommended Links:

The questions above are fairly generalized in order to apply to a variety of conditions. The basics are the same but if you are working the Steps specifically for drug/alcohol abuse or codependency the following links may help you to explore further. There are many other formats and workbooks available through a simple web search.

12 Step Worksheets

CoDA 12 Step Worksheets

Barefoot’s Intro to Working the Steps

Jul 21

Habit Forming

There is very fine line between habit and addiction.  At times that line is almost indiscernible.  Whether we’re talking about substances, thoughts or behaviors anything that consistently holds our attention begins to define us.

“Habit is either the best of servants or the worst of masters” ~ Nathaniel Emmons

Both good and bad habits usually start out small and both most often appear to have little effect on who we are – at first.  In time though our habitual behaviors and especially our thinking patterns determine who we are becoming.  Even things that might have seemed beneficial at one point can become unhealthy when taken to extremes.  Eventually our obsessions start running the whole show.

As we enter recovery of any kind most of us are laser focused on eliminating an unhealthy behavior or thought process.  This is a necessary first step, we will see little progress until we admit and address where things have gone wrong.  We are removing something negative and creating an empty space.  This is of vital importance but continued healing and success demands that we fill that emptiness with something that heals.

If you believe that life abhors a vacuum you will most likely see the value in carefully considering what you will put in that new space. Replacing substance addiction with a co-dependent relationship is simply another form of addiction.  Those with eating disorders will not find healing if they go from obsessing on eating to obsessing on dieting or vice versa.  There is a middle ground where we see clearly what will serve us best.

I once heard a man at a meeting say, “I spent an enormous amount of time thinking about booze and I needed an incredible amount of alcohol to make me happy when I was drinking.  I figure that’s about exactly how much spirituality I’ll need to make me happy in sobriety.”  I was glad that he didn’t just say that’s how much of the program he would need or even how much church he would need but he went on to explain the many different everyday activities and sources he had found for experiencing his connection with his Higher Power.  He hadn’t joined a cult or dropped out of life, he had filled the void but he had also found balance.

Forming new habits doesn’t have to be overly complicated. There has been much written on the subject of creating new habits and it may be worth your time to do a little research on the process but in my opinion the key lies in feeding your spiritual and thought life.  Joy is what will capture your attention and keep you coming back to healthy behaviors.  Be open to social, physical and mental opportunities for healing.  Look for activities that really appeal to you and experiences that make you feel alive, peaceful or connected to your Higher Power.

Holistic recovery is beneficial for making healthy choices that address the body, mind and spirit in powerful and fulfilling ways.  There is no need for me to list them as this entire website is devoted to that very subject.  There are many options presented here but get creative, check out other websites, read inspirational books, take a class or just sit down with a piece of paper and write down some ideas that interest you.  The goal is simply to replace habits that have controlled us with new ones that only serve to heal.  Meditate and pray for guidance on the areas of life where you feel lacking and allow yourself to be led into the life you were meant to live… that is freedom in it’s truest form.

 

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