Constipated Hanks and the Mini-Breakthrough

I’ve had a mild breakthrough in the last few days. Or maybe it’s a big breakthrough? I’ve been feeling the lows, don’t get me wrong. And the anxiety-induced highs that come with the acceptance of an uncertain future, too. But something in me has changed. I felt it shortly after an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) session with my psychologist. At the time I was watching Spielberg’s delightfully intriguing and naturally well-done Bridge of Spies – you know, the one where Tom Hanks looks constipated about 86% of the time? (I love you, Tom Hanks. Sorry for the dig).

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I came in to the movie late because I insisted on purchasing lunch beforehand. And so immediately prior to my mild awakening I sat in a darkened theatre room, munching on dim sims and a sausage roll simultaneously – much to the dismay of my fellow moviegoers. If they could have seen the apologetic look on my soy-and-tomato-sauce stained face, I’m sure they’d have been forgiving. Or disdainful. But alas, I digress.
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Something in me changed. I felt it. I couldn’t be sure what it was, but it was something. Something clicked over. Quick and subtle and barely perceivable, but it happened. Am I cured of my complex PTSD? Ha! The thought of a rookie in recovery. No, not cured. I know I’m not, because I continue to be triggered in to flashbacks, experiencing the same thoughts as before this mild awakening.
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But the feelings that accompany the distressing thoughts…they’ve changed. Or maybe it’s my evaluation of them. The feelings are still felt as an intense energy, a force. But they’re not life-threatening. “But they never were! Feelings can’t kill you! I hear you say with mild amusement. Well, no, feelings can’t kill you. But the traumatic circumstances that led to the intense feelings for the C-PTSD sufferer could have, perhaps. So the feelings were a memory of a more life-threatning chapter in a very old book.

But now, something has changed. I find myself waking up in the morning, my Fear Brain kicking wildly at the ghosts of trauma past. Though now, my rational, heaven-sent higher consciousness takes over shortly after, scanning the room calmly to remind me that I’m safe. “It’s Here and Now, and you’re free from the past,” it whispers to me as I fall back down to earth from the dizzying heights of anxiety.

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One of the many gifts of hard work in recovery, I suppose. My advice if you’re still struggling with mental illness? Keep going. Perhaps there’s no foreseeable cure, but it is a universal law that if you work hard, you’ll reap the rewards. Maybe not right away, but you will. Winston Churchill was right when he said, “If you’re going though hell, keep going.”

Onwards and upwards!

 

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Meditate to levitate!

Letting go. 
The paradox of recovery is that you have to let go of your old self while at the same time clinging to the hope that a new self will emerge. This isn’t easy. For many of us, this means letting go of our thinking brains, and the vast quantities of false beliefs its learned to cling to with a deathly grip.

“I’m not a good person because I didn’t do this right,” or “I should have done this differently because…” or “the future will always be bad because bad things happened in the past” are all wonderful examples of stinkin’ beliefs that we’ve spent a lifetime collecting – and that have to go. As hard as it is to do, we in recovery must learn to let go of these beliefs in order to find peace amidst the various storms we’ll inevitably encounter.

How? Well, there are plenty of ways to loosen your mind’s grip. Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr believes that one way to a calmer, truer sense of self is to embrace your vulnerability. This seems to be the spiritual path most in the twelve step tradition of Alcoholic Anonymous advocate too. Similarly, there’s the face-down-in-the-dirt-first approach to letting go. That is, you have to hit rock bottom in order to see the inefficacy of your faulty beliefs before you can replace them with something authentic and truly life-serving. And while plunging face first in to inadequacy has been an integral part of my own recovery, not everybody needs to reach the bottom before they start making their way up to the top.

Letting go through meditation. 
But how do you let go of your false self? Well, if you have a floor, or any surface large enough for you to sit on, then you’re in luck. An important first step in letting go of your old self is to first identify what it consists of. Meditation does just that. It’s a wonderful (and challenging) way to unveil many of the quiet yet dominant aspects of your ‘self’ that you otherwise would not have known existed.

Sounds a little frightening, huh? Well, it can be. And if meditation interests you as a means of letting go, I suggest starting small. Many who attempt meditation discover (as you inevitably will) how easy their minds become distracted. You suddenly remember that thing that you have to do right now, or an inconvenient truth pops in to your mind that you really didn’t want to  have to deal with, or…Or! You forgot to turn the clothes dryer on.

Or this, or that. If you’re not in any immediate danger, and if the house probably isn’t going to burn down immediately, just let it go when you’re meditating. And let go of your need to ‘do meditation’ perfectly too, because there’s no such thing. Indeed, contemporary spiritual teachers like Pemma Chodron suggest that getting distracted during meditation is just a part of the process. The point is to return your focus (which could be on your breath, or a smudge on the wall, or a chant, or whatever) when you do get distracted, and to just let it go, man. Easy, right?

Make it a habit.
Nope, not easy. That’s why practice does indeed make near-perfect. If you can set aside two-to-five minutes each day at a regular time to just sit with your thoughts and feelings as they rise and fall, you’ll be doing a wonderful thing for yourself and your recovery. You don’t have to search far on the internet to read about the benefits meditation can have on our monkey minds. So to release yourself from the false ideas you’ve harboured about yourself for years, just be present to it during meditation and then let it go. 

Be gentle with yourself, let go, and happy meditating!