Mental Health, Spiritual

The Very Slippery Assumption

419123_3625861897554_1513906151_n

By: Jana Greene

I once sat in on a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy class under a Super Zen Therapist,  and let me just say out of the gate, it was FASCINATING. I cannot even begin to touch on all the things I learned (and have on occasion, even practiced) but seriously, folks. If you ever have the opportunity to explore this therapy,  I highly recommend it.

The term “dialectical” means a synthesis or integration of opposites. The primary dialectic within DBT is between the seemingly opposite strategies of acceptance and change.

I love the premise, and the belief that OK, I feel this way, but I don’t have to. I can feel THAT way. Life is nothing if not a big, fat paradox on so many levels. I will take all the help I can get! I’m still about 95% emotion-driven, but hey – that’s a 5% improvement (and ‘progress, not perfection,’ right?)

About halfway through the course, though, we came to this one sentence in the teaching, and my spiritual breaks screeched to so such a sudden halt that it could have propelled me right out of the classroom and back into my AllTheFeels way of coping with everything.

That sentence was this:

Assume that everyone is doing the best they can at any given time.

Ok, hold up. HOLD UP!

I KNOW that’s not true in certain instances. For instance, when I visit my children in their homes and they are not super nice and tidy, I KNOW for a fact that they are not doing the best they can. I taught them, so obviously I’m calling BULLSH*T on this.

And what about other people, who have – and are actively –  hurting me by making stupid decisions? You are telling me that the person/people who have (to my mind) driven me to require therapy are doing the best they can? I have to ACCEPT that?

“No, you can accept it or not. Is not accepting it working for you?” Says Super Zen Therapist.

Huh.

Here’s what I’m still learning, and what is helping me oil those spiritual breaks and get them rolling in a forward-moving direction again….

You cannot keep a handle on another person’s issue. You simply cannot.

I came up with a dorky little rhyme to help me remember this, and I’ve probably said it to myself several thousand times (especially when the girls were teens):

It’s not your decision to make, nor your action to take.

You can die trying. You can contortionist yourself into all kinds of positions that only end up making you sore and tired. The stress will kill you, I’m not even kidding.

But that’s what happens when you assume that another person is not even TRYING, and you take it personal.

It’s not personal. That person is learning and morphing and all of your hand-wringing and brow-beating will not another minute add to your relationship life, but may well shorten it.

I don’t have to go back that far in my own history to recognize the power of this principal.

When I was an active alcoholic, I wanted to be better for my children. Even as intimate as the mother/child connection was, I didn’t always get it right!  I had to learn and do, stop and lurch forward. Lather, rinse, repeat.

My process spilled over to them, but it was never meant to be personal.

I was doing the best I could at the moment, I swear to you. I did the best I could until I could do better. I did better when I surrounded myself with people who were doing better and whose love for me was not contingent on my doing better.

It will behoove YOUR state of mind to believe that the person most getting on your nerves is doing their best in this moment, with their particular life experience.

(And when I really stop to consider it, even the example of my kids and their tendencies NOT to be neat freaks, It was I who cleaned their rooms for ALL of their lives when they lived at home, because in some twisted way, I was making up for lost ‘drunk’ time as a mommy. They may well BE doing the best they know how in this moment. Because something is important to me, doesn’t mean its the only ‘right’ way  (But that’s a subject for another therapy session….)

What about the big things?

If someone else’s life choices are spilling over on you and your heart is broken? Consider that they are doing their best. Go one further, even. Pray for them and believe for resolution to their situation. Petition God and plead your case, and then release.

It’s not your decision to make, nor your action to take.

You cannot grasp it because you aren’t SUPPOSED to grasp it.

You think holding on to it is helping, but it won’t be under your control.

You cannot drop it until you drop your Very Slippery Assumption and use both arms instead to embrace the person driving you completely crazy.

God  bless us, every one.

Distress Tolerance, Recovery, sobriety, Spiritual

Radical Acceptance – Tolerating itchy distress

distresstolerance.jpg

 

By: Jana Greene

I came across the funniest thing on Pinterest today. It was a pin picturing a 50’s housewife smiling absently with the caption “Some days, I’m the Queen of Serenity – and other days separating coffee filters pushes me over the edge.”

I “lol’d.” Hard.

Oh the truth!

I once participated in a group therapy exercise in which Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) distress tolerance skills were addressed.

Sometimes I think we addicts and alcoholics have a super high threshold for substances to soothe our distress (it takes so much), and super low tolerance for dealing with distress without those substances (it takes so little.)

That’s kind of addiction in a nutshell.

Fifteen years into this lifestyle called recovery, I am still learning so much. I have not ‘arrived’ – not even close. But I am alive to keep learning, and that’s everything.

I’m still amazed at people who can simply shrug off very distressing issues. How do you DO that?

I’m learning, but it’s a process. I’ve let the tools I learned get a little rusty.

Distress tolerance is the idea that some of us find certain emotions overwhelming and unbearable.

And how well does that jibe with our drinking and using? It is such a natural FIT, so convenient…

“Oh, I feel THIS way and it’s uncomfortable. I will do anything to stop feeling this distress. ANYTHING rather than FEEL it.”

That is the road that leads to destruction. That is the road that leads to death.

And there is so much to be distressed about in our world. Separating coffee filters not-withstanding. So many heavy things, like refugees and war…and health issues and job issues. You know, life stuff.

I’m dusting off my years-old practice of distress tolerance now, because the negative is starting to be awfully prevalent in my life.

No matter what length of time of sobriety one has, it the absolute tolerance is breached, we are not safe from our prior way of doing things.

If life gets too itchy, we want to scratch it.

“People with a low tolerance for distress can become overwhelmed at relatively mild levels of stress, and may react with negative behaviors…

Many traditional treatment approaches focus on avoiding painful situations, but in the distress tolerance module of DBT….people learn that there will be times when pain is unavoidable and the best course is to learn to accept and tolerate distress.

A key ingredient of distress tolerance is the concept of radical acceptance. This refers to experiencing the situation and accepting the reality of it when it is something the person cannot change.

By practicing radical acceptance without being judgmental or trying to fight reality, the client will be less vulnerable to intense and prolonged negative feelings. Within the distress tolerance module, there are four skill categories:

  1. Distracting
  2. Self-soothing
  3. Improving the moment
  4. Focusing on pros and cons

These skills are aimed at helping individuals cope with crisis and experience distress without avoiding it or making it worse.”

– GoodTherapy.org

Wait, doesn’t ‘radical acceptance’ mean denial? On the surface, it may seem so

But just under the surface, when we really explore the concept, it becomes apparent that it is the balm for that terrible itch of distress.

It’s the okay-ness of feeling whatever we feel, while acknowledging that feelings are not facts.

I’m going to intentionally work on the four skill categories. I hope to share my experiences here on the blog. I hope I can be brave enough to do that.

God bless us, every one.