Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Spirituality and Fibrilation

I consider myself very spiritual.  I’m not very religious, but I am spiritual.  Religions dictate what is acceptable behavior.  Whereas, spirituality dictates from within.  Spirtuality is the belief that we are made up of energy, inside a physical body.  Pierre Chardin once said, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.  We are  spiritual beings having a human experience."  My family history is filled with spiritual experiences.  They have had a huge impact on my thinking.
My Grandmother was the first to influence my belief in spirituality.  She was old and wise and loved me.  She would talk to me about life and death.  She told me about the death of my grandfather.  My Grandfather had leukemia and died in the hospital.  She had just visited him.  She sat down in her bedroom and looked over toward the door.  There, in the doorway she saw my Grandfather.  He looked healthy and strong and smiled at her.  He was only there for a moment and he disappeared.  The phone rang.  He had just passed away.  He died a moment before he appeared in the doorway.  I believe that she saw him.    
My other experience was with my father.  Three days before he died, his heart went into fibrilation.  Fibrilation is rapid irregular contractions of the heart muscle.  Treatment requires that they shock the heart, once to stop it, and then shock it again to restart it.  After the event, the doctor explained to us what had transpired.  He assured us that my father was totally unconscious and would not have felt anything nor would he remember anything.  
The following day Dad was again conscious and alert.  “The funniest thing happened to me yesterday.  I was in bed when all of a sudden I felt really strange.  A buzzer went off and the staff started running around me.  Then, they shocked me.  I felt this incredible jolt of electricity going through my body.  The next thing I knew, I was up in the corner watching them.  I could see myself as they all ran around me.  Then they zapped me again and I was back in my body.”  
I remember my mother and I looking at each other in shock.  He had told us that his spirit left his body and then re-entered it.  I suppose we should have doubted him.  Others would tell us that his experience was just electrical stimulation in his brain.  But my mother and I had no reason to doubt him.     
These two experiences stick me with a belief in the spirit.  When the closest people in your life describe having experiences out of their body, it is compelling.  For me, it helps explain life.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Enabling: First Installment

Addiction and enabling go hand in hand.  Working with addiction, without working with the family is cutting my own throat.  As long as there is someone supporting the addiction (consciously, or unconsciously), the addiction will persist.  Carl Whitaker believed that if you can stop the enabler from supporting the addiction, you’ve done your job.  In reality, it is half the job.  You still have to contend with the addiction. 
I think Enabling has gotten a bad rap.  Enable actually means “to make able,” and that sounds like helping to me.   Helping is not a bad thing?   Helping others is a virtue.  Then how do we distinguish between helping that is positive versus negative.  My favorite illustration comes from parenting.  If I pick up my 1 year old when he falls, I’m being a good parent.  However, if I pick up my 21 year old every time he falls, I am doing him a great disservice.  He needs to  learn how to pick himself up.  
Enabling is doing something for someone that they could do for themselves.  If you are picking up your 1 year-old, you may be doing something for him, that would be difficult on his own.  When you pick up your 21 year-old, you are cheating him from accomplishing something that he can do for himself.  
A great example came at the end of a family session.   A young man who was addicted to substances had completed the rehab. program and was about to be discharged.  We were having a final session.  Near the end of the session the mother asked me if she could pose a question:  
“He has asked me to buy him a car.  He says he’ll need it to get to meetings, therapy and a job.  Do you think I should buy him one?”
“Have you ever bought him one before?”  
“Yes, many times.”
“Excuse me?”
“I think I have bought him six cars over the years.”
“Where are all those cars?”
“He cracked them all up.”
“Then I would consider buying him a car like playing Russian Roulette.  One of these cars is going to kill him and you don’t know which one.  Drive him to his first meeting, let him raise his hand and ask for rides from the people in the A.A. meeting.  They love to help each other.  Buying him another car would be like putting a gun in the hand of someone who was suicidal.” 

She probably bought it for him.  Unconsciously, she was killing him, but neither of them knew it.  She may not have been able to resist buying it.  It was wired in to her to help her son.  Remember, enabling is generated by love.  Helping our children is built into every specie.   What person wouldn’t want to help their loved one.  
I don’t like the term “tough love.”  It has too many negative connotations that go with it.  I avoid the term.  However, the person enabling the addiction needs to be motivated to change.  Acknowledging that enabling is generated by love, is tolerated by most family members that enter my office.  
“I know that you love him/her.  Don’t stop loving them.  I just want you to think of a new way to show it.  The way you have been showing it isn’t working.  It contributes to killing your loved one.  They need you to find a new way to love them.”   

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Doing the Dishes with Love

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I consulted with several doctors for their opinions.  I wanted to know how I got cancer and how to get rid of it.  Generally, they all had the same treatment plan, but none of them could tell me how I contracted prostate cancer.  
This was a time of a lot of self reflection.  I was faced with my own life and death issue.  Anyone who has ever experienced this moment knows what Tim McGraw means when he says, “live like you are dying.”  It changed how I was thinking.   I spent considerable time going inside and looking at myself.   I wanted to face my demon.
I took responsibility for getting cancer.  I was told I was wrong.  I was told to accept it.  They said, “shit happens.”  I did not believe that for a moment.  In my thinking, my mind, body and spirit had to be aligned to let in cancer.  I recognize that I am not responsible for the biology I was given, only what I do with it.   I used therapy to work on it.  I talked to the cancer in my body.   I had dialogues with it.  I asked it where it came from.   A memory came back I had buried.  
My early 40’s was a tough time.  We were raising kids, I was trying to make a career, we had a house to maintain and it was a huge amount of work.  After the kids were asleep and my wife fell asleep, I still had to bring up the wood for the wood stove, set a fire that would last all night, feed the cats, turn off all the lights, lock up the house and finally do the dishes.  Through my immaturity, I became resentful that I didn’t have my own time to work on my own stuff.  When you are a therapist, and you give all day, you need time by yourself  to recharge the batteries.  I would stay up later and later to have time by myself and then I was getting less sleep and then I was more angry.  It wasn’t that I didn’t love my family.  I loved them with all my heart.  I was angry at the circumstances of my life.  I was angry with me.  
I can remember thinking, “Is this it?  Is this all there is?  If this is it, I don’t want to do this for 40 more years.  At that very moment I gave myself a message that I didn’t want to live.  I believe that this was when I let the cancer in.  
I knew I had to change my attitude.  If I was to survive I had to change my perspective on my life.  I could no longer afford to be resentful of doing the dishes and all the rest.  One night I decided that if I looked at those dishes and felt resentful, I would leave them for the next day.  But if I could do them with love, I would clean up the kitchen.  Over time, this commitment to only do things with love, grew.  I applied it to other aspects of my life.  I quickly realized that I was doing the dishes more often.  When I approached them with love for the family, it was easy to zip through them.  
I doubt that there are any, oncologists that would agree with my diagnosis.  Andrew Weil, M.D. once told me, “It’s easy to get cancer, harder to get rid of it.”  Getting rid of it meant working on my body, my mind and my spirit.  I know that I needed medicine to conquer my cancer, but my spirit had to believe in it and want it.