A Mindful Way through the 12 Steps

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A Mindful Way through the 12 Steps

Using Mindfulness to Enhance your understanding of the 12 Steps

SATS is very excited to introduce our Mindful way through the 12 steps series. SATS staff member and CSAT candidate, Beth Songer will be offering a monthly meditation retreat that will combine mindfulness education and practice and periods of meditation to help attendees deepen their understanding of and connection to the 12 steps.

The seminar will be held on the 2nd Saturday of each month from 10 am to 4 pm. The cost is $150.00 per session.

This is open to participants from any 12 step tradition. Mindfulness is a great tool to help those in recovery both attain and maintain sobriety. For more information, contact the SATS office at satsoffice@gmail.com or at 610-844-7180.

For more information please see our flyer at http://www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/mindfulness-12-steps.pdf

We could all use a little R.A.I.N.

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After a long Sunday at the office doing psychological testing for client, I came home and sat on my patio to read the Spring edition of the Tricycle magazine (www.tricycle.com). I was reminded by a great little article of a Buddhist tool R.A.I.N. I learned of it not through Buddhist teachings per se but through reading the works of Tara Brach (www.tarabrach.com) who is a psychologist and proponent of Buddhist meditation. R.A.I.N, though technically from this tradition, is an amazing tool for anyone who is working to improve their emotion regulation skills. These are skills we endeavor to teach our clients whether they are dealing with addiction, trauma, anxiety, or other issues.

So what is R.A.I.N? It stands for: Recognize, Accept, Investigate and Non-Identify. I will briefly explain what that means and then discuss how it can help with someone dealing with an addiction craving. Recognize is the idea of knowing what is happening to you in the moment. It is our ability to not be immediately reactive but to see that there is something going on for us. It is the ability to know that we are triggered, feeling an emotion or feeling unsafe, in the actual moment it is happening.

Accept is the next letter in our acronym. The easiest way to explain this (as a non-Buddhist teacher) is to say that we name what we recognize. We accept that the feeling or emotion is present. We don’t have to like that it is with us and we don’t have to do anything with it. It just is. In this process, it helps to name what has happened. “This is a trigger.” “A craving is here.”

Next we Investigate. This means that we take a step into noticing. When I am investigating emotions with clients, we will ask questions like, “What does it feel like?” Where do you feel it in your body?” What is your body’s reaction to this emotion? This is the process of investigate. During the investigation process of R.A.I.N., a person breathes through the physical feeling and sits with it. Through the process of sitting with the emotion and breathing through it, the energy of the emotion dissipates. It is a skill also used in DBT, Ride the Wave of Emotions. We just sit with it until it passes.

The final letter, N, stands for non-identifying. This means that we take the “me” out of whatever it is that is happening to us. I liken this to Don Miguel Ruiz’s agreement of “Don’t take anything personally”, though it is a little different in this case. We can learn that we are not our emotions. We have emotions but they are not something we have to build an identity around. The observer mind kicks in when we can non-identify and we can see that though something is happening to me, I can watch it happen and not react.

How do we put this in action? Let’s take a scenario I have heard in my practice with sexual addiction. If an addict sees an attractive person, they may feel triggered. The R here is to Recognize that they are, in fact, feeling triggered and having a reaction to the physical cue. The next step is to Accept that they are triggered. I encourage clients to name it out loud if necessary. To simply state, I am feeling triggered, takes some power out of the trigger. From here, I ask clients to really get to know their body’s reaction. Investigate what happens when you are triggered. When we see this person who triggers me, my heart races, my breathing changes and I get mentally distracted. If the client can acknowledge that this is a trigger, it is easier for them to non-identify and manage the trigger.

I am feeling triggered and I know this based on my body’s reaction. I accept this and can ride the wave of the trigger until it’s power dissipates. I am not my triggers and not consumed by them. In my practice, clients who work to cultivate this observermind through meditation have gained a valuable tool for relapse prevention.

For more information on our treatment program please go to www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com

Is Self Care Selfish?

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“Love is the capacity to take care, to protect, to nourish. If you are not capable of generating that kind of energy toward yourself, it is very difficult to take care of another person. In Buddhist teaching, it is clear that to love oneself is the foundation of the love of other people.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

Shambhala Sun

In my practice, there are some recurring themes. When they keep showing up in session or in training, it is a sign that they are of great importance. There have been a lot of signs pointing to self care lately. On the plane to the IITAP conference, the above reading from Thich Nhat Hanh struck me as rather profound and I immediately related it to many of my clients.

In therapy we often talk about the need for self care. There are certain phrases that I hear quite often from clients when we talk about the need for them to engage in more self care. The most common phrase is “I can’t.” If I had a dollar for every time I heard “I can’t” I would be able to treat everyone free of charge!

“I can’t take time to meditate, do yoga, exercise, read a book, walk the dog, have lunch with a friend. I can’t go to 12 step because I have to (insert reason/excuse here).”

Another reason that many clients in recovery don’t take or make time for self care is either the reaction of loved ones or their perception of the possible reaction of loved ones. My husband won’t be happy if I go to too many meetings in the evening and he has to put the kids to bed. My partner keeps asking why I have to go to meetings and wants me to stay home to watch a movie with her. These are two of many, many possible examples of how doing for others can become a priority instead of doing for ourselves.

This often sounds counter intuitive to someone early in recovery. “My entire addiction has been selfish and self centered. I spent my time acting out and not thinking of others and now you want me to focus on myself? Haven’t I been selfish enough?”

My fundamental answer to this is that self care is not selfish. Self care is essential. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot take care of anyone else. If a person is not taking care of herself, working a program, grounded and centered, she may end up taking it out on her kids by yelling or snapping at them. If a person is not taking care of their physical and emotional health and well-being, eventually they will hit burn out and won’t be able to take care of anyone, themselves included.

I really like an exercise in an old school ACOA book called Adult Child’s Guide to What’s “Normal”. You make a circle for yourself and then surround your circle with those things in your life, such as work, husband/wife, kids, family, friends, program. Then you draw arrows from you to each circle that represent the flow of energy between you and the other circle at the present time. For example, if all my energy is going into work and I am not getting any energy back, I am out of balance with work. If all my energy is going into my friendships without getting energy back, I am out of balance. Worst case scenario, when we are not practicing self care, all the arrows point away from you and no energy is flowing into you. You can’t maintain all output and no input for any period of time. For some of us this leads to burn out. For others this leads to relapse.

When relapse is a possible outcome of lack of self care, it becomes obvious. Self care is NOT selfish. It is essential.

Integrating Mindfulness into Sex Addiction Recovery

Generally speaking, Mindfulness is the intentional acceptance and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment. Mindfulness interventions have been on the rise in the addiction treatment community and with good reason. It seems like each month there are more scientific studies published that support the practice of mindfulness based interventions as evidenced based practice.

The emergence of scientific data is good news for those people who have known that mindfulness is helpful all along. Though the general public, or some factions of the public might realize certain interventions are helpful, they don’t gain “credibility” (read insurance is willing to pay for them) until there is a strong body of scientific research to support their use.

A study published in 2013 by Rory Reid and associates investigated the relationship between emotion dysregulation (inability to manage or regulate emotions), impulsivity, stress and mindfulness in individuals who were diagnosed as hypersexual (sex addicts). People in this study did not engage in a mindfulness practice or therapy but were assessed based on objective tests.
The study showed that those people who were hypersexual were less likely to be mindful, or able to do things such as regulate attention, awareness and be non-judgmental of their own experiences. The author suggested that mindfulness scores uniquely contributed to the level of hypersexuality. The study also found that sex addiction is associated with unpleasant emotions, stress, and impulsivity. Dr. Reid suggests that these findings provide support for the use of mindfulness interventions to help sex addicts learn to regulate emotions and manage stress in a healthier manner.

In our practice, we are strong advocates of using mindfulness practices and integrating them into recovery. Our clients who undertake a meditation or yoga practice often begin to see impressive improvements in their ability to manage impulses to act out. The mindfulness exercises allow them to create an observer mind that can cultivate the ability to see the reality of situations in the moment. This also increases the client’s ability to act less impulsively and allows them to ride the emotional storms until they pass without acting out.

Sexual Addiction Treatment Services is honored to have Elizabeth Songer on our staff. Beth is a long term practitioner and teacher of mindfulness and meditation. In 2015, she is offering a series of mindfulness meditation seminars separately for addicts and their partners. Everyone who attends meditation with Beth loves the experience.

For more information on SATS mindfulness seminars please see our events page at www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com/events.

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Don’t Expect Applause: Buddhist Slogans for Recovery

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My last blog post shared the Buddhist lojong slogan, “Don’t bring things to a painful point”. Today I want to share another slogan written about in a Shambhala Sun article that I feel also really applies to recovery.

As a reminder, this article focused on using these slogans in our work life. However, we can apply them with a wide brush. The author discusses doing our work without expectation of praise or ego stroking. If we do our work just for this, we are bound to be disappointed.

In reading this, I am reminded of the conversations that happen in my therapy room about sharing feelings and healthy communication. “What’s the point of being open with my wife if she is going to freak out?” “Why bother sharing how I feel with my husband if he doesn’t know how to respond?” “I’m doing all this work in recovery and he/she doesn’t even notice!”

I hear these types of statements from clients all the time. In these moments, the “Don’t Expect Applause” slogan fits like a glove. It all comes down to motivation. Why are we doing things? Am I sharing how I feel with my partner because I want him to change his behavior or react in a certain way? Or, am I sharing how I feel with my partner because it is what I have to do in order to be healthy in my own recovery?

A larger, more fundamental question is “who am I doing recovery for, me or someone else?” If I am in recovery simply to please someone else, I am apt to feel resentments at some point in the process. If I am doing recovery to please my partner, there are going to be times when my partner is giving me the feedback, warm fuzzies or praise I need to continue recovery. This is where we are prone to build resentments and resentments can fuel relapse. Don’t get me wrong, many a person enters recovery for someone else initially but finds their own way to recovery for themselves. If we are engaging in recovery and expecting applause, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.

I often talk to clients about motivation. What is the motivation behind what we do. What is my motivation to share my feelings openly and honestly with a partner, family member or friend? When I hear a response such as “so she will ….” or “so he will …” I know that my client is still in a place of expectation. Perhaps they are not expecting applause but they are engaging in a behavior with an expectation of the outcome. If that expectation is not met, it decreases the chances of engaging in the healthy behavior or communication in the future.

Part of long term recovery work is letting go of expectations. I try to encourage clients to embrace the goal of engaging in behaviors, such as healthy communication with a partner, for the sake of self. I am going to learn how to communicate in a healthy way with my spouse or child or boss, not because I think I can control or influence the outcome, but because it is what I need to do in order to become a healthier, more emotionally competent person.

Work to let go of expectations.

Buddhist Slogans for Recovery

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After a full day of client sessions, I decided to eat dinner before my ride home. I had just picked up the January edition of Shambhala Sun (http://www.lionsroar.com/) and read an article that fit right in with what many of my clients were talking about today. In this article, Lodro Rinzler (http://lodrorinzler.com/) discusses five slogans that are helpful at work. These slogans come from the lojong teachings which are part of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. While the author thought these slogans would help us get through the days at work, my mind turned toward how these slogans apply to addiction recovery.

The slogan “don’t bring things to a painful point” resonated with the conversations occurring in my therapy office today. The author shares that one way we bring things to a painful point is by running away from the things that scare us. When we cannot deal with the discomfort we want to avoid the discomfort and not deal with the feelings. These uncomfortable feelings, painful places or uncomfortable and awkward situations are often triggers for relapse or acting out. In my work, clients will numb out from the discomfort by watching hours of pornography, surfing dating or hook up sites compulsively, or perhaps chatting with strangers on an app like Whisper. We do these things to hide from the feelings, conflict or whatever is feeling unmanageable in that moment.

As Rinzler reminds us in the article, hiding from our problems often only makes them bigger. When we return to the world after our acting out, often the problem is actually worse. Uncomfortable feelings from external sources are compounded by feelings of guilt and shame about our acting out. By hiding from the pain, or avoiding the painful topic or feeling, we brought ourselves more pain.

Just as part of Buddhist practice is to learn to handle tasks mindfully, part of successful recovery is learning to handle all of our emotions, even the uncomfortable ones. As we grow in recovery, we will be able to sit with uncomfortable feelings for longer periods of time without the need to run away from them into addictive behavior. Additionally, we will learn to soothe these emotions with healthy coping mechanisms that don’t numb the feelings but help us sit with and manage them. Finally, a goal of healthy recovery is to learn how to navigate our fears and do things such as have uncomfortable conversations with friends, set and maintain boundaries with loved ones or ask for our needs to be met by others.

So as we navigate the ups and downs of life and the struggles of recovery, remembering this slogan, “don’t bring things to a painful point” may be the tip we need in the moment to stop, take a breath and work to mindfully resolve what life is throwing at us.