Archive for August, 2013


So This Is Beauty...

The sense of wonder that we can tap into as we observe nature is so powerful it can stun us into moments that stand far from the ache of our life’s problems.
Today, let’s just try to take one moment out of our complex minds to carefully observe something in the outside world.
Start by looking closer than you’ve ever looked before. Take the camera on your phone and zoom in on something, carefully showing tiny details. If you don’t have that, just pretend your eyes have a ‘zoom’ and focus on something new.
As we move outside of ourselves, we are freed from all that hinders us.
Just for a moment.
Natural beauty is healing. I swear to it.

I’m not talking about mashed up romantic ‘my-partner-your-partner’ kind of love. That’s all well and good (says terminally single she). I’m talking about a different kind of love; a love that I believe we all have a capacity for, were even designed for. It’s a love that transcends all our cognitive understanding, our hypotheses, theologies and ideologies. It bypasses our intellect, supersedes multiple intelligences and burns through the layers of tired, grey matter. It’s a love which, although at its most visible in the natural world, isn’t tangible or describable. It can be found in every ‘in between’. In between the Redwoods’ leaves, the freesias’ flowers,  the sea and the horizon, the Oaks’  branches, mountain passes… It’s in every shade of beauty. It’s that which we feel when we glimpse a bigger world and a small, silent surge of power waves through us.

In recovery, we need to begin to acknowledge that we are not the world. We are a tiny but vital part of something much, much bigger. AA talk about the importance of connecting with a ‘Higher Power’. I don’t know a whole lot about the 12 step recovery method, but I do know that it has worked for literally tens of thousands, so if you are one of those who is reading this whilst thinking that it would never work for you, please, take a moment to wonder why you would be such an impossible case.

In any type of recovery, I think it is essential to find this deeper love, and even if you don’t feel it, to know that it is there. It exists. It is a possibility.

Paul Brandt sings a song about addiction and about how ‘love will find you’. I call it ‘God’. Call it whatever, there is a love that will follow you down the deepest pit, the darkest tunnel, the weariest and most broken depth of human experience.  Folded up tightly within that love, is a hope that things could get better. Doesn’t matter ‘how’, just that it is possible.  If you are feeling that you’re in that unreachable place, where despair and darkness seem the only things ahead, listen to the words of this song and hold on… There is hope, even if you can’t see it or feel it. KNOW that it is there and you will be found by love.

Hold on. Love will find you.

Emily Dickinson, one of my favourite American poets, didn’t have a single poem published at the time she died. Subsequently, her poetry has been flagged as some of the greatest literary work

Imagein the nineteenth century.

Biographers and researchers have scrutinised her poetry and letters to learn more about her reclusive life although, It doesn’t take a genius to understand that Emily was more than familiar with poor mental health. Loneliness and self imposed solitude were, no doubt, unkind relatives to the deep depression and anxiety she suffered.

One of the best descriptions of depression (to my mind) is to be found in her poem, “I Felt A Funeral In My Brain”. Contrary to this, I find one of the most uplifting metaphors for hope in a poem where she famously likens hope to a little bird, who carries on singing through the darkest of storms, making no demands (despite extreme conditions) and remaining alive throughout.

The poem is a reminder that hope, although fragile as a feather and tiny as a bird, can withstand our darkest and deepest depression, our cold fear and our flustered anxiety. It can survive the tunnel of sadness and it will not drown in the well of grief.

During recovery, there are moments of screeching inner agony, where the illness claws at the very lining of our guts, our gullets and our skulls. The challenge is to stay still enough to hear the sound of hope, singing its song, far, far beneath the aching and the clawing and the piercing scream

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops at all.
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

What gives you hope? 

Feathered Hope

Feathered Hope

Emily Dickinson on Hope
(1st Verse)
Dickenson knew what it was to feel despair, yet she writes with such tenderness about hope. As an inpatient, I made this to hand on my wall.

…Maybe there IS. Maybe there isn’t.Allowing for Possibility

Either way, if we don’t allow ourselves to entertain the possibility that there COULD be a different way of living life, and there MIGHT be a different way of thinking about things, we will never know.

I’m not the hippy type. I promise.

I don’t hug trees, I don’t take herbal hayfever tablets, I ‘m not a vegetarian, I’m not a member of Greenpeace, I don’t do yoga, I don’t wear clothing woven in South America and I’ve never tried Arnica.

But (there had to be, right?) BUT, I do believe that we get into certain patterns of thinking. Even scientists report that there are certain ‘neural pathways’ in the brain, which is a technical way of saying that our thoughts get used to travelling along particular alleyways, leading to familiar places, default settings, if you like. Humans are creatures of habit, brains follow suit.

What are the implications of all this for those of us in recovery?

A friend recently told me that, although they’d like to believe in something bigger, they just COULDN’T and I sympathised because I, of all people, understand doubt, unbelief and wanting something more than myself. Later, I returned to our conversation in my mind and came to the realisation that the word ‘couldn’t’ would probably act as a barrier in her mind.

To be truly open to something, like the possibility of recovery, is to allow it to rattle round our minds without any thing as concrete as ‘words’ attached to it. Just as if you are rolling a ball round a clean floor; no mud, no dust, nothing to stick to it…

Sometimes, I wonder if it’s in this act of ‘allowing’, that hope filters in… unseen… unheard and then… suddenly:  there.

Opening up old wardrobe doors. No thoughts. No can’ts, cans, couldn’t, wouldn’t, must, should or shouldn’ts.  Just opening something up.

It has to be worth a try.

Continue reading

“Who is this?”  I was phoning an unnamed number after someone left an alarming message on my mobile. Turns out it was an ex colleague who had phoned the wrong person in a moment of ethyl-sodden desperation.

I listened for the next ten minutes as he told me parts of his story; his descent into the pit of alcoholism; his tentative exploration of methods of recovery. As he spoke, his words painted a picture of a broken man, one arm outstretched, the other still grasping the bottle.

“AA?”, I tested. Careful.

“Tried it. Couldn’t get on with all the Higher Power stuff”

And suddenly, I saw the light! – How difficult it is for a person struggling to recover to open your mind to something different.

People who battle addictions, OCD and Eating Disorders so often have rigid patterns of thought, unbending ‘rules’.  Without realising it, our minds can be so closed to new ways of thinking, of seeing our world, of experiencing other perspectives. We give up quickly and often dismiss possibilities; “I’ll never be able to…”  “Other people might manage that but I can’t…”   “All that fluffy stuff… it’s not for me… I’m not LIKE that…”

It’s that dismissive thinking, that hopelessness, that makes the addict’s recovery process so difficult. Just like a horse with blinkers, the world is so small, so narrowed. How much do I miss when I refuse / can’t open my mind?

There’s a whole world out there, one which is, as yet, unfamiliar. We need to step through the wardrobe… A different world to the one in which we lived before, lies in wait.

Why not chance it? Dare to consider it? Risk NOT dismissing it?

Hold On – Paul Brandt.  Continue reading

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An interlude in my journey

Sometimes we have ‘enforced moments’… And they can be beautiful too! Don’t get me wrong… I huff and sigh at the flat – cap -wearing old bloke whose milometer hasn’t pointed to 50 for at least a decade.  And who hasn’t felt the sheer rush of triumph as they got served quicker than the person they picked as a ‘marker’ in a different supermarket queue…

But honestly, most days will contain an ‘enforced moment’ (or two) and instead of the tension at the steering wheel, or the unhappy shuffling and (internal) eye rolling when someone takes ‘too long’, we’d do better to discipline ourselves to look for some beauty and to take the moment as a gift. After all, what’s the hurry really? We’ve got our whole lives.

Moments Like These

Moments Like These

A moment of sheer beauty. I snapped this pic of the unfathomably blue sky, a backdrop for little daubs of white floss.
Poet W.H. Davies wrote the poem, ‘Leisure’, asking
‘what is this life if, full of care,We have no time to stand and stare?—No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.’

It’s simple message stands the test of time. Life is a series of moments. In recovery, some of those moments feel like the jagged edge of the ripping saw, others like the sharpened tip of the sabre. That makes it all the more important to take the time to ‘stand and stare’. Catch the moments of purity, of otherness.
Mindfulness, CBT, DBT, NLP (acronyms on a postcard to…) I’ll take poetry over any of them.