Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My presence is my present...

Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year! 
Happy Season of GIFTS!
There are many important gifts this season. Gifts to be given, gifts to be received, gifts to be remembered, and gifts to be realized. I'd like to share a bit about the gift I have been enjoying lately and a little about how I came to realize it.
First off, I do want to acknowledge that it has been quite a while since you've heard from me. I want to assure you that it's not been for lack of working toward my goal of building a life worth living... Or out of a desire to keep to myself. I have actually thought of blogging many times since my last post. I was sure that fear or shame were behind my inactivity. As I begin to write this post though... I believe it’s more likely I just hadn't found the right words. Or possibly, I hadn't had the experiences necessary to put those words together and feel like they were correct and complete. Now that I have lived a little more and learned a lot more, I feel that I can express myself and be happy in the fullness of my expression. Now… I'm gonna express myself!
So, this gift I'd like to speak about… it’s a gift I was given the moment I was given life. The gift of that very moment. The gift of each moment
I don’t know at what point in my life I was blinded to it. Thoughts about my past or fear of my future began taking over my moments so early on that it is hard to find many clear and happy memories of my childhood or even adulthood. Years of my life were eclipsed by my inability to realize the moments available to me. What a vicious cycle…
As the cycle continued, it increased in its vigor and in its ability to obscure my present. I tried for years to overcome my pervasive depression, anxiety, etc. I tried several different therapists, countless psychotropic medications, self medicating with alcohol and other awful self destructive behavior… Most of these attempts at happiness or at least a life that was somewhat “livable” only opened the doors to more sadness, shame and most of all fear. 
I began weekly classes, aka “skills training”, in Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT) in December 2011. One major attention getter for me in my initial exposure to DBT was a silly little picture and description of the DBT House of Treatment. You can see a picture of it here. I guess what hit home for me most was all of the previous years in therapy that seemed to go nowhere besides the frequent downward spiral. DBT teaches four main skill sets ~ Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance. For me, these skills needed to be in place BEFORE I hash out all the old and try to plan for a healthy future. And, I would soon realize how polar opposite my conditioned responses were to (almost all) situations around these topics and the preferred course of action. But, what about this MINDFULNESS business? At least the other stuff, although so ridiculously embarrassingly simple, made sense. Mindfulness seemed like a waste of time. A really REALLY uncomfortable waste of time. Or maybe I should just say… It freaked me the freaky freak out! And I just couldn’t “get it” during the first 10 months of weekly “skills training” classes, additional weekly sessions with my “DBT coach” (still seeing my regular therapist 2-3 times a week). So, after several downward spirals turned into devastating cyclones, my family gave me an ultimatum. This ultimatum took less than a week to spit upon (very different language than I was spitting out at the time). When all was said and done (on this point at least), I made a decision to spend some time in California. Not “on vacation”. Not “visiting friends”. Not “taking some classes”. With the help of my family, I checked myself in to Clearview Women’s Center, a residential mental health facility. It was one of a handful of places where I could completely focus on what I needed to learn in an environment that was safe for me and a little restrained. At Clearview, which has built an entire program around DBT, I would finally come to understand the meaning and benefits of Mindfulness. I learned to breathe at Clearview. I learned to be a witness to my body and mind and not to run from this awareness. I was able to identify triggers for my extreme emotions and I began to notice the role of my physical self in relation to my emotions. I also got lots of practice looking at situations and finding ways to deter or halt my emotions or satisfy some need in a healthy way instead of losing control. I learned about expression through art. I began to see the benefits of healthy relationships. I began to see patterns… good and bad. I became a DBT cheerleader! During my three months at Clearview Women’s Center, I gained a better understanding of what I needed in order to finish out my “basement level” or Stage 1 in the DBT House of Treatment. And, though I was not ready to leave, the money was gone and insurance had denied a final appeal for coverage and I had to leave with no “roof” over my head. I did have a foundation though and it was solid enough to get me through the tumultuous times to come with the knowledge that a rainbow was on the other side of the storms.
If people asked, and even when they didn’t… I’d say that the Clearview Women’s Center had almost everything. The thing they were missing was some interaction with animals. Not just petting them or playing with them (although that’s always a bonus when around animals)… But, as I knew from experience with my sheep (and other animals in my life), the benefits to be gained by working with and around animals are just SO great.
Some examples:
1.The act of taking care of something besides yourself~ humbling AND empowering
2.Problem solving~ dealing with the unexpected
3.Learning new skills~ building mastery
4.Visible & tangible signs of progress
5.Learning how to ask for help
6.Teamwork~ working with others toward a common goal
(you know I'm not finished yet!)
Now that I’ve got you wondering where on earth this blog has wandered… 
My moments… Several months after returning to Texas and getting back into my weekly DBT class and therapy 5 times a week… I was still missing so many of my moments! I had been threatening to volunteer somewhere… probably something to do with animals… maybe people too… like therapeutic horseback riding… or blah blah flimsy blah no commitment blah no plan blah blah. Then another blessing shot through space from my DBT coach/therapist iPhone to mine. “Oh, you want to volunteer? I heard about this…”, “DING!” Oh yeah, and this happened while sitting about three feet from one another during session. No pretending I didn’t get that text! Ha! Kinda kidding… I was terrified but a week later I was at the volunteer orientation for a horse rescue/therapeutic riding center. The next thing I knew I was on the schedule and the last pieces of the Mindfulness puzzle fell into place and into practice. When I began sharing space with these horses it came suddenly and naturally. I didn’t lug in old baggage and I had no expectations. I was aware and willing. I was thoughtful and purposeful. I did my best. I was not ashamed or afraid. I observed, described and participated ~ and I did it non-judgmentally, one-mindfully and down right effectively. And, most unexpectedly, I accomplished all of these things even when humans were in that space too!
I just thought I knew how beneficial working with animals could be. I have a feeling I have only scratched the surface…
Stay available to your moments this NEW year!

Your faveOM~Les