The Same Old Song

I write the same old song with a few new lines
And everybody wants to cheer it
Pete Townshend

Our scene is your local music club. The house band is the same week after week. They play covers of very popular songs. Their set is very singable. The audience knows the words, the riffs, the rhythms and beats. The band plays 10 songs for their set. They play it the same way each night. Not faster, not slower, not louder, not softer. The audiences loves the band. Their music is predictable, it is familiar, and it feels right.

One day the house band gets a new guitarist. He does not play the songs the same way as the old guitarist did. He takes some musical risks with the songs. He in fact plays the songs differently. He is much more unpredictable in his playing. You never know how the song will sound. In fact, in backstage meetings with the band, he wants to change the set list. He wants to play different songs. He challenges his band mates to play some different music. The band is afraid that the people won’t like their new style. They are afraid the people won’t sing along. Their worst fear is that people will stop coming to the show and they will lose their regular “gig”.

Change is possible is not just a marketing slogan, it’s a fact of life. Everything changes. The seasons change, the clocks change, technology changes, we change. We change for the better and at times we change for the worst. Paul Watzlawick in his landmark family therapy book entitled Change . says that “change is inevitable”. If it’s so inevitable, then why do we stand in our own way and prevent change from occurring? Why do we sing the “same old songs”

Most people who come to see me are your predictable house band. They do what they do. Not faster, not slower, not better, not worse. The same. Sure they have pain, but it’s predictable. Sure they feel crappy, but they know the crappiness. Sure the pain causes problems and consequences in their daily life, but to change is incredibly scary. When people have addictive behaviors you can set your watch by their schedule of self-destructiveness. It doesn’t matter if it’s a drink, a drug, a bet, a buy, or a relationship. Their weapons of self-destruction are masterfully predictable. Their song remains the same.

Other types of problems fit the same pattern. The solutions to anxiety and depression are fairly simple—do the opposite of what you usually do and feel better. To do these things however requires me to change the “set list”. I know these songs, I play them well. To change what’s known to the unknown is way too scary! What will happen if I give up my old ways? Will I know what to do? Will others like the changes? Will I like the changes? Can I conceive of new music that sounds radically different than the old set list? Is it ok to even have this thought?

In order to make change, I need to utilize a very powerful five letter word, trust. Trust is defined by Webster as “belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc” If I trust myself, I believe at my core, that I am a good person. This goodness can lead me to make change because I want to feel better. However, many people cannot see their own positives. They can only see their own negatives. They may need to supplement this trust in self by using positive affirmations. When people utilize this ongoing self-talk dialogue, they begin to change negatives to positives. (for specific directions on how to use affirmations go here) .

One other tool that many people use for change is to develop faith in a higher power. Higher power is defined as being a power greater than self. By believing in a higher power, people begin to give up control. They then can use this higher power to have trust and another great five letter word, faith. With faith and trust on board, change is possible and inevitable. The music can change. We can play different songs instead of the same old ones. We can challenge the fears of change and hear new music. We might even go to a different club and hear a different band. We can get away from the old destructive patterns and find new healthy ones. We can find new happiness and have a rewarding life. Let’s change the music.

Change is possible.

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Love songs of the season

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar

Bono

As the fall is now upon us, we can all use some inspirational love songs.  Here are 3 that I’ve picked that capture the mood of the season

If you celebrate the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, have a happy, healthy, sweet new year!

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Commitment to Excellence

Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.
Pat Riley

The NFL season is about to begin. The summer brings optimism for all 32 teams who believe that they can win the Super Bowl.
One of those teams, the Oakland Raiders, became a dominant franchise in the 1970’s and mid -1980’s. The team’s philosophy was preached by its president, Al Davis. Davis told his players “Just Win Baby”. This goal- directed, arrogant approach produced 3 Super Bowl winners. The Raiders franchise promoted one other useful and famous phrase. This phrase was on a banner which was located in their home stadium, the Oakland Coliseum. This sign speaks to the organization’s goal:

raidersWhen a person commits, according to Webster, they promise to do something. “Commitment to Excellence” is an overall philosophy of being the best and not settling for anything less.

In my office, many of my clients carry their own “signs” with them. Most of these are self-fulfilling prophecies that describe their current beliefs. They accept these signs as being the script that they must follow.

Here are some examples of their signs:

  • I’m stuck
  • I’m afraid
  • I’m comfortable
  • I’m willing to have less
  • This is the best I can do
  • I’ll never be happy
  • I can’t ask others for help
  • I can’t get sober
  • I’ll settle for any relationship
  • I can’t leave this relationship
  • I’ll stay in this relationship even though it’s bad for me
  • I want what I can’t have

With these beliefs, there is no commitment to excellence. If anything, there is a commitment to mediocrity. It appears that it’s not ok to strive for excellence. People act and think that “less is better,” so familiarity wins out. “Why bother to do that something extra? It might not work anyway”.

It’s imperative to challenge these old patterns in order to make change. This challenge would sound like this: “Why only strive to be average? Why not try to be excellent? If you strive for excellence, what’s the worst thing that could happen?”
The worst thing that could happen would be having feelings. A person might feel disappointed, or hurt. Feelings like these never feel good. Having feelings however, means that you have moved out of your comfort zone. You took a risk. That risk may or may not work the first time. Sports franchises do not win all of their games. Through risk, dedication, and commitment to excellence they learn how to win. If you want to win and put down those old habits, behaviors and patterns, you have to start the process of change by taking that first risk. You can incorporate the philosophy of “Commitment to Excellence” each and every day. No more settling for less, no more accepting someone else’s idea of what’s good for you. Total self-care, and a COMMITMENT to change.

Change is possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nothing Else Matters

“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.” – Eckhart Tolle

On a recent trip to Italy, I set out to find a particular destination.  My map reading skills were failing me. Every turn was the wrong one.  Using Google maps kept me turning and turning but not getting me to my destination.   A stroke of luck(brought on my actually going in the opposite direction) took me to the Pantheon.  The Pantheon is the most intact artifact of the Roman empire. It is nearly 2000 years old.  As I was standing in the plaza(Piazza) of the Pantheon there was the sound of music.  In Rome, it is not unusual to have street musicians playing for money.  Most of the music is hardly noticeable and noteworthy. Today’s musician’s were different.   There was an excellent trumpet  player and an  amazing electric guitarist.  They were playing songs that were familiar to me, but didn’t shake me out of my frustration. I was highly preoccupied with our current location and how we were WAY off course. I was feeling hopeless, defeated, and frustrated.

The guitarist then starting playing this very familiar riff:

 

 

As I was hearing this amazing rendition of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” I stopped immediately took a deep breath and said to myself:

” Nothing else matters.  I am right here in Rome, Italy, enjoying a gorgeous day at one of the most historical sites in the world.  Who the f@ck cares that I am not where I am supposed to be.”

At that moment every thing slowed down.  I kept repeating the phrase “nothing else matters”.

Being in the moment is the hardest thing to do.  We are usually projecting all our “what if” anxieties into the future, or ruminating about our past failures.  Eckhart Tolle  in 2004, wrote the book The Power of Now.  The book gives us good meditative ideas about how to be “right here, right now”. To learn how to be in the now will require us to have patience with ourselves and to practice this art regularly.

One of the best tools that can be part of this practice is that of mindfulness.  Mindfulness is the way of experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations that occur right now.  A recent article about mindfulness describes how to use this tool for difficult feelings.  If we can practice mindfulness and the Power of Now, we can learn to be in the moment better.  As we learn mindfulness skills, we can be calmer, more productive, and less stressed.

On that fateful day in Rome, armed with my new self talk phrase “nothing else matters” I found my destination and had an amazing day.  The frustration of not being where I wanted to be left.  It was replaced by the melodic sounds of peace, calm, and letting go.  In order to practice living in the moment, it would be better to start changing how you live now. Musical “coincidences” don’t happen everyday.

Change is possible.

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Darkness into Light

Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.

Imagine that you walk into a room.  It is dark.  The shades are pulled down.  The curtains are pulled down.  There is no light.  All you see is the darkness.  While in this dark room with out lights, you become aware that you are wearing dark sunglasses to keep out any light that might even creep into the room.   You live in this darkness for days/weeks/months, even years. Why would a person want to stay in this dark room?  It’s safe.  It’s familiar.  You can’t see anything that you don’t want to see.
I’ve worked with people who live in the dark.  They’re very good at it. They miss out on seeing :
  • alcoholism
  • drug addiction
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • sex addiction
  • domestic violence
  • physical or verbal abuse
  • dysfunctional family patterns
  • infidelity
  • things that everyone else sees

With that list of issues, we’d all choose to stay in the dark room of denial, avoidance, lack of awareness, and cluelessness.

Many years ago I worked with a woman whose boyfriend was an intravenous heroin addict.  She said ” I had no idea he used heroin.. He wore long sleeves a lot but I didn’t think much of it..Come to think of it, whenever he was around, I was always short on money… I just thought I’d spent it on something…Now that I’m talking about it, there’s a pair of earrings, I’ve never found.  You don’t think he took them do you? ”    DARKNESS

How about this one.  “I love my wife with all my heart, but she’s been acting strange lately.  She’s always on the phone.  When I ask who she is talking to, she says a friend.  If I walk into the  office and see her writing an email, she’s quick to close the computer down.  Again when I ask her, she says it’s just work.  The other day, she didn’t come home until real late like 2 or 3 in the morning.  When I asked her where she was she hesitated an said she was with her friend Dawn and must have fallen asleep.  She looked awfully dressed up to go out with Dawn by the way.  You don’t think she’s cheating on me do you?  She wouldn’t do that, would she?      DARKNESS

Darkness is pervasive.  We don’t want to know what we do not want to know.  If I don’t look, I don’t see.  If I don’t see, I won’t be upset, or scared, or hurt, or angry.  If I’m this in the dark, I don’t have to do anything to change.  I can live my dark bliss forever.

Is there a cost to living in the dark?  Yes, but if you are in the dark, you don’t recognize the cost.  Ironically you only see the cost, when you find the courage to:

take off the dark glasses

open the blinds

open the curtains

open the shades

When the light comes into your dark room, you begin to see what you don’t want to see and begin to ask the questions that you don’t want to ask.  At that point, the feelings come in and now it’s time to recognize what you didn’t want to see.  The more that you allow the light to come in the more that you can answer the hard questions:

Why did I not see this?

Why did I put myself in this place?

What am I going to do?

Can this situation be changed?

Will I be OK?

Will I ever be the same?

 Asking the questions turns on the lights, and begins your healing,  and your changing.  The more you ask, the more you see, the more you heal.  This process will take time and patience.  You don’t have to do it in one hour, or one day, or one week, or one month, or even in one year.  You owe it to yourself to find the courage to turn on the lights.

Change is possible.

 

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This Train

“There are many ways of getting strong, sometimes talking is the best way.”
Andre Agassi, Open

We all want to be stronger. In order to do that  psychologically, many people go to therapy.  However, according to recent studies less than 4% of the American public utilizes psycho-therapeutic services.  This  shockingly low number speaks to the ignorance of many people, and the apparent stigma of therapy.

In my 30 years of being a therapist, I have my own observations. Starting therapy is one of the hardest things to do. When people find the courage to pick up the 10,000 pound telephone to make an  initial appointment, they don’t leave messages.  Other people call, leave messages, and never return a follow up call.  If people return the call and make a first appointment, 15% of them  cancel late or do not show up at all.  Anxiety and fear of change  is running wild!

For years, therapists have made many statements about when people will attend therapy.    We have said things  like “when the person is ready to change, they will attend”, “when the pain is great enough..”  “when they hit  bottom…”  These well intentioned bumper sticker statements don’t help a scared and running like hell population. They only rationalize the person’s behavior and put little band-aids on our inabilities for more people to get better.

The question about how to get more of the population to attend therapy is a huge issue.  Psychological groups have started awareness days for disorders(alcohol, depression, anxiety, etc.) in an effort to give people access for help.  There is  “National Psychotherapy Day“(this year on 9-25-14)in which supporters of therapy are requested to wear turquoise to show support.  We’ve given people more opportunities to have health insurance and created parity laws to “level the playing field”. It is unknown if any of these macro movements produce change.   My pitch for more people to attend therapy comes via Bruce Springsteen.  Springsteen recently recorded a song entitled “Land of hope and dreams”  I think the refrain serves as a great invitation to come to therapy. Watch the video and see if you agree.

This train
carries saints and sinners
This train
carries losers and winners
This train
carries whores and gamblers
This train
carries lost souls

This train
carries broken hearted
this train
thieves and sweet souls departed
this train
carries fools and carries kings
this train
all aboard
I said this train
dreams will not be thwarted
This train
faith will be rewarded

this train
hear the steel wheels singing
this train
bells of freedom ring

 

The train will soon be boarding…

Change is possible

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Digging in the dirt

I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

Peter Gabriel

 

 

Recently,  the Rock and Roll Hall of  Fame inducted Peter Gabriel.  As the front man for the band Genesis, Gabriel’s elaborate costumes got the band noticed.  His unique singing and writing led to the band’s success. In 1986, Gabriel left Genesis and released the album So which sold five million copies. His next album Us was released six years later.  On that album you will  find the  song Digging in the Dirt.

According to Gabriel,Digging in the Dirt  is a song about his therapy.  There are many interpretations about the song.  These include domestic violence, murder and many others.(you can find more of those here.)  Since there are no factual interpretations, please indulge my therapeutic perception .

This is the chorus of the song :

This time you’ve gone too far [x3]
I told you [x4]
This time you’ve gone too far [x3]
I told you [x4]

Don’t talk back
Just drive the car
Shut your mouth
I know what you are
Don’t say nothing
Keep your hands on the wheel
Don’t turn around
This is for real
Digging in the dirt
Stay with me, I need support
I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

The beginning part,

This time you’ve gone too far [x3]
I told you [x4]
This time you’ve gone too far [x3]
I told you [x4]

Don’t talk back
Just drive the car
Shut your mouth
I know what you are
Don’t say nothing
Keep your hands on the wheel
Don’t turn around
This is for real

 

I believe  this is Gabriel’s fear and  shame  speaking.  He wants to run, avoid, and not deal with the places he got hurt.  Gabriel is shaming himself with the repeated yelling “this time you’ve gone too far/ I told you”.  He knows that he should not be sharing his innermost thoughts with anyone( a message perhaps that he received in childhood).  In the next part of the song, Gabriel sounds like a small boy who is hearing what he needs to do :

Don’t talk back
Just drive the car
Shut your mouth
I know what you are
Don’t say nothing
Keep your hands on the wheel
Don’t turn around
This is for real

Gabriel’s inner shame and self loathing have taken over.  He is worthless, afraid, and ashamed.

Although afraid and ashamed, Gabriel is aware that he is in need of the therapist’s help. Later in the chorus he finds his healthy voice:

Digging in the dirt
Stay with me, I need support
I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

The phrase “stay with me I need support” is a request to  the therapist to be with him on this journey of “finding the places I got hurt”.  He knows that he is in a trusting therapeutic relationship because he not only wants to find those places, he wants to “open up the places I got hurt”.

Gabriel sounds calmer, less shamed, and very aware in the next verse:

The more I look, the more I find
As I close on in, I get so blind

He knows there’s a bunch of issues that he has to find.  He gets overwhelmed as he starts to uncover the pain.

This song is a great example of the therapeutic process.  The chorus is so appropriate for many people that I have seen over the years.

I  have seen  clients having a  “this time you’ve gone too far” reaction  many times by doing the following:

  •  having “hot flashes” (men too)
  • getting uncomfortable physically–fidgeting, playing with pens, keys, pillows, etc
  • needing an immediate bathroom break
  • standing up
  • abruptly changing the subject
  • leaving the session

Like Gabriel’s experience, therapy is scary.  It’s full of fear, pain, shame and guilt.  People keep looking and finding.  They keep asking “why” sometimes without answers.  Sometimes they find answers that they don’t like. Sometimes people become aware that they need to take action and those actions are overwhelming and scary.   Sometimes there are no answers, only questions.  Sometimes, my best and only contribution, is my understanding of the pain, sadness, and loss that my client is feeling.

I’ve seen many clients over the years go through storms in order to find their rainbow (If you’d like to read more on this topic,  go to one of my old blogs “You can’t have a rainbow without a storm”).   I enjoy the experience of seeing people make changes in their lives.  As we “dig in the dirt”,  we get to plant seeds and crops that grow year after year.  They are fruitful, they are plentiful, and they are healthy.  Don’t be afraid to dig–Change is Possible!

 

 

 

 

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Manny Being Manny

“…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”

 

It’s getting close to one of my favorite times of the year–the start of baseball season.  In order to get ready for the upcoming season, it’s important to have a historical perspective.  As a die hard New York Yankee fan, I am going to commit a blasphemous act–I am going to discuss a legendary Boston Red Sox player.  Manny Ramirez was their left fielder for 8 years, and was probably one of the Sox’ most popular player.  He had a knack of saying the wrong things at the wrong time, losing track of the game, and generally being on his own planet.  Redsox fans described this as Manny being Manny.This  video describes many of these Manny being Manny moments:

Wikipedia finishes our Manny Ramirez story:

In 2009 he was suspended 50 games for violating baseball’s drug policy by taking human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a women’s fertility drug.According to steroid dealer Victor Conte, hCG is often used to restart natural testosterone production after a steroid cycle.In the spring of 2011, Ramirez was informed by MLB of another violation to its drug policy, which could result in a 100-game suspension. He chose to retire on April 8 rather than face a 100-game suspension.

You would expect nothing different from Manny since he was a person who played by his own rules.  Although an exciting and charismatic player,  Manny was always being Manny.

In our daily lives, we are unlikely to find a Manny Ramirez.  We will however find people who are difficult to deal with.  When we encounter  these people, we  can  choose to either get upset or  accept them.  Let’s look at  these three vignettes, and answer the question that follows:

Vignette #1

Paul Maxwell is a 60 year old  man who happens to be your father.  Paul has an interesting character trait.  He likes to flirt, and make advances on all of your friends.  (These women are in their 20’s) One of them has described his behavioral eloquently  as being “PaulMaxwelled”.  When Paul Maxwell is your dad you have several choices:

A) Arrange a hit on his life (not a great idea)

B) Kill him yourself(a worse idea)

C) Become terribly depressed, anxious, ashamed, with no self-esteem and feel further victimized by Paul Maxwell

D) Accept that Paul Maxwell is being Paul Maxwell and get therapy for yourself in order to feel better

Vignette 2

Jenny Malone is your new boss.  Jenny is the company hotshot brought in from another state.  She is replacing your best friend who has left the company.  As a employee of the company for the past 10 years, you have given them your blood, sweat and tears.  Jenny decides to change all the things in the department that have worked for the 10 years that you’ve been there.  After massive frustration in dealing with Jenny you decide to:

A)  Punch her in the face(not a great idea)

B) March into the Vice-President’s office, shouting expletives, and describing in full detail her late hour escapades with other employees of the company(not a great idea)

C) Leave the best job that you’ve had with the awareness that you  will never get a job this good again

D) Accept that Jenny Malone is being Jenny Malone and get therapy for yourself in order to  feel better

 Vignette Number 3

Bobby and Janey Duncun  have been married for 5 years.  They have a child, Bobby, Jr who is  6years old.  Bobby Sr. drinks every day.  Sometimes while drunk, he has gotten angry with Janey and called her choice words .  Janey has tried to get Bobby to stop drinking.  She’s thrown out the alcohol, yelled and screamed at him for drinking, negotiated deals with him so that he wouldn’t drink.  She is angry and frustrated and feels unloved. At this point Janey’s best strategy is to:

a)    Continue to nag, scold, beg, cajole, scream in order to get him to stop drinking

b)    Have an affair with very interested neighbor Billy Washington down the street

c)    Take little Bobby and move back home with her  alcoholic parents

d)    Accept that Bobby is being Bobby(while getting therapy and attending Alanon)

The obvious answers to our quiz is “D” in all of these situations. The thing we learn from all of this is that Manny Ramirez, Paul Maxwell, Jenny Malone and Bobby Duncun are starring as themselves– They do what they do in ALL situations.  Manny is just being Manny, Paul is just being Paul, Jenny is just being Jenny, and Bobby is being Bobby.

When we encounter these people our best option is to ACCEPT them and their behavior.  In order to do that we need something that will help us–the serenity prayer:

serenityIf we ACCEPT what we cannot change, which are all other people’s behavior, and change the things we can, which is our reactions to them, then we can have serenity.  3 sentences can give us all the change we need.  Use them regularly and you will feel better.

Remember change is possible.

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