Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Move Over!

One of the therapists I supervise has come up with a phrase that I've stolen and use on the regular-- stay in your own lane.  She tells me that she has the tendency to "get out of her lane" when it comes to work with clients in therapy, but what about those of us who tend to get out of our lane in everyday life?  And what do you do when someone continually swerves over into your lane? 

Staying in my lane means I mind my own business.  This is really hard.  Sometimes just by silently judging someone else, I have just exited my lane and veered into the other person's.  When I begin analyzing, critiquing, and comparing someone else's behavior to my own, this can lead to some self toxicity.  When I stay in my own lane, I try to keep my mind off what you are doing-- unless, of course, you are drifting into my lane.  Then I will need to kindly tell you to return to your own lane.

Sometimes I drift out of my lane by "helping" someone.  You know that subtle kind of controlling help that some of us might sometimes offer?  I find myself doing that with my children or maybe a supervisee.  It's generally someone who I fear is going to really flub up and then I'll be left cleaning the mess.  Staying in my own lane means remaining focused on me and my responsibilities.  I may offer friendly advice or a suggestion.  If that is ignored and a mess ensues... oops, that's in your lane.  Guess you'll have to clean that up.

For me, I tend to get out of my lane when I worry what someone else is thinking about me.  This one is a real struggle for me.  If you are over in your lane thinking something nasty and harsh about me, it's really none of my business.  Who looks crazier-- the person silently judging me or me when I'm swerving all over the road trying to figure out what the person in the other lane is thinking about me?  Yeah, I won't answer that one.

Okay, and my number one lane buster-- trying to do God's job for him.  Oh, yes, my friend, I do it.  I do this when I complain about how an uncontrollable situation turned out.  I am essentially asking God, "Was that the best you could come up with?"  Just the other day I was complaining to my Mom about how a particular situation ended up.  I embarked on a passion-filled speech, listing the injustices that were being done, whining about the discomfort I'm being subjected to, and on and on and on.  God later brought to my mind a time when my own precious daughter sat at the kitchen table on her birthday.  I had just spent the day rearranging my entire schedule so I could pick up her special order birthday cake, run around town finding exactly what she wanted, wrap gifts, and plan the evening's dinner.  Our family finally sat down for birthday cake later that evening and as my exhausted hand lifted the bite of cake to my mouth, my daughter asked, "Is this all I get?"  God reminded me that this is exactly what I look like to Him when I am complaining about the one thing I didn't get, forgetting all the tremendous behind-the-scenes work He does for me daily just to keep me comfortable.  So sorry, God, gonna try to do better about staying in my lane on this one!

Okay, and if you swerve over into my lane, I'll ask you nicely the first time to get back where you belong.  Should you continue to violate my lane, don't be angry with me when the conversation we're having has to change.  At first, the conversation was, "Could you get back in your lane please?  Thanks."  Repeated offenses changes the conversation to this, "I've asked that you please stay in your lane.  It's really uncomfortable and dangerous for me to take care of my responsibilities over here with you in the way.  I'm going to need you to get back into your lane, and if you can't do that, I'll have to call the police next time.  Thanks!"  I then drive away and leave that person alone in his or her lane to take responsibility for whatever feelings that might have aroused in them.  That's just courteous, right? 

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Tips From a First-Time Novelist

Hello!  Back from my writing hiatus... I announced in January that I was embarking on a novel, my first attempt ever at a novel, and I have finally competed it.  I actually finished the novel in April and now I'm going through several rounds of edits.  I have definitely learned a lot about the fiction writing process during this first attempt at a novel.  I thought I might share a few insights I gathered along the way:

1.  For any books I write in the future, I think I should come up with the title first and then write the book.  I did not have a title for this current novel and now that I've finished, I am having an incredibly difficult time coming up with a title that encapsulates all that the book means.  It's nearly impossible!

2.  Character development, character development, character development.  I went into the novel with a clear idea of the character traits of only a couple characters.  I wish I would have done more "pre-writing/pre-work" on the other minor character so that I would have gone into the novel with a clearer idea of who they really are rather than learning for myself who they are as the novel progressed.  I have found several wonderful sites that offer suggestions of some good activities that help you get to know your own characters before you begin writing:

3.  Chapter outlines are not a bad thing.  I outlined a basic premise of how I would like the story to progress, but did not break this down chapter by chapter.  Only about halfway through the book did I begin doing this and it made things much easier.  Outline by chapter rather than by plot-- it makes the story easier to read!

4.  Do not become so overly-focused on the plot that you lose sight of prose and setting.  A good story can only take you so far.  If you don't establish a clear setting then the story lacks foundation.  Finding the proper mix between sections of prose, narrative, and description is as precise as blending the ingredients for a cake, and I can only say it seems to come from the instinct of each individual writer.  Trust your own magic.

5.  Don't insult your readers.  Sometimes as a writer, we are so in love with our own brilliant idea that we want to make sure the reader gets it, so we beat them over the head with it.  If your idea is really that brilliant, then trust your brilliant readers to get it.  They don't need to be told everything.  A good reader knows how to read a novel for all it's worth.  Good readers know how to read beyond the typed words on the page.  Show your theme through fluid and descriptive writing rather than through in-your-face telling. 

6.  Be patient.  Spinning a good yarn takes time and patience.  The urgency of my own story often mistakenly came through with rushed writing.  I am now having to go back and fill in the gaps, give more information, and sometimes literally change choice of words, etc. because the story was so rushed.  Take your time.

7.  Be fearless.  Tackle the hard stuff.  Say the difficult things.  Don't be afraid to show the ugly and lay it all out there.  As Natalie Goldberg puts it, Write down the bones. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Benzos-- On My Soapbox

I hate benzodiazepines. HATE them. This class of drugs (what we know as Ativan, Xanax, Klonipin, Librium, and Valium and various others) was introduced in 1961 and sold to the medical community as "safe." Doctors then naturally begin writing prescriptions left and right and we are now learning that benzos are NOT safe. I speak from my own personal experience in working with addicts as well as from scientific research and statistics. I see people almost daily who are struggling to overcome addictions from various substances but cannot overcome the final hurdle of benzos addiction because doctors continue to hand these drugs out like candy.

Let's just lay out the facts. First of all, the manufacturers of benzos do not suggest that this drug be used longer than two weeks. Second of all, we know that long term use leads to increased tolerance (requiring more of the drug to feel any benefit), physical dependence, and dangerous, potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms when one tries to stop taking the drug. We also have statistics that support the fact that most people abusing benzos are typically combining their benzo with another substance, usually alcohol or opiates. This is a deadly combination.

Here are some important statistics. In 2006 the Center for Disease Control reported " Poisoning {drug overdose} is the second leading cause of injury death overall, and the leading cause of injury death for people aged 35-54 years, surpassing both firearm-related and motor vehicle-related deaths in this age group." Of these "accidental" deaths, 17% of those were related to the misuse of benzos. In 2009 in Washington state alone, benzos were indicated in 20% of accidental deaths, higher than alcohol (17%), cocaine (15%), meth (5%), and heroin (2%). Even in 1986 the well-respected National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) completed research that indicated those who were depedent on benzos alone had a mortality rate 3 times higher than a control group being treated for similar mental health issues without a co-occurring benzo addiction. When the benzo addiction included the use of alcohol or other addictive drugs, the mortality rate jumped to 6 times higher than the control group.

I sat with a seventeen year-old girl this week who was begging me for benzos. She understandably wants relief from anxiety and has learned from our culture that the most efficient way to do that is to pop a pill. It breaks my heart. I also work with various other adults who struggle with enduring the withdrawal symptoms of benzos and most of them require multiple inpatient hospital stays throughout the year. Long-term benzo use has been shown to lead to an INCREASE in depression and anxiety. The abuse of this class of drugs has become a social problem, a menace to society, a bomb dropped on families, and ultimately kills.

This anger has been stewing in me for many years and the recent death of Whitney Houston really sent me into a tailspin. We do not yet know the autopsy results for this artist, but we do know both alcohol and three different kinds of benzos were found in her room. It doesn't take large volumes of these two combined drugs to cause significant depression of the central nervous system and cessation of breathing.

I believe Whitney Houston was clean from illict drugs and, thus, convinced herself she was "sober," because she was "just taking" the various benzos being prescribed to her. How do we expect people to stay clean when they are having addictive substances prescribed to them by the very people who are supposed to be helping them remain healthy? NO ONE with any history of addiction should take benzos... period. Whitney Houston should never have been given those medications. She believed she was sober and well. Our culture is ignorant to the dangers of benzos and I believe this prohibited the loving friends and family around her from knowing that the path she was on was a deadly one.

If you are taking benzos or know someone who is, these are the signs of benzo dependence (from

1. Tolerance to the medication, to the extent that the patient needs to take more to achieve the same effect; more marked when used as sleep aids, less common when used intermittently for anxiety.

2. Withdrawal begins when the medication is discontinued – may lead to taking other drugs to relieve symptoms.

3. Taking a higher dose or a more frequent dose outside of a physician’s advice. This includes taking the medications for problems other than they are prescribed for.

4. An inability to stop or excessive anxiety when considering stopping.

5.Preoccupation with acquiring more medication or another prescription – usually to meet increased need because of self-administering a higher dose.

6. A drastic change in habit or lifestyle, such as skipping social engagements or ignoring responsibilities because of the medication or the effects of the medication – embarrassment and lying may be associated with this.

I believe we should lovingly confront those we love who we know are abusing or misusing their medications. Had someone done this for Whitney Houston, we might still have her today. Please know that tapering from benzos should be done under the guidance of a doctor, due to the potential severity of symptoms. Let's wise up about this very dangerous class of drugs and spread the word that it is not acceptable to take benzos for months or years on end. We have to become intolerant of doctors who have become legal drug pushers and push for tighter regulation of this class of drugs.

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Year, New Projects!

Happy New Year! 2012 is upon us and I, for one, and just grateful I am still here. I won't lie-- 2011 was rather hellish for me, but I have survived. That's what I do, I survive. I thought I should reiterate that since I have been horribly absent from my precious blog for over a month now. I have made a personal pact with self that I should post a minimum of two times per month on my blog. I have said many times that there is something about coming her and speaking that often brings clarity to my inner chaos.

I am reminded that it was late 2008 when I started blogging and I have found so much joy in it. This has been a useful and rewarding outlet for my voice. The bonus I did not expect is the community of blogger, recovery, and poet friends with whom I have connected along the way. I believe any true writer finds joy in just writing for self, but I have discovered the joy in sharing words with others and that was a reward I didn't expect.

I believe it's my three-year journey here (and the 34-year trek prior to that) which has led me to my new project-- a novel. That's right, people, I am embarking on a novel! Have I ever written fiction before? No! Have I ever had training or guidance in writing fiction? No! Is that stopping these characters from invading my mind and soul? No! I am in love with writing this story. The plot, the people, and the theme of this novel feel like a natural culmination of my life up to this point, and I MUST write it.

I have written poetry since I was eleven years old and I've spent a lot of time with poets. I get poets and have a solid understanding of how various poets write. I do not know any fiction writers and am not familiar at all with this experience. This process is entirely new to me, so I engage in it with my own style and my own unique approach. I am now at page 54 in my writing and there are portions of the novel so far that even my untrained eye sees are really bad. I am finding now that I am knee deep in the action of this novel, I am truly needing the guidance of other writers to navigate this process. I welcome any resources, books, websites, or kind advice any of you in bloggerland can offer me. I have begun doing some internet research on my own and found one article in particular that I really like. It's from The Guardian and is entitled "Ten Rules for Writing Fiction." I am especially relieved to hear that these writers often give conflicting "rules," which validates my budding belief that perhaps there is no one right way to do it. One of my favorite tips was given from the author, Roddy Doyle. He says, "Tip #1: Do not place a photograph of your favorite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide." You can check out that entire article here.

More to come!

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