Compassion is an often-misunderstood concept, especially within the codependent community where it is frequently translated as something more akin to pity and rescue. So I have included the definition by the Dalai Lama as below for careful consideration:
Usually our concept of compassion or love refers to the feeling of closeness we have with our friends and our loved ones. Sometimes compassion also carries a sense of pity. This is wrong. Any love or compassion which entails looking down on the other is not genuine compassion. To be genuine, compassion must be based on respect for the other, and on the realisation that others have the right to be happy and overcome suffering, just as much as you. On this basis, since you can see that others are suffering, you develop a genuine sense of concern for them.
HH The XIVth Dalai Lama
This bank holiday was one of the best weekends I have had in a very long time. It was an unusually busy weekend filled with socialising, a boot fair, drop off and pick up for sleepovers and ending with a family bar-b-q yesterday. Just as I placed the finishing touches to the table outside, the heavens opened. But I was with friends, it didn’t really matter and within an hour we were basking in sunshine. I was with my family, my husband and our children, his parents and my mother as well as old friends, and some of my team from Charter. It was a sober event, but you would never have known it from the raucous laughter and excited storytelling over a lunch that extended across the afternoon. Later as we sat and talked, the conversations became more meaningful until impatient children urged us onto the lawn to play cricket where we remained at their mercy until it was dark and the rain sent us inside once again. I am so very grateful to be sober, to have connection with others that feels honest, to be able to be there for and with my children and to feel.
Recent published research proves that Cannabis use affects the teen brain permanently showing a permanent reduction in brain capacity of 20%. The teen brain is vulnerable and growing so of course any chemical will affect its growth and development: obvious really.
Although this is shocking news, and terrifying to those of us with children in particular, I am relieved to have confirmed unequivocably by research what is already many in my field’s experience: we KNOW that cannabis causes long-term detrimental effect because we SEE it in our client population.
What is of concern is that we are speaking against a tide of popular culture where our voices are drowned out and our teen population – our future – continue to use and abuse substances under the banner of a ‘teenage rite of passage’ ameliorated by the denial of a nation that ‘ everybody does it’ and ‘its only a bit of spliff’.
Because the arrogant and bullying approach of those using is to behave as if they are superior because of their drug use, it is very very difficult to stand out in any way, let alone as apparently square, scared, not cool. How high the cost not just to fit in but not to stand out. It reminds me of the experience of many teens I speak to in schools across the country who feel embarrassed and humiliated to say ‘No’! This population need our support.
Taking drugs doesn’t make you clever, cool or brave…it makes you stoned at best, addicted and dependent at worst; and now we know it causes long term brain damage too.
The peer pressure around this culture needs challenging. In my experience – which is extensive – Cannabis is a gateway drug and not only that it is now also proven to be permanently damaging. Wake up parents, siblings, teachers, I think the real power happens in the homes and schools. We have influence and I believe you are either in the solution or the problem; with addiction there is no middle ground: where are you?
Honesty is the best policy. Deviation from the truth is a smear on your integrity no matter what the justification; its a slippery slope. The more you lie (or should I say ‘adjust the truth’) the less accurately you represent yourself, the less others know you, the more likely you are to feel isolated and misunderstood; then its a short walk to loss of confidence and loss of sense of who you are. Then who knows what you might do to feel better…? I know that life is not group therapy (sadly!!!) so this is not about marching around saying whatever is on your mind without consequence (by the way in group therapy there are consequences!) : that would be self indulgent! No, I am advocating the kind of honesty that allows you to be present without shame and for the other person to truly know you. Its called INTIMACY. This takes self knowledge and of course creates self knowledge too! It takes courage and creates confidence; it means the friends you have actually know you and love you for who you are – gold dust! Take the risk to be honest, recognise your own judgements as you do, and try really hard to welcome the response!
The ancient Willow tree stood sentry at the mouth of the tarmac drive that once shone its gleaming route, liquorice black and definite, to the house. Now with edges crumbling into the ditch the drive was over grown and potholed, like stale biscuits forgotten in a tin.
I stood motionless in the unseen footprints of my youth beneath this great tree where giant branches draped like patient arms in play, as gates to a castle where childish battles could be fought and won; where as I grew I had lain hidden in deep cool grass, looking up through fluttering green to the watercolour skies and dreamed of love. It was here beside the gnarled trunk too wide to reach my arms around, that I had sought protection and cover when later love too had proved fallible.
Looking up in the breathless August evening I could see my old home, nestled amongst extensive orchards where trees stood like children, arms aloft in play. Dark red tiles sat like a warm hat over the pleasing symmetry of this Sussex house, and English roses climbed the sunny whitewashed walls in an embrace before stretching their myriad ways unpruned towards the skies where white trails crossed and petered out into the endless blue. It was as if summer never left this place for even in the depths of winter when clouds like dark fortresses launched their stormy attack, Orchard House sat calm and square puffing gentle coils of smoke from the Aga that lay at her warm heart, unmoved by centuries of Nature’s temper.
And yet this was her greatest tragedy for despite her protection against the elements, Orchard House had provided no defence against the storm that raged within. The windows were all dark now, with glass that reflected back the steely light of dusk like eyes in death. I could go no closer but watched as the tendrils of willow hushed and soothed around me until the night cast her cloak of impenetrable darkness, releasing me from the spell.
It is shocking that UK adolescents are the heaviest drug users and drinkers in Europe but not surprising to me. I put this down to a number of things including these three:- a lack of family boundaries – too many parents are their child’s ‘best friend’, catastrophic for a child who needs a boundary to play brinkmanship against. I also think that many of the young adults I encounter in my work in schools and with teens at Charter are far too clever for their own good, clever and invincible. There is a distinct lack of humility in this population, so danger is dismissed as irrelevant. And then, and perhaps most significantly, drugs are so accessible in terms of literal access as well as price, with the curiosity of youth, experimentation is inevitable. So alongside every other parent whose child heads into the uncharted waters of their teens, I hold my breath, pray and try to trust my parenting of childhood years that fostered self representation, good communication and a respect for boundaries.
I want to add my voice to the positive public response to MP’s Charles Walker and Kevan Jones’ disclosures around their mental health issues, OCD and depression. Even in a one to one counselling environment it is challenging to ‘get honest’ – to do it in a public forum with no control over the outcome, risking public opinion and popularity, these disclosures set an unprecedented example to us all. Stigma is fuelled by secrecy and shame and is a fundamental part of the dynamic of many mental health issue in themselves: paranoia, fear of what others are thinking, a desperate need for approval are characteristic of many psychological disorders and an openness of individual experience from those in the public eye goes a long way to confronting the stigma and hopefully encouraging others to come forward and own their experience, and perhaps we even seek help. (See more on this story at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18444516)
I read this recently: – ‘A treatment centre is where you go and pay $ to find out that AA meetings are free’. Ok, so it’s funny and all, but once we’re all done laughing I’m left thinking about the relationship between fellowships and treatment in the UK.
I am a fan of the fellowships; they are an accessible and inspiring resource that is in my opinion vital for a person to gain a sustainable recovery. But akin to the kind of disapproval in the fellowships 20 years ago when someone was on anti depressants (an opinion that is now thankfully outmoded), I have found a culture of animosity in the rooms towards treatment. Its a kind of snobbery that insinuates that those in treatment are being ripped off, or that somehow they have failed to work a proper programme or the rooms would have worked. I believe that what works works – treatment, therapy, fellowship, service – and who are any of us to criticise?
In my experience those who benefit from treatment are people with multiple addictions and fractured lives who don’t know who to believe any more; those who have lost any sense of valuable self and need holding until they quiet enough to hear themselves again; those who are shy and have no voice; those who have some form of PTSD or trauma; people who persistently relapse or simply need the support. Treatment is a powerful experience to help someone get completely clean and from there with the support and experience of a dedicated clinical team, gain valuable insight and understanding of themselves, their priming and of addiction in a relatively short space of time. Sadly this does come at a price in the UK that is not widely affordable, but it remains an incredibly valuable service that deserves due recognition.
I am now proud to describe myself as a monarchist. My conversion began in earnest with the BBC documentary on the Queen earlier this year which was thought provoking and at times very moving, and was completed by witnessing the stalwart, steady stance of Her Majesty over the jubilee weekend. As I woke each day, tired despite sleep after the demands of my own busy life, I was mindful of how she might be feeling and admiring of her constant presence at the celebrations. Reliable, determined, other centred and motivated by duty – these are qualities that stand a person in good stead. Are they teachable I wonder as these are qualities that many in my client group lack? With self centredness being a core constituent of addiction, other centredness is a vital component of recovery.
As many ended last week looking forward to an extended bank holiday Jubilee weekend, albeit in the rain, I headed home with heavy heart. For in a moment of weakness and under extreme duress from my daughter, I had conceded to swim in the 24 hr school Swimathon that night, after a long and intense clinical day. Not a great lover of swimming, I spent my journey home pondering how in the past I would have come up with colourful excuses to swerve this commitment as I got cold feet. But I am good for my word today, and this was in an excellent cause – local children’s charity Dandelion Time – and, most importantly perhaps, the commitment was to my daughter. Also as we were camping at the school in celebration of the end of exams and Jubilee, there was no way out! So with a flask full of tea and towel over one arm I ventured onto the campsite with trepidation to discover that I was scheduled to swim the 0215 leg alone for 3/4hr!
As the evening darkened so did any hope that a miracle might alleviate me of my duty. And so it was that 2am found me standing in fine drizzle at the edge of a steaming pool, with 2 life guards and my husband watching over me, and a sole swimmer in practised rhythm finishing the leg before mine. Knees bent I felt a sudden surge of satisfaction, I was doing this.
After about 20 minutes I was tiring so I floated on my back and found myself thinking about recovery and how it is possible to do anything when you just put one foot front of the other. How simple it is when you just accept and put the over-thinking to one side. And as I looked to the side of the pool and saw my daughter and 2 of her friends amble out of their tents to file along the side of the pool and watch, sleep addled and shivering in the night air, I felt supported and grateful – we can do what I can’t. (Then I sent them back to bed!)
And as I crept back into my sleeping bag around 0315, uncomfortable, tired, still damp and cold through, and yet I felt proud. This was an esteem-able act, and I felt nourished by it – what an unexpected result!