Thursday, September 26, 2013

Let's Talk About Relapse - Day 18 - The Gifts of Relapse!

We have spent the past 17 weeks discussing relapse!  Wow! Every time I have sat down to write, I think to myself, "What I have to say today about relapse is so important! I hope I choose the right words, and I hope I get the message across!" Most importantly, because of our shared suffering from relapse, I also hope these blog posts have been a positive contributor to your recovering process by imparting healing principles and tools. And, as we bring this discussion of relapse to a close, for now, I hope you will take some time to reflect upon this final lesson - The Gifts of Relapse.

The Gifts of Relapse

It is often said,

 "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results."

Over the past several months, we have discussed the anatomy of relapse. We named and pealed away the layers of shame and we tenderly addressed the inner core of shame; we thoroughly identified internal and external triggers and assessed their impact upon us; we confronted the masks of denial, disguise, and detachment and learned how to remove them while reclaiming our truths in the process; and we revisited the practice of forgiveness - internal and external - and reminded ourselves of its necessary ongoing implementation. As we have done this difficult and demanding work, we have acquired The Gifts of Relapse - insight into ourselves and opportunity to redirect our lives.

If we want to experience different results and embrace physical, emotional, and spiritual renewal from relapse, we must learn from our past and we must implement new patterns of thinking, behaving, and feeling.  

What are your gifts?

When I look back at my relapse episode, I am so grateful for the gifts I received. Although there are many, I learned that when I am triggered, I often rush from one unhealthy behavior to another to avoid the pain I am feeling.  Relapse taught me of my need to slow down, to be quiet, and to be still.  I need time by myself to reflect and regroup.  Another gift of relapse is that I relearned the importance of trusting in my levels of healing and strength and of readjusting my boundaries and expectations when necessary. I also reaffirmed my right to protect myself and always to reassess my exposure to unhealthy people and environments. Relapse re-gifted me with the peace of mind that recovery is a process - with ebbs and tides- and that I am to remain open to it and trust in it.     

Depending upon our life experiences, each of us will receive gifts of relapse which are applicable to our healing journeys. However, what is most  important is that each of us takes the time to reflect upon and conduct a deliberate inventory of the lessons we have learned about ourselves. 

Some questions to ask and to address are the following:
  • Are you taking time to be still - to think about yourself and your journey? What are your areas of strength or of vulnerability? 
  • Are you giving yourself time to cultivate healthy ways of being? What patterns of behaving, thinking, or feeling are you readdressing and reworking?
  • Are you healing one step at a time - one day at a time- one breath at a time? How are you working your program of recovery?
  • Are you keeping a pulse on your current levels of strength and consistency? What is that teaching you? 
  • Are you assessing your choices of environments and reassessing their levels of healthiness? What are you learning and how is that helping you?
  • Are you recognizing setbacks and making adjustments where necessary? What are they and what changes are you making?
  • Are you taking ownership for your choices - both healing and harmful? What are they and what are you learning from them?  
As you ponder these questions and others, think about what you now know about yourself and your relationship with relapse.   Claim these lessons - Claim these gifts - And remember...

Claim your lessons - Claim your gifts - Do this now...

"Deep down inside, each of us knows what our truths are.  It is forgivable to lose them; it is unforgivable not to reclaim them." 

Until next time, be well...

Special note: Starting Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013,  I will be hosting a weekly radio show - Holli Kenley - Keys for Recovery - on W4CY Radio and the Intertainment Network at 12:00 pm ET. I hope you will join me as we bring you informative and restorative information on many different topics!  We will start with the topics of bullying and cyber bullying. Please email me your questions or share your stories or concerns at

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Let's Talk About Relapse - Day 17 - External Forgiveness

In the previous blog, we discussed the importance of forgiveness in relapse recovery.  We also examined different ways to redefine the word forgiveness and  to re-frame its definition in order to facilitate its implementation into our recovery practices. Lastly, we discussed the concept of internal forgiveness - forgiveness of self - one piece in the process of letting go of unhealthy emotions which keep us bound in our relapse and tethered to our betrayal of self. Today, we are going to address the second part of the releasing process - external forgiveness - forgiveness of other people, places, and things.

With the understanding that we alone are responsible for our choices and
Severing the rope of unforgiveness
decisions that have led us into our relapse episode or period of regression into unhealthy behaving, thinking or feeling, it is also important to recognize that there may be destructive outside influences or on-going painful relationships that trigger us, contributing to our weakened state.

Thus, in order to experience a complete severing from the rope of unforgiveness, it is vital that we release those external sources of  injury and injustice. Let me give you a couple examples. (The names I am referencing are fictitious).

Many years ago, I was working with a wonderfully vibrant and talented woman in her late forties. Katie came into therapy after her husband of over 25 years left her for another woman. As Katie and her husband were going through their divorce, she started drinking more heavily. As we worked through her betrayal, Katie slowly began to heal and recover.  However, whenever she came into contact with her ex-spouse, or if she chose to contact him, she would be re-triggered and re-injured. Over time, Katie realized that holding onto her feelings of anger, resentment, and worthlessness was not hurting anyone else but her. It wasn't until she practiced external forgiveness - to let go of the bitterness and rage towards her ex-spouse and to release him and his betrayal of her - that Katie was able to embrace healing more fully, not only in relapse but in her ongoing recovery as well.  

Letting go of external triggers
So often, there are environmental factors that re-trigger us.  I remember an amazing caring, compassionate young man who I worked with for several years - Miguel. After an extremely painful and lengthy divorce, Miguel came into therapy to work on his rescuing or codependent behaviors. Because Miguel was so sensitive to  his surroundings and the memories they held,  he became easily triggered and slipped into a mild depression.  As we worked together, Miguel realized how much better he felt when he was away from his current living environment. However, he did not want to move too far away from his young daughter. After relocating to another area of town, Miguel began practicing external forgiveness - releasing the memories that certain places brought to mind and letting go of past routines and rituals that he held on to. It is important to note that Miguel was not running away from his previous surrounds; he recognized their strong negative influences on his being and their impact on his recovery. And, as Miguel continued to release the triggers of his previous environment, he was also able to navigate in and out of it     without risking relapse.

Whether it is our feelings of inner shame triggered by our own choices; or our  feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, or injury triggered by outside forces, I believe the practice of forgiveness - both internal and external -  is non-negotiable in the initial steps of recovery and in sustaining recovery from relapse. As I write in Mountain Air,

"I stepped out from underneath the canopy and was greeted by Father Sun. Feeling insignificant under His ever-reaching rays of warmth, I was grateful for this powerful lesson.  Our humanity is sometimes our most formidable opponent when it comes to fully embracing our healing journeys.  Letting go of our pain...  [practicing internal and external forgiveness] our greatest strength. It is necessary in order to move forward." 

Letting go of our pain

Homework:  As you practice your internal forgiveness, implement external forgiveness as well. Take some time but do spend time thinking about the external forces (people, places, and things) that trigger you.  Then, utilize the steps from the last blog as you practice forgiveness - of self and of others.

  • Choose a word or phrase that feels safe and comfortable - one that you can connect with.
  • Implement a practice(s) that feels natural, meaningful, and purposeful to you.
  • Schedule or set aside times for your internal and external forgiveness.
  • Repeat this process as many times as necessary.
  • Take time to relish in the renewal that you experience.

Next time, gifting ourselves with lessons learned...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Let's Talk About Relapse - Day 16 - Internal Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a practice that is commonly used in many aspects of our lives, and yet, I think it is one that many of us struggle with. Over the years working with clients in therapy, frequently I would hear the words, "Holli, why should I forgive him?  He doesn't deserve it!"  Or, "Why should I let her off the hook?   She destroyed my life!"  Or, "How can I forgive them? Look at the injustice that has been committed?" Or, "I know I need to forgive myself. But I can't. I don't deserve it."

Although  you may have heard this before, I need you to hear what I am about to say.  This is extremely important.

  Forgiveness is not about or for the other person or thing. 

 Forgiveness is about and for you.  

Forgiveness is about and for you.
As long as we hold on to our anger, resentment, bitterness, or disappointment towards other people and things or even towards ourselves, we remain tethered to them and to those toxic emotions. Most importantly, we sabotage our own healing! Unforgiveness is like a rope that connects our being to the betrayer's being and/or those sabotaging emotions, pulling us along and suffocating us. By severing that rope and freeing ourselves in the process, we position ourselves to further our healing and to reinforce our recovering. Forgiveness releases you - not anyone or anything else.

While re-framing the concept of forgiveness is critical to embracing it, for some individuals it is also helpful to change the word itself because they struggle with the meanings or feelings they attach to itWorking with clients, I would often search with them in finding a word or phrases that they could connect with. Some of the most common and useful terms were letting go, releasing, washing away, and giving it back to God, Higher Power, Source, or Being. Spend some time thinking about and choosing a phrase that resonates with you. Have this ready as we move into the practice of internal forgiveness in relapse- forgiveness of self.

Because of the very nature of relapse, we have in essence betrayed ourselves and our healing truths. As we have covered in previous blogs, there is tremendous shame that accompanies our choices and ensuing behaviors. In addition to shame (self-hatred and malignant embarrassment), there are other destructive feelings such as self-blame, guilt, self-doubt, disappointment, disgust, and resentment. In our humanity and reliance on self, we often feel that we can just ignore, deny, or brush away these cancerous emotions. This is a mistake, especially with relapse. We must let go of them. As I write in  Mountain Air 

"It is in our humility to release the past that we receive the grace to begin again."

It is essential in moving through and out of relapse that we not only connect with a meaningful concept of forgiveness but that we embrace a purposeful practice in which to do so. Whether it is meditating, praying, walking, journaling, or sharing in a recovery program or process, begin releasing and letting go of the painful past. Shed those destructive emotions that are holding you back, keeping you bound. If they return, release them again, and again.  Forgiveness of self is not a one time process; it is continual. Each and every time you wash them away, you will experience the gift of cleansing and you will make way for the grounds of renewal.

From Chapter Eight - Sheets of Rain, I write...
Ch. 8 - "Sheets of Rain"

"Although there are many venues which lend themselves to an internal washing, writing was the tool which came naturally and comfortably to me. Listening to the thunderous pulse within and waiting for the lightning to signal its urgency, I began to journal sheets and sheets of words as the storms of release moved in. When the pressure mounted and the bulky clouds opened up, the rains of residual anger, sadness, and resentment streamed out of my fingers and onto my paper. With each torrent came the washing away of all the remaining carcasses of grief, shame, and blame. And as the wall of words flowed from my soul to the tips of my fingers, I felt the remnants of the past dissipate and disappear; I felt forgiveness take their place. As each successive storm moved in and then out, the releases came more quickly and more easily as there was less and less brokenness to wash away. By the end of the summer storms, my body stood strong and erect; my  mind was lightened and refreshed; and my spirit was poised for renewal."


Homework:  If you have not done so already, begin practicing the process of self-forgiveness. 
  • Choose a word or phrase that feels safe and comfortable - one that you can connect with.
  • Implement a practice(s) that feels natural, meaningful, and  purposeful to you (praying, meditating, journaling, etc.)
  • Schedule or set aside times for your self-forgiveness.   This may sound strange, but we are more likely to do this if we  make a commitment to do so, and we plan it into our healing routine. 
  • Repeat the process, as many times as needed. 
  • Take time to relish in the renewal that you experience. 

Next time, we will address External Forgiveness ...


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