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"33 ways to use your journal for self-discovery and self-expression"

Posted on February 23, 2018 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (0)
Written by Joni McIntyre, MSW taken from Mental Health Monitor Newsletter "As a therapist, I often suggest to clients that they explore their feelings and thoughts by keeping a journal. Sometimes clients ask for a bit of direction with this process. Here are some journaling ideas if you're not sure where to start: 1. Write down what happened today and how you felt about it. 2. Write a letter to a person you are angry with. Say everything you are feeling and wish you had the nerve to say. 3. Draw a picture of the person you were talking about in #2. 4. Make a list of all the things you are grateful for. List all the big things, all the small things, and everything in between that you can think of. 5. Circle the three most important things on the list you made in #4. Write a paragraph for each, expressing your appreciation to the person who had the most influence over it. If possible, turn this into an actual letter and send it. 6. Make a list of the things that you feel upset about right now. Write down as many as you can think of until you can't think of any more. Then choose the top five. 7. Fir each of the top five things you identified in #6, list 10 things you can do to gain control of the situation. Circle the top three from each list. 8. Make a timeline that represents your life. Fill it in with the most significant events that have shaped you: your early years, your teen years, and each decade that has followed. Draw pictures of icons next to the most important events. Use crayons or markers if you wish. 9. Write a few pages about your feelings about the timeline. 10. Describe how your life would be different if ____ had or had not happened. Here are some examples: a. If your parents had divorced. b. If your parents had remained married. c. If your parents had been married. d. If your mother hadn't passed away. e. If you hadn't moved to _____. f. If you had gone to college. 11. Make a list of all the things you wish you could do before your life is over. 12. Make a list of the things no one knows about you. 13. Write about your junior year in high school. 14. Write about what life was like before you became a parent. 15. Make a list of things you still want to learn about being a parent. 16. Describe what it was like when you first met your partner. 17. Write about what you wish you had known about your partner before you married him/her. 18. Write about what you wish your partner had known about you before (s)he married you. 19. Write about what you wish you had known before you became a parent. 20. Write a letter to yourself as you were at age 10. Tell yourself: a. What your life is like now. b. What you have learned since you were 10. c. What you want him or her to know. d. What you want him or her to beware of. e. What you wanth im or her to enjoy every moment of. 21. Write a letter to your own parents. Tell them what your life is like now. 22. Write a letter to someone from your childhood or adolescence who didn't appreciate you or who misunderstood you. Tell the person what you want them to know and how you feel about the lack of connection between you. 23. Think of someone you never acknowledged for something important. Write them a letter and tell them what you want them to know. 25. Write a list of five miracles you want to happen in the coming year. Write a paragraph or two describing each one and how your life will be better if it happens. 26. For each of the five miracles make a list of: a. Five barriers or forces tht block of prevent it from happening. b. Five positive influences, things that encourage or support its happening. c. Five things you can do to reduce the barriers and strengthen the positive influences. 27. Write about the five things you most like to do. 28. Write about the five things you most dislike doing. 29. Make a list of five places you;d like to visit. Describe what you imagine them to be like. 30. Write about three things you most regret doing or not doing. Describe what happened and how you feel about it. 31. Write a letter to your children. Even if the have not yet been born. Tell them what you want them to know about you. 32. Write a letter to your grandchildre, even if they have not yet been born. Tell them what you want them to know about you. 33. Write a letter to your descendants one hundred years from now. Describe what your life is like today.

Signs of Relapse

Posted on January 5, 2018 at 3:35 PM Comments comments (0)
There is a saying in recovery that goes, "Relapse is a part of recovery." While this is true, and no one should feel ashamed of a slip, it also needs to be stated that, "Relapse is NOT a requirement!" It is important to maintain vigilance in looking out for signs of relapse, and making sure you keep these behaviors and emotions in check. - Anxiety - Intolerance - Anger - Isolation - Defensiveness - Mood Swings - Not asking for help - Not going to meetings - Poor eating habits - Poor sleep habits These are all signs of emotional relapse, and are also connected to symptoms of post-acute withdrawal. There is also a stage of mental relapse that often occurs before physical picking up a substance, or old behavior. Signs of this stage include: - Thinking about people, places and things you used to use with - Glamorizing your past use - Lying - Hanging out with old using buddies - Fantasizing about using - Thinking about relapsing - Planning a relapse Keep an eye out for these behaviors, and if you notice some of them coming into your life, utilize your network and coping mechanisms to help work through these feelings.

"And The Wisdom To Know The Difference"

Posted on February 22, 2017 at 5:20 AM Comments comments (0)
From what I have seen, heard and lived, wisdom is a choice. Actually, wisdom is a collection of many choices, made all day long, every day. It is a "way of being in the world.' And sadly, making mistakes is the only vehicle to gaining wisdom. Mistakes are made, consequences earned and the next time around, a different decision is made, with better outcomes. This, in a nutshell is wisdom. Gaining wisdom can be a very painful process. But it doesn't have to be. Here are the observations that I have made about the two roads to wisdom: the first is more painful than the latter. The first, is that we personally make mistakes, suffer consequences and the next time we are faced with this same decision we (hopefully) make a different choice that does not have a painful consequence. Wonderful, wisdom is gained! The second, less painful road to wisdom: we learn from the mistakes of others, see their consequences, and personally decide that if we ever have to make that choice, we will do it differently. This decision is not made in judgement toward the person who made the error, but rather in discernment based on the life we want to build. When we gain wisdom by observing consequences in the lives of others, there is an opportunity to live a less "painful" life. And isn't that the goal, to live with the least amount of pain and suffering as possible? Wisdom is the vehicle in which we can reduce self-induced suffering. This is why talking to a counselor can be so helpful. Counselors have insight into themes and patterns in life that can help normalize your experiences, validate your choices and point out the "red flags" along the way. Your counselor is a listener, your counselor is a keeper of stories and these stores have immeasurable wisdom. There other ways to gain this insight as well: hiring a coach or consultant, joining a network of people that have similar experiences that you are looking to explore. Belonging to professional associations or on-line groups or list serves that discuss issues that are relevant to your personal or professional life are also wonderful ways to gain wisdom. Here is my encouragement to you to build your wise, least painful life: Surround yourself with people that you consider wise: personally and professionally. Ask a lot of questions before making any big decisions. Read up on your options, interview mentors. Practice making good choices, based on the observations you have made and the wise advise that you have been given by those that you trust to be wise. Take the blinders off and with your "eyes wide open" accept the consequences that come from the decisions you make: ultimately, all choices lead us to the road of "wise mind." My hope for you (and me) is that one decision at a time, we can be our wisest selves in every moment of every day!

"The Courage To Change The Things That I can...."

Posted on March 13, 2016 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

It has taken some time for me to get back to this blog. Much as been happening here at Elevate! We have brought three new clinicians on board and have expanded into a lovely new waiting room and new office space.  (staff phots and pics will be up soon) We also have made a great 7 minute video for Elevate (Thank you Jill, Dan and Tim) and I am looking foward to posting that as well. However, as I was warned by a mentor "things take longer than you think they will". Erin, you were right!

In my previous post we discussed needing serenity and acceptance for the MULTITUDE of "people, place and things" we are not going to be able to change. And that ultimately, the only thing that we can change is ourselves and how we respond in the world.  So, how do we muster up the knowledge of what, exactly, needs to be changed in our lives? 

I think taking an orderly approach to answering this question is a good idea: so lets look at PEMS. PEMS stands for the 4 "parts" of a person that makes up the whole of our human experience. P is for physical: our bodies and self care: sleep, nutrition, exercise, hydration, hygeine, etc. E is for the Emotional: this aspect of our lives manifests in our relationships with other people. Our family members, friends, acquaintenances, professional relationships, etc. Then comes the M for our "mental body" or our thought life. Thoughts can lead us into the deep waters of depression, anxiety, low self-worth or they can bolster and encourage us on our life journey. The final letter S represents our spiritual self. For some this means our belief in God, our relationship with that creator, our spiritual and/or relgious practices. S can also represent our creativity that "flow state" that people often experience when "work is play" or they are expressing themselves creatively or artistically.  

I encourage my clients to look at their lives through this lens of PEMS. This is a touch point for self-care, to determine where our counseling work needs to start. It is important to know what our strengths are when it comes to PEMS and what are limitations are. It is when we explore this that we can discover what needs to change. 

So I encourage you to take an inventory to determine where it is you need to find courage to make some changes.  Start with your physical body: how is your diet, your exercise, your sleep? Are you attending your doctor appointments, taking prescribed medications as your doctor suggests? Are you experiencing your sexuality in a physically, emotionally and spiritually safe way? Write out a list of your strengths and a list of your limitations, things that need to be changed.

Now look at your emotional life. How are your relationships with family members? Do you feel loved and are you loving? Do you feel that you need to invest more time and energy into your relationships with family and friends? Do you have "psychic vampires in your life"? These are people who drain your energy, create drama or suck you into gossip? (Are you the psychic vampire)? How about "emotional zombies?" These are people who are cold, aloof, make you feel badly about yourself and leave you feeling isolated and alone. Write about the quality of your relationships, good and bad. Do you seen anything that you need to change for your emotional well being?

Next up is the Mental inventory. Are your thoughts bringing you down or are you a chronic worrier? Do you talk badly to yourself about yourself-have negative self talk that leaves you feeling like a mistake or worthless?  Or do you have coping strategies in your thought life where you are able to catch negative self talk and reframe it with positive?  Here is a good way to find out what your mental life looks like: write down 10 things that you love about yourself. If that is a struggle, your thought life may need to be changed.

And lastly, is your spiritual life.  No matter what religion, all religions believe that we are made in the image of our creator. With that said, it makes sense, that when we are creating, we are as close to our "God nature" (however we define that) as we can possibly be. So ask yourself this- do you have any creative outlets? What are they? Do you have frequent opportunities to be creative? Also important to Spiritual health is Faith life and beliefs.  Ask yourself the following questions. Are you engaging in a community with other people that share your sense of self in the world? Do you participate in the practices of your religion? Are you thinking and acting in ways that are congruent with your spiritual life? Answer these questions and you will have an idea where you stand on this issue and will be able to determine what changes you may need to make.

If you do the above exercises and answer these questions by taking stock in your PEMS health, you will have a good understanding of where you are going to need to get some courage, and what you are going to need to change.  In the end, remember this....the ONLY thing that you can change, is the way that your respond to the answers that you came up with. Ultimately, the question of changes comes down to this:

Do I need to make changes in they way I take care of my physical body? Do I need to make changes in my relationships and how I respond to people in order to improve my emotional well being? Do I need to change my thought life so that I do not allow depression and worry take over my life or re-work my sense of self so that I can be all I was created to be? And lastly, do I need to change things in my life in order to enhance my spiritual well-being?

When you answer these questions, it becomes clear why we need COURAGE...if we are being honest, we all have things that need to be changed if we are to improve our PEMS health. But FEAR NOT for, as author and speaker Joyce Meyers loves to say "I may not be where I am supposed to be, but thank God I am not where I used to be." And to that I will say. AMEN!

God Grant Me The Serenity....

Posted on January 31, 2016 at 11:15 PM Comments comments (0)

I am guessing that most of us are familiar with the "Serenity Prayer".  The first few lines of the prayer are commonly recited at the beginning or close of 12 Step recovery meetings.  It starts out as follows: "God, Grant me the serentiy to accept the things that I can not change, the courage to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference."

I always start my work day off reciting this prayer in its entirety and because of this, I thought that it would be a great way to "kick off" the first Blog series for Elevate Counseling Services. So, I will write about this prayer (in its entirety-there is more to it than mentioned above) and I will tie in some themes and patterns I have seen in my counseling work that I often ponder as I recite this prayer, reflect on my coming work day and process the journey at days' end.

Today I am going to focus on the line "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I can not change." I think we can all be in agreement that there is ALOT that we need to accept that we can not change. Indeed, an important tenant of recovery programs is that people in recovery need to accept that they are utterly POWERLESS over people, places and things.  From my perspective as a counselor, and a counselor who is a Christian at that, I think that we are all in recovery from something. Hence, that "powerlessness idea" works well for all of us.

It is a common occurence that I ask my clients to share with me those things in their lives that they are powerless over. Those things that they would like to change but can't seem to make progress with. This is usually followed by the "eye roll" or the "chuckle", ocassionally the exasperated sigh. And then the discussion begins: the job, the kids, the money situation, the SPOUSE or the LACK of a spouse, you name it, it gets mentioned. And I ask my clients to bring these areas of powerlessness into the room so that we can have the IMPORTANT DISCUSSION; the meat of the matter if you will. I reflect, "if you are powerless over all of these things, which I am in agreement with, what then do you have the ability to exert your power over? What is in your power to change?"

NOW the response to this is often the lengthiest silence in the room for the day. Sometimes I get, the "deer caught in the headlights look", another exasperated sigh or a defiant NOTHING. To which, I prod the client along to think some more about this very important issue: our ability to change and what that entails. Eventually, my client gets around to an answer that is some variation of "me?".  And we delve into what aspect of "myself" do I actually have the ability to accept my power to change?


I have discovered a few noteworthy things that I would like to pass on to you today that seem universal to most of us:

  1. I have the power to change the way that I respond to life.
  2. I have the power to set limits and not accept unacceptable behavior (from myself or others).
  3. I have the power to make decisions to do things differently. (self care, career, parenting, relationships).
  4. I have the power to choose to live in darkness (Fear) or light (Love).

I encourage you to think about where your power lies. Perhaps journal your thoughts about the 4 examples above. What do you have the ablitity to change? What do you need to "let go of and let God" take care of? I would love to hear what you have to say.