If I spoke to the people in my life the way the voice in my head talks to me I would surely be friendless! It came as a real “aha” moment this morning while working with my personal coach, that I am just downright mean to myself. I suddenly began to understand why it is that I am unable to achieve certain seemingly simple things in my life… I fail to action so that the nasty little voice in me can shame and guilt me for NOT achieving something as “easy” as going to the gym after a 12-hour working day. It’s the same voice that chatters away to me when I am unable to resist the chocolate cake, but is oh so quiet when I do succeed in a myriad of other things during the day or the week. It sits silently by when I receive praise, waiting to pounce at me with some derogatory afterthought as to how I could have done better.
It’s not a kind and loving voice, it’s harsh and critical, echoing failures, but never sharing triumph. I thought about where it was born while I was working through my realisation this morning, and came to the conclusion that I may never know, but it is time to do something about it. The most humbling part of the experience was not that the voice was there, but that I’d recognised it so often in my coaching clients, yet failed to hear it for what it was in me…Limiting in its beliefs, stagnant in its mindset and cruel in its choice of language.
It’s the part of me that never truly celebrates all the wonderful things I have achieved, but rather looks for the cracks. It slides through my mind like volcanic lava, burning the positive thoughts to ashes and leaving nothing but destructive ideas and feelings in its path. It’s just always been there…the never good enough in me. It doesn’t speak up when I am feeling grounded and empowered, but waits for a moment of uncertainty when it can lash out with its vicious self-deprecations and taunts. So although there is a certain curiosity as to where it came from, I am choosing to focus on “retraining” my voice. Sending it out into the world of gratitudes, teaching it to be softer, kinder and more self-loving.
Because the sudden and profound awareness that it exists and the nastiness of its existence has been a dramatic shift for me today. I suddenly feel a little more deserving of personally affirming myself. Because after compliments do come my way, the voice shrieks…and it’s not a display of humility but an inability to be able to practice humility. There are plenty of areas of life that I have succeeded. The mere fact that I have been in recovery for this long surely deserves to be celebrated. My few, but wonderful friends speak of many years of love and connection and deserve to be heard. Living courageously is where I want to be moving forward, my own voice my biggest fan. The one that is as fiercely loving and compassionate with me as I am with others…
I feel that through this deepened understanding of self today I have truly stepped into a new dimension of myself and it’s a place I want to slowly explore. Building on the tools and resources learned to this point, shaping the future of my life with a gentler set of words and ideas. Rather than the river of fire that burns and destroys, I want the recesses of my mind and soul to be a gently running stream of mindfulness and conscious awareness. Ever present in my own set of positive beliefs and candid encouragement, I suddenly understand the real work that lies ahead of me and I feel blessed, grateful and truly grounded. Tonight the soft whispers that drift through my mind are light and ethereal, like mischievous nymphs seeking adventure, and their gentle laughter soothes my soul. Tonight I feel as though I have started to find my way in the world, with nothing but the truth of who I really am to guide me, and I feel at peace.
In July 1518, the French town of Strasbourg endured a bitter summer of unrelenting drought. The failed harvest added to the locals’ already penurious situation and the intense heat had also caused outbreaks of fever. The pervasive feeling was one of dread and, overwhelmingly, entrapment in circumstances too great and remote to control. This was a community only one generation removed from peasantry, but with very little more to show for it. The church, sensing the despondency of its congregants, preached forbearance and recommended more fervent prayer.
Round about mid-month, one of the townswomen, Frau Troffea, unable to feed her children and husband, weakened by hunger and unable to envisage any end to this, left her house, walked into the main street and began to dance. People stared, first in amusement and astonishment, then in bewilderment. This was not a dance they had ever witnessed before, nor was there any apparent reason for its performance. It was a flailing, unco-ordinated dance, marked by spins and out-thrust arms and feet, with her face averted, but it was clearly not the dance of a madwoman: nor was it the ceaseless restlessness of St Vitus or the convulsive spasms of epilepsy: no. This was neither neurological nor, indeed, pathological. It was something far deeper and more insistent. It was fast, ceaseless and she kept it up all day and continued through the night. While the villagers watched in silence, it was clear that Frau Troffea was directed by a rhythm and possibly even a music, known and heard only to herself, but coming from some internal metronome that perhaps even she had never realised she could activate.
She continued dancing, without rest, for six days and six nights until, exhausted and dehydrated, she finally dropped dead in the street. But by that time, dozens and then hundreds of other villagers had joined her, and now almost the entire population of Strasbourg was out on its cobbled streets, dancing fast and furiously, the old, the young, the ill and the despairing.
For an entire, uninterrupted month, day and night, the burgers of continued their frenzied dance in the streets, spilling out into the village square. The phenomenon caused alarm and terror in neighbouring towns. The church, fearing possession, considered a form of exorcism, but this was impracticable, since the villagers could not be stopped long enough to apply bell, candle or feather. The momentum had reached so feverish and so delirious a pitch that the dancers, in any case, could hear nothing but the inner rhythm driving them, could see nothing but their own gyrating limbs and could focus on nothing but the compulsion driving them. Neither were they aware of each other: this was no coordinated dance, no impromptu ballroom. It was coming from a realm far beyond coherence.
Of the 400-odd dancers who kept up their distraught marathon, a high percentage died of heat stroke, exhaustion, heart attack or, like Frau Troffea, dehydration and malnutrition.
Strasbourg was the first town where what came to be known as the “dancing plague” saw citizens all over France and then in neighbouring central European countries perform this form of self-immolation.
A medieval rave? No. A fictional story? No: it is historically documented and remains an enigma to this day, but has never been satisfactorily explained by the numerous anthropologists, sociologists or psychiatrists who have addressed it. Some have attributed it to mass hysteria, intensified by the penury and residual misery of feudal subjects. Still others have pointed out that the emotional suggestibility and of the average medieval burger in feudal Europe was just a notch or two below lemming-like.
Still, while all these theories contain some truth, the event remains bigger than the sum of its parts. The point is not the external misery in which it occurred, or the hypnotic suicidal impulse that arrested the dancers. The point is that it was random, spontaneous and an almost completely alien behaviour for docile peasants who were, after all, by no means strangers to suffering.
What, then, made the Strasbourgers dance to death? Was the need to escape so urgent, and the search for grace so crucial, that some inner, secret choreography, which seems to be imbedded in our DNA, was unwittingly activated? And what dark, unfathomable trigger made it so contagious? These were the crazed steps of a skeleton demanding to be let out of the flesh framing it, so that it could triumph over breath, and hope, and life.
More pressingly: what can the Strasbourg dance teach us about ourselves? Individualism in the Middle Ages was unheard of. So was revolt. For us, however, in an era when borders are transient, authority remote, gratification available in a myriad of ways and escaping as easy as a hypodermic syringe, a bottle or a tablet, anything goes – in fact, almost everything’s gone.
The image of the Strasbourgers, dancing frenziedly in apparent silence (but very obviously responding to a rhythm and tempo coming from within), throws up startling parallels with addiction, at least as I understand it. It tells me that unbearable pain is not a malady exclusive to the 20th and 21st centuries: people have always endured it, and have always sought a spiritual analgesic more powerful than religion, more available than wealth and more reliable than revelry. It tells me, also, that for all our advancements in medicine, our arrogance in discarding age-old value systems as obsolete, our ingenuity in technology and our delusions of agency in an acataleptic universe, there remains a territory in each one of us that we can only guess at, let alone explore and chart. It is a territory we share with every human who has ever walked the earth.
Since that is where the questions lie, it is also where the answers lie. Our work is in finding the lexicon and the courage to support what we discover there. The pain driving us to drink, to drug, or to pirouette ourselves into oblivion is the only co-ordinate we have to find our bearings.
Because while that territory, the pain we fear to probe, is the source of potential catastrophe – the darkness within us – it is also the portal to the best in us: a life drenched in sunlight, in which we can dance not an involuntary pas-de-deux with impending death, but in free rapture.
*For more on the Strasbourg dance, I recommend John Waller’s wonderful historical account, “A Time to Dance, A Time to Die” (Icon Publishers).
Gwen is a long-time friend of the Foundation & U-ACT and gives generously of her time and love to the projects and events that the two organisations are involved in.
One of the very first questions I ask my clients when we start working together is “What does recovery mean to you?” The answers vary, but most of them tend to talk about abstinence. And for most people recovery does mean abstinence, but recovery is not just abstinence! In my opinion, recovery certainly involves “stopping”, but “staying stopped” without the necessary personal growth and development, is extremely difficult, if not impossible. I work with people who talk of “white knuckling” their recovery for years and years, feeling lonely and isolated, hiding from the temptations that the outside world holds.
And the mere fact that we are having this conversation means that they have had some sort of slip or relapse that has caused our paths to cross. When we start to introduce the idea of #recoverycapital to our clients at The Foundation Clinic they are almost relieved to hear that life needn’t be all about trying to embrace sheer focus and willpower to overcome and manage a substance abuse disorder. Recovery is about living a fulfilled and purposeful life, creating and building upon the emotional, mental, spiritual, social and spiritual resources in their lives. Life and recovery become interchangeable, as we explore values and spiritual principles, equip clients with simple, practical tools for overcoming triggers and urges, goal set and action plan, and start to understand and embrace adult emotions, rather than living in the guilt and shame of active addiction.
Recovery is not about putting life on hold while we learn to deal with our disorder. It’s about building a life that doesn’t leave space for drugs and alcohol. It’s about developing a healthy lifestyle and a positive self-esteem that makes us feel worthy of fulfilling personal and professional relationships. It’s about a change in mindset, seeing the obstacles in life as a set of exciting challenges and opportunities for growth, rather than a set of potential pitfalls. It’s about changing our negative self beliefs into those which support and assist us in life (and recovery) instead of negative thoughts, beliefs and actions ultimately leading to those very same negative self-fulfilling prophecies. And it’s about self awareness and pursuing a conscious, present-focused existence that ensures we are living to our highest personal values, achieving the aspirations that we set out for ourselves and are intentionally pursuing through well-laid out action plans.
Recovery is not simply about putting down the harmful substances and then pretending that they don’t exist. Recovery is about wanting and needing more from life, so that we are not restricted in our choices! It’s about consciously and proactively creating and developing the skills and the resources to go after a life that we believe we are worthy of…not being limited and imprisoned by drugs, a fixed mindset and a set of negative, limiting beliefs.
There’s not really my life and my recovery as they are one and the same thing. When I am taking care of my emotional, mental, social, spiritual and physical wellness, I am taking care of my recovery. And a lot of my recovery has had nothing to do with staying away from substances and unhealthy behaviour, but rather about creating a life that is about everything I am saying yes to! Because saying no becomes tedious and wears us down, whereas focusing on what I am moving towards and saying yes to is exciting, motivating and inspiring. My recovery is not about abstinence as much as it is about growth and purpose, about speaking my personal truth and living courageously. Recovery doesn’t mean we get everything right all the time, but rather we resource ourselves so that when we are faced with challenges and difficult situations we have a healthy, proactive set of coping tools and techniques to move through these tricky times.
So here are some of the things that recovery means to me, other than abstinence:
- Recovery means choice,
- Recovery means growth,
- Recovery means knowledge,
- Recovery means connection,
- Recovery means presence,
- Recovery means peace and serenity,
- Recovery means self-love and -worth,
- Recovery means adventure and fun,
- Recovery means time,
- Recovery means being authentic and courageous.
On July 1st, 2001, Portugal decriminalized every imaginable drug, from marijuana, to cocaine, to heroin. Some thought Lisbon would become a drug tourist haven, others predicted usage rates among youths to surge.Eleven years later, it turns out they were both wrong. Read more
In the wake of the tragic loss of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a great artist, partner, father, brother, and son, I offer the following facts about the neurological disease of addiction.
Russell Brand has not used drugs for 10 years. He has a job, a house, a cat, good friends. But temptation is never far away. He wants to help other addicts, but first he wants us to feel compassion for those affected.
“I came into this course with a rudimentary knowledge of Coaching from an 8-month Eating Psychology Coaching online course around nourishment, and little practical experience. I was not sure what to expect, particularly given my own recovery experience through AA. What drew me to Coaching was the inherent premise that , in the wellness universe, we are all whole and unbroken and that we have the ability to solve our issues if we only dared to explore our own thoughts. I was also attracted by my own belief that there must other be ways to help people in the different stages of addiction than those centered on the debate of “are you and addict or not”? Recovery Coaching seemed to offer that possibility.
The Recovery Coach training has given me a firm grounding in Coaching: the theory and practice and provides an excellent springboard into the world of the Integral Coach which is where I would like to go. I love the idea of the Co-Active coaching model, the power of open questions and limiting assumptions, and the fact that our greatest skills as a coach lie in our ability to listen. I come from a profession that likes to shout first and shout again later: coaching has introduced me to the power of silence. It is so easy feel the need to interrupt, put words in the mouths of others and try and look smart by projecting one’s will at all opportunities. The Co-Active Model of Intervention suggests that our role as Recovery Coaches operates both in the culture of addiction and through the other side into a culture of recovery. This hope is what excites me: that we don’t have to hit rock bottom, and that there is help on the other side. I suspect it was this philosophy that challenged my thinking most after the very first session.”
– Thoby Solheim
“I am intrigued and inspired by the concept of coaching, as an addition to counseling and therapy, especially in the recovery world. I am excited and thrilled to be on this journey, and thankful that I have found this path to a new way of helping people, and to help this world become a better place, one client at a time. ”
– Tako Seelemann
“Doing this coaching course has been a profound learning experience for me. Certainly the course material and modules were inspiring but also the learning on a personal level has been rewarding.
Be Part of the Solution
For more information about U-ACT’s training programmes, please contact Leigh-Anne on (010)900-3131 or email@example.com