Alcohol Anonymous: Strength in Numbers

Alcoholics Anonymous

“When I stopped living in the problem and began living in the answer, the problem went away.”

~ Alcoholics Anonymous

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 86.4 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime. While it may not lead to an addiction for some, it does for others. Alcohol has touched all of our lives in one way or another, whether it is personally or through someone we care about. Because April is Alcohol Awareness month, I want to dedicate a post to one of the most helpful, renowned support groups for those working to overcome an addiction to alcohol: Alcoholics Anonymous.

WHAT IS ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS (AA)?

Alcoholics Anonymous is an international group of men and women who have had or are working to conquer a drinking problem. AA is open to all races, politically neutral, self-supporting, and is available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements, and membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem.

HOW DID AA START?

Alcoholics Anonymous was founded by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, who were both recovering alcoholics. In 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous began as a community-based fellowship which encouraged sobriety for other recovering alcoholics. These two men developed the 12 steps to aid their attendees, and later introduced the 12 traditions to help further define the group’s purpose and achieve continuity for AA groups across the country (and later around the globe). AA paved the way for other support groups; today Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous are just three of the many groups that have modeled themselves after the AA meeting concept.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN TENETS OF AA?

The original steps are still intact and many former addicts credit the group with helping them through recovery. The 12 steps that govern all AA group meetings are presented in linear fashion, but participants see them as an ongoing circle. The following steps may be revisited until the recovering addict is comfortable in that stage of their recovery process:

  1. Admit powerless over alcohol
  2. Accept that a higher power, in whatever form, will restore your sanity
  3. Make a decision to turn your will and life over to a higher power
  4. Take a moral inventory of yourself
  5. Admit to a higher power, another human, and yourself the nature of your wrongdoings
  6. Accept that a higher power will remove your character defects
  7. Humbly request the higher power remove your shortcomings
  8. List people you hurt during your addiction and be willing to make amends
  9. Make amends to those people unless it would harm them
  10. Continue to take a personal inventory, and when you’re wrong, admit it
  11. Use prayer and meditation to connect with the higher power
  12. Carry the message of AA to other alcoholics and continue to practice the principles of the 12 steps in your daily life

DOES AA WORK?

Because AA is anonymous, some members of the group do not participate in studies since it could breach anonymity. Many want their participation in AA to remain unidentified, in line with the group’s original intention. Additionally, participants might not want to admit to relapse. A New York Times article stated that AA claims that up to 75% of its members stay abstinent.  Alcoholics Anonymous’ Big Book touts about a 50% success rate, stating that another 25% remain sober after some relapses. Though it is difficult to know just how effective it is, it is safe to say that many people have been helped by regularly attending AA. Just how effective depends on the participant.

CAN AA WORK FOR THOSE WHO DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD?

The first time I read through the twelve steps, I was surprised how often God was referred to. While the faith-based program of AA may be effective for some, it does not work for everyone — particularly those who do not subscribe to God as a higher power.  Might I offer a solution: AA founder, Bill Wilson, encountered the term “higher power” in the book, Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James. In this book, James offers many examples from Christian traditions, as well as non-Christian examples. One of the best examples of “higher and friendly power” is borrowed from Henry David Thoreau walking in the midst at Walden Pond feeling a sense of connection to pine needles. He cited other examples of a “higher power” to potentially include moral principles, patriotism, civic engagement, and even a higher or better self. Therefore, the term “higher power” does not have to be a faith-based term and thus varies from participant to participant.

You could go to an AA meeting in Los Angeles, London or Lima and each one would be carried out in a similar fashion. This is because the steps and traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous are the foundation for every meeting. In each meeting, members will get to know one another, discuss progress and relapses, and support each other through sponsor programs. Although it can be difficult going to an AA meeting with complete strangers and admitting to such a personal issue, it is the only place where every participant knows exactly how you feel. They have been where you are and can support you in your journey. That is powerful. To quote AA literature: “The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us.”  This instantaneous bond cultivates a unique feeling of community and understanding that is incredibly helpful to those recovering from alcohol addiction.

The only real way to find out if Alcoholics Anonymous can help you is to give it a try. See for yourself if you think the help and support from others struggling with the same problem can help you stay sober. As Alcoholics Anonymous has no dues or fees, you have nothing to lose in choosing to visit a few meetings. I strongly encourage it. Call now at 877-600-9205 or go online and use a meeting finder to find a meeting in your area. Click here if you are local to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and could benefit from community resources. In like manner, if you feel you could use professional help, I invite you to contact me today or schedule a session to begin your journey toward recovery. I am here to help you along the uphill road of addiction recovery!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Living Your Best Life, ADHD Aside

“ADHD is not about knowing what to do, but about doing what one knows.” ~ Russell Barkley

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), previously known as ADD, can present challenges for adults across all areas of life. It can be taxing on your health, your job, and your personal and professional relationships. Your symptoms may lead to procrastination, trouble meeting deadlines, difficulty maintaining relationships, and impulsive behaviors. You may wind up feeling alone, and as though friends and family do not understand what you are dealing with. Fortunately, there are skills you can learn to help manage the symptoms of your ADHD. You can improve your daily habits, learn to recognize and use your strengths, and develop techniques that help you work more efficiently, maintain organization, and interact better with those around you.

Over the last several years, awareness about ADHD has increased, and the stigma surrounding this mental health issue has decreased. There are many resources available for adults living with ADHD. Below, in the resources section, I have included links to articles that include specific tips for managing stress and boosting mood, ideas for staying focused and productive at work, suggestions for managing money and bills, advice for managing time and staying on schedule, and instructions to get organized and control clutter. In this post, however, I will share the basic, overarching principles you will find helpful to live your best life despite having ADHD.

  1. Create structure. This is possibly the biggest help to combat ADHD. Make a routine and stick to it every day. Establish rituals around meals, school, work, free time, as well as your morning and evening routines. Simple tasks, such as laying out your clothes and items for the next day, meal prepping, and daily planning can provide essential structure.
  2. Break tasks into manageable pieces. The demands of school, work and life can leave anyone feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and hopeless. Whatever task you are faced with, break it down into bite-sized (so to speak) steps that you CAN do. Then tackle those one by one until you accomplish your end goal.
  3. Simplify and organize your life. Create order in your home or work space. Often, the tendency to get distracted makes organizing clutter difficult. But if everything has a designated place, cleaning up will be efficient and easy. This will allow you to focus on the things that really matter. In addition, having an orderly living or work space will offer you a haven from the chaos of everyday life.
  4. Limit distractions. Individuals with ADHD welcome easily accessible distractions. Television, video games, and the computer encourage impulsive behavior that must be regulated. In addition to decreasing time with electronics, I recommend increasing time doing engaging activities outside the home as an outlet for built-up energy (see next).
  5. Encourage exercise. Physical activity burns excess energy in healthy ways, which will decrease impulsivity. Exercise will help to improve concentration, decrease the risk for depression and anxiety, and stimulate the brain. Did you know that many professional athletes have ADHD? Experts believe that athletics can help those with ADHD find a constructive way to focus their passion, attention, and energy.
  6. Regulate sleep patterns. Bedtime may be an especially difficult for individuals suffering from ADHD. The lack of sleep exacerbates inattention and hyperactivity; therefore, getting quality sleep is paramount! Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post on nightly rituals that will help you “sleep like a baby.” In addition to the suggestions in that post, I recommend eliminating stimulants like sugar and caffeine, and decreasing television time to help get better rest.
  7. Encourage out-loud thinking. Those with ADHD can lack self-control and often speak compulsively, or without thinking. Try verbalizing your thoughts and reasoning. If you do not have someone supportive with whom you can confide, I recommend keeping a journal. It is important to understand your thought process in order to be able to curb impulsive behaviors.
  8. Take breaks. It is 100% normal to become overwhelmed or frustrated with yourself as you try to manage the behaviors and impulses that accompany ADHD. Give yourself breaks, schedule them (include them in step one, when you “create structure”!). Scheduling alone time is important. Good break options include going for a walk, reading a book, taking a relaxing bath, or anything that promotes self-care.
  9. Believe in yourself. Remember that ADHD causes legitimate stress. Do not minimize your feelings of anxiety and frustration. While so doing, it will be important to remain positive and hopeful. Recognize your progress. Believe that you can work through the obstacles before you. Have confidence in yourself and be positive about the future.
  10. Get help. The final suggestion I would like to allow others to help. You do not need to manage ADHD on your own! Allow close family or friends to be part of your journey; rely on them for support and to help you make progress. Additionally, get individualized counseling with a licensed, experienced therapist. I have several patients who have learned the necessary skills to be in control of their ADHD.  I am your advocate and can be you personal cheerleader! Contact me today to schedule a session. Furthermore, some individuals find that receiving medication can help immensely help them in managing their ADHD symptoms. Finally, look into local support groups near you. This is an incredibly helpful resource!

Before I end, I want to leave you with some reminders that have been helpful to those I have worked with. Be willing to make some compromises and recognize that perfection is not realistic. Remember that while ADHD may not be visible on the outside, it is real. You are dealing with a hard thing, so please remember that when the going gets tough! Third, take things one day at a time and remember to keep everything in perspective.

Take heart. You can learn to live with manageable ADHD symptoms and be in control of your life. Let ADHD be an explanation, rather than an excuse. Be patient and remember that change will not happen overnight. These ADHD self-help strategies require practice, patience, and a relentlessly positive attitude. As I always say, my door is wide open and I am here to help. I accept new clients for in-person sessions. Contact me today!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Two Secrets for Making 2019 Your Year

“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.” —Earl Nightingale

What do we do each January 1st? We think about New Year’s Resolutions–hobbies we would like to pick up, physical feats we would like to accomplish, places we would like to travel… Some we achieve, some we abandon, and others we half-attempt and get mediocre results. If we want to make serious changes in our lives, build confidence, and grow as individuals, we need to have a plan. Without a clear endpoint in mind, we are wandering aimlessly. A plan allows us to proactively create our destiny, and our goals serve as the springboard.

Last year I wrote about the ins and outs of setting resolutions. Most of us are familiar with the process of setting goals; if you need a refresher course, check out the references included below.. Having or setting goals is not the hard part, though. The hard part is following through with and reaching our goals. We have all had a goal that went unreached for whatever reason. I want to focus this post on what we can do to stay motivated to reach our goals in 2019.

How can we stay motivated to reach our goals? To quote Zoolander, “What do we do when we fall off the horse? …We get back on!” I have two simple suggestions that will help us pick ourselves up and get back to work WHEN we may fall short of our goals:

  1. TRACK PROCESS, NOT PROGRESS. This is an interesting yet intentional combination of words. Have you ever gotten fixated with the before and after pictures of home renovations or of physical transformations? What these pictures do not show is the vast amount of time and effort that went into achieving those results. We must remember that progress is a process. Growth and improvement takes time! We are growing accustomed to thinking we should have a six pack after a week of clean eating or exercising. The truth is that progress takes much, much longer than we like or expect. Instead of obsessing over results, we need to track how many times we did what we said we were going to do. How many times did we get to the gym? How many times did we bring a healthy lunch to work? How much money have we put into savings? If we keep doing what we said we were going to do–going to the gym, eating better, spending carefully–we will inevitably get closer to where we ultimately want to be. 
  2. PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION. Beating ourselves up for our mistakes and punishing ourselves for not reaching our goals will nearly always backfire. This promotes shame, which is limiting and uninspiring. When we are too tough on ourselves we actually hinder our ability to perform. Multiple studies (see references below) show that treating ourselves with more kindness is the best way to gain better results. Those who practice self-compassion are more likely to achieve their goals because they realize that mistakes are bound to happen, but that does not mean they should give up. As we implement more self-compassion into our daily walk and talk, we will find greater happiness, confidence, and progress as we reach our goals. (Look out for a post on self-compassion at the end of this month!)

Those who succeed in achieving their dreams always have one common characteristic: They never give up. This persistence is a mindset we can establish from the beginning and nurture throughout the journey of working towards our goals. Yes, we may fall down or fall short, but we cannot allow that to let us lose sight of what we are working towards. When we are tempted to give up on our goals, let’s remember to enjoy the PROCESS, and to practice a little more self-compassion. Just remember that every day is a great day to try again. Let 2019 be your year!

Something I love about the New Year is that it gives us courage to change. New Year’s Resolutions are revitalizing and we often find a great deal of motivation to do the hard things we may have been putting off.  If current addiction issues, unresolved trauma, or a strained relationship is not allowing you to make the changes you want to make, please do not hesitate to contact me today with questions and/or schedule a session with me. I absolutely love what I do, and have years of experience as a trained, qualified therapist. Please come see me this year and allow me to help you make 2019 your year!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

Cutting Shame Off at the Knees

Cutting Shame Off at the Knees - Cluff Counseling, Lewisville Marriage & Family Therapist“Guilt is just as powerful, but its influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive. Shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement.” -Brené Brown

Regardless of age, gender or nationality, we all experience shame from time to time. Dr. Brené Brown, an author and researcher, explains in her book Daring Greatly, “The less we talk about shame, the more power it has over our lives. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.” And that is what I want to focus on today–cutting shame off at the knees.

Dr. Brené Brown has dedicated her career to researching shame and vulnerability. She describes shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. The dictionary defines shame as a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. We all feel it; in fact, it was recently found that even babies can experience shame!

It is important to note that there is a distinction between shame and guilt. While shame means, I am bad, guilt means, I did something bad. Shame is debilitating, it can shut us down or emerge in ways destructive to ourselves and others. The remorse and regret that can come with guilt, on the other hand, can motivate us to make adjustments or restitution, and create new paths.

Let’s talk about real life examples of shame. How many of us have ever scrolled through social media to see someone doing something we wish we could do–affording a luxury vacation, building their dream home, accepting a prestigious position, holding a difficult yoga pose, cooking a beautiful multi-course meal for friends, reaching 10k followers, etc? We all have. What was our next thought? For many of us it is, I could never do that, I’m not smart, rich or talented enough! This is shame. Shame holds us back and debilitates is. It tells us we are “bad,” which can prevent us from changing or doing better. Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change or progress. Further, it can lead to addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders and bullying. Because of the powerful implications of shame, we must identify our feelings of shame, understand them and build healthy coping skills against it! Here are five ways to cut shame off at the knees:

  • Bring shame to the light. Know what it is and what it feels like. Recognize when it sneaks into life. TALK about it. Awareness is the first step!
  • Recognize triggers. Shame is good at hitting us where we are vulnerable. A new mom who secretly feels out of her depth is more likely to feel shame when her parenting style is questioned. A husband who worries about providing may see his spouse’s comment about the neighbor’s new car as an attempt to shame him rather than an innocent observation. We must know where our armor is thin and work to strengthen and protect those areas.
  • Stop striving for perfection.  Dr. Brown has said that perfectionism is like a process addiction–the more you do it, the more you feel compelled to do it. Perfectionism is a common ailment among many of my clients, and it is corrosive. It tells us nothing we do is good enough…so why try?  Perfectionism and shame go hand-in-hand. When we work to stop one, we will find there is not room for the other!
  • Practice positive self-talk. The first option for positive self-talk is positive affirmations. These are powerful; by voicing what we believe (or want to believe) about who we are, and what we are capable of, can decrease our feelings of shame. By literally repeating something (out loud) enough we will start believing it. The second option is simply speaking more kindly to ourselves. If we were to talk to ourselves the way we would talk to our children…we would never speak to them as negatively as we do to ourselves! Be kind. Practice self-love through our inner dialogue.
  • Deeply root self-worth. If we define ourselves by what we do, we put the power of our happiness in the hands of others. When separate what we do from our sense of self-worth we will find freedom. When we are comfortable in our own skin, we can look at both praise and condemnation with the perspective each deserves, absorb any helpful critiques, and move on.

Shame is one of the most debilitating emotions humans can feel. It can stunt growth and corrode motivation. It is always looming. Unfortunately, we cannot “beat” or overcome shame once and be done with it. Instead, we must view our relationship with shame as ongoing: recognize when shame is creeping in (know our triggers), speak kindly to ourselves (affirmations), and remember that we are so much more than what we do or look like. Working to cut shame off at the knees is one of the most common subjects among my clients–everyone is feeling it! I fully understand that shame can get in the way of the important things and relationships in life. If you want to more fully understand how shame is holding you back, or if you have questions and would like additional help, I would be more than happy to assist you. Feel free to contact me or schedule a session!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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15 Minutes to a Happier You

15 Minutes to a Happier You - Cluff Counseling - Denton Couples TherapistThere are so many things all around us threatening to tear us down or make us feel less than we are. The dangers of comparison through social media is ever-present, and sometimes we just need to reconnect with who we really are. This post contains an activity you can download and complete at your leisure that will surely help boost your positive self-image!

At the end of each month, I post about self-care. This is one of my favorite topics because it is something I believe in so deeply, and has a profound effect on our overall health. Self-care is a powerful tool that enables us to literally care for ourselves, both body and mind. Last month I wrote a post in which I compared self-care (also referred to as mental hygiene) to the things we do to take care of our bodies–like brushing our teeth, exercising, or eating a balanced diet. All of these affect how we function and ultimately view life. I highly recommend taking this last weekend of July to revisit your 2018 goals, and consider focusing on self-care.

Today I want to do something a little bit different than my normal quick blurb on self-care. I want to introduce an activity and invite you to thoughtfully complete it. It will not take more than 15 minutes of your time, and I promise you will find some satisfaction and meaning in it!

Below you will find a document ready for you to download. It is simple and straightforward. If you do not have a printer, or would prefer to write it out yourself, here are the instructions. Write out the following:

  • 25 things you’ve overcome or accomplished in life
  • 25 reasons why you’re a good, lovable person
  • 25 things that make your life beautiful (or that you’re grateful for)
  • 10 people that inspire you to be your best self (and how)
  • 10 things you want to work on, learn, or improve
  • 5 fun ways you will reward yourself as you progress (trips, food, gifts, etc)

Click here for the doc

And there you have it! You now have a 100 item list that is sure to boost your confidence and self-image. Focusing on your strengths, growth and talents is an essential part of self-care and positive mental image. I recommend doing a similar activity regularly–both to keep yourself humble and to boost your self-esteem. 🙂

Should you have questions or wish to schedule a session with me, please do not hesitate to contact me! I am only one click away!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Finding Your Strengths

Finding Your Strengths - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville TherapistIf you’ve ever been asked the question “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” in a job interview or on a date, you probably immediately noticed your heart racing. While acknowledging weaknesses can be quite easy, recognizing and articulating one’s strengths is quite difficult. Let’s change that, starting with YOU, today!

Just last week, I was talking with a friend who had been at a blogging conference. She took a class where they spent some time focusing on articulating one’s strengths…and it was super hard for her. She told me, “I can list off right now fifty weaknesses I have, and areas where I am trying to improve, but I cannot tell you one single thing I am good at!”

Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why is it so easy to see the bad and nearly impossible to notice our strengths? I have not been able to stop thinking about this concept ever since, and so I am dedicating this blog post to discovering your strengths.

  1. Take time to understand yourself.

I have written previously about the power of journaling; it is a great way to become more self-aware and reflective about your abilities. First, look for skill-based strengths. Take several days or even a week to write things you spend your time doing; you may even rate these activities. From this, you may learn:

  • I enjoy doing laundry and cleaning. I am an organized, tidy person.
  • I find research papers interesting; I am driven to always be learning and growing.
  • I don’t love washing/vacuuming my car, but I clean it weekly. I am consistent.

Then, search deeper, and examine your values. Search for personality-based strengths. What is important to you? What governs your choices? Or if this is too abstract, think about individuals you respect and why; what traits do they posses that you value?

  • I let my waitress know she undercharged me last night. I am honest. Integrity is important to me.
  • Even though my life is busy, I found time to take the neighbors dinner to me because I try to be a kind, thoughtful person.
  • I really admire Marilee’s ability to give her full attention to others. That is something I am actively working to turn into a strength of mine.

Evaluating how you spend your time will tell you a great deal about yourself. Take the time to be introspective and you will discover things you did not already know about yourself.

  1. Ask others to identify your strengths.

I enjoy giving my clients the homework assignment where they ask others to help them identify their strengths. This is beneficial and insightful to anyone and everyone, and I recommend you give it a whirl! To start, think of people in every aspect of your life (work, old jobs, and former teachers, as well as friends and family). Send the individuals you’ve selected an email asking them to give you particular instances where they saw you use your strengths. Make sure to mention that these strengths can be skill-based or personality-based. You will likely be surprised by all you can learn about yourself from the perspective of others!

  1. Make said strengths easy to articulate.

Now, you likely have several ideas about things you excel in, but you may not know exactly how to articulate that. I would like to recommend fitting it into one of the following three phrases:

I AM _________

I HAVE _________

I CAN _________

If you enjoy talking with others, that can be, “I am personable.” If you are good at meeting deadlines, you could say, “I am punctual.” If you found you are able to remain calm in stressful situations– ”I can prioritize and manage stress effectively,” etc.

  1. Verbalize strengths. Repeat them. Believe them. Live them.

At the end of February, I posted about affirmations, and the strength we can summon by regularly affirming such powerful statements. Might I recommend repeating your I am/I have/I can statements? Set a time to regularly repeat your affirmations. Reminding yourself who you are and what you are good at is invaluable. Yes, we should never be complacent with where we are, and we should always strive to improve. Recognizing your strengths will help you capitalize on them and even strengthen them.

Everyone has gifts, strengths, and talents…everyone! They just take time to discover. Even though it is easier to recognize strengths when things are going well, It is just as important to recognize strengths in times when you feel discouraged or insignificant. You have worth! I urge you to seek out your strengths so you can be comfortable in your own skin, and build upon these to become the person you want to be. As always, should you need help in this regard, or with any aspect of your personal emotional health, my door is open. I thoroughly enjoy helping my clients build their self-esteem in order to be emotionally healthy. Please feel free to contact me today or simply click here to schedule a session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

Measuring Your Success

Measuring Your Success - Cluff Counseling, Lewisville Marriage & Family Therapist - TypeLegendary basketball coach, John Wooden, says success is, “…peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” Are you doing your best to reach your 2018 resolutions?

As April approaches (and with it my birthday!), I have been thinking about my goals for the year and how I am doing with them. How are your resolutions going? Do you remember what they are? Did you write them down to begin with? Maybe you have a list displayed on your bathroom mirror, and you are actively thinking about daily steps you can make to reach your lofty goals. Or maybe you fall into that ⅓ group who do not work on resolutions after the first month of the year. Either way, I am here to give encouragement, and provide some tips on how you can measure your progress.

Life is busy. We get so caught up in the daily grind of simple survival that we may overlook seemingly extraneous things–like wanting to pick up a paintbrush or get into an exercise regimen. How can we stay motivated to learn the skills we want to learn, accomplish what we want to accomplish, and ultimately become who we want to be? The answer is simple:

Baby steps each and every day.

I want this blog post to inspire/motivate/rekindle your desire to grow and improve this year. You set your resolutions for a reason! With your own persistence, consistency, and organization you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to. Let’s get started.

First, take a look at your resolutions. Yes, I list this as an actual step because many people have intangible goals floating around in their brain space. You must write them down! You need to be able to see your goals; there is something about the action of writing them out that makes you more accountable to yourself, solidifies your desire to learn new things, and helps you remember your goals (muscle memory, maybe?). So step one, if you have not already done so, write your goals down.

Next, break down goals into measurable steps. “Learn to play the guitar” is a wonderful goal in and of itself, but it is very broad and difficult to quantify. How will you know if you have mastered or even “learned” the guitar? I would like to introduce a simple method that will help you break goals down to actionable steps and give you baby steps for each and every day. This step is perhaps the most important phase of goal setting, for this is where you can set yourself up for success!

  • VISION. Begin with your overarching goal. Let’s say that “learn the guitar” is your vision.
  • GOALS. How will you accomplish your vision? (Notice that the following can all be checked off yes or no; they are quantifiable steps that are easy to measure!)
      • Have formal guitar lessons weekly from a qualified teacher or musician
      • Practice the guitar for at least 15 minutes daily
      • Master one song a month
      • Perform Christmas song at family Christmas party
  • ACTIONS. Now take each of your goals and break them down into smaller steps with set time frames to accomplish each by. (Yes, this takes time and organization. But this is truly what enables you to reach your goals!)
      • Have formal guitar lessons weekly from a qualified teacher or musician
        • Research local music schools; find pricing options (by end of work week)
        • Call Dad’s friend and ask about his rates + availability (Wednesday @ 7 p.m.)
        • Find, clean and tune Dad’s guitar (before first lesson)
      • Practice the guitar for at least 15 minutes daily
        • Nightly after dinner, 6:30-6:45 p.m.
      • Master one song a month (if we are just now redefining or re-dedicating ourselves to goals, start with April)
        • April: “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (Key Signature G)
        • May: “With or Without You” (Key D)
        • June: “Brown Eyed Girl” (Key G)
        • July: “Silent Night” (Key G)
      • Perform Christmas song at family Christmas party
        • Practice basic key signatures monthly
        • Begin practicing “Silent Night” in July
        • Perform for a friend or small audience prior to family party in December
  • ACCOUNTABILITY. Who will you be accountable to? If you have a roommate, partner, sibling, parent, friend or coworker you are close to, consider telling him/her about your goal. Ask him/her to occasionally (or frequently–whatever will help you most) ask you about your progress. Often, knowing someone else knows about your goal helps motivate you to keep going when you are tired, busy, or discouraged. In fact, partner up–play guitar together or hit that yoga class with a friend!

Lastly, REGULARLY review your resolutions. Set a time to remind yourself of your goals. I have long preferred to do this early each Monday–after my morning rituals (like exercising, eating, and getting ready for the day) and before beginning my professional/scholastic duties. Having a set time to go over your goals makes them more prominent in your mind, schedule, and priorities, and helps you to achieve ultimately them. Plus, if you fall off the horse one week, you can reevaluate how to get back in the saddle. If you find your goals to be too easy or too demanding, you can adjust them as necessary. Having a regular check-in with yourself will keep you progressing.

Winston Churchill once said that success is being relentless. If you want to be successful, be relentless in your pursuit to achieve your goals and to become the best version of yourself. Only you know if you are exerting your best effort to reach those goal or not; are you happy with your progress? Is there room for improvement? If you are not on track to reach your goals right now, sit down, write your goals out, and divide each into quantifiable, actionable steps. I can assure you that this is one surefire way to both measure your success and achieve your dreams. And, as always, I am here to help however I can. Contact me or schedule a session today.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

Strength in Numbers: Support Groups

“Regardless of the road we follow, we all head for the same destination, recovery of the [alcoholic] person. Together, we can do what none of us could accomplish alone. We can serve as a source of personal experience and be an ongoing support system for recovering alcoholics.”            -Alcoholics Anonymous

I posted an article mid-February about disclosing mental illness–when, how, where, to whom, etc. It may seem easier to deal with mental illness alone, but great strength can be found in numbers. The same is true with addiction; more often than not, disclosing addiction to trustworthy individuals can empower and motivate you to overcome your addiction. There is great power found letting other people in so they can can comfort you, support you, and keep you accountable. Your family and friends will have an important role in your recovery and healing, but this post is about the kinship and healing you can find beyond your immediate circle of support and in support groups.

You have likely heard of Alcoholics Anonymous or “A.A.” This is an international fellowship where those looking to overcome alcoholism will be encouraged and supported towards sobriety. People all across the spectrum of alcoholism take part in these A.A. meetings, and participants become friends and a support system.  Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most well-known examples of a support group, but support groups are certainly not limited to overcoming alcoholism. In short, a support group is a gathering of people who share a common health concern/condition, an interest or a specific situation–such as breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease, addiction, or long-term caregiving.  

The general purpose of support groups is to help identify healthy and effective coping strategies, as well as skills often geared to mitigating feelings of angst, fear, pain, and loss. The groups also provide a great support network—in support groups you can find other members in similar circumstances with similar feelings with whom you can share in an open and unedited fashion. The group allows you to be where you are and validates and normalizes what you are feeling. Imagine the benefits of being surrounded by people who not only support you, but understand what you are feeling and going through!

Support groups are available worldwide. If you are in search of a particular support group, ask your doctor, or mental health provider for recommendations, or search the internet, contact local centers (community centers, libraries, churches, etc.), or ask someone you know in a similar situation for their suggestions. In addition, there are many options online including chat rooms, email lists, newsgroups, FaceBook groups, blogs, or social networking sites. Help is out there!

On the other hand, group therapy is a more formal type of mental health treatment that brings together several people with similar conditions under the guidance of a trained mental health provider. Its focus is more educational, therapeutic, and process-oriented. It provides a forum for change and growth, and there is often a theme presented for the entire group, with specific outcomes anticipated.  Support groups are less structured, with no set curriculum, and the facilitator can be a lay person or anyone who has an interest in the subject (instead, many themes may enter a discussion by a fluid group of members, and the facilitator guiding from the side). The following are a few of the key differences between support groups and group therapy:

  • Openness. Oftentimes, support groups are very open, meaning individuals can come and go as they please. If participants are unable to make it, the group carries on as normal. With a therapy group, participant’s attendance is crucial to the benefit of the whole.
  • Size.  Therapy groups range from four or six to ten individuals. Support groups can be communal, allowing more participants.
  • Facilitator’s role. Therapy groups function because of the therapist at the helm, directly leading and educating the group. In support groups, however, the facilitator, who is typically a selected participant, guides from the side, allowing participants to make comments and build off of one another. In both cases, facilitators objective is to create a safe learning space for all participants.

Each type of group offers a unique dynamic and the key is finding a group that meets your specific needs and association. Not everyone will find it helpful to participate in the more intense, focused, therapy-based experience of group therapy; however, nearly everyone can benefit from a support group. Support groups are readily available and are often free. Benefits from participating in both a support group as well as group therapy include feeling less lonely, isolated or judged; gaining a sense of empowerment and control; improving coping skills; talking openly and honestly about your feelings; reducing distress, depression, anxiety or fatigue; developing a clearer understanding of what to expect with your situation; getting practical advice or information about treatment options; and comparing notes about resources, such as doctors and alternative options.

Support groups and group therapy have an important place in healing and recovery–be it from addiction or from mental illness. Depending on the situation, it may be beneficial to see a therapist one-on-one, in addition to attending groups. In some cases, medication is also necessary. If you would like more information, please contact me today. I am more than happy to schedule a session with you or your loved one and help create a plan for healing. When looking for resources to address addiction or mental health issues, do not forget about the strength of numbers you can find by participating in support groups and/or group therapy!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

Finding Happiness After Hurt

Finding Happiness After Pain - Cluff Counseling, Denton TherapistLife isn’t fair: people are unkind, injustices happen, and life sometimes seems to have dealt us a pretty hard hand. Here are practical tips to overcome emotional pain and find happiness.

Every day I see clients who are hurting. Some are suffering from childhood trauma, others from addiction, chronic illness, or the unexpected ending of a key relationship in their life. One of the things I have learned firsthand as a counselor is that there is a lot of hurt out there. You and I are literally fighting a world of hurt. But the main reason I absolutely love my job is that I have the chance to help my clients fight through their hurt and find happiness.

We have all experienced something unjust or painful in our own lives. Sometimes it is easy to shake those feelings and other times we just cannot seem to let them go.  Prolonged anger and feelings of injustice—directed toward a particular person, circumstance, or yourself—have a steep price tag: they can rob you of happiness in the moment and have negative impacts on your overall health. But there are steps we can take to overcome the inevitable feelings of hurt, pain, and resentment to find happiness. In addition to seeing a therapist, there are several simple ways you can start today:

  1. Fill your own cup. Sometimes, when we feel empty, we hope for and expect others to fill our cups for us…which is incredibly dangerous. More often than not, we let people in who are not healthy or worthy, and they do more harm than good. Stop that. Fill your own cup. Sandra Bienkowski writes for Mind Body Green, “You have to fill your own cup. Whatever you didn’t get and need, you have to give to yourself. If you didn’t get praise, give yourself praise. If you didn’t get love, show yourself some love and compassion with kind thoughts and doing things that make you feel good about yourself. If your home didn’t feel safe, create a safe and secure home as an adult.” Happiness begins when you are at peace with yourself.
  2. Stop looking for external validation. Be comfortable in your own skin.  Do not look to Instagram/Facebook/Twitter, your friends/family, or anywhere else for validation. Look in the mirror. Use your internal gauges to measure how you are doing and how you could improve. That is what they are there for!
  3. When people show you who they are, believe them. We sometimes make the mistake of hoping or expecting others to be who we want them to be. Let your friends, family members and acquaintances be who they are. Accepting their limitations and allowing them to be imperfect will help you avoid feeling disappointed when they do not measure up to your high expectations of them.
  4. Set boundaries. You are the only one who can set limits of where you end and others begin. Do not let other people’s issues/history/negativity hurt you. Your boundaries set the bar on how you expect to be treated or set the limits of what you accept and what you do not. Knowing how to protect yourself is really just you protecting your happiness.
  5. Have patience and compassion for yourself. Recognize that you are dealing with something hard. Cut yourself some slack, give yourself time to make changes, and focus on what you are doing well!
  6. Decide it is not worth it. Feeling angry, frustrated or wrong only harms you. Decide that is it not worth it, get help, and move on. Do not dwell on the negative!
  7. Separate facts from emotions. Yes, you got laid off–fact. Yes, that will impact your finances–fact. But these facts do not mean you are entitled to feel angry, frustrated, and wronged for years to come. Reconcile the facts (what you are NOT always in control of) with your emotions (what you are ALWAYS in control of), and you will be a lot happier.
  8. Seek treatments that help resolve feelings of anger and injustice. Effective modalities include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Loving Kindness Meditation, and Compassion Meditation. Contact me today if you are seeking one of these treatments to increase your happiness.
  9. Use relaxation as the antidote for anger. Have a plan or strategy to calm yourself down in the face of anger or frustration…because you are sure to need that plan at some point.
  10. Use imagery. Imagine yourself letting go of the negative emotions you are feeling and holding on to. Then envision yourself finding and clinging to happiness. As cheesy as it sounds, it may be remarkably helpful for you visual learners out there!
  11. Talk it out. For some of us, talking to a therapist or someone we trust can be extremely liberating. Getting a fresh perspective, as well as, suggestions for how to move on is invaluable. Use your words to extricate your feelings, work through them, and let them go. It is remarkable how liberating talking it out can be.

Of course there are a plethora of ways to replace hurt with happiness. I could spend hours talking about the power of hobbies, a balanced diet, regular exercise, quality sleep, religious outlets, and several other physical and emotional-reducing strategies. The 11 suggestions I have mentioned above are simple things you can do now with no added time, props, or money. In fact, most of the 11 suggestions I have shared begin with you deciding to be happy. At the end of the day, you are the one who decides to hold on to feelings of anger, guilt, resentment, frustration and injustice. While there are many tools available, your will is the most important. So if you are looking to stop the hurt in your life, decide now. Do it. Use the above methods and contact me if you need additional assistance. I find immense joy witnessing the personal transformations of my clients as they prepare to move on to the next phase of their life–as healthier and happier people. Stop the hurt in your life and welcome the happiness that is waiting for you.

Resources:
Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
Cluff Counseling: “Welcome”
Mind Body Green: “The 4 Best Lessons I Learned From Seeing A Therapist In My 20s”
Psychology Today: “7 Practical Strategies to Overcome Emotional Pain”
Psychology Today: “9 Tips to Stop Anger and Injustice from Hurting You”
Psychology Today: “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy”
Psychology Today: “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy”
Psychology Today: “Happiness”
Psychology Today: “Meditation”
Psychology Today: “Mindfulness”
Psychology Today: “Stress”

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