I just got back from a much-needed long, solitary run and while I ran through the heat, my mind swirled with thoughts about addiction, grief, and mindfulness. I came to the following conclusions:
1. We are all pre-disposed to addiction, regardless of our genes.
2. If we do not practice a prevention plan (an In Case of Emergency Plan) that is based on Self-Compassion, No Excuses, and Consistency, we will become stuck in a rut (see #1).
Right now we are halfway through our Race4Chase Youth Triathlon summer program, where we are working with almost 40 kids ages 6-12 on their swimming, biking and running skills, while teaching them character-based lessons and life skills such as goal-setting, positive attitude, healthy nutrition, listening to your body, respecting others, respecting your environment, work ethic, mindfulness. When it occurred to me to start this program back in 2009, I was volunteering with a teen parenting program at a high school in Waterbury, CT. I was frustrated by the high rate of teen pregnancy and what I saw as a complete disconnect between these kids and their bodies, their self-respect, respect for others, and vision of the future. Having a baby when you are 13 years old is a virtual guarantee of a life filled with financial and emotional difficulties. At the same time, I was well aware of a parallel disconnect among the teens in my financially comfortable suburb, as drug addiction, suicide, promiscuity were rampant, but because of the stigma associated with this, it was (still is) kept under the radar. So, in 2010, when launching what was then ACHIEVE Kids Triathlon program, Jim O’Rourke (Executive Director of the Waterbury Area YMCA) and I agreed – all kids are at risk, so unlike other ACHIEVE programs, the one we were creating would seek participants from both urban and suburban environments.
All kids are “at risk” of self-destructive choices, loneliness, alienation, and disconnect regardless of their family’s income or where they live.
My dad was visiting for a couple of days and this morning over breakfast, before he left for the airport, we were talking about grief. My mom died after a relatively swift fight with cancer, 11.5 years ago. They had a great marriage and this was a devastating loss. This morning, our conversation was about moving through grief, how differently people handle it, and how often the tools and coping mechanisms that we create and latch onto in order to survive, can become self-destructive. My dad spoke of a friend whose spouse died 5 years ago and she cannot seem to move forward, putting all her eggs in the Heaven Basket. You know, counting on seeing her deceased husband in heaven when she dies, and not wanting to meet anyone else as it would be a betrayal to him; mourning him every day, in a way that denies her the opportunity to enjoy life, today, as it is.
I happen to believe that God wants us to honor Him, and our lost loved ones want to live through us, by our making a concerted effort, every day, to be present, to live life fully in every moment. I don’t believe that we are, if we believe in heaven, expected or encouraged to merely put up with life until we get to heaven. Just like NIKE is going to sponsor athletes who are the image of health, strength, perseverance, and beauty, I believe that we have a spiritual responsibility to be role models to our kids and communities and the best way to do this is by mindfully practicing techniques that build our resilience. To do our best to live in the present moment, to be fully awake.
In our Inside Out U mindfulness workshops, my colleague Beth Rosen, RD and I emphasize the importance of acknowledging that our coping tools and behaviors, often self-destructive (eating, drinking, staying stuck in grief, becoming sedentary, identifying ourselves as victims, entertaining drama, etc.), have been very effective because we are, after all, still alive. Perhaps we had the rug pulled out from under us by the sudden illness or death of a loved one, or we lost our job, or our spouse announced they don’t love us any more, or we are still trying to reconcile a shitty childhood. If we are still waking up each morning, then the stuff we have done to keep us alive, has served its purpose. In our workshops, we explore new techniques to replace the unhealthy ones, and while doing so, we adopt an attitude of self-compassion and curiosity.
A link I posted on Facebook yesterday led to several comments on Facebook about this TED talk’s failure to mention hereditary predisposition toward addiction. I agree, whether we are talking about addiction or cancer or heart disease or brain health issues, genes are a factor. And it’s good to be aware of this risk, especially since most people like to coast in autopilot and a scientific red flag is the only thing that will get them into proactive prevention mode. But I think the danger of waving the Gene Card is 1) it can lead to victim mentality and 2) it can lead to complacency. Whether we are talking about addiction or other issues like those I just mentioned, it’s all too easy to start making excuses or adopt a victim or fatalistic attitude because, after all, “it runs in the family.” And if it doesn’t “run in the family” then we may be less proactive in practicing prevention, which is why you then hear of the kid who kills herself or the mom who’s a heroin addict, and nobody expected it.
When you need your hip replaced, and you get a prescription for painkillers, and you become reliant on them; when your loved one dies unexpectedly and food or another substance is your sole/soul source of comfort; when the overwhelming feeling of grief and depression becomes a twisted source of comfort and identity – all of this is a set of circumstances that you could never have predicted, but ultimately can lead to disaster if you haven’t been practicing your In Case of Emergency Plan.
When I was taking my Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course, something that our instructor said that really stuck with me, is that it’s important to meditate every single day. With our dedicated practice, the non-reactive attitude and behaviors that we learn, will serve us when we are hit with a crisis. In other words, because I meditate every day, when I am blindsided by one of life’s curve balls, my brain and my habitual mindfulness will automatically kick in and I will be better able to cope. This is regardless of whether or not I am predisposed to anything based on my DNA.
So, I suggest that we all ask ourselves the following questions:
I saw something the other day that made me pause. The following question: What if, when we die, God asks us, "so how was heaven?"
We are all genetically pre-disposed to at some point die - so let's do our best to make every moment here count.
Wellness coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.