February 4, 2012

MANAGING THE TRAJECTORY OF YOUR LIFE!

Webster's definition of "trajectory":
"A path, progression, or line of development resembling a physical trajectory."

Not this Webster. This is Emmanuel Lewis, who played Webster in a 1980's TV sitcom. I meant the dictionary.

The word, "trajectory," used in a sentence: The path of a projectile is called its trajectory.

A familiar example of a trajectory is the path a baseball takes as it is thrown.

A less familiar example, from a Stooltime Counseling perspective, is the path one's life takes as projectiles are thrown at it.

The inspiration for this article comes from my FaceBook friend, Sandy, who asked me to comment on a picture she posted:

Here were my responses:

I liked JFK, who also said, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." Those sounded like conservative values for a president who was a democrat.

Also, I think it is a person's circumstances and personal choices that determine if someone is going to be poor or not. We live in a country that affords tremendous opportunities for people who want to go after them. Projectiles like a poor education, drug addiction or living in a multi-level dysfunctional family don't help, but can be overcome to increase one's chances of prospering. At least the opportunity to do it is greater in America than anywhere else, in my opinion. Despite some of the cultural problems that still need to be overcome, America is a country where bondage, tyranny and oppression are dirty words. All people are created equal; what happens after that is a personal choice.

Social justice seems to be geared toward everybody being equal. While we are all equal in the eyes of our Creator, after we're born we all make choices that differentiate us from one another. Living with our choices then becomes the hard part, whether we're rich or poor.

Professional Opinion:
Projectiles like a poor education, drug addiction or living in a multi-level dysfunctional family do not need to remain as barriers to realizing one's human potential. There is help to explore, understand and change one's path in life so it can feel more satisfying.

If lack of satisfaction with life is based on: 1) Receiving no education or poor education, 2) Being addicted to drugs, or 3) Coming from a family that has traumatized you by way of abuse or neglect, it is time to stop the vicious cycle. In the 21st century, there is no need to pass on generational lifestyles like these. Rather, it is time to become empowered, based on making some different choices and decisions. It could mean the difference between being content and connected to society and being a malcontent, who is disconnected from society.

Much poverty in America is based on the above three examples. Having a disability can also contribute to living in poverty, based on statistics from the Department of Human Services and Social Security Administration, but for the purpose of this article, I want to focus on poor education, drug addiction and coming from a multi-level dysfunctional family.

Poor Education:
Some people would say schools are the last line of defense a society has to prepare kids to compete in the world as they enter adulthood. This is especially true if the student comes from a home where the parents are derelict in their duties as a parent. Others might say schools are a vehicle used to teach students they are "special" by showing them they can be winners, but at the risk of implying the message: Failure is not an option. How can schools prepare kids to compete, achieve, accomplish, think/feel/act for themselves, give back to the community, manage success and failure and excel? This is the question I have as I wrestle to define the difference between a poor education and one that provides kids with the skills it takes to compete, achieve, accomplish, think/feel/act for themselves, give back to the community, manage success and failure and excel. When a student learns these skills, an important lesson is learned. Being "special" is something that is earned as opposed to thinking it is something to which a person is entitled.

Drug Addiction:
People smoking marijuana, injecting heroin, snorting cocaine, popping pills or binging on alcohol is nothing new. Throughout history, people have looked for different ways to alter consciousness. A drug culture tends to defy convention and reject the values of the mainstream culture. This is called, "The Bohemian Counter Culture", and its participants include people from every socio-economic status because it is a human problem, not limited to any one group. Alcohol abuse, prescription drug abuse, or illicit drug abuse sometimes has an insidious effect on the mind and body; other times, like behavior can develop into a physical compulsion, which means an addiction has quickly developed. When drug abuse negatively effects a person's ability to function, a person has at least two choices: 1) Continue to participate in the Bohemian Counter Culture, so to speak, and seek support from like minded people, or 2) Get some help and learn to commit to relapse prevention. Other times, the solution can be found somewhere in-between the two choices, but usually not when there is a physical addiction or psychological dependence that develops as a result of using a mind-altering substance.

How does anyone who has an addiction to drugs, including alcohol, side-step this projectile to change the trajectory? When there is a physical compulsion to use a substance, it is difficult to be honest with self and others. It is easier to deny or minimize a problem than it is to be honest about it before confronting it. A physical compulsion to use is a problem. Can relationships play a key role in the recovery process? Yes. Generally speaking, the earlier a family member or friend can set-up an intervention for someone with a drug problem, the easier it is to change trajectory. To get started, it is important to understand the five stages of change, the process involved in getting from point A (sick, non-functional, denial of problem, actively using drugs) to point B (commitment to relapse prevention).

Stages Of Change:
Pre-contemplation: In this stage of change, a person is resistant to changing any thoughts or behaviors that could lead to a commitment to relapse prevention. It is the time before a person recognizes there is a problem. A person has no need to change, nor is there a belief that change can happen. A person in this stage of change is in the state of denial of a problem. Why change when the belief is the drug use has more benefits than risks attached to it? Confronting a person with a drug problem is a denial trap for the person because it is natural to feel defensive when being confronted. Helping someone transition from this stage of change to the next requires empathy, the absence of argumentation, rolling with their resistance and supporting their self-efficacy. It is not-so-good to ask, "You don't have a drinking problem, do you?" It is better to ask, "How would you describe your attitude about alcohol?" It is not-so-good to ask, "Aren't you worried about how your drug use affects your kids?" It is better to ask, "What do your kids think about your drug use? How is it affecting them?" What motivates people, who are stuck in the pre-contemplative stage, is to help a person begin to realize a need for change and a belief that change can happen. It usually never helps to lecture a person about a drug problem. It is more effective to engage a person in a discussion about a drug problem.

Contemplation: In this stage of change, a person is aware a problem exists, but there is no commitment to take action. This stage of change is characterized by ambivalence, but insight of the problem behavior is increased.

Preparation: In this stage of change, there is an intention to take action. The problem is recognized and plans are being made to make change.

Action: In this stage of change, a person modifies their behavior. Old behaviors are replaced by new ones. Change begins to take place.

Maintenance: In this stage of change, the new behaviors that replaced the old ones create sustained change for many months and years. A person has learned a lesson from any relapse that may have occurred along the way that helps to sustain the new behaviors that are healthier than the old behaviors. Change is maintained long-term.

Determining readiness for drug rehabilitation:

1) Have you thought you want to cut down on your drinking or drug use?

2) Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking or drug use?

3) Have you ever felt upset or guilty about your drinking or drug use?

If you answered "yes" to two of the three above questions, it is possible that there may be a problem worth exploring in counseling.

Multi-Level Dysfunctional Family:
The difference between a house and a home is a family. A home unites people. It is a place where personalities are nourished, talents developed, values are taught and hospitality towards others is learned. A family teaches each person there is unity with all people of goodwill.

Then there is the type of family that puts the "fun" in dysfunctional. Well, not really. Not too many people view family dysfunction as fun because dysfunction can lead to feelings of hurt and estrangement. It takes a lot of insight and understanding to cope with the hurt and estrangement. If the goal is to forgive people who have hurt you, it's important to first deal with the hurt.

I use the term, "multi-level", because it is usually not correct to say, "I come from a dysfunctional family." The ability to function happens on multiple levels, not just one. To be specific, a family may function financially, but not emotionally. In this example, two levels are defined. When multiple levels are involved, the odds of skirting this projectile decrease without help.

Sometimes bad things happen to good people. A dysfunctional family environment can be traumatic. People who experience trauma experience brain changes. But there is hope. A trauma survivor can build new, healthy pathways in the brain by shifting his/her thinking, feelings and behaviors. Counseling can help.



To be continued ...

Written by,
Mark Rogers, LPC.
Licensed Professional Counselor
(2/12).
Thank you, Jenny, for showing some love for Stooltime Counseling at the 2012 Balloon Festival in Marysville, Ohio!

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