Thursday, August 22, 2013

Choosing Hope Over Despair

This week I am hosting a guest blog from a young man named Matt. I love his positive message and hope you enjoy it as well. Also, if you know someone who is suffering and may be helped with this message, please share it.

Three and a half years ago, I was sitting in Washington County Jail with three felony charges. I was addicted to drugs and alcohol, without a home, and did not have very much to offer the world. Feeling hopeless, afraid, and confused, I had completely given up on happiness.

Today, I am absolutely content with my life, where I have been, and where I may go. I have been sober for three and a half years, own The Easier Softer Way, work full-time at a job I absolutely love, have a wonderful relationship with my girlfriend, family, and friends, and I am fully self-sufficient financially. Although I am only 22 years old, I have achieved more in my life already than I ever thought I would be able to.

I share these things neither to brag nor to make these things seem overly important. I share my experience with the wish that somebody who is hopeless may hear it, and know that we are never truly without hope. Although my life looks great on the outside, these external gifts are only a tiny piece of the happiness I experience. The true gifts come with peace of mind, contentment, and the ability to be present.

When I was using drugs and alcohol on a daily basis, I was constantly running from reality. I had innumerable problems that I perceived, all of which rested outside of myself. I was rarely present for my life, and my unhappiness ruled me.

I found when I got sober that I had to look within myself if I were to find contentment in my life. The key was that I had happiness within me all along. When people use the term “recovering,” it means to me that we are able to recover our true nature, our hearts. As my true nature was lost in my addiction, I had to recover who I was. Through a fair amount of work, I was able to find the person that had been within me all along.

One of the greatest tools I have toward ridding myself of negativity within myself is mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches me to be present, and recognize what I am feeling. In a way, it is the opposite of averting from our feelings and thoughts by drug use. In mindfulness I am able to meet my thoughts and feelings head on. When I know what is going on within me, I am more easily able to deal with the problem. A teacher of mine reminds me that if a car breaks down, you can’t just simply fix it. You have to open the hood and find out what is going on!

I know today that when I am lonely, I can reach out to my loved ones and do something fun. I know when I feel bad about something I did, I can apologize and work on that behavior. Knowing what is causing the discomfort, I must take action! Sitting around thinking about my problems is a sure path into negativity for me. When I take action, I am able to change my headspace and open up to a whole new positive world.

Together, mindfulness of what is going on within and immediate action have helped me grow each and every day. The path from hopeless to smiling and free is not always easy, but it is often simple. I must look at the unhappiness in my life and take personal responsibility. I am very careful to not beat myself up. I look at what I have control over (myself), and I focus my energy there. In this way, I can take action to change who I am, rather than letting my happiness always rest in the hands of others.

I am indescribably grateful for the life I have and the person I am today. If you had told me how my life would unfold when I was sitting in that jail cell, I would have chuckled at your insanity. I know today that I have no idea what the future holds, and if I stay sober and deal with the issues as they arise, I am able to live happy, joyous, and free.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Bird in the Hand

We strolled along Bush Street in San Francisco and felt the cool breeze against our cheeks. It was refreshing to gaze at the colorful flowers, bushes and trees, as well as admire the amazing architecture of a quintessential 1920s Bay Area neighborhood.

Then we spied something odd, an empty birdcage discarded near the curb. CB and I exchanged quizzical glances when, a moment later, we spotted a cat scratching post a few feet away.

“Oops,” I said. “I think I know what happened here.” CB nodded. In our collective subconscious we had instantly created a mutual story about a misbehaving feline who snacked on a pet canary. The bird was gone and the naughty cat was getting the boot for her indiscretion.

Of course there is no way we could know whether our story was accurate. Space is limited in this beautiful city and it makes more sense to discard items than to pay the cost of putting them in storage. We have seen numerous cast offs waiting for someone to claim it or sell it on craigslist. Sadly, there are lot of homeless men and women too, and perhaps these items could be of use to them, although I’m not quite sure how.

At the least, our story about the bird-eating cat was an amusing thought, made even more so when CB pointed out that we were on Bush Street and reminded me about the quote about a bird in the hand being worth more than two in the bush.

I knew I would write about the incident, but I wasn’t sure how I would pull it all together into any kind of meaningful story. Writing begins with a thought. Sometimes a premise takes a magical journey that blossoms into an intriguing tale, or it can spark and fizzle like a faulty firecracker that is too pooped to pop. Other notions are quickly discarded or just hit a dead end.

I love a good story. I enjoy reading, watching movies and even listening to someone regale an audience with an interesting anecdote. However, there are some messages that float around in our brain that don’t serve us well. You know the ones. “I’m not good enough. I’m too fat. They’ll probably pick someone else for the job, etc.”
Often, as we think these negative thoughts we create reruns in our head of unfortunate stories from the past. These internal movies are charged with color and emotion which gives them even more power. Each time we recreate these unfortunate images we carve pathways in our brain to these melodramas. When this connection is used a few times our thoughts take this neural short cut and it literally becomes a highway to hell. What is especially sad is no one does this to us. We create these sob stories ourselves.

Oddly, it doesn’t end there. We are creative people. We aren’t satisfied with the same old stories. We manufacture new ones. It makes me think of a skit I saw once about a woman whose husband was late for dinner. She let her fear run rampant. In her mind, he was stopping at the bar. Next he was flirting with the cocktail waitress. Before she knew it her spouse was having sex in the bathroom, contracting an STD and tossing his dutiful wife to the curb like an empty birdcage. When the man (who was completely innocent of all these imaginary transgressions) returns (only five minutes late due to clogged traffic) his harried wife threw his packed bag at him and announced she was divorcing him.

In the skit the story was funny, but when it happens in real life, the negativity can be disastrous.

Fortunately, we have the ability to write our own life scripts. It takes a little work to put a halt to our bad habits, but it can be done. Okay, now here comes my commercial.

If you are looking for an easy step-by-step book on how to erase negativity from your life, I hope you will read our book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within. There are many good books on the market regarding developing optimism, but if you need a little nudge to boot out your internal grouch, our book may be the one for you.

Currently my co-author Jackie and I are offering a great deal. The ebook, normally $6.99, will be offered for $3.50 through Aug. 29. Customers must log on to and enter the code FF39E. The paperback version will be discounted from $14.99 to $10 plus shipping for those who email me through my blog or website We are also offering discounts to organizations booking presentations on the Erase Negativity topic.

Most of us love the idea of embracing happiness. Unfortunately, latching onto joy if your hands are full of negativity (or dirty birds) makes the process harder. However, if you’re ready to make a change and kick those bad habits to the curb, just let us know. We’re ready to help.

Sally and Jackie