Holistic Divorce Counseling

Holistic Divorce Counseling Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM, LMHC. Free support, resources, and comfort for all life's issues and transitions.

Grounding Techniques To Calm Anxiety & Panic April 22, 2009


When overwhelmed by life, it is easy to feel as if you are walking on quicksand.  One manifestation of rootlessness is depersonalization, feeling separate from your body. It is often a result of post-traumatic stress, but can also be triggered by an abundance of current stress. This disjointed feeling can create a fair amount of anxiety. By using grounding exercises, when managing strong emotions as well as when calm (for extra practice), you can really root yourself in the here and now, alleviating anxiety and feeling more in control. You don’t need to have had emotional trauma to benefit from these techniques.  Anyone feeling off kilter from challenging life circumstances, major changes, or recovering from an addiction can use them to good effect.  In addition, if you suffer from chronic anxiety, these methods will help you feel more in control of your emotions.


The following utilize your ability to actively focus your attention on something external or distracting from your emotional state.  Use these strategies when you are craving your addiction, ruminating, anxious, feeling dissociated, overwhelmed, numb, spacey, or recalling a traumatic event. Remember, the first thing you want to do whenever anything unpleasant arises is allow it.  By making it safe to feel all your feelings you avoid the self-recrimination and self-downing that only add another layer of disturbance to what you are already experiencing.


5-4-3-2-1 meditation.  Wherever you are, notice 5 things you can see, then 5 things you can hear, and then 5 things you can physically feel. Continue with four things in each category, then 3 things in each category, then 2 and, finally, 1.  Allow about 15 minutes to complete one full cycle.  It is preferable to find new things, but not necessary.


Think of all the vocabulary words you can rememeber from another language you studied.


Recall your favorite foods, places you have visited, movies, books, or music.


Recite a poem you memorized as a child.


Describe in minute detail a mundane activity you do every day, like brushing your teeth: I pick up the toothbrush, I turn on the water, I wet the toothbrush, I put toothpaste on the toothbrush, etc.


Imagine a time when you felt very safe and describe it in great detail, using all five senses.


Build a sanctuary in your head, and use as much detail as possible.  See Visualization heading on this site.


Focus on where your body is contacting the floor, a chair, or bed.  Breathe into that place.


Widen and stretch your fingers and toes. Relax them and repeat.


Repeat a prayer, affirmation, or mantra.  See Mantras and Affirmations sections on this site for more ideas. Use a rosary or mala beads to help anchor the repetitions.


Count backwards by threes from 100.


Sing a song, or just la la la.


List how many things you can do, from the mundane to the most sophisticated.


Play old car games in your head, like Geography (where you say the name of a place and use the last letter of that place as the first letter of your next one) or I Packed My Trunk and In It I Put an A (apple), a B (beta endorphin), a C (color wheel), to Z, going through the whole alphabet, starting from A each time you add another letter.


Look out the window and notice subtle color differences in the sky, cloud configurations, trees and branches, or the various shapes and sizes of leaves.


Drink a glass of water. The sensation of drinking and swallowing can bring you into the moment and into your body making you feel more settled.


Feel your breath. Remind yourself that you are alive, and whatever your are feeling is part of life.  You are here to feel it all.  Some times will be easy and others will be more challenging. That’s the nature of existence.  We need contrast to find life perennially interesting.  By experiencing what we don’t want we can more easily craft what we do desire. Allow yourself the full human experience by practicing radical acceptance.


Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


How To Maximize Your Therapy April 13, 2009


Going to therapy is just the first step.  Granted, it’s a big one, but if you don’t work on things between sessions you will reap fewer benefits.


Here are a few tips to help you maximize your counseling experience:


1. Tell the truth.  It’s amazing how many people lie to their therapist.  Why? Some want approval, some think fooling the therapist is a game, some think if they can fool the therapist they must be pretty smart (of course, paying someone to lie to them doesn’t make you Mensa material), some aren’t ready to tell the truth to themselves, some want to “test” the therapist, and, last but not least, some people just aren’t ready to face certain things.  Typically, your therapist assumes you are telling the truth.  If you aren’t, she will welcome it when you decide to share more honestly.  


2. Ask for what you want.  This is a tough one, especially if you have not been to a therapist before, but the therapist works for you, so make sure you are getting the help that best suits your desires right now.  Be clear.  Question anything you don’t understand. 


3. Make sure the therapist is on the same page as you are, that she knows your desires and understands where you’re coming from.


4. If your therapist doesn’t offer it, ask for homework.  Seeing someone once a week is generally not enough to catalyze change unless you work on things between sessions. There are all types of homework: role-playing, visualization, behavioral changes, exercise, meditation, breath work, journaling, reading, diet, trying new things, social activities, cognitive restructuring, etc.  Of course, once you have asked for homework, your job is to follow-through.  There’s nothing more empowering than putting the pedal to the metal, and showing yourself you are capable of change and growth.


5. Listen. I know your therapist’s job is to hear you, but you might benefit from listening, too.  An active-directive therapist will freely tell you what he thinks, and encourage your personal evolution. I know how easy it is to want to unload during a session, especially in the beginning, but listening can take you in new directions. 


6. Assume the best.  Assume your therapist genuinely cares about you.  If you don’t believe she does go to someone else.  


7. Typically, you are not feeling your strongest when you first meet with a therapist, so remembering that you actually pay this person can help you feel empowered.  Feel free to disagree, to elucidate him if necessary (and, sometimes, it will be necessary because you can’t count on ESP), and to spell out exactly what you want.  Is it support?  Insight? Understanding? Tools for living? Dream analysis? Assertiveness training? Coping skills? Career counseling? Healing the inner child? Whatever it is, you have the right to ask for it.


8. Remember: most things in life can be plotted on a bell curve, or standard deviation. Essentially, this says that in any given population, the likelihood of getting someone average is 68%.  The chance of getting someone worse than average is 16%, as is the chance of getting someone better than average.  Generally speaking, we want a better than average therapist.  But there is only a 16% chance of that happening.  So, if you see someone and you’re not happy with them, see someone else.  Statistically, you only have a 16% chance of getting someone really great. But, it’s really worth persevering.  You would do it for a good car mechanic, why not for a therapist?


9. We live in an insurance age.  Companies will only pay for those diagnoses they deem serious.  Some won’t pay for marital counseling, grief work, or life circumstance  issues. This means that your situation may be pathologized so your insurance company will pay their portion of your therapy. Not only is that unfortunate, but it will be on your medical record.  The patholozation of normal issues is a pet peeve of mine (for more on this topic go to goodtherapy.org).  Most everyone goes through the full complement of mental states in the course of life.  To call any one of them sick, i.e. pathological, is to make the normal abnormal.  You may want to discuss the diagnostic code your therapist is using on your insurance claim before you file it.



Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll April 11, 2009


It’s very tempting, when you are suddenly free from the constraints of a committed relationship, to want to party hearty.  But, as my father used to say, “Act in haste and repent at leisure.” By all means, date; but, be careful. I am not simply talking about safety here, or STDs, but your emotional state.  You may think the best thing is to hook up with someone, prove you’re still attractive, make your ex jealous, have some fun, or, simply distract yourself from incessant rumination and grief.


The good news is: it may work.  The bad news is it won’t make the demons go away, and even may bury them deeper.  Believe me, they’ll come out, one way or another.  Perhaps, it will be an illness, a rage that won’t go away, or grief that hits you when you least expect it.  Inner issues demand our attention, and all the distraction we can muster (and obsessive-compulsive/addictive behavior we can engage in) only postpones the inevitable: dealing with reality.


As I have said before: if you’re dealing you’re healing.  If you’re not, you’re setting the stage for greater misery later on.  There are no get-out-of-grief-free cards.


Dating, as ego-boosting as it may be, is fraught with complications.  You may actually meet someone who cares about you, but you aren’t ready for that kind of emotional commitment.  Eventually, when the other person realizes, he or she may be quite smitten and end up devastated.  Do you want to go around hurting people?


Sex, for all its joys, often kindles attachment.  Is it worth the risk of getting attached to someone who may not be right for you, simply because you wanted to get some and prove you’re still desirable?  Or, maybe you weren’t motivated by randiness or ego.  Perhaps, it was loneliness. Everyone feels lonely sometimes.  Here’s a great opportunity to practice loving your own company.  But, that’s not your only option. You can call friends, family, or your local hotline and connect in a way that actually soothes your mind and spirit.


As for drugs, they fall into two categories: recreational and pharmaceutical, and, yes, those can overlap.  When your emotional state is unpredictable the last thing you need is alcohol, uppers, downers, pot, or opiates.  They may take the edge off your pain, but you run the risk of habituation, if not addiction.  Another short-term fix, with the possibility of long-term misery.  As for all those pills your doctor can provide, do you really need them?  What do you think people did before they were available?  OK. Some self-medicated with alcohol and street drugs, but most people just lived through their challenges. You are strong enough to handle what you don’t like.  


Luckily, a feeling isn’t a fact: you may think you can’t stand something, but the very fact of your living and breathing says you can.  You just don’t want to.  It’s not fun, it may even feel horrible; but, you will survive.  Then, later on, after all this is just a memory, your true grit will remain; the confidence that you can handle whatever life throws at you.  We will all face death, divorce (if not our own, someone’s else’s), and illness.  (See The Buddha’s Five Remembrances on the Quotes To Live By page.) The sooner we accept those unpleasant realities, the sooner we will find peace. Here’s a radical thought: try practicing what Jean Vanier says is his life’s work: loving reality.  


Regarding Rock ‘n’ Roll, it’s probably the only thing that won’t come back to bite you.  So crank up the music, get out that air guitar, and let those yayas out.



Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


Mini-Meditation for Balance & Peace April 5, 2009



There will be times when it seems as if the whole world is imploding inside you.  

When you are literally brought to your knees because the weight of everything you are negotiating feels completely overwhelming.  


At these times, it’s best to just breathe.  


With each exhalation, let go.  


Feel your body relax.


Pay attention to any calmness you may feel.  Perhaps it’s the softening around your eyes, your jaw, or the center of your tongue. Just notice, and let go.


Allow the breath to fill your body completely.


Imagine your breath coming in from the soles of your feet, moving all the way to the crown of your head, and leaving your body from the crown of your head all the way down to the soles of your feet.


Focus on gradually lengthening the breath, while keeping your inhales and exhales equal.


With each inhalation, draw the breath into any part of your body that feels tense or painful.  


Infuse that space with fresh oxygen, cleansing, nourishing, and soothing your body with loving awareness.


This is the attention you crave. Your own sweet self gently tending your body, mind, and spirit.  Bringing back balance, wholeness, peace.







Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


Addiction: What To Do If You Love An Addict April 4, 2009

Filed under: Addiction: What To Do If You Love An Addict — chocophile @ 1:46 am
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Realism is a crucial concept when it comes to recovery from addiction.  AA understands this so well that when someone slips (resumes their addictive behavior) they assume the best; namely, that he or she will get back in the saddle and regain their sobriety.


All addictions are the same, in that they are obsessive-compulsive disorders.  It doesn’t matter whether you are addicted to pornography, alcohol, heroin, pot, over eating, shopping, gambling, or collecting toy trains. All have one primary function: To push undesirable emotions out of your conscious awareness.  If they worked we would all be happy addicts, an oxymoron if there ever was one.   What they do is exacerbate life’s challenges.


Anyone who has ever been mired in addiction knows the short-term high or relief isn’t worth the long-term pain.  The havoc wreaked on your self-concept, the financial losses, legal troubles, social consequences, family issues, physical effects, and spiritual wasteland, all conspire to make one feel lower than a snake’s wiggle.


But you know all that.  This is about the process of recovery.


Sometimes, doing the math provides a welcome reality check.  If your loved one was drinking daily for years and now they go on a bender a few times a year that’s major progress. Showing disdain for their imperfection will only lead them to depression as they will see themselves through your eyes: a failure. Depression can trigger a relapse.  Most alcoholics are perfectionists, and they are quick to put themselves down.  If you start the ball rolling, because you have unrealistic expectations for their progress, they will usually push it all the way downhill into a full-blown setback. In spite of that, because people are generally strong, resilient, and optimistic, they will get back on the horse and start fresh.


Please, if you love someone who is addicted to anything and is trying to revamp their life, understand that recovery is not linear.  A slip is not the beginning of the end.  There are only a tiny fraction of addicts who are able to stop their addiction cold turkey on the first try and never resume it.  AA has the right approach: one day at a time.  Addict or not, that’s great advice. None of us can predict how we will feel tomorrow, let alone a year down the road.


No in-patient program will miraculously “cure” your loved one of their addiction, because they have to live in the real world not the artificial environment of a treatment program. While 28 day programs can be very useful, if they become a revolving door they have outlived their utility.


We all know how challenging life can be, but when you add an addiction it can feel insurmountable.  Reflect on your own issues.  If you can find compassion for yourself, extend some of that to your loved one.  (That’s a big “if,” because most of us have a very difficult time showing ourselves unconditional love and kindness.  If you don’t practice loving-kindness towards yourself,  try attending to your own issues and focusing less on the addict’s.)


Berating a user will only insure a slip, so refrain from blame.  If there’s too much water under the bridge, and your anger and resentment are overwhelming,  heal yourself before you try to help your loved one.  Continuing to try to be there for someone else when you aren’t able to be there for yourself is not going to help anyone.


If you haven’t amassed a boat load of recriminations, be present as your friend or family member faces their challenges. Be supportive, loving, and have faith in their desire to live without addiction.  I have never met an addict who didn’t want sobriety. But everyone I have worked with has been scared to death that they didn’t have what it takes to navigate life without drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc.  Simple words like, “I am here for you.  I know you can do it.  You can count on me.” can make the difference between staying on one’s program or slipping into the abyss.


Feeding the addict’s shame is a sure-fire way to trigger a retreat into addictive behavior.  They already have enough shame and guilt to sink a flotilla.  That is why separating yourself if you feel furious is far better than “trying to help.”  Help yourself.  It may sound counter-intuitive,  but it really is the best course of action.


Focus on tangible behaviors like: “I asked if you would pick up the kids from school, you didn’t, and I had to leave work.”  Rather than, “You are such an unreliable, useless bit of protoplasm.  I can’t believe I let myself trust you again. What an idiot I am.  You only think of yourself and where your next fix is coming from.” Actually, that’s true for all addicts. It’s addiction in a nutshell: obsessing until you can fulfill your compulsion. Expecting an addict not to behave like one is like expecting pigs to fly.


While you may not be able to empathize with someone who has been shooting heroin, because that’s not part of your history, you can certainly understand how it feels to set a goal and falter.  Didn’t you fall when you learned to ride a bike?  Didn’t you misspell words when starting to write? Didn’t you ever leave a pan on the stove? We all make mistakes; especially, when learning something new.  Sobriety is new for an addict.  Expect them to be like you: a fallible, human being.


As with everything else we master, there are cycles of  success and failure.  Just as you can’t speak fluent French after just one lesson, an addict often needs multiple slips before he or she can stay clean and sober.  In so many areas of life we see how the quest for perfection actually impedes our progress.  But, somehow, when it comes to addiction, we think perfect sobriety is the only valid proof of success.


Let’s look at a hypothetical situation:  someone is sober 350 days a year, but had three times when they drank for five days each.  Are they successful or failing?  Clearly, they are making enormous progress.  Yes, there’s still room for improvement; but, who among us can say we have been as successful when tackling our own issues?  How many are in debt because of unchecked spending habits?  How many want to soften angry outbursts but still find themselves unleashing furiously?  How many face demons like procrastination? Wouldn’t we all think we had succeeded if we were in control 350 days out of 365?


Another major impediment for friends and family dealing with addicted loved ones is unrealistic expectations.  There’s nothing that makes people angrier, grief stricken and hopeless than feeling disappointed, and there’s nothing that insures disappointment better than unrealistic expectations.  We’re dealing with addiction here.  A process that involves the whole person: mind, body, and spirit.  It is really, really hard to conquer an obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Contrary to our Calvinist founders, gentleness leads to progress far more than harshness.   The only thing criticism will trigger is the desire to drink or use.


Of course, if you are living with an addict, and they are inebriated or high most of the time, the best advice might be learning to set boundaries. Being understanding doesn’t mean you allow someone to steal from you, or harm you in any way.  Taking care of yourself is your number one priority. You may want to try an Al-Anon meeting, as it  can help you maintain some balance, and set limits, as well as provide a supportive community.



Copyright Nicole S. Urdang



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