Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Happy Mapping for Resilience and Healing

There is a deep and interesting explanation of one kind of brain mapping by Antonio Damasio in “Self Comes to Mind”. In "Inside Jokes", the authors explain about the brain constructing "mental spaces", a neurological architectural requirement in the process of creating our sense of humor, mirth, and laughter. I highly recommend both books.

The term "mapping" has been used many ways. Some use the term to refer to being prepared by practicing for stress before it hits. This 'practice' can be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. This kind of mapping takes time, repetition, testing and correction.

For example, let's say you need to do 10 repetitions of bicep curls once a week for a year in order to reach a particular bicep strength goal. The idea is that, at the very moment when you need strong bicep muscles, it is too late to go to the gym. You cannot achieve that goal by doing 520 reps all in one session! With each rep, the brain draws in the details of the 'strength map' for that muscle. It must have the benefit of space and time and repetition. (There may be some exceptions, e.g., Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which may arise from the construction of a seriously imprinted brain map based on a single experience. But, in all other cases, it takes time, repetition, testing and correction.)

I attribute my resilience in the face of being deathly ill last November to my years of this kind of practice of positive attitudes. I was very sick, and had several complications. Even my complications had complications. How did I recover? I am sure that a lot of my recovery was due to years of mapping about laughter, humor, positive attitudes, and about loving relationships, and one love relationship in particular. My 'atlas' of positivity, laughter, humor and love had been constructed over a period of years with thousands of repetitions, tests and corrections, but for a while, I could not consciously find the maps; my humor gyroscope was way off kilter.

For weeks following my initial emergency surgery (subsequently there were four other surgical procedures), I was so infused with anesthesia, pain medications, and other powerful drugs, that I was in a dense fog and “blind” to anything humorous. It was as if a thick coating of armor was insulating me from my great sense of humor. During that time, laughter was absent and humor was almost totally impossible. Pain and fog and delirium ruled my life. It was like a waking nightmare in which I could hear a distant voice faintly telling me to find the humor, but when I tried to run in my dream-like state, my legs would not move; when I tried to scream or laugh, no sound could come out. I was "humor helpless," in a black box trying to fight my way out of a proverbial paper bag.

I am certain that during that time, my brain was still determinedly and constantly a driving force pushing me toward life and health, because that is the natural state and function of the brain (always to seek and restore homeostasis). I believe the maps I had laid down were a special source of fuel and direction for that energy. During the time even though I was unable to consciously will myself to humor and laughter or positive thinking, or love, somewhere inside my head my brain still had excellent maps to follow.

My mind had to work on locating my humor without my conscious assistance, but with wonderful external forces helping. I was dimly aware of the rubber chicken that my wife, Pam, had hung faithfully from my IV pole (a family tradition for any of us who is hospitalized). For weeks, hundreds of humorous get-well cards and gag gifts poured in, and Pam read every one of them to me. Although my response was minimized by the medications and being weak and tired, it was as if each one of those chipped away a small bit of the armor that had built up. My first realization that my sense of humor was gradually being exposed came when I least expected it.

Eventually, those maps guided my brain to where I needed to be, and I had an amazing breakthrough. Here's what happened.

In the hospital, every few days, I would be sent for a CAT scan. CAT scans are a specialized type of x-ray.  The patient lies down on a couch (more like a hard, flat table) which slides into a large circular opening.  The x-ray tube rotates around the patient and a computer collects the results.  These results are translated into images that look like a "slice" of the person.

Transferring from my hospital bed to the CAT scan table was such a painful move, and because I was so weak, it required the help of 3 staff. Each dreaded trip to the CAT scan room seemed to add to my depression. But, with one of these, the last one, came a fabulous development that marked a switch-point in my recovery.

The staff tried to be gentle in transferring me to the motorized CAT scan table, but it was agony. They left the room so as not to be exposed to the x-ray radiation. As always, the room was darkened as the table and I slid into the giant donut ring of the equipment.
A recorded voice, reverberating in the room, says, "Take a deep breath."
(I was only capable of a shallow breath.)
Recorded voice: "Hold it!"
(Are you kidding?)
Machinery whirs and rumbles for several seconds.
Recorded voice: "Breathe normally."
(There is no normal breathing. For me, every breath is painful.)
Again, the reverberating recorded voice says, "Take a deep breath."
(Here we go again. This entire process is repeated 2 or 3 times.)

Finally, the staff came back into the room as the CAT scan bed was simultaneously slid out of the donut ring. (I was dimly aware of the name Torquemada, a prominent leader of the Spanish Inquisition.) I was breathing only slow and shallow breaths. My eyes were tightly shut in pain. I am sure I was grimacing as a nurse leaned over me to ask, "Are you comfortable?" And, there, instantly was my breakthrough!

"Are you comfortable?" is part of an very old joke*, the set-up or straight-line. When she asked the question, after weeks of depression and "humor blindness", as if by magic, I instantly remembered the whole joke, and the punch line, and the proper delivery, with great relief and a great inner giggle. At long last, my funny bone was tickled. My eyes popped open, to look directly into hers, and I could feel energy rising in me as I replied. The right answer requires a Yiddish inflection, a shrug and the words, “I make a living.” I think I did a pretty good job of it. With the proper shrug and little bit of a Yiddish accent, I told her, "I make a living!" 

I was ecstatic that after so much humorless time, and in spite of my pain, I was giggling on the inside and delivering a punch line.

The nurse, however, did not get the joke. She looked at me sternly and asked again, more emphatically, "Are you comfortable?"

I am sure my shoulders must have been shaking with my chuckling as my energy rose and I repeated the punch line with  the requisite Yiddish inflection and a shrug, but also more emphatically, "I make a living!"

She said, "Sir, this is serious. Are you comfortable???"
I said, "This is vaudeville. It's an old joke. I make a living!!"

We weren't getting anywhere. I could see that she was never going to get it, but she was getting exasperated with me. I, on the other hand, knew that the exchange was a signal that I was going to be OK, and I happily forgave her in my heart with gratitude for unwittingly activating an important map in my brain, which led me to the onset of what was to become a full recovery. "Please, take me back to my room," I whispered, exhausted but exhilarated.

I did not instantly bounce all the way back to health, but the joke was the start of a slow, steady, sure and laughter-filled program of physical therapy, occupational therapy, loving care at home, and the support of hundreds of friends around the world.

The positive (funny) maps that my brain had been constructing for years were triggered into action by a straight-line, and good health followed naturally.

The human brain is amazing in so many ways, conferring upon us the resource of constructing funny maps, happy maps, and mental spaces for our resilience and ultimately for healing. What humor does it for you? What punch line or funny image can throw you into a mirthful mood? Have you helped your brain do some funny mapping today? You should all be doing it as it daily practice. After all, it is the most fun that you can have that could possibly save your life.

Love, light, and laughter.

*The joke: A pedestrian crossing the street is hit by a car. As he lies dazed in the street, a policeman comes over, takes off his uniform coat, rolls it into a pillow and places it under the man's head. The officer asks the man, "Are you comfortable?" With a slight shrug and a bit of a Yiddish accent, the man lifts his head slightly and replies, "I make a living!"

The Path to Happiness is Simple

The path to happiness and health is simple and well-worn by those who have gone before. But, it is not easy. It will have challenges and difficulties, and will require assistance from time to time. You cannot leap over it or hop over it. If you try to skip some of it, you’ll just have to go back and do that part again. You have to walk it, step by step. Then, as we have been told for centuries, it becomes a journey that is richest when we focus on where we are now.

Ram Dass says, "Be Here Now." Rabbi Alan Ciner teaches us to spend little time anticipating the destination, and very little time thinking about the past. Rabbi Ciner says, "You should go through life like a deer running through the woods, focused on where you are,  moving as swiftly and deftly as possible, alert to dangers and obstacles, but only occasionally glancing back over your shoulder.”

And, I would add, be sure to take ample time for laughter and humor.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Guest blogger Debra Joy Hart, RN: "Potentiation"

po·ten·ti·ate [puh-ten-shee-eyt] 
–verb (used with object),
1. to cause to be potent; make powerful.
2. to increase the effectiveness of; intensify.

Humor, laughter and mirth can potentiate health and happiness. Sure, you can take all your vitamins, prescribed medications, get your teeth cleaned twice a year and eat a rainbow of vegetables, and most likely you will lead a fulfilled life. But, when you add laughter and humor to your daily regime, you potentiate all your other healthy habits.
Potentiate is a term I learned long ago in pain management. When giving a narcotic medication, the medical team must be alert to the fact that certain OTC’s (Over The Counter) drugs, can potentiate the narcotic.  If a patient was taking a particular OTC, you might actually administer less of the narcotic. Think of it as “getting more bang for your buck” (that's NAANT: Not An Actual Nursing Term).

The psychological and physiological effects of laughter potentiate your immune and cardiovascular system.  The physical act of laughter in combination with the emotional state of mirth (mirth is needed for health benefits) has a potentiating effect. Laughter, humor, and mirth, potentiate your mental health, brain power, and spiritual being. Systematically leading others to mirthful laughter and humor helps to potentiate their navigation of the perilous seas of fear, shame, helplessness and hopelessness.

In nursing, I often see how certain terms or abbreviations can be applied in different areas of my life. The abbreviation WNL stands for Within Normal Limits. I often ask my therapist, “Am I at least WNL?”  SOB can have many meanings; however, in nursing it means Shortness of Breath.

Laughter and humor potentiate the discharge of emotional tension. When I was a nurse and teacher in a detox/drug rehabilitation unit, I took my rehab inpatient group to a public park where I led them in laughter exercises. Many were ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) who initially reacted with skepticism and dismay about laughing in a public place (without the aid of alcohol or drugs), followed by expressions of fear of being laughed at by others. In order to process and learn from the experiences, a discussion followed the session. With repeated efforts, mirthful laughter eventually potentiated this group’s ability to do healthy risk-taking, invest in future healthy happiness, and adopt healthy coping skills.

Leading laughter circles in long term care units, I see how laughter, humor and mirth can potentiate many therapies, which can then lead to increased compliance in medicine regimes, ADL’s (Activities of Daily Living), and other healthy behaviors. As evidenced by their fingers wiggling, hands clapping, and feet tapping, laughter exercise has potentiated mobility in residents who were previously slumped in their chairs during the day, virtually stock-still.

I hit a humor-home-run for myself when I can use my humorous perspective to potentiate my own sanity and balance the stresses of my responsibilities. For example, I can have fun with both the aging process and the ‘alphabet soup’ of text messaging.  These make me smile. I hope you smile at them, too.

BTW: Bring The Wheelchair
BYOT: Bring Your Own Teeth
DWI: Driving While Incontinent
LOL: Living On Lipitor
ROFLCGU: Rolling On Floor Laughing, Can’t Get Up
FWB: Friends With Beta-blockers
FYI: Found Your Insulin
IMHO: Is My Hearing -Aid On?
FWIW: Forgot Where I Was

Debra Joy Hart RN, BFA, CLL is part of World Laughter Tour and the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. She owns M.I.R.T.H. (Medicine is Relationships Trust and Humor) [tm]. www.debrajoyhart.com, debrajoyhart@gmail.com

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kindness: The Heart of the Matter

Good-Hearted Living(tm) (GHL) is my simple-but-not-easy six-step program for finding happiness, reducing stress, and having more laughter and humor in your life. To borrow a phrase from Joel Goodman, founder of The Humor Project, GHL prevents hardening of the attitudes.

In GHL, Thursdays are for acts of kindness. Kindness is the antidote for meanness and selfishness.

Bob Hope may have been thinking about kindness when he said, “If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Kindness is the act or the state of being kind —ie. marked by goodness and charitable behavior, mild disposition, pleasantness, tenderness and concern for others. It is known as a virtue, and recognized as a value in many cultures and religions.

An act of kindness can be done with careful planning or on the spur of the moment. When you first start practicing kindness, you may have to be mindful to give it some thought. Eventually, it will become your natural way of life. You can use a simple formula for constructing a spontaneous act of kindness. It might be at work, at home, in the grocery store, or anywhere. Just ask yourself, “What’s one thing I could do to make this person’s life a little bit easier right now?” Then, do it.

Acts of kindness bring immediate benefits to the receiver and the giver, and then ripples of goodness go throughout the world. Recent research strongly suggests that human beings have a healthier physiology when they do kind acts and even when they think kind thoughts. And, remarkably, research shows that people benefit from merely witnessing acts of kindness. How cool is that!

I want to focus in on the special case of kindness in interpersonal communications. Two people have had a profound influence on me in this regard: Virginia Satir, an American author and psychotherapist, and Norman Guitry, founder of the Franklin County (Ohio) Mental Health Association. Satir taught the importance of speaking to the heart's singular message. Guitry taught that everything we need to know about mental health could be summed up in two words.

Communication between human beings often gets sticky, thorny, confused, angry, hurtful, and otherwise irritating. In an attempt to understand how communications gets so jumbled on a gender basis, a socio-linguist, Deborah Tannen, characterized these problems in the titles of two books which explore what so many of us have experienced, “That’s Not What I Meant” and “You Just Don’t Understand.”

In the mid 1980s, I attended a powerful lecture by Satir, which was life-changing for me. She described a metaphorical model of human communications that struck me as logical and sane. It stuck with me and has proven to be an excellent way of understanding human nature and how to improve communications.

Satir said it is as if the human mind is filled with 10,000 ideas, all buzzing around, all seeking expression. Trying to communicate “from the head” is fraught with complications and gets us tied in knots. The odds are not very good that the one-in-ten-thousand idea in my mind that I am trying to express to you is going to match up with the one-in-ten-thousand ideas in your mind I want to connect with. Mostly, getting you to understand me, or me to understand you, is like looking for a couple of needles in two haystacks of thoughts. 

The good news is that the human heart, on the other hand, has only one message, which is easily understood, and which we can predict with a high probability of success will accurately match up and feel understood when we “speak” to it. And, that message is “Please love me.” That's what's in my heart, your heart, and everybody else's heart, even they have been damaged by abused or otherwise lost sight of it. It may be blocked or camouflaged and seemingly impossible to reach, but it is there at creation and never really goes away.

If we are willing to assumptively “speak” to the one heart message, we will get along better, with far less confusion, because we have reached to the “heart” of the matter of human understanding. We will connect in a positive way, which will make a good basis for working out other differences. We still need several other good communications skills, but the best start is to and from the heart.

From 1973-1976, I was privileged to have Norman Guitry present the opening lecture each year to the incoming class of students in the 2-year Mental Health & Mental Retardation Technology program at Columbus (Ohio) Technical Institute. A man in his seventies, Norm was a man of impressively tall stature, with a strong shock of white hair. Always in a carefully pressed 3-piece suit, he had the bearing of authority, but a twinkle in his eye, and a heart of gold.

Norm's lecture was,"Everything You Need to Know About Mental Health Can Be Summed Up in Two Words." He was persuasive in his contention that 90% of the mental health problems would not exist if everybody followed his two-word practice. The two words? "Don't belittle."

Don't put people down. Don't speak words that diminish another person's sense of worth or self-esteem. Lift people up. Instead of beating people down because of their weaknesses, help them build up their strengths.

Not only do the most effective interpersonal communications generate greater goodness in the world, they keep us healthier physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and they attract more laughter and humor into our lives. Before you even speak one word to another person, you already know that in his or her heart they crave loving acceptance, so keep that heart message in your mind as you speak to them. Eliminate sarcasm and ridicule. Choose your words carefully. Don't belittle.

I think you will enjoy this video; four minutes of inspiration and quick lessons about kindness.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

All of the Wisdom of the World

In which a king, in pursuit of all of the wisdom of the world, learns the most important lesson about flexibility...

Long ago and far away, when books were becoming more readily available to the educated classes, the sovereign monarch of a small empire became enamored with the possibility of accumulating wisdom through books. The king had ascended to the throne at age ten. Being quite precocious, intelligent, literate, and curious, he immediately sent his emissaries and explorers far and wide to buy up and bring back any and all books that might bring him the wisdom of the world.

He built many buildings to house his vast library where he daily spent the hours from sun up until sun down, reading. Indeed, by the time he was nineteen, he had gained quite a reputation for being quite wise.

Gradually, he began to realize that, although these books surely contained all of the wisdom of the world, there was no way he could possibly read all of them in his lifetime. This made him sad. He loved knowledge, wisdom and his books, but the more he grasped this undeniable reality, the sadder he became, until he hit upon a solution.

He summoned his most trusted advisors, the Grand Council of Twenty, to his throne room, where he charged and challenged them with a task that would solve his predicament.

“As you know,” he carefully informed them, “in my vast library I have accumulated the books that contain all of the wisdom of the world. However, even though I have barely reached midlife, and as much as I would love to, I can see that I will not be able to read all of these books and thereby find all of the wisdom of the world.”
The Council listened intently. “Therefore, I am wondering can you reduce all of the wisdom of the world to one book?"

Of course, nobody ever refused a "wondering" request from the king, and they were a super smart group, so enthusiastically-but-respectfully they replied, “Of course, your Highness. We will start immediately!”

When they returned several years later, they found the king sitting on his throne, reading, of course. They announced, “Your Highness, we have completed the task, met the challenge.” 
“Wonderful!” exclaimed the king. “You were able to condense all of the wisdom of the world into one book?”
“Yes, your Highness.”
“Yes, your Highness.”
“Do you have the book?”
“Yes, your Highness, we have the book. We will bring it immediately.”

They left the throne room and returned pushing a very large wheeled table upon which rested the largest, thickest book the king had ever seen. He was astounded and a bit disbelieving, not to mention taken aback by his quick assessment of the physical strength it would take merely to open the cover of a tome of such gigantic proportions. But, he was eager to try.

Quickly, he slipped down from his throne and approached the immense volume. Pushing back the sleeves of his royal robe, he reached out to grasp the book’s cover with both hands, and with not a little effort, he hefted the cover open and began turning the pages. He turned several pages at a time, scanning the contents and taking in some of capacious information that was printed on every page. A small ladder was brought to the book table so that he could get a better vantage point.

After quite some time, he turned to the Council, looking very satisfied, and said, “You have done well, and you will be well rewarded. Surely, all of the wisdom of the world is contained in the pages of this magnificent volume.”
The Council members looked very self-satisfied.

Then, the king's face turned sad, and in a softer voice he told them, “Alas! I doubt that I will ever, ever be able to read this entire book. Therefore, I have another charge and challenge for you.”
The Council members looked puzzled.
“I wonder,” asked the king, “Could you possibly condense all of the wisdom of the world into one sentence?”

Of course, nobody ever refused a "wondering" challenge issued by the king, and they were a super smart group, so enthusiastically but respectfully they replied, “Of course, your Highness. We will start immediately!”
Several more years passed before the Council returned to announce that they had completed the task; they had met the challenge. The now balding king was napping on his throne with a couple of good sized books in his lap.

Loudly but gently they “Ahem-ed!” to rouse the king, who woke vaguely aware of who they were and delighted to hear them say, “Your Highness, we have completed the task, met the challenge.”
“You have the sentence?”
“Yes, your Highness.”
“You were able to condense all of the wisdom of the world into one sentence?”
“Yes, your Highness!”
“Yes, your Highness!”
“Well, then, don’t waste another moment. Tell me the sentence!”
“Your Highness, the sentence is: This, too, shall come to pass.

The king was silent for a long time, mulling over the words he had just heard. He turned to the Council, looking very satisfied, and said, “You have done well, and you will be well rewarded. Surely, all of the wisdom of the world is contained in this one sentence.”

The Council members looked very self-satisfied.

Then, in a soft voice bespeaking his deepest curiosity, he said “I have another challenge for you.”

The Council members looked puzzled.

“I wonder,” asked the king, “Could you possibly condense all of the wisdom of the world into one word?”

Of course, nobody ever refused a "wondering" challenge from the king, and they were a super smart group, so enthusiastically but respectfully they replied, “Of course, your Highness. We will start immediately!”

Several more years passed before they returned, to announce that they had completed the task, met the challenge. They found the king, now with a long gray beard, napping sonorously on his throne with a small book in his lap.

Loudly but gently they ‘Ahem-ed!’ to rouse the king, but he did not stir. They ‘Ahem-ed!’ much more loudly, which did the trick. The king woke groggily, vaguely aware of who they were, but he had to be reminded of their task, and then was delighted to hear them say, “Your Highness, we have completed the task, met the challenge.”
“You have the word?”
“Yes, your Highness.”
“You were able to condense all of the wisdom of the world into one word?”
“Yes, your Highness!”
“Yes, your Highness!”
“Well, then, don’t waste another moment. Tell me the word!”

Following an expectant silence, in unison, the council gave the king the word, “Your Highness," they chanted as a chrous, "all of the wisdom of the world condensed into one word is maybe!”

Content with the knowledge that this surely was true and the greatest of all wisdom, the king and his Council lived happily ever after.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Happiness: Candles in the Wind and Elsewhere

          Those of us who consciously opt for happiness bring light to the world in two ways, with two candles, so to speak. The source of one of these candles is within you; it always has been and always will be within you. It is not something you earn; it is something that you already have. In a manner of speaking, it is original equipment. If you are going to be happy, joyful, mirthful, content, and contributing to a better world, you must find your inner candle and understand the power it gives you.

          The other candle is external. Figuratively, we hold it in our hands to help us make our way through life. We can follow its light, and others can see its light, too. It is very helpful. But as much as we try to protect it, it is vulnerable to being snuffed out by the tides and storms of life's "weather", by accidents, and by assaults from others. When that candle is extinguished, and it will be from time to time, because that's how life is, you can lose your way. You might lose your happiness, your joy, and your laughter. Your world will seem very dark. If don't re-kindle it, you can think that you have lost your "self". But you have not.

The vulnerability of that external candle is exactly why you should never tell your life’s purpose to anyone other than some very special people who love you so dearly that they would never, ever hurt you.  It is why you should be very careful to whom you tell your dearest dreams.
As soon as you announce your life’s purpose or something that you dream of achieving, unless you are extraordinarily selective, the Pareto Principle will kick right in. Known as the 80/20 rule, it means that 80% of the people to whom you tell your dreams and heart’s desires will react with negativity. They will tell you that it is impossible, that you might as well give up now because you could never accomplish something that important, that good, that valuable.
            They are wrong of course, but they just snuffed out your candle. You need to know how to re-light it so you can see the path a few feet ahead and keep moving forward. Martin Luther King taught us that we do not have to see the end of the staircase, or know precisely where the final destination will be. We need only to see the next few steps and keep climbing, and our mission will be accomplished.

When that external candle gets snuffed out, we can re-light it. And, how do you re-light your external candle? You light it from your internal candle, of course.
          The second candle with which you light the world is internal, perfect and permanent. Nobody can snuff it out. No judge can order it taken from you. It is and always will be yours, but you have to know that it is there and how it works.

          It glows in your heart. It comes from your fundamental goodness and your essence, from the permanent essential traits and abilities that are yours forever.  It comes from your willingness to take the risks of being kind, being forgiving, looking for the good in others, being flexible, being grateful, and allowing yourself guilt-free pleasures in life. It may seem odd, but it also is easier to find and understand when you open yourself up to true mirthful laughter and humor. You don't have be become a comedian or "be" funny. You do have to let yourself "see" funny.

         And, as it happens, it is much easier to find if you are willing to believe that you deserve happiness. Although that inner candle is always there in all of us, those who do not believe they deserve happiness, or who aren't willing to master the attitudes that bring happiness, have a much harder time finding their inner candle.
           But, this candle is invulnerable and invincible! It can never be snuffed out. It can never be taken away from you. What a phenomenal asset!
            Once you realize that it is there, and it is inside of you, you will always be able to find it. It is your own personal eternal flame with which you light the way to a better world. It is the source of your resilience, the energy that enables the Phoenix to rise from the ashes. When all seems lost, when the day is darkest for you, your internal heart-light is always there. Eventually, and if necessary, you will find it again and again and again, and then you will re-build, recover, and have the renewed spirit to carry on to your happiness.

          Find the source of those candles by keeping your heart open and laughing generously. These are your lights to the world. Watch how you shine for yourself and others.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Humor, recovery programs, and human development

It’s never too late to have a happy childhood!

That saying comes out of 12-step and other recovery programs. It is a remedial concept that perfectly fits the fact that laughter & humor can be therapeutic as processes of re-balancing as an adult what was unbalanced in childhood. Restoring healthy humor and playfulness is necessary to recovery.

There is a seriously humorous aspect to recovery. Recovery program meetings are rife with intensely unpleasant emotions but the best ones ring with the sounds of laughter, too

Here is a sampling of the pointed-but-loving humor from "God Grant Me The Laughter: A Treasury Of Twelve Step Humor" (CompCare Publishers, Minneapolis), by Ed F (anonymously), and from other recovery programs, too:

"When we talk about denial, we don't mean a river in Egypt"
"We have to like ourselves to be able to laugh at ourselves"
"Recovery is a stairway, not a landing".
"Alcoholics don't have relationships, they take hostages". 
"The strength of our recovery is in direct proportion to our ability to laugh at ourselves".
"Our spiritual lives grow with good-natured fun".
"This (recovery) program liberates us from heaviness by facing it".
"Recovery teaches us to enjoy life". 
"Our Creator has concocted a world of many pleasures and delights to play in".
"Some of us adult children need to grow up before we can be the children we never were".
"What are the skills of a child:  Openness, lightheartedness, trust, the ability to expect wonderful surprises.  Those of us who didn't learn these attitudes effortlessly and naturally will have to practice.  But if we choose to, we can learn".
"When I grow up, I want to be a child".

As a psychologist, I view the "happy childhood" concept as a reflection of and remedy for the aborted carefree childhood that was experienced by so many dysfunctional adults. Healthy human development takes about 20 years. Give a kid too much worry and responsibility too soon (or not enough, as it turn out) and the result is often co-dependency, compulsive behaviors, and other dysfunction. Properly presented laughter and humor can have definite curative influences.

Several years ago, these grim statistics were reported in Barbara Yoder's Recovery Resource Book: in the USA about 88 million people are chemically dependent or in a relationship with someone who is. At that time, there were an estimated 30 million children of alcoholics; 50 million smokers and 12 million chewing tobacco; up to 37 million "food addicts"; and, 4 million compulsive gamblers.  What's so funny about any of that? Plenty. Not necessarily "funny: ha-ha!" but "funny: aha!"

Some of the current trends in substance abuse can be found at the website of the National Institute on Drug Abuse http://www.drugabuse.gov/infofacts/nationtrends.html.

The recovery movement provides education, support, and new ways of understanding how life experiences, especially in our early years, can leave emotional injury and damaged self-esteem that keeps us mired in unhappy and unsuccessful careers and failed personal relationships. Part of that understanding includes the role of laughter and humor, without which our lives are lopsided.

The psychology of recovery is about how to heal these injuries and break the ties that bind us to chronic poor decision-making, compulsions (like work, sex, exercise, shopping, gambling, eating) and addictions. Essentially, it is about finding and living a balanced life. Examining these dilemmas from all sides, many experts eventually come to side that is, rightly, ludicrous, absurd, or laughable.  It turns out that humor and laughter are among the most important hallmarks of recovery.  Mirthful laughter, self-deprecating humor, and even derisive laughter that puts things in perspective, are part of the prescription.

"If alcoholics have things in common (and I think they do)", says Ed F., anonymously, "one of those things is a wonderful sense of humor".

In programs such Lee Glickstein's "The Comedy of Recovery", and others that employ the art of stand-up as part of the treatment of mental illness, the laughs are neither mundane nor cheap shots. In those special settings, it has been observed that most of the "comics" take the time to gently evoke the audience's memory and empathy, building their stories to ecstatic, cathartic crescendos.  The resulting release feels clean.  It would be hard to find a better time free from the risk of emotional hangover.

More than an ultimate goal, mirthful laughter is a taste of what you'll get when you get mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy. Laughter is a fore-taste, an appetizer, of what we will have when our personal lives and the world in general is less chaotic, less violent, less angry, and more forgiving; when fewer people are going hungry, when more people are healthy and safe.

That's the laughter I'm after.